LA Dog Bite Attorney Warns About Dangers of Adopting Dogs to the Homeless

ANIMAL WATCH-Last week on City Watch, we discussed the dangerous potential of an item on the LA Animal Services' Commission agenda for November 13 - LAAS Shelters Packed with Pit Bulls, GM Barnette Proposes Licensing Dogs to Homeless with No Address.   

Since then there has been compelling outcry from members of the LA animal-rescue community, shelter employees and members of the public, plus an action by Mayor Eric Garcetti's Board of Commissioners. 

Los Angeles Dog Bite Law  Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips also weighed in on the issue. 

The background is that General Manager Brenda Barnette is desperate to clear LA city shelters of Pit Bulls--which constitute at least 70% of the impound population and often are held for prolonged periods. Many of these dogs are relinquished by owners, often for aggressive behavior which continues to be exhibited and noted by shelter personnel.  

Barnette is willing to violate State law requiring every dog owner to provide a physical address for licensing in order to allow LA's expanding homeless population to take dogs, and Pit Bulls are favored by many homeless individuals as protection. This often occurs at free giveaway events subsidized by major humane organizations. They then increase the LAAS "live save" stats. 

This also violates LAMC SEC. 53.53.  DUTY OF VETERINARIANS PERFORMING VACCINATIONS, which requires, "Each duly licensed veterinarian, after vaccinating any dog, shall sign a certificate containing the name and address of the owner or custodian of the vaccinated dog." 

The fear-filled existence and neglect of dogs in a homeless encampment or chained in a trash-filled vacant lot, usually with an unpredictable, addicted or violent owner is often far worse than death. The deliberate attempt of a City animal control, law-enforcement agency to adopt out more dogs to these conditions is unconscionable. But this and the threat an aggressive Pit Bull can pose to other helpless animals and humans is justified in the name of "No Kill," which is the goal of Mayor Garcetti, according to Barnette and the LA Animal Services' Commissioners. 

THE IMPORTANCE OF LOCATING DOGS 

The only way adopters/owners/keepers can be held accountable for the health and welfare of dogs and maintaining current rabies vaccination is through the physical address provided on the dog's license application (which -- for the homeless -- may be a friend or relative or contact which receives their mail, etc. and knows their living location.) 

It is also the way a bite victim or health official can determine the need for costly rabies treatment for a human victim in the event of an attack or bite.  If the dog can be located, its current rabies vaccination can be confirmed, and/or it is quarantined for ten days to assure it does not display symptoms of the painful and deadly virus. 

The homeless 'owner' has nothing to lose by taking a free dog to sell or a Pit Bull as a guard dog, because they have no assets and no insurance. However, if they have no address on record due to the proposed change in the LA Municipal Code, is Barnette exempt from responsibility for a bite or attack? Maybe not! 

CAN THE CITY OF LA BE HELD LIABLE FOR DOG BITES? 

Los Angeles dog-bite attorney, Kenneth M. Phillips, states: 

"One of the financial obligations of responsible dog ownership is having some form of insurance to cover the costs and losses from dog bites. 

"The insurance I am referring to is either homeowners, renters or canine liability insurance. The latter does not involve owning or renting a home, just owning a dog. 

"Obviously homeless people do not have the money for homes or insurance. To engage in responsible placement of shelter dogs, the City will have to buy canine liability insurance for homeless people who get those dogs. 

"If the City fails to do this, then it will be held liable for negligent placement of the dogs." 

ANIMAL-LAW EXPERT AGREES 

Another CA lawyer, who specializes in animal laws affecting governmental agencies, agrees with Attorney Ken Phillips and advises: 

“Civil liability attaches to government employees when they exceed the scope and course of their employment. But it also can occur if they knowingly or recklessly commit an act or fail to act when they know or should know that their action is a gross departure from, or abrogation of, their duty.  

"In the case of homeless adopters, the shelter knows they do not have insurance and no way to confine the dog to insure public safety. 

"This also applies to animal rescuers. They have the disadvantages of being considered experts (held to a higher standard) and NOT having governmental qualified immunity." 

CA COURT RULED CULPABILITY FOR DEATH EXTENDS TO OWNERS/CARETAKERS 

L.A. County dog owner charged with murder in woman's mauling 

On May 30, 2013, LA Times headlines announced that the LA District Attorney's office was charging Alex Jackson in connection with the death of Pamela Devitt, 63, who was walking in her neighborhood when a pack of Pit Bulls mauled her to death. She suffered 150 to 200 puncture wounds. When the first sheriff's deputy arrived on the scene in Littlerock, Devitt was on the ground with one of the dogs still attacking her. 

Prosecutors could not recall ever filing a similar murder case, but said the incident warranted such serious charges because the owner's dogs had attacked others before mauling Devitt

District attorney spokeswoman Jane Robison told The Times that authorities had received at least three reports of attacks by dogs belonging to Alex Donald Jackson, 29, since January. "We believe there was evidence that he was aware the dogs were vicious, and they have attacked before and he knew of the danger they posed," she said. 

Dog owner convicted of second-degree murder in fatal attack on woman 

During Jackson's trial the prosecution argued that his dogs were involved in at least seven other altercations in the 18 months leading up to the attack on Devitt. The defendant contended that he was unaware of most of the incidents. 

Defense attorney, Al Kim, said Jackson was disappointed by the verdict and is very concerned. "He feels terrible," Kim said, "He was just a pit bull lover."  

Attorney Kim also stated that "animal control also deserves blame." He said LA County responded a number of times to Jackson's home after complaints about the dogs and thus was aware of the animals' behavior. 

Deputy Dist. Atty. Ryan Williams contended, "If you have an animal you know is dangerous to people, it is your responsibility to keep that animal contained so the community is safe."  

CAN SHELTER DIRECTOR AND/OR DECISION-MAKING BOARD BE HELD LIABLE? 

Montgomery County Accused of Destroying Records in Dog Death case 

On Sep 19, 2018, a civil lawsuit was filed in Dayton, OH, resulting from the 2014 dog-mauling death of Klonda Richey. The suit alleges that Montgomery County dog warden Mark Kumpf "recklessly and/or willingly failed in his duty to enforce existing laws nor sought to obtain a dangerous dog designation that may have given Richey 'significant additional protections,'" MyDaytonDailyNews.com reported.  

Her torn and naked body was discovered outside in sub-freezing temperatures on the morning of Feb. 7, 2014, by a passerby. When police responded, the dogs charged them and were shot and killed. 

In November 2009, the Toledo Blade trumpeted the beginning of a new era in animal control, resulting from the hiring of Mark Kumpf. Headlines read,  Dayton Shows Way in Shelter Reform; Animal Resource Center Becomes Model

Court rejects animal control chief Mark Kumpf's defenses –Animals 24-7 

Sued for alleged negligence causing death of dog attack victim Klonda Richey (August 8, 2016) 

(See also: Animal control director can be sued for dog attack death, court rules.)  

On July 29, 2016...Ohio Second Appellate District Court of Appeals found that Montgomery County Animal Resources Center director Mark Kumpf may be sued for alleged negligence leading to the death of Dayton resident Klonda Richey. Richey was killed on February 7, 2014 by two dogs variously identified in court documents as “large-breed pit bulls, mastiffs, or cane corsos.” 

Liability not restricted to “owners, harborers, & keepers of dogs” 

“We cannot agree with the trial court and with Kumpf that recovery for injuries caused by dogs is restricted to situations involving owners, harborers, and keepers of dogs,” the majority opinion concluded.  “We agree with the trial court that a trier of fact could reasonably find that Kumpf’s actions were reckless, at least based on the allegations in the complaint…However, the issue of whether Kumpf owed a duty to Richey requires further exploration…The judgment of the trial court is reversed, and this cause is remanded for further proceedings.” 

LA ANIMAL SERVICES' COMMISSION APPROVES BARNETTE'S PROPOSAL 

The minutes of the meeting on November 13, 2018, show that the three members present (Gross,  Garcia and Sandoval) approved Barnette's proposed modifications to the LAMC to change  "Address Requirements Relative to the Issuance of Licenses." The motion was made by LA attorney and Vice-President Olivia E. Garcia. 

There were no objections to violating State law included in the minutes and the only notable comment was by Commissioner Gross who inquired "if homeless individuals would be allowed to breed." 

GM Barnette responded that staff would be working with the City Attorney and could look into an addition that would state anyone using this type of address criteria must alter their dog and is not eligible for a breeder's permit, unless this will cause a potential liability. 

Barnette and the Commission are aware that her proposal directly violates State law and that it endangers public health (rabies control) and animal and human safety. Yet, her ONLY concern is whether including mandatory spay/neuter will cause a "potential liability!" What in the world is she thinking? 

If she is seriously worried about violating the homeless community's "right" to breed dogs on public property and without shelter?   

Or, is this expression of concern because Barnette is a "former dog breeder" who has not addressed  the rampant breeding of dogs in all areas of Los Angeles--as evidenced by the steady  increase in breeding permits and unaltered dogs contained in her own Woof-stat reports:  Intact Dog Licenses - increase from 2017 to 2018 = 1,296 to 1,341 (2018); and Breeder's Licenses up from 1,017 to  1,135 (2018).    

OUTRAGE OVER HOMELESS' DOG-LICENSING PROPOSAL 

This week the following passionate and compelling email was sent out to a large group of humane leaders and animal lovers by long-time activist and advocate Debbie Shreve Trejo, pleading for LAAS GM Brenda Barnette NOT to enable the licensing of dogs to the homeless without addresses: 

Subject: PLEASE NO!!!!  SEE LETTER BELOW!! LAAS Shelters Packed with Pit Bulls, GM Barnette Proposes Licensing Dogs to Homeless with No Address 

Brenda, Noooo, please. There have got to be other ideas and help for them. I can’t believe they are actually considering doing this. 

I am personally experiencing the problem with licensing dogs to homeless people, right now, today! Trying to save “B” and “M” [two dogs], along with the extreme measures that were taken for almost 8 months trying to even get them away from horrendous conditions and people, has been excruciatingly painful, heart wrenching, dangerous, life consuming and expensive! I have spoken with Brenda and ACO’s about these dogs and some others on Venice beach right now.  

SEE LETTER BELOW (NOT WRITTEN BY ME.)  

"I live 5 blocks from skid row and what goes on with animals there is HEARTBREAKING.  

"Lori Weiss [Downtown Dog Rescue] does what she can but there is rampant breeding, selling of puppies & pit bull exploitation. The animals live in filth with drug addicts and needles.  They get beaten and abandoned by owners or the owner's friend coming off some drug trip. When they go to jail, the animals either wander & get hit by cars or taken up by another mentally ill person. Or sold.  

"For those who think there is “nothing” wrong with people who can’t manage to have a flush toilet +roof as part of their life management “owning” animals, I HAVE one question: WOULD YOU ADOPT A PET TO THEM? Or let them PET SIT FOR YOU?  Ok. 

"Barnette and all the Homeless Happy Owner Imagineers DON'T know REAL LIFE PEOPLE!" 

(Author's note: The identity of the writer of the above letter is unknown. It is provided in pertinent part because of its truth and importance in this discussion and with sincerest gratitude to the writer.) 

SEND YOUR OPINION TO COUNCIL AND MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI 

This was on the November 13, 2018, LA Animal Services Commission Agenda: 

Item 6A. Proposed Modifications to the Los Angeles Municipal Code (LAMC) Sections 53.15.2 and 53.17 – Address Requirements Relative to the Issuance of Licenses 

Please send an e-mail to Councilman Paul Koretz, Chair of the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee, (councilmember.koretz@lacity.org) and also to Mayor Eric Garcetti (mayor.garcetti@lacity.org) and to your own Councilman (here's the Council Directory), telling them your thoughts on GM Barnette's proposal. 

It does not yet have a Council File No. This is the time when public comment can be very effective!

 

(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.