ANIMAL WATCH-Two weeks after a 'fostered' Pit Bull, "Mugsy," from a Los Angeles Animal Services' shelter, viciously attacked and injured the wife of drummer/musical instructor Noel Jasso on July 7, another tragic incident occurred involving a dog being offered for adoption under General Manager Brenda Barnette's "No Kill" policy.
On July 20 a large German Shepherd-type dog, named Boss, (photo above) with a reported history of aggression, attacked while being introduced to a family, disfiguring a 7-year-old boy who was with his family at the City shelter to adopt a family pet.
The latest (unconfirmed) report is that, in addition to lacerations and punctures to his face, the child may lose one eye as a result. The dog had recently been surrendered by another family, with a written statement that it had bitten a child.
These were loving people who wanted to adopt a homeless animal, and they obviously believed that General Manager Brenda Barnette and MeLissa Webber, her Assistant GM of "Livesaving," who establishes and oversees policy for the shelters, could be trusted to assure it is safe to bring a furry stranger from an L. City shelter into their home and hearts.
My deepest thanks to the CityWatch reader who knows this family and contacted me. I obtained official information through a California Public Records Act request (CPRA), which is the reason for the delay in writing about it. There were many pages of notes that indicated this dog was not trustworthy, including one by an employee that read "GO SLOW WHEN HANDLING THIS DOG."
Following is an outline of the history of Boss, including the warning by the former owner on the relinquishment form and by shelter staff/volunteers. This is not a complete record because I received many documents from the shelter, which are available to anyone upon request. The employees present that day did an outstanding job of objectively and thoroughly describing this sad -- and alarming -- event:
1. On July 5, 2019, Boss was relinquished to the East Valley shelter and listed as a "Large Dog Brown Male Mixed Breed with a possible date of birth of November 2018" Per a policy by GM Barnette and approved by the Los Angeles Animal Services Commission, no breed or breed-type is provided for any dog.
2. The dog was listed as a gift to the owner, which he had for approximately eight months. Boss was not neutered or microchipped. The reason stated for surrender was "aggressive with child" and "bit a child on May 6, 2019.”
3. The owner wrote clearly on the separate "Dog Interview" form that Boss "bit a kid." He also marked that the dog was "aggressive" with children he lives or spends time with; "exuberant" with adults and plays "very rough" with children; is "aggressive to people" but good with other dogs. Injury to his right leg was also noted.
4. His "intake examination report by the shelter veterinary reads, "K9 is tricky and gets out of rope muzzle. Dog resisted and tossled with ACT several times but finally managed to administer vaccines, deworm." The right front leg injury was noted as "K9 was limping."
5. On the day he was impounded, Boss was put in a "play group." (This is a program which involves numerous dogs -- unknown to each other -- being placed together in an enclosed area. Supposedly it will be indicative of their response to other animals, but it often ends up in fights or injury because dogs are territorial by nature and some do not like -- or need time -- to interact well with others of their species.)
Because "No Kill" does not believe in professional behavior assessment tests, the monitors of the play groups (usually an employee or volunteer) interpret the actions, and often the motivation of the dog in terms that are not clearly decipherable, using specially created terms that will promote adoption and not depict any dog as "bad" or "aggressive."
The "play group" notes on 7/8/19 state that Boss was:
Social (got along with everyone)
Nervous. Needs more socialization and training to build confidence
Wants to play but is conflicted and unsure on how to do so
Doesn't pick up on cues from other dogs
Slight Push/pull (chase play)
6. Quarantine was initially requested on impound because of the earlier bite; but, because more than ten days had passed, Boss was made "AVAILABLE for ADOPTION" (or Foster) on 7/10/2019.
There is no mention of his behavioral history on the Kennel Impound Card (and why is a dog that bit a child being offered to the public anyway? There is no "special circumstance" adoption that can guarantee a total absence of children for the lifetime of the dog.)
The only plausible explanation is a Departmental management policy not to visibly reveal information that could discourage adoption.
JULY 10, 2019 - TIMELINE OF EVENTS (PER LAAS SHELTER EMPLOYEE REPORTS)
The preliminary report from a shelter supervisor to GM Brenda Barnette and Asst. GM MeLissa Webber states: "Injuries are major and to the face. ***Update - when writing report victim's dad came in and reported that victim is being transported. . .for reconstructive surgery to his face for injuries sustained which include laceration from lip to chin, puncture wounds to both checks and puncture below eye. ***”
REPORT BY SENIOR EMPLOYEE describing what he first saw after the attack in the outside Get-Acquainted yard of the shelter:
". . .a young boy was carried in by his parents shouting for help. They shouted for someone to call 911 and that their son was bit by a dog outside. I. . .heard at least two of my co-workers in the receiving area say they were calling 911. I saw the young boy's cheek and there was an obvious gash on his cheek and blood falling to the floor. . .Before I could turn to get the first aid kit the mother and father were carrying him to the men's room in the front lobby. The father asked me what procedures we had in place for an incident like this. I told him that my coworkers were calling 911 and my supervisor was on her way up."
THE FOLLOWING IS EXTRACTED FROM SEVERAL OTHER WRITTEN REPORTS made by the shelter employees, all of whom should be highly commended for acting responsibly and compassionately in a very sad emergency situation:
At approximately 1400 hours I was notified by Animal Control Technician that he was trying to call LAFD because a minor child had been bitten in the face. I immediately began trying to call 911, and the line was busy. I walked from my office to the men's public restroom where Supervisor was speaking to the minor victim's father and brother. The brother was hyper-ventilating from crying so hard. I asked if he was okay, he didn't say anything but kept crying.
Minor victim's father stated the LAFD Paramedics were taking too long to arrive, so he was going to drive minor victim to the hospital himself. At approximately 1537 hours minor victim's father came back to the shelter. I asked how his son is doing; he stated he was being transferred from Sherman Oaks Hospital to Tarzana Hospital for reconstructive surgery to his face. Father asked for all information that we have on Boss--A873012. Minor victim's father stated that Department Volunteer stated that Boss had some behavioral issues noted from the previous Owner, but the dog was nice.
Supervisor informed father that he could have the medical history on Boss, if he wanted more, the records retaining process was explained.
In conducting a preliminary investigation, it was found that no Department Volunteers read the Animal Intake Form.
VOLUNTEER'S HANDWRITTEN REPORT
I showed Boss to a family, Mom, Dad and 2 young boys. I had shown him last week & he was a sweet, nice dog. He sat, went down, & took treats from me, the dad & one of the boys with no issues. He licked the Dad's face but I cautioned not to put one's face in a dog's face.
We were all sitting down in the get-acquainted area, the boy was in the middle, the dog was walking at our feet. He turned and bit the boy's face, SUDDENLY & without any warning or provocation. The boy was not doing anything to encourage the dog or a bite.
After the dog ran away to the door, sat & I leashed him with no problem.
REPORT BY "LIFESAVING LIAISON" indicates that volunteer was brought in to get statement:
"After reviewing the original kennel card, the dog interview questionnaire from the previous owner stated various red flags--like aggressive with children. Has bitten a child, history of food aggression and does not like restraint. "I asked volunteer if he read this information prior to showing the family and his response was that he did not know that was in there, that the kennel card should have been marked "yellow" and, if he would have known, he would not have shown the dog to a family with children. He said he had shown the dog before to another family without incident."
CHANGE NEEDED IN SENIOR MANAGEMENT AND ‘NO KILL’ POLICY AT LAAS
In the extensive records that were compiled and produced by the Director of Field Operations, there is not one response regarding this incident to staff from GM Brenda Barnette or Asst. GM MeLissa Webber. There is no supportive comment to ease the trauma to all the employees -- nor any expression of regret for the injury to this child and no suggestion that policies/procedures will be reviewed.
LA City Animal Services is struggling with tragically overcrowded shelters, heavily populated with Pit Bulls and cats/kittens, under the onerous mandates of "No Kill." Dog licensing -- a basic indicator of owner responsibility and a major source of spay/neuter revenue -- shows a 42% decrease from July 2018.
Reliable, veteran employees report that GM Barnette is not seen in the kennels and Asst. GM of Livesaving MeLissa Webber only comes for meetings in the office areas. The kennel staff is left with the tragedy of dogs and cats languishing in kennels until they become ill or go "stir crazy," hoarding animals in small cages and watching them suffer and the constant danger of aggressive animals. (See : LA Animal Services' Employee Mauled by Pit Bull ... Who Cares?)
Many experienced and dedicated employees -- especially animal control officers -- have left or are in the process of transferring to other City departments.
The recent mass exodus should be a warning to the City of the stress and emotional drain of working under policies that ignore the safety and judgment of sound animal-shelter management in order to appear to meet a political goal of "No Kill," which garners millions of dollars in donations but results in horrific incidents such as just occurred in the unnecessary mauling of this young boy.
No amount of money can restore this family's life to the day before they came to this "No Kill" shelter that values warehousing dogs with histories of aggression above the safety of the public the shelter serves.
Potential adopters should be able to trust that animals in our shelters have been tested in a professional manner -- not placed in "play groups" to have well-meaning, but inexperienced, moderators interpret the actions of dogs, rather than report them accurately.
The City of Los Angeles must assure that ALL reports by former owners and shelter employees are immediately available, with any warnings or advisories visible to the public at the kennel. Total transparency is not a problem. . .unless there is something to hide!
There are people who will adopt a "problem" animal and have the necessary experience to limit its activities or exposure according to the nature of the dog. The life of a child, pet or adult should not be knowingly endangered by any shelter and especially not in the name of "No Kill."
CHANGES IN ANIMAL SHELTERS' POLICY BEGINS A NEW ERA OF SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS" AND ‘COMPASSION SAVES’
Long Beach Pioneers ‘Compassion Saves’ Animal Shelter -- On April 16 Long Beach’s animal shelter Staycee Dains announced she may not be interested in adopting a “no-kill” moniker, but she says she is committed to euthanizing as few animals as possible and she told the City Council she stands behind a new model of sheltering that Long Beach is pioneering, which she referred to as “compassion saves.” She said this approach would achieve many of the goals of a no-kill shelter without wading into any of the unintended consequences that adopting that policy could cause. She added that her goal is to move Long Beach toward only euthanizing animals that have medical conditions that cannot be treated or that have behavioral problems extreme enough that they would be considered a clear-and-present danger to the community.
LA County Animal Care & Control Turns To ‘Socially Conscious’ Sheltering -- On July 6, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors formally approved a motion by Supervisor Katherine Barger to implement a progressive "Socially Conscious" approach to animal sheltering, rejecting the Best Friends' "No Kill" policy that rules the City.
“The Department of Animal Care and Control does not use the term ‘No-kill,’” Director Marcia Mayeda wrote in an email. “However, our live release rate for dogs is 88%, and for cats is now 53%."
She stated that in cases of dangerous dogs, feral cats and other animals that are irremediably suffering or have a poor prognosis for recovery, "we do euthanize animals as necessary, but we always make every effort to find live outcomes for the animals in our care." She emphasized that being "Socially Conscious" also includes concern for public health and safety.
(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of Los Angeles employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.