PETA Blows the Whistle: ‘Calling LA Animal Services Like Calling the Moon’

ANIMAL WATCH-Finally, someone 'got it!' "It" being the shameful exploitation of LA shelter animals by Mayor Eric Garcetti and Animal Services' GM Brenda Barnette in recurring announcements that LA is near an elusive "no-kill" nirvana (the date has changed several times.) 

Along with other City leaders, including Councilman Paul Koretz, head of the committee which purportedly oversees animal welfare, those with the obligation to address reports of animal cruelty, neglect, abandonment and suffering are implying that emergencies involving animals ending up in city shelters have been a top priority issue which is almost resolved. 

In the real world, "no kill" is not related to quality of life, and Los Angeles Animal Services’ management is -- at the most essential level – is miserably failing animals that need help. 

'You might as well be calling to the moon': Animal advocates complain that LA city phone system is a nightmare, read the headline in the LA Times that rocked the animal protection/rescue community on September 5. The revelation it was generated by complaints from PETA flooded social media with tentative hope, but jaded skepticism, after years of reporting phones that malfunction or go unanswered at LAAS.  

LA Times reporter Emily Alpert Reyes begins her compelling article by citing a desperate e-mail to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in Virginia, begging for help for a critically injured dog in South Los Angeles because the caller was continuously disconnected by the LA Animal Services' phone system. 

"The toll-free number for Animal Services has a tedious menu that often leads to busy signals or leaves callers waiting in silence, unsure if anyone will pick up," Reyes writes. "The Times tried to reach L.A. shelters through the number and frequently got busy signals. In a few cases, a reporter was disconnected after a message saying the call could not be transferred." 

The Times’ experience mirrors the frustration expressed in a message sent earlier to LAAS GM Brenda Barnette by Lisa Lange, PETA’s Sr. Vice President of Communication and Director of the Los Angeles office, “How many animals go without help because of this cumbersome process?” 


PETA established its first office in Los Angeles in 2006 and began working on local issues, along with its national campaigns. Then in 2009, 40 staff members were moved from its Virginia headquarters to expand the Los Angeles division. In 2010, TV personality and animal activist Bob Barker donated $2.5 million toward opening PETA’s current location at 2154 W. Sunset Blvd. in Echo Park. 

Lisa Lange told me, “PETA is here to stay! This is my home. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, so this is also personal for me.” 

The LA Times was contacted after the City ignored PETA's concerns about the inability to contact LA Animal Services by phone and/or access spay/neuter vouchers, she said. 

     “For years we’ve been hearing complaints from citizens, other groups who care about animals, and, of course, our own staff who could rarely, if ever, get a response from LAAS when there was an animal emergency. 

     “So, we analyzed the LA Animal Services’ phone system, studied the completely broken voucher system for low-cost and free spay/neuters, visited all of the shelters, and we attend all the City meetings. We launched our own education/outreach program, Let’s Fix LA, that includes a website with resources for folks who need help. 

     “Along the way, we made what we think are very sound suggestions to the City at every level, including to the head of LAAS, and nothing has changed. This is a city full of people who care an awful lot about animals. LA Animal Services is the largest sheltering system in the country--and it should be the best--but it is being run into the ground and animals are suffering tremendously as a result.” 

     "We’re not going to give up,” Lisa Lange emphasized, "We can absolutely have the dream animal-sheltering system in this city but it has to start with good leadership, and a Mayor who, instead of burying his head in the sand, takes a hard look at what’s going on.” 


The lack of concern about Animal Services' management of key programs seems endemic. PETA is working to change that: 

“We called each City Council district office and asked if they had spay/neuter voucher applications. Most didn’t and many didn’t even know about the program, so we facilitated getting the voucher applications to them – though I don’t think LAAS has stayed on top of that (so we will.) 

“We have suggested time and time again – make the voucher program work! Make the vouchers downloadable so people abide by the great spay/neuter law that was passed in 2008 and then summarily ignored by the City.”  


"We need to take the emphasis off ‘no-kill’ and put it on ‘no-birth’ and increase the quality of life and adoptions for the animals in the sheltering system now," Lisa Lange states. 

“At this point, so many animals are being warehoused in the shelters. It is depressing. That is no life. Each animal deserves the chance at a GOOD home. We need to discourage impulse adoptions and bring the number of homeless animal births down once and for all. 

“It’s doable but not as long as the focus is on the back end of the problem, meaning ending euthanasia. We need to end the NEED for euthanasia, but there will always be one as long as there are too many animals and too few good homes for them.” 


Animal Services attributed the problem with its phone system to "a rising number of calls that clogged up its phone lines but said it did not track those statistics,” according to the Times. However, the City's IT department reported the number of calls to the LAAS toll-free number this year shows only "a modest bump." 

Since LAAS keeps no statistics, how will PETA monitor improvement or continued failure? 

(Checkout this important PETA video.)

"PETA will continue to monitor the phones and see just how long it takes for them to install an emergency line," said Lisa Lange, "and then see if there’s a response to it. We’ll watch the voucher program, we’ll watch what they do with the funds that haven’t been used for spay/neuter surgeries. And, we’ll hold the Mayor accountable for the mess he is ignoring."

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