Thu, May

‘Finders, Keepers’: LA Doesn’t Want Your Lost Dogs or Cats in City Shelters


ANIMAL WATCH--If your dog or cat goes missing in the city of Los Angeles, Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette has a plan to keep it out of her shelters, but you may not be happy with this alternative. 

Her proposal was approved on May 23 by the Animal Services Commission--with no singular or collective animal-sheltering experience among them. There was no discussion about the welfare or safety of pets and no probing questions as to the logistics that would make this cumbersome, confusing and risky policy viable. 

Barnette's "finders-keepers" proposal is to allow lost pets to stay with a person who picks them up and reports this to the shelter. 

This isn't a program where the finder comes in and is vetted and background checked. It would place your pet in a location unknown to you, eliminate your ability to identify your furry family member on-line, and impede your ability to get it home. 

Experts I have contacted say it is illegal. But, Deputy City Attorney Dov Lesel was present and made no objection. 

THIS IS SCARY! Every pet owner in the City needs to know about it before it is actually implemented. Please share with your neighbors and friends. 

This is not about the protection of lost pets. It is about not having lost animals counted on impound stats. 

In her apparent increasing desperation to declare L.A. City shelters "no kill,” Barnette may have finally gone too far and crossed the line of ethics and legality in devising a plan that permits her to make decisions regarding lost animals that exceed her authority and interfere or usurp pet owners' property rights. 

Barnette is planning to enter into agreements with finders a lost dog or cat which allows them to keep it without impounding it for the legal-hold period at the shelter so that its photo appears on line and/or an owner can physically locate it. 


GM Barnette is basing her "finders-keepers" plan on the theory that everyone who finds an animal and reports it has good intentions and the ability to provide the same (or better) care than her own animal shelters. 

State law does not agree, stating that, "The Legislature finds and declares that it is better to have public and private shelters pick up or take in animals than private citizens. The Legislature further finds that the taking in of animals is important for public health and safety, to aid in the return of the animal to its owner and to prevent inhumane conditions for lost or free-roaming animals.". 

But Barnette prefers the wording of an archaic 1967 LAMC Code Sec. (53.09). Here's the exact wording, in pertinent parts:    

"... persons taking up such animal shall, within four hours thereafter, or within two hours thereafter if such animal is attached or hitched to a vehicle, give notice to the Department or to some police officer, of the fact that he has such animal in his possession, and shall furnish thereto a description of such animal and a statement of the place where he found and where he has confined the animal." 

"(b) Any person taking up any such stray animal found running at large or contrary to the provisions of this article shall surrender such animal to the General Manager of the Department or his duly authorized representative upon demand thereof." 

Brenda's reasoning for not continuing the department's traditional requirement to have such animals brought to the shelter or picked up from the finder is that this occasionally creates “conflict” with the staff member when the finder does not want to release the animal to the shelter. 

So, she opines, it is better to just let them stay with the finder for at least 30 days (the length of time after which the owner could legally lose property rights to the pet if all diligent efforts to find the owner have been exhausted.

Sec. 53.09 provides that the finder must provide a photo to the shelter and distribute flyers where the animal was found (which may be miles from where it was lost), but it does not include that the City can enter into an agreement/contract to grant continued possession to the finder. This changes the arrangement and can expand the City's liability, according to animal-control professionals. 

Barnette describes in her May 17 report that the finder would have between 30 to 35 days to "try out" the pet and then either surrender or adopt the animal. 

However, not impounding the pet in a city shelter removes the key method by which the pet could be located, and, therefore, may not allow legal transfer of title to the finder. (State law has safeguards to assure this 30-day window cannot be used to hide and essentially "steal" an animal.) 


In 2000, Los Angeles residents approved Prop. F . This provided $154,000,000 in bond funds to expand the City's 300 dog kennels to 1200 and, among other benefits, meet industry standards, assure a safe and humane environment, and increase the number of animals reclaimed by their owners. 

Additionally, Los Angeles residents paid $44,000,000 in taxes last year alone for animal control services--and to assure pets would be easily redeemable if lost. LAAS shelters must not be discriminatory—they must provide the same opportunity for all found animals to be viewed on-line or by visiting city shelters.

The City does not gain property rights until the end of the legal hold period (which at most shelters is now four to seven days, depending upon the number of hours/weekends open to the public), at which time the shelter becomes the legal owner and can offer the pet for adoption/sale. 

But in order for this transfer of title to be upheld by courts, the shelter must have complied with State statutes, according to the Animal Legal & Historical Center, which concludes:  

"Shelters must be aware of their obligations and limitations in caring for lost or abandoned animals . . . Following state law is essential not only to protect the rights of animal owners, but also to protect the shelter from tort actions by the owner; state law also ultimately protects the animal itself.  


CA dog-bite law (CA Civil Code Sec. 3342), holds the dog owner strictly liable for any dog bite--even while lost--until it is legally transferred by the owner (or title is transferred to a shelter by relinquishment.) 

This law states that a dog's owner may be held liable for another person's damages if: (1) the person's injury was caused by a dog bite, and (2) the injured person was in a public place or lawfully in a private place when the bite occurred. 

LAAS entering into an agreement (contract) with a finder to keep a found dog on his/her property, still leaves the dog owner liable under CA statute.  Could the City also be liable by agreeing to this arrangement and for failing to impound the dog? 


Please read her own poorly written and typo-studded report here (scroll down to report for Item 6-A.) This is an example of the work product of an L.A. City department manager paid over $230,000/yr. Imagine the nightmare of trying to administer this vague, emotion-based "plan" but, most of all, imagine your pet being subject to this conundrum and you not knowing where it is.  

It contains no requirement that a shelter veterinarian examine the animal to assure it is not sick or injured (some injuries and illnesses are not visually recognizable) nor that a microchip check be done only by the shelter to assure an accurate report.

This will apparently allow the finder to keep altered or unaltered lost pets, and there is no indication that other dogs in the home must be altered and licensed. 

Barnette’s “guidelines” (see below) say that the person would show the shelter proof of insurance (who evaluates the policy?), no history of animal abuse (how is that proven?) 

There is no plan identified for coordination or processing of these complex tasks. 

Barnette states "The purpose of this change is simple."

  1. Gives lost dogs and cats home care, and medical care if appropriate
  2. Keeps dogs and cats out of municipal shelter system.
  3. Alleviate concerns of citizens about turning dog in to the shelter out of fear s/he will not be claimed or placed.
  4. Expands our foster program and gets community involved helping find the dog’s owner, or with walks, and other care. 

Here are some FACTS

  1. Lost dogs and cats impounded in LAAS shelters get veterinary care, appropriate diet, exercise and a chance to be quickly found by their owner. There is no way to guarantee or regulate the quality of experience or care in an unknown household. 
  2. Brenda is discount her own job by advising, "Keep dogs and cats out of municipal shelter system." 
  3. Any citizen who turns in a dog (or cat) to the shelter can request to adopt the animal if the owner does not claim it. 
  4. Should your lost pet be used to expand the LAAS foster program? How does the “community” get involved in finding the owner when the dog is retained in a private home?


Barnette recently avoided responding to whether pets of the homeless are checked for microchips and returned to their rightful owner if identified--as if being tied or caged in a tented, bacteria-littered encampment is an equal or more suitable “home” for someone’s beloved lost (or stolen) companion. 

Brenda Barnette has no prior animal control experience, having managed only the very small Seattle Humane Society before coming to LA. Plus, she has no administrative staff with animal-control experience, with the turnover of four Assistant GM’s in her six-year tenure. 

This policy, contrary to Barnette’s claim there is “no fiscal impact,” could evade the shelter’s ability to recover costs for care of lost animals and therefore reduce funding for the shelters. 

Another serious issue is the lack of concern about potential aggression of a found animal toward other pets or residents (including children) in a "finder's" home. 

Barnette's '"no kill" plan does not include picking up loose animals (#18 on the LAAS priority list) or encouraging bringing lost pets to shelters. 

Brenda Barnette's real goal is to not have these animals show as impounds and reveal that the pet overpopulation problem in the City is not resolved and “no kill” is a statistical manipulation, rather than a reality. 

In terms of problems, the General Manager appears to head the list. Her tenuous "finders-keepers" policy is a classic example. 



  1. Failure to release the animal to the shelter if owner is identified could result in an officer going to the location and attempting to seize the animal and possible charges for theft against the finder 
  2. If an owner identifies the animal by photo, arrangements will be made for the finder to bring the animal to the shelter so the shelter staff can show the animal to the possible owner to see if it is his or her animal.
  3. If there have been mandatory veterinary care expenses incurred by the finder, the owner will be advised that those must be paid and that his or her name and address will be provided to the finder for collection.
  4. If the animal is attacked by another animal or in any way injured or contracts a disease while in the care of the finder, the finder will be liable to the owner of the animal.
  5. If the animal bites, attacks, or otherwise inflicts harm on a person or animal while the found animal is in their custody, the finder will be liable for the actions of his/her animal while it is in the custody of the finder.
  6. If the animal escapes and causes an automobile accident in which someone is injured, the finder will be liable.
  7. The Department may demand that the keeper of the animal show proof of insurance, has no history of animal abuse, and lives where the animal will be allowed.
  8. If the animal is pregnant (whether or not it is obvious), the finder will be required to notify the shelter and to determine whether the finder is prepared to foster and bear the expenses through whelping and until the young ones are weaned and when all the young ones and mom will be returned to the shelter to be altered. The puppies will be the property of the Department and will carry all of the rights for the finder that any foster volunteer has. (Note: this does not mention kittens.)


(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.)


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