Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz called Friday for sweeping changes at the city’s Animal Services department, including regular walks for dogs, better handling of sick animals who face euthanasia and a mediation process for volunteers.
Koretz, who is running for city controller, released a 46-page report that he called a “road map” of recommendations to help the thousands of dogs, cats and other animals that come through the city’s six shelters each year.
The report, which was sent to Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council, followed Times articles about inadequate care for animals at the shelters. Volunteers and staff have accused the department of understaffing and mismanagement, describing long wait times for dogs to get taken out of kennels and shelters running out of rabbit and guinea pig food.
Volunteers, whom the city relies on for basic care of the animals, have also been dismissed after speaking to the media and criticizing the department.
“What is clear is that Animal Services is in need of much more personnel and a drastic increase in its funding,” Koretz said, adding that a lack of money was a “chronic budget issue” that can be addressed by the mayor and City Council. Koretz chairs the committee that oversees animal issues.
His opponent in the controller race, Kenneth Mejia, has been hammering Koretz on Twitter. On Thursday, Mejia tweeted a new online advertisement featuring a former volunteer criticizing Koretz over the state of the shelters.
Koretz trailed Mejia by nearly 20 points in the June 7 primary.
At a news conference at City Hall, Koretz repeatedly defended himself, saying that as a councilman he has “no ability to order the department to do anything.” That power rests with the mayor and others, he said.
Asked about Garcetti’s role, Koretz said that he couldn’t criticize the mayor.
“But I can’t say that he’s been really hands-on or his department has been in overseeing Animal Services,” Koretz added. “That’s primarily his responsibility and the mayor’s office’s responsibility.”
Garcetti spokesperson Harrison Wollman said the mayor’s office has been working with Animal Services on dog walking and staffing issues. The budget proposal for the next fiscal year contains new funding for additional staffing, Wollman said.
Koretz said his report was based on comments and suggestions provided by the public, stakeholders and Animal Services volunteers and staff.
The report covered more than 30 issues, including dogs confined to their kennels for long periods without walks, the longtime friction between staff and volunteers and the lack of staff and funds to properly run all six shelters.
Evidence dogs, which include canines who are victims of abuse or neglect or who are accused of aggressive behavior, were more likely to be confined to their kennels for weeks and sometimes months at a time, a Times review found.
In the report, Koretz questions whether the department may be acting “too reticent” in finding solutions for handling evidence dogs.
Evidence animals left in kennels for months at a time will probably “exacerbate whatever behavioral issues placed them in the situation to begin with,” the report said.
Koretz suggested in the report that the department contract with animal handlers experienced with dangerous and evidence dogs to increase how often they are taken out.
The report also suggests the department make basic play groups a requirement for every shelter. Play groups allow for volunteers and staff to get multiple dogs out of their kennels and interact and play with other canines. The report notes that the exercise yards at four shelters need to be modified to ensure they are safe for dog play groups.
The South Los Angeles shelter recently underwent a pilot program to promote play groups, and Koretz suggested in the report that the department consider the program be expanded to all the animal shelter. The report also suggests the department expand a program that partners state prison inmates with shelter dogs.
The report also detailed criticism about cats and small animals at the shelter. Community cat rooms are underutilized, the report stated, and the difference in behavior between cats in the community rooms and those in cages is “striking.”
And though small mammals including hamsters, guinea pigs and rabbits require less care compared with cats and dogs, “they deserve first-class care and treatment like any other animal in the department’s care,” the report said.
The report addresses decades-long tensions between staff and volunteers, which can negatively affect the volunteer program. Koretz said the department is establishing a volunteer relations committee as a tool to improve the volunteer program and relations between the two groups.
The report also addresses the issue of volunteers being suspended or let go from their positions after speaking to media about conditions at the shelter. Koretz recommended that the department consider a “reset” with suspended volunteers and engage in a dispute resolution process to get them reinstated.
The report details recommendations to improve spay and neuter efforts, which many in the public have said the department is not enforcing.
The report suggests that Garcetti and the City Council annually allocate money to the Animal Sterilization Fund and consider citing dog owners who do not neuter or spay their pets and have not been licensed by the city.
He also recommended that the department do a better job of notifying groups that partner with the city about animals who are suffering from “serous medical or health conditions” and may require veterinary care that the department can’t provide.
He said one volunteer reported that rescuers and partner agencies aren’t always alerted to those animals, “potentially leading to their being euthanized unnecessarily.”
Justin Khosrowabadi, a spokesperson for Animal Services, said Friday that Koretz’s report would be reviewed and that “as a municipal shelter, there is always an opportunity to do more.”
“L.A. Animal Services is committed to serving our community by providing programs and resources to keep pets and their families together, and ensuring the safety and well-being of animals, both inside our shelters and out in our communities, and the people who love them,” Khosrowabadi said.
Koretz said Friday he had visited a city shelter the previous week but hadn’t gone to one in 2½ to three years before that.
However, he said he didn’t think he needed to visit the shelters to see the issues there. He also said that he had addressed some problems in the past.
Several former and current volunteers have said at recent public meetings that problems have existed for years at the shelters and questioned Koretz’s new focus on them.
Koretz also introduced several motions Friday, including a request to transfer $3 million in emergency funding from the city’s reserve fund to Animal Services.