LA Animal Services officials blame staff shortage, pandemic challenges for issues at city shelters

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Wednesday, July 20, 2022
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A recent report on the conditions at city animal shelters prompted an emergency meeting Tuesday that shined a light on the challenges Los Angeles is facing and the change the public is demanding.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A recent report on the conditions at city animal shelters prompted an emergency meeting Tuesday that shined a light on the challenges Los Angeles is facing and the change the public is demanding.

The meeting was held in response to a Los Angeles Times story that reported animal shelters are overcrowded and that some dogs spend weeks or months inside their kennels without being walked.

Councilman Paul Koretz, chair of the Personnel, Audits and Animal Welfare Committee, called the emergency meeting after what his office described as "disturbing and unacceptable" revelations in the story, published last week.

The meeting included 90 minutes of public comment with 140 callers who didn't get to speak due to time restrictions.

"My goal is to help the department find solutions to the problems that exist at the Department of Animal Services and our many animal shelters," said Koretz.

Los Angeles Animal Services relies mostly on unpaid volunteers to walk and exercise dogs, according to the Times.

LA animal shelters reach capacity, ask Angelenos to adopt or foster pets

According to data from Los Angeles Animal Services, the city's six animal shelters have seen a 30% increase in dogs this year through the month of May compared to the same period last year.

However, the department hasn't seen increases in their budget and currently has 50 open positions and 58 employees due to COVID-19-related issues.

"It's not that employees can't walk the dogs, it's that right now, due to the high volume of animals and the low number of staff that we have, our priorities have shifted to make sure that we're providing at least food, water, and a clean environment to the animals," said Acting General Manager for L.A. Animal Services Annette Ramirez.

Meanwhile, at the South L.A. shelter - which is the city's largest - is the most crowded with 300 dogs.

Some of their kennels are housing more than one dog.

Eyewitness News visited the shelter Tuesday and saw as many as four dogs living in a space intended for one.

"A lot of people are also feeling the impacts of COVID and having financial struggles where they're losing their housing or they're just going through other financial issues that they're unable to keep that pet," said Ramirez.

ABC7 also met concerned pet lovers, such as Beverly Hills resident Lewis Cimino.

"Hearing them all in cages like in prisons, it looks like a prison," he said.

Cimino came across the L.A. Times report, which was confirmed to Eyewitness News by shelter volunteers, and came to help walk the dogs.

He also ended up adopting one.

"It breaks my heart and makes me sob," said Cimino. "I just can't stop crying."

Councilmen Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Bob Blumenfield also voiced concerns to the Times after the story was published.

In a statement last week, Koretz said he meets with the animal services department every month to discuss "every aspect of the department's operations, including complaints I've received from members of the public about problems."

"My position as the committee chair does not empower me to boss the general manager around, but I'm not shy about making suggestions and recommendations," Koretz said.

The committee also discussed animal intake and care, adoption programs, shelter maintenance and staffing.

According to data, this is actually not the most crowded L.A. animal shelters have been.

In 2019, before the pandemic, the city's shelters had much more pets, but the adoption craze at the beginning of the pandemic helped lower those numbers.

City News Service contributed to this report.