On Skid Row, animals are bred as LA shelters reach overcapacity

Wednesday, October 25, 2023
On Skid Row, animals are bred as shelters reach overcapacity
Skid Row is the epicenter of the homeless crisis in L.A., but it's not just people living on the streets. Many have pets and some of the homeless are breeding the animals for money.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Sitting in a black sedan pulled over on a street in Skid Row, a kitten holds on. The beginning of his life could soon be the end. He needs medical help - fast.

Taking him there is Shira Scott. She does this several times a week, eight years and counting.

"No one grows up and goes, 'I want to be an animal rescuer' or goes to college for this, you know," said Scott, founder of Animal Rescue Mission. "But you can't not do it."

Scott, Joey Tuccio and Jenn Sims are bonded by their animal rescue efforts.

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ABC7 tagged along on a routine checkup on Skid Row, where they say the animal overpopulation has grown to crisis level.

Some dogs and cats are taken care of by the unhoused. Some are left to take care of themselves. Others get stuck in between.

Video obtained by ABC7 shows dogs in cages, left on the sidewalk in the summer heat.

The outcry has prompted more than 18,000 people to sign an online petition begging city officials do more.

Los Angeles City Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez is brainstorming what she and her colleagues can do, starting with the breeders permit, which someone can buy for $235.

So far this year, the city has issued more than 1,300 new permits. Hernandez introduced a motion to pause it, which the city council approved unanimously. The ordinance, once finalized, will initiate a moratorium that can be lifted when the number of pets in shelters falls below 75% capacity.

"We are not able to get pets out quick enough into homes, and we have to figure out different ways to slow down the stream of new pets being created," Hernandez said.

On Skid Row, a 1-year-old Dobermann named Pebbles is pregnant with her first litter. Her owner, Dwight, bred her intentionally.

He plans to sell the puppies, saying doing so will help him get off the streets.

Rescuers shared video after video of litters littering the streets. Puppies being raised in shopping carts, often for sale.

The reasons why people breed dogs on Skid Row vary. At the root of them: why not?

ABC7 asked Hernandez what's stopping people from breeding dogs, even with a moratorium. She alludes to the moratorium as a reflection of the situation overall.

"But that's why we also have to talk about the staffing levels at our L.A. Animal Services Department," Hernandez said.

L.A. Animal Services plans to hire 120 relief animal care workers -- part-time, as-needed workers. If all goes well they should take weeks, rather than months, to fill.

The rescue workers ABC7 spoke with believe adding ordinances and resources are two issues, but enforcement is a third.

"Spay and neuter, get licenses," Simms said. "Do you have the adequate space for your animal? (Those are) the rules."

Adding enforcement to the often lawless Skid Row is a delicate dilemma. If doing so means taking animals off of Skid Row, the next challenge lies in where to put them.

"To everyone's point, our shelters are overrun right now," Tuccio said. "So that's why we have to stop it now, before it gets even worse."

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The number of intakes at L.A. city animal shelters is creeping up to pre-pandemic level, with an average of 3,300 animals surrendered per month. Monthly intake levels hit a two and a half year peak this summer, topping 4,000.

The kitten taken off of Skid Row had mange and needed hernia surgery. He's recovering, and no longer living on Skid Row, which means he's no longer living with Danesha White.

She agreed to let the rescuers take him. Doing so wasn't easy.

"They're emotional support," White said.

She says she has lived on Skid Row on and off for five years. Help comes every so often, for the animals and the people.

When it's quiet, they have each other.

"Something to take care of," White said. "Be there for you, you be there for it."