Proposed Budget for LA Animal Services May Risk Public Safety and Increase Pet Euthanasia

Bound Angels Blog

The following letter is from the Department of LA Animal Services to the Budget and Finance Committee regarding impending budget cuts:

I urge you to weigh in on this issue by contacting the District Councilmen, the link is below. Remember, animal control calls it euthanasia to soften its blow.. these animals will be murdered because council members will vote for a 10% budget cut. Meanwhile we can hire another 1000 LAPD officers, just like the ones that had to shoot and kill the dog below…. I’m not putting down the LAPD, I have the utmost respect for them, however the council needs to know that we NEED animal control to maintain their budget…. PLEASE READ THIS!

In the pre-dawn coolness of Friday morning, April 16, 2010, LAPD officers were waiting for help. Three 130-pound Cane Corso dogs, two males protecting a female, were boxed in by police cars near Slauson and Verdun in Council District 8. The police had to wait for the one person who had the knowledge, skill, and experience to handle the situation safely: an Animal Control Officer. Unfortunately, there was in fact only one Animal Control Officer on grave duty in the entire southern half of the City, and he was responding to a separate LAPD call for assistance to rescue an injured dog in Northeast Los Angeles. Soon after the Animal Control Officer arrived back in South LA to help the LAPD there, the two male dogs crawled out from between two squad cars and were heading home on the sidewalk. There, on the public sidewalk, in this neighborhood of businesses, homes, and churches, two los Angeles Police officers fired at least six rounds, killing one of the dogs. The other two dogs were safely impounded by LA Animal Services.

The reason LA Animal Services exists is to provide for public safety. The City’s first obligation is the public’s safety. Safe streets are those in which trained Animal Control Officers are available to respond to dangerous animals and handle situations without injury to the public, without wasting police resources, and without shots fired. A safe city is one in which an animal expert is on hand to evacuate animals in a disaster as mandated by Federal law so that people are willing to flee to safety. Safe neighborhoods are the foundation for a Humane LA.

Recognizing the precarious financial situation facing the City, we as a public safety agency nevertheless must be candid in our assessment that the deletion of $1.8 million in funding attributed to the 26-working days reduction compromises the Department’s ability to deliver on our public safety responsibility. It compounds the impact of the shared sacrifice cuts we have already absorbed in the last two fiscal years and of the protracted hiring freeze by cutting another 10% of the work force through the 26-working days reduction. The Department believes this will obligate the Mayor and Council to choose closure of an operating animal care center and to sanction a likely resulting increase in pet euthanasia.

Closure of Animal Care Centers/26-Working Day Reduction

Consolidating pet intake into fewer facilities is regression to the conditions that the voters of Los Angeles chose to change in approving the Prop F Bond. Consolidation of the animals leads to more disease, over-crowding, incidences of aggression, and inevitably, increased euthanasia.

We acknowledge the financial imperatives behind the proposed temporary shuttering of the Northeast Animal Care Center in 2010-2001 to achieve short-term financial savings. While this facility is not used for the public now, it is generally filled to about 1/3 capacity with evidence and quarantined animals and for nursing mothers with puppies and kittens. It has proven an invaluable resource for temporary holding of animals evacuated in disasters.

Closing Northeast will require evidence and quarantined animals to be housed in kennels and cages at the other six animal care centers which are currently used to promote the adoption of healthy, available animals. This action will trigger the negative domino effect of: reducing Citywide kennel/cage holding capacity, reducing adoption revenue, reducing our live release rates, and increasing our euthanasia rates. The Department’s overall holding capacity will drop by about 10%, and euthanasia will increase by about 2,500 to 4,000 animals, depending on intake trends. The reaction of the humane community to this downgrading of progress is unknown.

The $1.8 million (10%) additional cut of 26-working days is an effective cut of 8 Animal Control Officers, 14 Animal Care Technicians, 3 Registered Veterinary Technicians, 4 Clerical Staff, and 2 Supervisors, the equivalent of the staff of one of the six fully operational Animal Care Centers.’ The only remaining option that allows for enough staffing to safely provide the necessary levels of animal care and service to the public is to close one Center. The Department will need direction from the Mayor and Council as to which additional Animal Care Center should be closed during the period of time this 26-working day reduction is in effect.

Closing an operating Animal Care Center in addition to Northeast creates an unfortunate situation for the communities we serve. Net holding capacity will drop by at least another 15% and pet euthanasia will rise by 4,000 to 11,000 more pets, depending on intake and the number of animals held as evidence and quarantine, using kennels that would otherwise be available for adoptable animals. Again, we will also lose adoption revenue, and spend more on euthanasia, aggravating rather than alleviating our revenue situation.

The Department cannot reduce its workload by telling residents that services will be cut or by closing our doors. The pursuit of strays and biting animals, the impoundment and care of animals, and the adoption or euthanasia of impounded animals is not discretionary; it is not even a set of services for which residents can find temporary alternatives. We do not control animal intake, and by law we cannot shirk our duty and responsibility. We must accept animals found or brought to us, 24/7. Failing to do so directly and negatively impacts public safety and the City’s compliance with State law.

In the event that the City’s financial situation ultimately requires the temporary closure of any Animal Care Center, we recommend that the General Services Department be requested to submit an estimate of the cost for security services from at least dusk to dawn and to erect fences or other physical measures to safeguard the vacant facility and all remaining equipment.

Call Center Closure

The proposed Call Center cut will result in the elimination of the Department’s dedicated 888 – toll-free number and will increase phone traffic to individual Animal Care Centers and to the City’s 3-1-1 System. Since the 3-1-1 operators cannot have access to our dedicated Chameleon information database (animal, medical, and financial tracking system), operators will be limited in their ability to provide information on topics such as lost animal inquiries. Other than providing general information that is currently available through the City-wide Services Directory, operators will be required to transfer calls directly to Animal Care Centers for assistance which will impact the ability of Department staff to process revenue generating adoption/licensing transactions while servicing and assisting the visiting public. This will result in delays for both callers and on-site customers alike.

The Call Center’s six (6) staff members currently handle approximately 400,000 telephonic inquires annually while the 3-1-1 Call Center handles 1.5 million. Dropping the toll free number in favor of having all calls go through 3-1-1 will result in an approximate 25% workload increase to ITA’s 3-1-1 Call Center. However approximately $100,000 in toll and Integrated Voice Response (IVR) charges will be saved by ITA, a portion of which could be utilized to hire at least one additional 3-1-1 Call Center operator to assist with the increased workload. Beginning in May, the Department will start phasing out the advertisement of its 888 – number while promoting 3-1-1, in a pre-changeover exercise to see if 3-1-1 can handle the call increase without unexpected problems.

The proposed elimination of the License Canvassers will result in a decrease of approximately $300,000 in annual revenue attributed to them. However, they are not cost neutral and total burdened costs for all 8 staff is over $400,000, without considering the cost of supervision and clerical support. Other changes to the dog licensing program which are in process at this time including multi-year and on-line licensing, have a potential to cover the loss of canvassers while additional alternatives are explored.”

The biggest drawback to our program’s success has been that the position of Animal License Canvasser lacks the peace officer or public officer enforcement powers to issue citations, unlike the programs in other jurisdictions. Our Animal License Canvassers are able to request payment for licensing fees; however, other than acting as a “good will ambassador” requesting that payment be made, they lack the ability to enforce compliance of the law through the issuance of citations. For example, the lack of enforcement authority requires a Canvasser to make repeat visits while attempting to collect outstanding $15 license fees, rendering any attempt at full-cost recovery unachievable. Proper staffing of this program with classifications able to carry out the required program duties (i.e., Animal Control Officers or Animal License Inspectors) should be considered a key component to a successful in-house License Canvassing Program in the future.

Fill Remaining Vacant Mid-Management Positions

The proposed budget resolves overfilled supervisory and mid-management positions and makes other streamlining changes. The Department will develop an efficient and functional organization based on the proposed regular positions. However, the ability of the Department to achieve effective and efficient operations, particularly under the strain of reduced resources, requires the authority to appoint staff to the existing positions in that structure. Continued reliance on “acting” appointments compromises effectiveness and damages morale.

Early Retirement IP Payouts

The Department will have $170,000 payable in the coming fiscal year as payouts among the 12 employees who took the ERIP in the current fiscal year and for deferred sick leave. This cost apparently is to come from existing budgeted resources.

The Department does not recommend any budget reduction that would dilute public safety, close an Animal Care Center, or increase the euthanasia rate from its steady downward trend.

We stand ready, however, to support the ultimate decision of the policy-makers. On behalf of LA Animal Services, I look forward to further discussion of this proposed budget and any alternatives that may be possible.

Very Truly Yours,
Kathy Davis
Interim General Manager
LA Animal Services

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