LA shelters are turning away animals, residents complain
The city of Los Angeles’ animal shelters have been under fire for months, with volunteers and rescue groups complaining that animals are being neglected and department officials admitting they don’t have enough staff to operate the six shelters.
Criticism heated up again last week when members of the commission that oversees animal services urged department officials to respond to complaints about shelter workers turning away people trying to donate animals.
At a hearing of the Board of Animal Services Commissioners on Tuesday, panel members asked the department to report on the city’s policy on accepting animals.
“We continue to receive emails from the public telling us about rejected animals,” said Commissioner Jose Sandoval.
The concerns follow ongoing fighting at the department, which has seen a double-digit increase in the number of cats and dogs placed in shelters through October compared to the same period last year.
Callers to meetings of the Animal Welfare Commission regularly complain about the non-acceptance of animals. At Tuesday’s meeting, Commission President Larry Gross said he and other members were “really concerned that people are being turned away”.
During Tuesday’s meeting, speakers shared stories of animal shelter workers refusing to take in kittens and cats.
Michelle Cornelius, who works as a volunteer at West Valley Animal Shelter, said someone called the shelter after they found a kitten and wanted to give it to the shelter, but was told it should be released onto the street unless , it was hurt.
“It’s very clear that giving staff discretion over which animals to take in doesn’t work,” Cornelius told commissioners. “The department has to go back to accepting any animals that come to the door.”
Fabienne Origer, manager of AGWC Rockin’ Rescue in Woodland Hills, said her group has become a de facto animal shelter after animals were evicted from the city.
On Tuesday, someone called the city’s West Valley animal shelter after giving up a pregnant cat they found four weeks ago but could no longer care for and was told by a shelter worker to leave the cat said Origer.
The person first contacted the rescue group, but they were stretched with more than 100 animals in their care, Origer said.
The shelter told the person to return the cat to where they found it, Origer said. Upon hearing that the person was planning to release the cat near Lake Balboa, Origer said she begged the person to bring the pregnant cat to the rescue.
“Even though we’re busy [I had her] Just bring them to us,” Origer said. The alternative was to leave behind a pregnant, unrestrained stray who would give birth to more stray kittens, Origer added.
In August, Origer encountered two people at the South Los Angeles Chesterfield Square Animal Shelter who were trying to drop off two cats they found in a roadside box.
Origer recorded the interaction between the people and the shelter staff and posted it on Instagram.
“They said, ‘Oh, you need an appointment to drop her off or just leave her on the street,'” one person is heard saying.
Lisa Lange, vice president of communications for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said she’s received multiple reports of people trying to give up cats and dogs to city shelters, only to be told the animals belong on the streets.
Justin Khosrowabadi, a spokesman for Animal Services, said shelters generally don’t accept feral cats.
“Company cats, also known as feral cats, are generally not socialized or friendly to people. They live full, healthy lives with their cat families in their outdoor homes,” Khosrowabadi said.
Animal Services’ website states that having “six open-take municipal shelters throughout Los Angeles means no animals will be turned away when brought into our shelters.”
In a follow-up interview, Commission President Gross said Animal Services is waiting for signs and leaflets to ensure volunteers, staff and the public are aware of the open intake policy. Gross said the shelter should accept deliveries even when people don’t have an appointment, like the situation of cats found in a box by the side of the road.
Some claims about employees turning away animals may not be true or omit details, Gross said. Staff will try to find out why an animal is being given away and convince the person to keep the animal for as long as possible, he said.
However, he acknowledged that sometimes there are misunderstandings where staff or volunteers refuse to take in an animal.
“They try to minimize intake, but the bottom line is that we have an obligation to accommodate these pets and animals when there is no alternative,” Gross said.
Commissioner Olivia E. Garcia at Tuesday’s meeting called on interim director general Annette Ramirez to remind department staff that they must accept animals.
“There has to be a unified approach so these things don’t happen,” Garcia said during the meeting. “We keep getting reports and that’s worrying.”
An Animal Services worker told The Times last week that in the years he has lived in the city he has never experienced such overcrowded conditions at the shelters. Sometimes three dogs are housed in a kennel, the worker said, which makes cleaning up after the animals difficult.
“Everything is full,” said a worker at another shelter.
The department has waived adoption fees in hopes of getting animals out the door.
“We urge the community to foster or adopt a pet to ensure there is lifesaving space for animals that will find their way to our shelters this holiday season without going anywhere else,” department spokeswoman Agnes said Sibal.