Culver City News
February 21, 2008
by Gary Walker
Shelter Critics Not Swayed
Culver City animal rights advocates took exception to a report by the director of the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control Marcia Mayeda to the Board of Supervisors last week regarding the death of a puppy at the Carson Animal Control Shelter that was reportedly taken to the shelter from Culver City last October.
Animal rights activists from several cities, including Culver City, have called for Mayeda to resign since the death of a 10-month old mixed breed puppy named Zephyr that was retrieved in Culver City in October and transported to Carson. The puppy died in December after a six-week stay at the shelter. That prompted Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke to open an investigation into the incident and request that Mayeda deliver a report on how the animal's death had been handled. An independent necropsy indicated that the puppy died of pneumonia.
"I think [Mayeda] has been incredibly ineffective," said Meg Schick, whose dog, Mowai, was held at the Carson facility for six months last year after he was impounded by the animal control department.
Schick and her husband Rick believe that Mayeda was responsible for holding their dog at the shelter indefinitely after an investigation into an allegation that Mowai, an Alaskan husky, might have been involved in the death of a neighborhood cat. Mowai was released last month after nearly a year away from his family, and the Schicks incurred several thousands of dollars in legal expenses after they had two misdemeanor charges of community hazard and public muisance filed against them. They are currently deciding if they will sue the county for reimbursement of their legal fees.
Maydea told the supervisors that Zephyr had not frozen to death, as some websites have claimed.
"We also reviewed all the heating systems at the facility and found them to be operational at all times," she said.
"One of the challenges that we face in operating an animal shelter is maintaining a healthy general population, as well as the individual health of all of the animals," Mayeda told the board. "The longer an animal is at an animal shelter, the greater the risk of them contracting illness can occur, because they're stressed...It's a stressful environment."
Deborah Weinrach, the president of Friends of the Culver City Animals, did not give Mayeda or her report to the board high marks. "I think that what she said was an admission of everything that has been going on [at Carson] for a very long time," said Weinrauch, who has visited the Carson shelter several times.
Councilwoman Carol Gross says that she has visited the Carson shelter and did not find it to be in the condition that many pet advocates have reported. "I went there on an unannounced visit in November," Gross said in an interview last week. "The dogs in the cages that I saw did not seem to be overcrowded, and it did not seem particularly unclean."
Rick Schick saw firsthand what the Carson facility looked like on his frequent visits to Mowai last year. He noticed that often many of the animals cages appeared to be unclean, and frequently Mowai was found standing in a filthy cage in his own waste. "I thought that was how the shelter was run, until I began hearing from different people," said Shick.
Others also say that the shelter frequently has several animals packed into one cage, where the dogs and cats often wait long periods of time to have their cages cleaned. They also accuse the county of gross mismanagement of its facilities, especially at the Carson shelter, where they allege that animals are frequently put down without any attempt to contact the owners and are often not given proper medical care.
"There is a huge amount of negligence and suffering there," said Weinrauch.
Mayeda sought to defend herself and her staff in her report to the supervisors. "Change doesn't happen overnight," she asserted. "I can put out great new policies - and that's the first step - but then the next step is getting everyone to buy into them." Mayeda did admit that at many of the county shelters there are employee shortages.
"It's unfortunately a high turnover field because it's challenging work for relatively lower wages," the director acknowledged. "And unfortunately, it's often difficult to retain staff. We're continuously hiring
"I don't believe that there's an excessive amount of vacancies right now," she continued. "One of the challenges is that we will have people off on industrial accidents or other sorts of leaves that freeze that position until they come back."
Three civil lawsuits have been filed against the county and Maydea in recent months, alleging that the county has retaliated against rescue workers who publicize unlawful treatment of animals at county facilities. One legal action filed by the No Kill Advocacy Center accuses Mayeda of indefinitely suspending the volunteer status of animal rescue volunteer Janet Taylor and refusing to release any animals to her or Cathy Nuygen, another volunteer worker, in their capacity as volunteers for nonprofit animal rescue groups willing to care for those animals or as members of the public, among other allegations. "The Los Angeles County animal control system is supposed to provide a reasonable safety net for the care of lost and abandoned animals," said Nathan J. Winograd, the executive director of the No Kill Advocacy Center. "Instead, the system betrays the trust of the citizens of Los Angeles County by failing to treat animals humanely and kindly.
One lawsuit seeks an injunction against the Carson shelter that would force it to "follow [state] law and make every effort to give humane care and shelter to the animals there," said Orly Degani, an attorney who represents Nguyen.
The lawsuit does not seek any monetary damages.
Senate Bill 1785, which was passed in 1999, expanded the rights and duties of publicly funded animal shelters and pounds. Sponsored by former assemblyman and state senator Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), it requires shelters to maintain lost and found lists and to provide the names and addresses of other shelters in the area so that shelters will be able to track animals in the system. It also allows nonprofit animal rescue and adoption groups to obtain shelter animals who are about to be killed and requires shelters to use all reasonable means of checking for owner identification on strays.
Mayeda told the board that Zephyr became ill and remained at the shelter while waiting for a volunteer - Taylor - who had put a hold on the animal, to pick it up. Taylor has denied putting a hold on the dog. She said that she left a note adking the shelter to call if the deog was in danger of being euthanized.
Taylor said the shelter never called. Weinrauch and her supports are hopeful that when a new City Council is seated in Culver City in April, they will consider hiring a local animal control officer and seek another shelter locally where wildlife and lost and abandoned pets can be taken and treated in a humane fashion. "This is not only about treating animals in a kind and humane manner," she explained. "This is about a city government looking after the health and safety of its residents, and spending our tax dollars in a wise and humane fashion."
"I'm distressed by the fact that Culver City renewed its contract with the county," said Meg Shick. "I don't know why we don't contract with the Los Angeles Animal Services facility on Pico Boulevard in West Los Angeles, because it's closer and so much nicer."
Gross told the News that the current council, prior to entering into a five-year agreement with the county for animal control services, explored other options with other cities, "but that [option] was not available to us."
The Culver City Council, facing budget constraints and an outcry on public notice, voted by a 3-2 margin Monday night to implement an animal control officer (ACO) for 24 months on a "pilot program."