Currently, there are few restrictions and almost no oversight regarding how donation funds are used. Every time somebody donates to LAAS, those funds are added to the Animal Welfare Trust Fund— and not towards the shelters themselves.
- We will analyze the expenditures from this fund over the past ten years and provide transparency for those donating and the general public.
- We will urge the department to authorize spending from this fund in order to prioritize animals’ well-being and ensure their basic needs are met promptly. There is no justification for dozens of kennels missing dog beds while money donated for this exact purpose sits in a fund waiting to be used.
Los Angeles Animal Services has an obligation, both morally and contractually, to provide animals with food, water, and a clean shelter. This standard is simply not being met. Even now— nearly a month after the LA Times story exposed many of these issues— whistleblowers affirm that it is unpaid volunteers who are left in charge of the feeding, and that dogs are still regularly missing their meals.
- The very first point of order should be to reinstate the suspended volunteers who were penalized for bringing this matter to the media. Their decision to speak up for the animals is indicative of their values, and of their willingness to help. Many of them run vital programs for the animals and are very familiar with the shelters, and there is no reason for them to remain suspended during a period of such drastic short staffing.
- Furthermore, we will urge LAAS to provide clear and distinct guidelines for staff to ensure that dogs have food, water, beds, and adequate exercise— regardless of current budgeting or staffing obstacles. These essential services should be guaranteed for any animal under LAAS’ care, and the bulk of these responsibilities should not be falling upon unpaid volunteers.
- An influx of volunteers have shown that members of the public are willing to step up and help manage this crisis. Hiring one extra administrative clerk to help process these volunteers is not the solution to this issue; this problem is systemic. The long-term solution will require top down changes and likely a restructuring of the current management practices in the department. In the immediate future, more ACT’s and supportive policies are the first steps towards fixing the day-to-day issues that the shelters face.
The president of the Board of Animal Services Commissioners, Larry Gross, has repeatedly stated that the dismal conditions at LA shelters are the consequence of “staffing and funding” issues alone. We will investigate all aspects of the shelter system to determine the actual causes of the conditions and make recommendations based on our comprehensive audit.
Time and time again, top executives at LAAS have admitted that the city’s shelters are dependent on their volunteers to function appropriately. Yet, these volunteers (some of whom commit thousands of hours of their time) are offered little clarity and little authority when it comes to their voices within the Department of Animal Services.
Suggestions from volunteers should be welcomed, and not discouraged. Many of the whistleblowers admitted that going to the media was not their first choice, and that they had many unanswered or unresolved reports that were never given proper attention by LAAS leadership.
There is no way forward for LAAS without transparency and clarity. Volunteers deserve to know that their voices will be heard and that they will be treated with respect and good faith at any of our city’s shelters. To ensure this, we propose the following:
- The Volunteer Handbook should be revised, with special attention paid to the protections and responsibilities LAAS volunteers have at their shelters. Volunteers are individuals outside of their affiliation with this department, and should be able to speak as such without fear of repercussions. Inconsistently enforced policies should be ironed out, and there should be no disparity in actions resulting in suspension for one volunteer and not another.
- Volunteers should be given clear guidelines for what a suspension entails, and what actions necessitate one. These clarifications should go beyond the vague framework set up by the Department of Animal Services Volunteer Rules & Guidelines, and they should be enforced with consistency. The supervisory roles already in place (Shelter Supervisor, Volunteer Coordinator, etc.) should be serving the purpose of resolving internal disputes fairly and equitably. Suspensions should never be used as a means to silence criticism, and this retaliatory practice must be stopped immediately.
- Playgroup training, behavior training, and other development opportunities should be made available to all volunteers (and applicable staff) at the shelters. Opportunities to help certify that dogs are “dog friendly” are essential to getting these animals adopted, and more volunteers should be supported and trained in order to ensure that these crucial events are happening regularly.
- Finally, the Board of Animal Services Commission should designate a volunteer representative, or account for a position within the Commission for someone with direct shelter experience to speak. There should not be such a stark disconnect between the voices of volunteers, shelter supporters, or previous volunteers and those who hold the shelters accountable.