Animal Welfare

Los Angeles Animal Shelters are in a state of crisis. Thanks to volunteers and other whistleblowers who have stepped forward, the animal neglect and mismanagement of Los Angeles Animal Services has become unignorable. As City Controller, and as a proud pet parent, I will help restore LAAS to its primary purpose— serving animals.

As City Controller, we will:

Conduct a comprehensive audit of Los Angeles Animal Services

  • This audit will account for all five sections of the LAAS budget, with a primary focus on Shelter Operations and Animal Care. 
  • We will review and report on all currently approved contracts, flagging those that have yet to provide any tangible results or shelter improvements based on their expenses.
  • The audit will also include information about volunteer hours and other measures that outline how reliant the shelters are on unpaid volunteers.
  • In addition to volunteer hours, our in-depth look at salaries will distinguish any recurring issues with PTO (paid time off) or OT (overtime) in the annual budgeting of Shelter Operations and Animal Care.

Provide total budget breakdown and develop resources for LAAS to maintain lasting transparency

  • The only way to ensure that an audit’s impact is lasting is to set up the framework for transparent spending as the department moves forward.
  • The city offers some resources already, but they lack detail and specificity. Instead of a simple “salaries” column, our detailed audit will share how much of each shelter’s budget goes towards active Animal Care Technicians (ACT’s) and how much goes towards roles that are not directly responsible for animal care (like administrative clerks).
  • This transparency will help prevent problems that have occurred in the past, like LAAS not accounting for enough vaccines/medical supplies, or other issues that may not be visible under more general spending categories.
  • The monthly reports (Woof Stats) should be overhauled to prioritize transparency and a clear focus on animal capacity and outcomes. While animal intake and outcome statistics are useful in a broader sense, including a comparison of animal totals and shelter capacities in each month’s report could help identify more immediate or localized issues.
Photo taken on Kenneth Mejia's visit to the Los Angeles City Government Animal Shelter

Audit and provide oversight for the Animal Welfare Trust Fund

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.

Hold LAAS accountable for fixing short staffing and meeting animal’s basic needs

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. 

Photo taken on Kenneth Mejia's visit to the East Los Angeles City Government Animal Shelter

Push for a reallocation of resources to be committed to reducing animal intake

Reducing animal intake is arguably the single most important step the city can take in helping this underperforming Department. There are plenty of points for improving the management and policies of LAAS, but none of that will help if the shelters are met with more and more animals coming in each month.

  • More money should be devoted to the spay/neuter fund in general, but money should especially be focused on bringing mobile spay/neuter partners back into the fold. In 2020, they accounted for 3,000+ surgeries, and have proven to be effective.
  • The free spay/neuter vouchers should be expanded and the discount spay/neuter vouchers should be increased significantly. The form to apply for these programs should be streamlined and revised for accessibility and ease-of-use.
  • The process for obtaining a breeder’s license should be more stringent. The number of breeder’s licenses administered by the city has risen dramatically, and there is little to no background information required for those who seek them.
  • Animal Control Officers (ACO’s) should be tasked with more efforts directed at halting backyard breeding, and could also be partnered with local organizations to implement citywide TNR(Trap, Neuter, Return) programs.

Volunteer support and solidarity with whistleblowers

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:

  1.  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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.