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Kittens? 1024 1024 Animal Care and Control

Kittens?

My first cat was a beautiful black and white cat named Murphy. Murphy was born at the home of the “cat lady” who lived down the block and fed dozens of cats, with no sterilization plan in place to reduce their population growth. Murphy was first taken in as a kitten by our neighbors, but their established cat would not tolerate another cat in the house. So Murphy came to live with us, and I had him for the rest of his life. My favorite memory of him was how he would sleep in bed with me with his cheek against mine and his arms wrapped around my neck, purring contentedly as we both drifted off to sleep.

Murphy was born into a common situation, where unsterilized free-roaming cats reproduce and create homeless kittens. Murphy had a mother that raised him and his littermates until they were weaned, at which time he found a new home. Being raised by his mother was the best option for him – he had the benefits of obtaining his nutrients and immunity from her milk and was better positioned for transition into his new home.

DACC is regularly contacted by well-meaning people who have found a litter of young kittens that cannot yet eat on their own and wish to bring them to the animal care center for care. However, this is not always the best option for the kittens. There may be a mother caring for them, and it is better for them to remain with her until they are weaned. Bringing unweaned kittens to an animal care center may expose them to viruses carried by asymptomatic adult cats that the kittens’ underdeveloped immune systems cannot fight. Care centers do not have the staff to feed unweaned kittens every few hours, around the clock. Therefore, these kittens may be euthanized if a foster home cannot be found for them. If the kittens appear clean, healthy, and have full bellies then their mother is caring for them and intervention is not necessary until they are weaned, at which time they should be spayed or neutered and placed into new homes.

If the kittens appear to be thin, ill, and unclean then the mother may have become injured or otherwise unable to care for them. In these cases, the kittens need help but there is still a better option than bringing them to an animal shelter. DACC has a foster care program for residents who wish to save a litter of kittens. We provide all the supplies and training necessary, along with advice along the way. Many kind people have taken in litters of kittens for the few weeks necessary until they are old enough for adoption, and even participate in finding homes for the kittens.

A supplemental kitten foster care program has been made possible by the generous support of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). The ASPCA began working with us on our Pee Wee kitten program in the autumn of 2016. The ASPCA has an intervention program at our Downey and Baldwin Park animal care centers (ACCs) where they provide registered veterinary technicians (RVTs) to evaluate each litter of kittens and refer them to foster homes that day. The RVTs works out of DACC’s Ani-Safe trailers, which are fully operational animal care mobile trailers that can house staff and animals during emergencies or other off-site needs.

This public-private partnership has saved more than 8,000 kittens since its inception and now supports all seven of our care centers. In addition to this Pee Wee program, the ASPCA has been a strong partner in funding programs to reduce euthanasia, assist people redeeming their stray pets, increase adoptions, transport animals to other jurisdictions that have a need for adoptable animals, provide resources to people assisting community cats, and more.

Murphy’s Law states that whatever can go wrong, will. However, we don’t need to fall victim to Murphy’s Law when we encounter unweaned kittens. Here’s what you should do:

  1. If their mom is with them, leave them alone. Monitor the litter and socialize them, so they will be adoptable when they are weaned.
  2. If the mom is not with them, assess their condition. Are they clean, healthy, warm and have full bellies? Mom is likely taking good care of them. Continue to monitor the family and follow step one.
  3. If the kittens are thin, ill, or dirty, they may need your help. Consider fostering the litter. DACC will provide you with all the resources (milk replacer, etc.) that you will need and be available to provide advice along the way, including how to find them homes when the time is ready. This is a fantastic way to teach kids about caring and responsibility, without a long term commitment.
  4. If you cannot foster the kittens and live in DACC’s service area, contact our communications center to make an appointment to bring them in. If they are healthy enough for fostering, we will access the ASPCA’s network of foster volunteers or our own to get them into a foster home.
  5. Check out DACC’s website for more kitten care information at https://animalcare.lacounty.gov/got-kittens/

By following these steps we can help vulnerable kittens progress through their fragile early weeks with as much support as they need, beginning with their own mother’s care. The recommendations above save lives and engage the community in our animal welfare mission. Please spread the word and consider becoming a foster parent with DACC (check out https://animalcare.lacounty.gov/become-a-foster-caretaker/) or with the ASPCA at www.aspca.org/FosterLA.  More than 8,000 kittens thank you!

 

Marcia Mayeda

You can subscribe to Marcia’s blog here: https://animalcare.lacounty.gov/directors_blog/

Does Your Dog Act Its Breed? 409 358 Animal Care and Control

Does Your Dog Act Its Breed?

In my early twenties I worked on a sheep farm in southern Illinois. The farm had about 1,000 sheep and two Great Pyrenees dogs to protect them. Great Pyrenees dogs are a type of dog known as a livestock guardian dog (LGD); they do not herd the sheep like border collies but are there instead to protect the sheep from predators. They are giant, white (mostly), hairy dogs that blend in well with the flocks.

The Pyrs, as the breed is affectionately known, slept all day in the barn when humans were about and there was no danger present to the sheep. However, all night long they patrolled the farm, regularly barking to let any coyotes or roaming farm dogs know that they were on duty and a force to be reckoned with. Pyrs have a deep, booming bark that denotes authority and the ability to back it up. We never lost a single sheep thanks to these dogs.

However, they often chose to broadcast their presence in the middle of the night right outside my bedroom window. I really don’t recall ever getting a good night’s sleep during my time on the farm. I remember laying awake thinking, “These are super sweet dogs and I really love them, but who would EVER have one as a pet?”

Fast forward many years. We had just lost our beloved Newfoundland, and my husband suggested we get a Great Pyrenees because that breed would be more protective of our home. All I remembered at the time about my experience with the Pyrs was how sweet, loving, and gentle they were and happily agreed. Off we went to Great Pyrenees Association of Southern California, an animal rescue and adoption organization that specializes in Pyrs. We brought home our new Pyr, Sebastian, who immediately began patrolling our back yard and loudly let the neighborhood know he was on duty. I had forgotten about the barking! Nevertheless, we loved him dearly and have become devoted fans of the breed; we have had four more rescued Pyrs after Sebastian. They have all been barkers and devoted protectors of our home, even stopping two attempted burgularies.

However, there are differences between them. Sebastain hated going out in the rain but didn’t mind loud noises. Isabella would stand in the rain for as long as we would let her but was terrified if there was thunder or lightning. Holly is shy around strangers, but the others eagerly make new friends. Dino has a deep suspicion of anything on wheels – skateboards, bicycles, shopping carts – but others ignore them. Freya hides her toys under seat cushions while the rest leave them scattered around the house.

Still, they all share the Pyr behavioral traits of independence, willfullness, and protectiveness. These were behaviors required of an LGD, which was bred to be left alone with the sheep to defend them against wolves, and not rely excessively on human companionship. This independent behavior also means that none of our dogs are going to win any obedience competitions. I have given up on expecting them to respond like our Golden Retriever Rebecca, for whom my wish is her command.

The similarities and differences between our five Pyrs came to mind when I read a recent study published in the journal Science that suggests that a dog’s breed has less influence on individual behavior than people believe. This study collected DNA and owner reports on their dogs’ behavior with the intent to explore how genetics shapes complex behavioral traits. The study suggests that relying on breed as a determinant of a dog’s behavior is not as reliable as many people might believe.

The authors reported that some traits, like biddability (responsiveness to direction and commands) are more linked to certain breeds such as Border Collies, and sociability is heavily linked to Golden Retrievers, but other less heritable traits like agnostic threshold (how easily a dog is provoked by frightening stimuli) are less reliable. The researchers reported, “Behavioral factors show high variability within breeds, suggesting that although breed may affect the likelihood of a particular behavior to occur, breed alone is not, contrary to popular belief, informative enough to predict an individual’s disposition.” The study reported this is even more so for mixed breed dogs.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) responded to the study’s findings by citing a 2019 study published in The Royal Society’s Proceedings B biological research journal. That study evaluated more than 14,000 dogs from 101 specific breeds. This study found that, “Breed differences in behavior covary strongly with relatedness between breeds, and for several traits, genotype accounts for more than 50% of the behavioral variation across breeds—up to 25× higher than heritability estimates from genetic studies within breeds.”

The AKC stated, “The AKC’s position that breed and type of dog does inform about general and instinctual behavior and is the reason owners should consider behavioral tendencies before selecting a breed to make an educated and informed decision that leads to a happy and life-long commitment to the dog.”

This is an important consideration for dog parents or people deciding on what breed (or mix thereof) of dog they might like to add to their family. It is especially important in the field of animal welfare as we see the negative consequences of mismatched dogs and families.  New dog owners may obtain dogs unaware of that breed’s propensities, or experience disappointment if their new dog did not meet their expectations of how it should behave because of its breed. These disappointments can result in rehoming the dog rather than accepting their behaviors and keeping the dog in the family.

DACC uses its knowledge of breed propensities to help guide adopters in selecting a suitable dog to add to their family. An adopter looking for a couch potato to hang out with that is captivated by a Siberian Husky’s blue eyes and striking appearance may be gently redirected to a more suitable dog. Huskies were bred for racing miles in the snow and require a great deal of exercise, a trait not appropriate for this home. However, a person looking for a jogging buddy would be the ideal adopter.

Sure, there are Siberian Huskies that enjoy loafing on the couch. However, let’s stack the deck to make sure we can make the most successful matches between dog and family. People can use breed characteristics as a general guide on what to expect, but it should not be the defining rule for an individual dog’s behavior. Accepting a dog that comes with or without the breed’s behavioral traits should be a key commitment to pet ownership.

Just think if the tables were turned. Would a dog give us away because we don’t meet their expectations? Our dogs accept us with all our faults, quirks, bad habits, and when we don’t behave the way they expected. We owe them the same consideration.

Here’s a link to the Science article:

https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abk0639

Here’s a link to the AKC’s response:

https://www.akc.org/press-releases/akc-opinion-aaas-breed-behavior-study/

Here’s a link to the Proceedings B report:

https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/pdf/10.1098/rspb.2019.0716

Check out Great Pyrenees Association of Southern California!! They are always looking for adoptors, foster parents, and would appreciate a donation in any amount!

https://www.greatpyrrescue.org/

 

Marcia Mayeda

You can subscribe to Marcia’s blog here: https://animalcare.lacounty.gov/directors_blog/

Dear Hollywood 704 527 Animal Care and Control

Dear Hollywood

Animals are a beloved and popular topic for film and television because they provide heartwarming stories and highlight the intrinsic reward of the human-animal bond. Many wonderful TV shows and films have helped elevate the public’s awareness of kindness towards animals, how to care for them, and the importance of protecting them in our society. Keeping animals in the forefront of peoples’ minds is a good thing.

However, my toes curl and my blood pressure rises when I see the incredibly offensive and inaccurate depictions of animal control officers in these forms of entertainment. I did a quick internet search of “dogcatcher movie” and was stunned by the number of films that include the dogcatcher as the evil villain, going back to the early 1900’s!

Even the term “dogcatcher” is a derogatory and outdated label; the proper term is animal control officer (ACO), humane officer, or similar professional title. In film and television ACOs are universally depicted as mean, animal-hating, incompetent buffoons. These caricatures in no way accurately depict the hard working, compassionate, and dedicated women and men that have chosen this career because they believe deeply in helping animals and the people who care about them.

ACOs work at all hours of the day, in all sorts of weather, to protect and save animals in need. It is a physically challenging and emotionally taxing profession that garners modest pay and few accolades from the public, especially thanks to the portrayal of ACOs in entertainment. The reality of ACO work is a far cry from its false depiction.

ACOs investigate animal cruelty and neglect, removing animals from inhumane and abusive situations. They capture dangerous dogs that pose a danger to people and other animals, preventing severe attacks and deaths. ACOs investigate dangerous and vicious dog cases and brings these cases for administrative or judicial review to place restrictions over keeping such animals.

ACOs are mandated reporters of child, elder, and dependent-adult abuse. Many times DACC ACOs have responded to calls of animal neglect only to find humans at great risk as well. Our officers have, on countless occasions, obtained help for vulnerable humans from law enforcement or social services agencies.

ACOs respond during wildfires or other emergencies, working in dangerous conditions to rescue the pets and livestock left behind by evacuated residents. These animals are transported to safe temporary sheltering while DACC provides care for them until they can be reunited with their owners.

ACOs enforce animal licensing and rabies laws. Rabies is almost 100% fatal, an excruciatingly painful death that is almost eradicated in the United States thanks to pet rabies vaccination and licensing programs. Ensuring compliance with these laws has made our nation safer and healthier.

ACOs enforce other important laws as well. These include mandatory spay/neuter laws to reduce pet overpopulation and euthanasia; microchip laws to ensure pets have permanent identification in case they are separated from their families; and the safety of animals in animal-related business such as pet stores, grooming facilities, boarding kennels, and more. ACOs regularly assist law enforcement officers in serving search warrants or securing animals so police and sheriff are not harmed by animals on the property.

Hollywood, I understand that a story needs a good villain. Can’t you do better? I’m sure your creative writers can come up with better bad guys than the tired old trope of the dogcatcher. How about dogfighters (dog fighting is a felony and a brutal, vicious activity in which animals suffer horribly). How about cockfighters? That, too, is a crime and is prevalent in many parts of the country. Dognappers are good villains – we have all heard the heartbreaking and frightening media stories of people being shot or assaulted while their beloved pets were stolen from them.

In all these cases the ACO is a hero – the officer breaking up an illegal animal fight; the officer who finds the kidnapped dog, scans it for its microchip and returns it to its family; the officer rescuing horses from a burning barn; or the officer who sees that an abused elder and her pet receive the services and care they need.

In fact, the State of California recognizes the importance and value of ACOs through the State-designated Certified Animal Control Officer (CACO) program. ACOs must complete rigorous training and experience to obtain CACO certification and maintain their status through regular trainings. There are more than 300 CACOs in California, and about 50 of those work for DACC.

This week is National Animal Control Officer Appreciation Week. Please join me in thanking our ACOs for their dedication, compassion, and bravery. Hollywood, please continue this tribute by depicting ACOs as the true professionals they are.

Do Dogs Grieve? 1024 768 Animal Care and Control

Do Dogs Grieve?

The other night my husband and I were talking about one of our past dogs, a Great Pyrenees named Isabella, who passed away several years ago at 14 years of age. When we mentioned her name, our Golden Retriever, Rebecca, raised her head and looked around the room. She clearly recognized Isabella’s name and remembered her.

Now eleven years old, Rebecca came to us as a rambunctious five-month-old puppy after she had been surrendered by her owners at our Lancaster Animal Care Center. She and Isabella lived together for many years. Isabella taught Rebecca doggie manners, provided calm leadership, and allowed Rebecca to take naps with her. Rebecca recognized Isabella as her leader and took her cues from her. This relationship had an impact on Rebecca, and she remembered Isabella even after she had been gone for many years.

Was she grieving? I don’t think so, at least not at this point. However, in the weeks after Isabella’s passing Rebecca did seem a little lost.  Always an affectionate dog, she reached out even more for attention (and perhaps consolation). Her world had changed, and she was adapting to Isabella’s absence.

I was reminded of this when I read the results of a recent study regarding dog grief as a result of the loss of another dog in the home. This 2022 study was the result of a survey of 426 Italian dog owners who had owned at least two dogs, one of whom died while the other was still alive. The study sought to determine if dogs grieve and reported some interesting findings. They found:

“Several negative behavioral changes were commonly reported in the surviving dog after the death of the other dog: attention seeking increased (67%), playing less (57%), level of activity reduced (46%), sleeping more (35%), fearfulness increased (35%), eating less (32%) and vocalization increased (30%). . . . When any behavioral alteration was observed, 24.9% of the owners observed it for more than 6 months, 32.2% between 2 and 6 months, 29.4% for less than 2 months. No behavioral changes were observed by 13.4% of the owners.”

The dogs’ gender, spay/neuter status, age at the time of the other dog’s death, breed, or whether they were able to view the body of their deceased dog friend did not affect the duration of behavior changes.

Other takeaways from this study include:

  • The duration of the relationship between the two dogs positively correlated with “playing less”, “level of activity reduced”, and “sleeping more” but no correlation was found with variables such as “fearfulness increased”, “vocalization increased”, “attention seeking increased” and “duration of the behavioral alteration”.
  • A friendly and parental relationship between the two dogs was associated with stronger behavioral changes, while no association was found between behavioral variables and an agonistic/mutual tolerance relationship.
  • The sharing of items or activities was positively correlated with behavioral changes, with a reduction in the level of activity, while no sharing was negatively correlated with all the observed behavioral changes.
  • The single significant predictor for playing less was the friendly relationship between the two dogs.
  • The level of fear in the surviving dog was positively correlated with its owner’s level of suffering, anger, and psychological trauma.

What can we take away from this information? Be especially mindful of your surviving dog’s emotional status. Provide reassurances and keep a routine to provide a sense of stability. Understand that your grief can also impact the surviving dog, causing anxiety and stress for it. And when you and your remaining dog are ready, consider adding another to your home so your dog can have a new friend. What better place to find that dog than at a Los Angeles County animal care center?

You can read the full study here: https://rdcu.be/cIyQU

Marcia Mayeda


You can subscribe to Marcia’s blog here: https://animalcare.lacounty.gov/directors_blog/

 

The Crisis in Veterinary Medicine 1024 1024 Animal Care and Control

The Crisis in Veterinary Medicine

The Crisis in Veterinary Medicine

People often ask me why I didn’t pursue a career in veterinary medicine because I love animals so much. I had indeed considered it and was an avid reader of James Herriot’s books about being a veterinarian in 1930’s and 40’s Yorkshire, England. I also worked for a veterinarian when I was in high school and enjoyed my job tremendously.

However, I also recognized that I would face some challenges as a veterinarian that I would not be able to reconcile. The first was that pet owners were sometimes unable to pay for service. I knew I could never turn away an animal in need, so I would either go bankrupt giving away my services and medicine or be fired by the practice owner. The other challenge was that I had little interest in science and knew the rigorous education program would be very unappealing! Fortunately, I found my calling in animal welfare and do a job I love.

Perhaps it’s a good thing that I chose not to pursue veterinary medicine because the past several years has seen a shift in this field, making access to care more difficult and frustrating both veterinarians and pet owners. Many people have reached out to me about how to find veterinary care, describe how long it takes to get an appointment, and comment on the long lines they see outside of veterinary hospitals. I have heard stories of pets in medical crisis being driven from hospital to hospital by their frantic owners, desperate to get medical care for their animal, only to be turned away because staffing or resources weren’t available to help them. So, what is going on?

The veterinary medical profession has been experiencing several unique challenges for the past several years. First, there is a shortage of veterinarians available to provide medical care. There are only 32 accredited colleges of veterinary medicine in the U.S., compared to 155 accredited MD-granting institutions, and 37 accredited DO-granting institutions. There just aren’t enough schools to graduate enough veterinarians to practice. Veterinary hospitals are having difficulty finding veterinarians to place on staff, which means they don’t have the personnel to provide services to your pet.

More veterinarians and registered veterinary technicians are also leaving the field faster than new ones can replace them. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the turnover rate of veterinarians is 23%, twice that of physicians, and the turnover of veterinary technicians is 26% compared to 19% of registered nurses. The added stress of providing services during the pandemic placed even more demands on an already difficult and often emotionally draining profession. This leads to a growing net loss of trained professionals to provide veterinary medical care.

The COVID-19 pandemic had impacts on how veterinarians can provide care. Physical distancing and COVID-19 safety precautions created procedural difficulties that reduced the number of patients that could be seen each day. Shortages of medical supplies that were diverted for human medicine made it necessary to postpone elective surgeries or wellness visits, and now pet owners are trying to make up for the lost time by getting those services.

There is also a greater demand for veterinary services. Many people added new pets to their families during the pandemic, creating even further need for veterinary services. Owners able to work remotely spend more time with their pets, noticing subtle physical changes they would not have otherwise noticed had they been working outside the home all day. These observations led to more requests for veterinary examinations. A lot of pet owners had more disposable income during the pandemic and put that money back into their animals, obtaining more services for their pets and further increasing the calls for veterinary care.

Most people outside the veterinary medical profession are unaware of the mental and emotional challenges faced by these professionals. Veterinarians and registered veterinary technicians choose their profession to save lives but may be forced to euthanize treatable animals because the owners are unable or unwilling to pay the cost of treatment. (For more on pet health care costs, read my May 2021 blog post here: https://animalcare.lacounty.gov/pet-health-care-costs/.)

Many veterinarians are asked to provide care or medicine for free, and then are harassed or cyber-bullied if they don’t. A 2014 survey by the AVMA found that 20% of veterinarians were cyber-bullied, had negative online reviews, or knew colleagues who did. That year, Dr. Shirley Koshi, a Bronx veterinarian, died by suicide after being harassed over a stray cat by a person who went so far as to lead demonstrations outside her clinic, write online attacks, and file a lawsuit against her, severely damaging her business. That same year, internationally renown veterinarian, animal behaviorist, and author Dr. Sophia Yin also tragically died by suicide. Following Dr. Yin’s death, the organization Not One More Vet was formed to address the rate of veterinarian suicide and provide resources to veterinarians struggling or considering suicide.

A highly demanding workload, demanding and difficult clients, financial pressures of running a profitable business, deep emotional and mental stress, and a shortage of trained professionals have all led us to where we are today. What can a pet owner do? Take advantage of annual visits which can be scheduled in advance; remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Plan ahead for your medication refills; Most refills can be requested by email and can be done weeks in advance. Be patient with scheduling delays. Have a plan for emergency care in advance and discuss your plan with your veterinarian. Pet-proof your home and keep an eye on your pets, especially puppies and kittens. A lot of emergencies are preventable. And above all, be kind to your veterinary medical professionals. They are equally as devoted to your animals as you are and are doing the best they can during these difficult times.

Marcia Mayeda

You can subscribe to Marcia’s blog here: https://animalcare.lacounty.gov/directors_blog/

Protecting Service Animals 1024 1024 Animal Care and Control

Protecting Service Animals

Protecting Service Animals

More than twenty years ago I led the animal control division for an agency in northern California, and at one point we received a series of complaints from students at a local community college regarding a fellow student’s emotional support animal (ESA). The students were in a great state of anxiety and wanted our agency to intervene and prohibit the animal from accompanying its owner to class. We soon learned the college had already acted and forbade the owner from bringing their ESA onto campus anymore. If you are picturing the ESA as a quiet, loving Labrador Retriever you are mistaken. This ESA was a large python. IF it did indeed alleviate emotional stress for its owner (which I doubt; it was more likely an example of college hijinks), it certainly created a great deal of emotional stress for everyone else in the classroom!

Since that time there has been an explosion of fake ESAs throughout the country by pet owners playing on the confusion around ESA versus service animal regulations. Service animals are defined under law and undergo rigorous and expensive training to learn how to help their owners. ESAs are not regulated, and their designation can be easily obtained without specialized training.

Many pet owners have obtained fraudulent certificates designating their pets as ESAs simply so they can bring them into areas where pets are generally not allowed, or to avoid paying for their pets to travel with them. These certificates can be obtained for a few hundred dollars online, and the websites will also sell harnesses, tags, and other items to provide the appearance of this status for the owners.

Most people are reluctant to confront these scammers, afraid of being sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act or getting into an argument with the pet owner. I watched this unfold at a restaurant where I was dining on the outdoor patio. A patron unleashed her large dog to wander around the patio. The waiter asked her to put her dog on a leash, and she retorted that it was a service animal and allowed to do that. I happened to know this person and knew that her dog was not a service animal. The waiter did not escalate the situation but I’m sure he was incensed. The dog was gentle but did disturb patrons by begging for food at their tables. The arrogance of the dog owner was shocking and cast a dim light on responsible pet ownership, not to mention creating potentially difficult situations for genuinely disabled service animal owners.

Many people have attempted to classify their pets as ESAs for the purpose of travel to avoid paying for their pets to fly with them. Aside from dogs and cats, these animals have included peacocks, turkeys, monkeys, squirrels, hamsters, and more. An “ESA” pig and its owner were thrown off a flight from Connecticut to Washington, D.C. in 2014 after the pig defecated along the passenger cabin aisle and rendered the plane unusable for that flight. There have been many documented incidents of fake ESA dogs attacking members of the public, including people on airplanes or in airports. In 2017 a man trapped in a window seat was seriously attacked by the large ESA dog sitting on its owner’s lap next to him. That same year, a five year old girl was badly mauled in her face by an ESA dog while she was waiting to board a plane at Portland International Airport.

Owen the miniature horse with his Shire horse friend, Murphy.

Fake ESAs create significant burdens for people who genuinely rely on service animals to assist them in their activities of daily living. Dogs and miniature horses are the only species legally allowed to be considered service animals. Why miniature horses? They can be trained to perform many of the same skills as dogs. They are close in size to larger service dogs – up to 34 inches in height and 70 – 100 pounds in weight. Miniature horses live much longer than dogs and can provide service for about 20 years or so. This means less disruption for the owner when it is time to retire a service animal. Miniature horses can be house broken and are an option for people who are allergic to dogs.

Service animals are defined under law and undergo rigorous and expensive training to learn how to help their owners. Guide dogs lead people who are visually impaired, and signal dogs alert hearing impaired people to important sounds like smoke alarms and doorbells. Because of their enormous capacity for scent discrimination and detection, other service dogs provide alerts to inform their owners of an impending epileptic seizure or dangerous blood sugar levels (for diabetic owners). Service animals assist their owners with mobility issues by retrieving dropped items and opening doors as well as providing balance support for owners with stability difficulties. They can be used to ease the symptoms of psychiatric disorders by interrupting self-mutilating behaviors. Legitimate service dogs have provided life-changing benefits for veterans dealing with PTSD. It should be noted that not all disabilities are visible and judgments on the legitimacy of a service dog used for ESA purposes should not be based on appearances.

Service animals assist people experiencing disabilities to live fuller lives. They help their owners travel, pursue careers, attend social and cultural events and live more independently. For these reasons they are protected by the ADA for public access, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) for housing access, and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) for air travel.

The ADA does not recognize ESAs and they are not allowed in stores, restaurants, or other public places that are not already pet friendly. Airlines may choose to allow ESA dogs to fly alongside their owner, but the ACAA specifically excludes reptiles, rodents, and spiders in the cabin. In January of this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation revised the ACAA because of the increased number of complaints and incidents regarding fake ESAs. The owner must provide written documentation of their need for an ESA and it must meet strict service animal standards to be allowed to fly. Many airlines have decided to no longer allow ESAs to fly for free unless they meet the psychiatric service animal requirements to show the animal serves a genuine disability as defined under the ADA.

This month California has also taken an important step in regulating ESAs and reducing the rampant fraud in this field. California Health and Safety Code Sections 122317 et. seq. now provide more regulations regarding ESAs. For example, a person or business that provides a dog for use as an ESA must provide a written notice to the recipient of the dog stating that the dog does not have the special training required to qualify as a guide, signal, or service dog and is not entitled to the rights and privileges accorded by law to those dogs.

They must also inform the recipient of the already existing provisions set forth in CA Penal Code Section 365.7 that knowingly and fraudulently representing oneself to be the owner or trainer of any guide, signal, or service dog is a misdemeanor.

Health care practitioners are prohibited from providing documentation relating to an individual’s need for an ESA dog unless the health care practitioner complies with specified requirements, including holding a valid license, establishing a client-provider relationship with the individual for at least 30 days prior to providing the documentation, and completing a clinical evaluation of the individual regarding the need for an ESA.

Violations of the written notice requirements or knowingly and fraudulently representing, selling, or offering for sale an ESA dog as being entitled to the rights and privileges accorded by law to a guide, signal, or service dog are now subject to a civil penalty.

It’s about time that ESA fraud is confronted, and penalties imposed for imposters. Their abuse of the legitimate opportunities for people living with disabilities has eroded public confidence in service animals that are needed to assist their owners with living independent and more fulfilling lives. Service animals are the highest example of the human-animal bond and their use should be protected.

Marcia Mayeda

You can subscribe to Marcia’s blog here: https://animalcare.lacounty.gov/directors_blog/

Taking Care of (Animal) Business 195 139 Animal Care and Control

Taking Care of (Animal) Business

Taking Care of (Animal) Business

In my last two blogs I wrote about how animal care and control isn’t just about dogs and cats, reflecting on our handling of a massive venomous reptile case and the closing of a 400+ exotic animal sanctuary here in Los Angeles County. Many people have expressed amazement at the variety of exotic animals we come upon and want to know more about how the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control (DACC) manages them and other animals through animal business facility inspections and licensing.

It isn’t anything like my first experience as a 20-year-old newly minted humane officer in Texas, where I responded to a complaint about the conditions of two tigers and a black panther at someone’s private property. When I arrived at the location, I saw that it was completely enclosed by a very tall privacy fence. Signs on the gate said, “Warning: The Owner Will Shoot First and Ask Questions Later” and “Don’t Beware of the Rottweilers: Beware of the Owner.” I was certain I would not gain entry and (at best) probably be completely ignored by the owner.

Well, I had a job to do so I rang the bell and surprisingly the owner came to the gate. I showed him my credentials and he allowed me to come look at his cats. Each was in a very large enclosure with secure fencing. They appeared to be in good health and had food, water, and very good shelter. I couldn’t see any signs of animal neglect and the owner was actually very reasonable. The owner had all the necessary permits which, in Texas at the time, were very few. The SPCA I worked for was not a business licensing agency, so I was just there to check on the condition of the animals. Because they appeared to be well cared for, I concluded my business there and was grateful it ended peacefully.

Animal business facilities in Los Angeles County are better regulated, numerous, varied, and not just restricted to wild animals. In addition to wild animal menageries, we inspect other types of animal business facilities in our jurisdiction: grooming parlors (including mobile groomers), pet boarding facilities, commercial dog and cat breeding businesses, guard dog businesses, pet shops, nonprofit animal rescue facilities, and animal exhibitions such as rodeos, circuses, and travelling petting zoos.

Through our animal facilities inspection program, we inspect and regulate more than 500 such facilities and have a very experienced team of five officers who ensure these facilities are properly managed and their animals humanely cared for. Our officers rely on Los Angeles County Code Title 10 – Animals, which establishes standards and requirements for animal facilities. DACC animal business license inspectors visit each facility at least annually; some facilities require follow-up visits to ensure deficiencies have been addressed. Others, like commercial animal breeding businesses, require more frequent inspections as set forth in Title 10. Officers also respond anytime complaints are made about conditions at a facility.

The result of the annual inspection is a letter grade for the facility, similar to the restaurant grading system we have in Los Angeles County. Residents can view the letter grade provided – A, B, or C – and determine whether they wish to patronize that business based on its grade. The letter grading system helps ensure facilities are operating at an optimal level. Facilities who receive a B or C grade usually request a reinspection after they have addressed the noted deficiencies so they can obtain the A grade card to display to their customers. The grading system helps ensure optimum conditions at animal facilities.

For those businesses who fail to pass and have no interest in improving, we pursue revocation of their business license so they no longer operate a substandard animal facility. In cases of animal abuse or neglect we have the authority under the California Penal Code to remove the animals and pursue those cases in the criminal courts.

How do we determine the letter grade? We have a standardized evaluation form that issues points for categories such as housing, food, water, medical care, sanitation, safety and security, exercise and socialization, permits and documentation, and consumer protection practices. Officers apply the requirements set forth in Title 10 against these categories to make certain facilities are following the law.

Los Angeles County Code Title 10 – Animals is regularly reviewed and updated to reflect the most current animal welfare and public safety best practices, and in most cases goes beyond State and federal law. Those laws are usually more basic and less frequently updated; Title 10 is recognized as a model ordinance for animal welfare and public safety. For example, Title 10 regulates the operation of commercial animal breeding businesses. While these businesses are allowable under law, DACC closely monitors their operations to protect the well-being of the animals housed in them. Commercial animal breeding facilities are closely regulated as to the number of animals they may have and must comply with additional requirements regarding required staffing levels, the minimum age for breeding females; limitations on the number and frequency of litters a female may have; additional requirements for pregnant or nursing females; dog identification requirements; providing a required medical program; annual veterinary exams for each animal; and having an emergency response plan. The full requirements can be found here: https://library.municode.com/ca/los_angeles_county/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=TIT10AN_DIV1ANCO_CH10.40GERE_10.40.200BRLIRERE

Ensuring the safety and well-being of animals in commercial or nonprofit facilities is an important responsibility to ensure they are humanely treated, and owners can have confidence in the care provided to their pets purchased from or serviced by these businesses and agencies. Inspections also protect public safety regarding wild animals and guard dogs to ensure these animals cannot escape and cause dangerous situations for the public. Whether the facilities house dogs or cats, camels or cobras, DACC will be there to make sure they and the community are safe.

Marcia Mayeda, Director

You can subscribe to Marcia’s blog here: https://animalcare.lacounty.gov/directors_blog/

 

 

Paging Noah . . . 1024 803 Animal Care and Control

Paging Noah . . .

Paging Noah . . .

In last month’s blog I listed the many unusual animals DACC has impounded throughout the years. I challenged readers to guess which two species of animals that DACC has not impounded, promising to reveal the answer in this month’s blog.

The animals were: African grey parrot, African lion, African spur thigh tortoise, Bactrian camel, badger, ball python, barn owl, bearded dragon, boa constrictor, bobcat, capybara, coachwhip snake, Cooper’s hawk, desert tortoise, dolphin, ferret, great horned owl, hedgehog, jaguar, king snake, Nile monitor lizard, nutria, okapi, pushmi pullyu, red tailed python, reticulated python, Savannah monitor lizard, sea lion, screech owl, sulfur crested cockatoo, and tiger.

Before I get to the answer, I think you will be interested in reading about another extremely unusual wild animal case we had. In 2019, we were informed that the Wildlife Waystation was closing after 43 years of operation. The Waystation, located on 160 acres in unincorporated Los Angeles County near Sylmar and Tujunga, had served as a sanctuary for unwanted or abused wild and exotic animals that had no place to go. Unfortunately, after financially struggling for many years the Waystation was unable to continue.
Many former circus animals, zoo animals, and exotic pets were there, as well as chimpanzees rescued from laboratories. The wild species were regulated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and sometimes the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). There were also domesticated animals that were under DACC’s jurisdiction.

The 434 animals present included the following wild mammals: 42 chimpanzees, 11 tigers, 10 bears (black, grizzly, and Russian brown), 8 African lions, 7 mountain lions, 13 wolves, 6 wolf hybrids, 3 spotted hyenas, 2 leopards, 3 African crested porcupines, 5 baboons, 7 capuchin monkeys, 6 kinkajous, 3 lemurs (ring-tailed and ruffed), 1 patas monkey, 3 spider monkeys, 1 jungle cat, 1 savannah cat, 4 servals, 2 bison, 4 bobcats, 2 chinchillas, 2 coatimundis, 5 coyotes, 3 ferrets, 4 foxes (gray, red, and kit), 1 groundhog, 3 hedgehogs, 3 opossums, and 4 raccoons.

The birds included 12 Amazon parrots, 8 blue and gold macaws, 12 cockatiels, 1 cockatoo, 2 eclectus parrots, 5 green wing macaws, 1 Hahn’s macaw, 4 military macaws, 5 Moluccan cockatoos, 2 nanday conures, 1 parakeet, 1 African grey parrot, 2 Senegal parrots, 2 severe macaws, 3 umbrella cockatoos, 1 yellow-crowned Amazon parrot, 1 toucan, 1 golden eagle, 1 emu, 4 roosters, 13 doves, 4 ducks of different species, 7 geese (Canada, Egyptian, snow, and Chinese), 2 red-tailed hawks, 3 owls (barn, great horned, long-eared), 2 peacocks, 8 pheasants (Chinese ring-necked, Chinese golden, chukar), 2 pigeons, 2 ravens, 3 swans, and 1 turkey vulture. And a partridge in a pear tree (just kidding).

The reptiles included 2 anacondas, 7 American alligators, 1 caiman, 1 alligator snapping turtle, 6 green iguanas, 1 Argus monitor lizard, 1 Nile monitor lizard, 1 savannah monitor lizard, 4 ball pythons, 2 Burmese pythons, 5 Colombian boas, 4 gopher snakes, 3 kingsnakes, 1 rattlesnake, 2 red-tailed boas, 1 reticulated python, 2 rock pythons, 1 Colombian tegu, 4 desert tortoises, 1 leopard tortoise, 1 ornate box tortoise, 8 Russian tortoises, 16 sulcata tortoises, 4 box turtles, 20 red-eared sliders, and 2 snapping turtles. There was also a pond containing numerous koi fish.
The domestic animal count consisted of 3 alpacas, 2 dogs, 13 pigs (large hogs as well as pygmy pigs), 7 goats of varying breeds, 3 llamas, 1 mule, 9 horses, 2 sheep, and 3 rabbits.

The CDFW stepped in to take control of the facility and ensure the wild animals were properly cared for while they identified new homes for them in sanctuaries or zoos around the country. DACC staff was there daily for ten months, assisting the CDFW and providing care for the domesticated animals.

DACC handled the rehoming of all the domestic animals, birds, and bison. The bison joined the existing bison herd at William S. Hart Park in Newhall and can be seen by visitors today. Our Equine Response Team volunteers helped with the trailering and transporting of the animals, and one volunteer (a fish specialist) handled the relocation of the koi fish. It was a very successful partnership and all the wild animals were placed with zoos or other sanctuaries, except for the chimpanzees. They will be rehomed when the receiving sanctuaries’ facilities currently under construction are finalized for their arrival.

Now, on to the answer to last month’s blog question. Which two species of animals did DACC not impound?
It wasn’t the Bactrian camel. We impounded Wally the Bactrian camel in 2014 after he escaped his corral in Acton and seriously attacked a 72-year-old man walking in the neighborhood. Wally was quarantined at our Lancaster animal care center for six months for rabies observation and his owner was convicted on a misdemeanor count of failing to confine his animal.

It wasn’t the capybara, the world’s largest rodent who hails from a semi-aquatic habitat in South America. Our Agoura Hills animal care center responded to a call in Thousand Oaks, where a resident discovered a young capybara in their backyard. The yard was lushly landscaped, and the capybara was enjoying a swim in the pool! She was friendly, and we placed her with a licensed wildlife facility who provides animals for filming. Not too long after, I saw an ad on TV for a mobile phone company, in which the user of the mobile phone was calling to report a capybara in her backyard. I can’t help but think our case was an inspiration for this advertising campaign, and that might have even been our capybara in the ad.

It wasn’t the dolphin or sea lion. DACC used to respond to calls for marine mammals and birds and has helped these animals in the past. However, in 2002 we entered into an agreement with Marine Animal Rescue to respond to these calls on our behalf. They are much better equipped to handle the unique needs of these animals and provide excellent rescue services for them.

There is a story behind every species listed, but there isn’t enough space in this blog for all of them. So which two animals from that list has DACC not impounded? The first is the pushmi pullyu, the mythical two-headed gazelle/unicorn cross from The Story of Dr. Doolittle. The story goes that it has a head at each end of its body so it can speak with one head while eating with the other so it will not be so rude as to speak with food in its mouth.

The other animal is . . . the okapi. The okapi, also known as the forest giraffe, is a beautiful and shy creature from the forests of central Africa. They have a rich, mahogany coat with striped legs and haunches, and their body shape resembles a giraffe. I think they are amazing creatures and threw that in because I think more people should know about them.

We have never had an okapi in one of our animal care centers, but if we do you will be the first to know!

 

Marcia Mayeda
You can subscribe to Marcia’s blog here: https://animalcare.lacounty.gov/directors_blog/

But No Unicorns! 268 422 Animal Care and Control

But No Unicorns!

But No Unicorns!

People are often surprised when I tell them the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control (DACC) cares for animals other than dogs and cats. We also take in rabbits, guinea pigs, parrots and pet birds, hamsters, and other small pets. The wide geographical area we serve (about 3,800 sq. mi.) includes rural areas where horses, cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, and chickens and similar domestic fowl live. They regularly make it into our animal care centers. Some more unusual animals have included ferrets (which are illegal in California), llamas, alpacas, emus, peacocks, and other interesting animals.
However, one case of unusual animals sent terror through my mind, body, and soul as we prepared to respond to this case in 2017. This case gave me nightmares in the nights leading up to its resolution, and in 35 years I have never been as alarmed for the safety of the public as I was in this situation.
It began with an incident in 2014 when we received a report that a white cobra was in a resident’s backyard. My immediate thought was that this was impossible, and the resident probably saw a white python (they are common in the pet trade). Then he sent us a photo and it was indeed a cobra, with its hood fully expanded! It had struck at his dog, but thankfully did not release any venom and the dog was not seriously harmed.
I immediately directed that an animal control officer respond to the area, and he was joined by an officer from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) because venomous reptiles are regulated by the CDFW. They searched all day for the cobra but couldn’t find it. Later that day the CDFW called off their search, and our animal control officer asked for further instructions. I told him to continue looking, and I was sending reinforcements.
For the next four days more than a dozen Los Angeles County animal control officers scoured the area. I was terribly worried that a local child would come upon the snake and attempt to capture it, or the cobra would strike a person who was unaware of its presence. As I’m sure you are aware, cobra venom is highly fatal and there was no antivenom on hand at local hospitals; the nearest dose was in San Diego. We were told that federal regulations prohibited the transport of the antivenom to our location, so a victim would have to be flown by emergency helicopter to San Diego. We notified the local hospital emergency rooms of the potential of receiving a victim of a cobra strike. This was a life or death situation.
I really thought we would never find the snake, because the area was suburban/rural with lots of vegetation, bushes, and places for it to hide. However, we had to make every effort to do so and fortune favored our search. On the fourth day, the cobra was seen by a resident driving her car, as it slithered across the street in front of her and back to the yard where it was first spotted. Our officers immediately convened at the property, where the snake was located hiding in a pile of wood.
Two very brave DACC team members, an animal control lieutenant and animal control officer, captured the snake. The officer used snake tongs to control the cobra’s head while the lieutenant reached into the woodpile to uncoil the cobra’s body from the logs of wood. They secured the snake in a locking box for venomous snakes (up until then, this was limited to rattlesnakes). I spoke with the lieutenant a few hours later and he told me that handling a cobra was nothing like handling a rattlesnake; it was extremely fast, and his hands were still shaking from the experience! I was so grateful he and the animal control officer were able to capture the snake and they and the community were safe. This cobra was placed with the Los Angeles Zoo, where a naming contest settled on her new name: Adhira, which means lightning in Hindi.
We identified a house where we believed the snake had originated. The resident there had permits for various species of venomous snakes, but the animals were supposed to be housed at a secure facility licensed to contain venomous reptiles, miles away and not in a residential area. He denied having any such animals at his home and would not agree to a search of his property. That night, neighbors saw him loading plastic bins from a shed in his backyard into his truck and driving away. It appeared that he had removed all the reptiles from his property, so we no longer had probable cause to obtain a search warrant.
However, three years later his next-door neighbor ran over an unusual snake in her driveway with her car. Based on Adhira’s escape, she suspected it might be a similarly dangerous snake and contacted our department. An animal control officer responded and transported the dead snake to our Agoura Animal Care Center for identification. Consultation with a herpetologist confirmed this was a Cape cobra, another highly venomous snake. Clearly, the suspected owner had brought his reptiles back to his property.
Knowing he would not be willing to cooperate with a voluntary inspection, we began the work to obtain search warrants for his home and the licensed facility where the reptiles were supposed to be kept. We worked very closely with the Sheriff’s department and city officials. We also obtained the assistance of two herpetologists from the Los Angeles Zoo who were knowledgeable and comfortable handling such dangerous animals. We never would have been able to do this without them, and I will be eternally grateful for their help.
Our research discovered that the resident had permits from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to have the following dangerous reptiles: black mamba, puff adder, American alligator, dwarf caiman, Cape cobra, king cobra, monocled cobra, western barred spitting cobra, Nile crocodile, reticulated Gila Monster, red-bellied piranha, eastern diamondback rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake, alligator snapping turtle, common snapping turtle, Gaboon viper, and rhinoceros viper.
In planning the search warrant, we determined that it would be necessary to have emergency medical support available in case someone was bitten by a snake or alligator (or sprayed in the eyes by the spitting cobra). The Sheriff’s department arranged for an ambulance, paramedics, and helicopter to be on standby to immediately transport a victim for medical assistance.
Based on the numbers allowed by the wild animal permits, we expected to find about 20-25 reptiles on the property. What we discovered were many more. We seized 140 reptiles (119 of which were venomous), including monocled cobras, albino rattlesnakes, prairie rattlesnakes, spitting cobras, Cape cobras, western diamondback rattlesnakes, Gila monsters, puff adders, Gaboon vipers, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, eastern pacific rattlesnakes, Mexican beaded lizards, Egyptian cobras, Asian cobras, American alligators, alligator snapping turtle, common snapping turtle, Australian pythons, eastern indigo snakes, and leopard geckos. We also removed seven parrots of varying species and an injured red-tailed hawk in need of urgent medical care.
We were shocked at the number of reptiles and had to go to several nearby home improvement stores to purchase additional buckets with lids to be able to safely house and transport them. The herpetologists from the Los Angeles Zoo were outstanding, and safely captured and securely confined all the reptiles despite extremely hazardous conditions posed by heat and overcrowding.
We had arranged for the safe and humane housing of all the animals in advance; the venomous reptiles were sent to various licensed zoos, sanctuaries, and other facilities. The alligators were accepted by the Pasadena Humane Society, which had an alligator enclosure, and later sent to an alligator sanctuary out of state. The red-tailed hawk went to the California Wildlife Center for rehabilitation, and the parrots were housed at our Agoura Animal Care Center. Our team worked nearly 24 hours straight to remove and transport the animals, and thankfully no one was injured.
The reptile owner was subsequently charged with 14 felony and 26 misdemeanor charges. He pleaded no contest to eight misdemeanor counts related to the mistreatment of animals and was sentenced to one year in jail and ordered to complete a program designed to rehabilitate people who mistreat animals. All the surviving reptiles (some were severely emaciated or ill and did not survive) were placed permanently with zoos and sanctuaries. The parrots were placed into new homes. The red-tailed hawk made a full recovery and was returned to the wild by another DACC lieutenant who assisted in her rescue. You can watch the hawk’s inspiring release here: https://vimeo.com/244115283
While this case successfully concluded with a criminal conviction, no injuries, and placement for all surviving animals, I know there can be another one in our future. Due to the size and complexity of our jurisdiction, DACC has taken in many other wild and exotic animals. The Hollywood film industry often calls for wild animals, and there are many exotic animal keepers in the rural parts of our county. Sometimes people obtain exotic animals as pets and then have difficulty providing adequate care and confinement for them. We never know what species of animal we may encounter.
In fact, we have seen many other odd or exotic animals come through our doors. Here’s a DACC trivia question for you: Aside from the species mentioned above, which TWO of the following species of animals has DACC NOT impounded: African grey parrot, African lion, African spur thigh tortoise, Bactrian camel, badger, ball python, barn owl, bearded dragon, boa constrictor, bobcat, capybara, coachwhip snake, Cooper’s hawk, desert tortoise, dolphin, great horned owl, hedgehog, jaguar, king snake, Nile monitor lizard, nutria, okapi, pushmi pullyu, red tailed python, reticulated python, Savannah monitor lizard, sea lion, screech owl, sulfur crested cockatoo, or tiger. Can you guess the right two? I will reveal the answer in next month’s blog.
Until then, I can only say that working in the animal welfare field is always full of surprises. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Marcia Mayeda
You can subscribe to Marcia’s blog here: https://animalcare.lacounty.gov/directors_blog/

Twenty Years in Review – Third in a Series 459 600 Animal Care and Control

Twenty Years in Review – Third in a Series

Twenty Years in Review – Third in a Series

Today’s blog is the third and final installment in a series in which I review how DACC has improved its operations over the past 20 years. This edition discusses how DACC engages with the community to provide resources to assist pet parents and how we have revolutionized our animal adoption and customer service programs.

Animal care agencies play a critical role in helping people and the animals they care about. One of the most rewarding parts of my work has been reuniting lost pets with their families. It is extremely frightening for pet parents whose beloved animals have gone missing, and equally as terrifying for the animals who have lost their way. While I have many fond memories of seeing joyous reunions between lost pets and their families, one in particular always brings a smile to my face.

In the late 1980’s I worked at the Helping Hands Humane Society in Topeka, Kansas. One day as I walked through the kennels I noticed a huge black dog, about 100 pounds, with extremely long ears and soulful eyes. Because of his long ears, deep jowls, and sad eyes I could tell he clearly had some Bloodhound in him. He had a glossy coat, was in good condition, and had that look I often see in the eyes of lost pets that says, “I have a family!”. He stood out as something special to me, and I made a mental note of his presence in our shelter.

This was before the internet, social media, mainstream use of microchips, and other resources we use today to reunite lost pets and their owners. We relied on the local newspaper’s daily lost and found ads to try to reunite lost pets and their families. As I was reviewing the lost and found ads later that day, I saw the ad that I was sure was this dog. He was identified as a black Labrador Retriever/ Bloodhound mix named “Droopy” (I’m sure in reference to his pendulous ears). Droopy was lost while his family was camping along the Kansas river about 20 miles from our shelter. Being a Bloodhound mix, I’m sure he became fascinated with the smorgasbord of smells he found and just kept following his nose until he became lost. He followed the river for 20 miles until he arrived in our city, where an animal control officer found him and brought him to safety at our shelter.

Droopy belonged to a family who lived in Wichita, which is about 140 miles from Topeka. They had searched frantically for Droopy near their campsite to no avail and had to return home, praying that the ad in the local newspaper would bring him home. I immediately called the owners, who were overjoyed beyond belief and immediately drove the two hours to our shelter to reclaim him. They later sent me the kindest note and a bouquet of flowers to thank me for reuniting them with Droopy. He clearly meant the world to him. Animal shelters play critical roles in maintaining the human-animal bond. DACC has made tremendous strides over the past 20 years in improving its work in this area.

The Year 2001

In 2001, DACC’s operations did not focus on public service in terms of striving for excellent customer service or engaging the community to further the cause of animal wellbeing. DACC’s approach was very enforcement-driven and flexibility in addressing pet owners’ needs was not seen as necessary. Efforts to reunite them with pets like Droopy were scattered and not part of the daily expectations of staff. People reclaiming their lost pets sometimes could not afford to pay the impound fees required to redeem their pets and had to leave them with DACC. The adoption process was arduous because of long lines in care center lobbies and the time it took to work through the process, and sometimes people left in frustration without adopting a pet. No efforts were made to implement promotions, reduced costs, and other incentive adoption programs to get more animals adopted.

Without mutual understanding of each other’s resources and intentions, many staff viewed animal rescue groups with animosity or ambivalence instead of developing working relationships with them to save animals. There was also a sense of competition, rather than collaboration, with other animal agencies in the region. Aside from public rabies vaccination clinics, no resources were provided to the community to assist them with their animal needs. Care center volunteers were strongly discouraged and, except for a dedicated group at the Agoura Animal Care Center, were almost nonexistent.

Long lines of customers plagued the care centers, creating anger and frustration for the people who needed our help or were trying to comply with pet licensing requirements, as well as extreme stress for our overtaxed workforce. County residents in the Antelope Valley were frustrated being served by a communications center nearly 100 miles away in the city of Downey, where staff found it difficult to efficiently dispatch calls given the Antelope Valley’s unique geography.

DACC accepted all animals brought to us without question and without providing intervention services so families could keep their pets. This flood of animals even included capturing and accepting healthy wildlife that were a nuisance to residents. Because California Fish and Wildlife regulations prohibit relocating wildlife further than one mile from where they were captured, the only option provided for wildlife brought in by the public was euthanasia. This did nothing to resolve the concerns about nuisance wildlife as other animals quickly filled the void left by the removed ones, and the problems continued.

The Year 2021

Twenty years later, we have completely reversed the old approach to customer service and community engagement.  We constantly consider and implement service improvements to provide better customer service and ensure all staff observe them by requiring training and regularly updating our policies and procedures.

DACC has improved its pet reunification strategies in several ways. The Shadow app, accessible through our website, is a tool for people who have lost or found pets to connect and reunite them. We also provide information and advice about using social media and local neighborhood online groups to help lost pets find their way home. Our officers carry microchip scanners in their trucks and scan every animal they capture; animals that have microchips are taken directly to their homes and immediately reunited with their owners whenever possible. We are currently exploring the use of facial recognition software for pets to further our efforts. DACC works with pet owners experiencing financial hardship who wish to reclaim their lost and impounded pets and reduces or waives fees when possible. Grant funding and donations largely subsidize these costs.

DACC and the Los Angeles County Animal Care Foundation (ACF) also collaborate to address situations where pet owners feel they must relinquish ownership of their pets to DACC because they are experiencing a lack of access to affordable veterinary care or other financial hardship in caring for and keeping their pets. The ACF funds the Care Voucher program, which DACC staff employ to help pet owners in need of financial assistance and refers people to local participating providers of veterinary services, temporary boarding, grooming, pet food and other essentials. The ACF and the agencies that provide grants to it have stepped up to keep pets and their families together and reduce the influx of animals needlessly admitted to the animal care centers.  With their support, DACC staff have the resources to provide substantial assistance to pet owners in need with the goal of allowing them to keep their pet.

DACC’s move to appointment-based services has eliminated customer waiting lines, improved service levels, reduced the length of stay for our animals, and increased adoption rates. Appointments allow DACC staff to better prepare to provide the best adoption experience for visitors and make better matches with available pets. Dogs and cats that were often overlooked in the past get more visibility with this approach and many special needs or long-stay animals have found new homes this way.

Our newly launched Love at First Sight adoption process provides a fast-tracked animal assessment and preparation process so animals are made available more quickly for adoption, and adopters can easily identify which animals at the care center are ready to go home the same day. This process includes better coordination of the required medical exams, spay/neuter, and behavior assessments. In the past, adopters had to first select an animal and then wait days for the process to take place, often making multiple trips to the care center. No more – they can take their new family member home that very day!

The ACF and DACC have also begun providing low-cost spay/neuter services for community cats to reduce the number of unwanted kittens born and subsequently euthanized. Purrfect Fix is a program that works in collaboration with local community cat organizations who are already helping cat caretakers in Los Angeles County. Purrfect Fix will spay or neuter the cats, vaccinate them against rabies and other preventable cat diseases, and treat them for fleas and worms. After surgery, the cats are returned to their original environments where they can continue to reside but not produce unwanted offspring.

DACC now has a vibrant volunteer program with several full-time volunteer coordinators on staff. In 2019 we had more than 1,300 volunteers putting in a total of 44,341 hours helping animals at our ACCs, assisting during special events, and during emergency evacuations. While in-person volunteering has understandably decreased because of the COVID-19 pandemic, after implementing new health precautions we are now recruiting and engaging volunteers to assist us again. Volunteers are invaluable to helping DACC effectively implement its animal welfare and adoption programs and maintain community engagement.

DACC now has an established Adoption Partner program for organized 501(c)(3) nonprofit animal rescue groups so they can act as partners in our efforts to rehome animals.  Some of these animals need further medical or behavioral treatment, and Adoption Partners can provide this assistance through their programs. This system provides a structured means of  notifications and outreach to Adoption Partners so they can adopt animals in need of their services. We now have partnerships with more than 380 animal rescue organizations!

We no longer accept healthy wildlife and now only accept those that are sick or injured. We work closely with wildlife rescue and rehabilitation groups to help these animals recover and return to their native habitat. We have also established a second communications center at our Lancaster Animal Care Center that is dedicated to servicing the unique geographical needs of the Antelope Valley.

DACC now partners and collaborates with animal agencies throughout the state, and especially in southern California. We have Mutual Assistance Agreements with 20 regional animal care and control agencies to help each other during wildfires, mudslides, or other disasters and emergencies. DACC participates in the California Animal Welfare Association’s (CalAnimals) programming and training. Other cross-agency partnerships include working large-scale animal cruelty cases together. We are happy to help our colleagues in animal welfare protect people and animals in our communities and theirs.

DACC’s approach to serving the community has changed from an enforcement-heavy, bureaucratic authoritarian agency to a community resource agency that assists residents with their animal problems, values animal life-saving programs, and collaborates with other animal groups and agencies to bring the best resources to the community. It is an honor to be entrusted with these important responsibilities, and I salute the dedicated staff and volunteers who work every day to meet our mission.

 

Marcia Mayeda

You can subscribe to Marcia’s blog here: https://animalcare.lacounty.gov/directors_blog/

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