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/