I’ve been mainly absent in 2015 because I’ve fell on some hard times and my personal life has been very difficult to maneuver. I wish I had the time to keep my past pace and also accelerate it, but it’s just not in the cards right now. That being said, this is an urgent piece of writing.
Directive 15-001, put into place by Los Angeles Animal Services head Brenda Barnette, is so problematic that every Los Angeles dog owner not only needs to be aware of what it says but also what it could mean if their dog were to get caught up in it.
You could do everything right on your end and it could still directly affect your dog. Your dog could quite literally do nothing. Your dog could be on a leash, be on its own property, be simply defending itself from an attacking loose dog, or all of those things at the same time! AND STILL. YOUR DOG. COULD BE IMPOUNDED. UNDER THIS DIRECTIVE.
Incidents happen. All it would take is for an owner of an involved dog, or a 3rd party witness of an incident (or even an alleged witness) to complain to the department. Their hearsay then becomes admissible in an eventual hearing, even if they have every reason to lie or fabricate elements of the incident. All the while, your dog will have been impounded and held in confinement, awaiting this bureaucratic process to play out in its favor. If things go in the best direction, you get your dog back after potentially months of separation, legal wrangling and having to pay an accruing daily impound fee to the city. Any other scenario involves your dog being saddled with a number of different labels and then given conditions to live under, plus the payment of the impound fees. And if labeled “dangerous” by the animal control officer appointed to run the eventual hearing and then ultimately Barnette (who has the final say after reviewing the “evidence”), it would likely be euthanized.
This is not a law. This was not passed by elected officials or even voted on. This wasn’t even voted on by unelected officials. This is the sole directive of Brenda Barnette, and somehow the city is treating it as if it’s actually law, as if it’s in alignment with current law, and as if it’s in agreement with due process under law. It’s not on all 3 counts. As bad, not only is the directive unlawful, but then Barnette gets to have ultimate say over the individualized results of her own unlawful directive. So it’s in her best interest to mostly justify those seizures/impounds after the fact or else it would be like admitting that her process is completely flawed, likely ending the directive and embarrassing her for even putting it in place.
Are the upper echelons of many animal control departments fatally flawed? If your answer is yes, take a look at #1, #2d, #2e, #3a, #3b, #4 and #6. Notation #4 is so incredibly offensive that it is beyond shocking that they even had the hubris to put it into text. It reads “the animal is to be impounded immediately and without delay when the ACO and/or supervisor deems the animal should be impounded for any other reason.” Holy shit. That is so brazenly against the law that it makes my head spin.
Due process, which is the constitutional respecting of people’s rights and thus seeing them as innocent until proven guilty instead of guilty until proven innocent, is completely ignored with the typing out of #2a-2e, #3a, #3b, the infamous #4, #5, #6, #7 and #8. In other words, 90% of the document thumbs its nose at actual due process.
Animal law attorney Marla Tauscher, in her letter to the City Council, makes legal Swiss cheese of the directive. She mentions city attorney Dov Lesel as well as the 3 LAAS Commissioners with law degrees (David Zaft, Larry Gross, Roger Wolfson), asking how this could’ve been done on any of their watches. The Commission has had 4 meetings since its issuing on 2/23/2015, and as far as I know none of the 5 members have taken issue with its use. Tauscher also points to Los Angeles Municipal Code 53.34.2, which requires that animal control return any impounded animal to its owner if notice of an administrative hearing is not served on its owner within 7 days of impound. Directive 15-001 conveniently leaves this part out. Tauscher also states that this directive “appears to be motivated, in part, by a need to give the impression that Barnette’s department is proactive in dealing with ‘dangerous’ animals.” This is my conclusion as well.
So where did this directive come from in the first place? If you remember, last year I wrote about a Studio City couple that got the ear of City Councilman Paul Krekorian after their puppy was killed by a loose dog in Venice Beach. Krekorian, along with Paul Koretz, then floated the idea of trying to install BSL in Los Angeles during one of the Council’s end of the year financial meetings with the Animal Services department. State law prohibits this discriminatory move, so this problematic directive seems to be Barnette’s attempt at appeasing Krekorian. This same couple appeared in an NBC4 I-Team report by Joel Grover in February of 2015. 3 weeks later Directive 15-001 was issued.
I was actually able to sit in on one of these administrative hearings this past week. Come to find out, the city has impounded 79 dogs using this directive in the month of March alone! Each of these cases requires its own hearing, as long as the owner stays engaged, and the hearing that I was in lasted about 5 hours. Brenda Barnette was not present, but it was stated by the hearing officer that she would review the audio testimony as well as the “evidence” and come to a conclusion on the case within 30 days. Now multiply that scenario by 79 (and remember, this is just for March, and the days won’t stop for her to catch up). I asked how many people from those 79 cases indicated that they will show for their hearing… I was told “about half.” What happens to the half of dogs whose owners don’t engage the hearing process? Well, they are deemed “dangerous” and then killed because of it, as there is no hearing and so the circumstantial impound has the final say. For the other half? They sit at the shelter, impounded and confined from the general population, without any contact or interaction with their owners (and taking up space while stray and surrendered dogs die), until they receive a hearing date. The hearing dates are currently being pushed because there is so many of them, and they are being done by an already understaffed animal control department. If you remember, in notation #8 it stated that the hearing “should be set within a short but reasonable time.” What constitutes “short but reasonable”? More vague, open-ended language from the department. This is not okay! Then after the hearing happens, Barnette has an additional 30 days to issue a ruling. All the while, the owners are being extorted for impound fees that multiply every day.
What can you do to oppose this? Come to the next Commission meeting that will be held this Tuesday (4/28) at 7pm at the East Valley shelter in Van Nuys, CA. These inaccessible meetings are normally held down at City Hall during the work week at 10am, so the once in a blue moon night meeting is your best bet to attend and be a part of this conversation. Give a public comment in front of the Commission, as they are supposed to oversee the LAAS department. You can also email the Commission your disapproval of this directive, as well as email the City Council your disapproval of this directive. Tell them why it is offensive to you.