ANIMAL WATCH-Mayor Eric Garcetti, LA Animal Services' GM Brenda Barnette and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and City Attorney Mike Feuer may find it an unnerving surprise that the vegan dog-food proposal to feed only meatless meals to Los Angeles city shelter dogs -- propounded by Commissioner Roger Wolfson and eagerly supported by Best Friends enthusiast Layne Dicker -- has found fervent support and visual prominence on the Liberation/blog page of DirectActionEverywhere.com, the new site connected to the Animal Liberation Front (ALF).
Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) is described as an "international grassroots network of animal rights activists founded in 2013…Their intent is to build a movement that can eventually shift culture and change social and political institutions. DxE activists work for "total animal liberation" and the creation of a law requiring "species equality."
DxE takes credit for organized protests inside restaurants and stores, citing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and ACT UP as influences. In August 2013, DxE activists organized the Los Angeles side of an international multi-city protest, The Earthlings March. They list activities involving Whole Foods Markets, Chipotle Restaurants, Costco and others.
Although he managed to distance himself as Council President, Mayor Garcetti certainly has not forgotten the era of threatening and often paralyzing activism -- from 2004 to 2010 -- which allowed the ADL-LA (Animal Defense League - Los Angeles) to become a feared reality in the everyday lives of Los Angeles city officials, animal shelter employees, local animal rescuers and LAPD, which found itself essentially powerless to act. The ADL-LA described itself as the "above-ground" branch of the underground terrorist group Animal Liberation Front (ALF).
THE REALITY OF ANIMAL TERRORISM IN LA
The ADL-LA launched vicious verbal attacks and physically harassed former LAAS permanent and interim General Managers, plus employees, union representatives, elected officials and their staffs, starting during the tenure of Mayor James Hahn and ending with Antonio Villaraigosa, using posts, signage and e-blasts which included unpleasant and insulting comments about personal lives, physical appearance, sexual preference, and threateningly disclosing home addresses and familial information. Spouses and families of City and Council officials lived in constant fear. One Deputy City Attorney was reminded that the ADL-LA knew her child's school and schedule.
More moderate Los Angeles humane groups retreated in fear and declined to publicly pronounce their private alarm and dismay at being “painted with the same brush,” as they watched their own credibility tumble in the barrage of media reports of physical and verbal protests by the ADL-LA that punctuated every public event that concerned animals and others where public officials appeared.
There were pre-announced visits to targeted homes of officials, managers and employees and the surrounding neighbors by individuals in black costumes painted with white skeletons, waving placards showing dead dog carcasses, with blood-red paint and various graphic accusations of “animal killers.” A veterinarian for LAAS reportedly had prostitutes arrive at her home and dozens of unordered pizzas delivered at night. The words "puppy killer" was scrawled on front doors of employees' apartments and homes and on cars in their driveways.
What Garcetti, Council members and LA Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette may not know is that the ADL-LA movement gained access to and was strengthened by the activist-populated Animal Services' Commission, where less-volatile (but equally passionate) advocates were dazzled by the celebrity-aura of Pamela Ferdin -- the voice of Charlie Brown's "Lucy" -- standing at the microphone as a public speaker telling them they must "Stop the Killing."
It is impossible to forget -- considering the aftermath -- that she arrived late and was welcomed warmly by the Commission. One member reportedly divulged that a meeting was held at her home.
Undoubtedly, they had no idea what would follow.
COMMISSION SHOULD BE RESTORED TO ITS ORIGINAL FORM
The Animal Services (Animal Regulation) Commission was originally made up of local business and community leaders who were concerned about the department's effectiveness citywide. It also always had a practicing or retired veterinarian (not involved in activism) appointed to create a balanced perspective on policy and management of animal/public safety and health.
The Commissioners were chosen from candidates nominated by the various Council members to provide oversight and assurance that each district of the City was receiving its fair share of services, such as, protecting residents and children from dog packs and attacks, stray animals, animal welfare/cruelty, health hazards, and addressing the #1 problem of nuisance noise -- barking dogs.
In 1993, activists initiated a ballot measure that would change the Commission from advisory to the "head" of the Department. Realizing that voters still believed it was important not to muddy the accountability of the manager of a City department, a "fake" press release was FAXed to media outlets, claiming that then-LA Animal Regulations "would be auctioning pelts, horsehides and feathers from euthanized animals" -- an apparent effort to influence the ballot measure, according to the LA Times.
The acting General Manager responded to the Times, "The City has no intention of auctioning off animal parts" and called the statement, "terribly sick." However, the public was influenced.
THE CHARTER CHANGE ALLOWS ADVISORY COMMISSION
In 1999, the new Charter (Sec. 115) removed the Department of Animal Regulation (Animal Services) from the Charter and stated it shall continue to exist and to perform the powers and duties prescribed in the Charter ... until the department, powers or duties are changed or eliminated by ordinance."
Thus, the Board of Animal Services Commissioners can be restored to an advisory board by ordinance and the General Manager again held accountable for service, acts and omissions by this vital public safety department.
With (1) licensing of dogs again decreasing, according to the last LAAS report, and also a potential failure to vaccinate dogs for rabies; (2) no County or State restrictions/enforced policies on importing "rescued" animals from other countries, and (3) the efforts of activist-Councilman Paul Koretz to allow unlimited dogs and cats citywide, Los Angeles could find itself again experiencing rabies in domestic animals or other epidemics of canine and/or feline diseases, as well as increased loose/stray dog attacks.
It is unfair to the public to not have the General Manager (with the review of an advisory Commission) making the decisions for which it pays him/her and reaping the consequences of mistakes or negligence. Appointing a Commission of individuals who may love animals but have no experience in animal control, management or navigating bureaucracy is a disservice to all. In other words, who is to blame and what is the penalty if the GM's advice/recommendation is not followed and there is a tragic result? (Especially when the public is footing the bill and the animals are the victims.)
RETURN LAAS OVERSIGHT TO THE PUBLIC SAFETY COMMITTEE
It is time for the Mayor to make another serious change given the potential sense of entitlement by extremist and/or terrorist groups and the deteriorating effectiveness of this department: he must return it to the Council oversight of the Public Safety Committee.
There has been no real and enduring effort by the Commission or the PAW committee to address the lack of safe trucks to replace the 2001-2003 models still on the streets and endangering the lives and welfare of Animal Control Officers and animals. There has been no mandate that the telephones at the shelters be corrected so that the public can be served and to provide emergency responses. There has been no demand that the officer complement be restored to a level that can respond to the increasing calls for help for animals and humans.
ACTIVISM MUST BE BALANCED BY REALITY
There is no question that without the colorful, in-your-face campaigns of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and worldwide programs of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other large organizations to address animal cruelty, the public would be largely unaware of the suffering behind the closed doors of laboratories, the cramped, debilitating cages used in factory farming, the cruel mass-slaughtering practices of the meat industry, and the callous and horrific injury and deaths of millions of animals to satisfy the blood lust of animal-fighting enthusiasts.
However, activism for the purpose of winning hearts and minds with sound logic and empirical data is a far cry from pushing an agenda which could be harmful because of poorly researched potential effects. What works for one cannot be assumed to work for all and just because shelter animals are voiceless is no reason to gamble with their well-being and their future health.
Activism and idealism have an important place in creating a better world for animals, but it must come from across the table, not merely due to quid-pro-quo agreements or political popularity. Change must be a matter of providing empirical evidence to leaders that it is a better choice -- in addition to appealing to their sensibilities.
(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.