LOS ANGELES (CNS) — Councilman Paul Koretz approved a series of his own motions seeking funding and adjustments to the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services through a committee on Monday.
Koretz, chairman of the Personnel, Audits and Animal Welfare Committee, is being criticized for taking too long to address underfunding and staffing shortages affecting Los Angeles animal shelters. He was the only member present at Monday’s special meeting, so each of the 10 points was sent to the board as a recommendation from the president.
One of the motions calls for $3 million in emergency funding for animal services for the current fiscal year, and Koretz has also pledged $100,000 from his office to hire staff to improve the dog walking program.
The committee held two meetings over the summer to lament alleged animal neglect and understaffing at city facilities, and accused the department of firing several volunteers for speaking out about various issues at shelters. in an article in the Los Angeles Times in July that exposed the problem extensively.
Department officials blamed insufficient staffing levels for the problems, including dogs living in crowded conditions while sometimes going weeks or months without being walked. Several callers Monday claimed Koretz was only acting now because he is running for city comptroller against Kenneth Mejia, who criticized Koretz’s handling of the situation.
“After more than 10 years of failing to address the animal shelter crisis, Koretz is using his final weeks as committee chair to clumsily attempt to alleviate the crisis,” Mejia tweeted Sunday.
Koretz cut off at least four public speakers who criticized him at the meeting, saying they were off topic.
Koretz defended his role at a City Hall press conference earlier this month, calling it a “false narrative” that he could “make all the decisions to solve every perceived problem.” He claimed he had limited oversight over the department.
“I kept hearing and reading that I’m responsible for every complaint anyone has with Animal Services,” Koretz said. Some of these allegations are driven by genuine concern about real issues. Others, I suspect, are politically motivated.
Koretz, who is named to the board this year, released a 46-page report earlier this month on the department. He writes that the department has been the victim of a “chronic budget problem” and needs “significantly more staff and a drastic increase in funding”.
At Monday’s meeting, ministry officials reiterated that they needed more staff to address the many issues.
According to the report, the ministry has $27 million in funding for the current fiscal year, with 300 of the 343 budgeted positions filled. A “desirable” amount of funding would be almost double that amount, but the report argues animal services is not a “sexy” department to fund and notes that a ballot measure may be needed to secure adequate resources. Koretz said the city only has enough money from the General Fund to operate four shelters, instead of the six it currently runs, plus a seventh operated under contract with a nonprofit group.
Koretz admitted that until a few weeks ago he had not visited a city shelter since the pandemic began. He claimed that he did not need to physically go to the shelters to solve the problems there, because few of them had changed.
The report mainly blamed staff shortages for not regularly walking dogs and cleaning kennels more frequently. Staffing issues also contributed to around 300 unprocessed volunteer applications, according to the report. He called on the city council to relax a mandatory 10-day quarantine for animal shelter staff exposed to COVID-19, recommending the period be reduced to five days and testing negative.
Several callers complained about what they described as a long application process to become a volunteer and strict requirements that they felt were unnecessary.
“It’s been somewhat disastrous,” Koretz said Monday. “There are a lot of unhappy volunteers there.”
The report generally agreed with the ministry’s ‘no kill’ policy of achieving a live release rate of 90%, although it noted that shelters should not compromise and be transparent in statistics. .
Koretz’s report documents friction between staff and volunteers, but says it “long predates any recent controversy.”
Other motions approved by Koretz on Monday called for:
- reactivate the Animal Cruelty Working Group;
- a review of the training and qualifications of personnel to serve as animal care technicians;
- the creation of a centralized program to manage volunteer requests;
- promote the city’s sterilization law;
- ensure that the orange list, a list of animals requiring serious care that the ministry cannot provide, is given to organizations that could provide such care;
- a plan to ensure that all dogs get regular exercise;
- a plan to ensure the “best possible treatment” of cats, rabbits and other small animals;
- integrating interns from the city’s Targeted Local Hiring program into the shelter; and
- a utilization plan from the department’s joint labour-management committee.