City Council sends mixed message on animals with Friday anti-rescue vote, followed by backtrack
Ruby, a Dachshund mix, was pulled from a local shelter by a private rescue on the day she was scheduled to be killed. As a senior dog, the shelter allotted her only twenty days to find a home before being euthanized.
The L.A. City Council voted Friday to create stricter controls on Animal Services adoption fee waivers granted to certain pet rescues and shelters that save animals from City shelters.
Spurred by the complaint of a private citizen that she believed certain rescues were profiting from adoption fees, and what one Councilmember called “anecdotal information,” the Council amended the L.A. Municipal Code to say that any rescue that received a fee waiver could not, when adopting the animal out to a member of the public, require an adoption fee that would “exceed the organization’s aggregate cost recovery.”
Private rescues and shelters that submit required documentation and proof of IRS non-profit status are designated as “New Hope” partners with L.A. Animal Services and are currently not required to pay a fee to pull animals from City shelters, where they risk being euthanized for health problems, old age, or lack of space.
The new ordinance also provided for City audits of rescues that received waivers.
The move raised alarm in the City’s rescue and sheltering community, where it was unclear what Councilmembers intended by the use of the term “aggregate cost recovery.”
Private shelters and rescues customarily require an adoption fee both as proof that the potential adopter has the means to provide for their new pet, and to defray a fraction of the costs associated with running a rescue. But, as one local rescuer says, “In a good month, where nothing extraordinary happens, no dogs or cats coming in with severe injuries or illnesses, our costs are at least $18,000. And of course I have to pay that whether or not any animals are adopted that month.”
When asked if the current economic climate has affected her rescue, she says, “It’s been bad so far this year. Very few calls about adopting, but many calls and emails every day from people looking to give up animals.” She also noted that reputable rescues guarantee they will take back animals they have adopted out for any reason. “Last month we had a dog returned who was adopted six years ago. The woman lost her house and simply didn’t have any place for him to live.”
In an odd turn, three days after the Council vote, L.A. Animal Services Assistant General Manager Linda Barth sent a notice to all existing New Hope partners informing them that, “The new language as approved will have no impact on the current fee waivers.”
Barth goes on to suggest that the changes were made simply to bring the current code into compliance with state laws. However, this is not borne out by statements made both in the private party proposal that was evidently the spur for these changes, as well as by comments made by Councilmember Alarcon on May 6th.
Alarcon said, referring to the current code,”There is some troubling language with regard to the General Manager having the opportunity to waive fees for animals that may have value and then are given to, for example, pet adoption places and then they sell them, even though the ordinance says they may not sell them.”
In a call this week to clarify these issues, Alarcon was asked if he knew of any specific cases where there had been profiteering by rescues. He then said the changes in the code were meant to be “preventative.”
In a question about the Council’s use of the phrase “aggregate cost recovery,” it was pointed out that the costs incurred by a rescue in sheltering a young, healthy, easily adoptable animal would be far outstripped by the costs of caring for an older animal, who might require medical care and a longer period of time for a successful adoption. Alarcon replied, “I don’t think the Council considered that point.”
When asked about the audits of rescues provided for in the ordinance, Alarcon said they would not be routine, but rather “complaint-based.” He said, “For those [rescues] who are performing a legitimate service – they’ll be fine. If not, we will go back and tweak it.”
Calls to Barth’s office seeking comment were not returned.
In a statement Mayor Villaraigosa’s office said, “This is an ordinance that the Mayor has supported for the past year-and-a-half, will continue to support, and will sign into law. He would not be signing it if it was a termination of fee waivers for New Hope Partners, who have been crucial in placing rescue animals into good homes.
This is a small and fair adjustment to fee waiver rules to address state law, one that takes into consideration the expenses that New Hope Partners undertake in maintaining and caring for animals before they are sold.” The Mayor’s office said any potential audits would also take into account a rescue’s entire operating budget, rather than the costs associated with a single animal.
This issue also calls into question the timeframe for naming a new General Manager at L.A. Animal Services, following the resignation of Ed Boks in April. Although Boks said he intended to return after a vacation to finish out the fiscal year, a source in Council President Garcetti’s office said he believed Boks would not return. Further, he said he “did not expect anyone to be named [by the Mayor] anytime soon.”
Update: Although on May 13 I was provided with a copy of an unsigned notice addressed to existing New Hope partners, which informed them that they would not be affected by the fee waiver changes, and which I was told was created by Linda Barth, the notice was not in fact emailed to New Hope partners until today. It was sent from the email address of Acting LAAS General Manager Kathy Davis.