(July 6, 2004) -- LB is home to the state of the art P.D. Pitchford Companion Animal Village. One building houses SPCA-LA, which selects some dogs, cats and other animals for adoption in good homes. The rest, given up by their owners for good reason or for no good reason or found stray, are killed by the City of Long Beach in a nearby building.
(Exception: LB Animal Control now lets certain authorized 501 (c)(3) animal rescue organizations adopt animals, a praiseworthy reform; kudos to new management.)
Each televised LB City Council meeting begins by showing an adoptable dog or cat. LBTV 8, City Hall's taxpayer paid cable TV channel, carries "The Pet Place," produced by animal lovers showcasing adoptable dogs and cats. LBTV 8 telecasts photos of some animals taken in by Animal Control.
And LB Animal Control recently began posting digital photos of dogs and cats on its web site, a reform first suggested by LBReport.com's reports three years ago (and thereafter urged by Councilwoman Jackie Kell and backed by the Council).
Now comes the Office of LB City Auditor Gary Burroughs with an item on the July 6 Council consent calendar -- items not planned for discussion unless someone requests it -- reviewing the operations of LB's Animal Control Bureau.
Submitted on Mr. Burroughs' behalf by Deputy City Auditor Janet Sutter, a cover letter says the "purpose of performing this review was to evaluate the terms of the agreement in place between the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Los Angeles (spca-LA) and to determine compliance with that agreement as well as to assess the Bureau's administrative controls and effectiveness."
LB Animal Control provides services for the cities of Cerritos, Signal Hill, Los Alamitos and Seal Beach...and the Auditor's review concludes that LB's contracts don't cover all costs of providing services to Signal Hill and Cerritos. To cover all related costs should be increased by about $30,000 for Signal Hill, and by about $140,000 for Cerritos, it says.
The Auditor's review also found that after the City Council, at management's insistence, moved LB's Animal Control facility to the new ELB Animal Village, Animal Control's costs have increased $500,000 annually while revenues have only increased about $200,000 annually.
"The General Fund subsidy for Animal Control Bureau has increased to approximately $1.5 million per year," the City Auditor's office says, attributing this not to the move but primarily to the addition of staff.
The Auditor's report adds that in May 2004, City Hall began a review of service fees "to determine whether fees in place adequately cover related services" and this will include the Animal Control Bureau. (We interpret this as blaming low fees, not costly management and Council decisions, for costs exceeding revenue.)
The Auditor's report continues, "The current Lease Back agreement between the City and spcaLA provides for the City to pay 50% of operating and maintenance expenses for only those premises occupied by the Bureau and for "common areas"; however, currently the City is paying 50% of operating and maintenance expenses for the entire Village." (Management's response, cited in the Auditor's report, is that it will meet with the City Attorney to discuss revisions to the current agreement to ensure the document reflects the intentions of both parties.)
The Auditor's office notes that "[Animal Control] Bureau staff is dedicated and professional"...and our sources outside city staff agree, adding they are pleased by new management and its changes. Kudos.
That said, and acknowledging that the Auditor's review seems professionally done (to access it in pdf form, 679 kB, click here), we still think there's something conspicuously absent from a report on the taxpayer-paid Animal Control operation: What happens to the animals?
Their fate may not be the usual stuff of audits, but we fail to understand how LB taxpayers can have a complete picture of their Animal Control operation without it. In our opinion, the Auditor's report should have candidly disclosed the number of animals killed now, and the attendant taxpayer costs, compared to the numbers at LB's former animal facility which also used to handle adoptions.
SPCA-LA never promised fewer killings and it doesn't do the killings. SPCA-LA promised an operation that finds good homes for adoptable pets, sparing LB Animal Control the task of handling pet adoptions. As best we can tell, SPCA-LA has delivered what it promised.
It's LB Animal Control that does the killings...and taxpayers ought to know for what they're paying.
As we also noted above, LB Animal Control's upgraded web page has begun to include photos of animals whose time is running out. That's something the City Council considered important enough to support nearly three years ago...but it isn't even mentioned in the City Auditor's review.
We commend new management for getting the new photo system started, but the fact is it's still not fully systematized (as OC's is). Instead, LB Animal Control employees take pictures and upload them as best they can when they're not juggling other tasks. For that reason, the number of posted pictures may not always reflect all the animals being held.
On July 3, we saw only about half a dozen dog photos posted...although many more cats and dogs were on death row. On July 5, the number of photos ballooned to 55. We're told it's been higher and lower, but until the system is fully implemented, it may not be complete or timely.
Ouch. LB taxpayers paid a bundle for a snazzy new integrated city web site system. Presumably, it can integrate photo files as easily as data or document files. That would increase efficiency and save taxpayer-paid employee time. That's also absent from Mr. Burroughs' report.
On July 2 (and probably before), LB Animal Control's web site included this photo of a dog along with its "evaluation date." That's when the minimum holding time runs out and SPCA-LA can select the dog or cat for adoption from among many that day. Not all animals can be chosen; some have behavioral or health problems; others pose a threat. For whatever reason, if the dog or cat isn't selected by SPCA-LA and isn't taken by an approved 501(c)(3) rescue organization, the dog or cat can be killed the next day and usually is.
This dog's evaluation date was July 2. By July 3 at 12:01 a.m., its picture was automatically deleted from the Animal Control web site.
When we inquired about the dog on July 3, we were told it was actually put to death on or about June 30. Originally taken in as a stray, its owner relinquished it, effectively shortening its holding time; the dog had already been killed by the time the computer erased its image from cyberspace.
(The dog chewed the hair off part of its front legs; we don't know if that was a curable medical condition or because the dog was frightened.)
It's been nearly three years since LB opened its P.D. Pitchford Companion Animal Village. It's been nearly three years since LB Councilmembers sought an efficient, up to date, photographic animal intake system for their city's state of the art animal facility.
We urge taxpayers and animal advocates to insist on a fully implemented (hopefully nearly automated) photo intake system on LB Animal Control's web site...and it should be in place before LB's Dept. of Health asks for its FY 05 budget allocation.
We do think the Auditor's report should have quantified and compared the number of killings now with those that took place previously. Since it didn't, we urge management to present those figures publicly at the July 6 City Council meeting.
We acknowledge the work of Animal Control's dedicated line-officers, and commend reforms that new management has implemented.
Ultimately, the solution is to ensure animals don't wind up in the misnamed government "shelter" system. Once in a "shelter," a truly Orwellian term in the animal context, most dogs and cats don't get out alive. We'll await LB management's figures, but we expect about 80% of the cats and dogs on City Hall's web site will end up being killed.
We are haunted that this is done daily in our name. As long as it is, we think taxpayers should be told without flinching what we're getting with our money, if not by the Auditor's office then by city management.
Perhaps that will haunt others...and move some hearts and minds.
Epilogue: On July 6, no Councilmember or member of the public asked that the Auditor's agenda item be discussed. It was approved without discussion as a consent calendar item.