After Times investigation, L.A. County seeks to add kennels, review policies at animal shelters
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is seeking to add kennels to the Palmdale Animal Care Center and make them more accessible to visitors following a Times investigation into rising dog euthanasia rates in the Antelope Valley.
At a meeting of the board Tuesday, Supervisors Kathryn Barger, whose district includes Palmdale and Lancaster, and Hilda Solis brought forward a motion asking that the county’s Department of Animal Care and Control look into building temporary kennels and search for other facilities that could be used to house more dogs.
The urgent motion received unanimous approval.
“Right now, during this crisis in our animal care centers, we must find creative ways to do better, especially up in the Antelope Valley,” Barger said at the meeting. “It is clear that there are many issues here and there is a need for urgent and effective improvements.”
The move came after The Times found that the two Antelope Valley shelters euthanize more dogs — and at a higher rate — than other county facilities, as well as those operated by Los Angeles, Long Beach and other municipalities.
Supervisors also directed staff to review department policies and practices after The Times identified inconsistencies in outreach to rescue organizations about dogs that are most at risk of euthanasia.
A spokesperson for the Department of Animal Care and Control said officials were unavailable Tuesday afternoon to provide a comment.
The Palmdale shelter, which opened in 2016, was meant to relieve overcrowding at the nearby Lancaster shelter and reduce the number of dogs being euthanized there.
But together, the Palmdale and Lancaster shelters’ dog euthanasia rates have nearly doubled in recent years — from about 15% in 2018 to 28% through this August. And they’re on track this year to kill dogs at nearly twice the average rate of the other five county-run facilities, The Times found.
The county’s Palmdale Animal Care Center was supposed to be a cutting-edge shelter that would relieve overcrowding and reduce euthanasia. But that’s not how it’s turned out.
More recent statistics released by the department on the Antelope Valley sites show similar rates. From July through October, the Palmdale shelter euthanized 352 of 1,388 dogs impounded, or 25%. In Lancaster, 470 of 1,500 dogs impounded during that time, or 31%, were put down. Cats are euthanized at even higher rates.
In September, the supervisors requested that the department look into expanding the Palmdale facility, saying its limited housing capacity was inadequate to serve the region.
The Palmdale shelter has 68 dog kennels, but through August this year had taken in more dogs than larger shelters, including Baldwin Park, which has more than 190 dog kennels, and Downey, which has 180.
Barger and Solis’ motion Tuesday said it could cost more than $25 million to expand the Palmdale shelter. The motion requested more cost-effective, short-term solutions to house more dogs, and addressed the shelter’s accessibility problems as well.
In Palmdale, for example, most dogs are kept in an area that the public can visit only with a staff or volunteer escort. People wanting information about dogs available for adoption can view a corkboard pinned with the animals’ photos, but those are often dark or of poor quality. Some dogs in Baldwin Park also require an escort to be seen.
The board requested recommendations Tuesday for allowing visitors to view and access all adoptable dogs in Palmdale and Baldwin Park without an escort.
The Times also reported on cases when the shelters failed to follow department guidelines to enlist help from rescue groups before putting a dog down. In other cases, dogs were euthanized within days of being featured at adoption events or on social media, which some rescuers and volunteers said did not give the public enough time to adopt them.
1. Bubblegum, left, and Heartful were both euthanized days after an adoption event. (Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control)
In one example, Pie, a tan Siberian Husky, was euthanized at the Palmdale shelter in March, three days after being featured at an adoption event at an Ashley furniture store. Bubblegum and Heartful, two white-and-brown pit bulls who attended the same event, were euthanized a day after that. The reason listed for all three was that they were unable to be placed in a home.
Solis referenced the case of Bowie, a 4-month-old terrier at the Baldwin Park shelter who was put down without any rescue requests, sparking outrage from many rescue groups and the public.
“We have consistently been hearing and reading reports that not only the rates of euthanasia have gone up, but mistakes have also been made leading to unnecessary deaths of potential pets,” Solis said.
Supervisor Holly Mitchell asked for ideas on how the county could help prevent owners from relinquishing their pets.
Animal shelters are dealing with an influx of dogs and cats since the pandemic lockdown, and the overcrowded conditions are leading to higher euthanasia rates.
“I really would hope that we could be a little more proactive in figuring out what we can do to support our department in proactively asking people, you know, ‘What do you need?’” Mitchell said, adding that people may need food vouchers or help with veterinary expenses.
Marcia Mayeda, director of the county’s Department of Animal Care and Control, said in a June report to the board that severe staffing shortages were hampering efforts to provide basic animal care and bring down euthanasia numbers.
The Palmdale and Lancaster shelters, she said, would need more than triple the number of staff in the next five years to reduce euthanasia.
In Tuesday’s motion, the supervisors requested that animal control and human resources officials evaluate vacant positions at the Antelope Valley shelters and come up with strategies to hire qualified candidates.
Watch L.A. Times Today at 7 p.m. on Spectrum News 1 on Channel 1 or live stream on the Spectrum News App. Palos Verdes Peninsula and Orange County viewers can watch on Cox Systems on channel 99.
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