This past week I drove 90 miles to the high intake, open admission Animal Friends of the Valleys Shelter in Wildomar, California in southern Riverside County. I was pleasantly surprised! The facility was the cleanest, best run and most innovative shelter I have ever seen. Entering the facility you walk into a modern reception area that looks like an upscale veterinary clinic rather than a shelter.
A large percentage of the dogs are located in clean air conditioned suites with nice dog beds rather than in runs with bars. Every pet is walked, the shelter uses play groups to socialize their pets and the shelter appears to receive more volunteer hours than all four high intake County shelters combined. Also the shelter runs a food bank that provides food for pets whose owners might be down on their economic luck and might otherwise have to relinquish their family members. Additionally Animal Friends of the Valleys has built a large community room for local groups to hold meetings and by so doing, learn that the shelter is a friendly place – rather than a pet concentration camp.
Willa Bagwell, the affable and charming Executive director’s office is at the shelter and she is there on a daily basis. Mrs. Bagwell intimately knows what is going on at her shelter. Mrs. Bagwell’s charisma, compassion and accountability is contagious and the shelter’s staff is efficient, motivated and perhaps the most rescue and adoption friendly group of people ever assembled in one place. Leadership starts from the top.
Driving back home, I stopped at two Los Angeles County shelters. I asked the employees when was the last time they saw Los Angeles County’s shelter head Marcia Mayeda. They laughed and said the only time they see Mayeda is when there is a photo opportunity. If I was masochistic enough to want to see Mayeda I would have to go to the DACC’s office in Long Beach – seven and one half miles away from their nearest shelter in Downey. I then visited a Los Angeles City Shelter and asked when the last time their staff saw Brenda Barnette, and was met with the same derisive laughter and told a similar story.
One of the biggest and easiest solvable problems the Los Angeles County and City animal shelters have is that their executive staff need a road map to find their shelters. They are out of touch and don’t understand the havoc and carnage their failed policies cause. Pets have become faceless statistics to be manipulated rather than sapient beings who need saving. Employees and volunteers have become anonymous inconvenient peons who occasionally need to be disciplined rather than prized assets who could provide valuable insight while rescues have often become targets rather than adoption partners.
Los Angeles’ County and City governments would be well served both from a financial and a humanitarian perspective to look at Riverside County for lessons on how to run their Animal Control departments Animal Friends of the Valleys – as well as their counterparts at Riverside County Animal Control – get it. Their executive directors and senior staff are headquartered in their shelters. Their shelters are set up to facilitate the live release of pets rather than to dispose of them.
It is time for Los Angeles County and City to save millions of dollars and close their costly Animal Control administrative offices in Long Beach and on North Figueroa Street and to repatriate their hopelessly out of touch directors and staff back to their shelters.