On June 13th the Downey Shelter staged a hugely successful “Sleepover at the Shelter” event which produced nearly 100 adoptions. One of these lucky pets was a three year old husky named Larry who was adopted by the Spanish speaking Zavala family from East Los Angeles. The Zavalas filled out all the shelter’s adoption paperwork, including an indemnification clause, releasing the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control (DACC) of any liability for any behavioral or medical conditions pertaining to their new pet. Larry settled right in to his new home and quickly became a cherished and integral part of their family.
On August 26th, a full 76 days after the adoption, DACC Officer Omar Pinto called the Zavalas to notify them that Larry had previously been involved in a dog fight and had killed another dog. Pinto told Ms. Zavala that he was coming by to pick up Larry so he could take him back to Downey and kill him, and offered a consolation prize – a free replacement dog of their choice in exchange. Ms. Zavala was horrified and contacted Sleepover at the Shelter’s sponsors to see if they could intervene and stop the DACC from killing Larry.
A letter was written on the Zavala’s behalf, and it drew an immediate phone response from Pinto. When faced with an English rather than Spanish speaker, Pinto was more respectful but no less hopeless. Pinto denied that he had ever said he was going to seize and kill Larry, but then in his next sentence stated if the Zavalas refused to surrender their dog that he would conduct a Potentially Dangerous Dog (PDD) hearing and after receiving a verdict would then come, seize and kill the dog.
Everyone involved with the DACC knows that PDD hearings are kangaroo courts, staffed entirely by senior DACC employees beholden to Marcia Mayeda. Several ex-DACC officials have confided that Mayeda tells them exactly how they are to rule, and that any failure to toe her line would be costly to their careers – and several current and active employees have revealed that they try to avoid these kangaroo courts by using the same strategies a member of the public might use in escaping jury duty! If Larry is subject to a PDD hearing his fate is as good as sealed.
When asked why it took 76 days for the DACC to notice that they had adopted a potentially dangerous dog into a family’s home, Pinto explained that the DACC is severely undermanned and behind in their investigations.
The conversation ended without resolution. However many questions linger.
The DACC and Mayeda are being sued for allowing a pack of potentially dogs to kill Pamela DeVitt. How could Mayeda’s agency knowingly have placed another family at risk by placing an alleged ‘dangerous’ dog into their home for 76 days?
Equally importantly, how can a public safety department like the DACC be so understaffed? The answer is that Marcia Mayeda has so poorly managed her budget that numerous positions are unfilled. Mayeda has suspended numerous DACC employees who she wants to fire, but due to civil service regulations must retain until long and protracted termination hearings can be held. Currently the manager positions of the Baldwin Park, Downey and Lancaster shelters are technically vacant and being manned by temporary employees. Also, Baldwin Park’s capable Lieutenant Eileen Hill is being wrongfully persecuted by Mayeda and is on indefinite suspension while Downey and Lancaster’s lieutenants are acting as shelter managers, while their positions are vacant. The list goes on and on. Meanwhile many capable and qualified employees are in the DACC’s inertia bound Long Beach headquarters performing menial jobs. Mayeda’s secretary, Paula Blackwell is an animal control officer. Why isn’t she in the field protecting both animals and the public?
Is Larry dangerous? We don’t know any more than the DACC does. The DACC don’t have a single qualified dog behaviorist on staff – so they are unqualified to make any decision. The critical issue here is not whether Larry is or is not dangerous – it is how the DACC repeatedly can demonstrate how poorly run it is. Marcia Mayeda has failed to manage her $38,000,000 budget as badly as she has failed to manage her shelters. For this alone she should be fired or in the time honored tradition of the DACC suspended – and her position should be left vacant to be filled in by an unsullied underling.