A volunteer criticized the City of Los Angeles’ care for rabbits and other small mammals at the San Pedro Animal Shelter in The last Thames story She said she was kicked out by the city on Friday.
Jan Bunker, 74, said she was fired by Juan Rivera, director of volunteer programs at animal services.
She said Rivera told her she was a “rebellious” after she refused his request to give up her phone before meeting him at the Harbor shelter on Friday.
Animal Services spokeswoman Agnes Seballe said the department does not comment on employee issues.
Bunker and other volunteers recently described seeing small mammals without food and water and having to spend their own money on supplies for the animals.
Thousands of rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters come through the city’s six shelters each year. At many of the shelters, volunteers said the city relied heavily on them to do the work of caring for the small mammals.
Banker, an artist, piano instructor and vocalist who lives in San Pedro, said department staff have asked her to come in for a meeting. She said that when she arrived, she was asked to hand over her personal phone.
Bunker said she wanted to keep the phone to record the meeting and that she challenged Rivera’s request to give up the device.
“I said, ‘Are you a lawyer, Juan?” said Bunker. Are you sure you know my legal rights? Because my attorney says I have a right to a phone.”
“He said, ‘You are a rebel.’ said Bunker. Then she was told to be taken outside.
“Then yell, ‘You’re fired!”‘ said Bunker.
Bunker criticized City Councilman Paul Kuritz, who oversees animal issues in the city, for the state of animal services.
“The onus is on him,” Bunker said. “Animal services – they are very poorly run and there is no accountability.”
Kuritz told The Times he appreciates the city’s volunteers but doesn’t know enough about Bunker’s situation to respond. “I expect to release my report on the department within the next week or so along with a first set of proposals to begin addressing issues at LA Animal Services, including both the volunteer and young animal program,” Koretz said.
The city relies heavily on volunteers to walk dogs, do laundry, and complete a host of other tasks at animal shelters.
Media scrutiny of the shelters has exacerbated tensions between animal services employees and some volunteers, who could face dismissal if they publicly criticize the administration. Another volunteer, Claudio Cusnier, was fired this summer after he criticized conditions at a West Valley shelter.
Cusnier told The Times that staff told him he was fired for several reasons, including not wearing a mask at the shelter.
One volunteer, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, said Bunker’s firing was the exact reason volunteers were reluctant to speak out for fear of losing their jobs.
The volunteer said the dismissals make it more difficult to recruit people.
“If we weren’t there every day to see what sort of thing was happening to the animals, they might suffer from not being there,” the volunteer said. “It’s a lot more than just cleaning. It checks on medical conditions, it’s updating images, taking out sensors, interacting with adopters. So we need every volunteer we can get.”
Harrison Wollman, a spokesman for Mayor Eric Garcetti, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Wollman said last week that the city is working on adding staff to the shelters.
City Councilman Marquis Harris Dawson, who represents southern Los Angeles and is a member of the committee that oversees animal issues, said Thursday that he visited the city’s animal shelter in his area this week.
“I saw the general neglect of the facility as a whole,” said Harris Dawson, adding that the small mammal room was a “mess.”
“People were growing up [issues] In this sanctuary for me, I definitely felt and felt what they say.”
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