Los Angeles shelters now allow volunteers to walk 'guide' dogs

Los Angeles shelters now allow volunteers to walk ‘guide’ dogs

The 5-year-old dog named Bruce had already suffered by the time he was at a shelter in Los Angeles.

In May 2021, a topless and barefoot man arrived at a South Los Angeles shelter with the brown and white dog by his side. The man asked for the euthanasia of the dog. After his request was denied, he pulled out a box cutter and cut the dog’s neck in front of terrified city employees.

Bruce spent the next seven months at the shelter as investigators sought charges. He shivered in his house and looked frightened, according to visitors, but remained off-limits to volunteers for regular walks or yard time due to the ongoing criminal case.

Los Angeles Animal Services for years kept dogs captured in cases of abuse or neglect confined to their homes, and prevented them from exercising with volunteers, according to documents and interviews.

Already, staff shortages and crowded shelters have resulted in long waiting times for many dogs to walk. But until recently, the department’s practices around so-called guide dogs further neglected those animals by depriving them of the socialization that could help rehabilitate them, animal activists say.

Even when it was clear that the evidence of the dogs did not pose a threat or show a pattern of aggression, volunteers, whom the department relied on to exercise and adopt the animals, were asked not to handle them.

A sign placed on a shelter in April shows information on a guide dog named Deva.

Animal Services changed their practices in June, informing employees that volunteers can begin walking the animals, provided there are no safety concerns.

Annette Ramirez, who has served as interim director of Animal Services since February, told The Times that the change was an “opportunity for improvement.”

The opposite happened after advocates complained to city officials and after The Times sent management questions about evidence dogs.

Guide dogs were off-limits to volunteers because — unlike other animals at the shelter — the dogs are not the property of the city, according to animal services officials.

“We’ve been going back and forth around guide dogs for some time,” Ramirez said at an Animal Services Committee board meeting in late August, explaining this new practice.

Ramirez told The Times that the department has “a responsibility to protect and protect these animals that came to us. We also have a responsibility to protect the public, staff and volunteers within our facilities.”

Ramirez said some evidence of the dogs was turned away from volunteers due to concerns that the owner would come to the shelter and catch the dog as it walked.

She said there had been “a lot of burglaries” at the shelters where owners had stolen their dogs. She said the shelters also don’t want a guide dog — who might be waiting for a hearing after someone has been attacked — in a fight with another dog or hurting someone.

In some Los Angeles shelters, guide dogs are separated from dogs available for adoption or kept behind a closed door.

At the West L.A. shelter, workers call the area where the dogs are kept “the dungeon” because the room is so dark.

“Evidence dogs, historically, have had the short end of the stick,” said one of the shelter volunteers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Attorney Marla Tauscher, whose practice includes animal control law, wondered whether the city had violated a California law requiring an appropriate exercise area for confined animals.

“If you or I did that, we’d have a problem,” Tauscher said of keeping a dog in a shelter for so long.

Animal Services spokeswoman Agnes Seibel said kennels in the city provide enough exercise space for the animals.

Despite Ramirez’s announcement that guide dogs will be allowed to be walked, several volunteers told The Times that the dogs do not appear in the department’s new walking regimen.

Sibal said dogs show up and suggested volunteers seek training from the department on the system, she said.

Bruce sustained a six-inch tear in his neck in the attack, which was First reported by CityWatch. According to an internal report, he was rescued by a vet at the shelter.

three months later, Instagram video Show Bruce and a sign on his house that says it can’t be walked on. “He’s sitting in this concrete cell,” the post read, describing the dog as “just finished.”

The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office has charged the man who cut Bruce’s neck with two criminal charges, and the dog was adopted last December.

Animal services and law enforcement agencies can request confinement on animals, but animal services decide whether volunteers can exercise guide dogs.

“We do not specify how the animal is housed, including whether the animal should be kept in isolation,” Ricardo Santiago, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said in an email.

Seals are placed on animals for a variety of reasons, including a dog attack or cruelty to the owner. Evidence retention can last for days, months, or years.

Although the department’s practices officially changed in June, some guides have been walking dogs in the past. Some of the volunteers told The Times that they sometimes took evidence of dogs and that the rules were not clear.

At the same time, animal service personnel do not always register when they walk shelter dogs.

Sibal said the department could not provide details of the number of evidence of dogs in shelters annually because the numbers vary. In late June, she said, there were 15 guide dogs in animal services.

Shera Scott Astroff, founder of Animal Rescue Mission, wants the city to put dogs involved in abuse or neglect in foster homes.

woman and dog in garden

Shera Scott’s nonprofit animal rescue mission rescued Griff, a 10-month-old pitbull mix.

(Milcon/Los Angeles Times)

“Any dog ​​that goes into isolation in a noisy shelter has no idea what is going on,” Astrof said. “[If] They are already coming from a situation that is likely to involve abuse or neglect, and their fear will get worse, they will not eat, and they will deteriorate.”

Principal Jackie Rose said Ventura County Animal Services has long dealt with evidence of dogs like that in the general population.

Volunteers walk guide dogs, often during hours when the shelter is closed to the public. Sometimes they are looked after by trained volunteers, Rose said.

“There is no definitive answer to cookies for managing dogs,” Rose said. “We look at each animal as an individual and try to look what’s best for them.”

Emily Williams, director of communications and marketing for the city and county, said the Denver Animal Shelter in Colorado allows dogs kept in situations of cruelty or neglect because they are “a much less stressful environment than a shelter for recovery or rehabilitation.” Denver.

In 2014 the Los Angeles Board of Animal Services Commissioners discussed allowing volunteers to handle guide dogs, and the department drafted new rules.

But former General Manager Animal Services Brenda Barnett told The Times last month that the change never occurred due to safety concerns for volunteers and staff.

“We didn’t have enough qualified staff and volunteers to practice the safe dogs available and also the potentially dangerous ones, so we prioritized the available dogs,” Barnett said.

Even dogs that are not classified as aggressive can face long shelters. Deva, a one-year-old tan dog, was brought to south Los Angeles in March 2021 by Los Angeles police officers to investigate a case of dog abuse.

She left the shelter in May 2022, and workers who saw Deva said they were concerned about her deteriorating condition in the kennel. Her recordings indicated that she was “jumping off walls” and spinning “non-stop”.

At one point, a vet agreed to her for a walk led by volunteers. It is unclear if she walked, and there are no records of her walking in the following months.

Another proof dog, Cash, spent seven months in dog breeding. The 3-year-old gray boy came to the shelter in November after someone reported being attacked by several dogs, according to records.

Cash in February deemed it not dangerous, but a dispute over his ownership has kept the case going. The ministry spokesman said he remained banned from walking due to concern over his behaviour.

Cash notes that he roared and cast a “severe look” when he first arrived at the shelter.

Sibal, an animal services spokesperson, said employees handled cash on a swivel device, which can be used when employees don’t feel safe around a dog.

Courtney Moran, who adopted Cash, said she has not seen any abuse from the dog.

Moran, who lives in the Agoura Hills with her partner Alex Zaris, described Cash as “terrified” when he left the shelter in June. He was startled by noises like crumpling bags of stool.

Now he regularly cuddles with the couple, plays with their friend the Yorkshire Terrier and happily hunts down lizards and rabbits.

“It was such a transformation,” Moran said.

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