South L.A. shelters and rescue groups grappling with rise in homeless pets

Aug. 24, 2011, 2:42 p.m.

The "Lost Dog" board at the South LA Animal Shelter.

On a Tuesday afternoon, Arturo Quezada ducked into the intersection at 27th and Naomi and plucked out a ten pound Chihuahua.

It was the sixth dog he’s saved from traffic in the past month.

“I dunno how many [of the wandering animals in South LA] are strays or pets or what,” he said, visibly upset. “But, man, they all over the place! It’s like, either take care of your dog or don’t get one!”

Recent reports from Los Angeles Animal Services show a marked increase in euthanized animals — jumping from 150 dogs between 2008 and 2009 to over 1,000 dogs between 2009 and 2010.

They also show a decrease in adoptions over the same period, and an increase in animal intake — nearly 2,000 more dogs in the past year alone.

“We’ve been somewhat astounded by it, quite frankly,” said Brenda Barnette, general manager for Los Angeles City Animal Services.

Animals that once stayed up to 24 days in a shelter can now stay only for just over a week before being euthanized, due to space constraints and overcrowding.

“You have as many shelters as you have," Barnette explained. "That doesn’t change because of the economy.”

Reymundo Balpazar, volunteer coordinator for the animal rescue group PAWs LA, agreed.

“It’s the economy,” he said. “People ask themselves ‘what can we cut back on?’ Pets are one of the first on the list.”

Balpazar went on to say that PAWs’ intake has burst in the past few months, with groups of dogs and cats “wandering north” from South L.A. to their doorstep. The increase has been so alarming PAWs has considered reworking its mission statement to include those with low incomes or who have been particularly hit by the recession.

“The ultimate reason PAWs was created was to help people who were unable to care for their pets,” Balpazar said. “It used to be those people were just the elderly or those battling a sickness, but now that includes those going through tough financial situations.”

Madeline Bernstein, president of spcaLA, agreed with Balpazar, but went even further, targeting the shelter system itself.

“Every animal control agency wants to pretend it’s a humane society,” she said. “Animal control is a function of protecting the public from the animals. Animal welfare — what we do — is protecting the animals from the public.”

Bernstein said because of budget cuts and low resources, many Los Angeles shelters claim to simply not have enough people to round up strays.

“There’s a more cynical view,” she added, “that the less animals you bring in the better your stats look. If you don’t bring them in there’s less to euthanize. Letting packs of dogs roam the streets seems like another form of euthanizing to me, but I’m not in charge.”

Barnette acknowledged that Animal Service’s “round-ups” were organized randomly with no real schedule or system, but went on to assert that they paid special attention to “hot-spot” areas like South L.A.

“I’d say South L.A. and North Central are our two highest intakes [of stray animals],” Barnette said. “There are packs of dogs there and children walking to school. We try to keep a close eye on South Central.”

Councilwoman Jan Perry focused on the stray animal rate in South L.A. when she ran for re-election in 2006, promising to curb the mass of wandering pets and instigate more free/low-cost spay/neuter programs. In February 2008, Los Angeles passed an ordinance mandating that pet owners spay/neuter all dogs and cats.

“It’s decreased, but it’s still an issue, still a problem,” said Eva Karpenda, a spokeswoman for Perry. “A lot of people don’t like the idea of spaying or neutering pets, but they got to realize, it’s actually healthier for the animal.”

She encouraged residents to make use of the Spay LA mobile clinic that sets up shop outside Councilwoman Perry’s constituant center every Friday. The clinic offers low-cost and free spay and neuter services, as well as microchipping and vaccinations.

Balpazar and Bernstein both said regardless of any problems with the animal control system, the shelter is still the first place anybody should call.

“In this recession, more and more dogs and cats are being abandoned at home or on the street,” Bernstein said. “First thing to do is call a shelter, call a rescue. Then at least they have a fighting chance.”

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