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Lawsuits filed against the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control, part 2

Zephyr_dead_in_kennela.jpg

Courtesy of Los Angeles County DACC Watch Blog

Warning: This article contains photos that may be disturbing to some readers. Discretion is advised.

In December 2007, the No Kill Advocacy Center, Cathy Nguyen, volunteer animal rescuer and Rebecca Arvlzu, Los Angeles County taxpayer and animal rescuer filed a lawsuit in L.A. Superior Court against the County, the L.A. County Department of Animal Care and Control and its Director, Marcia Mayeda. The action was in response to numerous incidents of the Department’s alleged egregious opposition to policy and laws mandating actions to save rather than kill animals including the death of a puppy while in the Department’s custody. The L.A. law firm of Eisenberg, Raizman, Thurston and Wong, LLP handled the case that described unlawful and malicious treatment of thousands of animals involving all six County shelters. To reduce overcrowding and avoid the costs of housing and veterinary care, shelters apparently abused a legal loophole and misclassified animals with minor illnesses as “irremediably suffering”.

The plaintiffs resorted to filing the lawsuit only after Cathy Nguyen had repeatedly attempted to work with the Department and its Director, Marcia Mayeda, for many months to no avail. Promises to change were constantly broken, requests for copies of records were ignored and the County CEO and Board of Supervisors responded with indifference to letters requesting investigation into the problems.

According to Ryan Olshan’s Los Angeles County DACC Watch Blog, Zephyr was a 10-month-old puppy impounded in the Carson shelter for five weeks until her untimely death. On 11/2/07, Department records show that Cathy Nguyen’s rescue partner, Janet Taylor, had put in a Call Before Put To Sleep, a request to be called by the Department in the event that Zephyr was scheduled to be put to sleep. Zephyr became ill on 11/5/07. She was prescribed five days of antibiotics to be given twice daily for kennel cough. Records do not show they were ever given according to Nathan J. Winograd, national director of the No Kill Advocacy Center. Carson staff admitted they only medicate once daily therefore, even if they had treated Zephyr, she would not have received the proper dosage for the medication nor as prescribed by the veterinarian. As a result, she contracted pneumonia, stopped eating and was allowed to waste away - prolonged, needless suffering without intervention from the Department required by law. On 11/27, an exam record was entered to put Zephyr to sleep but the Department never contacted Janet to notify her. The Department claimed they administered Bordetella and DHLPP vaccines on 11/27 though their records show Zephyr was never vaccinated for protection from illnesses contracted in filthy shelter environments such as the Carson facility. Why would they vaccinate a dog a month after impoundment that was extremely ill and would be euthanized? Original records and those obtained via a Public Records Act request contradict each other raising suspicions they were altered. Janet visited Zephyr on 11/30 and called Cathy that night to alert her that Zephyr was severely ill. Cathy went to the shelter early the next morning to take Zephyr to a veterinarian but she had died on the floor of her cage with no blanket or heat. The necropsy report stated the cause of death as suppurative pneumonia with starvation. Carson shelter staff admitted the heating system was broken prior to Zephyr’s death though the Director claimed it was operational. The heating system was under maintenance five days after Zephyr’s death. The Department claimed Janet had put a hold on Zephyr implying she was responsible for her death. Even if Janet had put a hold on Zephyr, why didn’t the Department provide the treatment she so desperately needed while in their custody? Zephyr’s tragic case is emblematic of what countless animals endure from the Department’s outrageous incompetence on a daily basis. Her case is but one example of the problems endemic to all six shelters of the County system.


Courtesy of Los Angeles County DACC Watch Blog

The County and Department opposed animal protection laws while pending in the legislature, after the laws passed through a regulatory challenge and now by breaking them leading to senseless deaths according to Winograd. The Department violated state laws such as the 1998 Animal Shelter Law that passed after shelters were unjustifiably killing animals when life saving alternatives were cost effective and available.

According to the 29-page statement, the charges included the following routine practices:

• The killing of healthy or treatable animals before the end of the mandated holding period
• The miscategorization of animals as ill, injured, aggressive or feral in order to kill them before the end of the mandated holding period
• The killing of lost animals without making the sanctioned minimum effort to find their owners
• Failure to scan animals for microchips in order to reunite them with their owners thus leading to their needless deaths
• Failure to provide veterinary care resulting in avoidable deaths
• Failure to provide adequate food, water, shelter and exercise
• Refusal to release animals to adopters or rescue groups willing to care for them, gratuitously opting to kill them instead
• Holding animals in areas inaccessible to the public thus preventing them from being reunited with their owners leading to their unwarranted deaths
• Capricious, inhumane treatment of animals
• Vengeful retaliation against volunteers and rescuers who expose Department violations of law and malicious mistreatment of animals

In vindictive and illegal retaliation for the claim, the Department held animals hostage by threatening to kill them and violated the constitutional rights of plaintiff Cathy Nguyen, her rescue partner, Janet Taylor, volunteers and rescue organizations such as the award winning Irvine Animal Care Center by barring them from volunteering and rescuing animals. The County filed a motion to dismiss the case arguing they had complete discretion over when and whether an animal is given veterinary care, released to a rescue group or killed. They also argued that even if they are violating law or treating animals inhumanely, concerned citizens have no right to force them to stop according to Winograd.

The trial culminated with a settlement in favor of the plaintiffs in October 2008. A stipulated court order required shelters to comply with law and provide humane treatment of animals. It rigorously specified animals that could be killed as “an animal with a medical condition that has a poor or grave prognosis for being able to live without severe, unremitting pain despite necessary veterinary care”. It demanded shelters:

• Not kill animals before the statutory holding period with limited exceptions
• Notify rescue groups of animals scheduled to be killed
• Release animals to rescue groups instead of killing them
• Provide veterinary care for ill and injured animals
• Provide access to euthanization records to ensure compliance
• Cease retaliation against individuals and organizations that expose violations
• Restore the right to volunteer and rescue animals to plaintiff, Cathy Nguyen

David B. Casselman of Wasserman, Comden and Casselman mediated the agreement pro bono as he does for animal causes. Animal advocate and Founding Director of the Cambodian Wildlife Sanctuary, he sued the L.A. Zoo over the treatment of elephants in 2007.


Courtesy of Los Angeles County DACC Watch Blog

Mediation resumed in February due to the Department’s alleged failure to abide by the stipulated court order and uphold minimal standards of care. The plaintiffs will pursue court enforcement if the Department refuses to comply. The Department has allegedly continued to flagrantly violate state laws and its own policy. The Department has apparently maintained atrocious, inhumane conditions leading to indefensible suffering and death according to the plaintiffs. Shelter visits and records revealed that animals continued to be:
• Kept in filthy cages wallowing in their own waste
• Denied veterinary care
• Killed before the mandated holding period
• Killed without rescue groups being contacted
• Killed though their illnesses were treatable before the mandated holding period
In addition, the decomposing body of a dead cat was found under a kennel. Animals have been shamelessly neglected and allowed to suffer severe emaciation, urine soaked, matted fur spotted with pyoderma, yellow, brown and black drainage from eyes and ears and infections. Veterinary treatment has been withheld from animals in the care of the Department that claimed they were unresponsive to treatment and had a poor prognosis. These same animals have subsequently recovered when provided private veterinary care at the expense of individuals and rescue organizations.  Any private person who treated animals in their care the same way would be at least cited and fined.

The County and the Department continue to waste taxpayer dollars and blame the public for their mistreatment and killing of animals according to Winograd. The waste of valuable time, resources and funds just to get the Department to fulfill the minimum requirements of its job is appalling, outrageous and demonstrates a shocking level of ineptitude.

For more information including documents, images and a video, go to nokilladvocacycenter.org and click on Projects and Campaigns.

Please help bring an end to this avoidable travesty by signing the petition demanding the L.A. County CEO’s office and the Board of Supervisors hold LACDACC Director, Marcia Mayeda, accountable for violating the public trust. Contact County officials and representatives of your district and demand an independent, third party commission be established to oversee the L.A. Department of Animal Care and Control, hold it accountable and prevent further unnecessary violations, waste and animal suffering.

Please carry a copy of the stipulated court order with you when you visit one of the County’s shelters. If you witness a violation, please document it on a stipulated order violation form and contact plaintiffs Cathy Nguyen at cathyn3@yahoo.com or Nathan Winograd at http://www.nokilladvocacycenter.org/contact.html. Your willingness to give a declaration under oath could spare an animal unnecessary suffering and death. Your first amendment right to speak out against inhumane, substandard conditions in government animal shelters is protected under a federal statute known as Section 1983.

The No Kill Advocacy Center is the nation’s first non-profit organization dedicated to promoting a No Kill nation. It is the only organization made up of people who have created and worked in No Kill communities proving it possible and viable. It drafts legislation and works with public and private shelters and animal lovers across the country to reform shelters to embrace and implement the No Kill Equation.

 

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