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L.A. County officials order probe of conditions at animal shelters

L.A. County officials order probe of conditions at animal shelters
Adog peers out from a pen as a caretaker performs morning cleanup duties at the L.A. County animal shelter in Baldwin Park, one of the oldest and most overcrowded facilities, with the highest euthanasia rate. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

After animal welfare advocates complained of dogs being kept in feces-covered enclosures at a county shelter, Los Angeles County supervisors called for an investigation into conditions at the animal control facilities.

The supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday -- with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl absent -- to have the county's interim chief executive investigate the "safety and cleanliness" of the shelters and report back in 15 days with a "specific action plan to improve our facilities and customer service, and ensure accountability within our shelters."

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They also ordered the Department of Animal Care and Control to set up a complaint system to ensure that public concerns are investigated.

Cheryl Burnett, spokeswoman for Supervisor Don Knabe, who called for the investigation, said Knabe was responding to complaints of animals being kept in unclean conditions, including feces not being picked up regularly.

"He felt it was unacceptable and wants a plan to ensure it is cleaned up and maintained properly," she said.

Laura Jones, an animal welfare advocate who posted photos and video of dogs lying in enclosures encrusted with feces at the Downey shelter, told the supervisors, "The conditions I witnessed are just the tip of the iceberg.... The animals deserve better."

Marcia Mayeda, director of the animal control department, said her agency is moving to remedy the conditions.

"We're taking this very, very seriously," she said. "The photographs we saw are not reflective of the care we want to provide to the animals."

Mayeda blamed the problems partly on short staffing. She said the agency will adjust schedules and try to recruit more volunteers and workers paid through a state workforce training program.

The supervisors set aside $4 million in this year's budget for upgrades at the shelters. Mayeda said some of that money will go to replace fiberglass kennels at the Downey shelter with easier-to-clean stainless steel enclosures.

County officials plan to eventually tear down and replace the Downey and Baldwin Park shelters and renovate others. But Mayeda said that is likely to take at least five years.

A review of the shelter system released this year cited a variety of problems, including kennels with no cooling systems in the summer, bad roofs and plumbing, and cramped medical facilities. At one shelter, a freezer used to store dead animals leaked.

Euthanasia rates have decreased from a few years ago, when 62% of animals brought into the county shelters were killed. But about half the  animals brought to the county facilities still are euthanized.

Follow Abby Sewell on Twitter at @sewella for more county news.

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