Inequities Seen in Handling of Stray-Dog Calls

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Residents of South-Central Los Angeles and the affluent west San Fernando Valley have at least one thing in common: They both get a lousy response when they complain about stray animals.

That's the conclusion of City Controller Rick Tuttle, who reported Thursday that he found "severe discrepancies" in how the city Animal Services Department responds to calls in different parts of Los Angeles.

The audit found that animal control officers respond in person to 92% of calls about stray dogs and animal problems in the East Valley, but to only 48% of calls in South-Central and 56% in the West Valley.

On Monday, a West Hills man shot a stray pit bull after it attacked and killed his daughter's kitten. He complained that the Animal Services Department had never responded to his previous complaints.

"We have all heard stories of packs of dogs roaming South-Central Los Angeles," Tuttle said. "This study shows that the city's response is inadequate. We need to add staff in this area to serve it properly."

At the South-Central shelter, city workers fail to respond to more than 30 calls a day, more unresolved calls than in all the other five regions of the city combined, the audit found.

Tuttle called the situation a significant health and safety problem.

"It puts the residents of South-Central at greater risk than they should be from these packs of dogs," he said.

The audit was sought by Dan Knapp, the department's general manager.

"I think South-Central residents know there has been a concern," Knapp said. "We share that concern. We are putting more officers out on the street in the next year, after they are properly trained."

Densely populated South-Central produces more calls involving injured animals and dog packs, the sort of calls that do not usually allow quick resolution, Knapp said.

"The types of calls we get there are different and take more time," Knapp said.

City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas said the audit findings are no surprise to residents of his South-Central district, but he hopes they will provide momentum for efforts to increase staffing and improve services.

"In South-Central, it goes to the quality of life and public safety," he said. "It means that children and others who cannot defend themselves are at risk from stray dogs."

A new shelter recently was built and additional staffing has been proposed, Ridley-Thomas said, but more help is needed.

Although it has the largest staff of any city animal shelter, the South-Central facility received 20 calls a day per field officer, compared with only three daily calls per officer assigned to the West Los Angeles shelter. Tuttle recommended a shift of deployment to even out the workload.

Councilwoman Laura Chick of Tarzana said she would press for better response to complaints from her West Valley constituents. Chick will take over as controller July 1, when Tuttle leaves to become an administrator for student affairs at UCLA.

Known as an affluent area, the West Valley also has low-income neighborhoods, and its shelter had one of the lowest staffing levels while experiencing the second-greatest number of calls.

In addition, auditors found that many field officers appeared to be staying at the shelters without justification. Up to 28% of field officers who filed time cards did not file field activity reports showing they had worked away from the shelter.

"Particularly in light of the poor call resolution rate in many areas, it is crucial that the department figure out what its staff is doing and ensure that the maximum number of field officers are deployed in the field, where they are most needed," Tuttle said.

In an interview, Tuttle said he personally encountered the dog-pack problem in South-Central on election day, where he was canvassing door to door.

"I'll never forget it, as long as I live," Tuttle said. "I was on Central Avenue looking east as the sun was rising and I could see the packs of dogs silhouetted along the wide street.'

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Service Gaps

An audit of the Animal Services Department showed discrepancies in response to calls in different parts of Los Angeles.

Average percentage of completed calls

North-Central: 90%

South-Central: 48%

Harbor: 61%

West L.A.: 79%

East Valley: 92%

West Valley: 56%

Source: City of Los Angeles

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
66°