Dressed as skeletons and carrying photos of dead dogs, animal activists marched outside the San Pedro home of Mayor James K. Hahn on Saturday in an effort to oust the general manager of Los Angeles' Animal Services Department.
The hourlong protest resulted in several arguments between activists and residents, many of whom said they felt their neighborhood was not an appropriate place for a demonstration. It was the first time that the protesters had gathered at the mayor's home -- and several vowed to return.
"Your neighbor is responsible for the deaths of 44,000 animals in city shelters each year," shouted Pamelyn Ferdin, spokeswoman for the Animal Defense League, through her bullhorn.
In response, one neighbor started his leaf blower. Another parked his car in front of the activists and cranked up the radio to full volume. Teresa Cobo, a resident, complained that activists had been stuffing her mailbox with fliers.
For months, the league has called for the firing of animal services chief Jerry Greenwalt, who they say is being too slow to adopt an effective no-kill policy.
The city's shelters euthanize animals that aren't adopted, sometimes because of bad health or temperament. Hahn announced last year that the city would stop killing adoptable animals by 2008.
But that pledge hasn't appeased the activists, who have built an unflattering website about Greenwalt, besieged him with e-mails and protested outside his home.
In November, a Los Angeles judge issued a temporary restraining order that forbids demonstrations at Greenwalt's home. Ferdin said her group had already defied the order once with no repercussions.
The Animal Defense League, with about 300 members in Southern California, describes itself as a "militant, grass-roots organization," part of a larger national organization that fights for animal rights issues.
The group also says it supports the work of the Animal Liberation Front, a loose-knit group of activists who boast of illegal actions to free animals from laboratories and farms.
Hahn was at home, said his spokeswoman Shannon Murphy. He did not leave his house during the protest, and the curtains remained drawn. Six Los Angeles police officers blocked his driveway but let the demonstrators walk on the sidewalks.
"Mayor Hahn believes that the Animal Services Department and Jerry Greenwalt are doing a good job of increasing pet adoptions and decreasing euthanizations, and he is fully committed to a life-oriented policy by 2008," Murphy said.
Although neighbors said they sympathized with the plight of shelter animals, many also said they didn't appreciate the bizarre and noisy way protesters delivered their message.
"He's not the only mayor running a city with animal shelters," said Linda Pinkston, 56, who lives across the street from Hahn. "He's not the guy who brings the stray animals to the shelters, and he's not the one who doesn't spay or neuter his dogs."
Activists and residents got into several prolonged screaming matches, although none turned violent.
"Whether this is effective or not, I don't have any idea. I'm here to educate the public," said one masked activist who refused to give his name. "They may not be listening, but they'll definitely remember."