Animal rescue sues to reopen L.A. shelters closed during pandemic
A San Fernando Valley animal rescue is suing Los Angeles Animal Services, arguing that the city must reopen two of its animal shelters that have been closed since April.
Ady Gil World Conservation, a nonprofit that operates an animal rescue in Woodland Hills, contends in its lawsuit that it has been “overburdened and overrun” with stray animals since the closures earlier this year.
“I cannot cover for the West Valley shelter,” said Ady Gil, founder and director of the nonprofit. “We have a limit on how many animals we can have — and you don’t want to overcrowd a rescue.”
The lawsuit also alleges that although other L.A. city animal shelters remain open, they have refused to accept strays — and are in violation of city rules as a result.
Animal Services spokeswoman Agnes Sibal-von Debschitz denied that allegation, saying that their shelters had not turned away strays or injured animals. “We have also continued to provide field services, including for public safety, in the communities where the two shelters were temporarily closed due to COVID-19,” she said in an email.
Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer, said their office would review the complaint and “have no further comment at this time.”
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Los Angeles announced that it was temporarily closing its West Valley and North Central animal shelters and that animals there would be moved to four other shelters, which remain open by appointment only.
Department head Brenda Barnette said in a statement that because Animal Services is a smaller department and had scores of employees who were off — some due to the pandemic — the changes were made to avoid a scenario in which animal shelters were struggling to operate with inadequate staffing.
Barnette has since proposed turning the West Valley shelter into a “community resource center” run in partnership with outside groups. Those partners “would provide the services to the community at their own expense in exchange for occupying space” in the center, overseen by a city staffer at the site, Barnette wrote in her proposal.
“Animal Services has a budget that doesn’t support six fully staffed shelters this fiscal year, just five, so the department is looking to be creative in how it re-opens the sixth shelter,” Councilman Paul Koretz, who oversees a council committee focused on animal issues, said in a statement. “They also have a shortage of shelter employees due to COVID-19 .... They’ve undertaken an effort to dialogue with staff, the unions and the community stakeholders to figure out the best approach.”
Thousands of people have signed an online petition against the plan, arguing it would amount to a giveaway of a city resource and shortchange residents of needed services. Councilman John Lee, who represents the northwest San Fernando Valley, said in a statement that he stands with residents “in wanting to see it reopened as a city-operated facility.”
Gil said he hoped his lawsuit would push the city to do that and more. “The right thing to do is to open all the shelters and make them function the way they functioned before the pandemic,” he said.
Get breaking news, investigations, analysis and more signature journalism from the Los Angeles Times in your inbox.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.