L.A. Animal Services places head of volunteer programs on administrative leave

Dogs at the Chesterfield Square Animal Services Center in South Los Angeles in July.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

The head of volunteer programs at Los Angeles city animal shelters has been placed on administrative leave, according to a Department of Animal Services spokesperson.

Juan Rivera, the department’s director of volunteer programs since April 2022, was placed on leave on Feb. 14, said Agnes Sibal, the Animal Services spokesperson. She declined to answer other questions, including whether Rivera is being paid during his time away from the city.

“As this is personnel-related, no other info is available,” Sibal said.

Rivera did not respond to messages left by The Times.

Rivera helped oversee an array of volunteer-related initiatives, including a pet food giveaway program and adoption events.


Rivera last year faced criticism after he made a comment — for which he later apologized — about striking dogs at the shelter. Rivera made the remark at a staff meeting and told employees that he is scared of large dogs, but small ones can be managed because he can strike them.

He later explained at an Animal Services Commission meeting that he doesn’t interact with the dogs.

A top employee at Animal Services said he regrets comments he made to staff about striking dogs and has never harmed animals.

Aug. 13, 2022

The department looked into Rivera’s comments, Sibal said last year. She declined at the time to say if he faced any discipline.

His absence now comes after Animal Services volunteers complained publicly last summer about the city’s treatment of dogs, cats, rabbits and other animals at the city’s six shelters.

Volunteers have described dirty conditions, dogs not being walked, and instances in which they have had to spend their own money to buy food for the animals.

Some volunteers have also been dismissed by the city and are fighting those terminations. Volunteers also created a nonprofit, Animal Services Volunteers Assn., and retained an attorney to give them more of a voice as they navigate relations with the city.


An email sent Tuesday to Rivera’s city work email provided an automatic reply: “The Los Angeles Animal Services (LAAS) Director of Volunteer Programs will be out of the office for an extended period of time and unable to check emails.”