Animal welfare activists pressure City Council to make changes amid shelter crisis

A dog waits to be adopted in a cage at the Chesterfield Square Animal Services Center in Los Angeles.
A dog waits to be adopted at the Chesterfield Square Animal Services Center in Los Angeles.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Animal welfare activists on Friday pressed the Los Angeles City Council to make changes at the Department of Animal Services, saying its network of shelters are facing “deplorable” conditions and an overcrowding crisis.

The activists called for stricter enforcement of the city’s mandatory spay and neuter policy, a moratorium on breeding permits and increased transparency from Animal Services.

Local groups, including Take Me Home Rescue, Women United for Animal Welfare and the Animal Rescue Mission, said Animal Services is more concerned with its reputation than with the condition of animals under its care. Dogs and cats are living in feces and going months without walks, they said.


The rescue groups also claimed city shelters are killing animals for space and lying about it in an attempt to achieve “no-kill” status.

For many volunteers in L.A.’s animal shelters, there is a sense that the city’s shelter system will break down unless something changes.

Feb. 26, 2024

City officials have acknowledged an overcrowding crisis they say has lasted nearly two decades, but they maintain they do not kill for space. Angelenos are abandoning large dogs in alarming numbers, the Department of Animal Services said, and too few are adopting or fostering.

“It’s crucial to emphasize that LAAS does not and will not entertain the idea of euthanizing healthy, safe, and friendly animals, and any rumors indicating otherwise are entirely false,” the Department of Animal Services said in a statement. “Certain rescue organizations, who are not actively engaged in our shelters, continue to distort and fabricate an untrue narrative about the department.”

LAAS volunteer coordinator Jake Miller sent an email to volunteers this month announcing the pending euthanasia of up to 800 animals within four weeks if they were not adopted.

Later that day, LAAS General Manager Staycee Dains sent an email claiming Miller’s message was “simply not true” and was inappropriately distributed.

Shira Scott Astrof, founder of the Animal Rescue Mission, said Dains is not qualified for her position.


“It’s been almost a year, and our shelters are worse than they’ve ever been,” Astrof said. “When she makes mistakes, dogs die.”

Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez — chair of the Neighborhoods and Community Enrichment Committee, which oversees LAAS — said it was unfair to blame Dains for the crisis in Los Angeles shelters.

“This department has been so chronically understaffed and underfunded for years,” Hernandez said in an interview. “This general manager did not cause these issues. It didn’t happen overnight.”

The City Council approved a motion Friday to add nearly $3 million in funding to LAAS for care workers and administrative positions. Astrof said this action wouldn’t significantly alleviate the crisis at shelters unless the city begins to enforce its spay and neuter policy.

While Astrof and her peers called out Dains, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has distributed posters around the city blaming Mayor Karen Bass for the crisis.

Bass’ office emphasized recent progress, claiming the number of shelter volunteers has doubled while overcrowding has been halved.


“The state of Los Angeles Animal Services was devastating when the Mayor was sworn in,” her office said in a statement.

Animal Services echoed this message, saying in a statement that “there is obviously much more work to be done but progress has been made and lives of animals have been saved.”

Scott and other rescuers said conditions have deteriorated, not improved, under Bass and Dains.

“There’s no way out of this right now,” Scott said. “A lot of animals are going to die.”