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A Vet in Battle : Department That Impounded 74,000 Critters Has Just 1 Animal Doctor on the Job


It wasn't a requirement of the job, but when Dena Mangiamele was hired as a veterinarian for the Los Angeles Animal Regulation Department, it helped that she is a former triathlete and an avid runner.

As it turned out, she had to rely on her long-distance stamina when she became the only vet in a department that last year impounded 74,000 dogs, cats, goats, chickens, ducks and a menagerie of other critters.

The department normally keeps three vets on staff, but Mangiamele was forced to fend for herself after one vet died before she was hired last year and another retired soon after she got the job. A hiring freeze and delays in the civil-service hiring process have kept the city from replacing the two others.

Thin, energetic and upbeat, Mangiamele, 34, acknowledges that even her stamina is often not enough to carry her through some of her long, frustrating days.

"I'm worn to the bone," she said.

Mangiamele's duties include overseeing animals' medical treatment, drafting work schedules for animal health technicians, running training sessions for her assistants and attending the bimonthly Animal Regulation Commission meetings, she said.

Often she returns to her Sun Valley home at about 10 p.m.

But even then the work does not end, because she cares for a menagerie of her own. She owns a retired greyhound race dog, a Boston terrier, two cats, a parakeet and a canary.

Volunteers from humane organizations say Mangiamele's plight is indicative of City Hall's indifference toward the city's animal population.

"Isn't that a big joke? You have one vet for the entire city," said Teri Austin, president of the Amanda Foundation, the city's largest animal-rescue group.

Mangiamele worked as a vet for a pet food manufacturer in Long Beach when she learned about the euthanasia rate in Los Angeles through a survey of shelters statewide.

She applied for the job with the Animal Regulation Department in the hope of helping to reduce that rate. But thus far, budget shortfalls have made progress toward her goal difficult.

Although her job is often strenuous, it can also be rewarding and fun.


One recent day, as she made her usual rounds at the West Valley animal shelter in Chatsworth, Mangiamele walked through the outdoor holding pens, greeting the animals that had been impounded as strays or taken from neglectful owners. She referred to them as if they were old friends.

There was a potbellied pig, whom she called Mr. Piggy, napping in the sun. There was Gertrude, a dirty black-and-white duck with a tendency to attack visitors wearing white socks. There was also Toughie, a big, white goose who tries to intimidate unwanted visitors with a stare.

But the job is also often tragic.

Her biggest source of sadness is that her department wouldn't have to euthanize nearly 70% of the shelter's animals if more people would simply spay or neuter their pets.

"It's frustrating when people only see one side of the story," she said. "All they see is that we euthanize animals. They don't see what is the cause."

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