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Audit Suggests Bows for Bowwows

July 31, 2002|MASSIE RITSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tucked into recommendations released Tuesday for Los Angeles' Animal Services Department is an idea with a special bearing on a pet's well-being. The city controller advises L.A.'s animal shelters to "investigate the feasibility of developing special programs to enhance the presentation of impounded animals."

Among the suggestions for dogs and cats: sweaters, bows, collars and bandannas.

To see how other agencies run their shelters, auditors visited Pasadena and a Los Angeles County shelter in Gardena. There, the staffs told them, grooming and dressing up dogs, and the occasional compliant cat, "successfully facilitated adoptions."

The suggestions were part of a series of four reports on the Department of Animal Services issued Tuesday by City Controller Laura Chick, who periodically audits city departments in search of inefficiencies. The reports were not an exhaustive review of an agency that, Chick said, has historically lacked resources and strong leadership. Auditors examined only adoption, licensing, spaying and neutering of animals, and the process for hearings on problem pets.

The review focused little on the care that animals receive at city pounds and more on how the Department of Animal Services does business. It did not address whether to designate pet owners officially as animal "guardians," a proposal city officials are examining.

The audit credited new management for one recent improvement: Adoptions are up, euthanization down. The 15,490 animals adopted in the 2000-01 fiscal year represented 22% of those taken in. The year before, 17% of animals were adopted, and in 1998-99 the figure was 16%. More than 40,000 animals were destroyed in fiscal year 2000-01; the year before, the number was about 55,000, and in 1998-99, the number was a little more than 50,000.

Auditors also found that many dogs in Los Angeles are unlicensed because of the department's lax enforcement, and that few animal owners take advantage of discounts for spaying and neutering. And the process for hearing complaints about dangerous animals and barking dogs often takes far too long.

The department's general manager, Jerry Greenwalt, said Tuesday that he agrees with most of the controller's suggestions and that his department will take appropriate action. But for a cash-strapped agency that houses about 1,000 orphaned dogs, cats, birds, turtles, horses and other animals every day, dressing them up for adoption, or even bathing them, is not always feasible.

"There are so many greater needs," Greenwalt said, "than putting neckerchiefs on dogs."

Besides, he said, many of the dogs that animal control officers bring in wouldn't take kindly to being gussied up. Pit bulls in bow ties and Rottweilers in ribbons?

"Good luck," Greenwalt said.

But at Los Angeles County's shelters, staff members find that a bath and a bandanna often make the difference between an animal's quick adoption and days spent languishing in a kennel before being euthanized.

"Once they get groomed and once they get a bath, you see the animal prancing around the cage," said Kaye Michelson, spokeswoman for the county Department of Animal Care and Control.

If an outfit and a shiny coat find an animal a good caretaker, dress 'em up, said pet groomer Lynn Davis, owner of Four Your Paws Only in Tarzana. "If you put two identical dogs side by side and you put one with a scarf on or a cutesy bow, [potential owners are] going to look for the one that has a dress-up," she said.

It's how humans react to a pet that determines how the pet feels, Davis said. She once put dainty bows on one of her clients, a macho chow named Capone, to good effect. When Capone's owner cooed about his new look, "he was so proud and he strutted," Davis said--until the woman's teenage sons laughed at the dog and the animal ripped off its ribbons.

And, Davis said, "he's never had a bow on since."

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