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Vandals Harass Pet Shelter Official

The home and car of a Los Angeles department chief are splattered with paint. The agency has been accused of killing too many animals.

October 04, 2003|Jia-Rui Chong and Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writers

Vandals splattered the house of the general manager of Los Angeles' Department of Animal Services with red paint early Friday, scrawling "murderer" on his car and leaving the acronym of a radical animal rights group on a gate in front of the house.

Police have made no arrests but said they were looking at the Animal Liberation Front, as well as the Animal Defense League, which has targeted the official and Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn over conditions in the city's animal shelters.

Jerry Vlasak, a surgeon who helped found the Animal Defense League, said his group had nothing to do with the vandalism. . He stressed that he does not advocate illegal acts. But he said that the vandalism "demonstrates the frustration people feel when they aren't able to get anywhere with legal tactics." The Animal Liberation Front, whose acronym was painted at the property, did not claim responsibility for the attack on its Web site.

It was the latest in a string of attacks across California carried out in the name of animal liberation. Animal rights activists have claimed responsibility for bombs set off at two office buildings in the Bay Area in the last two months. No one was injured in those blasts, which targeted companies with some link to animal testing. A Santa Rosa store that sells foie gras was also vandalized recently.

The vandalism Friday caused anxiety at Los Angeles City Hall and came four months after activists published the home addresses of the agency manager, Jerry Greenwalt, and Hahn on a Web site. The effort was meant to protest what the group charges is the inhumane treatment of dogs and cats and high levels of euthanasia at city shelters.

The Los Angeles Police Department has monitored the group in the past, and John Miller, who heads counterterrorism for the LAPD, was at Greenwalt's Santa Monica home Friday. Detectives from the LAPD and Santa Monica police were investigating the vandalism, along with the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

The Animal Defense League has devoted an entire section of its Web site to ousting Greenwalt. The site features a photograph of a car painted with the message "Puppy Killer" and the caption, "Visualize Greenwalt's car!"

In an interview, Vlasak accused the city of "unnecessarily killing at least 44,000 and probably more like 50,000-60,000 puppies, kittens, dogs and cats every year."

In August, league members crashed a news conference in which the mayor announced that the city intended to stop euthanizing adoptable animals by 2008. They said that officials had merely devised a new animal sociability test that would enable the city to declare most dogs and cats ineligible for adoption and continue killing them.

Greenwalt, 63, who has headed the animal agency for two years, defended his department.

During his tenure, he said, adoptions have increased 50% and the euthanasia rate has decreased by 50%. He has also argued that the testing is being done around the country. The league disputes those statistics.

Greenwalt called the vandalism unnerving.

"I don't mind taking this abuse at work," he said. "But not at home."

Greenwalt discovered the paint and messages about 5:30 a.m., when he walked out to pick up his newspaper.

Red paint was streaked across the front entrance of his Spanish-style house and dripping from the plants.

His car, a Ford Crown Victoria issued by the city, had been doused with red paint and the word "murderer" had been written on it in red. A message had been spray-painted in black next to his garage.

If these vandals are animal rights activists, they have hit the wrong target, Greenwalt said. The department is made of "people who have dedicated their lives to taking care of animals," he said. "We consider ourselves animal rescuers.... Our people care a great deal about animals, or they wouldn't be in this business." Greenwalt has several pets adopted from city shelters.

Residents of this tree-lined neighborhood said they received fliers about a month ago that named Greenwalt as an animal abuser. They said they had been shocked by the vandalism.

"It was terrible," said William Finney, 56, who lives two doors from Greenwalt. "How could you personally attack someone like that in front of their neighbors?"

Back at City Hall, offices were buzzing about the attack. Julie Butcher, general manager of the largest city union, said she had warned her family of the possibility that her home could be targeted, noting that her name also appears on the Web site.

The city's animal service workers are "freaked," Butcher added. "It scares them.... They're doing the public's work.... Some of what they do is helping animals die, but much of what they do is keeping them alive."

Santa Monica police are investigating the incident and encourage anyone with information to call (310) 458-8453.

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