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Dan Knapp, 48; Director of L.A. Animal Services Fired by Mayor

August 12, 2004|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Dan Knapp, the former head of the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services whose firing in 2001 by Mayor James K. Hahn sparked criticism from animal-welfare activists, has died. He was 48.

Knapp, executive director of Capital Area Humane Society in Hilliard, Ohio, died Aug. 1 shortly after collapsing while mowing his lawn in Grove City, Ohio. He is believed to have died of a heart attack, said a humane society representative.

Knapp had run the privately funded nonprofit Hilliard group for 2 1/2 years, adding to his reputation for being a strong advocate for animals. He was hired there in January 2002, after serving more than three years as general manager of the L.A. Department of Animal Services.

Appointed by Mayor Richard Riordan in July 1998, Knapp was viewed as being in the forefront of animal-services reform, first as executive director of the Humane Society of Humboldt County and then as executive director of the Sonoma County Humane Society.

During Knapp's time in Los Angeles, in which the budget for animal control was more than doubled, he worked to reduce the number of unwanted dogs and cats that are euthanized in city shelters each year; helped usher in higher license fees for unaltered dogs; and helped pass a bond issue to build new shelters and upgrade others.

Knapp, who suffered from epilepsy, received word of his termination in an October 2001 letter from Hahn while in the hospital recovering from what Knapp said his doctors attributed to work stress-related seizures. Knapp had taken city-approved time off after he suffered a seizure in April 2001 and after suffering another seizure in August.

Hahn's letter gave no reasons for the termination, according to a newspaper account, but a Hahn spokesman was quoted at the time as saying it was time for a changing of the guard in the animal services department.

While many members of the city's animal-welfare community praised Knapp's work and were infuriated by his firing, some critics complained that he was often inaccessible and could have done more to help abused animals and to protect residents from dog attacks.

Knapp told the Columbus Dispatch newspaper in December 2001 that he had no hard feelings about his dismissal.

"It's a political appointment by the mayor, and I served at the will of the mayor," he said. "I'm only saddened that I couldn't fulfill all my goals."

A native of Napa, Calif., Knapp graduated with honors from Napa Valley College. He received a biblical doctorate from Simpson Bible College in San Jose in 1977, and later studied organizational development at the University of San Francisco. An ordained Assembly of God minister, he was pastor of Assembly of God churches in San Jose, Santa Monica and Huntington Park.

According to a 1998 Los Angeles Times article, Knapp earned a reputation in the church world as a "turnaround specialist" called in to straighten out financial and other problems.

He moved from religion to the corporate world when he was asked to resolve financial difficulties at a Silicon Valley high-tech firm.

That led to his becoming executive director of the financially troubled Humboldt County Humane Society and then executive director of the Sonoma County Humane Society.

Knapp is survived by two children, Noelle and Joshua; his father, Clyde; and two brothers, Ross and Roger.

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