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Chief of L.A. Animal Services to Retire

Jerry Greenwalt denies that his decision was influenced by activists angry at his policies.

March 03, 2004|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

The activists who had been protesting Los Angeles Animal Services General Manager Jerry Greenwalt for nine months got their wish Tuesday: Greenwalt is stepping down.

Greenwalt, 63, whose Santa Monica home had been vandalized and the word "murderer" spray-painted on his car to protest what activists said were the unacceptable number of dogs and cats put to death in the city's animal shelters, will retire on April 12, Mayor James K. Hahn announced.

"Jerry Greenwalt has done an amazing job under extraordinarily difficult circumstances," Hahn said in a prepared statement, noting that animal adoptions had increased and that euthanasia had declined. "I thank Jerry for his dedication and wish him the best in retirement."

Animal activists, who disputed claims that conditions in the city's animal shelters are improving, called the move a victory.

Since June, a core group of activists had waged a relentless, bitter campaign against Greenwalt that had included not only demonstrations at his house, but visits to City Hall, local animal shelters and Hahn's home in San Pedro, with activists carrying pictures of dead dogs.

"We'd like to think that we have something to do with Mr. Greenwalt's ... retirement," said Jerry Vlasak, co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter of the Animal Defense League.

Greenwalt, who had headed the Animal Services Department since October 2001, said the protesters and their concerns had nothing to do with his decision. He said he had worked nearly 33 years for the city, and the time had come to play golf and tennis, train for a marathon and pick up consulting work.

"They flatter themselves," he said. "And if they say they won, what did they win? There are still 66,000 animals that the city of L.A. is responsible for caring for, and our staff ... will continue to do all they can to improve the plight of animals in the city."

To replace Greenwalt, Hahn announced that he had appointed Madeline Bernstein, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and an occasional critic of the Animal Services Department, to lead a search committee.

Bernstein acknowledged that the job was "going to be a really difficult position to fill."

The Animal Services Department is facing a daunting challenge. Its 250 employees handle more than 60,000 dogs, cats, opossums, skunks, rabbits and lizards each year.

And last summer, three months after the activists had begun their campaign against Greenwalt, Hahn announced that Los Angeles would stop killing all adoptable animals by 2008. To accomplish that, he said, the city would boost efforts to spay and neuter pets and build more shelters so that dogs and cats would not have to be killed because of lack of space.

Vlasak said the Animal Defense League had begun its own recruitment drive for Greenwalt's replacement.

"I think we have demonstrated to Mayor Hahn that we'll be relentless until he appoints someone who cares about animals," he said.

Until a replacement is hired, Sharon Morris, executive director of the Department on Disability, will be interim director.

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