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Animal house

December 19, 2005

WITH THE MESSY FIRING of Los Angeles Animal Services general manager Guerdon H. Stuckey, the extremist protesters who mounted a demoralizing battle against him got their way, and more. They got an Animal Services Department that will be further weakened and divided by revolving-door leadership. They also stained Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. No matter what the reasons for his dismissal of Stuckey, he will be seen as capitulating to people who express their disapproval with smoke grenades, bomb threats, midnight telephone "pranks" and vandalism at the homes of Animal Services employees and public officials.

Villaraigosa's appointee to replace Stuckey, former New York animal services chief Ed Boks, comes to the job knowing that if he does something to which the radical Animal Defense League and an even more radical underground group, the Animal Liberation Front, object, his home too may be targeted. Welcome to the neighborhood.

Mainstream animal rights groups have tentatively praised Boks, who during two years in New York advocated for less euthanasia and more adoptions. But their welcome is muted by the circumstances. If they show too much glee at Stuckey's dismissal (which he has said he may fight), they may be lumped in with the extremists.

During his mayoral campaign, Villaraigosa promised animal rights groups that, if elected, he would fire Stuckey. He was responding to criticism that the city's spay-and-neuter program was stumbling and the euthanasia rate at its shelters was too high.

But the criticism didn't stop with words. Protesters picketed Stuckey's residence, and someone planted a smoke bomb in the hallway of his apartment building. His and other managers' addresses were posted on an animal rights website, prompting the city attorney's office Friday to file low-level conspiracy charges.

Before Stuckey there was Jerry Greenwalt, who left Animal Services after two years. His home had been picketed, and "murderer" was spray-painted on his car.

As for Boks, he will have to prove himself to the 149 employees who protested Stuckey's dismissal with a letter saying the mayor capitulated to "terrorists," casting a pall over the department and the city.

Villaraigosa, whose own home was picketed after he initially refused to fire Stuckey, argues that the dismissal came only after he demanded and got an end to the protests. Boks may even be just the right person for this godforsaken job.

But what happens if -- or more likely when -- Boks makes the Animal Defense League unhappy? Does it get to drive him out and demand St. Francis of Assisi?

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