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Mayor, Animal Activists Meet but Resolve Nothing

Group says Villaraigosa has gone back on his pledge to fire agency head Guerdon Stuckey.

October 22, 2005|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa met Friday with animal activists who have been holding noisy protests at the homes of city employees and demanding the ouster of the head of the city's Department of Animal Services.

As a mayoral candidate, Villaraigosa promised animal activists that he would fire Guerdon Stuckey, the department's general manager, but four months after taking office he has not taken that step.

After the meeting, the three members of the Animal Defense League said that Villaraigosa did not give them what they wanted: a promise that he would remove Stuckey.

"The mayor did not provide the unequivocal assurances that we had asked for," said Jerry Vlasak, a defense league member.

The activists said they had canceled a protest planned for today at the mayor's Mount Washington home as a good faith gesture.

Activists have been campaigning for several years to stop the practice of euthanizing dogs at city shelters. City officials say the number of euthanized animals has dropped dramatically. In fiscal 2004-05, the city euthanized 24,932 dogs, down from 39,086 in 2001-02, according to Animal Services statistics.

Animal activists dispute those numbers and say the agency is purposefully misleading the public.

Vlasak said the group's protests at the homes of city workers would continue, possibly including protests in Villaraigosa's neighborhood. The group previously held several protests on the street in San Pedro where former Mayor James K. Hahn lives, as well as at the Santa Monica home of the former head of the Animal Services agency, Jerry Greenwalt, who resigned last year.

This week, the group also sent priority mail packages to the homes of at least seven council members. Some members interpreted the mailings as a move by the group to signal their knowledge of where they live.

The package included a letter and a computer disk, labeled "Recent Undercover Footage Inside LA Animal Services," with a video the group says was taken this year of dogs being killed at shelters.

The Los Angeles Police Department has been collecting the packages, according to the staff of three council members.

The letter to one City Council member, obtained by The Times, began: "Animal Defense League Los Angeles is hoping that you will take 4 minutes out of your day to watch the undercover footage from the six city animal Death Camps we are enclosing with this letter. We want you to see with your own eyes what goes on behind those cinderblock walls of your six city animal 'shelters.' "

"By watching this footage," the letter continued, "you will learn why the public is so outraged at the holocaust -- the mass killing transpiring needlessly and senselessly in our six city animal Death Camps."

Pamelyn Ferdin, another member of the defense league and Vlasak's wife, said the group did not send the letters to intimidate council members, but because e-mails and mail to City Hall is frequently disposed of before elected officials see it.

The City Hall meeting Friday was the latest chapter in a long-running dispute between the activists, the Animal Services Department and, now, the city's elected officials.

Another group, the Animal Liberation Front, has claimed responsibility for threatening and harassing Animal Services employees, including a bomb scare that forced the evacuation of a street in Larchmont Village in July where an agency employee lived and smoke grenades that were detonated in the hallway of Stuckey's Bunker Hill apartment tower last month.

That group is regarded as a domestic terror organization by the U.S. Department of Justice because, among other actions, its members have taken responsibility for acts of vandalism.

Ferdin and Vlasak have said the Animal Defense League has no affiliation with that group, although the league does pass along communiques from the Animal Liberation Front.

Vlasak said Villaraigosa focused on the activities of the latter group during the 45-minute meeting. "The thing that he kept harping on is that he was going to mobilize the full forces of the Los Angeles Police Department to combat any illegal activities going on," Vlasak said. "We made it plain that we have nothing to do with those people."

Vlasak also said Villaraigosa said he would not fire Stuckey now "because he could not be portrayed as capitulating to illegal action."

The mayor could not be reached for comment.

The league has turned its focus to the new mayor because he promised to remove Stuckey, the former director of community services for Rockville, Md. Stuckey, who was recruited by Hahn, was hired after the council approved him by a 14-0 vote. At the time, Villaraigosa voted to hire Stuckey.

But at a January campaign event held by Citizens for a Humane Los Angeles, Villaraigosa said: "This was Jim Hahn's appointment; he wouldn't be mine, and I guarantee you that when I'm the mayor of Los Angeles ... Stuckey will not be the head of Animal Services."

Earlier Friday, Villaraigosa press secretary Janelle Erickson said the meeting with the league was in the works for some time and was scheduled before the activists canceled their protest at his home.

"If he made commitments when running, he has to listen to them," said Councilman Dennis Zine. "I think having a dialogue with them is good -- it's when you don't speak to people that it gets worse."

Deborah Knaan, a city Animal Services commissioner, said she thought it was helpful for Villaraigosa to meet with the activists.

A deputy district attorney who has served on the Animal Services Commission for the last year, Knaan said the activists are a strident minority, but she said many Angelenos are deeply concerned about how the city handles its animal issues and she agreed that too many dogs are euthanized.

"We have a long, long way to go in improving how we do business as a Department of Animal Services in this city," she said.

Times staff writer Richard Fausset contributed to this report.

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