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Fawning Over the Fauna at Shelter

A more pet-friendly facility in Lincoln Heights will dote on dogs, cats and other animals as they wait to be adopted.

October 09, 2006|Carla Hall | Times Staff Writer

Rocky has a big blocky head, typical of pit bulls, and his face is divided between white and black. One of his eyes is dark brown, the other ice blue. He is huge, quiet and sober-looking. He turns expectantly toward a gaggle of visitors cooing over him.

"He's a sweetheart," said Karen Stepp, manager of the city's North Central Animal Care Center, as she cuddled his head.

Rocky has been at the shelter for nearly three months, surrendered by an owner who stated as the reason for the drop-off: "no time."

"We'll get him adopted out," said Stepp confidently.

Officials with the city's Animal Services Department are hoping that Rocky -- as well as Angie, the furry Labrador mix who barks desperately until she gets attention, and Dolly, the silky brown rabbit with ears as long as TV antennae -- stands a better chance of being adopted as a resident of what city officials are calling a state-of-the-art facility at 3201 Lacy St. in Lincoln Heights.

The formerly indoor-only North Central shelter has been dramatically expanded, with 45,000 square feet of outdoor space. With fountains, greenery and concrete ledges for perching, the facility resembles a botanical garden, albeit one with a profusion of tall, wiry cage doors. The $10.1-million renovation was funded by 2000's Proposition F.

There are 176 new 5-by-14 kennels, with radiant heat in the concrete floors for cool days, an overhead misting system for hot ones and cubbyhole dens for dogs to escape madding crowds or inclement weather. Sick canines are housed in an older indoor part of the shelter.

Dogs reside one to a kennel, unless a companion is called for ("some sociological or psychological reason to have three or four together," said Ed Boks, Animal Services general manager).

On Friday, Boks led a tour of the place -- down winding walkways, under a latticework of 800 solar panels, past cozy benches and giant planters filled with blooming hibiscus, lavender and sage.

"This area encourages people to relax and get to know the animals," said Boks, who believes that the new shelter's atmosphere will be more comfortable for both animals and people.

For dogs, the kennels are roomier -- and thought has been given to the care of other animals as well. Rabbits -- "the No. 3 most popular pet in L.A.," said Boks -- are housed in shaded hutches. Birds have a free-flight aviary. And there is a fenced pasture for the stray horse or cow that could turn up.

For people, it's what isn't there: the smell of urine and excrement, the echoing of barking in an indoor hallway, the feeling of visiting an animal on death row.

In some of the city-run shelters, "you look into a cage and you see the overcrowding," said Linda Gordon, the Animal Services senior management analyst who worked with the city to get the shelters renovated. "That's just overwhelming to the senses."

Aesthetics aside, the outdoor venue's biggest improvement is health-related.

"One of the biggest issues with shelters is disease," said Boks. "One of the most efficient ways of mitigating disease is ultraviolet rays. Just having the animals outside is going to help us tremendously in keeping these animals healthy."

In addition, the flooring in each kennel gently slopes toward a corner pocket that catches runoff and funnels it into a covered trough drain outside.

Dutches, a 9-year-old black-and-tan Rottweiler, watches as visitors walk toward her kennel. She wears a pink bandanna and a soulful look. "Hi, sweetie," said Boks as he read the identification card on her door. "Owner surrendered," he reads. "Why?" He throws up his hands.

The card also says Dutches is "hyper." Boks opened the kennel door to pet her. "Let's see how hyper you are," he said. "This is something that has an easy remedy. Sometimes the animal just needs to be obedience-trained or [needs] some behavior counseling. Sometimes it's just medical."

Boks wants to work with surrendering owners to get them help for their dogs.

Cats still reside in kennels in a room, but Boks said he plans to have the cages removed and the room transformed into a "cattery" with shelving and ramps.

"This will be like a playroom for cats," he said. "People will be able to go in and play with the cats and find the one they want. We actually have a private donor willing to make the cattery possible." (Sick cats are already separated into another room.)

"The idea that you hear these are death camps is so wrong," Boks said of the shelters. He wants Los Angeles to become the first major city with a no-kill policy for healthy animals.

On average, dogs and cats stay in city shelters for about a week before they are returned to their owners, adopted out, transferred to private rescue groups or euthanized. There are exceptions. Some injured or terminally ill animals are euthanized sooner. Other animals, Boks said, are kept for months -- as any random perusal of identification cards on kennels will reveal.

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