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Shelter workers say pets will suffer if jobs are cut

August 12, 2008|Carla Hall | Times Staff Writer

They are the people who take care of the cats and dogs that other people don't want.

In Los Angeles' seven city-run shelters, animal care technicians calm traumatized animals, feed hostile ones and clean hundreds of kennels. They also administer the drugs that euthanize those would-be pets that never get adopted, and, in a last act of comfort, hold them close as they succumb.

During the day, they play matchmaker for adoptable animals and potential owners. At night, they take home unweaned kittens for round-the-clock care. They accept dead and dying strays and house pets alike that are delivered to the shelters at all hours.

"First I'm consoling an owner, then I have to take a bloody bag and open it, not knowing what condition the animal is in," technician Brita Gorman, who works at the East Valley shelter in Van Nuys, tearfully told the Los Angeles Board of Animal Commissioners on Monday.

Gorman is one of the 28 animal care technicians -- or ACTs -- slated to be laid off in October as part of citywide budget cuts. (The jobs pay between $38,000 and $46,000 per year.)

But at emotional hearings before the commissioners and the City Council's Budget and Finance Committee, Gorman and fellow shelter workers, volunteers and rescuers told officials that the cuts meant more than just lost jobs. Thousands of animals would suffer as well.

"East Valley is exploding with animals," said animal care technician Gabriel Romero, who estimated that the shelter housed roughly 600 animals. "Cutting ACTs, I can't even comprehend what will happen."

Currently 154 technicians watch over roughly 2,400 animals. The vast majority are cats and dogs, but technicians also tend to rabbits and the odd abandoned snake, turtle and horse.

All but the new Mission shelter in the San Fernando Valley, which also holds animals involved in court cases, are open to the public. Open or not, though, the animals require care 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

All city departments were ordered to submit possible cuts as a result of the budget crisis. The Department of Animal Services suggested either delaying the public opening of the new Mission shelter or reducing public hours at all the shelters. The city told the agency to do both and cut positions.

Although Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa planned to cut 767 jobs this year, the shelter workers may end up being the only people to lose jobs at City Hall. In other departments, workers whose jobs were eliminated could be moved to other departments where their skills could be used. But animal care technicians have unique skills that are not transferable. Not that any want transfers.

Curiously, the fate of the shelter workers now may be tied to trash bin fees. Councilman Richard Alarcon discovered that the city was not collecting fees it was owed by many residents with extra trash bins -- or extra large ones. City staffers calculated that an estimated $8.5 million is going uncollected from residents that the city had neglected to bill. The residents have all been contacted by letter, and in six weeks, more than 66,000 of them will find an extra monthly charge on their bills.

"I have two dogs," said Alex Helou, assistant director of the Bureau of Sanitation. "We feel for these workers. But we can't promise the money until it comes in."

Council members couldn't make any promises either.

"You've got my support," Councilman Bill Rosendahl told the shelter workers. "But we don't know how much money we're going to take in in this strategy."

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carla.hall@latimes.com

Times staff writer David Zahniser contributed to this report.

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