After months of criticism -- and three lawsuits -- about the shelters operated by the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care & Control, the agency's director appeared before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to defend her stewardship.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke had asked director Marcia Mayeda, in December, to prepare a report on the Carson shelter, after Burke's office was inundated with complaints.
After Mayeda delivered the report, Burke said in an interview: "I think she has responded to the issues we have inquired about. In terms of other issues, we will continue to stay on top of it."
Mayeda and the shelter system have been under fire, with critics alleging filthy conditions, overcrowding, mistreatment of animals, sloppy medical treatment and the euthanasia of animals before their minimum four-day stay had passed.
Civil lawsuits have been filed against the county by various rescue groups, volunteers and animal advocates, who were particularly outraged about the death in December of a 10-month-old puppy at the Carson shelter.
On Tuesday, Mayeda told the supervisors that the dog, Zeyphr, did not freeze to death, as some had contended, but was felled by an upper respiratory infection, according to an independent necropsy.
"We also reviewed all the heating systems at the facility and found them to be operational at all times," said Mayeda, who added that the dog got sick and languished in the shelter while waiting for a volunteer, who had put a hold on the animal, to pick it up.
The volunteer, Janet Taylor, has denied putting a hold on the dog. What she did, she said, was leave a note asking the shelter to call if the dog was in danger of being euthanized. She said the shelter never called.
Mayeda acknowledged in her report that Zeyphr had missed a couple of doses of antibiotics when she was ill but got most of them. She told the supervisors that her department had added new antibiotics that required only one dose a day. "It means it's easier on staff time."
The director said the Carson shelter would be undergoing extensive upgrading. And $5 million has been allocated from the county to upgrade medical facilities at three shelters, including Carson.
Mayeda said the shelter system was generally short on staff. "It's unfortunately a high turnover field . . . for lower wages. We're continuously hiring. I don't think there's an excessive number of vacancies."
Burke's approval of Mayeda's report is unlikely to quell the voices of animal advocates, shelter volunteers and private rescuers who have circulated volumes of e-mails saying they found conditions filthy at the Carson shelter and sharing allegations of mistreatment, lackadaisical medical treatment and failure to scan strays for microchips.
"I'm profoundly disappointed in their superficial dismissal of the body of evidence that is constantly being presented to them," said Deborah Weinrauch, director of Friends of Culver City Animals, a grass-roots group that is trying to persuade Culver City to stop contracting with the county's shelter system and hire its own animal control officer. "From the top down, there is incompetence, indifference, disregard of the law, disregard of the animals."
Burke said she had visited the Carson shelter in December and, before that, dispatched two staffers unannounced. She said she found it bustling and maintained.
"It is not that filthy," she said Tuesday. She also "got into one of the kennels to see how warm it was."
Burke says her office investigates every complaint she gets about shelters. She said she had received a large number of complaints recently about animal care staffers photographing dogs for the department's website while the animals were restrained by a neck loop at the end of a pole, which can be painful and frightening.
"I talked to [Mayeda] and she said she gave a directive not to do it anymore. But that came from the top," Burke said. "You still have to convince the animal worker who's scared of the dog not to do it."