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Probe launched into missing pets at L.A. animal shelter

The city is trying to determine whether nearly 40 dogs, cats and other animals from the Lincoln Heights facility were stolen and sold for profit.

June 01, 2011|By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times
  • A pair of puppies wait to be fed at L.A.'s North Central Animal Shelter.
A pair of puppies wait to be fed at L.A.'s North Central Animal Shelter. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

In the latest investigation involving a Los Angeles city agency, officials have launched a probe into the disappearance of nearly 40 dogs, cats and other animals from a Lincoln Heights shelter.

Brenda Barnette, general manager of the Animal Services Department, said 64 animals have disappeared from six shelters in roughly a year. Of that total, 39 were housed at the city's North Central shelter on Lacy Street — a missing rate considered unusually high.

Although some animals could have been incorrectly listed as missing because of clerical errors, at least some have "wrongly disappeared," Barnette said. Many of the missing animals were considered "highly adoptable" and officials are trying to determine if any were stolen and sold for a profit.

"They were the young ones, the cute ones," Barnette said. "They were ones that would have been likely to have been sold or be a nice gift for someone." The majority of the unaccounted-for animals were dogs, Barnette said.

In April, officials turned the matter over to the Los Angeles Police Department, as well as the city Personnel Department, which has a team of administrative investigators. Since then, the animal services agency has added new locks at the North Central shelter and changed some of the personnel assigned there.

Barnette would not say if any employees had been placed on leave.

Sarah Hamilton, spokeswoman for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, had few details on the investigation but confirmed that Barnette had asked for help with the probe. "She wants to have a well-run department, and when she saw this discrepancy she came to the mayor's office and asked for assistance," Hamilton said.

Animal Services is among several city agencies currently under scrutiny. At the Department of Building and Safety, FBI agents have arrested two building inspectors on suspicion of soliciting bribes and demanded personnel information on 10 others.

At the Department of Transportation, two traffic officers were put on leave in April as part of an investigation into whether they appeared in a pornographic video while in their official city uniforms. And at the city's housing authority, former board President Beatriz Stotzer is the subject of a district attorney's inquiry into possible conflicts of interest.

Stotzer resigned abruptly Friday. Her lawyer said she has recused herself from agency decisions when necessary.

Also on Tuesday, a team of seven auditors from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development showed up at the city's housing authority to comb through documents, including six years' worth of minutes involving the agency's board.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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