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No Kill Advocacy Center Files Lawsuit to Protect Animals

December 20, 2007

The national No Kill Advocacy Center and two animal rescuers have jointly filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles County, its Department of Animal Care and Control, and the Department’s Director, Marcia Mayeda. The lawsuit alleges unlawful and abusive treatment of animals at all six Los Angeles County animal shelters.

Among the allegations in the 29-page complaint filed in Superior Court, the County Department of Animal Care and Control routinely:

Kills healthy and treatable animals before their state mandated holding period expires;

Misclassifies animals as “ill” or “injured” in order to kill them before their holding period expires even though the animals are not irremediably suffering as required by state law;

Kills lost animals without making reasonable attempts to find the animals’ owners;

Fails to provide adequate veterinary care to impounded animals, resulting in animal deaths;

Fails to provide adequate nutrition, water, shelter and exercise to impounded animals and to treat the animals humanely and kindly;

Refuses to release animals to rescue groups that are willing to care for the animals until adoptive homes can be found and, instead, kills the animals.

In addition, the County Department of Animal Care and Control unlawfully retaliates against animal rescuers and volunteers who publicize its unlawful treatment of animals.

For a copy of the press release, which includes background on the 1998 Animal Shelter Law, click here (Please note: Images are disturbing.)

For a copy of the Complaint, click here.
For a copy of the Demand letter, click here.
For a copy of the Retaliation letter, click here.
 
For video images (mpg4) of filthy conditions at the Carson shelter, click here. (Please note: Images are disturbing. Requires Quicktime)
For video images (wav) of filthy conditions at the Carson shelter, click here. (Please note: Images are disturbing. Requires Windows Media Player)
For photo images (jpg) of filthy conditions at the Carson shelter, click here. (Please note: Images are disturbing)
For additional photo images of filthy conditions at the Carson shelter provided by the public, click here. (Please note: Images are disturbing)
For photo images (jpg) at the Agoura shelter, click here.
For photo images of Zephyr, click here. (Please note: Images are disturbing)

For the full media kit, which includes a copy of the 4-page Demand Letter the plaintiffs sent to Ms. Mayeda before filing their lawsuit, the 3-page letter protesting the Department’s retaliation, the 29-page Complaint, and high resolution images and video of filthy conditions and animal suffering in Los Angeles County’s shelter system, click here. (Please note: Images are disturbing. Requires high-speed internet connection and lots of patience as it is a very large file.)

Links no longer active. For further information visit No Kill Advocacy Center

L.A. Superior Court Judge Rules in Favor of Plaintiffs in Shelter Lawsuit

March 2008

Judge delivers one-two punch in lawsuit aimed at ending mistreatment in L.A. County Animal Shelters

The Superior Court in Los Angeles struck two blows against animal mistreatment in Los Angeles County’s six animal shelters by giving Plaintiffs the first two victories in their lawsuit.

A lawsuit filed by the national No Kill Advocacy Center, Cathy Nguyen, a volunteer animal rescuer, and Rebecca Arvizu, a Los Angeles County taxpayer and animal rescuer, against Los Angeles County, its Department of Animal Care and Control (DACC), and the Department’s Director, Marcia Mayeda, alleges unlawful and abusive treatment of animals at all six Los Angeles County animal shelters.

Among the allegations in the complaint, the County Department of Animal Care and Control routinely:

·         Kills healthy and treatable animals before their state mandated holding period expires;

·         Misclassifies animals as “ill” or “injured” in order to kill them before their holding period expires even though the animals are not irremediably suffering as required by state law;

·         Kills lost animals without making reasonable attempts to find the animals’ owners;

·         Fails to provide adequate veterinary care to impounded animals, resulting in animal deaths;

·         Fails to provide adequate nutrition, water, shelter and exercise to impounded animals and to treat the animals humanely and kindly;

·         Refuses to release animals to rescue groups that are willing to care for the animals until adoptive homes can be found and, instead, kills the animals.

·         In addition, the lawsuit alleges that DACC unlawfully violated the civil rights of Plaintiff Nguyen by retaliating against her for publicizing its unlawful treatment of animals.

The County replied by filing a motion to dismiss the case arguing, in essence, that the County has complete discretion to determine:

·         Whether and when the County may lawfully kill an animal;

·         Whether and when the County is obligated to provide veterinary treatment to an animal in its care; and

·         Whether and when the County should release to willing rescue groups animals that the County otherwise plans to kill.

·         In addition, the County argued that, even if it is violating the law or treating animals inhumanely, concerned citizens should not be allowed to force the County to stop.

Attorneys for Plaintiffs disagreed and opposed the County’s motion to dismiss. Characterizing the County’s arguments as “wrong” and even “spurious,” the Court overruled the County’s motion and ruled in favor of the Plaintiffs that they should be allowed to go to trial on their claims.

In addition, attorneys for Plaintiffs filed a motion asking the court to order DACC to allow Cathy Nguyen, who was barred from saving animals at the shelters as retribution for publicizing shelter atrocities, to continue saving animals on DACC’s death row. The County claimed it did not retaliate but was unable to offer credible evidence to the contrary. As a result, the Court entered an order prohibiting DACC from taking further retaliatory action against Ms. Nguyen.

The one-two blow against DACC provides powerful support for Plaintiffs’ arguments that DACC routinely violates the law at the expense of saving animals. The lawsuit is being handled by the Los Angeles law firm of Eisenberg Raizman Thurston and Wong, LLP.

“DACC shelters are spending public tax dollars to kill and mistreat animals, they are blaming the public for the killing, they are doing the killing in our name, and we are supposed to accept that without recourse,” said Nathan J. Winograd, director of the No Kill Advocacy Center. “Unfortunately, we are not paying the ultimate price. That price is being paid by the animals who are unfortunate enough to enter the shelter system. And we can’t sit back and do nothing.”

VERDICTS • Oct. 24, 2008 

Settlement Sets Stricter Rules for Animal Killing at Shelters

By Noah Barron, The Daily Journal Corporation.

LOS ANGELES - Animal advocates have scored a coup in a settlement that makes it tougher for Los Angeles County's six shelters to euthanize cats and dogs, potentially saving the lives of thousands a year. 

Under the settlement, the county cannot kill impounded animals before holding them for four days unless they are terminally ill and must notify animal rescuers which cats and dogs are slated to be put down. 

The agreement means a dozen animals in county shelters will not be killed each day, said Sheldon Eisenberg of Eisenberg, Raizman, Thurston & Wong in Los Angeles, who represented No Kill Advocacy Center. 

On a given day, roughly 1,000 animals are held in the city's six shelters, according to county estimates. The Los Angeles Times reported that about 56 are adopted per day, and 50 are put down.

The settlement resolved a year-old suit alleging that to eliminate overcrowding at the shelters the county used a legal loophole to rapidly dispose of adoptable pets by deeming them "irremediably suffering." Cathy Nguyen, Rebecca Arvizu, No Kill Advocacy Center v. County of Los Angeles, Department of Animal Care and Control, Marcia Mayeda, Director, BS112581 (L.A. Super. Ct. filed Dec. 20, 2007). 

The action alleged that the shelters "routinely kill healthy and adoptable animals" without holding them for four days, as required by state law. The suit accused the county of using minor illnesses, such as colds, as a criteria to kill and thus avoid paying for veterinary care and shelter space. 

The settlement sharply defines the kill criteria now as "an animal with a medical condition who has a poor or grave prognosis for being able to live without severe, unremitting pain despite necessary veterinary care." 

Those conditions include kidney failure, distemper, blood loss, head trauma and unmanageable pain. The agreement was a victory for self-proclaimed animal rescuers Cathy Nyugen of Orange County and Rebecca Arvizu of Los Angeles, along with the No Kill Advocacy Center in Oakland, who sued the county's Department of Animal Care and Control. 

Nathan Winograd, a lawyer and director of the No Kill Advocacy Center, applauded the stronger wording. "Now we've got a very rigorous definition," he said. "We can hold them to accountability." The agreement was reached Oct. 16, and signed by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant on Oct. 21. 

County counsel Diane Reagan, who handled the case, wrote in an e-mail that the shelters had never operated outside the law. She said the county is appreciative of the added clarity the settlement provides but hopes dispute resolution, rather than lawsuits that cost taxpayers money, will be used to solve any future problems. "Our limited resources are better used in caring for animals than in litigation," Reagan said. 

Lawyer Joseph Heath at Ford, Walker, Haggerty & Behar in Los Angeles, who also represented the county, said the agreement is "a pretty straightforward deal," but declined to comment further.

In 2007, plaintiff Nguyen claimed she blew the whistle on the shelters' illegal killing policy and that the county retaliated by blocking her from adopting any animals to prevent their deaths, a practice she regularly engaged in. The settlement restores her right to adopt, Eisenberg said. 

In a November 2007 letter sent to the director of the animal control agency, Marcia Mayeda, Eisenberg and his legal team accused the shelters of killing animals without "engaging in reasonable efforts to identify the animals' owners" and killing tame cats wrongly classified as feral. 

In an interview, Eisenberg said that for the next two years, the county will be required to turn over records of all the animals it euthanizes. "Up to this point, their records were so bad," he said. Mayeda could not be reached for comment. 

The mediator in the agreement, David B. Casselman of Wasserman, Comden & Casselman in Los Angeles, said that though fewer animals will be killed under the tighter euthanasia policy, the overcrowding problems at local shelters will not worsen. 

"What we've done is create a strong connection between the shelters and animal rescue, so when there's an animal with a ticking clock, [the shelter] will notify the rescue [people] so the dog or cat can be adopted," Casselman said. 

Casselman mediated the agreement because he is an animal advocate himself, he said. He founded a wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia and has sued the Los Angeles Zoo over treatment of elephants. Robert Culp, Aaron Leider v. John Lewis, City of Los Angeles, BC375234 (L.A. Super. Ct., filed Aug. 2, 2007). 

Reagan said that Casselman is a well-respected animal advocate who could bridge the gaps between the two parties. He offered his mediation services free, she said. Casselman said the settlement shows how government and citizens can work together to save lost and frightened dogs and cats. 

"It reflects well on all of the litigants, who deserve our thanks," Casselman said. "As Gandhi famously said,’ We can judge the moral progress of a nation by the way it treats its animals."

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