LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass Saturday announced plans to launch a nationwide search for a new general manager to head the city's animal services department.
The department has been without a permanent general manager since April 2021 -- with Annette Ramirez serving as interim general manager -- and has faced criticism from volunteers and rescue groups about animals being neglected and staffing shortages.
"The safety and wellbeing of all animals is a priority of my Administration, which is why a firm will be selected soon to lead a nationwide search for a General Manager for L.A. Animal Services who will improve the level of care at our city's animal shelters, increase adoption rates and enforce responsible pet care," Bass said in a statement released Saturday morning. "As part of the ongoing search process, we look forward to engaging with the people of Los Angeles. What we've seen recently is unacceptable, and we are committed to improving the care of all animals."
The announcement comes as animal advocates continue to lobby city officials to reform the department. A rally is scheduled for noon Saturday at the West Los Angeles Animal Shelter to call for a new GM.
"I'm glad (about Bass' announcement), but we need to move now. We can't wait a year," Haze Lynn, founder of LA-based Take Me Home Rescue and one of the organizers of Saturday's rally, told City News Service.
"We want Bass to see that we have gone back from being a progressive city to being an antiquated town, where animals are sleeping in dirty areas, in their own feces," Lynn continued. "I have pictures of water and food bowls with feces in them. This is dire, and the animals deserve better."
Ramirez took the interim job after former GM Brenda Barnette, who led the department since 2010, retired in 2021.
In October 2022, former City Councilman Paul Koretz -- who chaired the council's animal welfare committee -- released a 46-page report in which he said the department has been the victim of a "chronic budget issue" and is in need of "much more personnel and a drastic increase of its funding."
That came after the committee held two meetings over the summer bemoaning alleged animal neglect and insufficient staffing at the city facilities, and accused the department of dismissing multiple volunteers for blowing the whistle about various issues at the shelters in a Los Angeles Times article in July that widely exposed the problems.
The report mostly blamed staffing shortages for failures to walk dogs on a regular basis and clean kennels more frequently. Staffing issues contributed to approximately 300 unprocessed volunteer applications, according to the report. It called for the City Council to relax a mandated 10-day quarantine for animal shelter staff exposed to COVID-19, recommending the period be cut to five days and a negative test.
City shelters have reached critical levels of overcrowding due to a combination of factors, including continued chronic pet overpopulation, the aforementioned staffing issues and increased owner surrenders brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
Lynn said she and many others want to see Judy Mancuso appointed to the general manager job. The Laguna Beach resident is a longtime animal rights advocate and the founder, CEO and president of Social Compassion in Legislation, which lobbies state lawmakers for animal protection legislation. Mancuso ran for coastal Orange County's District 72 seat in the state Assembly as a Democrat last year, losing to Republican Diane Dixon.
"She has turned in her resume. We want the mayor to meet with her," Lynn said. "Judy looks at it from a viewpoint as the solutions are not that difficult. You should value your volunteers. We are Los Angeles: We're the second largest city in the nation. We should have volunteers bursting from the doors to welcome people at the shelters. Judy has done legislation for animal protection. She knows policy. Her background is in IT, which is crucial for the shelter system.
"Judy wants to bring more spay and neuter operations to low-income areas," Lynn added, citing that as one of the most urgent problems facing the city's pet-owning population. "Otherwise they surrender their animals, because they don't have help."
"We like Mayor Bass. We want to work with Mayor Bass," Lynn told CNS. "We just need her to hear us, how desperate we are for change."
Mancuso confirmed to CNS on Saturday that she is a candidate for the job.
"At the urging of the rescue community and with the support of many current and former elected officials in Los Angeles, who understand my history of working for shelter animals in LA and beyond, I have thrown my hat in the ring," she said. "It's time for real change in Los Angeles, and I can make that happen for the animals and all that care for them."