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Controller slams Animal Services for missing equipment and money

February 15, 2012 |  1:58 pm

City Controller Wendy Greuel announced Wednesday at her City Hall office last year. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

The Department of Animal Services has become an unruly place where equipment is unaccounted for, at least $125,000 is missing and employees fail to count how many animals are under their care each day, a new report has found.
 
The audit, conducted over two years and released Tuesday, describes policy and possible ethics breakdowns across the agency, with particular focus on poor supervision and management.
 
In one example, department officials could not show investigators whether donations were spent legitimately. Cash donations to some shelters were also “treated as petty cash for both animal and staff purposes,” according to the audit.
 
“The department has been plagued by lax controls and a lack of continuity in management, creating an environment with the potential to jeopardize animal safety,” said Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel, a mayoral candidate who authored the report.
 
“Abuses at every level led me to conduct this audit.... Additional action is needed to strengthen critical internal controls at the city’s animal shelters,” Greuel said.
 
The city requires adopted dogs and cats from its shelters to have microchips implanted for a fee, but the shelters often do not account for them.

“Our analyses of the revenue that should have been generated based on the number of microchips recorded … in comparison to amounts generated, shows a $125,000 discrepancy. The shelters were unable to explain,” according to the audit.
 
The department also failed to bill all dog owners in its database for annual fees and instead only billed owners who paid the previous year, the investigation found. Those who didn’t were dropped from future billings, resulting in fewer renewal licenses.
 
During the last fiscal year, as many as 171,202 dogs needed license renewals, but bills only went out to 107,375 owners, according to the audit, meaning the department missed out on up to $1.3 million in potential revenue.
 
There were several other examples in the report critical of the department’s supervision and management, including an instance when investigators asked for a quick equipment inventory at the shelters, and 12 cameras and 11 radios were missing.
 
Another time, Animal Services “management removed guns and ammunition from shelters, apparently due to lax controls,” according to the report.
 
The findings come at what city officials hope is a turning point for a struggling department plagued by repeated allegations of high-profile missteps, including firing a veterinary technician in December who allegedly subjected dogs to inhumane treatment.
 
The agency also placed several employees on leave last year during a probe into time card fraud and has investigated whether some employees stole dogs from an animal shelter in Lincoln Heights to sell for profit.
 
At a news conference announcing the audit’s findings, City Councilman Dennis Zine said issues with the Animal Services department were a “continuing saga.”
 
“It’s really sad that a department that has had such problems over a long period of time continues to struggle,” Zine said.
 
But city officials said Tuesday that Brenda Barnette, general manager of the department, was working cooperatively to implement changes and said they were confident she could lead the agency in a new direction.

Barnette did not immediately return a call for comment.
 
Within the audit are some examples of progress, including strengthening oversight of payroll and timekeeping and a new campaign encouraging residents to get their dogs licensed.
 
“We finally have the right leadership in place,” said Councilmember Paul Koretz.
 
“Greuel has set out the blueprint for Brenda and the department,” he said. “I trust she will make it happen.”

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-- Ari Bloomekatz at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: City Controller Wendy Greuel announced Wednesday at her City Hall office last year. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

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