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Los Angeles animal shelter workers turn to council in bid to oust manager

Some of the workers at Los Angeles animal shelters want general manager Ed Boks to be dismissed. Times Staff Writer Carla Hall reports:
Union representatives for Los Angeles animal shelter workers plan to give the City Council a petition today demanding the dismissal of general manager Ed Boks and assistant general manager Linda Barth.

The vote of no confidence, as the petition is called, was signed by more than half of L.A. Animal Services employees and presented to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's office in March. Boks answers directly to the mayor....
After several meetings with the mayor's staff, union officials and shelter workers who helped organize the petition effort said they were dissatisfied with the response. So they decided to take their cause to council members even though they have no direct power over Boks.

"Employees are fed up," said Keith Kramer, manager of the West Valley animal shelter and executive board member of the laborers' union's Los Angeles chapter. "We've given the mayor's office every opportunity to do something and they haven't. We're hoping the City Council can convince the mayor's office to act."
Running the city's system of six shelters has never been an easy task. Boks' predecessors had their share of run-ins with critics. In his three years in Los Angeles, Boks has frequently bumped heads with activists, some Los Angeles Board of Animal Services commissioners and some City Council members. Now he's facing employees who say he has sacrificed the health and safety of shelter animals and workers to promote the system as one that is lowering its kill rate.

Achieving a so-called no-kill policy for healthy animals is the Holy Grail of municipal shelters. But according to employees and their union representatives, as euthanasia rates went down over the last few years -- a trend that halted this spring -- shelter conditions dangerously worsened. In a lengthy brief to City Council members laying out the staffers' complaints and accompanying the petition, they say that "the department is simply holding more animals for longer periods of time. These policies have also increased the stress on impounded animals -- longer impound periods lead to overcrowding, fighting, illness and injuries, all of which increase the risk of illness and injuries to department personnel."

"They're warehousing animals -- four and five and six per cage," said Victor Gordo, general counsel for the union that represents shelter supervisors. "That's not good for the animals and that's not good for the public. These animals are tearing each other up."

In the brief, the employees say that shelter supervisors have found Boks and Barth "to be of little help in dealing with these issues -- they simply demand lower euthanasia numbers and threaten disciplinary action or reassignment for failing to realize them."

Staffers also contend that Boks and Barth have "allowed the field enforcement staff to fall to dangerously low levels," leaving more loose dogs on the street.

Boks does not deny that shelter population is up, and creating crowded conditions. But he noted that animal population is under the control of shelter managers and that they have been given management tools for dealing with their shelters. "Some of our center managers have allowed conditions to get out of hand, and I have directed our new assistant general manager over operations to help reluctant managers better manage their animal populations," he said.

Boks disputed claims of employees being disciplined. "Euthanasia is up, and no one has been disciplined or reassigned," he said. "Impoundments are also up, demonstrating field operations are functioning better than usual."

Annual euthanasia statistics for cats and dogs, which have been trending downward over the last five years, started going up in recent months. In July, 2,616 cats and dogs were euthanized, up 746 from July 2007, 19 from July 2006 and 120 from July 2005.

Boks attributes the rise in euthanasia to a rise in intake of animals, partially because of housing foreclosures.

 
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