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Controversial L.A. Animal Services General Manager Ed Boks resigns

Ed Boks resigned his post as general manager of L.A.'s animal services department today Ed Boks, the embattled head of the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services, has resigned.

Boks has been a controversial figure in L.A.'s animal welfare community since his arrival in 2006.  He's referred to himself as a "change agent"; last year, about  half his staff signed a petition stating they had "no confidence" in him as a leader. 

But perhaps the most glaring example of his running afoul of animal advocates came just last month, when he announced his decision to discontinue L.A.'s free spay/neuter voucher program for low-income pet owners.

"No one regrets cutting these funds more than I do," Boks said on cutting the voucher program, a decision he said was made only because the department had been compelled by the city to make up for a budget shortfall of more than $400,000.  (Cutting the vouchers, he said, would save about $150,000.)  But many Angelenos were outraged at the move, which came less than six months after a law mandating the sterilization of pet dogs and cats went into effect. 

Councilmen Dennis Zine, Jack Weiss and Tony Cardenas aired their grievances against Boks at a Public Safety Committee meeting.  "You have a tendency not to work with anybody, and what you've done is alienate a whole bunch of people. ... What you've done is one blunder after another," Zine told the general manager.  "This is another example of shortsightedness."

A protester disrupts a 2007 conference at which former L.A. Animal Services general manager Ed Boks appearedAbout two weeks after the announcement that the voucher program would end, it was quietly reinstated.  (A statement on the department's website said "strengthened procedures" would be implemented to ensure the vouchers would go only to households earning less than $30,300 annually.)

On resigning, Boks called for unity and cooperation among L.A.'s animal advocates.  "Whether you love me or hate me is irrelevant, I simply ask that you now turn your focus to the animals who need your help most," he said in a prepared statement. "Pet overpopulation is a community problem, and L.A. needs to pull together to resolve it." 

Boks' goal for the city's shelters, according to his blog, was to "develop and implement programs designed to make Los Angeles the first major metropolitan 'No-Kill' city in the United States." 

But even the blog itself was the subject of scorn from some.  "I don't know of any general manager in the city of Los Angeles that has time to do a blog with all their responsibilities," Councilman Zine said in last month's Public Safety Committee meeting.

"We don't need a general manager who says to employees, 'If you want to know what's going on in the department, read my blog,' " animal services staffer Linda Gordon said in a public hearing last October.

Some employees took issue with Boks' no-kill mandate as well, saying he'd effectively turned the city's shelters into warehouses for homeless dogs and cats.  This led to fights between animals, they said, which were not only dangerous for the animals but for staff as well.

If vocal critics like Zine won't lament Boks' departure, at least one prominent L.A. politician is expressing admiration for him today.  From our colleague Carla Hall at the L.A. Now blog:

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa released the following statement today regarding Boks' resignation:

"I thank Ed Boks for his years of service at the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services. Under his leadership, this City has revamped the way we treat and care for our pets and animals. The ‘no kill’ policy has become a central component of our animal services strategy. Pet adoptions are up and shelters have expanded at a rapid rate. And ‘spay and neuter’ has become more than just a call to action; it is the law in Los Angeles.

"Ed deserves our gratitude for his efforts and our best wishes in the years ahead. We look forward to building on his legacy and continuing to make the Department of Animal Services the gold standard for pet protection."

Before coming to L.A., Boks was director of the Maricopa County animal control department in Phoenix and the New York City animal control department.  Some reports suggested he was fired as director of New York's department; Boks has said the decision for him to leave the position was a "mutual" one between city officials and himself.

No announcement has been made about who might replace Boks as the department's general manager, although rumors swirled last year that termed-out Assemblyman Lloyd Levine of Van Nuys might be in the running for the job.  But since the newly married Levine's wife is a Sacramento-based news anchor, others doubted he'd take the general manager job if offered it.

Los Angeles animal shelter workers turn to council in bid to oust manager
L.A. Animal Services unprepared for spay/neuter law, audit finds
L.A. animal shelter workers voice complaints about agency chief
Department of Animal Services cuts spay and neuter voucher program for low-income pet owners
Decision to cut spay and neuter vouchers angers L.A. city councilmen
L.A. Animal Services reinstates spay and neuter voucher program

--Lindsay Barnett

Photo, top: Boks speaks at a 2007 conference of animal welfare activists gathered for a seminar called "No Kill Now." Credit: Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times.
Photo, bottom: A protester disrupts the "No Kill Now" conference.  Credit: Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times.

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I am proud of the work that LA Animal Services has been able to accomplish over the past three and a half years including, but not limited to, development of the most successful municipal pet adoption program in the nation (over 26,000 adoptions annually); successfully opening six new state-of-the-art animal care centers; embarking on the Department’s first Strategic Planning process (scheduled for completion before I leave); updating and standardizing policies and procedures to ensure a well-run Department; and building the finest animal care and control medical and executive teams in the nation. Gratefully, all of this has successfully contributed to the lowest three years of pet euthanasia rates in the Department’s recorded history with every reason to expect continued improvement.

This was all accomplished while the Department experienced the largest, fastest, and most historic growth in service demand. LA Animal Services is finding its balance in an environment of severe budget cuts, unprecedented demand for expansion of services, and a severe staffing shortage. I am proud of the Department I am leaving behind. I leave you a Department committed to improving accountability and effectiveness and to continuing to identify and correct long-term organizational empowerment and accountability issues.

I have given a great deal of thought to my experience as general manager. As I depart I would like to leave LA residents with a call to action that unifies rather than divides. The greatest challenge to Los Angeles’ No-Kill goal is effective, affordable, convenient spay/neuter options. As a community we must help prevent unwanted pets from being born while our city shelters are filled to capacity with healthy beautiful animals waiting for loving homes. Pet overpopulation is a community problem that requires constructive community involvement and unity to solve.

As I step down, I ask for your assistance in calling LA’s pet loving residents to the following actions:

1. If you have a pet, spay or neuter your pet. It is now the law.
2. If you can help someone who can't afford to spay and neuter their pet, go to www.LAspay.org and make a donation to help provide spay/neuter surgeries.
3. Ask your friends, colleagues and employers to match your donation.
4. If you have room in your home and your heart for a pet, adopt one from your local shelter.
5. If you love your pet, license your pet. The number one reason pets die in shelters is because we can’t find their owners.

It is time LA pulled together to solve this societal problem.

OK, Boks is gone. IMHO, he couldn't have resigned fast enough.

Now what are we going to do about Stu? This dog has been in impound for over four years. He has been deemed NOT DANGEROUS and NOT AGGRESSIVE. Yet, despite his owner's best efforts, the best efforts of the Commissioners on the Board of LA Animal Services, and the best efforts of 1000's of private citizens, he is scheduled to be euthanized July 23, 2009.
Time is of the essence. Please, please go to the following links and familiarize yourself with this travesty of justice. The Due Process violations have all been well-documented. The city of Los Angeles would rather kill this dog than admit and rectify their mistakes. Please help Stu stay alive. He was impounded in his prime. He is now over 10-years old. Help us get him home to live his final years at the side of his loyal human companion, Jefferey.



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