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Brenda Barnette confirmed as L.A. animal services manager

July 14, 2010 |  4:13 pm

Brenda Barnette

After more than a year without a general manager, the L.A. Department of Animal Services once again has an official leader. Brenda Barnette, who comes from the Seattle Humane Society and previously headed Tony La Russa's Animal Rescue Foundation, was unanimously confirmed by the Los Angeles City Council as the city's animal service department head on Tuesday.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced his nomination of Barnette last month, and her confirmation by the City Council was largely considered a formality. The search for a new general manager had been lengthy and robust.

Under Barnette's direction, the privately funded Seattle Humane Society shelter achieved a remarkably low euthanasia rate and killed no animals for lack of space -- one of the primary reasons homeless dogs and cats die at L.A. city shelters. But the Seattle organization also took in far fewer animals than L.A.'s municipal organization, causing some members of L.A.'s pet-loving community to wonder whether Barnette is up for the challenge of leading the troubled department.

The organization's previous head, Ed Boks, resigned in April 2009 after a tumultuous stint as general manager. Boks had angered many animal services staff members, some of whom accused him of "warehousing" animals in an effort to achieve his aim of making L.A. a "no-kill" city. He later felt the scorn of L.A. City Council members and animal welfare advocates when he decided to cut funding for free spay and neuter surgery vouchers for low-income pet owners, a decision that was later reversed.

Barnette3 Since Boks' departure, the department has been headed by interim general manager Kathy Davis, who said in April that she feared budget cuts could lead to higher euthanasia rates in the city's public shelters and might even necessitate the closure of one of them.

More than 54,000 dogs and cats came through the shelter system in 2009; of that number, more than half the cats and close to a quarter of the dogs didn't make it out. (Those figures include feral cats, neonate kittens and puppies and animals that were considered unadoptable for behavioral or health-related reasons.) By comparison, the Seattle Humane Society took in fewer than 6,700 animals during the same time period and placed more than 6,000 of them, putting down only those that fell into the category "Unhealthy & Untreatable."

Barnette said Tuesday that she won't tolerate cruelty to animals, "100%" supports spaying and neutering pets and "very much [wants] to spend time with the staff formulating ideas."

Some in the animal-welfare community continue to be skeptical, though. "I want her to do well, but the lack of substantive responses to completely legitimate questions, makes me concerned," pet rescuer Daniel Guss told the Daily News. "When asked about her freshest marketing ideas to promote spay-neuter and adoptions, she said she would have nice fliers -- fliers instead of thinking big." 

Barnette2 Another concern that has been voiced by some animal rescuers is a connection between Barnette and the American Kennel Club, an organization often considered suspect by those who oppose the practice of purebred dog breeding. In response to that concern, Barnette told The Times:

"I'm a member of the Seattle Kennel Club," she said, explaining the extent of her job as legislative liaison for the club. "Every now and then I get a press release from the AKC saying 'This is the legislation,' and I hit forward and send it to all the other members.... I have shown dogs, and you may see me at a show."

Barnette acknowledged that she has bred her own Portuguese water dog, but not recently. "To think I'm a breeder is a little bit of a stretch," she said. She also owns two toy poodles and a Chihuahua mix.

At her confirmation hearing Tuesday, some City Council members noted that they'd received more voter feedback on her appointment than they had for the appointment of Police Chief Charlie Beck.

Councilmember Dennis Zine, who in March 2009 said Boks had "a tendency not to work with anybody, and what you've done is alienate a whole bunch of people -- the folks that love animals, council members," cautioned Barnette against exhibiting those traits. Zine urged her to "be cautious. ... Include the community groups, the staff workers." 

RELATED ANIMAL SHELTER NEWS:
Shelter dogs travel from California to Canada to find new homes thanks to Canadian philanthropist
California animal shelters' plague: Not a rain of frogs, but a rain of Chihuahuas

-- Lindsay Barnett

Top photo: Brenda Barnette answers questions during an L.A. City Council hearing on Tuesday. Credit: Katie Falkenberg / For The Times

Middle photo: Barnette is interviewed by media after her confirmation hearing Tuesday. Credit: Katie Falkenberg / For The Times

Bottom photo: Barnette holds a puppy at the L.A. animal services department's North Central shelter on June 17. Credit: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times

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