spcaLA in the News
L.A. Times | Los Angeles | Saturday, October 4th, 2014
Why did the monocled cobra slink across the road? To give Los Angeles County animal control officers the slip, of course. It didn't work; the nomadic ophidian is now in residence at the San Diego Zoo. And while the hooded snake sighting and ensuing four-day chase unnerved some Thousand Oaks residents last month, for Department of Fish and Wildlife Patrol Lt. Marty Wall, wild encounters in the concrete jungle simply go with the territory.
You might not think that the Los Angeles basin, with its rivers of traffic and concrete, would be a likely home to wildlife. But you'd be wrong. Wall has seen a lot of strange things roaming the big city in 22 years with the department, ranging from a baboon on a front porch in Chatsworth to a bear on a Northridge golf course. The Thousand Oaks serpent wasn't the first cobra to slither across a Southland street, Wall said — although its Twitter following (@AlbinoMonoCobra, @Toakscobra) and the fact that it's white, not albino, according to zoo officials, certainly makes it unique. And, oh, by the way, if you see a bear on a golf course, "get out of the way," Wall said. Even if you think you're channeling Tiger Woods, "let the bear play through," he added.
L.A.'s wildlife comes from a variety of places. The escaped baboon was legal, permitted by Fish and Wildlife and returned safely to the owner. Bears and mountain lions follow flood-control channels and can get lost in the heart of the city. Deer are drawn to drought-resistant plants that are popular with developers. Mountain lions and coyotes follow deer and other smaller animals. And many critters (bats, foxes, mice, opossums, peacocks, raccoons and skunks) just live among us.
As home builders expand into undeveloped areas and water sources wane in the drought, human-wildlife encounters can seem more common. Still, while a tweeting cobra with a Facebook page can make it appear that the wild things are taking over, Wall said animal populations haven't changed much.
"If I had to blame anything for the perception, I'd blame social media. Information gets out so quickly," he said.
Wall, whose squad includes three other wardens and services L.A. County north of Interstate 10, said he resolves most of the department's cases, one or two a month, by showing up, creating a safe escape route for the animal and asking police and residents to step back. No, really, take a big step back, Wall said. "The animal will go on its way. I've never seen a bear skeleton up in a tree. They always come down. You just have to let them," he added.
Wall said bear, deer and mountain lions prompt the most calls. And not every story has a happy ending. Animals that can't get home unaided and those that pose a threat to public safety are captured and relocated (often to the nearest forest or animal sanctuary) or killed.
Bears and mountain lions may steal the media spotlight, but L.A.-based trapper Johnathan Russell said coyotes, opossums, raccoons and skunks cause more trouble for homeowners.
In August, Janet Keyte realized that a ring-tailed house guest had moved into her La Crescenta home when the 10-week-old cubs started roughhousing at 5 a.m. Her son called five raccoon removal companies before he reached Russell's.
The trapper arrived the next day. During the hourlong service call (average cost: $300 to $400), he surveyed the roofline opening, photographed the feral clan and left pads scented with male raccoon pheromones in the attic. Russell said the female raccoon, sensing danger, would likely move the family within three days.
Keyte, who had raccoons in the house once before, planned to seal the roofline and prepare for some ribbing from the locals, the human ones.
In Seal Beach, it's coyotes that are prompting calls. Residents say they have become too brazen after killing dozens of pets, and the City Council recently approved a plan to start trapping and euthanizing them.
Even the experts get stumped at some encounters. Madeline Bernstein has been with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles for 20 years. But when her husband called about the lion in the garden of their Encino home in 2009, she was befuddled.
"I said, 'Do you mean a lion or a bobcat?' He said, 'What's the difference?' I said, 'If it's a lion, stay inside … make some noise,' " she recalled.
The animal left, but Bernstein never forgot the encounter. And she's had a few more since.
"It's interesting that you can have raccoons and bobcats and opossums and coyotes all showing up at your door in Los Angeles. I moved here from Manhattan," she added, "but I still look around every once in a while and think, 'This is a lot of wildlife for a city chick.' "
By Michelle Hofmann
ABC News | Los Angeles | Wednesday, October 1st, 2014
Young people who torture and kill animals are prone to violence against people later in life if it goes unchecked, studies have shown. A new federal category for animal cruelty crimes will help root out those pet abusers before their behavior worsens and give a boost to prosecutions, an animal welfare group says.
For years, the FBI has filed animal abuse under the label "other" along with a variety of lesser crimes, making cruelty hard to find, hard to count and hard to track. The bureau announced this month that it would make animal cruelty a Group A felony with its own category — the same way crimes like homicide, arson and assault are listed.
"It will help get better sentences, sway juries and make for better plea bargains," said Madeline Bernstein, president and CEO of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles and a former New York prosecutor.
The category also will help identify young offenders, and a defendant might realize "if he gets help now, he won't turn into Jeffrey Dahmer," she said.
Law enforcement agencies will have to report incidents and arrests in four areas: simple or gross neglect; intentional abuse and torture; organized abuse, including dogfighting and cockfighting; and animal sexual abuse, the FBI said in statement. The bureau didn't answer questions beyond a short statement.
"The immediate benefit is it will be in front of law enforcement every month when they have to do their crime reports," said John Thompson, interim executive director of the National Sheriffs' Association who worked to get the new animal cruelty category instituted. "That's something we have never seen."
Officers will start to see the data are facts and "not just somebody saying the 'Son of Sam' killed animals before he went to human victims and 70-some percent of the school shooters abused animals prior to doing their acts before people," said Thompson, a retired assistant sheriff from Prince George's County, Maryland.
FBI studies show that serial killers like Dahmer impaled the heads of dogs, frogs and cats on sticks; David Berkowitz, known as the "Son of Sam," poisoned his mother's parakeet; and Albert DeSalvo, aka the "Boston Strangler," trapped cats and dogs in wooden crates and killed them by shooting arrows through the boxes.
It will take time and money to update FBI and law enforcement databases nationwide, revise manuals and send out guidelines, Thompson said, so there won't be any data collected until January 2016. After that, it will take several months before there are numbers to analyze.
The new animal cruelty statistics will allow police and counselors to work with children who show early signs of trouble, so a preschooler hurting animals today isn't going to be hurting a person two years from now, Bernstein said.
The FBI's category will track crimes nationwide and is bound to give animal cruelty laws in all 50 states more clout. Many states are seeing more of those convicted of animal cruelty being sentenced to prison, in marked contrast to years past.
Whether talking about state laws or the FBI change, it is clear "that regardless of whether people care about how animals are treated, people — like legislators and judges — care about humans, and they can't deny the data," said Natasha Dolezal, director of the animal law program in the Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon.
By Sue Manning
ABC News | Los Angeles | Wednesday, September 24th, 2014
Help Wanted: No pay, hours can be lousy, and sometimes it stinks.
That plea from animal shelters and rescues across the country doesn't sound very appealing, but thousands and thousands of faithful volunteers answer the call every day.
"I don't know how we could function without volunteers. We could never do what we do for animals without them," said Robin Starr, CEO of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Richmond, Virginia.
Jobs include that often smelly cleanup chore, but every facility also needs people to feed, walk, groom, train, play with and show animals. They also need office, fundraising, shopping, phone and other help.
Every volunteer says they do it for the animals. Here are a few of their stories.
Volunteer Karen Gammon, 58, donates her art for auctions and the gift store at Starr's shelter. She used a charcoal-smothered canvas and then an eraser to peel away the charcoal.
Bidding wars were common. "One year, the bidding got to $11,000, so she agreed to do two drawings at that price, making $22,000 for the shelter," Starr said.
Gammon started volunteering in 1999. Less than a decade later, she had to give up her drawings because rheumatoid arthritis and surgeries would not let her grip the erasers.
It took her a few years, but she found a substitute and resumed making money for the shelter with "Muttcrackers," a term she copyrighted which means nutcrackers with mutt heads, pivot joints with tails and paws for feet and hands.
Last year, she made 28 in different sizes for the gift shop. They were gone in hours. She's trying for 40 at $300 or less this year, along with a life-sized version for the auction.
At Florida's Humane Society of Vero Beach and Indian River County, Cornelia Perez has seen it all in more than 30 years. She has adopted, fostered, volunteered, served on the board, worked with students, coordinated building campaigns and fundraisers and is the shelter historian and archivist, said Janet Winikoff, the shelter's director of education.
"Cornelia is also a true community pied piper. If we tell her we need something, you can bet she'll be able to help," Winikoff said.
Perez, 72, started volunteering 60 years ago when she rode her bike to a shack by the railroad tracks and they let her walk the dogs.
She was away for a while — boarding school, college, early career. But she was back in 1984, and there is nothing she hasn't done. She put pails in supermarkets for food donations and coordinated the building campaign for the shelter that replaced the shack. She now volunteers at the state-of-the-art shelter that replaced the building.
A retired school teacher, Perez lined shelter walls with facts and questions; turned baby sweaters into animal coats; established humane-education and care-cadet programs for students; and today runs programs for pets that need special medical or dental care. And she publishes the Humane Times.
"I also did laundry," Perez said. "If I save the staff time, that's time they have to devote to the animals."
Jourdan Giron, of Lawndale, California, who turns 21 this month, is new to the volunteer corps. She signed up in February for eight hours a month at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Los Angeles, volunteer services manager Elise Thompson said.
But Giron's put in over 325 volunteer hours — well over the 64 promised. "I'm just happy being here and I don't want to leave," she said.
"She's young, bubbly, vivacious, dedicated and quickly made herself a standout," Thompson said. She's completed nearly every class offered to volunteers.
Giron, majoring in biology, said she has wanted to be a veterinarian since she was 5.
She'd never seen a shelter close up before. "It's greater than I could have imagined," she said.
Usually shy, she said she gets quite chatty now when talking to customers about animals.
Giron does those smelly jobs too, but she sees it as a matter of faith. "I know it's because they trust me to go in the kennels," she said.
By Sue Manning
The Guardian | New York | Wednesday, September 17th, 2014
A dog named Bubbles and nineteen of his fellow chihuahuas on Tuesday boarded a flight from Los Angeles to Houston, where they are now up for adoption. The airlift is part of an animal shelter’s program to send surplus dogs from California to other parts of the country to be adopted by owners who might otherwise turn to puppy mills.
Bubbles is the 500th chihuahua to be transported by The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Los Angeles (spcaLA) as part of the Air Chihuahua program.
The group created the program in 2009 because of a large supply of chihuahuas in the Los Angeles area, where more than 60,000 chihuahuas are registered. That year, animal rescue centers in California reported a spike in the number of abandoned chihuahuas.
While looking for a way to deal with the problem, spcaLA president Madeline Bernstein heard from shelters across the US that there was a high demand for chihuahuas and other small dogs. In those communities, people would instead turn to puppy mills and adoption websites to get special order small breeds.
“If we were The Gap and we had pink blouses out here that didn’t sell and you had pink blouses selling out in Miami, you wouldn’t make more pink blouses, you would ship the ones from one store to the other,” said Bernstein. ”The more I thought about it, the more I thought maybe if we could start doing that, then people wouldn’t be as inclined to order a little dog over the internet or order a little dog from a puppy mill breeder or find a little dog in a pet shop.”
Bernstein said that the popularity of chihuahuas and other small dogs was bred years ago after celebrities like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears paraded their tiny dogs in front of the paparazzi.
“All of a sudden it became really clear, for some deranged reason, that because of the celebrity factor and the film industry and everything, this [small dogs] seems to be the need,” said Bernstein. “So, if we’ve got them, we should make sure other people are able to get them.”
The first Air Chihuahua flight took place on New Years Eve 2009 and brought a batch of chihuahuas from Los Angeles to Denver, Colorado, where every dog was immediately adopted.
The donor-driven program has also brought surplus chihuahuas to New York, Washington, Florida and Canada.
Air Chihuahua dogs have been flown on special charter flights, in climate-controlled cabins and in crates below seats in the main cabin of passenger jets.
United Airlines sponsored the Houston-bound canines’ flight in a special climate-controlled area that is frequently used for animal transport, which abides by a “last on, first off” directive.
More chihuahuas are set to be shipped out on a 30 September flight to Miami, Florida.
By Amanda Holpuch