Would Bruno, LA’s Watchdog, be alive today if Brenda Barnette, nominated to run the embattled city Animal Services Department, had gotten her hands on him?
According to several animal rights advocates and rescue workers, Barnette — head of the Seattle Humane Society Shelter, AKC leader and sometimes lobbyist for dog breeders — has a thing about pit bulls, pit bull mixes and suspected pit bull mixes. She doesn’t like their temperament.
Frankly, I don’t like Bruno’s temperament much either a lot of the time. Being a mix of pit bull and Chinese Shar Pei, both fighting dogs, Bruno was dumped on the streets and wandered around until my wife adopted him and spent a fortune cleaning him up and trying to teach him self-control. He still goes berserk from time to time and needs to be managed closely.
Barnett’s view of animals like Bruno is very dark indeed, according to many in the animal rights community who have been excluded from meeting and questioning Barnette by the mayor’s team and pro-Barnette animal lovers.
Here’s the way one activist who questions Barnette’s credentials and the process put it:
“What’s wrong with asking how a dog breeder and dog breeding supporter can be in charge of a department that is supposed to save lives and enforce spay/neuter laws?
“How will Ms. Barnette save LAAS’ (LA Animal Services) 6,500 pit bulls a year (and thousands more pit bull mixes) when she has a policy of rejecting many pit bulls, pit bull mixes and possible pit bulls, and then killing many others for failing her temperament test?
“How can Ms. Barnette correct L.A.’s animal cruelty, Santee Alley, pit and cock fighting, and other endemic problems when she doesn’t have any background in any of those things?”
The heart of the controversy over Barnette’s appointment is how running a tiny shelter in Seattle where she boasts a 90 percent record of finding new homes for stray dogs and unwanted dogs that dropped off with the owner paying a $200 fee qualifies her to run the nation’s largest animal shelter program with thousands of unwanted dogs.
In Seattle, Barnette could be selective about which dogs she took in and which she sought to place in new homes so she didn’t have to face the euthanasia problem that exists in LA where a third or more of dogs aren’t even registered. The same is true of spaying-neutering — a massive issue in LA — a problem exacerbated by Barnette’s personal and professional roles as a dog breeder and advocate.
The people I’ve connected to are not writing Barnette off entirely, just asking a lot of questions.
Others like the Animal Defense League-LA have been able to meet with Barnette and speak extensively with people who worked with her. The group is gushing in its praise.
“We have basically put Brenda Barnette under our microscope,” says a post on their website.
“So with all the humility we can muster, we have to say that even though ADL-LA members personally scorn (Deputy Mayor) Jim Bickhart, the Mayor, (Deputy Mayor) Jimmy Blackman and others who have for years been complicit in the slaughter of animal inside LAAS, we must now give credit where credit is due. They were absolutely correct in their choice for the new General Manager and their choice seems to imply that they are ready and willing for major positive change and a new vision, a LIFE SAVING VISION, for the homeless and lost animals of Los Angeles.”
Last weekend, Barnette met with some segment of the upper crust of the animal rights world at what was described as a wine-and-cheese event in Beverly Hills, one of several meetings she has held with supporters in a carefully stage-managed presentation of her.
Critics won’t get the chance to ask her questions until July 11, the day before her nomination goes before a City Council committee.
Given the ugly decade-long controversies that have engulfed Animal Services, sharp divisions in the animal rights community and the Council’s new policy of getting all the facts before making decisions, it’s in the interest of all of us that Barnette address the questions of everyone from rescue volunteers, activists, shelter workers.
Ed Boks, whose appointment as general manager was bought for him by a billionaire’s handsome donation to the mayor’s political causes, proved to be a disaster in all regards in no small part because so little attention was paid to his past record.
Given the high sensitivity and the intense passions involved in animal issues, a full and complete vetting of Barnette in public is needed.
The questions about Barnette range from her personal finances to her limited experience
as the head of an animal rescue service that operates by appointment only and cherry picks dogs for rescue, even importing dogs from LA and elsewhere to meet the demand in Seattle.
The most serious questions revolve around her roles as legislative liaison for the American Kennel Club and with a political action committee funded by breeders who waged a vigorous fight against mandatory spay/neuter laws in California — information she has taken down from her Facebook page since her nomination.
The animal rights community has been engaged in a furious debate over this nomination. But we all have a stake in not repeating the mistakes of the past, in getting all dogs registered, in reducing the number of animals euthanized, in stopping puppy mills and getting more dogs and cats spayed or neutered to reduce the unwanted pet population.