From the Classroom

L.A. animal shelters still overcrowded, new manager looks to tackle space issues

The new animal services general manager looks to address massive overcrowding and understaffing in the city’s six shelters.

Photo of a black and white cat laying outside in some dirt and leaves

Los Angeles city animal shelters are still overcrowded under recent leadership changes, and the city’s six shelters are on track to kill about 40% more animals this year than last year.

But now there’s a new general manager ready to address these issues that activists have been calling out over the past year.

Staycee Dains, the new general manager appointed in June, has admitted that there’s a lot of work to be done. She spent her first month in the role touring each of the six city shelters and asking staff and volunteers what they would need to succeed and improve.

At an animal services commissioners meeting earlier this summer, Dains addressed the board, saying that overcrowding and understaffing are two major issues in the shelter system that need to be addressed immediately.

“It is absolutely true our shelters are overcrowded,” Dains said at the July 25 meeting. “We have dogs housed in pop-up kennels in every area of the shelter. I was just at Harbor Shelter yesterday afternoon, and as you walk up to Harbor, there’s sort of this large aviary and it has dogs in it, which is not an appropriate setting to house dogs.”

Before the pandemic, the shelters used to take in around 50,000 animals each year. That number dropped sharply during 2020 when the shelter closed due to the pandemic. In 2021, the six shelters’ total intake was around 28,500. Last year, it reached approximately 33,500.

Although total intake has been increasing each year since the pandemic, current intake is still lower than before the pandemic started.

Local shelter volunteers like Michelle Cornelius have been calling out overcrowding and euthanasia issues over the past few years.

“While intakes are down, we’re more overcrowded than we’ve ever been,” said Cornelius, who has been volunteering at the West Valley shelter since 2007. “It’s so baffling because the intakes are lower.”

At the same time, the shelter system is also on track to euthanize more animals this year than last year.

When comparing the first seven months of this year and last year, the combined euthanasia rate for cats, dogs and kittens has increased by 37% while the intake has increased by 9%.

Intake for kittens has increased by 2% during the same time period, but euthanasia has increased by 56%.

“The summer is always known as kitten season,” Cornelius said. “We’ve always had a lot of kittens. Everybody tells me that every year feels worse than the last one… The euthanasia rate [for kittens] is definitely much much higher.”

Euthanasia rates for cats and dogs have also increased during the same period: the rate for cats has increased by 28% and 19% for dogs.

There have been months of criticism regarding the city animal shelters’ treatment of animals within its care.

Recently, local officials have called for an overhaul of the shelter system to improve shelter practices, including regular walks for all dogs, better handling of sick animals to decrease euthanasia and a better mediation process for volunteers.

“This one dog that was just red-listed hadn’t been out of her kennel in 29 days,” Cornelius said. “There can still be a high number of dogs who are getting out of the kennel maybe once a week.”

Dains has expressed an interest in addressing these issues and improving shelter practices.

“We just really need to rethink this whole system of talking with one another about which animals need rescue,” Dains said at the meeting.

Cornelius said it’s still too early to tell how the new manager will affect the state of the shelters.

“I will give her credit from the meeting,” Cornelius said. “I think she did a very good job of informing the board on certain issues.”

Dains was appointed by Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass and was previously the director of animal services in the city of Long Beach.

“I’ve been able to visit with all of the shelters,” Dains said. “And all of the feedback and my experience of everybody working for animal services is that they are an incredibly committed group of people who are willing to do a lot with very little to try to make things work.”