Villaraigosa Backs Animal Services Chief, Praises Work of Task Force
By Richard Fausset
November 2, 2005

Under pressure from animal rights groups, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa praised the work of a new animal cruelty task force Tuesday, citing it as an example of renewed efforts to make the city a "better community" for animals.

The comments came at a news conference touting the task force's first felony conviction of an animal abuser. But the mayor also spoke about the large number of dogs euthanized in city shelters each year - a target of animal rights activists, who have staged protests at the homes of city employees, including Villaraigosa.

"We're committed to reducing the number of animals we kill in our own shelters," the mayor said. "And we're going to work together to lower that to 'low kill' or 'no kill' like they have in other cities, like New York and San Francisco and Philadelphia."

Villaraigosa was joined by Councilman Tony Cardenas, who created the task force, and Guerdon Stuckey, general manager of the Animal Services Department. Some animal rights activists have called for Stuckey's ouster, because he had no experience in animal services before the city hired him.

In January, during the mayoral campaign, Villaraigosa promised that he would fire Stuckey. But Tuesday he indicated that Stuckey would keep his job because he has committed himself to reducing the number of animals killed in shelters.

"Mr. Stuckey is standing here with us in support of that," the mayor said. "And so, to the extent that our managers understand that ultimately I got elected to move an agenda ahead, and they support that, then we'll go from there."

Some animal rights activists, however, have indicated that they would not be appeased until Stuckey stepped down. Pamelyn Ferdin, a member of the Animal Defense League-Los Angeles board, said Villaraigosa's plan to keep Stuckey and reduce killings did not compute. She called it "a smoke screen and a sham."

Ferdin said Stuckey's plans to cut the number of animals euthanized had been laughable so far. The city, she said, needs someone well-versed in animal management to create a comprehensive plan for increasing adoptions and spay and neuter services. "This is an archaic shelter system that is stuck in the 1950s," Ferdin said. "We need someone progressive to pull this shelter system into the new millennium."

Villaraigosa has increasingly drawn the ire of animal rights activists. On Tuesday, a group calling itself Caring Citizens to Benefit Animals and Bring Answers to Los Angeles announced that it was organizing a Day of the Dead-themed protest for today, called "Haunted by Villaraigosa's Promises." In a fax sent to The Times, the group urged people to show up at a mayoral event at Micheltorena Elementary School in Silver Lake to protest Villaraigosa's failure to remove Stuckey as promised.

The city euthanized more than 39,000 dogs in the 2001-02 fiscal year, but reduced the number to about 25,000 in the 2004-05 year, according to the Animal Services Department. Stuckey said grass-roots education campaigns about the importance of spaying and neutering were key to continuing efforts to reduce that number further.

The first successful prosecution targeted Aaron Jones, a 26-year-old alleged gang member from Los Angeles. Authorities said Jones was sentenced to three years in prison for tossing his girlfriend's dog into a tub of scalding water and shooting it with a Taser gun.