Gary Karlin Michelson
Ed Boks was already in L.A. and on the job this week, touring animal
shelters and meeting with humane activists and city employees, even
though his tenure as the new leader of Los Angeles' Department of
Animal Services — he'll be the fourth general manager at the troubled
agency in as many years — does not begin until January.
"This is how I'm spending my break between jobs," said Boks (which
rhymes with "coax") cheerfully between meetings. "Certainly my door is
going to be open, my phone number and e-mail available, so I can pull
together the community as best I can."
Much is riding on Boks, 54, whom Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa this month
hired to replace the embattled but defiant Guerdon Stuckey. Stuckey
took the job just over a year ago when he was appointed by former
mayor James Hahn, and he won the support of many department employees,
especially after he was targeted with a smoke bomb and other
harassment. But he was roundly despised by vocal and behind-the-scenes
animal-welfare activists for his lack of experience in animal issues
and his failure, in the activists' view, to sufficiently reduce the
number of unadopted cats, dogs, rabbits and other animals killed in
If that is about to change, as animal advocates hope, it will be not
only because of Boks and Villaraigosa, but because of a third man who
is donating his genius and opening his rather substantial pocketbook
in an effort to make spaying, neutering, microchipping and (for dogs)
licensing practically universal in Los Angeles.
That man — spinal surgeon and billionaire inventor Gary Karlin
Michelson — said he has thought through L.A.'s animal problem and has
established a foundation that is prepared to pay to have every pet in
the city fixed and tracked. A series of serendipitous events that
began just months ago put Michelson in touch with Boks and then
Villaraigosa, helped lead to Boks' hiring here and made Michelson a
key player in the latest effort to overhaul the way the city handles
wanted and unwanted pets.
"I got interested in this idea of converting 'animal control' to
'animal care,'" he said.
In September, Stuckey's building was smoke-bombed. Credit was claimed
by the underground Animal Liberation Front, which is listed by the
Justice Department as a domestic terrorist group.
Mid-October began a period of intense activity. Villaraigosa was in
contact with Boks and with Michelson, but further antagonized many
activists when he removed Commissioner Erika Brunson just after she
distributed a letter highly critical of department management. He was
close to removing two other popular commissioners — Debbie Knaan and
Tariq Khero, apparently to put his own stamp on the panel and not as
part of any disciplinary matter — but relented at the request of
activists who supported both members.
On October 21, the mayor met with ADL-L.A. members, including Pamelyn
Ferdin and Jerry Vlasak, and — he said later — told them he would not
act to remove Stuckey as long as illegal actions like the ALF's
smoke-bombing continued. The activists said they planned to continue
their legal protests, but they canceled a planned demonstration at the
mayor's Mount Washington home slated for the following day
(Villaraigosa was in the process of moving into the Getty House, the
official mayor's residence in Windsor Square).
Felice Catena, an Encino grandmother who runs an executive-search
business, showed up at the Omni protest and carried a sign. She did
not take the megaphone, as the ADL-L.A.'s Pamelyn Ferdin did, but said
she was pleased to be marching with her.
"I'm just sick of seeing animals die," Catena said. "I'll be in
solidarity with Pam, because I think she's a powerful woman."