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 city shelters.
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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.
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"I got interested in this idea of converting 'animal control' to 'animal care,'" he said.
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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).
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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."