Animal house
Extremists muck up debate over policy at L.A. shelters 

It's hard for the casual observer to choose sides in the battle between animal-rights extremists and Los Angeles city officials. That's because in this clash, there are no clear good guys.

To their credit, the extremists do have a few good arguments on their side: The city's Animal Services Department has long been poorly run. Its general manager for the last year, Guerdon Stuckey, does seem less than wholly qualified, as he's never worked in the animal-services field before. And Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa did promise, while campaigning for office, that, if elected, he would give Stuckey the ax.

That said, it's hard not to feel sorry for Stuckey, a well-meaning bureaucrat from Maryland who got the job because no one else would take it after his predecessors suffered years of abuse at the hands of city officials and animal rights fanatics.

With their tactics of intimidation and harassment, these activists have made life a living hell for Stuckey, the past and current mayors and many Animal Services employees. They protest obnoxiously and offensively outside the mayor's home and his public events. After Stuckey's apartment was smoke-bombed, his wife fled back to the safer environment of Maryland. Employees of the department are so afraid that they've asked for police protection.

As much as no one wants Villaraigosa to break another campaign promise, it would be arguably worse for him to give in to this shrill band of people who obscure the righteousness of their cause with their self-righteousness that tramples on the rights of others. So the mayor has found himself stuck between a rock and a hard place: Either he breaks his word and keeps Stuckey, or he rewards uncivil - and sometimes criminal - behavior by dumping him.

On Thursday, he made his choice and fired Stuckey, who has threatened to sue and almost certainly will wind up with the same kind of golden handshake that so many City Hall officials have received over the years.

So the extremists have won, and at a steep cost to the taxpayers, but now what? Regardless of who is hired to replace Stuckey, the extremists will still be unsatisfied unless they get an ironclad no-kill policy in city animal shelters - which simply is not realistic at this time.

While no one denies that animal shelters should be free from cruelty, some animals simply cannot be placed into good homes. Because of a failure of animal owners to spay and neuter their pets, the city is home to tens of thousands of unwanted dogs and cats a year. A good number of these are pit bulls and other poorly bred, poorly raised creatures that are simply too dangerous to be adopted out.

Add into the mix that Los Angeles is a city of limited resources, with tremendous human needs, from health care to homelessness to gang violence and public safety. It would be irresponsible - and immoral - for city officials to permanently house unadoptable animals at the expense of meeting the real, critical needs of L.A.'s human inhabitants.

Without a doubt, the city could and should do a better job of reducing the number of animals euthanized in L.A. shelters. This is a fair and reasonable demand, but it's lost among the animal extremists' unfair and unreasonable demands, as well as their unconscionable tactics.

There's no good answer to the problems at the L.A. Animal Services Department, and there won't be until the extremists come back to reality and stop behaving like, well, animals.