An animal shelter can be a very frightening place for dogs and cats. First of all, they are in a new environment and do not know what their fate will be. Will they be helped or hurt? Add people yelling in excited voices and running around with catch poles coupled with the anxious sounds of other just as frightened animals. No wonder these animals will bite or hide out of fear. Behaviors that will often land them on the euthanasia list before they even have a chance.
In a perfect world, all shelters would be run and operated by people who truly care about animals and their wellbeing and the environment would be a calm, peaceful, friendly one.
But in the real world, it’s just the opposite. As Beverly Mitchell learned while volunteering at the Los Angeles Animal Services.
Beverly first visited the North Central Shelter in Los Angeles in 2013 after rescuing an abandoned dog from a local park. She was so concerned for the dog, she visited the shelter daily to check on the dog now called “Gabe.”
During that time she got to know the volunteers and the staff which motivated her to want to be a volunteer. While waiting the three month period for her volunteer application to be processed, Beverly shadowed other volunteers at the North Central Intervention Program also known as Home Dog L.A.
When her application was finalized on December 2013, Beverly put all of her energy into working with the shelter dogs six days a week. She especially enjoyed working with the dogs that were frightened, elderly or sickly.
She also dedicated time working with the local rescues trying to get dogs out of the shelter and into foster homes or no kill shelters. Her concerns and efforts gained her two dogs, two cats, and a bunny.
In her two years of working as a volunteer at the shelter, Beverly became very aware of the how frightening and intimidating the shelter environment could be for dogs coming in for the first time. She came up with a brilliant idea for an enrichment program to introduce dogs to the shelter environment in a way that would be less terrifying.
She presented her idea to the Los Angeles Animal Services and was granted permission to use two unused offices for what would soon become known as “The Precious Project.”
Beverly painted and furnished the two unused offices to look like a home environment. The project was launched In September 2015. Beverly resigned from her job of 16 years to work six days a week running the program and making it a huge success.
For the first three month, Beverly worked side by side with the staff helping the frightened incoming dogs transition into shelter life via The Precious Project Playroom.
The staff would visit and encourage the socialization process and the medical staff would visit the playroom to disburse the meds dogs were otherwise reluctant to take while in their kennels. It also helped the rescues to see the dogs in a happier environment so their true personalities shone through.
In the first three months 181 new dogs came through the playroom at a rate of 8-12 a day. They would often curl up and sleep in there since sleeping is not easily done in a noisy kennel. Dogs that were in the hospital facility were also allowed some R&R in the playroom.
Thanks to generous donations, each new dog got a small, cozy bed which helped them feel more secure in their kennels.
But instead of being praised for her efforts in improving the lives of the shelter dogs, Beverly’s actions were met with animosity. On December 8th, 2015 the Commander of the Los Angeles Animal Services called Beverly into his office for a private meeting during which he stated the beds that were donated to the shelter as part of The Precious Project could be taken away at any time and sent to another shelter. This was the beginning of what was to become ongoing harassment directed towards Beverly. She was then told she could no longer have any dogs come into the playroom until after they were available for adoption which does nothing to benefit the dogs. When Beverly asked why the rules were changing at the last minute, she was given the feeble excuse that the medical staff feared outbreak of disease. In the three months the playroom was in operation, there were never any outbreaks. Beverly tried for two months to convince the medical staff otherwise but they refused to budge.
The dogs that were not allowed to go to the playroom on intake were often so frightened they would not even come out of their kennels, the other dogs that did have that advantage were saved and adopted and able to walk out the front door thanks to The Precious Project. Beverly felt both saddened and defeated.
To add further grief and aggravation to the situation. Beverly was not even allowed to love and care for the hospital dogs or push them in their strollers to get fresh air. These dogs were not even contagious, there was no reason to keep them away from everyone.
The final straw came in March when puppies were being hoarded at the shelter for an event on ABC. Also many other dogs were placed on hold for offsite adoption events. This meant that over 40 small dogs were occupying kennels and not allowed to be adopted for two weeks. All these small dogs should have been made available to the visiting public, they were not.
As the days passed and the kennels began to fill fast, Beverly became concerned that small dogs were going to be euthanized for space. Dogs that would normally have more time were immediately put on the euthanasia list, while rescues and volunteers worked day and night to stay ahead of the filling kennels. One dog, a small breed known only as A1613821 was kept in the hospital and not even allowed out in the stroller to get some fresh air, although Beverly asked several times over two weeks.
The poor dog was euthanized without any email notification to the volunteers as was standard practice in the past. The dog was killed for the sole reasons of having a heart murmur and no teeth.
This was the unnecessary killing of a dog who would’ve had rescue coming for her. She only got one day and her medical conditions were hardly anything worth killing her for.
Beverly voiced her opinion very loudly regarding this unjustified killing and received an email from the shelter General Manager Brenda Barnette advising they were terminating her volunteer services.
The irony of all this was, just one month prior on February 23rd, 2016 Beverly and three other volunteers received a special award for their work in the shelter. This was the first time such an honor was given to volunteers.
Here is a person who went out of her way to make the Los Angeles Animal Services a more humane environment for the animals that were unfortunate enough to come through their doors yet she was punished for having a heart, for speaking up for a dog that was killed for no reason. A dog that poignantly was never even given a name only the number A1613821.
Unfortunately staff and volunteers at the Los Angeles Animal Services cannot ask questions or speak in defense of an animal or they will be fired.
Reform is definitely needed at the Los Angeles Animal Services and countless other shelters across the nation where animals pay the ultimate price just for being unwanted.
Kudos to the volunteers who still continue to help and apologies to all the animals who will never be more than just a number.
There is currently a petition circulating to have General Manager Brenda Barnette fired from her position:
For more information on The Precious Project please visit their Facebook page:
Also visit Citizens for a Humane Los Angeles, an active group working to make Los Angeles shelters into no kill facilities.
“If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion & pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men” – St. Francis of Assisi