Opening of new south LA animal shelter is delayed

Erika Aguilar/KPCC

The current South L.A. animal shelter on 11th St. near the intersection of Exposition Blvd. and Crenshaw Blvd. was slated to relocate to a new facility the week of Oct. 22 but construction delays have put that plan on hold.

It may not be until early next year before the long-awaited new animal shelter for South Los Angeles will be opened. The shelter, near the intersection of Western Ave. and Slauson Ave., was supposed to open the last weekend in October, but construction delays are dragging out this decade-long project.

Brenda Barnette, general manager of  Los Angeles Animal Services, called the delays “no big deal.” She said there were some drainage problems that had to be addressed as well as issues with outside lighting at the new facility, and all the kennel runs need gate handles that Barnette said can not be quickly ordered.

“There are normal construction delays. This is a huge facility. If we fill it with animals, we will delay the additional work that is needed,” wrote Barnette on the LAAS Facebook page on October 19.

With more than 250 outdoor kennels with misters and retractable roofs, heated floors and a sleek modern design, the $9 million new shelter will be the largest Los Angeles Animal Services will operate. Its journey has been a long one, though.

Los Angeles voters approved a bond package in 2000 that included approximately $154 million for repairs and renovations to existing animal shelters and to build the new South L.A. shelter. The construction hit two snags along the way. First, in 2006 the city council considered moving the proposed shelter to a new piece of land after a tract of land had already been purchased for the new facility. Then in 2008, the city reached an impasse in talks on a contract extension with the original architect, so the city shifted gears and entered into an agreement with the current architect now on the project. That contract ends in June 2013.

City documents show officials had projected at one time the shelter would be open in 2010. An article this past June in the L.A. Times on the architectural design of the new shelter stated the opening would be in July. Barnette said the only projected date she ever knew was this past October.

“You know it’s just an inconvenience and a disappointment, but we’re fine,” Barnette said.

By fine, Barnette was referring to the animals. Some shelter volunteers have expressed frustration with the delayed move. For example, staff at the South L.A. shelter had cleared out the annex where some aggressive dogs and pregnant and nursing animals stayed in anticipation of the move. Some volunteers said those animals were moved into the main building and that some animals had to be taken to other shelters because the crowding.

Hilary Rosen, who owns a dog sitting business and on the side, visits the South L.A. shelter weekly to rescue dogs on the euthanasia list.

She described the shelter as a crowded place with several dogs having to share squeezed kennel runs, which leads to more dogfights and illness. She said the South L.A. shelter staff tries to do the best with the resources on hand.

“If it’s crowded in there, it’s crowded in there,” she said. “They just have to deal with it.”

Barnette said the annex at the South L.A. shelter was cleared out in anticipation of the move but has been reopened and the animals moved back in because of the delay. She said her critics exaggerate the problem. Barnette said spot checks and medical records confirm that there has not been an increase in dogfights because of overcrowding.

Rosen also criticizes LAAS for poor communication in recent months about the impending move.

“There was nothing on the website on the LA Animal Services website,” Rosen said. “There was no media attention. There was nothing.”

Barnette admits the department’s website is lacking. She said the department is working to improve the website, and that it uses Facebook to communicate with the public and volunteers. If there is new information about the opening date for the new facility, Barnette said she would first post it to the LAAS Facebook page.

Some have said that the new South L.A. facility will look more like a shopping mall than an animal shelter. The design, the open space and clean modern lines are supposed to lure more people in, make what’s long been called a “dog pound” feel like a comforting and caring place to choose a pet.

The theory that a more welcoming shelter design can save animals' lives can’t be tested until the new building opens.

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