17 year-old Didier gazes trustingly at the L.A. Animal Services staffer taking his picture. Eighty-six minutes later he was dead at the hands of LAAS vet staff
Accountability -- even answers -- prove elusive in the wake of the L.A. Animal Services killing of pet cat Didier
On June 15, 2009 Melissa Kenady's lost senior cat Didier was put to death by L.A. Animal Services just eighty-six minutes after being brought to a shelter by a neighbor concerned for his safety. Kenady's search for answers from officials charged with saving and caring for lost pets brought threats, accusation and evasions, but no answers and no accountability.
Out of town on a business trip, Kenady canceled her appointments and flew home the day after she learned that her senior cat Didier had been killed by staff at the West L.A. City Shelter on Pico Blvd.
[Author’s note: Though it is common practice to refer to government-sanctioned killings of animals as “euthanasia,” the Merriam-Webster definition of euthanasia is “the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals (as persons or domestic animals) in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy,” hence the term cannot truthfully be used to describe the killing of animals who have treatable, age-typical symptoms that are not life-threatening, nor causing acute suffering.]
Kenady says, "On the morning of June 18th, I went to the West L.A. shelter and asked to speak with vet in charge, Dr. Stephen Feldman. They told me he wasn't in. I asked for any paperwork on Didier, which they couldn't or wouldn't give me. I left my card with a message asking Dr. Feldman to call me.
"Since I didn't receive a call back, on Friday, June 19, I returned to the shelter and again asked for Dr. Feldman. They told me he wasn't in, so once again I left my card and asked for him to call me." Kenady, a sales representative and longtime member of her local neighborhood council, says she was quiet and professional on both occasions.
So it came as a surprise to Kenady, when she finally was able to meet with L.A. Animal Services veterinarian Dr. Steven Feldman, to find herself on the defensive, the target of official threats and accusations.
"Dr. Feldman said he was surprised that I hadn't brought copies of my vet records with me. He also said I could be charged with animal neglect and cruelty."
Feldman's notes, entered into the LAAS record-keeping system, bear out the combative tone he brought to the meeting with Kenady. He writes, "[Kenady] acknowledged the pet was running at large," implying an admission of wrongdoing on Kenady's part. But the L.A. Municipal Code only restricts unsterilized cats from roaming freely; there is no law in Los Angeles that requires owners to
keep neutered and spayed cats indoors. As LAAS records correctly note, Didier was neutered.
Feldman also records that "I explained that [Didier] may have ben (sic) neglected," although he provides no information to substantiate this accusation.
Kenady says, "Dr. Feldman said Didier was emaciated, had fleas, although I had given him flea control medication the previous week, had a sub-normal temperature, was dehydrated and had poor muscle tone." She says Feldman insisted "the department was totally within their legal rights and obligations to euthanize this animal."
However, LAAS records indicate that Didier's temperature at the time of intake was 99.6 degrees, which is within normal range for a senior cat. Los Angeles vet Dr. Annie Hernandez says, "In my opinion, a reasonable temperature range for a cat Didier's age would be between 99.5 to 102.5 degrees." When asked if she felt a reading of 99.6 required treatment or was a cause for alarm, she says, "A temperature of 99.6 is not an issue in my opinion. For an older, thin cat it's not unusual. Also, if taken rectally, at times the thermometer may rest within fecal matter and give a falsely lower reading."
When asked if Didier's symptoms, taken together, present a picture of a cat who was suffering or acutely ill, Hernandez is unequivocal, "Didier's presentation to the shelter of being thin, dehydrated and with poor muscle tone are NOT uncommon for many senior cats." Since LAAS records show staff estimated his age to be fifteen (he was in fact seventeen) it's clear shelter staff knew they were dealing with a geriatric cat. Yet they used symptoms typical of seniors as an excuse to kill a senior cat.
Most troubling was Dr. Feldman's failure, in his meeting with Kenady, to answer one simple question. Says Kenady, "I asked Dr. Feldman if shelter or vet staff had fed Didier."
Kenady says Feldman turned to the Animal Control Officer he'd brought to the meeting and asked "Do I have to answer that?" The officer said he didn't. He then refused to answer.
I contacted Dr. Feldman with several questions regarding this case, including whether or not Didier was given food, as required by law. He asked me to email him my questions, then subsequently informed me that he had passed the questions on to his supervisor, whom the L.A. Animal Services General Manager's office identified as Dr. Jeremy Prupas. Dr. Prupas did not respond, so I then sent the questions to Animal Services department head, General Manager Kathy Davis.
Since these questions have so far not been answered by any official at L.A. Animal Services I am publishing them here, as they raise vital issues regarding LAAS handling of lost pets, as well as their treatment of L.A residents.
Below are the questions I sent to Dr. Feldman at his request:
1. Your notes say Ms. Kenady "acknowledged that pet was running at large." To your knowledge is there any legal requirement that cats in Los Angeles be confined? [Ed.: As previously noted, the L.A. Municipal Code specifically restricts only unsterilized cats from public spaces.]
2. Your notes also say you asked Ms. Kenady for her vet records and she had none with her. Why would you have needed to see her vet records?
3. You told Ms. Kenady on 6/19 that the cat was emaciated, had fleas, poor muscle tone, and a sub-normal temperature (recorded as 99.6 degrees). Since the Hayden Act requires that animals not be euthanized prior to the mandated holding period except in cases of irremediable suffering, which of these conditions constituted irremediable suffering in Didier?
4. LAAS records indicate that intake was done on Didier at 14:59, or 2:59 p.m., and that he was euthanized at 16:25, or 4:25 p.m. -- eighty-six minutes later. Is it customary for irremediable suffering-based euthanasias to be carried out so quickly, and what measures were taken to care for the cat, e.g. food or fluids given, etc.?
5. Ms. Kenady says you told her at the 6/19 meeting she could be charged with animal neglect and cruelty. On what facts were you basing that statement?
6. Ms. Kenady says she asked you if Didier had been given any food while he was in LAAS custody and that you refused to answer. She also says you refused to give her any details of the intake or euthanasia process, and told her she would have to request the paperwork from [L.A. Animal Services]. What was the reason for refusing to answer these questions?
7. Was Didier fed during the time he was at the shelter?
8. Your case notes also state that you told Ms. Kenady you "did not appreciate her harassing our medical team about this cat..." What had she done that constituted harassment?
In addition, the following question was sent to General Manager Kathy Davis:
1. Regarding the conduct of a West L.A. staffer on the day after the cat was euthanized; the cat's pet sitter was given paperwork by WLA desk staff and, according to her statement, when she went out to the parking lot to call the cat's owner "a young Hispanic woman came out and snatched the paper out of my hand. 'You’re not supposed to have that,' she said." Is it LAAS policy to allow staffers to physically take items out of the hands of members of the public?
Although Kathy Davis did not specifically answer the questions asked, she did email me this statement:
"With regard to the euthanasia of the cat you reference, medical staff was presented with a stray cat in terrible shape. According to the medical notes, the cat was, among other things, very emaciated and severely dehydrated. "Irremediable suffering" does not necessitate a defined condition. In this matter, when evaluating the case as a whole, our medical staff was presented with a cat that was in very bad shape. Consequently, our medical staff made the decision to humanely euthanize the cat.
She did not respond to a follow-up email asking her again if Didier had been fed.
Although Davis contends that irremediable suffering "does not necessitate a defined condition" in fact, in the 2009 case of A Dog's Life Rescue v. County of Los Angeles (and the L.A. County Department of Animal Care and Control), the Superior Court set forth a clear and specific definition of irremediable suffering: "An animal with a medical condition who has a poor or grave prognosis for being able to live without severe, unremitting pain despite necessary veterinary care." The Court's ruling goes on to clarify:
"'Irremediable suffering' may include: End Stage Renal Failure, Panleukopenia (Feline Distemper) in kittens, Canine Parvovirus in puppies, severe blood loss, unconsciousness, severe head trauma and unmanageable pain."
Didier's condition, according to LAAS' own records, consisted of being thin, dehydrated, and having a temperature that was within normal range for a senior cat. Did he get even basic care, including food and fluids, before the decision was made to kill him, just eighty-six minutes after he was brought into the shelter? Were staffers more influenced by their own opinions as to whether Didier was adoptable than by the law requiring them to provide him with food, water and medical care, as well the chance to be reunited with his owner?
And why, when Kenady met with him, was Dr. Feldman, a city official, so quick to accuse her of neglect and cruelty with no evidence? Why did he imply in City records that she was guilty of wrongdoing in allowing Didier to roam perfectly legally?
And why, when the evidence clearly suggests that Didier was not given the care and even sustenance that the law requires, have city officials refused to answer even the most basic questions about the case?
As Kenady friend and pet sitter Vanda Krefft put it, Didier didn't get what he deserved. He didn't get what the law says he was entitled to. He was robbed of what time he had left. The only thing left is to get the answers, so this doesn't happen ever again to any lost pet. The law only matters if the people we pay to enforce it are accountable if they break it.