ADL Report on Brenda Barnette's Meet and Greet

The evening started off with about 200 people filling the community room in West Hollywood. The creator of the “Mutts” comic strip had his “Shelter Stories” comic strips showing in the background in celebration of Los Angeles’ selection of a progressive and proven shelter leader dedicated to saving more animals’ lives.  The talented, funny and delightful celebrity voice over actor Michael Bell was the "Master of Ceremonies."   

Christi MetropoleFounder and President of Stray Cat Alliance – a wonderful local group that helps stray cats -- introduced Council Member Paul Koretz, who was already known by most in the room as being light years ahead of other council members in his understanding of the need to treat our city's homeless animals (as well as ALL animals) with respect, justice and compassion.  Christi began by telling everyone that Paul Koretz has been a leader on animal welfare issues for over 20 years, from when he was a West Hollywood Council Member, to when he was a State Assemblyman, to his present position as a Los Angeles City Council Member.  Among his many victories for the animals, Koretz is credited as having led West Hollywood to becoming one of the most progressive cities for animals in the country with his ban on declawing, and his law that makes it illegal to evict senior citizens or the disabled for having small pets in their apartments.  As State Assemblyman, Koretz authored more animal-friendly legislation than any other member, including bills banning ear/tail docking, aerial gunning of wolves, hunting bears with dogs, disposing of “surplus” live chickens in wood chipping machines, among many other hideous practices.  In his role as one of the Los Angeles City Council Members, he authored LA’s ban on declawing cats and created “Feline Friday” cat adoptions at Friday Council meetings.  Most recently, Koretz stalled off the closure of one of the LA animal shelters convincing his fellow Council Members to wait until the new GM is appointed to see if she can save it instead of shutting it down now. 

Next it was Paul Koretz’s turn to introduce Brenda Barnette.  Paul Koretz told everyone that he asked the Mayor, and the Mayor agreed, that Koretz could take an active role in the selection of the GM given his record on issues involving animals.  Koretz explained and assured everyone that it was a very thorough and exhaustive search with no stone left unturned as to Brenda Barnette as well as the other applicants and that Mayor Villaraigosa made the absolute correct choice for the new General Manager of LAAS.  Paul Koretz talked a little about Brenda Barnette’s background, experience and prior successes in turning around shelters so that under her leadership the shelter she headed was saving more animals’ lives.  Paul Koretz concluded by saying that he was confident that Brenda Barnette was the best choice to help Los Angeles save more animals’ lives, and he urged everyone to support his candidate for GM, Brenda Barnette.  (ADL-LA applauds Koretz for being a true leader and for stepping up to the plate on this critical issue for the animals!)
When Brenda Barnette got up to speak, she made a joke about all the false accusations flying around saying "If half the things I have heard about myself in the last two weeks were true, I wouldn’t want me heading the shelter either!" The audience laughed and it showed Barnette as someone that not only can deal with controversy, but deal with it without being punitive or negative.  Everyone we heard from said that they found Barnette to be delightful, down-to-earth, honest and not afraid to say that she did not know an answer.  This is a summary of some of the key points we were told she said in her presentation and in the Question and Answer session that followed.  [ADL-LA was told that many of the questions were along the lines of when-did-you-stop-beating-your-wife but that Brenda nonetheless answered them with grace and class and, when appropriate, humor and by the end of the evening the overwhelming majority of those in attendance realized that they had been given mis-information about who she is and what she is all about.]

Brenda Barnette opened by saying that she has a collaborative management style but that there is one goal that to her is non-negotiable –saving more animals’ lives!  [ADL-LA notes – this is the first GM who has made saving animals’ lives a priority!]  She made it clear that providing more low cost and free spay/neuter in LA is critical and that her personal view is that there should be a zero tolerance of any type of animal cruelty in Los Angeles. 

Barnette talked about her background, including that she was part of the team led by Richard Avanzino that helped San Francisco to become the very first No Kill city in the Nation.  [ADL-LA notes that No Kill Leader Richard Avanzino endorsed Barnette’s candidacy for the GM of LAAS!] When Barnette became the CEO of Seattle Humane Society four years ago, it had a 77% Live Save Rate, meaning that for every 100 animals entering the shelter, 77 left alive.  She described some of the life-saving programs she implemented to dramatically improve the Live Save Rate, such as expanding the foster and volunteer programs, increasing grants/fundraising so as to have special funds for extraordinary medical needs of animals, and creative and innovative “marketing” [our word] of shelter animals so as to find them great homes.  Retention of animals in their homes is something she focused on with programs such as providing two weeks of free dog training to all people who adopted dogs from her shelter.  She also launched programs to make people think twice before abandoning their best friend – such as speaking with a trained counselor before turning in an animal.  By doing this, many times the counselor and guardian could work together so that the animal remained with his family. (She gave as an example, if the animal was being turned in because she always had accidents in the house, suggesting a dog walker during the day frequently solved that problem.)  We were told that Brenda spent a lot of time describing various life-saving programs that work in Seattle but that she said that every community is different, meaning that just because a program is successful there does not mean that it is the right program for Los Angeles.

Brenda Barnette went on to talk about her advocacy of pit bulls while a few communities in Seattle are trying to ban "bully breeds."  Brenda Barnette has been an outspoken advocate for Pit Bulls.  Seattle Humane has ongoing promotions for Pit Bulls and Barnette has published numerous articles in the local print media opposing breed bans and defending Pit Bulls.
Barnette dispelled all of the false and mean-spirited statements being circulated about her (and about the people rejoicing because LA appointed her).  She stated clearly and unequivocally that she is not a breeder, explaining that although her past is different than many of ours in that she arrived by a love of certain breeds, the fact that she bred a few litters is definitively in her past.  She poignantly said, “I also used to eat meat.”  She showed photos of many of the puppies she fostered over the years, and told a touching story about why she has dedicated her life to saving animals based on observing one of her little foster puppy’s strong desire to live (which he did). 

She also corrected the false rumors that Seattle Humane is not really an Open Door Shelter, another misguided effort circulated by a few to try to minimize her tremendous accomplishment in Seattle.  Seattle Humane is an Open Door Shelter!  It takes in all animals, not only the “cute” and “adoptable” ones.  It does not single out any breeds for better or worse treatment than the others.  It even takes in all of Renton Animal Control’s stray animals, meaning that the Renton Animal Control officers drop off their city strays and (after the three-day hold) those animals are spayed or neutered and treated like every other Seattle Humane animal.  Contrary to rumors that there are two sets of books, the Renton City animals are included in and comprise part of Seattle Humane’s Live Save Rate which tracks the total number of animals that enter the Seattle Humane as compared to the total number that leave there alive.  When asked about the statement on the website that an appointment is needed for guardian-turn-ins, she noted that if you keep reading you will see that the website also says that if the guardian has an emergency then they can come right in. She also explained that the guardian is the one who gets to decide if it is an emergency.  When asked about the rumors that animals will be turned away if the guardian does not pay a $ 200 turn in fee, she explained that the shelter requests a donation when someone abandons their best friend but it is not required.  Many people do not make any donations and the average donation last year was $23 per animal.  Each year there is an Annual Convention for shelter leaders across the country which is also open to the public.  As the CEO of one of the few Open Door Shelters in the Country that have achieved a 90% or better Live Save Rate, Brenda Barnette was invited to speak at the upcoming No Kill Annual Convention’s elite “90 Percent Club,” an invitation she had to decline because she will be packing in order to move to L.A.!

1 comment: said...

It was a great evening where rumors were silenced and progress could begin to save lives. Everyone was allowed ample face to face time with Ms. Barnette which was also extremely helpful. We can't get her here too soon. It will be a collaborative effort on behalf of the LAAS employees, the community and rescuers to solve this monumental problem.