EVEN before Brenda Barnette was confirmed this week as the newest general manager of Los Angeles Animal Services, she was the subject of heated debate.

The animal advocacy community in Los Angeles is one of the most engaged - if not the most engaged - with local government. And so when Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's pick for LAAS became known last month, the scrutiny began in earnest.

Not surprisingly, Barnette's background running the Seattle Humane Society was examined - as was her association with the American Kennel Club and her purported distaste for dogs of the pit bull variety. The discussion didn't stop there; Barnette's every utterance got picked apart and judgments were passed based on a single fact.

The militant Animal Defense League of Los Angeles, which expresses its displeasure with government actions by picketing the homes of city officials, also got involved. The group decided it supported Barnette and threatened to picket the homes of any council member who failed to confirm her as the next general manager.
Unfortunately, this is the usual circus surrounding animal issues. It makes for little wonder why Los Angeles' is unable to keep a top dogcatcher for long.

Indeed, given the city's history with animal services general managers, we're lucky Barnette didn't say "to hell with L.A." and decide to stay put in the relatively peaceful Pacific Northwest. We surely wouldn't blame her for not wanting to step into Los Angeles'animal mess.

LAAS has had a string of unsuccessful general managers. The position has been vacant for more than a year, since then-General Manager Ed Boks left under a cloud. Boks was a controversial figure from nearly his first day, creating dubious programs like the short-lived "Hooters for Neuters" fundraising scheme, and he slowly lost support from most of the animal community.

Boks replaced Guerdon Stuckey, who was fired by the mayor (and his home was smoke bombed by an animal activist group), but walked away with a $50,000 payout. Stuckey replaced Jerry Greenwalt, who had retired after ADL protests at his home.

No doubt Barnette has accepted one of the most politicized top jobs in Los Angeles, second only in public scrutiny and criticism to the head of the much larger Department of Water and Power. That's not likely to change as long as people care passionately about the life and death of cats and dogs.

But Barnette deserves some space, a honeymoon perhaps, to show what she can do before the sharp claws come out. Not only does she deserve it, so do all the thousands of abandoned, sick, injured, stray, feral and lost animals in Los Angeles.