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Making the Grade

L.A. County takes local animal facilities to school

L.A. County takes local animal facilities to school

When patronizing establishments that care for, groom, shelter, or breed their animals, consumers in Los Angeles County, California, no longer have to settle for C students.

Thanks to a new ordinance passed in June, L.A. County’s Department of Animal Care and Control will now be evaluating all the animal facilities in its area—including kennels, grooming parlors, hobby breeders, nonprofit humane associations, rescues, and pet shops—and giving them a grade based on the housing standards, hygiene levels, animal care methods, and other conditions observed.

Facilities will then be required to display the grade they’ve received in a place “clearly visible to the general public and to patrons entering the facility,” according to the language of the new law. Only facilities that receive a 70 percent or better on their inspections will pass; businesses that receive a lower grade can lose their licenses or face possible legal proceedings.

With the help of county supervisor Yvonne Burke, the department pushed for the new system after a particularly bad hoarding case, says Marcia Mayeda, director of animal care and control for the county. “We rescued over 300 dogs from a hoarder who was actually a rescuer, a 501(c)(3) rescue organization,” she says. “It was worse than any puppy mill I’ve ever seen—and I spent five years in Kansas. This was worse.”

Another impetus for passing the ordinance was the experience of a county employee who is also a pet owner. In seeking a place to board her cat, the employee had been horrified at the conditions she witnessed at some of the local kennels.

The county used to inspect such facilities annually using a pass-fail system. But it became clear that some of the animal facilities receiving passing grades weren’t necessarily places that committed pet guardians would want to take their animals. Thanks to the new ordinance, consumers will get a more specific picture—and even in cases where conditions are satisfactory, the businesses that pass with a C are likely to feel the financial effects of their lower standards, says Mayeda.

“Does anyone decide on purpose to eat at a restaurant with a grade C hygiene rating?” asks Mayeda. “No. Maybe you’d settle for a B if you’re eating something exotic—but most people want to eat at restaurants that have gotten an A.”

It was actually the local restaurant rating system that served as the model for the ratings of animal facilities; the restaurant scorecards are popular because they help consumers make safer and healthier decisions about where they eat, Mayeda says. And just as no one wants to eat at the restaurant where the chef doesn’t feel the need to wash his hands post-bathroom break, people will want to avoid animal facilities whose standards of care aren’t what they should be.

Facilities start at a score of 100 and lose points according to any violations inspectors observe. More serious violations—incompatible animals housed together, injured animals, absence of food or water—are weighted more heavily, so observation of any one of these conditions guarantees that the facility won’t receive an A.

The new system has been universally lauded, says Mayeda, noting that businesses have been letting the county know how much they like the idea; many business owners see that having an “A” prominently displayed is a great way to promote their work. “In fact, we normally do our renewals at the end of the year,” says Mayeda, “but we’ve been getting questions like, ‘How can we do it now so we can get that A in our window right away?’ ”

 

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