Earlier this month when a photograph of a bloodied dog appeared in conjunction with a local online tabloid story about abuse at the Hesperia Animal Shelter in Hesperia, Calif., local animal advocates and activists went wild on social media, providing the angry masses with misinformation and inciting disturbing behavior by animal lovers around the world. Many sent obscenity-laced messages and threats of bodily harm to Hesperia City Council members and city employees.
The situation has been a problem for at least the last few months in reference to a series of situations involving the city of Hesperia, and especially, its animal control division. Activists, and some fringe news sources, have so little knowledge of how government works, that the misinformation has done more to discredit animal advocates and harm the animals than any good that can come of new public awareness.
Local animal advocates are looking more like the “whackjobs” portrayed in mainstream media than caring individuals trying to effect change in the shelter system. Let me explain.
The first problem with the original story, which unlike the version accurately reported by the Daily Press, is that readers were led to believe that the photo in question was recent. According to city of Hesperia officials, the photo appears to be two years old.
The age of the photo does not diminish what happened to the dog, but it does call into question the motive of the person who has had the photo in his or her possession for these two years and did nothing. It also makes one wonder the motive of the original news source in not fully vetting the witness and photographer.
I speak for many animal advocates who would have turned the photo over to law enforcement immediately and demanded a police report be taken. That’s what those who truly care about animals do, not allow who knows how much additional suffering to take place until a “gotcha” can be had. The way the situation was handled by the initial news source and witness suggests a lack of caring about the animals in question with only a desire to make headlines with little substance.
Next comes the issue of animal advocates demanding government actions in a manner that is simply illegal. For example, in order for any governing body to discuss a matter in a public meeting it must be agendized in accordance with the Brown Act. According to the California Attorney General:
“The Brown Act provides for three different types of meetings. Regular meetings occur at a time and location generally set by ordinance, resolution, or by-laws. At least 72 hours prior to a regular meeting, an agenda must be posted which contains a brief general description of each item to be transacted or discussed at the meeting.
“Special meetings may be called at any time but notice must be received at least 24 hours prior to the meeting by all members of the body and by all media outlets that have requested notice in writing. Emergency meetings, which are extraordinarily rare, may be called upon one-hour notice to media outlets that have requested notice in writing.”
Activists showing up to a meeting and demanding immediate action does not constitute an “emergency” or even the need for a “special meeting.” When activists didn’t get city council members to violate the law, they made additional threats of recall and removal.
Another common demand activists made specific to this situation was to take away the retirement benefits of former Hesperia shelter manager Cheryl Lewis. Once again, such an act cannot be undertaken by a city council. As determined by both California state law and various court decisions, any employee has the right to retirement once he or she meets the basic requirements for being granted said retirement. The city council has no legal authority whatsoever to overrule state law or a retirement board.
Activists also demanded that cameras be placed in the shelter. This idea was actually originally suggested by Councilman Paul Russ. And cameras will likely be placed in the shelter. However, it is not an act that the Hesperia City Council can do unilaterally. Again there are laws and one of those laws is the Meyer-Milias-Brown Act, which requires that those government employers covered by the act meet in good faith to endeavor to reach agreement on those matters that are covered by representation.
Cameras, especially cameras to document employee behavior, clearly come under the requirement for city representatives to meet with the employees’ union to discuss before implementation. In this instance, Hesperia City employees just affiliated with the Teamsters, an organization known for its aggressive representation. I have little doubt that if the city does not take its obligation to its employees seriously, it will find itself hit by a lawsuit or unfair labor practice, costing precious time and taxpayer money that could be used to help the animals.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this whole fiasco is the hatred expressed by animal advocates against council members and city employees. Many messages were laced with obscenities and threats, up to and including death. Such vitriol only diminishes the message. But more importantly, it can shut down progress towards needed reforms.
Rather than working towards solutions with Hesperia leaders, the most vocal of the local activists have shown themselves to be more about grandstanding than change. They are in it to get hits and make a name for themselves rather than helping the animals they profess to care so much about.