Brenda Barnette's Animal Services Mishaps | News | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

Brenda Barnette's Animal Services Mishaps 

Do unproven groups and extremist Pamelyn Ferdin have City Hall's ear?

Thursday, Sep 22 2011

This is an expanded version of the original online article.

Local animal-care organizations want to help the city's troubled Animal Services department. But in a series of unsettling incidents, respected nonprofits were edged out when a locally unproven group nabbed a contract to run a city shelter — without competitive bidding — and a major donor claimed that animal-rights extremist Pamelyn Ferdin was involved behind the scenes in dreaming up the city's new pet-adoption banners.

On Aug. 12, the Los Angeles City Council preliminarily agreed to give Best Friends Animal Society the contract to manage the vacant Northeast Valley shelter in Mission Hills.

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Madeline Bernstein, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Los Angeles, only found out about the opening a few days before the City Council met, yet her respected group has been in L.A. for more than 130 years.

Only Best Friends knew about the opportunity from city officials — and, not surprisingly, it was the only group to apply.

At a follow-up meeting on Aug. 16, the City Council finally had a quorum to finalize its selection of Best Friends Animal Society — a decision supported by city Animal Services general manager Brenda Barnette and opposed only by City Councilman Richard Alarcon.

Teri Austin, president of longtime animal-rescue agency Amanda Foundation, pleaded: "There is no harm in seeing another deal. We are just asking you to look at something else." The Amanda Foundation was established 35 years ago in L.A.

"Where did the deal come from? No legitimate local organizations were informed about it," says SPCA's Bernstein.

In fact, well-known animal organizations never heard about the chance to run the shuttered Mission Hills shelter that was granted to Best Friends until it was too late to apply.

Then, just days later, City Hall was beset with another troubling controversy spawned by yet another nonprofit group embraced by Barnette — the newly founded Bernheim Foundation, underwritten by wealthy Beverly Hills lawyer Steven Bernheim.

Bernheim's neophyte foundation made headlines on Aug. 28 for its badly bungled plan to erect huge, 70-foot-long banners on a second city animal shelter, the East Valley Shelter in Van Nuys.

With Animal Services chief Barnette's blessing, Bernheim hired tree cutters to pare trees at the animal shelter so Angelenos could see the new banners, which exhort people to adopt pets.

The hired crew got out chainsaws and, ignoring the protests of shocked city shelter employees who heard the racket outside, illegally cut down the entire grove of 14 costly, mature, environmentally certified pepper trees that had been painstakingly placed around the Van Nuys shelter for optimum shade.

But at least passers-by could better see the Bernheim Foundation's new banners.

In a front-page Daily News article decrying the trees' destruction, the rich donor, Bernheim, let it slip that radical activist Pamelyn Ferdin had quietly gained a toehold in the city's Animal Services Department, as the person who had hatched the idea of hanging the banners.

Former child actress Ferdin has made news in recent years for trespassing, screaming at a high-ranking Animal Services employee on his front porch — and working with a violent group that, among other things, planted a car bomb and fire-bombed a home to terrorize UCLA research scientists. Five of her extremist friends, although not Ferdin, were banned by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge from coming within 150 feet of UCLA researchers' homes at night. Ferdin then ignored a court injunction and passed out fliers showing the UCLA researchers' faces, home addresses and phone numbers.

Ferdin is married to animal-rights extremist Jerry Vlasak, a doctor who for years duped the media into believing he was a surgeon at Loma Linda University Medical Center, and who once told a Utah reporter who asked him if murder was justifiable: "Whatever it takes to stop someone from abusing animals is certainly morally acceptable."

By phone, Ferdin, who was out of town, denied to L.A. Weekly that the pet-adoption banner plan was hers.

But when lawyer Bernheim, who paid for the banners and tree cutting, was asked a day later whether he worked with Ferdin, Bernheim gave the nod to both Ferdin's radical activities and his own ties to her, replying: "I don't wish to comment on that because of her affiliation — I am pretty sure she is not in the state, anyway."

The pepper trees have been replaced. City taxpayers and private donors — not Steven Bernheim — footed the bill. And Brenda Barnette has denied that Pamelyn Ferdin has any kind of pull at the city Animal Services Department.

Meanwhile, seasoned animal-care groups are still deeply puzzled by what is unfolding several miles from the Van Nuys shelter, where the City Council handed the other nonprofit group, Best Friends, the contract to reopen the Northeast Valley shelter in Mission Hills.

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