| Opinion / Comment: Marcia Mayeda | Animal care, control not only for cats and dogs


Marcia Mayeda, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control.

But no unicorns!

People are often surprised when I tell them that the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control (DACC) deals with animals other than dogs and cats. We also welcome rabbits, guinea pigs, parrots and pet birds, hamsters and other small pets. The large geographic area we serve (approximately 3,800 square miles) includes rural areas inhabited by horses, cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, chickens and similar domestic poultry. They regularly come into our animal care centers. Some more unusual animals include ferrets (which are illegal in California), llamas, alpacas, emus, peacocks, and other interesting animals.

However, a case of unusual animals sent terror through my mind, body and soul as we prepared to respond to this case in 2017. This case gave me nightmares in the nights leading up to its resolution. , and in 35 years, I have never been more alarmed for public safety than I was in this situation.

DACC team members capture a white cobra.

It all started with an incident in 2014 when we received a report that a white cobra was in a resident’s yard. My immediate thought was that this was impossible, and the resident probably saw a white python (they are common in the pet trade). Then he sent us a photo and it was indeed a cobra, with his hood fully unfolded! He had hit his dog, but luckily did not release any venom and the dog was not seriously injured.

I immediately asked an animal control officer to intervene in the area and he was joined by an officer from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) as poisonous reptiles are regulated by the CDFW. They searched for the cobra all day but couldn’t find it. Later that day, the CDFW canceled their search and our animal control officer requested further instructions. I told him to keep looking and I was sending reinforcements.

Over the next four days, more than a dozen Los Angeles County animal control officers scoured the area. I was terribly afraid that a local child would run into the snake and try to capture it, or that the cobra would strike someone who was unaware of its presence. As you probably know, cobra venom is very deadly and there was no antivenom available in local hospitals; the closest dose was in San Diego. We were told that federal regulations prohibit the transport of antivenom to our location, so a victim would have to be transported by emergency helicopter to San Diego. We informed the emergency rooms of the local hospital of the possibility of receiving a victim of a cobra strike. It was a life and death situation.

I really thought we would never find the snake as the area was suburban / rural with lots of vegetation, bushes and places to hide. However, we had to make an effort to do so, and fortune favored our research. On the fourth day, the cobra was seen by a resident at the wheel of her car, as it crossed the street in front of her and returned to the yard where it was first sighted. Our officers immediately gathered on the property, where the snake was hidden in a pile of wood.

Two very courageous members of the DACC team, an animal control lieutenant and an animal control officer, captured the snake. The officer used snake tongs to control the head of the cobra while the lieutenant entered the pile of wood to unroll the body of the cobra from the logs. They secured the snake in a locking box for poisonous snakes (until then this was limited to rattlesnakes). I spoke with the lieutenant a few hours later and he told me that handling a cobra had nothing to do with a rattlesnake; it was extremely fast, and his hands were still shaking from the experience! I was so thankful that he and the animal control officer were able to capture the snake and that they and the community were safe. This cobra was placed at the Los Angeles Zoo, where a name contest was started on its new name: Adhira, which means lightning in Hindi.

We identified a house where we thought the snake originated. The resident had permits for various species of poisonous snakes, but the animals were supposed to be housed in a secure facility licensed to contain poisonous reptiles, miles away and not in a residential area. He denied having such animals in his home and would not have accepted a search of his property. That night, neighbors saw him load plastic bins from a shed in his backyard into his truck and walk away. It looked like he had removed all of the reptiles from his property, so we no longer had a probable reason to get a search warrant.

However, three years later, her neighbor ran over an unusual snake in her driveway with her car. Based on Adhira’s escape, she suspected that it could be an equally dangerous snake and contacted our service. An animal control officer intervened and transported the dead snake to our Agoura animal care center for identification. A consultation with a herpetologist confirmed that it was a Cape Cobra, another very poisonous snake. Obviously, the alleged owner had brought his reptiles back to his property.

Knowing that he would not be willing to cooperate with a voluntary inspection, we began work to secure search warrants for his home and the licensed facility where the reptiles were supposed to be kept. We worked closely with the sheriff’s department and city officials. We also got help from two herpetologists at the Los Angeles Zoo who were knowledgeable and comfortable with handling such dangerous animals. We could never have done it without them, and I will be eternally grateful for their help.

Our research discovered that the resident had permits from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to have the following dangerous reptiles: black mamba, puff viper, American alligator, dwarf caiman, Cape cobra, king cobra, monocle cobra, striped spitting cobra. western, Nile crocodile, reticulated Gila monster, red-bellied piranha, eastern diamondback rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake, alligator snapping turtle, common snapping turtle, Gabon viper, and rhino viper.

When planning the search warrant, we determined that it would be necessary to have emergency medical assistance in case someone is bitten by a snake or alligator (or sprayed in the eyes by the cobra. spitter). The Sheriff’s Department had an ambulance, paramedics and a helicopter on standby to immediately transport a victim for medical assistance.

Based on the number allowed by the wildlife permits, we expected to find around 20-25 reptiles on the property. What we found was a lot more. We seized 140 reptiles (including 119 poisonous), including monocled cobras, albino rattlesnakes, prairie rattlesnakes, spitting cobras, Cape cobras, western diamond rattlesnakes, Gila monsters, Gabon, Eastern Diamond Rattlesnakes, Mexican Pacific Rattlesnakes, Pearl Lizards, Egyptian Cobras, Asian Cobras, American Alligators, Alligator Snapping Turtle, Common Snapping Turtle, Australian Pythons, Eastern Indigo Snakes, and Leopard Geckos. We also removed seven parrots of different species and an injured red-tailed hawk requiring urgent medical attention.

We were shocked at the number of reptiles and had to go to several nearby home improvement stores to purchase additional buckets with lids so we could house and transport them safely. The herpetologists at the Los Angeles Zoo were exceptional and safely captured and contained all of the reptiles despite the extremely dangerous conditions posed by the heat and overcrowding.

We had arranged in advance the safe and humane housing of all the animals; the poisonous reptiles were sent to various zoos, sanctuaries and other approved facilities. The alligators were accepted by the Pasadena Humane Society, which had an alligator enclosure, and then sent to an out-of-state alligator sanctuary. The Red-tailed Hawk went to the California Wildlife Center for rehabilitation, and the parrots were housed in our Agoura Animal Care Center. Our team worked nearly 24 hours straight to remove and transport the animals, and luckily no one was injured.

The owner of the reptile was subsequently charged with 14 misdemeanors and 26 misdemeanors. He has indisputably pleaded eight counts of animal abuse offenses and was sentenced to one year in prison and ordered to complete a program designed to rehabilitate those who abuse animals. All surviving reptiles (some were severely emaciated or sick and did not survive) were permanently placed in zoos and sanctuaries. The parrots were placed in new homes. The Red-tailed Hawk made a full recovery and was returned to the wild by another DACC lieutenant who assisted in its rescue. You can watch the inspiring release of the hawk [here].

While this case has successfully ended with a criminal conviction, no injury, and the placement of all surviving animals, I know there may be another in our future. Due to the size and complexity of our jurisdiction, the DACC has welcomed many other wild and exotic animals. The Hollywood film industry often uses wild animals, and there are many exotic animal keepers in rural areas of our county. Sometimes people get exotic animals as pets and then have difficulty providing them with proper care and containment. We never know what kind of animal we may encounter.

In fact, we have seen many other strange or exotic animals pass through our doors. Here is a DACC trivia question for you: Apart from the species mentioned above, which of the following animal species were not entered by the DACC: African gray parrot, African lion, spiny turtle African, Bactrian camel, badger, royal python, barn owl, bearded dragon, boa constrictor, bobcat, capybara, coachwhip snake, Cooper’s falcon, desert turtle, dolphin, eagle owl, hedgehog, jaguar, king snake , Nile monitor, nutria, okapi, pushmi pullyu, red tail python, reticulated python, savanna monitor, sea lion, owl, sulfur crested cockatoo or tiger. Can you guess the two correct ones? I’ll reveal the answer in next month’s blog.

Until then, I can only say that working in animal welfare is always full of surprises. I wouldn’t have done it any other way!

Marcia Mayeda is the director of the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control.


Boyd S. Abbott

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