Los Angeles shelter volunteer says she was fired after speaking out
A volunteer who criticized the city of Los Angeles’ care of rabbits and other small mammals at the San Pedro Animal Shelter in a recent Times article said she was fired by the city on Friday.
Jan Bunker, 74, said she was fired by Juan Rivera, director of volunteer programs at Animal Services.
She said Rivera told her she was “insubordinate” after he refused her request to give up her phone ahead of a meeting with him at the harbor shelter on Friday.
Animal services spokeswoman Agnes Sibal said the department does not comment on staffing issues.
Bunker and other volunteers recently described seeing small mammals with no food or water and having to spend their own money on supplies for the animals.
Thousands of rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters pass through the city’s six shelters every year. At several shelters, volunteers said the city relies too much on them to care for small mammals.
Bunker, an artist and piano and vocal teacher who lives in San Pedro, said department staff asked her to come in for a meeting. Upon arrival, she said, she was told to hand over her personal phone.
Bunker said she wanted to keep the phone to record the meeting and disputed Rivera’s request to drop the device.
“I said, ‘Are you a lawyer, Juan?’ said Bunker. “’Are you sure you know my legal rights? Because my lawyer says I have the right to have a phone.
“He said, ‘You are insubordinate. This meeting is over,” Bunker said. She was then told to be escorted.
“Then he yelled, ‘You’re fired! ‘” Bunker said.
Bunker criticized Councilman Paul Koretz, who oversees animal issues in the city, for the state of animal services.
“The buck stops with him,” Bunker said. “Animal Services – they are so poorly run and there is no accountability.”
Koretz told The Times that he appreciated the city’s volunteers but didn’t know enough about Bunker’s situation to respond. “I plan to release my department report by next week with an initial set of proposals to begin addressing LA Animal Services issues, including the volunteer program and small animals,” Koretz said.
The city relies heavily on volunteers to walk dogs, do laundry, and perform an array of other tasks at its animal shelters.
Media scrutiny of shelters has heightened tensions between animal services staff and some volunteers, who can be fired if they publicly criticize the department. Another volunteer, Claudio Kusnier, was fired this summer after criticizing conditions at the West Valley shelter.
Kusnier told The Times that staff informed him that he was fired for several reasons, including not wearing a mask at the shelter.
A volunteer, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, said Bunker’s dismissal is the exact reason volunteers are reluctant to speak out for fear of losing their jobs.
The layoffs also make recruitment more difficult, the volunteer said.
“If we’re not there every day to kind of see what’s happening to the animals, they can suffer from our absence,” the volunteer said. “It’s more than just cleaning. He checks medical conditions, updates photos, broadcasts feelers, interacts with adopters. So we need all the volunteers we can get.
Harrison Wollman, spokesman for Mayor Eric Garcetti, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Wollman said last week that the city is working to add staff to shelters.
Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who represents South Los Angeles and sits on the committee that oversees animal issues, said Thursday he visited the city’s animal shelter in his district this week.
“I saw the general neglect of the entire facility,” Harris-Dawson said, adding that the small mammal room was a “mess.”
“People raised [issues] in this refuge for me, and I really saw and felt what they say,” he said.