By Marcia Mayeda
One of the most defining aspects of working in animal welfare is that you never know what situations may come your way, especially in a county the size of Los Angeles. These surprises and challenges must be responded to and resolved, while also maintaining our ongoing operational effectiveness and planning for the future. This calls for superior leaders who are ready to face whatever comes their way.
DACC operates seven animal care centers that are staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our service area covers more than 3,200 square miles across vast unincorporated areas as well as 45 incorporated cities that contract with us for service. Three million residents rely on our 390 staff and 1,500 volunteers for animal welfare and public safety protections. We serve communities as diverse as high desert, beaches, mountains, foothills, urban, suburban, and rural areas. All this means we can expect anything!
Recent events illustrate the varied and critical ways where DACC’s leadership training has created flexible, proactive, and astute leaders to meet our mission. The first involved the service of a search warrant and removal of 195 cats and 40 dogs from a facility with unsanitary conditions. Many animals had serious medical problems. Various staff from throughout the department, including officers, animal handlers, veterinary medical staff, and a forensic veterinarian were on site to rescue the animals who were then distributed among our seven animal care centers for treatment and proper care.
Four days later, DACC staff from our Agoura Animal Care Center responded to a severe vicious dog attack where three Cane Corso (Italian Mastiff) dogs attacked a 16 year-old female member of the household. The victim is expected to survive but sustained extremely serious injuries. The family surrendered a total of six Cane Corsos to the department. Cases like this are traumatizing not only to the victim and their family, but also to DACC staff who witness the injuries caused by such attacks. Responding officers safely and humanely removed the animals, and our public safety division leaders immediately began a proactive response for case management.
Nine days after the dog attack, DACC prepared to respond to mudslides and possible evacuations due to a winter storm that could wreak havoc on areas that had been impacted by wildfires. The lack of ground vegetation can cause flooding, mudslides, and other natural disasters. In these circumstances DACC establishes temporary sheltering sites where evacuated animals (including dogs, cats, livestock, and other domestic animals) can be brought for care until the emergency has passed. Our emergency response leaders worked with the County’s Office of Emergency Management to identify risk areas and note the animals that could be in danger. All animal care centers were on standby to provide assistance if necessary.
DACC was able to meet all these challenges because of the investment we have made in developing leaders in our department. DACC’s commitment to leadership development over the past five years has greatly improved its ability to establish strong teamwork, develop individuals’ extreme ownership for meeting our mission, and identify and grow leaders for advancement within DACC. The results of this training were apparent in DACC’s quick response to the pandemic, where leaders identified opportunities for change and new processes so we could continue to serve the community.
Ongoing leadership training has created a strong team that supports each other no matter what challenges arise. The knowledge and skills learned in this training have enabled individual leaders to make good decisions regardless of their rank so we can most effectively and efficiently accomplish our purpose without getting bogged down in bureaucracy when we need to move quickly.
During the 2018 Woolsey Fire, which burned nearly 97,000 acres and caused at least $6 billion in property damage, one of our field officers had to make a recommendation to our executive staff regarding the evacuation of the threatened Agoura animal care center. The leadership and decision making training she received gave her the knowledge and confidence to recommend evacuation of animals and staff. Everyone was safely evacuated, and it’s a good thing we did. The fire came close enough to singe the kennel roofs, and the smoke would have been unsafe for people and animals.
Leadership development opportunities are consistently offered to staff. These include leadership programs offered through a partnership between the County of Los Angeles and the University of Southern California, a leadership program specifically for animal welfare leaders offered through a partnership between Best Friends Animal Society and Southern Utah University, and a program designed for DACC taught by experts from nationally renowned Eagle Leadership. All staff, from new hires through executive leadership, participate in leadership development opportunities and training.
Further, we have a structured program – the Leadership Pipeline – that provides a framework for employees to understand what is expected of them in their current role as well as promotional opportunities they wish to achieve. This clear document helps staff understand the critical passages leaders must navigate, provides the appropriate development for navigating those passages, and establishes a system for leadership growth and succession planning.
At DACC, we recognize that leadership development is critical in achieving our operational success. Because of this commitment we can face whatever may come our way – together, as a team, and with leaders who are calm, confident, and prepared.