| Review/Commentary: Marcia Mayeda | Leaders of the pack

One of the most important aspects of working in animal welfare is that you never know what situations might come your way, especially in a county the size of Los Angeles. These surprises and challenges must be met and resolved, while maintaining our continued operational effectiveness and planning for the future. It requires outstanding leaders who are ready to face whatever comes their way.

DACC operates seven animal care centers that operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our service area covers more than 3,200 square miles, as well as 45 incorporated cities that contract with us for service. Three million residents rely on our 390 employees and 1,500 volunteers to protect animal welfare and public safety. We serve communities as diverse as high desert, beaches, mountains, foothills, urban, suburban and rural. All this means we can expect anything!

Recent events illustrate the diverse and critical ways in which DACC’s leadership training produces flexible, proactive, and intelligent leaders to fulfill our mission. The first involved issuing a search warrant and removing 195 cats and 40 dogs from an unsanitary facility. Many animals had serious medical problems. A variety of department personnel, including officers, animal handlers, veterinary paramedics and a forensic veterinarian, were on site to rescue the animals, which were then distributed among our seven animal care centers for treatment and appropriate care.

Four days later, DACC staff at our Agoura Animal Care Center responded to a vicious wild 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 has very serious injuries. The family surrendered a total of six Cane Corsos to the department. Cases like these are devastating not only to the victim and their family, but also to DACC staff who witness the injuries caused by such attacks. Responding officers removed the animals safely and humanely, and our public safety unit leaders immediately began a proactive response to manage the case.

Nine days after the dog attack, DACC prepared to respond to mudslides and possible evacuations due to a winter storm that could devastate areas affected by wildfires. The lack of vegetation on the ground can cause floods, floods and other natural disasters. In these circumstances, DACC establishes temporary shelters where evacuated animals (including dogs, cats, livestock and other domestic animals) can be brought for care until the emergency is over. Our emergency response managers worked with the County Office of Emergency Management to identify areas of risk and flag animals that may be at risk. All animal care centers were on hand to provide assistance if needed.

Because of our investment in developing leaders in our department, DACC has been able to overcome all of these challenges. DACC’s commitment to leadership development over the past five years has greatly improved its ability to build strong teamwork, develop extreme ownership of individuals to accomplish our mission, and identify and nurture leaders for advancement within DACC. The results of this training were evident in DACC’s rapid response to the pandemic, where leaders identified opportunities for change and new processes so we could continue to serve the community.

Continuous leadership training has created a strong team that supports each other regardless of challenges. The knowledge and skills learned in this training have enabled individual leaders, regardless of their rank, to make the right decisions so that we can achieve our goal in the most effective and efficient way 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 advise our executive team to evacuate the endangered Agoura animal care center. The leadership and decision-making training he received gave him the knowledge and confidence to recommend the evacuation of animals and personnel. Everyone was evacuated safely and that’s a good thing. The fire came close enough to singe the roofs of the kennel and the smoke would be dangerous to people and animals.

Leadership development opportunities are consistently offered to employees. These include leadership programs offered through a partnership between Los Angeles County 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 taught for DACC. by nationally recognized Eagle Leadership experts. All employees, from new hires to executive management, participate in leadership development opportunities and training.

In addition, we have a structured program – the Leadership Pipeline – which provides a framework for employees to understand what is expected of them in their current role and the promotion opportunities they wish to achieve. This clear document helps employees understand the critical transitions leaders must take, provides appropriate development for navigating those transitions, and creates a framework for leadership development and succession planning.

At DACC, we understand that leadership development is critical to our operational success. Because of this commitment, we can face whatever comes our way—together, as a team, and with calm, confident, and prepared leaders.

Marcia Mayeda

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


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