Animal Activists Toughen Tactics
Some have moved beyond protesting to vandalism and threats against city officials
By Andrew Blankstein and Steve Hymon, Times Staff Writers
www.StopTheKilling.net

In recent weeks, one neighborhood in the Larchmont Village section of Los Angeles has been under siege: graffiti scrawlings, stink bombs, menacing midnight phone calls and, in July, a bomb scare that forced an evacuation.

Police and political leaders say it's a part of an escalation by animal rights activists in Los Angeles, whom critics charge are turning away from legitimate protest and embracing illegal harassment tactics and vandalism.

The protesters' target is David Diliberto, a high-ranking official in the Los Angeles Animal Services Department, whom activists blame for failing to stop the city from euthanizing thousands of stray dogs it picks up each year.

The campaign against Diliberto is part of an ongoing effort by activists to stop the euthanizing of animals in city shelters by targeting department officials. Unlike most disputes over city policy, however, this one has been marked by activists' willingness to take their battle to residential streets.

No arrests have been made in the bomb threat, which took place in late July at Diliberto's home. Police have taken nine reports related to animal activists at the home since January 2004, including five in July alone.

Last month, Diliberto told police his family was awakened at 3 a.m. by two people dressed as mortuary workers who said they were trying to pick up a dead body at his home.

"Unfortunately, the only thing they are accomplishing is terrorizing my kids," Diliberto said. "I have a daughter who asked me if she should be wearing a bulletproof vest while walking to the school bus stop. As a father, that's disturbing."

A judge in June issued a temporary restraining order to stop protesters from assaulting, stalking or following Diliberto around during working hours. Activists also were ordered to stay 100 feet away from his residence and his children's schools.

The protesters have affiliations with various groups, among them the Animal Defense League, which advocates against killing or experimenting on animals. Pamelyn Ferdin, the spokeswoman for the league, argues that the group has not violated the law and has forced change by getting key officials of the city's Animal Services Department to resign.

Although her organization does not use illegal tactics, Ferdin said she supports those who do including the Animal Liberation Front, a secretive international group on the U.S. Justice Department's list of domestic terror organizations and believes their help will help win the battle.

"We support those brave warriors out there who take it to the next level," Ferdin said.

Ferdin and her husband, Jerry Vlasak, are facing a criminal trespass charge for refusing to leave Diliberto's property during a protest. Ferdin insists that she was only distributing leaflets in the neighborhood.

The number of dogs euthanized in city shelters has dropped from 39,086 in fiscal 2001-02 to 29,624 in fiscal 2003-04, according to city officials. The Animal Services Department says it has pursued an aggressive campaign to get more dogs adopted and to persuade owners to spay or neuter their pets. There are also privately run shelters in the county that have no-kill policies.

Activists, however, are not satisfied with the changes. They picketed the home of the agency's former chief, Jerry Greenwalt, until he quit, and also protested in the street in front of the home of former Mayor James K. Hahn.

Greenwalt was replaced by Guerdon Stuckey, who has also drawn the wrath of animal rights advocates. Ferdin said that the only reason activists haven't protested at Stuckey's home is because they haven't yet figured out his address.

And if Stuckey doesn't go?

The Animal Defense League will take its protest to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Ferdin said. "You need to understand our constituents are not the people. Our constituents are the animals and we believe if the animals could do what we're doing they would. We're standing up on their behalf. We need to expose these atrocities."

Police say they have tried to enforce a city law forbidding protests within 100 feet of private residences.

Otherwise, many city officials say they are powerless to stop the activists.

That may soon change.

ADL-LA Disclaimer: Nothing contained in this publication is intended to encourage or incite illegal acts. Many of the reports contained in our Action Alerts and on our web site at www.StopTheKilling.net have been received anonymously and the Campaign cannot make any guarantees for the accuracy of these reports. Any views or comments stated in reports, Action Alerts or on the web site are not necessarily the views of STK or ADL-LA. 

Posted on Friday, September 09, 2005 @ 18:30 CDT

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