Time for the Heavy Lifting… by Ed Boks

LA Animal Services has been striving to achieve No-Kill for several years. Over the past five years LA Animal Services has reduced dog and cat euthanasia by 50%. This reduction represents the fastest progress towards no-kill in the nation. Los Angeles joins all Southern California in the steepest decreases in shelter killing nationwide since 2001 according to Animal People magazine.

Cat euthanasia has decreased nearly 19% and dog euthanasia has decreased 68% over the past five years. There are many ways to evaluate this progress. One method is to consider the “live release rate” another is to look at the per capita rate.

Live Release Rate:
Many communities squabble over defining “adoptable” and “un-adoptable”. LA Animal Services resists that debate. The more we focus on No-Kill the more we find the line defining “un-adoptable” moves in favor of every animal. Today many animals are placed into loving homes that only a few years ago would have been euthanized. Today, LA Animal Services looks only at the total number of animals taken in compared to the total number of animals killed.

Over the past twelve months 46,531 dogs and cats were taken in and 19,263 animals were killed. That is a 59% live release rate for dogs and cats combined. The live release rate for cats is 43% and the live release rate for dogs is 71%.

Per Capita Euthanasia Rate:
Many animal welfare professionals have long considered 5 killings per 1000 residents annually to be the threshold to achieving No-Kill. The national average for euthanizing animals reached an all time low in 2005 at 14.7 per 1000 residents annually. In the City of Los Angeles the per capita kill rate is 4.8.

Both these views suggest Los Angeles has reached the most challenging leg of its race to No-Kill. Adoptions are up 6.2% over the past twelve months, at 14,733. New Hope placements are down 8.5% – suggesting LA Animal Services is efficiently adopting out the most adoptable animals and our New Hope partners are helping many of the more difficult to place animals, nearly 6,000 in the last twelve months. This leaves what many might consider the most “un-adoptable” or unwanted animals.

Hitting the Wall: The Three Biggest Challenges to Achieving No-Kill

Orphaned Neonate Kittens: Of the 19,263 dogs and cats euthanized over the past twelve months 5,624 were orphaned neonate kittens, which is nearly 30% of the total number of animals killed. If we could prevent these animals from being born or could effectively care for them once they come to our Centers we would reduce the number of animals killed to 13,639 or 3.4 per 1000 residents.

Feral Cats: Cats represent 64% of all the dogs and cats euthanized. 12,279 cats were euthanized during the past twelve months. After accounting for the neonates, a remaining 6,655 cats were killed and of this number 35% or 2,329 are conservatively considered feral or un-adoptable because they were wild. If we were able to trap/neuter/return these animals to responsible feral cat colony managers we could further reduce our kill rate to 11,310 or 2.8 per 1000 residents.

Pit bulls/mixes: The second largest number of animals dying in our Centers after cats is pit bulls and pit bull mixes. Despite a nearly 42% increase in pit bull/mix adoptions and nearly an 89% increase in New Hope pit bull/mix placements over the past five years, pit bull/mix euthanasia accounts for nearly 41% of all dogs killed. Of the 6,984 dogs killed over the past twelve months 2,838 were pit bull/mixes. If we could fix our pit bull/mix overpopulation problem we could further reduce our kill rate to 8,472 or 2.1 per 1000 residents.

Three solutions are self-evident: Adoption, Spay/Neuter, and Pet Retention Programs. It is well understood that Los Angeles is not going to adopt its way out of the problems associated with pet overpopulation. Adoption and Pet Retention Programs are tactical solutions for the animals on the ground. LA Animal Services is opening six state of the art Animal Care Centers in 2007. These facilities will increase our holding capacity over 400% allowing us to hold animals for longer periods of time while finding loving homes for them. Safety Net is a program on the drawing board that will coordinate the resources available in LA to help keep pets and people together during times when they think relinquishment is their only alternative.

Clearly spay/neuter is the most strategic solution to end the killing. LA Animals Services provided nearly 40,000 spay/neuter surgeries to the pets of needy Angelenos in 2006 and expects to provide 45,000 in 2007. We are working on both a statewide and citywide spay/neuter law. We have accelerated the opening of six high volume spay/neuter clinics throughout the city to 2007. Each clinic is capable of doing between 15,000 and 20,000 surgeries annually. We are engaged in developing a citywide feral cat TNR (Trap/Neuter/Return) program.

LA Animal Services is also working on a number of human/animal bond programs designed to encourage pet retention and adoption, not the least of which is the Humane LA program that maximizes the resources of over twenty City Departments to help promote and protect the health, safety, and welfare of pets and people in the City of Los Angeles.

LA Animal Services is doing its part. Pet overpopulation is a community problem requiring community support. Making LA Animal Services the enemy, as some armchair activists do, is like holding Doctors Without Borders responsible for third world disease. The vile discourse common among a small number of self professed animal welfare proponents in LA serves only to make the final mile of the race to No-Kill more difficult, not less. While I am loathe calling attention to this faction because it only gives them the attention they crave, it is important to understand the damage they do to the cause of animal welfare in Los Angeles.

For over one year I have asked the community to come together to help achieve No-Kill once and for all. Some have responded, and I thank you. Today I challenge everyone – from the ADL to the AKC, republicans, democrats, and independents – anyone who claims to love animals to demonstrate your love by helping to end the killing – rather than hindering the actual achievement of the No-Kill goal.

Please consider signing up for our Volunteer Program or our Foster Baby Program. Kitten season is fast upon us. Fostering a litter of baby kittens is a great project for a family, a class, or a senior center. There is so much we can accomplish together.