New Hope comes to Los Angeles by Ed Boks

LAAS is preparing to ask our Commission for permission to implement an exciting and innovative life saving program called “New Hope”.

In every community there are dozens, if not hundreds, of wonderful rescue organizations willing to rescue animals at risk of euthanasia. These organizations often rely on donations and grants to continue their great work and they are often staffed by the most dedicated and committed volunteers.

Because there are so many wanting to do so much with so little it is imperative that we all do all we can to maximize our limited resources. New Hope will help us do that!

A New Hope Committee was established by the LAAS Commission. The Committee is representative of the rescue community. Together the committee is developing a draft of its proposal to the Commission for the implementation of the New Hope Program. The LAAS New Hope progam is modeled after the successful New Hope Programs in Arizona and New York City. In those communities this program was, and continues to be, responsible for helping increase live releases dramatically. With the input of the local community, we are hopeful of similar, if not superior, results in LA!

Some of the features of the New Hope Program includes 24/7 accessto all New Hope partners to all LAAS shelters.

Each shelter has a designated New Hope Coordinator trained to provide the very best customer service to our New Hope partners.

Each New Hope partner will receive, upon request, a daily New Hope Alert by e-mail providing the pictures, descriptions, and other details and location of every animal in need of their help.

New Hope partners will be able to contact LAAS by special “hot lines”in each shelter to let the respective New Hope Coordinator know if they can help an animal. The New Hope Cooridator will immediately remove the animal(s) from the New Hope Alert and then work with the partner to place the animal as quickly as possible.

When necessary, and as resourses are available, LAAS may even transport the animal for the New Hope partner having difficulty making these arrangements for themselves. LAAS will take the lead in developing a grant proposal with our New Hope Partners for designated New Hope Vans to faciliate quick and humane transfer of animals.

As the New Hope Partnership comes together it is our hope we will be able to collaborate on many life saving grant proposals.

Every New Hope partner, upon request, will recieve a sophisticated, yet simple to use software package to help them manage the animals in their care. This software was developed by HLP Chameleon and is being generously donated to our New Hope partners. This software will provide the smallest to the largest rescue groups with the same level of animal management functionality used by over 350 of the largest shelters in the United States! I am deeply grateful for HLP’s continued and generous commitment to help shelters achieve no-kill.

Many more benefits are being discussed by the Committee in the hope that the LA New Hope Program will be as functional and as supportive as possible to our partners helping save lives. A fee schedule has not been determined, but New Hope Partners are not expected to pay any more than they currently do.

The purpose of the New Hope program is to eliminate all obstacles that prevent the rapid evacuation of the animals most at risk of euthanasia.

Of course, New Hope partners are not restricted to saving animals only from the New Hope Alert, but it is our hope they will focus at least some of their attention and resources to these animals first. These will be real rescues in the truest sense of the word!

Please stay tuned as this program is being developed. All our current partners will be notified when the program has been approved and these New Hope life saving tools are made available.

In closing I want to comment on a recent change in LAAS’ organizational structure. The most basic premise of management theory is to break large jobs down into managable junks. To help expedite the implementation of programs like New Hope, not to mention several other programs we are very excited about, I have created a new department called Shelter Operations. I have selected Nancy Moriarty to serve as our new Director of Shelter Operations. Please help me in thanking Nancy for taking on this responsibility by supporting her efforts to improve and enhance our shelter processes and protocols.

Nancy is now in charge of all LAAS shelters. David Dilberto will continue to manage Field Opeations, and Dr. Rainey is overseeing the Medical Program. This division of labor will help enhance LAAS’ ability to better respond to the concerns, suggestions, and offers to help from our community.

No Kill by the numbers by Ed Boks

Well, if nothing else, perhaps my opening remarks to the LA animal welfare community will serve as a catalyst to bring to light some of the festering issues that may be preventing us from working together. One such issue it seems is the numbers reported by LAAS.

I was forwarded an e-mail from a person offended by my February 9th speech who also took issue with LAAS’ numbers. Here is what this person had to say, (in italics), and my response will follow:

“Those of you who’ve taken a few moments away from being dysfunctional (I’m being sarcastic for you sensitive types) in saving the lives ofanimals and been able to review Mr. Boks’ blog may have run across this crushing example from the speech he made…

‘Right here in Los Angeles we live with a Katrina like disaster everyday. But because our disaster has so blended into the backdrop of most people’s everyday lives no one outside of this room seems to notice. And we’re so busy fighting among ourselves that no one is likely to notice any time soon. Let me give you just one example of how our collective dysfunction is affecting the animals in LA. The number of animals rescued from LAAS by our rescue partners in January 06 compared to January 05 is down 24%.’

http://www.lacity.org/ANI/Statistics.htm

Now I have to admit, there’s little credibility to the statistics published on the LAAS website but it’s interesting to see the difference in what Mr. Boks is saying and what is being reported. (The following statistics are from the LAAS website.) 

New Hope Adoption Totals (rescue partners)
Jan 05 = 517 Jan 06 = 749
Up by 44.9%

Adoptions (other rescues? and shelter adoptions)
Jan 05 = 1085 Jan 06 = 1243
Up by 14.6%

Euthanasia 
Jan 05 = 1092 Jan 06 = 981
Down by 10.2%” End Quote

First, let me apologize to anyone offended by any of my comments on February 9th. But I do hope we are all agreed that the number of animals dying in LA is a local disaster. My only point is, and has been, that it is a disaster we can better address by working together.

I can understand the confusion of the author of the e-mail above. LAAS recently implemented a new program called Plus One/Minus One. This program compares the adoptions, New Hopes and euthanasia rates of dogs and cats only on a day to day basis to last year. This means the reporting period for January 05 is actually 1.2.2005 through 2.1.2005 to accomodate the shift in days between the two years.

Plus One/Minus One is an internal program designed to encourage staff, volunteers, and partners to place more animals and kill fewer animals every day compared to the same day (not date) as last year. These statistics more accurately compare apples to apples, whereas the monthly stats refered to above compare calendar months, but not in any direct analytical way. In addition, the stats referred to above include rabbits, and all wild and exotic animals and pocket pets. The Plus One/Minus One numbers I quoted in my speech refer only to dogs and cats.

LAAS is in the process of improving the ways we compile and report our statistics to make them more useful and meaningful for both staff and the public. Since we just started this process in January we will be refining our processes over the next few months.

The numbers for dogs and cats I referred to in my speech came from the following report:

New Hope Adoptions
Jan 05 = 396 Jan 06 = 301
Down 23.99%

Adoptions
Jan 05 = 1064 Jan 06 = 1101
Up 3.48%

Euthanasia
Jan 05 = 997 Jan 06 = 744
Down 25.38%

A more thorough breakdown comparing dogs and cats separately can be found on our website.

However, the New Hope number I referred to in my speech is not accurate. Because our query asked for all the New Hope Adoptions it only pulled up those placements resulting in an adoption transaction. LAAS often waives fees to partners in the interest of getting animals at risk into a safe haven as quickly as possible. This means that sometimes there is no transaction fee. New Hope placements without a transaction fee were not reflected in the original query. So we changed the query to include all New Hope Placements with adoptions fees and otherwise. When we re-ran the report to include all New Hope Placements the results are as follows:

New Hope Placements
Jan 05 = 431 Jan 06 = 380
Down 11.8%

Certainly not as bad as I reported in my speech, and I apologize for this mistake, but regardless of which report you refer to, my only point was, imagine what we could do to improve these numbers if we were only working more closely together.

Nobody at LAAS claims to be perfect. We are doing the best we can. Do we need help? Yes, of course we do. I trust the numbers we are reporting. However, I would like to invite the author of the e-mail above, along with anyone else interested in finding out more about how we collect and report our data, to schedule an appointment to visit with me and our IT team to talk about your concerns. Just contact my office and ask that your name be added to the list and we will schedule you for a visit with us.

I know we all agree that having numbers we can all trust is an essential step to achieving no-kill and we will do our best to restore that trust. All we ask is that the community work with us.
Thanks!

A Time For Gathering Stones Together by Ed Boks

The following speech was given to over 300 animal welfare advocates in the LA area on Thursday, February 9th, 2006. The speech was well received by many and a source of upset to others. A mixed reaction to such a frank discussion concerning the rescue and humane community by an “outsider” was anticipated. The important point of this talk was, and is, that I embrace the local community, I recognize everyone’s importance and value to the effort, and I want to work closely with everyone wanting to help. In order for us to accomplish our shared No-Kill vision we all have to get past our differences and focus on how we can help each other. 

Hello, my name is Ed Boks. I’ve had the good fortune to meet many of you already, and I look forward to meeting the rest of you this evening and in the days and weeks to come.

During my few weeks in Los Angeles I have been exposed to a lot and I think I have learned a lot. I’d like to share tonight a little bit about what I’ve learned. How many agree that sometimes it takes an “outsider” to see what is really happening in a community? Isn’t it true that sometimes you can be so involved in a situation and circumstance that you can’t see the forest through the trees? That’s why so many in business rely on consultants to tell them what is happening in their organizations.

I don’t consider myself a consultant. I’m what you might call a troubleshooter. Where a consultant may be adept at analyzing a problem, making recommendations, and then getting out of Dodge, a troubleshooter, like myself, has to work the problem until he can find and implement workable solutions. He’s accountable until the job is done. He has to produce.

I have some experience in this respect. I have actually worked a couple of problematic animal control programs. I understand there are a couple of you here this evening who have some questions about those situations, and I welcome your questions. There is nothing about my experiences in Maricopa County or NYC that I am afraid to talk about. I will tell you up front that in the final analysis, significantly fewer animals were dying in those communities when I left than then I arrived, and programs and people were put in place to continue those trends.

Unlike a lot of consultants I’ve worked with, I don’t have the luxury to take credit for my successes. I am all too aware that I can’t do anything without the help of others. Now, like it or not, I’m here, in LA. Some of you are pleased that I am here, some are concerned, and some are withholding judgment. Whatever your opinion, I can tell you tonight that I will not be successful without your help. And LA Animal Services will not be successful without your help. And you will never realize your vision for LA’s animals unless you are willing to help in a constructive way.

We are dealing with a huge societal problem; a problem we all feel passionately about. There are just too many animals dying needlessly in our City. This is a problem that will take all of us working together as a community to solve.

But before we can solve that problem, I think we have a little bigger problem we’re going to have to tackle first. I’ve been in LA a little over a month now. Everywhere I go folks I meet for the first time ask me what I think of LA. How many would really like to hear my assessment of the LA animal welfare community? Keep in mind, my perspective will only be good for a short period of time because the longer I’m part of this landscape the more I become just another one of the trees in the forest. So before I am fully assimilated, let me tell you what I see.

I see a condition that I have seen in many other communities. I refer to this condition as the Oscar Wilde Syndrome. This is not a condition unique to LA. In fact, I think it is endemic to the entire animal welfare industry. I call this condition the Oscar Wilde Syndrome because it is best described by something Oscar Wilde once said about himself. He said, “It is not enough that I succeed, my friends must also fail.”

How many would agree with that diagnosis?

As human beings, we tend to be “meaning making machines”. We abhor situations that provide no meaning and situations we don’t understand. That’s why a lack of communication is so dangerous, and I admit LAAS has to do a better job at communicating with the public, because when you aren’t transparent, then people tend to make up their own meanings. And when we find ourselves in situations we don’t understand or don’t have enough information, we begin to assign our own meaning. And it is just human nature, that when we have an opportunity to assign our own meaning, we tend to make ourselves “right” and everyone else “wrong”. Which makes sense, right? After all, we get to assign our own meaning and we’re not likely to make ourselves wrong, are we?

Think about the word “meaning” next time you’re around someone who is just plain mean. What makes people so mean? I’ll tell you what I think makes some people so mean is the meaning they assign to those around them. What makes people mean is the little universe of “meaning” they lock themselves into over time. What is tragic is to watch that universe shrink around them and get smaller and smaller because most of us just don’t want to be around that kind of meaning.

This Syndrome is pernicious. When one is in its clutches it is not enough to dispute ideas, we have to also find fault with the person who holds any idea we don’t agree with, then we have to ridicule and slander. This is how battles of ego develop. How many have been involved in animal welfare for ten years or more? Have you ever noticed during all that time that there are some real colossal egos at work in our field? Mine included.

How many in this room would admit that you have an ego? Thank you for your honesty! Can I share a rather radical thought with you? Did you know that 150 years ago, the ego didn’t even exist? The ego is a meaning that a fellow by the name of Sigmund Freud developed and we all bought into. Why? Because we have to have meaning. We are like Adam and Eve when God told them to name all the animals. We have all been assigning names and meanings to everything that moves in our lives ever since.

Ever since Freud named the beast within us “ego” it has been preying mercilessly on all it disagrees with. Not that people weren’t cruel to one another before the creation of the ego, but with a handy ego, at least now we feel we can understand our aberrant behavior. The more we can understand it, the more we tend to justify it. Its amazing the behavior our ego lets us justify. We feel so righteous. And we are, we’re self-righteous…

There once lived an itinerant preacher about 2000 years ago, and he warned that a time would come when men would kill one another and think they were doing God a favor. That’s pretty extreme justification, no? Do we see that happening anywhere in the world today? We in this room couldn’t get to that point, could we? After all, we’re all “no-kill”, right? It’s interesting; this preacher went on to say that if you hate your fellow man, you are a murderer.

Can I be candid with you all? I’ve been in this community for six weeks. I have spent a lot of time with a lot of folks, and not enough time with a lot more, but I have to tell you, I have not met anyone that I didn’t fall in love with. You are all amazing.

Do we have any original StarTrek fans here? Remember the episode when Kirk encountered these two guys from another dimension that are exact opposites, but they look so much alike that no one can tell them apart? They were mirror images of each other. One was black on the right side and white on the left and the other was white on the right side and black on the left. And these two guys hated each other, beyond all reason. They were so repulsed by each other that at the very sight of their mirror image they were provoked to wanting to kill each other. The crew of the Enterprise couldn’t find any remedy except to lock the two of them into a parallel universe where they were destined to fight and claw at each other for eternity. Anybody here want to be trapped fighting with each other for eternity?

I have some good news for you. There is a cure for the Oscar Wilde Syndrome. The Oscar Wilde Syndrome is a lot like alcoholism. Once you can admit to your self that you have the disease, you are on the road to recovery. But also like alcoholism, when you can’t admit you are in its clutches you remain trapped in it.

I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of the rescuers that went down to New Orleans to save the lost and abandoned animal victims of Katrina. I’ve heard one common concern from all of them, and that was: how much more they could have done if egos had not gotten in the way. Personal and organizational egos, fighting for funding, the spotlight, and recognition. And many of the animals ended up suffering more, not less.

Right here in Los Angeles we live with a Katrina like disaster every day. But because our disaster has so blended into the backdrop of most people’s everyday lives no one outside of this room seems to notice. And we’re so busy fighting among ourselves that no one is likely to notice any time soon. Let me give you just one example of how our collective dysfunction is affecting the animals in LA. The number of animals rescued from LAAS by our rescue partners in January 06 compared to January 05 is down 24%.

The good news is euthanasia was also down 25%. But what could we have done if all the rescue groups had just been able to function at the same capacity as last year? And I’ll tell you right now, last year’s capacity is not good enough. We have got to do better if we expect to achieve no-kill in Los Angeles. We have to work together.

Among our combined efforts well over 100 animals a day are rescued from the streets and allies of LA. Many of these animals end up with Animal Services where they are killed. I’m hoping that tonight we can say together that that is no longer acceptable, and say it without condemning each other, but by helping each other end it.

If the same resources that Los Angeles residents sent to Katrina animal relief were sent to us in this room, what could we have accomplished here? In the same way, if all the resources we expend in attacking each other were spent helping each other help the animals, what could we accomplish here?

Tonight, I’d like to propose a different kind of reality to you. I’d like to enroll you in a different possibility than the one you are living in now. Do I have any takers? Anyone interested? Imagine this: what if we create in Los Angeles an animal welfare community without egos?
Imagine, instead of always trying to figure out who is right and who is wrong, or who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, we determine instead that every one of us is indispensable?

Because each one of us is an indispensable piece of the puzzle and we will never solve this problem unless we solve it together. When we exclude any piece of the puzzle we immediately begin to create the illusion of right and wrong, good and bad that will only keep us fighting among ourselves forever.

Imagine: a community without egos. Some of you who know me are probably tempted to say, “Fat chance, Boks, you have the biggest ego in the room.” I will cop to that. But what I am proposing is so important to me that I am asking you all to call me on it. Whenever you see me do or say anything that puts my ego before the animals, tell me. All I ask is that to whatever degree you hold me responsible for being a part of the solution in LA, you hold yourself equally responsible when someone points out your ego may be getting in the way.

If I fail, you fail. If you fail, I fail. If we succeed, we succeed together, and if we succeed, we will succeed spectacularly.

I was encouraged to come to LA several weeks ago by a friend who lives here. While we were talking he shared a passage with me out from the Book of Ecclesiastes where it says, “there is a time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones together”.

I submit the time for throwing stones is over and it is time now that we begin to gather stones together because together we can succeed where we have only known failure and frustration in the past. We have a lot of work to do, and I would like to get started tonight!

NYC Animal Care and Control: New Name, New Face, New Philosophy

The Satya Interview with Ed Boks – January/February 2004

Ed Boks and no killUntil recently, New York’s animal shelter system, formerly known as the Center for Animal Care and Control (CACC), was notorious: its adoption numbers were abysmal, it was plagued by rumors of mismanagement, and had the unfortunate reputation of euthanizing animals deemed “unadoptable” soon after arrival, leaving little time for animal guardians to find their lost loved ones.

All that will soon change if its new Executive Director, Ed Boks, has his way. The first thing Boks did was change its name to NYC Animal Care and Control (AC&C) to better express his goal of putting the “care” back into NYC’s shelter system. Boks aims to up the adoption rate of homeless animals, and ultimately, make New York a “no-kill” city. Fresh from his success at turning around Phoenix, Arizona’s shelter system, Boks brings his know-how and compassion here to the Big Apple.

Lawrence Carter-Long sat down with Ed Boks to hear more about his plans for all New Yorkers. 

Why don’t you tell people about the mission of NYC Animal Care and Control?
The mission statement of Animal Care and Control is to promote and protect the health and safety and welfare of pets and people in NYC. We sort of summarize that into a tag line: we create happiness by bringing pets and people together. Our mission is to help our community to really recognize the value of companion animals and of the animals that find a way into our shelter system, and help them start to see the system as a safety net—that really, if an animal ends up in our shelter, that’s not a bad thing. It’s a safety net—it’s better than being hit by a truck or whatever else… left in the street. What we don’t want is for these animals to come here and abandon all hope; for our shelters to be a dead end. There is the hope and desire that we can place these animals, so we’re going to have a very aggressive adoption program, including outreach and partnering to help get animals out of our shelters and back into the community. Back into homes.

So along those lines, what would you say your priorities for the organization are? And secondly, what are its greatest challenges?
Well I’ve had the advantage of having to work part-time here for the last six months, going back and forth between here and Arizona, and it’s given me ample opportunity to do assessment and analysis of the organization. So, probably by the end of January we will have completed a massive reorganization and have more direct lines of communication between the front line and decision-makers so that we’re more responsive to the community.

Once I’ve got a management team in place, the first thing we’re going to focus on is putting together a strategic plan that’ll guide us for the next five years: really identify the issues—what are the demands of the community, what are the realities of our budgetary constraints, space issues and that sort of thing—and come up with initiatives to specifically address those issues. Of course that means we are going to be looking at reducing euthanasia of companion animals and increasing adoption; and of course, the third leg that balances the stool is having a viable spay/neuter program that provides low- or no-cost services to the pets of any individuals on any form of public assistance. That’s our Big Fix Program.

What does NYC Animal Care & Control do from there?

It’s not in place yet, but that is what we will be doing. There’s a couple ways to approach Big Fix. One is to have regularly scheduled spay days, in which we have veterinarians and med techs volunteer in our clinics. At some point, we hope to have a spay/neuter clinic in each of the five boroughs, right now we have one in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Staten Island.

In February 2002 the city placed the sanitation commissioner on the board of Animal Control, further reinforcing the organization’s image as a “disposal” organization and causing an uproar in the animal care community. What are you attempting to do to alter that perception? Since that time, do you believe that public concern for animals has reached the consciousness of policymakers?

Clearly. The changes to NYC AC&C are reflective of that. Politicians would be well advised to understand animal care is an issue that can affect the outcome of an election. Virtually everybody has a pet. Nobody is going to vote for a politician if they hate animals—or act as if they do. There are many more people out there who will vote for somebody who demonstrates they have a heart for animals. I remember when Mayor Bloomberg made the comment after the blackout: “Don’t forget, feed and water your animals.” Across the country animal welfare people were going, “Did you hear that?” I don’t know that he said that for political effect; he said it from his heart. That’s why it resonated with people.

There is a misconception that the NYC AC&C is a city agency and, as such, part of the Public Health Department. I would assume that bears with it the stigma that you are connected to city government. How are you working to correct these assumptions?

AC&C is a vendor—a contract vendor that provides services to the city of New York through a contract we have with the Department of Health. The DoH is a wonderful partner in supporting us in our animal control aspect. When it comes to the animal care component or the types of programs that provide for the humane needs of animals—that will ultimately bring down the cost of animal control—we are reliant on donations. The city does not have the wherewithal or the means to provide more than the very minimum approach to animal control and very little for animal care.

Would you say that the bulk of the funds received from Public Health is for animal control and not for care? 

That is correct. Over the course of the last year, the budget has been cut from $8.9 to $7.2 million—clearly, not enough resources to do what needs to be done. But we have to do what we can with what we’ve got. Thankfully, anybody who wants to help, can. We have a volunteer program; you can give donations. The team that is coming together—including those who have stayed and those who have joined the organization—are extraordinary people. Turn this organization around we will.

You started full-time on January 12. What are your priorities for NYC AC&C?

The top priority, of course, is to get humane shelters built. That’s a long-term goal; we will have to do a capital campaign to achieve it. In the very short term, I’d like to get all the cages out of our shelters, I’m speaking specifically about dogs, and turn them into humane kennels where animals have room to turn around, are not lying near feces or urine, and can eat/drink and get some exercise. That to me is really, really key right now. The current configuration of our shelters can be very detrimental to the mental and physical health of animals.

And the primary stumbling block to making those necessary changes is money?

Right. We need about $150,000 to put the kennels into the Manhattan shelter and I think we’ve raised about $40,000 to $50,000 already.

Last year, NYC killed some 35,000 animals in its shelter system—that’s about 100 dogs and cats daily. Currently, nearly 70 percent of the animals who enter the system have needed to be put down. You’ve expressed the goal of ending the practice of “euthanizing adoptable animals” in the next five years. What are the critical components of making that happen? 

Humane shelters would go a long way. My definition of a humane shelter is one that provides for the well-being of animals as well as the people who come in to adopt or look for their lost animals. Our shelters right now are little more than holding facilities. They really were not designed or developed for adoption; or to find a lost pet either. Which is why we’re relying so much on technology to get them adopted and out of shelters.

Education is also important. We’re developing a program called TLC—Teach Love and Compassion—which will work with troubled youth in classrooms, teaching them the importance of compassion and responsibility in developing self-confidence.

Are exotic or wild animals an issue you have to contend with, such as the individual in Harlem recently found to have a tiger and an alligator in his apartment? 

We rescue in the neighborhood of 8,000 wild or exotic animals each year, and we end up holding them for days, even weeks, at a time trying to find a place to rehab or release them. Every time we do so eliminates a space that could house a homeless dog or cat. This is a significant problem that nobody seems to be able, or in some cases, wants to address. AC&C is doing this not because it is in our mandate or mission, but sadly, because nobody else will—basically out of necessity. We’re working with a group of organizations that have agreed to form a nonprofit to deal with the problems surrounding NYC urban wildlife. We think we may have found a facility that can be used to house and rehab wildlife and, in the process, free up tens of thousands of kennel spaces each year.

Many readers may not be aware—I certainly wasn’t—that you are a former pastor, and prior to your position here, were the director of Maricopa County’s Animal Care and Control program in Phoenix, AZ. What were the “aha” moments in which you realized animals needed greater consideration and how have your experiences helped prepare you to revitalize and restructure NYC AC&C?

I’ll start with the last part of the question. One of the things my staff challenged me with was, “You’re coming from Arizona? This is real animal control. We rescue 45,000 animals a year.” Well, in Maricopa we rescued 62,000 a year: the largest animal control program in the U.S. It services 24 of the fastest growing towns and cities in the country and covers an area larger than 17 states, over 9,200 square miles. It’s huge. I think working up through the ranks with that organization, first as a kennel worker and eventually as Executive Director, gave me a keen understanding of this industry.

When I went to work there I was the pastor of a church, a principal and a teacher at a private high school. It was very costly to run. After a few years of doing that, the congregation decided they had to disband the school, which was my source of livelihood, the preaching was pro bono.

Recognizing that eating was a hard habit to break, I had to find something that put food on the table. I had worked my way through high school and college as a vet tech in Michigan. So, I heard about this job in Maricopa county and started out entry level there while at the same time I was a pastor.

Maricopa County in those days was not unlike NYC. It was a pretty abhorrent situation. When I got into it, it was an eye-opening experience seeing the condition of the shelters and the policies. It had an abysmal adoption and a very high kill rate. I quickly recognized this was a huge societal problem. While I loved animals and had worked as a vet tech, it had never dawned on me what was really going on. It was a shock.

Would you say that’s a case of ‘out of sight out of mind’?

Absolutely. You go to any city in the country and shelters are our dirty little community secret. They are in parts of town that people generally don’t frequent, which makes it real hard to elevate the issue the way it needs to be. Anyway, we were euthanizing 150 to 200 animals every day when I first started in Maricopa and that was my responsibility. I would go home at night and wake up in a cold sweat. To tell you how barbaric it was, that was back when they were giving cardiac injections—where you put the needle into the heart and inject sodium pentobarbital.  It was very difficult to do it right and could be very slow and agonizing.

I would wake up in the middle of the night, in a cold sweat, and actually feel like a needle was puncturing my chest. Just gasping, catching my breath like “what am I doing?” It didn’t take long before I ultimately resigned the ministry and started moving through the ranks, and soon was responsible for building the first two spay and neuter clinics in Arizona.

It’s interesting. People ask “why’d you leave the ministry?” and my response is “I don’t think I left the ministry, I think I found my ministry.” [Laughs.] It’s all shepherding. And with shelter work you get to shepherd everybody—four legged and two legged.

You hear about these approaches where people show euthanasia on public access TV and it usually backfires. People just don’t want to see it. It was in my face. I guess my “aha’s” were having to see and grope with it daily and recognizing that we can make a difference. We can change this. Recognizing too, that—and this is what makes coming to NY special for me—in Arizona when I began to have this awakening and would reach out to the community, they wanted to help. A lot of shelters have this bunker mentality, “we’re the government, we don’t need any help,” a “you can’t handle the truth” mentality. But I found that if you just open the doors, people want to help. I’m hoping we can do the same thing here.

The turnaround we’ve seen in just the last six months is amazing. This is only my second full-time day on the job. We’re just starting. I want the media to shed light on this—if people know what is going on, they will want to help. We’re seeing that happen. Our volunteer program is really blossoming. We’ve had two orientations since a fundraiser last fall and they’ve been packed. We had to turn people away…that’s just unheard of.

Late last year a system was unveiled, which I saw described as a touch-screen computer kiosk that works like a cross between an ATM and Friendster, dispensing animal profiles and pictures instead of money. Tell us about the plans for the system, and how it works. 

Basically, anybody looking for an animal to adopt or that they’ve lost can access all the animals not only in our shelters, but any brick-and-mortar shelter in the city. The shelters are all working together to provide that service; it’s already available in all five of ours. It doesn’t take the place of searching a shelter if your animal is lost, but it’s a great place to begin; it can tell you which shelter your animal may be in. And if you’re looking to adopt you can find out all kinds of details—a photo, their story—you can actually look at the information, print it out and bring it to our shelters and say “hey, I want to give this animal a home.”

You obviously recognize the importance of language in re-framing public attitudes about our responsibilities to animals. You’ve been a long-time supporter of In Defense of Animal’s Guardian campaign—which seeks to shift the emphasis from that of an animal ‘owner’ to one of a guardian—and have renamed your organization NYC Animal Care and Control. Why are these changes important?

Words mean something. We wanted to get away from the acronym CACC which sounded a bit like a cat spitting up a hairball. When you have five shelters spread out over an area as large as NYC and you call yourself “the center,” it’s like “Where is that? Where is the building?” But we are an organization focused on animal care and control, and the name should reflect that. By control what we mean is the enforcing of ordinances which have to do with animal care, for the sake of the animal and for others. The thing you are really controlling—you can’t control the animals—is the people who possess the animals.

I think the reason you see so many ancillary animal welfare organizations popping up across the country is because the animal control agencies haven’t really fulfilled the expectations of the community. The best way I think we can tell when a municipal or city agency is not fulfilling expectations is when these ancillary groups start popping up to help you achieve your mission. It is almost like, “well you obviously don’t care about the animals so [we’ll] take it from here, rescue them from you.” What I’m hoping is that animal control across the U.S. and here in New York can take on more of the responsibility the community expects us to take on. Emphasizing care and control. Care comes first. But it is ‘and’—not or. There’s an equality there.

Much of the strategy for revitalizing AC&C involves fundraising. The need for that is obvious given your mission and budgetary situation. However, many rank and file animal protectionists are often strapped for cash due to the costs of caring for animals they’ve rescued. What else can people do to assist you in reaching your goals? 

We also take ‘in kind’ donations—if someone has a business and can provide printing or graphics or any number of things. There is so much that needs to be done; feel free to call us or ask. And of course there is volunteering, which is huge. You name it. We have opportunities to work with our information technology (IT) folks; you can work directly with the animals; we need dog walkers, adoption counselors, administrative assistants, people who can do grant writing. Just contact our volunteer coordinator Amanda Faye, who can be reached through our website or phone number.

Connecting the city’s various rescue groups is of critical importance. So many groups feel that they need to go through an intermediary of some sort to work with us, and we’re trying to show that you don’t have to do end runs to work with us. Not only will we work with you, we will bend over backwards to help you help animals. We are going to be applying for grants for various projects. Also—for any auto dealerships out there—we’d like to get some vans, so that when rescue groups find animals they are interested in placing, we can actually deliver those animals. What’s happening now is rescue groups find animals, then they have to go through all kinds of contortions to logistically move the animals from our shelters to wherever they want to take them.

It is interesting that the whole animal welfare movement was formed in NYC with Henry Berg’s work and [looking back] how the whole concept of animal care has evolved, it ultimately produced a nonprofit organization called Animal Care and Control which sort of does it all. We are not only the number one animal rescue organization in NYC, but also in the whole state.

The bottom line is: Anybody that can help us positively affect the lives of animals, well, the door is always open. Whatever your heart compels you to do—just contact us.

To learn more about the NYC AC&C, to get involved or volunteer, visit www.nycacc.org or call (212) 442-2076.

New York Times profiles Edward Boks

PUBLIC LIVES; Saving Animals Is Ex-Pastor’s New Mission by Nora Krug Nov, 26, 2003

Ed Boks and Today Show
Edward Boks on the Today Show

A MILD allergy to cats does not keep Edward Boks from playing with kittens — or from working with hundreds of them as the new executive director of the nonprofit organization that handles most animal care and control for New York City.

In July, Mr. Boks (rhymes with ”cloaks”), a soft-spoken former pastor, came to New York from Maricopa County, Ariz., to take over the agency, New York City Animal Care and Control, which he says is in dire need of reform.

In June 2002, a scathing report by the city’s comptroller’s office concluded that agency, under a previous name, had failed to provide humane conditions for the animals in its shelters.

Mr. Boks’s plan to solve the problem centers on an ambitious agenda: to drastically cut the number of animals that are euthanized, and even turn the organization’s five shelters into ”no-kill communities” over the next five years. That does not mean, he is quick to point out, that no animals would be euthanized. Rather, it is a philosophical shift.

”The best definition of no-kill is to get to the place where we use the same criteria in deciding whether or not to euthanize a shelter animal as we use when deciding whether or not to euthanize our own pet — when it is a loving decision and not a pragmatic decision based on whether we have enough space,” he explains.

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