There are many questions our children (and grandchildren) ask concerning the mysteries of our universe. Such as: Why is the sky blue? Why do birds sing? And why do cats purr? While we may often fail to provide satisfying answers to these difficult questions, we instinctively know that so long as the sky is blue, and birds sing and cats purr, all is right with the world.
One of the things we love most about our cats is the feeling of contentment we share when they climb onto our lap and purr. When cats purr we feel calmer and more peaceful – even if we don’t hear the purring, we can feel the soft reassuring vibration.
Many will rightly sing the praises due the remarkable actor, John Mahoney, who died today. However, I want to take a moment to point out the important public health service Mahoney provided through his character on the popular TV series Frazier. “Marty Crane” and his loyal dog “Eddie” beautifully presented the many wonderful benefits pets afford our senior citizens.
According to the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society there are many health benefits for seniors who have a pet or two. In fact, the Journal states there are many benefits for the seniors, the pets and society as a whole. Geriatric researchers found seniors with pets more active than seniors without pets and they score higher in their ability to carry out normal activities of daily living. Many positive effects on physical well-being are identified, including a healthy ability to fend off isolation and loneliness. Continue reading “What we learned from Marty Crane and Eddie by Ed Boks”
George Graham Vest (1830-1904) served as a United States Senator from Missouri from 1879 to 1903, and became one of the leading orators and debaters of his time. This delightful speech is from an earlier period in his life when he practiced law in a small Missouri town. It was given in court in 1855 while representing a man who sued another for the killing of his dog.
During the trial, Vest ignored the testimony, but when his turn came to present a summation to the jury, he made the following speech and won the case.
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Gentlemen of the Jury: Continue reading “A Tribute to Dogs”
Psychologist, animal welfare advocate and human-animal bond expert Dr. Pia Salk is a regular contributor to Martha Stewart’s The Daily Wag. In a recent article, Salk asked the provocative question, “Can adopting a shelter animal make a difference in your child’s moral development?”
Salk offers important insight into the values we teach our children when we adopt a companion animal from a shelter. According to Salk, the very decision to devote family resources to caring for an animal in need sends a clear message to your children about who you are and what you stand for.
When you adopt a shelter pet, Salk explains, children internalize important values – “We are a family that uses the power of choice to save a life.” This teaches kids that by taking personal responsibility, their choices can affect the larger community.
Children need to feel they can impact their world. Parents need to give children opportunities to do so in positive, pro-social ways. Adopting and caring for an animal can provide this opportunity.
Where should this life lesson begin? Salk suggests a family meeting to discuss if the family is willing and able to meet an animal’s needs. Together, a family should explore every facet of these questions, such as: Do we need landlord permission? How much exercise will the animal need? How will we provide medical care? Who will be responsible for feeding, training and walks? Who will care for the animal during vacations? How will a pet affect plans to move? Such conversations teach the importance of planning, navigating around potential obstacles and committing to a goal, for better or worse. This exercise is an important step in teaching children the inherent value of the animal’s life and well-being.
Answering these questions will also help you determine what sort of animal is a good match for your family. Don’t hesitate to ask your local shelter for help in making this decision.
The choice around which animal to adopt can lead to deeper discussions about family values. Perhaps your family is willing to provide a home to an older pet abandoned because of an eviction, or maybe to a cat who has lost an eye or a limb. These choices help children see past age and physical “limitations” so they appreciate another being’s intrinsic worth. This teaches acceptance and gives children a chance to witness the inspiring resilience of animals.
Perhaps your family is willing to take in a breed disadvantaged by negative stereotypes. This teaches kids to learn for themselves and not be influenced by a biased or misinformed public perception.
For kids who are adopted, adopting a pet provides an opportunity to talk about their feelings while learning more about their family’s love and compassion for others in need. Likewise, for a child who is hearing-impaired or has a condition such as diabetes, adopting an animal with a similar condition, or other special need (provided the resources exist to properly manage it), can be therapeutic and enriching for all involved.
“There is no limit to the great lessons you can teach your children when you opt to adopt,” says Salk. “These lessons benefit everyone involved and they live on in the minds of children, manifesting in a lifetime of compassionate acts.”
What better time to have this compassionate, life-saving family discussion? Visit your local shelter today to see all the pets waiting for the perfect home – yours.
“Today Show” contributor Scott Stump recently reported on a New Yorker named Elena Zakharova who filed a civil suit in a New York court against an Upper East Side pet store. The store, Raising Rover, sold Zakharova a puppy that developed numerous medical complications. The suit seeks to hold the store liable for the dog’s pain and suffering, and medical bills, as if the dog were a person rather than an inanimate product.
New York law considers pets “property,’ but the complaint wants to change that definition. The goal is to help shut down puppy mills that often mass-produce animals sold in boutique pet stores like Raising Rover, where “Umka” was purchased.
“Umka is a living soul,’ the suit reads. ” She feels love and pain.’
Ownership of Raising Rover has changed since Zakharova purchased Umka.
“I know nothing about the sale. The prior owner has the records. We are careful about where we get our puppies,” Raising Rover’s new owner Ben Logan told the New York Daily News. Logan declined to provide information about the prior owner.
Zakharova is seeking compensation for surgeries and medical treatment for Umka totaling about $8,000. She also wants a full return of the dog’s sale price plus interest since the date of purchase in February 2011. Zakharova intends to donate any award to an animal charity, Lask said.
New York state has a “Puppy Lemon Law’ that allows buyers to return sick animals to a pet store within 14 days for a full refund. The law is meant to slow puppy mills’ mass production of dogs with inherent medical problems. However, Umka’s medical issues did not become apparent for months after Zakharova purchased the dog.
“The Puppy Lemon Law doesn’t cut it,’ Lask said.
If the definition of a pet is changed from property to a sentient being, it could substantially change the amount of damages awarded when an owner buys a defective dog born in a puppy mill. That could have a chilling effect on pet stores buying animals from puppy mills fearing large payouts from lawsuits.
“It’s going to put a number on my dog’s broken hips that you created because you’re negligent, you’re greedy, and you’re mass-producing puppies,’ Lask said. “Right now, even if you return it, they just kill it, which is so inhumane.’
Lask is an animal lover who owns a Chihuahua named Lincoln who was found to have a hole in his skull months after her purchase. That discovery led her to investigate the practices of puppy mills. She waited six years to find a case to help correct the larger issue.
“It’s much bigger than this case,’ she said. “I am looking to shut down the puppy mill world.’
The main issue will be proving to a judge that pets are living souls who experience feelings of pain and emotion. “Human beings have treated other humans as property in history before recognizing it was wrong,” said Lask, “so it’s not too much of a stretch to ask the courts to change the definition.”
“It’s already a felony to abuse an animal. If animals have criminal rights, why not put rights on a damaged leg or a heart condition? If we’re not equating (an animal) to a human being, and we’re not equating it to a table, there has to be something in the middle.’
The suit brings to light the practices of puppy mills and their damaging effects on animals and their human owners. A 2011 investigation by The Humane Society of the United States revealed that Raising Rover, where Umka was purchased, was one of 11 upscale pet stores that purchased animals from Midwestern puppy mills with horrendous conditions.
The moral of the story is buyer beware! Experts agree consumers should opt to adopt from shelters to avoid the trauma that comes from paying exorbitant fees for pet store animals with hidden defects.
Dionne Warwick joined me in announcing LA Animal Services’ innovative new program proposed by realtor Adele Langdon. Inspired by Dionne Warwick’s smash hit, “A House is not a Home”, it occurred to Adele that there was a way to make a house a home and that was by adopting a pet.
Adele designed The House is not a Home without a Pet program to help our community’s homeless animals. The foreclosure crisis in Los Angeles has resulted in a 28% increase in the number of pets surrendered to LA Animal Service since the beginning of 2008. This has led to the first increase in pet euthanasia in over six years. Keller Williams has decided to do something about that and to challenge all Los Angeles Realtors to help.
The program encourages real estate agents to purchase a $100 Gift Certificate from LA Animal Services to present to their clients at the close of escrow of their new home. The Certificate becomes effective 30 days after the close of escrow and is effective for one year. The Certificate is good towards the adoption of a dog, cat or two bunnies.
Adele convinced Keller Williams Realty of Beverly Hills to spearhead the program. The Beverly Hills Office encourages other Keller Williams Offices and Real Estate companies to get on board.
“Keller Williams is delighted to partner with LA Animal Services on this life saving program,” said Rob Aigner, Team Leader of the Beverly Hills Office. “’A House is not a Home without a Pet’ provides our agents and clients a wonderful opportunity to play a meaningful role in helping homeless pets, the silent victims of the housing crisis. It is our hope that all the real estate offices in Los Angeles will join this noble effort.”
“Finding good homes for our shelter animals is a top priority,” added Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, “and ‘A House is not a Home without a Pet’ is a great example of a public-private partnership that benefits those animals and homebuyers alike.”
“Foreclosure pets are a societal problem,” said Tony Cardenas, City Council Member for District 6 and a former real estate agent himself. “We have a responsibility to help solve this problem and I applaud Keller Williams for taking a compassionate lead. It is my hope that real estate offices everywhere will follow this example.”
Keller Williams is announcing the program with a full page ad in this week’s MLS Caravan magazine received by all LA real estate agents.
In fact, LA Animal Services was recognized by The Maddie’s Fund, the well known pet rescue foundation established in 1999 to help fund the creation of a no-kill nation, for our “transparency,” (i.e., the ready availability of information to the public). Of the over 5200 animal control programs in the United States and the tens of thousands humane societies and other animal welfare organizations, Maddie’s identified only five organizations for their transparency. LA Animal Services was at the top of this list and was the only municipal animal control program recognized.
Over the past six years, LA Animal Services has been able to boast one of the most impressive records for reducing pet euthanasia as a methodology for controlling pet overpopulation in the nation.
However, the first quarter statistics for 2008 have recently been posted, and they are disappointing. Despite the fact that live placements (adoptions, New Hope placements, and redemption’s) continue to rise to unprecedented levels historically and unequaled levels nationally (27,565 in the past 12 months for a 59% live release rate [70% for dogs and 44% for cats]) the euthanasia level also rose.
There are many possible reasons for this increase, and it is important that we understand all of them if we are to address and correct this anomaly as a community going forward.
1. I want to preface this discussion by reminding everyone that LA Animal Services’ statistics showing increased euthanasia and animal intakes during the first quarter of 2008 demonstrates that the department does not “fudge the data” or “manipulate the process to spin the numbers” as some critic’s suggest.
2. A second preface is to acknowledge that we at LA Animal Services are as disappointed with these results as are our critics. To have both the intake and kill rates drift upward in four of our shelters over the past quarter is not acceptable and we are taking steps to reverse this disturbing trend.
To be fair, it should be understood that when you normalize* the statistics and compare the intake statistics to the euthanasia rates in the first quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2007 there was only a 1.49% increase in euthanasia.
But no matter how you assess the numbers, everyone agrees that no increase in euthanasia is desirable, and we will continue to do everything we can to return to our long standing trend of reducing the killing. As was explained in my last message, we have hit the proverbial “wall” and will need the help of the entire animal loving community going forward.
(* Normalization is the process of removing statistical error in repeated measured data. For us, that means comparing the euthanasia rate relative to a fluctuating intake rate.)
3. Statistics do not exist in a vacuum and there are reasons why things are as they are, some reasons are more subject to department control than are others. The bottom line, however, is that there is a lot of work to do and hysteria, hand-wringing and finger pointing does not save lives.
4. The department recently completed a major shelter management reassignment that has impacted almost every shelter. This was done to match the abilities of some of our most experienced managers with jobs we feel they can do well. These changes bring with them adjustment periods as managers learn about their newly assigned, and in some cases, newly opened facilities. These managers must determine how they want to tackle the many challenges they face in their respective shelters. I will soon announce the selection of a new Assistant General Manager of Operations who will work directly with them on these challenges. In the meantime, we started posting statistics by shelter in the hope this information will help the community better target its resources to help the animals most at risk.
LA Animal Services opened three new facilities in the last ten months and we are scheduled to open two more in the next three months. This is the fastest and largest increase of any City Department in LA City history and represents a significant learning curve during a time of intense scrutiny and fiscal instability.
5. Center managers are responsible for determining the optimal animal capacity for their shelter. This is a delicate balance between wanting to save lives and not wanting to be perceived as “warehousing” animals. If a shelter experiences a short-term surge in new arrivals, it could lead to an urgent need to move more animals out of the shelter one way or another. Unfortunately, when that doesn’t happen via adoption, New Hope rescue, or transfer of animals within our shelter system or partnering shelter systems, it’s likely to happen via euthanasia.
Adoptions and Rescues
6. There is a spirited national debate going on about whether shelters can “adopt their way” to No-Kill status. Perhaps we can, but it takes the whole community working together. As noted earlier, adoptions at LAAS shelters were also up during the first quarter of 2008 and, on a month-over-month basis, has been up for 12 consecutive months by a range of from 10-30% depending on the month. That is encouraging.
7. The numbers of dogs and cats placed by our wonderful New Hope rescue partners during the first quarter of ‘08 is up by about 5% over last year. This is also encouraging coming after a year in which New Hope rescue placements were down. Our New Hope partners do all they can to help save animals but sometimes they run out of capacity too, so any month when they are able to increase the number of transfers that is a plus.
8. Increasing animal adoptions can be a challenge when the most easy-to-adopt animals, such as puppies, kittens and purebreds, are scooped up almost immediately after they come into the shelters. That leaves the harder to adopt big and older dogs, so-called aggressive breeds and injured or sick animals that place a larger burden on the casual would-be adopter.
These animals must be marketed more aggressively and creatively, and the simple fact is that marketing is not our strong suit at the moment. We don’t have a public relations staff, nor do we have a volunteer coordinator at the moment to run our mobile adoption program. These tasks are being done on an ad hoc basis by extraordinary employees whose primary responsibilities lie elsewhere.
We’ve been struggling to find a new PR person and volunteer coordinator through the City’s civil service system and have yet to turn up a suitable candidate with the requisite experience and skills. We’ll keep trying to rectify that as soon as we can, and under the new pressures of a deficit-driven City hiring freeze. But in the meantime, getting the word out about our shelter animals, and getting those animals out to a wider public, remains a challenge. The importance of doing so, however, was made very clear by the 52% jump in adoptions at our shelters in the week following Oprah Winfrey’s April 4 show on puppy mills which featured our South LA Animal Care Center.
Riester Ad Agency has generously donated a series of adoption campaign ads that are downloadable from our website. LA Animal Services asks everyone with access to a neighborhood newspaper, LA animal blog, local or business bulletin board to help us get the word out by posting these ads.
9. Some have pointed to the first quarter upsurge in intakes as indicative of some systemic failure on the department’s part, though they offer no logical explanation for this allegation. It is impossible at this point to know if this increase in intakes is a reversal of a long standing trend or if it is a short term reaction to the recent housing market collapse.
To be sure, we are dealing with a unique phenomenon this year – widely documented in the media – and that is the unprecedented upsurge in pet relinquishment’s resulting from families losing their homes to foreclosures or evictions. Many are finding that they are unable to afford to keep their pets or, alternately, to find a new home they can afford where pets are allowed. Intakes system wide were up by 447 animals in March 2008 over March 2007, and it makes sense that housing and economic displacement contributed substantially to that increase. People leaving their pets at our shelters have made that clear. The solution: A House is not a Home without a Pet program.
10. Spring and early summer is traditionally a problem for every animal shelter, as kitten and puppy season brings more neonates through our doors. Hundreds of orphaned neonate kittens are taken in every month at this time of year, and they are the primary focus of our life saving efforts. They require careful around-the-clock care that no shelter is equipped to provide, either in terms of facilities or available staff. Dozens of staff members have, however, stepped up to take on the challenge of fostering litters of kittens, as have more than 100 volunteers, but if a dedicated caregiver can’t be found for an orphaned litter of neonate kittens, they will probably be euthanized. We don’t make excuses for this, and we welcome every new volunteer foster caregiver we can recruit.
It should be understood that LA Animal Services is not the only organization in the greater LA region facing this crisis. All our sister jurisdictions and rescue partners are inundated with hundreds of neonate kittens at the same time. We are all exhausting our limited resources as we take in, care for, and try to place these animals.
11. Apart from a regularization of the real estate market which is probably a number of months away, one thing that must be done to arrest this trend is to create more opportunities for people to keep their pets when they have to move. The local humane community has been discussing this issue and is working on ideas that might help, including providing landlords with financial indemnification against pet-related damage, and/or other incentives that would motivate them to allow pets in the units they own and manage. In a city where 62% of the residents are tenants, increasing the availability of pet-friendly rental units is an issue that deserves much more attention than it is getting.
12. Some blame the upsurge in intakes on the department’s alleged failure to spay and neuter everything in sight, as if that were possible. But LA Animal Services is doing what it can, and may well lead the nation’s shelters in our commitment to provide spay/neuter as a tool for reducing pet overpopulation.
With the generous support of the Mayor and City Council, we’re able to fund upwards of 40,000 surgeries a year, using our two currently operational spay/neuter clinics, the Amanda Foundation and Sam Simon Foundation mobile clinics, and the network of private veterinarians who take our discount vouchers.
As this is written, we have a Request for Proposals (RFP) soliciting operators for the five new spay/neuter clinics nearing completion in our new shelters. Additionally, others in the humane community who have an interest in spay/neuter are preparing to launch new community-based spay/neuter efforts in and around Los Angeles.
The City’s pioneering spay/neuter ordinance that became law on April 8th is already generating a surge in voluntary compliance at various clinics. We have begun to gear up the information and enforcement efforts that will be needed to make the ordinance effective and we expect it to generate results that will become clear in our statistics over the next few years.
13. All that being said, we definitely have not been able to sterilize all the feral and stray cats we want. This is because of a lawsuit threat from an environmental group opposed to the Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) methodology used to control feral and stray cat populations in many locales, including cities contiguous to Los Angeles. This has forced LA Animal Services to undertake a lengthy environmental study process before trying to establish a formal TNR program here. This could take up to another year to accomplish.
In the meantime, valiant community TNR volunteers do what they can to manage the problem in various locations, but untended, unsterilized stray cats can undo much of the progress these diligent volunteers achieve. Many of the neonate litters we see come from this source and, absent the ability for the department to legally conduct TNR, unadoptable feral adults and their kittens will continue to account for hundreds, if not thousands, of the unfortunate cats who are euthanized every year.
14. I don’t offer these explanations as excuses for what we have experienced in our shelters so far in 2008. We share the frustrations of the entire humane community when statistics don’t trend positive, and we should be held accountable when all is said and done. But our larger job is to bring the community together to find solutions, to seek new resources when the City budget can’t provide them, and find new ways to overcome the challenges few communities have ever had to face on the scale we see in Los Angeles.
We hope to soon gather the community together to try to do just that. We will continue to work on identifying new resources to help us meet the challenges posed by the spay/neuter law, make more homes welcoming to pets, get the word out that big, older dogs and neonate kittens make lovable pets, and provide adopters with the support they need to ensure that is the case.
If you would like to help, please consider joining our Volunteer Program or make a donation towards one of our many life saving programs.
We have often heard the adage that it takes a village to raise a child. The same advice holds true for solving our pet overpopulation and animal cruelty problems. Its going to take all of us working together to solve the animal welfare issues in Los Angeles. A few days ago the LA City Council announced their acceptance of a $200,000 donation from Best Friends Animal Society.
Clearly Best Friends Animal Society shares LA Animal Services’ commitment to helping end the killing of adoptable animals in Los Angeles. They are funding an independent, professional assessment of the scope, causes and contributors of pet overpopulation in Los Angeles. The independent assessment will be conducted by LA City Controller Laura Chick and a team of professionals.
When this assessment is complete it will be up to Animal Services to orchestrate the implementation of the solutions and recommendations made by these professionals. This assessment will be the basis of a subsequent No-Kill Strategic Plan that will organize the city’s resources – both internal and across the community- toward realistic, sustained reductions in the causes and contributors of pet overpopulation.
This is wonderful news, but it doesn’t stop here. There is a growing synergy in LA towards achieving No-Kill. Over the past several months an organization of well informed, compassionate LA residents formed a new 501c3 animal welfare charity called SALA (Shelter Animals of Los Angeles). SALA also means “living room” in Spanish and reflects the goal to help find loving homes for all of our companion animals in Los Angeles.
SALA’s purpose is to support, on an exclusive basis, LA Animal Services in a joint mission to save animals’ lives and find permanent, loving homes for the thousands of lost, homeless, abandoned, neglected and abused companion animals rescued by LA City Animal Services every year. The ultimate goal of SALA is to assist LA Animal Services achieve “no kill” in all of our city shelters.
SALA believes a functional and efficient city shelter system that receives much needed private funding will ultimately benefit everyone: from pet owners to rescue organizations and, most importantly, the animals themselves.
Through the Big Fix Program, SALA will aggressively invest in spay/neuter with high volume clinics in all of the new Animal Care Centers, funding more mobile spay/neuter vans and offering spay/neuter/vaccine services to low income residents and asking for donations only, rather than charging a low fee that depends on proof of income. We are also partnering with Western University’s Veterinary School on including cutting edge intern and residency programs using LA Animal Care Centers as teaching schools for up and coming veterinarians.
Through the STAR Program (Special Treatment & Recovery),SALA will provide funding to help sick and injured animals rescued by LA Animal Services. Any animal treated in the STAR Program will not be euthanized.
Through Operation FELIX (Feral Education & Love Instead of X-termination)SALA will work with groups and individuals to help maintain feral cat colonies by implementing strong TNR (Trap/Neuter/Return) programs and ultimately create a comprehensive database system that will help track all feral colonies in the LA area.
SALA will establish a Safety Net Outreach Program to help all citizens of Los Angeles including our non-English speaking residents by conveying the importance of spay/neuter, as well as promote adoption and foster care. SALA will also provide outreach programs that will guide the public to resources that will help pet guardians better care for their companion animals. This outreach effort can be achieved in a variety of ways. Articles, stories, ads in newspapers and on local TV and radio, billboard messaging, educational workshops at community centers, and networking community resources to help residents responsibly keep and care for their pets are just some of the ways to get the message to the people who need to hear it most.
Volunteers are the backbone of any organization, and shoring up the LA Animal Services Volunteer Program is an important item on SALA’s agenda. Besides the important work of providing care for the animals in the shelters and at mobile adoptions, volunteers can also work as Adoption Counselors to help people find their new best friend. Volunteers can also participate in the previously mentioned outreach programs that can be conducted in community centers, churches, youth centers, etc. to teach people how to be great pet guardians.
Other projects SALA has under development include:
Shelter Dog Training Program: A partnership with trainers who will assist in socializing dogs in the shelter and prepare them for their forever home. Since behavioral issues are at the top of the excuse list for owner surrender, easy access to accredited trainers while the dogs are in the shelter, as well as help in settling them into their new home, will promote pet retention rates.
A House is Not a Home Without a Pet Program: An alliance with all rental homes, apartments, and senior citizen homes, etc., to provide incentives to encourage landlords to welcome residents with pets. SALAwill also provide mediation assistance for neighbor and landlord/renter disputes that involve pet issues, etc.
Teach Love and Compassion (TLC): To promote humane education programs in the LA school district that will ultimately become part of the regular curriculum to be taught in all our elementary and middle schools. TLC will also provide learning opportunities for “at risk” kids by teaching love and compassion for “at risk” animals in our Animal Care Centers.
Animal Services and all of LA is deeply indebted to Best Friends Animal Society, SALA, our New Hope Partners, Volunteers, Employees, and donors for their commitment, dedication and compassion for the lost and homeless pets of Los Angeles. When a community rallies together for the animals we truly demonstrate what it means to be a humane society as we commit ourselves to making LA the safest City in the United States for our pets.