Setting the record straight by Ed Boks

Over the past few days the LA Daily News misrepresented LA Animal Services on two occasions. The first instance was an article by Rick Orlav entitled, “Valley’s horse-rescue plan needs work”.

While I’ll agree that all emergency response plans need to be subject to constant review and improvement, the article suggests LA Animal Services’ role in the Sayres Fire is not clearly understood. LA Animal Services was there. LA Animal Services rescued over 400 horses. However, no mention was made of the fact that LA County Animal Care & Control was a no show until the rescue effort was nearly complete.

The only confusion during this entire episode resulted from whether LA Animal Services should go into the County to rescue horses outside of our jurisdiction or wait until County Animal Care & Control arrived. When it was clear horses would be lost if we didn’t act quickly, we of course went in – and as a result no horses were lost.

I made the recommendation to include a representative from Animal Services in the Emergency Operations Center to Councilman Dennis Zine nearly two years ago but to date he has taken no action and seems unaware of LA Animal Services critical role in these matters.

LA Animal Services performed exceptionally well and effectively saved hundreds of horses. They should be recognized for this heroic achievement – not criticized for the shortcomings of another department that couldn’t even get there on time.

The next article was an op-ed piece that appeared a few days earlier. I understand editors apply less scrutiny to want-a-be reporters, but LA Animal Services is such an open book that at any time the Daily News could simply have made a phone call to verify the facts before propagating the malicious myths manufactured by a chronic critic.

I refer to the piece entitled, “Finally, the end of an Ed Boks era.”  The author suggests LA Animal Services is somehow broken and “spiraling out of control” and the only remedy is to follow his inexperienced advice. So, is LA Animal Services broken? Let’s look at the facts.

Keep in mind this partial list of accomplishments was achieved while the Department experienced its most historic growth and most severe budget cuts and staffing shortages simultaneously; a significant challenge for any manager.

Still, we built the highest volume pet adoption program in the nation; achieved the lowest euthanasia rates in the Department’s history; opened six LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certified animal care centers; increased staff size 100%; and recruited a record number of volunteers.

We firmly established the Animal Cruelty Task Force; improved Pet Shop and Circus Animal Regulations raising the standards for humane care; formed a coalition of over 100 animal welfare organizations to enhance our adoption efforts; produced two animal welfare television programs, and established an exceptional veterinary medical program and executive team.

Not only is LA Animal Services not broken, it is better positioned than ever to help establish LA as the most humane city in the nation.

If you would like to be part of a winning team please consider volunteering with LA Animal Services and/or by making a donation to one of LA Animal Services life-saving programs.

IMPLEMENTING THE NO-KILL EQUATION IN LOS ANGELES – Part VIII: Public Relations/Community Involvement

This is the eighth posting in a series of messages responding to the recommendations of a so-called “No-Kill Equation”. The “No-Kill Equation” is comprised of ten commonsense, long-standing practices embraced and implemented by LA Animal Services with remarkable results.

This analysis compares the “No-Kill Equation” to LA’s programs and practices. Today’s message focuses on the eighth recommendation of the “No-Kill Equation,” which is Public Relations/Community Involvement.

The Ten “No-Kill Equation” Recommendations are:
1. Feral Cat TNR Program
2. High Volume/Low-Cost Spay/Neuter
3. Rescue Groups
4. Foster Care
5. Comprehensive Adoption Program
6. Pet Retention
7. Medical and Behavioral Rehabilitation
8. Public Relations/Community Involvement
9. Volunteers
10. A Compassionate Director

The “No-Kill Equation” is in this font.

The analysis is in this black italic font.

VIII. Public Relations/Community Involvement
Rebuilding a relationship with the community starts with redefining oneself as a “pet rescue” agency. The community must see improvement at the shelter, and improvements in the area of lifesaving. Public contact with the agency must include good customer service, more adoptions, and tangible commitments to give the shelter the tools it needs to do the job humanely. Public contact, however, is not necessarily a face-to-face encounter. The public has contact with an agency by reading about it in the newspaper, seeing volunteers adopting animals at a local shopping mall, or hearing the Executive Director promoting spay/neuter on the radio. It means public relations and community education.

The importance of good public relations cannot be overstated. Good, consistent public relations are the key to getting more money, more volunteers, more adoptions, and more community goodwill. Indeed, if lifesaving is considered the destination, public relations are the vehicle which will get a shelter there. Without it, the shelter will always be struggling with animals, finances, and community recognition.

Increasing adoptions, maximizing donations, recruiting volunteers and partnering with community agencies comes down to one thing: increasing the shelter’s exposure. And that means consistent marketing and public relations. Public relations and marketing are the foundation of all a shelter’s activities and their success. To do all these things well, the shelter must be in the public eye.

Indeed, a survey of more than 200 animal control agencies, conducted by a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania College of Veterinary Medicine, found that “community engagement” was one of the key factors in those agencies who have managed to reduce killing and increase lifesaving. One agency noted that “public buy-in is crucial for long-term improvements” placing primary importance on “the need to view community outreach and public engagement as integral to the agency’s overall purpose and programs rather than simply as an add-on accomplished with a few public service announcements…”

Ed Analysis:  LA Animal Services has aggressively pursued opportunities to publicize and promote its animals, services and activities. In October 2007, the Department received authorization to establish a new, full-time public relations staff position to formalize this effort and enhance its ability to promote its animals and activities. Additionally, the Department has utilized outside public relations professionals to good effect to market special events and adoptable animals over the past two years. The citizen Animal Services Commission provides a unique forum for public dialogue with the Department regarding policies and operations that are integral to the welfare of the animals, and provides opportunities for rescuers, volunteers and the general public to regularly communicate with the Commission and Department at its bimonthly meetings.

LA Animal Services’ animals are regularly seen on local television newscasts. Department staff routinely discuss spay/neuter, pet adoption, animal cruelty prevention and other important topics on local television and radio and in local newspapers, as well as meet with neighborhood councils, associations and other organizations to discuss these issues. The pending re-establishment of an in-house public relations staff for the first time since 2005 is intended to enhance the Department’s ability to communicate with both the media and the public.

LA Animal Services is receiving a lot of positive feedback to the “No-Kill Equation” series from people around the City and the country who were not aware of the effective programs and remarkable progress LA is making in transforming itself into the nation’s most humane city.

This feedback points to a significant departmental need, the expert staff to help effectively tell our compelling story. LA Animal Services is one of the largest and most effective animal rescue organizations in the nation, rescuing between 100 and 200 lost and homeless animals everyday. Many of these animals are rescued from abusive or neglectful situations and are either sick or injured. As a department we are so focused on helping the hundreds of animals in our care at any given moment that we have not always been as successful in sharing these remarkable life saving stories with the community.

That will all change in several ways in 2008, some of which I am not at liberty to share right now, but there is one change I can share. LA Animal Services is now actively recruiting to fill a Public Relations Specialist position. The Department has been unable to fill a public relations position since 2005 and we are eager to fill it for all the reasons stated above.

The City of Los Angeles launched their animal department nearly a century ago as a humane program. LA Animal Services is the true successor to that humane vision, with our emphasis on re-uniting lost pets with owners, helping people adopt new family pets, enforcing laws that keep animals and people safe, and educating the public about responsible pet ownership and co-existing with wildlife.

Preparing For The Big One… by Ed Boks

On Wednesday, January 17th, we all remembered the 13th anniversary of the devastating Northridge 6.7 earthquake.

This anniversary provided a time for reflection of the leadership role LA Animal Services played in rescuing and returning animals to their frantic owners during those frightful days. Over 650 dogs were rescued in the days immediately following the quake and over 400 were safely returned to their owners. For the remaining animals, Animal Services conducted a huge Fees Waived Adoptathon on Feb.12, 2002, to ensure every animal rescued during the disaster was given every opportunity to find a loving home. On that day alone, over 300 animals were adopted.

As we prepare for future emergencies, especially “the big one” (which experts suggest will be like 25 Northridge quakes lined up end to end), it is important to recognize that an estimated 75 to 80% of all Angelinos own pets, and that studies have found that 86% of all pet owners are willing to risk their lives to save their pet’s life.

That was certainly borne out during the Katrina disaster. 50% of the people who refused to evacuate (even at gun point) said it was because they would not leave their pets behind. The over 50,000 pets left behind in New Orleans after Katrina prompted President Bush and the Congress to enact a law late last year requiring states to include pets in disaster relief plans or risk losing federal funding if pets are not included.

During last year’s LA City Emergency Management Workshop I heard someone ask, “How often does something have to happen to you before it occurs to you?”

This question suddenly reminded me of where I was on 9/11 2001. I was at an HSUS Conference in Washington DC, just a block from the Pentagon. I was staying at the Crystal Hotel and was there in my capacity as Executive Director of Maricopa County’s Animal Care & Control Program.

It wasn’t long after the attack that the hotel was filled with all the brass from the Pentagon who had hastily decided to set up their Incident Command Post in the hotel lobby. As you can imagine, everyone was reeling from the images of the World Trade Centers on TV and the smoke from the Pentagon wafting through the building.

I found myself talking to a colonel who understandably appeared to be in shock. Over the next few minutes I felt comfortable enough to ask him this question: “Understanding the fact that the Pentagon is the central location for all strategic military thinking, you must have had a contingency plan for an attack on the Pentagon itself. What was the plan for an attack like this?”

He looked at me for a few moments before saying, “Yes, we did have an emergency plan for an attack like this. Everyone in the building was to meet in the hall where the airplane struck.” There was no plan B. When Plan A was no longer an option, everyone ran to the closest shelter, the Crystal Hotel.

Less than two years later I was the executive director of New York City’s Animal Care & Control. My office was one block from Ground Zero. It was while I was in New York City that I learned of the heroic and largely unrecognized work done by the animal care and control officers of that department, along with the City’s Urban Park Rangers, on 9/11.

In the days following 9/11, Animal Care & Control Officers and Urban Park Rangers rescued over 1200 pets from the surrounding residential buildings over the objections of the Fire and Police Chiefs who felt the buildings were unsafe. These brave officers climbed 30 story buildings in the dark and smoke, without air conditioning or electricity. They went from apartment to apartment not knowing if the buildings they were in would stand or fall. They wore “moon suits” with respirators so they could breath. Within three days they rescued 1200 animals and within two weeks they had returned every animal to its rightful owner.

Los Angeles Animal Services and Animal Care & Control of New York City both serve as models for massive pet evacuations and safely returning animals to their owners, as contrasted with what happened after Katrina. To be sure, Katrina was a disaster of much larger geographic scope than either the Northridge quake or the World Trade Center disaster. However, there is one troubling similarity between 9/11 and Katrina, and that is how so many of the national animal welfare organizations capitalized on the disaster. They raised millions of dollars but, according to independent animal rescuers who aided in efforts to save animals in the aftermath, did much less than they probably could have to actually rescue and return pets to their owners.

I know that New York City Animal Care & Control, the agency that did the lion’s share of saving animals’ lives during the 9/11 tragedy, received nothing from the millions of dollars raised by the organizations who ostensibly raised these monies to alleviate the suffering of the animals in the disaster. In the future, local animal care agencies and private sector animal welfare groups should work together to create more effective public-private partnerships and generate improved outcomes for these animals who find themselves in desperate straits.

Most communities have an animal control agency that is equipped and trained to handle such emergencies (or they are working on a plan to do so). When deciding who should take the lead in rescuing and RETURNING animals in a disaster, local communities should rely on the agency that provides this expertise every day of the year, their local animal control department.

In Los Angeles, every day is a human-made disaster in terms of numbers when it comes to rescuing and returning lost, homeless, and displaced pets: LA Animal Services routinely receives on average 125 animals a day. Animal Services is diligently planning and preparing to respond to a variety of human-made and natural disasters. Our goal is to make LA the safest City for animals in the United States even in times of disasters.

Animal Services is responsible for protecting and promoting the health, safety and welfare of animals and people in the city of Los Angeles. The department’s Emergency Preparedness Division leads and coordinates preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation efforts relating to natural and manmade disasters that affect the health and safety of pets and wildlife in the city.

Animal Services takes seriously its responsibility to educate the public in preparing their pets for disasters, to ensure pets are included in the City’s evacuation plan, to coordinate animal rescue efforts, to establish plans for setting up emergency shelters for homeless pets, and to coordinate the training of shelter and field staff in the incident command system that’s used in disaster response.

LA Animal Services coordinates all interagency animal-related responses in the City’s emergency operations center during a time of disaster. If you belong to an LA City-based organization and you are interested in learning more about this important topic, please contact LA Animal Services at 213.482.9556 to schedule a presentation on disaster planning for pets.

Together we can develop a comprehensive “safety net” for all the members of our family, including our companion animals.