There are moments on this job that make all the heartbreak and disappointment worthwhile. Recently Sandy Nelson, who had adopted one of our shelter animals a few months ago, called me to say, “Thank you for believing Xena (pronounced Zeena) deserved a chance to live.” That was one of those moments.
When I first arrived at the Yavapai Humane Society (YHS) in July, I found Xena on the euthanasia list. Alone in her kennel, surrounded by barking dogs and abandoned by her family, she was understandably frightened. She responded to her new surroundings the only way she knew how – by demonstrating a behavior known as “fear-based aggression,” which is not uncommon in shelter dogs when they first arrive.
Although we knew she was acting out her fear, her behavior was so fearsome that our most experienced animal handlers were unable to handle her. One of them admitted that, in all his years at YHS, Xena was the only dog that actually scared him. By the time I arrived that first week in July, it had already been determined that there was no chance Xena would ever be adopted. She was marked for euthanasia.
Public safety is the primary focus when evaluating dogs for adoption. With nearly 30 years experience in animal control and welfare, I understand better than most that there are dogs who are dangerously aggressive – dogs who should never be adopted out. Was Xena such a dog?
Imagine what must go on in the mind of a dog abandoned by her guardian. You wake up as you do every morning at the foot of your master’s bed – but tonight you inexplicably find yourself alone in a cold concrete cell surrounded by excited barking dogs and strange people. Wouldn’t you lash out in fear to defend yourself?
How do you discern a truly dangerous dog from an estranged pet?
Fortunately for Xena, renowned Malibu-based dog trainer and behaviorist Robert Cabral came to the rescue. Waiving his $250 per hour fee and all the expenses he incurred from driving himself and his two dogs, Silly and Goofy, to Prescott, he came to help staff and volunteers learn his life-saving techniques.
Cabral is not your typical dog trainer. His focus is not training beloved pets how to sit and stay in your backyard. His expertise is rehabilitating behaviorally challenged shelter dogs. He has been called upon to rehabilitate dogs adjudicated as “vicious” by city magistrates – dogs most of us wouldn’t want to be in the same town with, much less on the same leash.
Believing that even these dogs deserve a chance at life is the essence of the no-kill ethic. These dogs do not come by this behavior naturally; they are trained directly or through neglect to be aggressive. The no-kill ethic asserts that every shelter animal deserves a chance at life. That means YHS will strive to treat animals in need of medical care as well as animals in need of behavioral rehabilitation in the effort to find each animal a loving home.
It was this ethic that saved Xena. The no-kill ethic created a way for the Nelsons and Xena to meet and fall in love. Today, Xena is in dog obedience classes, she happily sits for treats and she devotedly follows the Nelsons around their beautiful ranch in Chino Valley.
Cabral has a slogan: “You can’t save all the dogs in the world, but you can save one. Join the revolution.” Xena is one of many dogs benefiting from Cabral’s life-saving training. YHS staff applied what we learned and Xena responded. She overcame her fear, was removed from the euthanasia list and was adopted by the Nelsons in July.
Isn’t it time you joined the life-saving revolution? Adopt a shelter animal today.
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.
I was recently asked what my last Blog about “compassion” has to do with fulfilling Animal Services’ mission to “promote and protect the health, safety and welfare of animals and people in the City of Los Angeles.”
I was surprised when this seemingly compassionate person stated she was not comfortable with the General Manager of LA Animal Services espousing “religion” to express the idea of enlarging the circle of compassion to include all species, especially our companion animals and local wildlife.
Its interesting that the word “religion” means to “reconnect” as in fixing something that is broken. One does not need to be religious to want to fix a broken system. Clearly our animal welfare community is broken, and as the renowned Veterinarian/Philosopher Leo K. Bustad demonstrated throughout his life and teachings, “Compassion is our last great Hope“.
Finding fault with compassion, however it is expressed, is serious evidence of a broken society for all the reasons cited in my last Blog.
This person’s misguided concern over how or where compassion is discussed reminded me of an excerpt from “The Velveteen Rabbit”, when the Rabbit asked the Skin Horse what it means to be “Real”. The Skin Horse responded:
“Real isn’t how you are made. It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real… It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
To people who don’t understand the importance of Compassion, everything must appear ugly, which probably explains why they can only espouse ugliness and intollerance in all their discourse.
I’m convinced most Angelinos are persuaded by better angels – after all, (forgive the religous reference), we are the City of Angels…
The Good News is, we are not unique, as this recent article in Time Magazine indicates:
According to David Favre, a professor at the Michigan State University College of Law, who has studied animal rights laws for 20 years, what we are experiencing in Los Angeles is a “grass roots movement” of compassion occuring across the United States – from a concern for feral cats, spaying and neutering, and local shelters. “It is not unlike the environmental movement when I was in law school. Animal welfare is a growing social interest”, explains Favre.
Every movement has started with a small group of enlightened individuals calling attention to an injustice. When these people expressed a valid concern, it would touch the hearts and compassion of others and a movement would grow until it reached a tipping point. Once a movement hit a tipping point, and more people were aware of an injustice than those who were not, it was then time to shift gears and focus attention on solving the problem.
We get it. Killing animals is bad. Now lets work together to figure out real solutions to end it. We have passed the “tipping point” in Los Angeles. Unlike so many communities in the United States, we have a Mayor, a City Council, an Animal Services Commission and a General Manager who all champion this noble goal and are calling upon the entire community to rally together until it is finally achieved. There is no going back. No-Kill in LA is inevitable.
Curiously, the most vocal in calling attention to the “catch and kill” injustice practiced by our community, now refuse, when the opportunity for success is greatest, to devote their resources and energy to actually achieving “no-kill”.
With the American Revolution as a rare exception, it seems most revolutionaries find it easier to continue casting stones after winning the day than they do stopping to gather stones together. (Is this a religious reference or a Pete Seeger song popularized by the Byrds?) Why do some only see ugliness and refuse to understand that this is the time they have been waiting for? Why do they argue while animals are still dying, when together we could end it quicker!
The City of Los Angeles has established a challenging goal – to make Los Angeles the first major “no-kill” city in the United States. We know that each year millions of lost and homeless pets are euthanized in the United States for no other reason than there are not enough loving homes for them. Los Angeles Animal Services is committed to ending this barbaric practice once and for all.
This is not a new goal. Los Angeles has made the greatest progress towards achieving No-Kill when compared to any other community in the United States by reducing euthanasia 50% over the past 5 years and another 14.6% in 2006 in the case of our canine friends! Animal Services experienced nearly a 70% live release rate for dogs in 2006! (A 2006 Annual Report is forthcoming and will include data on all species and programs.)
To achieve “no-kill”, Animal Services has and will continue to initiate innovative and progressive programs. Not the least of which is the opening of six new, state of the art Animal Care Centers. These centers look more like botanical gardens than animal shelters and will be the pride of Los Angeles as they set the gold standard for municipal animal shelters. Animal Services is already the largest animal rescue and pet adoption agency in California, and these new shelters will greatly increase the number of pets placed into loving homes.
With the new Centers we are also opening six new state of the art spay/neuter clinics. A year ago, these clinics were not even scheduled to open until 2008 at the earliest. Today, they are on the fast track to completion and will all be open before this summer. Each clinic is designed to surgically alter 20,000 pets annually. With Animal Services altering 120,000 pets each year, Los Angeles will quickly see a reduction in the number of lost and homeless pets coming into our shelters. This decrease in the number of unwanted pets in Los Angeles will allow us to provide even greater care to the animals still finding their way into our new Care Centers.
Animal Services is an all inclusive organization willing to work and partner with any organization or person wanting to make a constructive difference. We currently partner with over 70 animal welfare organizations in the greater LA area in a program called “New Hope“. This program truly offers new hope to nearly 7,000 animals that would have had no hope at all without the help of these great organizations.
Beginning in 2006, Animal Services made thousands of animals available to our New Hope Partners at no cost, including free spay/neuter surgery, free vaccinations and medical care up until the time of release (and sometimes afterwards) and free microchips. Partners are provided 24/7 access to the Centers to evaluate and work with the animals, and even have a “personal shopper” in each Center who alerts them to animals they are interested in helping.
Animal Services’ Big Fix Program provides spay/neuter services to our community’s most needy pet owners to ensure no pet is left unaltered just because the owner can’t afford the pet’s surgery. Feral cats are also provided spay/neuter through Operation FELIX (Feral Education and Love Instead of X-termination).
Our STAR (Special Treatment And Recovery) Program is designed to help the hundreds of animals rescued by Animal Services who are sick, injured, abused, or neglected. These animals would have been euthanized if not for this life saving program!
Animal Services’ Bottle Baby Program is designed to provide bottle feeding to the hundreds of orphaned neonate puppies and kittens who are brought into Animal Services each year. Before this program was established these animals had no chance at survival. We are also in the process of finalizing our Evidence Animal Foster Program which will for the first time permit evidence animals (victims of cruelty crimes) to be placed in the homes and care of compassionate volunteers so they don’t languish in a shelter for months or longer while the case is being adjudicated. Today Animal Services’ volunteers and staff provide Foster Homes to orphaned neonates, sick, injured, abused and neglected animals relieving them of the trauma of long term shelter confinement and thus making room for other animals to have longer periods of time to be adopted.
Animal Services is about more than just pets, we are about people too. In 2007 we will launch our Teach Love and Compassion (TLC) Program. This program is designed to assist “at risk” kids by providing them an opportunity to care for “at risk” animals. Many of our community’s kids are all too aware of the harsh realities of abuse or neglect, and many know what it means to have a loving foster home to go to. TLC will enlarge the circle of compassion by allowing these kids to care for lost and homeless pets that have been abused, neglected, and are in need of foster care.
Later this program will be expanded to include our community’s senior citizens and others making our Animal Care Centers true community centers in every sense of the word, and all rotating around LA’s love for it’s lost and homeless pets!
This is just a sampling of the programs of LA Animal Services, with many more to come. For more information about LA Animal Services and how you can help, visit www.laanimalservices.com
2007 is a golden opportunity for LA to come together as a community to maximize all our efforts and resources to expand the circle of compassion to effectively help our community’s lost and homeless animals and finally achieve No-Kill for all the dogs, cats, rabbits, pocket pets, wildlife, farm animals and exotics who come through the doors of Animal Services. I’m hoping you will decide to be part of the solution by helping Animal Services help the animals in our care.
LA Animal Services will soon be unveiling a stunningly unique sculpture called “The Animal Tree of Life”. This sculture came about because of René Baker’s love of animals. When she heard that the West Valley Animal Care Center was seeking an artist to create a work of art for the renovated and partially new shelter, she sought out her sculpture mentor, Robert Cunningham. Cunningham is a well-known sculptor of public projects so, as a team, they were pre-qualified for the first phase in the selection of artists.
When they received notice inviting a proposal, they discussed many possibilities, including interior art. They decided, however, the best solution would be a symbolic work that would have enough physical stature to stand as an identifying symbol of the West Valley Shelter. Their proposal was accepted.
The Animal Tree evolved from totem-pole-like forms to trees covered in animals to the animals themselves forming the Tree of Life. Some of René’s own pets, including a Pygmy goat and a Senegal parrot were models for the life-sized animals making up the sculpture.
The project took about fourteen months from start to completion. There are eight mammals, two reptiles and nineteen birds. All the sculpting, mold-making and casting was created and carried out at Robert and René’s studio in the high desert area, between San Bernardino and Victorville.
The Animal Tree of Life projects an image to the public of uplifted and spirited animals, free from torture, hunger and loneliness. The sculpture is approximately 5 ft. x 6 ft., at the base, and 12 ft. high. Domestic and exotic animals, pets and wildlife, all those that might find their way to LA Animal Services, comprise the Tree of Life. Small and midsized animals form the base, with a large pony, two dogs and a cat forming the trunk of the tree. A Golden eagle stands at the top, supporting the tree’s canopy of birds of many types. The canopy crowns the sculpture in a swirl of avian flight.
The artist wanted to create contours and a pleasing harmony of shapes and forms against the new facility’s roofline. The sculpture’s organic imagery creates a contrast to the adjacent straight lines of concrete and asphalt—a symbol of what the Animal Care Center is all about: the healing and rescue of many animals from the sometimes harsh realities of life.
The sculpture is bronze and weighs more than 2,000 pounds. Its maintenance will be minimal. In summary, the artist wants to motivate and inspire the public to do their best for animalkind.
On behalf of all Animal Services, we wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving! I want to personally thank all our employees, volunteers, partners, the Mayor and City Council, and the public for your support of Animal Services’ efforts to once and for all end euthanasia to control pet overpopulation. Together we are making LA the safest City in the United States for our pets!