No Kill here to stay? by Ed Boks

Ed Boks and Reigning Cats and Dogs
Ed Boks and Board President Gloria Hershman present the prestigious YHS Founder’s Award to Kathy Coleman, John Tarro and Max Fogleman.

What a celebration! I’m talking about the Yavapai HumaneSociety’s annual Reigning Cats & Dogs Gala this past Saturday. This year we celebrated YHS’s 41st anniversary and the role the organization has played in transforming  Yavapai County into the safest, pet-friendliest community in the nation!

As we celebrated the many successes of the past four decades, a big question concerning YHS’ future was put before the over 350 Gala celebrants. That question was this: Is no-kill here to stay? Was the success of the past three years an anomaly or a beachhead?

The resounding response of the gala guests was “Yes, no-kill is here to stay” – and their commitment to the “no-kill” ethic was demonstrated by a record yield in donations dedicated to funding the Yavapai Humane Society’s many life-saving programs.

At this year’s event, YHS Board President Gloria Hershman presented the prestigious Yavapai Humane Society Founder’s Awards to former board members John Tarro, Kathy Coleman and Max Fogleman. This dynamic trio helped guide YHS through some of its most difficult years while laying the foundation for YHS’s most recent successes.

One of the livelier auction items was for naming rights for the new YHS Cat Care Center. The opening bid was $10,000 and, after a fun and exciting bidding war with Hooligan’s proprietors Pat and Nancy O’Brien, Don and Shirl Pence emerged the winners with a $32,000 bid.

In addition to winning the naming rights for the new Pence Cat Care Center, Don and Shirl served their traditional role as this year’s Founders of the Feast by underwriting another year’s gala. Without their generous support, and the support of so many others, YHS could never accomplish all that it does.

The Pences were recognized along with Lou Silverstein and Peggy Stidworthy in the first-ever Founder’s Award Presentation at last year’s gala. The vision, leadership and generosity of all our founders laid a sure foundation for YHS and we are profoundly grateful to them all.

Would you like to help make sure “no-kill” is here to stay? Please consider joining these visionaries in their support of the “no-kill ethic” through the YHS PAWS program. Together we can continue to make our community the safest in the nation for pets.

You can do this by donating just $10 a month to ending the killing of adoptable pets. What a difference that would make! With that kind of steady support, YHS could reliably continue to save animals’ lives, fight cruelty, and rescue and protect lost, homeless, sick, abused and neglected animals in our community.

And it’s easy to participate in the YHS PAWS (Planned Automatic Withdrawal Service) program. You’ll be joining a growing number of people who are making our entire community a true humane society. By joining PAWS you simply choose the amount that feels comfortable to you; and you can change or cancel your participation any time.

A monthly contribution of just $10 (or more) helps feed hungry homeless animals, provide life-saving medicine to ailing animals, and vaccinate and spay/neuter needy pets to help reduce pet disease and overpopulation. Where else can so little do so much?

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.

Comparing California Oranges to the Big Apple by Ed Boks

In the autumn of 2005 I did what few department directors voluntarily do. I asked for a top to bottom City audit to be conducted on my former agency, Animal Care & Control of New York City.

I hoped the audit would point out to New York City leaders the need for more resources to be invested in the operation. The City had conducted a scathing audit in 2002 that led to my being recruited to NYC to help turn the situation around. After two years and a 130% increase in adoptions, formation of over 150 New Hope partnerships, and a 30% decline in the euthanasia rate, I felt it was time to assess our progress with a full understanding of our shortcomings.

We still needed help, and we simply were not getting it from New York City.

Consider NYC Animal Care & Control has a $7.2 million budget to serve 8.2 million people. NYC has three animal shelters that the City had to condemn and take away from the ASPCA to give to a newly formed under budgeted and understaffed animal control program. NYC AC&C staff wages are 40% below the national average and the City does little to nothing to address this issue each year. Both NYC and LA handle roughly the same number of animals each year.

NYC’s three shelters serve 8.2 million residents. Queens, the fifth largest city in the United States has no shelter at all, neither does the Bronx. Staff are forced to transport animals over vast areas to the three full service, albeit, dilapidated shelters.

Compare this to LA with a $20.2 million budget serving 3.9 million residents with eight new state of the art animal care centers soon to be opened throughout the City. These facilities will rival the finest humane animal shelters anywhere in the country. While NYC’s Animal Care & Control’s budget never comes up in the NYC budget process, we were able to increase LA’s Animal Services budget by 11.6% this coming budget year, with an additional $3.3 million for one time tenant improvement monies, not to even mention the $150 million bond funding for constructing the new facilities and their campuses.

Clearly LA leaders and residents understand the importance of animal welfare in a community.

I requested the audit before I left New York City to highlight the lack of animal compassion in that community and to focus on three significant needs: 1) the need for more and better facilities, 2) the need for more and better trained and paid staff, and 3) the need for an adequate budget to fund humane, non-lethal programs. This audit does all of that and just in time for the current contract negotiations when this information is most needed.

This audit is now available and I believe it did exactly what I’d hoped it would do: It showed we were making progress despite the dearth of funding and support, but that there was much remaining to be done. You can read about the audit in the New York Daily News coverage via the link below, and view the audit itself via the other link.

Three important programs were inexplicably terminated shortly after my departure from NYC, the results of which are reflected in the audit. One was the termination of our PR program which helped keep the needs of the agency in the public eye every day. The second was a nationally recognized Shelter Dog Training Program that trained one hundred volunteers at a time to train shelter dogs making them more adoptable. The third was the elimination of the development department whose mission was to help offset the City’s inability to pay for these programs by conducting its own fund raising, a program recommended by the City Comptroller in the 2002 audit.

It is my hope this recent audit will be used by the current administration as it was intended, to make a compelling argument for more resources to save lives!

Soon after my arrival in LA, I met with LA Comptroller Laura Chick to discuss a similar audit of LAAS. We are working out the details and timing for that process. Audits, when used properly, are merely a compass. They tell you how far you’ve come, where you are, and how far you yet have to go. I’m hoping we can begin this process in LA Animal Services soon.

The best of times are before us By Ed Boks

The following are Ed Boks’ comments to the Public Safety Committee on Monday, April 17, 2006:

Good Morning Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee,

I could easily begin this address on the state of Animal Services in Los Angeles by paraphrasing Charles Dickens, who said we live in the best of times and the worst of times.

Beginning in July of this year the City plans to open one new state of the art Animal Care Center every month for six consecutive months. These new Animal Care Centers clearly demonstrate the City’s commitment to animal welfare in Los Angeles. They will forever end the “dog pound” image of yesteryear as they provide every section of Los Angeles with a pleasant, green, humane Community Animal Care Center where we will be able to educate residents of all ages on the intrinsic value and benefits of the human/animal bond through a variety of interactive programs. These Centers will also serve as “the” pet Adoption Centers of choice for all Angelinos as well as for residents in surrounding communities.

I want to thank both the Mayor’s Office and the CAO for working so closely with Animal Services to help ensure we have an adequate budget to operate our new Animal Care Centers and Spay/Neuter Clinics in a manner that will meet community expectations. The new Animal Care Centers will require the hiring over 161 new employees to handle the over 300% increase in workload.

This is an unprecedented, yet appropriate, rate of Departmental growth in response to our community’s growing service delivery expectations. Meeting this growing service demand will be difficult. We have two spay/neuter clinics that have been sitting idle for years; soon we will have seven clinics and eventually eight that we want to see fully functional. We are now working closely with the Mayor’s Office, the CAO, Personnel, the Unions and the community to help address this most critical challenge.

Consistent with our new Animal Care Centers and enhanced service delivery programs, Animal Services has renewed its commitment to our community’s expectation to end euthanasia as a means to control pet overpopulation. A goal that some may still think impossible, not unlike what many people must have thought about putting a man on the moon in the 1960s. As a result of renewing this goal, animal welfare communities across the United State are now watching what we do here in Los Angeles; and none more closely than our own.

Like the early space program Animal Services may experience some unfortunate situations, errors in judgement and some confusion over consistent implementation of new policies and programs in all our locations. Change is difficult. Some find change coming too fast, others find it coming too slow. Some may point to isolated situations as evidence that nothing is changing at all. I contend they are evidence of substantive changes and growing pains.

I will not minimize our shortcomings or mistakes. We readily admit them. Every allegation against Animal Services is thoroughly investigated, and with City Attorney approval, we hope to post the results of investigations on our website for all to see. We make no claim to be perfect. Far from it! It is my hope that as we freely identify our shortcomings and needs the community will respond with the same compassion they demand of us, and will choose to help us, not condemn us.

Achieving No-Kill is not an easy task. Animal Services is an organization learning to walk and chew gum at the same time. We are developing programs and policies that are both tactical and strategic, that deal with both animal care and animal control.

Our greatest needs are sometimes revealed by an unfortunate incident or a misunderstanding about an incident. We use these opportunities to review our systems and processes to discover how and why errors occur in an effort to ensure the same mistakes are not repeated. We attempt to correct the problems we encounter at their source; we want to address the causes, but we will not ignore the symptoms.

Some in the community are amazed at the rate of change Animal Services has experienced in so short a time frame, others are unsatisfied and impatient. Some understand the difficulties we have to overcome, while others may have unrealistic expectations. Animal Services may never be able to please everyone all the time. But we are pleasing more and more people every day. We are focused on systemic changes that mitigate customer dissatisfaction and frustration while providing better treatment and conditions for our animals.

During the first 100 days of this year we developed a new mission, vision and set of organizational values. We are reviewing policies and protocols and developing and implementing new programs designed to reduce euthanasia and increase adoptions.

As we deal with each tactical “crisis” that comes our way we are determined to remain focused on our strategic No-Kill goal. As we progress, we will eventually transition out of the crisis management mode that has stymied this department for so many years and shift into more effectively addressing the root causes of pet overpopulation and irresponsible pet ownership. These combined problems are at the root of why we are unable to achieve No-Kill immediately.

Some will ask if No-Kill is an achievable goal. Well, the evidence suggests that Animal Services is at least moving in the right direction. During the first quarter of 2006 Dog and Cat Adoptions were up 9.36% compared to the first quarter of 2005. That represents 3,248 dogs and cats placed into loving homes in three months. That is the highest first quarter adoption rate ever recorded by Animal Services.

Dog and Cat Euthanasia was down 37% compared to the same quarter last year. That represents 2,091 euthanasias in three months. Too many to be sure, but it is still the lowest quarterly euthanasia rate ever recorded in Los Angeles.

Part of this success is due to the our aggressive spay/neuter programs including Animal Services’ spay/neuter voucher programs that pre-existed my tenure. We recently reorganized all our spay/neuter efforts under the program name The Big Fix, a name that recognizes that spay/neuter programs are the only way to truly and finally “fix” the vexing problems arising from pet overpopulation. The brand name “Big Fix” was coined by Best Friends Animal Society in Utah, and we use it with their kind permission.

As a result of our community’s combined spay/neuter efforts, Dog and Cat Intakes were down nearly 14% during the last quarter compared to the same quarter in 05! Animal Services has experienced a 24% decrease in intakes over the past five years.

This decrease is a direct result of the City’s Council commitment of $1 million annually to our spay/neuter programs. Money being well spent as Animal Services has seen a 35% increase in our voucher subsidized spay/neuter surgeries so far in Fiscal Year 06 compared to the same time period in Fiscal Year 05. We have also seen a 50% increase in Feral Cat surgeries during this same time frame.

Animal Services’ is also thankful for the incredible efforts of the Amanda Foundation, the Sam Simon Foundation, Best Friends’ Catnippers, The Feral Cat Coalition, the ABC Spay/Neuter Clinic, and so many more! The tens of thousands of surgeries occurring each year over the last several years by so many wonderful organizations have been instrumental in the declining intake and kill rates in the City of Los Angeles.

Another reason for the lower euthanasia rate this past quarter is a new program Animal Services implemented called Plus One/Minus One. This program compares the adoptions and euthanasia rates of dogs and cats on a day-to-day basis to last year; comparing the first Monday of March 05 to the first Monday of March 06, the first Tuesday of March 05 to the first Tuesday of March 06, etc.Plus One/Minus One is designed to encourage staff, volunteers, and partners to place more animals and kill fewer animals each day compared to the same day one year previous.

The Plus One/Minus One program is a motivational and productivity tool that works on a day to day level. Clearly, sustaining these results over time is the bigger challenge. That is why Animal Services is reaching out to partner with every animal welfare organization and other City Departments in an unprecedented way.

Another reason for our declining euthanasia rate is that Animal Services has one of the highest success rates in the country for returning lost pets to their frantic owners, a rate four times higher than other large cities. Animal Services returns over 4,500 lost dogs and cats to their grateful owners each year. This is due largely to our extensive microchip program, and to a lesser extent to our dog license program, which has a long way to go before it will achieve the market penetration required to make it a fully effective animal management tool.

Animal Services recently developed a partnership with the Department of Water and Power to help identify households with aggressive, unlicensed dogs. DWP tracks this information to help protect their meter readers. Sharing this information with Animal Services makes good public safety sense. I want to thank my excellent Board of Animal Services Commissioners for this and so many other great ideas.

Animal Services is also coordinating with other City Departments and community organizations on a program that will effectively address our community’s most troubled neighborhoods, areas where dogs run at large and sometimes in packs. I will keep the Committee informed as the plans for this program are formalized.

Another reason for the reduced euthanasia rate during the past 100 days is that Animal Services doubled its off-site adoption and special event efforts resulting in 661 adoptions compared to 224 during the same time frame last year. We increased our off site adoption events from 15 to 29 and we are continually looking for new venues to increase our off site adoption efforts even further. We recently developed another powerful partnership with the Department of Recreation and Parksso that we will now be working more closely together on more pet adoption events in our City’s parks!

I also want to thank Councilman Herb Wesson for his Pet of the Month Program that highlights Animal Services’ animals at City Council Meetings. This program is another demonstration of the City Council’s support of Animal Services’ efforts to increase adoptions and reduce euthanasia. Every animal featured at a City Council meeting is now in a loving home! This program draws tremendous attention to the quality animals available at Animal Services as it challenges the community to save a life and adopt a pet.

As Animal Services continues to respond to the needs, concerns, complaints, and compliments of the community we serve, we are determined to keep our eye on the ball! Will Animal Services continue to be challenged with our own shortcomings? Yes, we see this nearly every day. People may be frustrated with what they perceive to be the slowness of our progress. But it took Los Angeles a long time to get into its current situation and it will take at least a little time to turn this situation around.

But we are turning it around. Over the past five years, under four different General Managers and despite well-publicized occasional friction between the department and its critics in the community, Animal Services reduced dog and cat euthanasia 46%. Animal Services significantly reduced dog and cat euthanasia every year since 2002 (18%); 2003 (10%); 2004 (17%); and 2005 (11%). And with a 37% decrease in the first quarter of 06, we are demonstrating that Animal Services is doing everything we can to step up the pace.

But it is important to understand that Animal Services cannot do this alone. We need the help of the entire community. Animal Services invites our community’s concerned residents to help make Los Angeles a No-Kill City by joining Animal Services’ Volunteer Program, Foster Care Program, or our Mobile Adoption Program.

I also invite all active animal rescue organizations to directly partner with Animal Services in our soon to be launched New Hope program, a program designed to make it as easy as possible to release animals to partnering organizations. The program is being officially unveiled at a public meeting in Studio City on April 25th.

Working together as a community we can make Los Angeles the safest city in the United States for our pets and our people. Animal Services is deeply committed to achieving the ultimate goal of ending institutional euthanasia as a method for controlling pet overpopulation! Many individuals and groups have already stepped up to help Animal Services and I look forward to working with all concerned members of the community toward that end. I especially want to thank this Committee for your continued support! Thank you.