Dog-Gone Cat-tastrophe Averted! by Ed Boks

The Daily News ran a great article on East Valley’s Dog-Gone Cat-tastrophe Adoptathon! The event ran from Friday, May 19 through Monday, May 22. Last year LAAS adopted 42 animals on the third weekend in May. This year, thanks to this promotion, adoptions were up 159%. 109 dogs and cats found loving homes from our East Valley Animal Care Center in North Hollywood.

Several radio and tv stations and newspapers came by to report on the event. The Daily News article follows:

Adoption options  Looking to adopt a pet? You should have checked out the Dog-Gone Cat-tastrophe Adoptathon last weekend at the East Valley Animal Shelter in North Hollywood. 

Missed it? No worries. The Los Angeles Animal Services Department now keeps city shelters open on weekends. 

The schedule makes sense: Most would-be pet owners can’t make it to shelters during the week. They have jobs; their kids have school. Opening up the shelters on weekends helps facilitate adoptions, which is good for the animals, the owners and the city alike. It should also help to cut down on the number of animals euthanized at city shelters. 

For more information, check out LAAS’ Web site (http://www.laanimalservices.com/).

LAAS wants to thank the media, the public, and our wonderful partners for the overwhelming response to this pressing need! Thanks to the public’s response to LAAS’ needy animals LA’s euthanasia rate has been reduced over 30% compared to the same time period in 2005! All stats are on the LAAS website.

But the crisis is far from over. LAAS is still rescuing over 100 lost and homeless dogs and cats every day! Please help get the word out that there are many wonderful pets waiting to lavish unconditional love in return for a home. Please visit our website or any one of our six Animal Care Centers.

“Dog Gone Cat-tastrophe” Hits the East Valley Animal Care Center by Ed Boks

Responding to the annual spring population explosion of homeless animals, the Department of Animal Services (LAAS) is teaming up with rescue organizations from all over the city to stage a “Dog-Gone Cat-Astrophe Adoptathon,” an unprecedented four-day event at the
East Valley Animal Care Center
13131 Sherman Way
North Hollywood 91605
The event runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, May 19, and Saturday, May 20, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, May 21 and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday, May 22. (Monday is for rescue groups only and they must request an appointment.)
This special event makes dogs and cats available to the public at special discounted adoption rates: $55 per dog and $35 for one cat and $50 for two cats. Adoption fees include spay or neuter surgery, a microchip, and a license for dogs.
It’s even better for 501c3 rescue organizations. In honor of the launch of LAAS’ New Hope Program, rescue groups in good standing with LAAS will receive animals for free plus they will receive a $100 cash gift made possible by an anonymous benefactor.
“The spring is typically the most difficult season in our shelters because of over-crowding,” explained LAAS General Manager Ed Boks, “and East Valley is especially hard hit this year. We want to make it as easy as possible for these great animals to find a loving home so we’ve teamed up with every rescue group in L.A. to address this ‘dog-gone cat-Astrophe.’”
The special $100 offer to rescue groups is only available at the East Valley Animal Care Center to rescue groups. To qualify for special “New Hope” rates or subsidies call 213-485-8613 prior to visiting the shelter.
“I hope families, individuals and rescuers will visit East Valley Animal Service Center this weekend and take advantage of this unique opportunity to find new friends for life, and to give these animals a fresh start,” said Boks.

Keep Those Cards And Letters Coming! by Ed Boks

LAAS appreciates all the help we are receiving from the community in the form of compliments, suggestions, and even complaints. Your feedback helps us focus all our efforts on becoming a better, more responsive organization every day to both you and the animals we care for.

To make sure your feedback is not overlooked and has its intended impact, LAAS developed a quick and easy feedback process that will direct your comments to the appropriate LAAS division director for a quick response (2 weeks or less is our hope, depending of course on the nature of the issue).

To send your compliment, suggestion, or complaint to LAAS just click on this website:  http://www.laanimalservices.com/servicefeedback.htm 

There is also a button in the quick-links menu on the left side of our Homepage that says “Feedback Form”, as well as a tiny blurb with link in the body of the home page.

Don’t be shy; let us know how you think we are doing and what we could be doing better. Your feedback, help, and support are always welcome and appreciated!

Thank you for your continued support of LAAS!
Ed

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.

Keep your eye on the No-Kill Goal by Ed Boks

Achieving No-Kill is not an easy undertaking. Everyday something seems to happen that could side track us from this goal. But LAAS has to be an organization that can walk and chew gum at the same time. We have to be both tactical and strategic. As we deal with each daily “crisis” it is important we not lose sight of our efforts to achieve our strategic No-Kill goal. As we progress, we will transition more and more from crisis management to managing and solving the problems resulting from pet overpopulation and irresponsible pet owner/guardianship, the problems that prevent us from achieving No-Kill immediately.

Let me remind everyone what I mean by “No-Kill”. No-Kill will be achieved in LA when LAAS is able to use the same criteria that a loving pet owner/guardian or a compassionate veterinarian uses to determine if an animal should be euthanized. In other words, when LAAS no longer kills healthy or treatable animals because of a lack of space or resources we will have achieved “No-Kill.”

So, is No-Kill even achievable? Well, the evidence suggests LAAS 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 in five years.

Dog and Cat Euthanasia was down 37.31% compared to the same quarter last year. That represents 2,091 euthanasias. Still too many, to be sure, but it still represents the lowest quarter ever. In fact, LAAS had three record low euthanasia rate months in a row, compared both with the last twelve months and when comparing January, February, and March 06 to the same three months in any other year (http://www.laanimalservices.com/Statistics.htm).

Big Fix: Part of this success is certainly due to our community’s aggressive spay/neuter programs, including Los Angeles Animal Services’ Big Fix programs (a “branding” developed by Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and used by LAAS with their permission) (http://www.laanimalservices.com/bigfixspayneuter.htm).

As a result of all our spay/neuter efforts, Dog and Cat Intakes were down 13.60% during this past quarter compared to the same quarter last year! LAAS has experienced a 24% decrease in intakes over the past five years. This is due largely because of The Big Fix Spay/Neuter Voucher Program for dogs and cats. LAAS shows a 35% increase in spay/neuter coupon redemption during Fiscal Year 05/06 so far compared to the first three quarters of Fiscal Year 04/05. We also see a 50% increase in Operation FELIX Voucher redemptions (for feral cats) during the first three quarters of Fiscal Year 05/06 compared to the first three quarters of Fiscal Year 04/05 (July – March respectively).

Also, we can’t thank the Amanda Foundation and the Sam Simon Foundation enough for the incredible work they do to bring spay/neuter services into our neediest communities. The thousands of surgeries they and their predecessors have done in mobile clinics over the last several years have made an important contribution to the declining intake and kill rates.

Plus One/Minus One: Another reason for the lower euthanasia rate this past quarter is a new program 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, etc.

Plus One/Minus One is an internal program designed to encourage staff, volunteers, and partners to place more animals and kill fewer animals every day compared to the same day (not date) as last year. These statistics more accurately compare apples to apples. This is how this program worked in our six shelters:

Plus One, Minus One –
YTD 06 Results Compared to January through March 05:

East Valley
Intakes: Down 10.68%
Adoptions: Up 18.36%
Euthanasia: Down 36.71%

Harbor
Intakes: Down 18.76%
Adoptions: Up 72.19%
Euthanasia: Down 5.60%

North Central
Intakes: Down 15.32%
Adoptions: Down 0.62%
Euthanasia: Down 32.51%

South LA
Intakes: Down 15.37%
Adoptions: Up 5.35%
Euthanasia: Down 31.99%

West LA
Intakes: Down 16.47%
Adoptions: Up 10.14%
Euthanasia: Down 15.56%

West Valley
Intakes: Down 20.80%
Adoptions: Down 6.55%
Euthanasia: Down 36.21%

Return to Owner/Guardian Program: LAAS also has a high success rate for returning lost pets to their frantic owner/guardians, four times higher than other comparable cities. LAAS returns over 4,500 lost dogs and cats to their grateful owner/guardians every year. (Still, we have room to improve, as shown by a recent incident when a dog’s microchip was not properly scanned that led to an unfortunate situation in which a person’s beloved pet was adopted by someone else. It was a graphic opportunity to impress upon staff that EVERY animal needs to be properly scanned for microchips, but one which I hope will not be repeated. It also highlights to the dog owning public the importance of a dog license as the primary form of identification.)

Seniors for Seniors Program: This program was implemented on February 1st, helping to improve adoptions by placing senior animals with our community’s senior citizens. To date over 100 animals have been placed through this important program.

Mobile Pet Adoptions: LAAS also doubled its off-site adoption and special event efforts during this last quarter, resulting in 661 adoptions compared to 224 in the same time frame last year and 29 off-site events this year compared to 15 last year. And we are looking to increase our efforts even further!

Keeping our eye on the ball is so very important. Will LAAS continue to be challenged with our own shortcomings? Indeed, we see that every day. People may become frustrated with what they perceive to be the slowness of our progress. But it took LA a long time to get into its current situation and it will take some time to turn it around.

But we are turning it around. Over the past five years LAAS reduced dog and cat euthanasia 45.7%. LAAS significantly reduced dog and cat euthanasia every year since 2002 (17.7%); 2003 (10.3%); 2004 (17.3%); and 2005 (11.1%). And with a 35% decrease in the first quarter of 06, I’m hoping this demonstrates we are doing everything we can to step up the pace.

But make no mistake, LAAS cannot do this alone. We need your help. If you would like to help LAAS and its many partners and friends make Los Angeles a No-Kill City I encourage you to consider volunteering to help our Foster Program or our Mobile Adoption Program. Donations to our Big Fix and other programs are also greatly appreciated.

Together we can make LA the safest city in the United States for our pets.

What’s new at LA Animal Services? by Ed Boks

Have you seen what’s new on the LAAS Website?www.laanimalservices.com 

You can now translate the website into nine different languages.

There is a new Blog below on the cruelty of tethering called, “Chains of Love or Abuse”.

The New Hope Program scheduled to roll out within the next month or so is described. The document on line is just to help the rescue groups get acquainted with the program. LAAS will have a public meeting to explain the program in detail within the next couple of weeks. The program will not be implemented until after the public meeting.

A report on Operation FELIX (Feral Education and Love Instead of X-termination) is now on line for your information. It details why TNR (Trap/Neuter/Return) is the only viable, humane, non-lethal method for effectively reducing the feral cat population in any community or location.

My position on many common sense approaches to humane animal care on a community wide level is also available under GM’s Position Statements.

Also read about Patrick, the Irish Setter mix, adopted by a member of the Mayor’s Office at a City Council meeting on St. Patrick’s Day!

And much more.

Also, don’t forget to check out Dana Bartholomew’s new article on LAAS in The Daily News.

Euthanasia for dogs and cats in January 2006 was down 25%, and down 33% in February, and we are on track to reduce euthanasia 40% in March (its at 39.79% as of this writing on March 24th) compared to the same months in 2005. Stay tuned!

Please consider being a life saving Foster mom or dad this puppy and kitten season. More info on our enhanced Foster Program coming soon or contact our volunteer Department for an update.

Together we can make LA the safest City in the US for our pets!

Cooperation and compassion is the antidote to LA’s toxic soup by Ed Boks

Ed Boks and Today Show
Ed Boks advocating No-Kill on the Today Show

Before arriving in Los Angeles, people told me that this city represents the “acid test” for animal welfare reform.  LA, I was informed, is home to the most active, assertive humane community in the country.

In a February 9th public meeting in North Hollywood I noted what I had already observed of this acidity during my brief tenure and I encouraged activists to work together to rise above the rancor.  Some felt I was too negative at a time when I should have simply set forth my vision and goals for Animal Services (LAAS).  However, in light of e-mail debates and news articles that have emerged since then, I think I may have actually understated the situation. Continue reading “Cooperation and compassion is the antidote to LA’s toxic soup by Ed Boks”

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

The Satya Interview with Ed Boks – January/February 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does NYC Animal Care & Control do from there?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York Times profiles Edward Boks

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

Ed Boks and Today Show
Edward Boks on the Today Show

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

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

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

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

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

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