Every animal counts, and the sooner we get started, the more animals we can save!
The mayor of Los Angeles once told me that he considered managing animal shelters more difficult than running a metropolis like L.A. I had to agree. Animal shelters represent the worst – or best – in a community. They are a nexus of heartache and compassion. When one of these outweighs the other, the soul of a community is revealed.
Understanding the daily challenges inherent in managing animal shelters, my heart goes out to the Arizona Humane Society (AHS). AHS is caught up in a public relations nightmare involving a homeless man who brought his kitten to them for medical care. Daniel Dockery, 49 years old, had hand-raised a 9-month old kitten since she was born. Dockery attributed his companionship with the kitten, Scruffy, to his ability to stay off heroin.
When Scruffy suffered “non-life threatening injuries,” Dockery rushed her to AHS where a medical examination determined it would cost $400 to treat her. Unable to pay the fee, Dockery surrendered the kitten to AHS after being assured she would be treated and placed in foster care. Several hours later, Scruffy was euthanized. The report of her death went viral. It seemed every national mainstream and alternate news source reported on Scruffy’s untimely death. The resulting outrage forced AHS to hire a publicist to help alleviate public ire.
The publicist explained that Dockery’s lack of funds combined with the number of animals in need of urgent care led to the decision to euthanize Scruffy. The betrayal of trust left Dockery feeling responsible for Scruffy’s death and prompted an angry public to threaten withholding funds from AHS.
One positive outcome from this ordeal is that AHS created an account funded by donations to cover the cost of emergency animal care. The account is similar to the Yavapai Humane Society’s STAR (Special Treatment And Recovery) fund, which is funded by donations and is responsible for saving the lives of many homeless animals in need of critical care.
Having been involved in animal shelter management for 30 years, I understand that mistakes can be made. I have also learned that policies and procedures can be implemented to help ensure errors are made on the side of saving a life, not taking it.
I share this lamentable story because it sits in juxtaposition to many life and death decisions made by the Yavapai Humane Society. For instance, in recent weeks YHS took in four senior pets, each surrendered by their respective owner claiming the pet was suffering from a life threatening illness.
While YHS provides euthanasia to owned animals who are irremediably suffering, we make it clear to pet owners that we will not euthanize an animal when it is determined that the animal is not suffering, is actually healthy, or can be treated.
In each of these cases, after ownership was legally surrendered to YHS, medical examinations were performed. A consultation with the private veterinarian handling the healthcare of each animal prior to surrender was conducted when possible. In each case no life threatening condition or suffering could be found. These animals have since been placed for adoption in hope they will live their remaining years in a loving home.
Every day employees at animal shelters across the United States are faced with decisions to kill or not to kill. Whether it is killing an animal too quickly or not quickly enough, shelters often find they are damned if they do or damned if they don’t.
If the Yavapai Humane Society is to be judged, let it always be for trying to save the lives of animals others have given up on. Since embracing our “no-kill ethic,” the Yavapai Humane Society has reduced shelter killing 77 percent – making our community the safest for pets in all Arizona.
If you are able to help YHS sustain this life-saving mission (regardless of age) please make a tax-deductible donation to the Yavapai Humane Society today.
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
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.
March 2007 is the lowest monthly euthanasia rate since LA Animal Services began collecting this data! Not only were no healthy dogs or cats killed in the month of March, but also only nine treatable animals were euthanized and only after three regimens of treatment failed to produce any improvement in the health of the animals.
March 2007 Dog and Cat Numbers:
March 2007 Euthanasia Rate is down 29% compared to March 2006 (540 to 782 respectively) and down 54% compared to March 2005 (1166). The March Euthanasia Rate has decreased each of the past six years and is down 69% since March 2002 (1727).
267 dogs and 273 cats were euthanized in March 2007. 25% of the cats were orphaned neonate kittens (68). Thanks to LA Animal Services’ Baby Bottle Foster Parents and many New Hope Partners 204 neonates were safely placed in loving homes in March 2007 and were spared euthanasia. (Orphaned neonates are kittens too young to survive on their own and require round the clock foster care until they are weaned at eight weeks of age.)
39% of the 267 dogs euthanized were pit bull/pit bull mixes (104). This was despite a 22% increase in pit bull adoptions (129 to 157), a 32% increase in pit bull New Hope placements (40 to 53), and a 41% decrease in the pit bull euthanasia rate (176 to 104) in March 07 compared to March 06.
March 2007 Adoptions are steady compared to March 2006 (1141 to 1139 respectively) and are up 15.5% compared to March 2005 (988) and up 24% compared to 2004 (921).
March 2007 New Hope Placements are up 9% compared to 2006 (577 to 529 respectively). New Hope Placements don’t show a consistent trend but over the past six years have averaged 540 placements in the month of March. March 2007 New Hope placements are 7% higher than this average.
March 2007 Intakes are up 2.5% compared to 2006 (3075 to 2986 respectively), but are down 10% compared to 2005 (3420) and down 23% compared to 2002 (3817).
2007 1st Quarter Dog and Cat Numbers:
2007 1st Q Euthanasia Rate is down 8.4% compared to 1st Q 2006 (1922 to 2099 respectively) and down 35% compared to 1st Q 2005 (2967) and down 63% compared to 1st Q 2002.
2007 1st Q Adoptions are up 8% compared to 1st Q 2006 (3396 to 3147 respectively) and up 16% compared to 1st Q 2005 (2925).
2007 1st Q New Hopes are relatively stable at just under 1300 in 2007 and 2006. Similar to the month of March, there is no consistent trend in New Hope placements during calendar year 1st Q’s. However, the 1st Q average over the past six years is 1318 placements. 1st Q 2007 is 2.4% lower.
2007 1st Q Intakes tracked the same as the month of March numbers with a 2.5% increase in 1st Q 2007 compared to 2006 (8338 to 8137 respectively) and a 10% decrease compared to 1st Q 2005 (9258) and a 23% decrease compared to 1st Q 2002 (10851).
All of these numbers and much more can be found in easy to read six year rolling calendar reports that show the City of Los Angeles’ multi-year trend to No-Kill. Just visit LA Animal Services website (www.laanimalservices.com) and click on “About Us – Statistics”.
These results clearly demonstrate the City of Los Angeles is on the road to No-Kill. But these results are not good enough for LA Animal Services’ amazing employees, volunteers, and partners who are committed to saving lives and further restricting euthanasia to its rightful place as a last result for ending irremediable suffering.
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 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.
PUBLIC LIVES; Saving Animals Is Ex-Pastor’s New Mission by Nora Krug Nov, 26, 2003
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.
It would be extraordinary, he says, to reduce the number of animals euthanized by the organization — currently about 30,000 of the nearly 50,000 it receives a year — by 10 percent to 15 percent a year.
Accomplishing this means reducing the animal population through a spay/neuter program, increasing adoptions and decreasing the number of animals taken to shelters.
Mr. Boks plans to do this through various programs, like discounting neutering fees for the pets of lower-income New Yorkers and adjusting adoption fees on a sliding scale based on an animal’s ”marketability.” This will cost money, something the organization does not have in abundance.
The city cut its budget to $7.2 million in fiscal year 2004, from nearly $8.9 million in fiscal year 2002. So Mr. Boks plans to raise money through donations. He has already gotten fund-raising help from some big names, like Bernadette Peters and Mary Tyler Moore.
Mr. Boks, 52, exudes a patient intensity about his mission. ”This is a community crisis and it’s going to take a community to solve it,” he says. ”So be it.”
But as he walks through an adoption center on 110th Street in East Harlem, he shakes his head at some of the conditions. ”Dogs belong in a kennel,” he says, pointing to the rows of dog cages, the smallest of which are only 18 inches tall by 18 inches wide by 18 inches deep.
The dog room smells, well, doggy, and his voice can barely be heard over the barking. Among Mr. Boks’s many ideas for sprucing things up is creating a soundproof dog room. Adoption centers need ”a pleasant, retail-like atmosphere with climate control and the whole nine yards,” he says. They also need to be in more accessible areas of the boroughs they serve, he says.
Working with animals was not always part of Mr. Boks’s life plan. Growing up in Harper Woods, Mich., he thought he would become a priest. He ended up converting to Protestantism, getting married (and divorced) and becoming a pastor (he left the ministry in the mid-1990’s).
Still, as a student in Catholic schools, he worked in an animal shelter after school and idolized St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. His commitment was put to the test in a shelter in Arizona, where he euthanized animals himself — some 250 a day. Mr. Boks, who is partial to boxers, decided he wanted to save animals’ lives. He is now a vegetarian (though at times he craves rack of lamb).
In Maricopa County, an area that includes Phoenix and Scottsdale and is home to more than three million people, Mr. Boks was able to help increase the number of adoptions by about 30 percent and reduce the number of animals euthanized per year from 30 animals per 1,000 people to about 8.
He hopes for similar success in New York, where last year 11,000 of the animals taken to one of the agency’s shelters were adopted.
IS he ever tempted to bring home an animal himself? ”Every day,” he says. He does not have a pet now (he still spends two weeks a month in Scottsdale, a pattern he will continue through the end of the year) but says he would like to get a dog soon, since he found an apartment in the Village that allows them.
As a child, he always had a dog for a pet, even though his father ”thought dogs belonged in a doghouse in the backyard,” he says. Mr. Boks persisted, and persuaded his father to allow the Labrador-mix puppy, named Candy, to sleep in the basement, then the first floor, then the second. Eventually, the dog slept in the same bed as the young Mr. Boks.
If his father could be persuaded, Mr. Boks figures, New Yorkers should be a cinch.