Lessons learned by Ed Boks

LA Animal Services’ February 2009 statistics are now available. Something truly remarkable seems to be happening. Despite encountering the highest January/February impound rates in nearly a decade we were able to achieve the lowest January/February euthanasia rate in the department’s recorded history. And this was done without overcrowding our Centers! This is a tribute to  all our employees, volunteers and partners! Well done! Thank you for all your efforts!

So how did this happen? From lessons learned!

Over the past two years, LA Animal Services experienced the largest, fastest, most historic growth in service demand in its history. With the opening of our new and expanded Centers we experienced nearly a 250% increase in kennels and workload while Center staffing increased only 100%. The new facilities attracted a greater client base, leading to more animals turned in, redeemed, and adopted. More people are now coming in to adopt and relinquish pets, obtain information, more veterinary care is needed and provided, and more volunteers and trainers want to help. This is exactly the business of LA Animal Services, and it is all being managed with a minimum workforce.

As the Department moved into its new Centers we encountered a learning curve for effectively managing our new facilities and our enlarged shelter populations. As the new Centers began to open in late 2006 we realized in 2007 the lowest euthanasia rate (15,009) in the department’s long recorded history of statistics gathering (since 1960. Over 110,000 dogs and cats were euthanized in 1971).

The low euthanasia rate in 2007 was the result of many reasons, but most notable was our having more space to hold animals coupled with a robust adoption program. In 2008, as we were still moving into our new Centers, we experienced a 20% increase (54,191) in intakes due in large measure to the economic downturn. This increase was complicated by our inexperience managing so many animals in all this new space. Consequently, the shelters quickly filled up (sometimes to the point of overcrowding), animals got sick more often and we sometimes found ourselves forced to resort to euthanasia to bring populations under control again. The nearly 30% increase in adoptions in 2008 did not keep pace with our 20.5% increase (nearly 150 dogs and cats every day) in intakes.

LA Animal Services had to quickly find its balance in an environment of severe budget cuts, unprecedented demand for expansion of services, and a severe staffing shortage. The Department had to re-group, tone-up and empower staff (especially at the mid-management level) to improve accountability and effectiveness.

Having gone through this painful growth experience, our Center Managers are now constantly looking for ways to better promote their adoptable animals more effectively. They are on the lookout for more and better off site adoption partners and events. The Department is exploring partnerships with pet stores interested in abandoning puppy mill sources. Our veterinarians are spaying or neutering some animals in-house. This allows our adopters to take their new pets home on the day of adoption. And our Veterinary team is implementing an enhanced cleaning regimen designed to help maintain a healthier shelter population.

We are aggressively transferring animals to one or another of our six adoption Centers or another municipal or private shelter when appropriate to increase adoption options. We’ve developed and are strictly adhering to a Population Assessment Management program that maintains our Center populations at least 10% below maximum capacity to allow sufficient space for incoming animals.

Another significant innovation that we are in the process of implementing is a program called, “Heart-to-Heart”. This program focuses on animals in our Centers longer than two weeks. Each Center has a Heart-to-Heart team that includes the Center Manager, the Center Veterinarian, the ACT Supervisor, and the New Hope Coordinator or their designees. This team works together to help decide the best options for animals that don’t get adopted in their first two weeks in a shelter. The team is charged with considering and exhausting all avenues of release, including but not limited to mobile adoption events, New Hope and other marketing pleas, transfer to another Center or agency, etc, etc.

So, are these strategies responsible for the positive statistics below? Time will tell. The Department will continue to monitor, tweak, manage, and modify as we continually learn from our mistakes, our successes, and the counsel of others.

Intakes/Rescues: February 09 Intakes were up over 7% (from 3,010 to 3,225). This is the highest February Intake since collecting data electronically began in 2001. February 2001 Intake was 3,079. Year to Date (YTD) Intakes are up over 4% (from 6,275 to 6,542). This is the highest January/February Intake since 2001 when 7,034 animals were taken in. This is a disturbing trend continuing from 2008.

Adoptions: February 09 Adoptions are up nearly 18% (1,607) compared to February 08 (1,377). YTD Adoptions are up 17.6% (from 2,848 to 3,351).

New Hope: February New Hope Placements are down nearly 7% (from 329 to 306). YTD New Hope Placements are down just over 10% (from 714 to 638).

Return to Owners (RTO): February RTOs are down 2% (from 376 to 368). YTD RTOs are down 6.5% (from 793 to 741).

Euthanasia: February Euthanasia is down 11% (from 748 to 665). YTD Euthanasia is down 14% (from 1,568 to 1,345). This is nearly 3% lower than the historic 2007 low of 1,384).

Again a sincere Thank You to all our employees, volunteers and partners for all their efforts to help support these life saving strategies.

Calling all fosters by Ed Boks

Ed Boks and foster careThere is a fundamental tenet held among most animal welfare and animal rights advocates that we accept as incontrovertible. That precept was perhaps best articulated by Mahatma Gandhi when he said, “the greatness of a nation and its moral progress is best judged by how we treat our animals”. This principle expresses the belief that when a community is compassionate enough to care about the needs of its animals there can be a reasonable expectation that the bar is raised on how we care and treat one another.

The reverse is also true. If we can dismiss the needs of our animals it becomes easier to dismiss the needs of our infirmed, aged, and needy human populations. Caring about animals serves as the ultimate litmus test for determining a community’s capacity for compassion.

This test is applied to the City of Los Angeles every day, but never more than in the spring and summer months.

Spring is the beginning of kitten season in Los Angeles. In 2008 LA Animal Services took in over 7,300 neonate kittens. Neonate means too young to survive for more than an hour or two without a mother. Sadly, most of the neonate kittens we take in are orphans. People find these babies in their garage, flowerbeds, and many other places where the mother felt safe from predators and intruders while she gave birth. Property owners find these crying babies within hours or days of birth and bring them to our Centers without the mother. Taken away from their mother they have no chance at survival without significant human intervention.

Neonate kittens represent over one-third of all the cats taken in by the Department. They also represent over 35% of all the cats euthanized and over 21% of our euthanasia rate in 2008. One in three cats and one in five animals euthanized in LA is a neonate kitten. On the up side, most of our healthy weaned kittens get adopted. So anything we can do to help our neonates reach full “kittenhood” improves the odds of their eventually finding a loving home.

Kitten season in Los Angeles starts around the end of March and lasts through September when it starts to slowly decline over October and November. That means now is the time for everyone wanting to help end the killing of these innocents to contact LA Animal Services to either volunteer to foster a litter of kittens or to make a donation to help others willing to make this commitment.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “foster” as providing parental care and nurture to children not related through legal or blood ties. If Gandhi viewed animals in general as the first rung on the compassion ladder then these little creatures must be considered the least of the least. They can be so easily overlooked and forgotten. In fact, California State Law defines “adoptable animals” as only those animals eight weeks of age or older; which means these little orphans have no legal standing in the State of California. They don’t even have to be counted in the City’s no-kill goal. Nonetheless, they are because we understand that our moral progress depends on our providing adequate care and nurture to these living souls with whom we have no legal or blood ties.

The problem is that we can’t save them all by ourselves. We need your help. During kitten season LA Animal Services can take in over 80 neonate orphans a day, over 2500 in some months. Depending on their age they may require four to 8 weeks of intense foster care. Though dozens of our dedicated employees volunteer to foster neonate litters above and beyond their daily duties, the majority will not survive without the additional help of members of the public willing to step up to the challenge. They will not survive without your help. If you are able and willing to help save these lives, LA Animal Services will provide the training, support and supplies you need to be a successful foster parent.

This is a big commitment and a true test of our compassion. Even with our best efforts not all foster babies survive. But they can all be loved. These babies need to be bottle fed every two hours around the clock for several weeks; making this the perfect family, club, or faith based organizational project. Fostering helpless neonates is an ideal way to foster compassion and respect for the true value and sanctity of all life in our community.

Have you saved a life today? Make a commitment to volunteer as a Baby Bottle Foster Parent.  Our kittens are hoping you do!

What “transparency” looks like by Ed Boks

LA Animal Services is one of the few, if not the only, animal control program in the United States that posts and updates a comprehensive set of statistics every month.

In fact, LA Animal Services was recognized by The Maddie’s Fund, the well known pet rescue foundation established in 1999 to help fund the creation of a no-kill nation, for our “transparency,” (i.e., the ready availability of information to the public). Of the over 5200 animal control programs in the United States and the tens of thousands humane societies and other animal welfare organizations, Maddie’s identified only five organizations for their transparency. LA Animal Services was at the top of this list and was the only municipal animal control program recognized.

Over the past six years, LA Animal Services has been able to boast one of the most impressive records for reducing pet euthanasia as a methodology for controlling pet overpopulation in the nation.

However, the first quarter statistics for 2008 have recently been posted, and they are disappointing. Despite the fact that live placements (adoptions, New Hope placements, and redemption’s) continue to rise to unprecedented levels historically and unequaled levels nationally (27,565 in the past 12 months for a 59% live release rate [70% for dogs and 44% for cats]) the euthanasia level also rose.

There are many possible reasons for this increase, and it is important that we understand all of them if we are to address and correct this anomaly as a community going forward.


1. I want to preface this discussion by reminding everyone that LA Animal Services’ statistics showing increased euthanasia and animal intakes during the first quarter of 2008 demonstrates that the department does not “fudge the data” or “manipulate the process to spin the numbers” as some critic’s suggest.

2. A second preface is to acknowledge that we at LA Animal Services are as disappointed with these results as are our critics. To have both the intake and kill rates drift upward in four of our shelters over the past quarter is not acceptable and we are taking steps to reverse this disturbing trend.

To be fair, it should be understood that when you normalize* the statistics and compare the intake statistics to the euthanasia rates in the first quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2007 there was only a 1.49% increase in euthanasia.

But no matter how you assess the numbers, everyone agrees that no increase in euthanasia is desirable, and we will continue to do everything we can to return to our long standing trend of reducing the killing. As was explained in my last message, we have hit the proverbial “wall” and will need the help of the entire animal loving community going forward.

(* Normalization is the process of removing statistical error in repeated measured data. For us, that means comparing the euthanasia rate relative to a fluctuating intake rate.)

3. Statistics do not exist in a vacuum and there are reasons why things are as they are, some reasons are more subject to department control than are others. The bottom line, however, is that there is a lot of work to do and hysteria, hand-wringing and finger pointing does not save lives.

Operational Circumstances

4. The department recently completed a major shelter management reassignment that has impacted almost every shelter. This was done to match the abilities of some of our most experienced managers with jobs we feel they can do well. These changes bring with them adjustment periods as managers learn about their newly assigned, and in some cases, newly opened facilities. These managers must determine how they want to tackle the many challenges they face in their respective shelters. I will soon announce the selection of a new Assistant General Manager of Operations who will work directly with them on these challenges. In the meantime, we started posting statistics by shelter in the hope this information will help the community better target its resources to help the animals most at risk.

LA Animal Services opened three new facilities in the last ten months and we are scheduled to open two more in the next three months. This is the fastest and largest increase of any City Department in LA City history and represents a significant learning curve during a time of intense scrutiny and fiscal instability.

5. Center managers are responsible for determining the optimal animal capacity for their shelter. This is a delicate balance between wanting to save lives and not wanting to be perceived as “warehousing” animals. If a shelter experiences a short-term surge in new arrivals, it could lead to an urgent need to move more animals out of the shelter one way or another. Unfortunately, when that doesn’t happen via adoption, New Hope rescue, or transfer of animals within our shelter system or partnering shelter systems, it’s likely to happen via euthanasia.

Adoptions and Rescues

6. There is a spirited national debate going on about whether shelters can “adopt their way” to No-Kill status. Perhaps we can, but it takes the whole community working together. As noted earlier, adoptions at LAAS shelters were also up during the first quarter of 2008 and, on a month-over-month basis, has been up for 12 consecutive months by a range of from 10-30% depending on the month. That is encouraging.

7. The numbers of dogs and cats placed by our wonderful New Hope rescue partners during the first quarter of ‘08 is up by about 5% over last year. This is also encouraging coming after a year in which New Hope rescue placements were down. Our New Hope partners do all they can to help save animals but sometimes they run out of capacity too, so any month when they are able to increase the number of transfers that is a plus.

8. Increasing animal adoptions can be a challenge when the most easy-to-adopt animals, such as puppies, kittens and purebreds, are scooped up almost immediately after they come into the shelters. That leaves the harder to adopt big and older dogs, so-called aggressive breeds and injured or sick animals that place a larger burden on the casual would-be adopter.

These animals must be marketed more aggressively and creatively, and the simple fact is that marketing is not our strong suit at the moment. We don’t have a public relations staff, nor do we have a volunteer coordinator at the moment to run our mobile adoption program. These tasks are being done on an ad hoc basis by extraordinary employees whose primary responsibilities lie elsewhere.

We’ve been struggling to find a new PR person and volunteer coordinator through the City’s civil service system and have yet to turn up a suitable candidate with the requisite experience and skills. We’ll keep trying to rectify that as soon as we can, and under the new pressures of a deficit-driven City hiring freeze. But in the meantime, getting the word out about our shelter animals, and getting those animals out to a wider public, remains a challenge. The importance of doing so, however, was made very clear by the 52% jump in adoptions at our shelters in the week following Oprah Winfrey’s April 4 show on puppy mills which featured our South LA Animal Care Center.

Ed Boks and Riester Advertising Agency
Riester Advertising Agency generously donated creative ads to Ed Boks in Maricopa County, NYC and LA

Riester Ad Agency has generously donated a series of adoption campaign ads that are downloadable from our website. LA Animal Services asks everyone with access to a neighborhood newspaper, LA animal blog, local or business bulletin board to help us get the word out by posting these ads.


9. Some have pointed to the first quarter upsurge in intakes as indicative of some systemic failure on the department’s part, though they offer no logical explanation for this allegation. It is impossible at this point to know if this increase in intakes is a reversal of a long standing trend or if it is a short term reaction to the recent housing market collapse.

To be sure, we are dealing with a unique phenomenon this year – widely documented in the media – and that is the unprecedented upsurge in pet relinquishment’s resulting from families losing their homes to foreclosures or evictions. Many are finding that they are unable to afford to keep their pets or, alternately, to find a new home they can afford where pets are allowed. Intakes system wide were up by 447 animals in March 2008 over March 2007, and it makes sense that housing and economic displacement contributed substantially to that increase. People leaving their pets at our shelters have made that clear.  The solution: A House is not a Home without a Pet program.

10. Spring and early summer is traditionally a problem for every animal shelter, as kitten and puppy season brings more neonates through our doors. Hundreds of orphaned neonate kittens are taken in every month at this time of year, and they are the primary focus of our life saving efforts. They require careful around-the-clock care that no shelter is equipped to provide, either in terms of facilities or available staff. Dozens of staff members have, however, stepped up to take on the challenge of fostering litters of kittens, as have more than 100 volunteers, but if a dedicated caregiver can’t be found for an orphaned litter of neonate kittens, they will probably be euthanized. We don’t make excuses for this, and we welcome every new volunteer foster caregiver we can recruit.

It should be understood that LA Animal Services is not the only organization in the greater LA region facing this crisis. All our sister jurisdictions and rescue partners are inundated with hundreds of neonate kittens at the same time. We are all exhausting our limited resources as we take in, care for, and try to place these animals.

11. Apart from a regularization of the real estate market which is probably a number of months away, one thing that must be done to arrest this trend is to create more opportunities for people to keep their pets when they have to move. The local humane community has been discussing this issue and is working on ideas that might help, including providing landlords with financial indemnification against pet-related damage, and/or other incentives that would motivate them to allow pets in the units they own and manage. In a city where 62% of the residents are tenants, increasing the availability of pet-friendly rental units is an issue that deserves much more attention than it is getting.


12. Some blame the upsurge in intakes on the department’s alleged failure to spay and neuter everything in sight, as if that were possible. But LA Animal Services is doing what it can, and may well lead the nation’s shelters in our commitment to provide spay/neuter as a tool for reducing pet overpopulation.

With the generous support of the Mayor and City Council, we’re able to fund upwards of 40,000 surgeries a year, using our two currently operational spay/neuter clinics, the Amanda Foundation and Sam Simon Foundation mobile clinics, and the network of private veterinarians who take our discount vouchers.

As this is written, we have a Request for Proposals (RFP) soliciting operators for the five new spay/neuter clinics nearing completion in our new shelters. Additionally, others in the humane community who have an interest in spay/neuter are preparing to launch new community-based spay/neuter efforts in and around Los Angeles.

The City’s pioneering spay/neuter ordinance that became law on April 8th is already generating a surge in voluntary compliance at various clinics. We have begun to gear up the information and enforcement efforts that will be needed to make the ordinance effective and we expect it to generate results that will become clear in our statistics over the next few years.

13. All that being said, we definitely have not been able to sterilize all the feral and stray cats we want. This is because of a lawsuit threat from an environmental group opposed to the Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) methodology used to control feral and stray cat populations in many locales, including cities contiguous to Los Angeles. This has forced LA Animal Services to undertake a lengthy environmental study process before trying to establish a formal TNR program here. This could take up to another year to accomplish.

In the meantime, valiant community TNR volunteers do what they can to manage the problem in various locations, but untended, unsterilized stray cats can undo much of the progress these diligent volunteers achieve. Many of the neonate litters we see come from this source and, absent the ability for the department to legally conduct TNR, unadoptable feral adults and their kittens will continue to account for hundreds, if not thousands, of the unfortunate cats who are euthanized every year.


14. I don’t offer these explanations as excuses for what we have experienced in our shelters so far in 2008. We share the frustrations of the entire humane community when statistics don’t trend positive, and we should be held accountable when all is said and done. But our larger job is to bring the community together to find solutions, to seek new resources when the City budget can’t provide them, and find new ways to overcome the challenges few communities have ever had to face on the scale we see in Los Angeles.

We hope to soon gather the community together to try to do just that. We will continue to work on identifying new resources to help us meet the challenges posed by the spay/neuter law, make more homes welcoming to pets, get the word out that big, older dogs and neonate kittens make lovable pets, and provide adopters with the support they need to ensure that is the case.

If you would like to help, please consider joining our Volunteer Program or make a donation towards one of our many life saving programs.

A New Level of Transparency by Ed Boks

LA Animal Services is striving to make further advancement toward our No-Kill Goal, a goal we define as our being able to use the same criteria a compassionate veterinarian or a loving pet guardian uses when determining if/when an animal is to be euthanized. In other words, no animal would be euthanized or killed because of a lack of space, time or resources and only irremediably suffering and dangerously aggressive animals would be euthanized.

Over the past several years, the City of Los Angeles has demonstrated one of the nation’s steepest declines in dog and cat euthanasia. The dog and cat kill rate fell over 17% in 2002, over 10% in 2003, over 17% again in 2004, over 11% in 2005, over 6% in 2006, and an unprecedented 22% in 2007.

According to the industry standard for calculating a community’s euthanasia rate, in the year 2007 the City of Los Angeles euthanized 4.3 dogs or cats for every 1,000 human residents. This is one of the lowest euthanasia rates of any community in the United States with the exception of San Francisco, New York City, and a couple of smaller communities.

In the drive to achieve No-Kill there are two commonly recognized hurdles to clear. A community’s progress towards No-Kill will usually stall at the first hurdle which is typically found when its pet euthanasia rate is reduced to between 12 and 10 shelter killings per 1,000 human residents annually (12.5 is the current national average).

Once a community achieves this rate, further significant reductions are stalled until the community decides to implement aggressive spay/neuter programs to achieve further euthanasia reduction goals. With effective, targeted spay/neuter programs progress to the second hurdle can be steady. This has been the case in the City of Los Angeles.

The first hurdle becomes apparent after a community has successfully persuaded all the people who are likely to fix their pets to do so. The challenge then is to persuade the more difficult populations, which include the poor, the elderly on fixed income, individuals with negative attitudes about spay/neuter, people who speak languages other than English, and those who live in relatively remote areas.

To break through the first barrier, the City passed a differential licensing ordinance to provide an incentive and LA Animal Services developed free and low-cost spay/neuter programs for our community’s needy pet guardians, and free spay/neuter for the pets of our low income senior citizens and disabled residents, as well as cat specific spay/neuter programs. These programs account for well over 40,000 spay/neuter surgeries annually. We have two spay/neuter clinics in operation today and five new clinics coming on line in the coming months. In addition, the City of Los Angeles recently enacted a spay/neuter ordinance that requires all dogs and cats to be spayed or neutered unless they qualify for an exception.

Animal People magazine conducted a survey in 1994 that found transportation problems represent 40% of the total reasons why pets are not fixed, equal to monetary considerations. This data suggests that providing spay/neuter transportation or mobile spay/neuter clinics can play an important role in a community’s breaking through the 10 shelter killings per 1,000 humans barrier. LA Animal Services used this data to provide over 12,000 mobile spay/neuter surgeries annually throughout the City’s underserved areas by partnering with the Amanda and Sam Simon Foundations, along with the Coalition for Pets and Public Safety and others since the program’s inception several years ago.

The second hurdle in the drive to achieve No-Kill has been characterized as “the wall”. Few communities have been able to break through “the wall”. A community hits “the wall” when it reduces its pet euthanasia rate to between 5 and 2.5 shelter killings per 1,000 human residents annually (LA City further reduced its euthanasia rate to 4.0 as of December 31, 2007).

Hitting “the wall” tells a community it has come to the point where most of the animals dying in its shelters are irremediably suffering due to sickness or injury, demonstrate dangerously aggressive behavior, or are feral or neonate cats, or pit bulls.

Hitting “the wall” signifies the success of an earlier generation of effectively targeted programs. To break through “the wall” requires a new generation of programs to address the needs of special populations not met by earlier programs. The paradigm remains the same: comprehensive data collection, assessment, and implementation of programs targeted to meet the special needs of residual populations. Finding more creative and effective ways to reach out to the public and market the adoption of hard-to-place pets becomes an even greater priority, and keeping the spay/neuter programs humming along remains paramount.

Breaking through “the wall” requires taking the information-based targeting approach to the next level. As a result, LA Animal Services is focusing its efforts on saving at-risk animal populations on a community by community basis. To do this more effectively, LA Animal Services is expanding its monthly reports to show the adoption, New Hope, redemption, died, and euthanized rates in each of its Animal Care Centers. It is our hope that anyone interested in helping LA achieve its No-Kill Goal will have sufficient data to help us identify the problem areas and assist in developing meaningful programs.

LA Animal Services is committed to continuing the positive trends of recent years and doing even better in 2008 and beyond, and we recognize we need everyone’s help to do that. More information on how more individuals, groups, and communities can be involved in finding solutions will be coming soon.

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.

IMPLEMENTING THE NO-KILL EQUATION IN LOS ANGELES – Part VII: Medical and Behavioral Rehabilitation

This is the seventh 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 seventh recommendation of the “No-Kill Equation,” which is Medical and Behavioral Rehabilitation.

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 italic font.

VII. Medical and Behavior Rehabilitation
A shelter begins helping treatable animals by closely analyzing statistics. How many animals entering a shelter are treatable? What types of injuries and illnesses are most common? The answers to these questions will determine what types of rehabilitation programs are needed and how to effectively allocate resources. For example, one community may have many underage kittens in its shelters. Another may have substantial numbers of cats with upper respiratory infections, or dogs with kennel cough. Yet another may find that a large portion of treatables are dogs with behavior problems. Each will need a different lifesaving program.

These can include creating a fund dedicated solely to medical and behavioral rehabilitation. Such a fund lets the public direct their donations and allows a shelter to demonstrate what they are doing to help treatables. In addition, the shelter can establish relationships to have local veterinarians come to the shelter to do rotations. These veterinarians can supplement the work of a staff veterinarian and veterinary technicians and help diagnose animals, give vaccinations, and administer medication and treatment.

A relationship with a veterinary college can allow veterinary students to volunteer at the shelter on a regular basis, providing the students with real life on-the-job training, while shelter animals receive high-quality care under the direction of the veterinary college faculty. Finally, it is impossible to overstate the importance of a foster program for underaged kittens and puppies, under-socialized animals, and those recovering from medical treatment.

Ed’s Analysis:  LA Animal Services has long provided in-house and contract medical services to the animals in its care. Its new facilities feature modern, fully-equipped medical clinics and medical wards and the Department is reinvigorating its in-house veterinary team with compassionate, highly-qualified veterinary professionals. These efforts will substantially expand its ability to provide a full range of medical services, including emergency care, surgeries and disease control programs.

By the end of fiscal year 2008, there will be seven such clinics in the system, staffed by a total of at least seven veterinarians and over two dozen veterinary technicians (most of whom are fully-accredited veterinarians in other countries seeking the same status here while they work for the Department). Additionally, the Department routinely contracts with dozens of outside veterinarians to provide both preventive and remedial care for thousands of animals a year.

The Department has established a relationship with Los Angeles Pierce College to provide internship opportunities for pre-veterinary students and is negotiating with Western University veterinary school to create a formal internship program that will augment care in the shelters and introduce future veterinarians to the practice of shelter medicine.

Since 1987, the Department has maintained the Animal Welfare Trust Fund to be used to underwrite medical expenses for animals requiring special treatment. The Department has established a network of professional behavioral trainers to work on a voluntary basis with dogs who are nervous or scared and can mistakenly appear aggressive when entering unfamiliar shelters, to ease their stay and enhance their adoptability. Scheduled sessions are held at various animal care centers along with individualized training programs for specific animals on an ad hoc basis.

LA Animal Services is a data-driven department. Data creates the link between assessment, planning, and results. Data-driven animal care and control agencies design targeted programs based on their shelter intake data. For example, in LA, data is used to develop and implement a multi-pronged sterilization program to ensure adopted shelter animals are sterilized prior to release, free or low-cost spay/neutering services are available for the pets of our needy, senior and disabled populations, and that cat specific sterilization programs are accessible.

In the drive to achieve No-Kill there are two commonly recognized hurdles to clear. A community’s progress towards No-Kill will usually stall at the first hurdle which is typically found when its pet euthanasia rate is reduced to between 12 and 10 shelter killings per 1000 human residents annually (12.5 is the current national average). Once a community achieves this rate, further significant reductions are stalled and require the implementation of aggressive spay/neuter programs to achieve further euthanasia reduction goals. With effective, targeted spay/neuter programs, progress to the second hurdle can be fairly quick.

The first hurdle becomes apparent after a community has successfully persuaded all the people who are likely to fix their pets to do so. The challenge then is to persuade the more difficult populations, which include the poor, the elderly on fixed income, individuals with negative attitudes about spay/neuter, people who speak languages other than English, and those who live in relatively remote areas.

To break through this first barrier, LA Animal Services developed free and low-cost spay/neuter programs for our community’s needy pet guardians, and free spay/neuter for the pets of our low income senior citizens and disabled residents, as well as cat specific spay/neuter programs. These programs account for over 45,000 spay/neuter surgeries annually.

Animal People magazine conducted a survey in 1994 that found transportation problems represent 40% of the total reasons why pets are not fixed, equal to monetary considerations. This data suggests that providing spay/neuter transportation is an often overlooked strategy to a community’s breaking through the 10 shelter killings per 1,000 humans barrier. LA Animal Services has used this data to provide over 12,000 mobile spay/neuter surgeries annually throughout the City’s underserved areas by partnering with the Amanda and Sam Simon Foundations.

The second hurdle in the drive to achieve No-Kill has been characterized by Peter Marsh, (founder of Solutions to Overpopulation of Pets – STOP), as “the wall”. Few communities have been able to break through “the wall”. A community hits “the wall” when it reduces its pet euthanasia rate to between five and 2.5 shelter killings per 1000 human residents annually (LA City is at 4.3 as of June 07). Hitting “the wall” tells a community that it has come to the point where most of the animals dying in its shelters are irremediably suffering due to sickness or injury, demonstrate dangerously aggressive behavior, or are feral or neonate cats, or pit bulls. Hitting the wall reveals the success of an earlier generation of effectively targeted programs.

To break through “the wall” requires a new generation of programs to address the needs of special populations not met by earlier programs. The paradigm remains the same: comprehensive data collection, assessment, and implementation of programs targeted to meet the special needs of residual populations. Breaking through the wall requires taking the information-based targeting approach to the next level.

As a result, the Department is focusing its efforts on saving these at-risk animal populations. The feral cat/neonate kitten side of the equation is fairly straight forward and can often be handled through volunteer programs. However, to be successful, it does require a significant amount of volunteer time and dedication coupled with meaningful animal care and control support. LA Animal Services is fortunate to have such an army of life saving volunteers and employees staffing robust neonate/foster care programs, as explained in Part IV of this series. We are also working hard to make Trap/Neuter/Return (TNR) a mainstream methodology for controlling feral cat populations in LA, as explained in Part I of this series.

The pit bull side of the equation is more difficult. According to Animal People magazine, San Francisco is currently the only major city in the US experiencing a decline in pit bulls. San Francisco credits local pit bull-targeted spay/neuter legislation for this decline, which may largely be the case. However, other factors may also contribute to this decline. For instance, it is much more difficult for dogfighters and backyard breeders to go underground in San Francisco compared to most other cities. It has been said that a dog can’t bark in San Francisco without 100 neighbors complaining, while a hundred dogs can bark in parts of Los Angeles and not be heard above the noise of the freeways.

LA Animal Services’ volunteer trainers provide much in the way of good citizenship dog training for pit bulls and other breeds. LA Animal Services adopts out more pit bulls than any other dog breed. In addition to our neonate, feral cat, and pit bull strategies, LA Animal Services is also aggressively working to save as many treatable animals as possible.

The “Animal Welfare Trust Fund” supports the Department’s STAR(Special Treatment And Recovery) Program. Many animals come into our care centers healthy and eager to be reunited with their families, or to find new families. Sadly, we also receive many sweet and loving animals that have been injured, abused, neglected, or have an illness that requires extensive treatment. When an animal is not irremediably suffering and will respond to treatment, we undertake all measures we can to make that animal healthy again. The STAR program showcases some of these STAR animals in need on our website. Treatments may take weeks or months, require special medicines, or involve one or more complicated surgeries — all at an expense that exceeds the Department’s usual budget allotment. The public can help these animals with donations to our LA Animal Services’ STAR Program, which is used exclusively to pay for special veterinary services on animals with surgery or special treatment needs.

Thanks to our STAR program and a newly assembled, highly competent and compassionate medical team, LA Animal Services for the first time ever has the capacity to treat many animals that historically would have been euthanized or outsourced to private veterinarians. Today our staff veterinarians remove tumors, treat pyometra, repair hernias, perform dentistry, treat animals with intravenous fluids, non-narcotic, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and narcotic pain-relieving drugs, and through the use of our state of the art digital X-ray machines, they are able to successfully mend fractures, and so much more.

As is the case in any hospital, attempts at life saving treatments are not always successful and these efforts have predictably resulted in a higher mortality rate than occurred when we did little to nothing to help these animals before euthanizing them. But to focus on the Department’s mortality rate alone is to miss the larger point that not only is our euthanasia rate at an all time low, the overall death rate is also moving downward.

Fewer animals are dying in Los Angeles today than at any other time since statistics were first kept. Thanks to the outpouring of public support for LA Animals Services that resulted in the City’s $160 million investment in new animal care centers equipped with modern clinics and isolation and holding wards, animals in need can now receive care for longer durations as they recover and await adoption or as explained in Part IV of this series, they may be placed in our Foster Program until they recover.

LA Animal Services has veterinarians familiar with clinical behavioral medicine who strive to help find solutions to behaviorally-challenged pets before and after entry into the animal care centers.

LA Animal Services understands that to break through “the wall” will require remedial programs as well as preventive ones, such as training programs for dogs with behavioral issues, foster care for neonatal kittens, veterinary care for injured or sick animals, etc. While preventive programs can get you to “the wall”, they alone can’t get you through it. Its going to take all of us working together to break through the wall and make LA the first major metropolitan No-Kill city in the United States.

For an example of a “new generation” program designed to help break through “the wall” read this LA Times article entitled, “LAPD enlists feral cats for rat patrol“.


LA Animal Services has long been committed to making Los Angeles a “no kill” community for animals. Over the past several years the Department has implemented numerous programs and policies to achieve this goal with some remarkable success.

Recently there has been a little buzz in the animal welfare community about a “No Kill Equation” for local government animal care and control agencies. Advocates of this book claim it to be a revolutionary formula for achieving “no-kill.” In fact, the “No-Kill Equation” is neither new nor revolutionary but is actually comprised of ten common sense, long-standing practices embraced and implemented by LA Animal Services with remarkable results.

I am beginning a series of blogs designed to assess and compare the so called  “No-Kill Equation” to LA’s programs and practices. Over the coming weeks I will share each No-Kill Equation recommendation followed by an analysis on how LA Animal Services has been addressing the same issue for, in some cases, many years.  I will begin this series with the first of the No-Kill Equation recommendations which is Feral Cat TNR Program.

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 will appear in font.

The analysis of LA Animal Services’ efforts will follow in italics.

I. Feral Cat TNR Program
Many animal control agencies in communities throughout the United States are embracing Trap, Neuter, Return programs (TNR) to improve animal welfare, reduce death rates, and meet obligations to public welfare and neighborhood tranquility demanded by governments. In San Francisco, for example, the program was very successful, resulting in less impounds, less killing and reduced public complaints. In Tompkins County, an agreement with county officials and the rabies control division of the health department provided for TNR as an acceptable complaint, nuisance and rabies abatement procedure. In specific cases, the health department paid the Tompkins County SPCA to perform TNR.

Ed’s Analysis:  The Los Angeles Board of Animal Services Commissioners in 2005 embraced trap-neuter-return (TNR) as a preferred policy and the Department informally aids feral cat rescuers on a non-programmatic basis.

The Department has no formal TNR program yet because a proposal to change City law to officially permit such a program has been delayed by threats from environmental and wildlife organizations insisting that TNR is unacceptable. They insist that the City of Los Angeles must complete a full environmental review to show that such a program will not harm bird species and habitat despite numerous reports from respected environmental organizations stating the real threats to bird species and habitats are urban development, habitat destruction and the effects of global warming.

Research and data does not support a dispositive conclusion that feral cats are responsible for species decline and the National Audubon Society supported prior state legislation, Assembly Bill 302, the “Feline Fix Bill,” requiring among other things that cats permitted outdoors be spayed or neutered.

Nonetheless, LA Animal Services is working with the Bureau of Engineering’s environmental unit to prepare appropriate documentation to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act. There may be no other locale in the United States where environmentalists have actively attempted to block TNR without either considering a compromise or offering to help design a viable program that addresses their concerns. 

The Department prefers to form a partnership with environmental groups as done in the state of New Jersey where the Audubon Society and The Burlington County Feral Cat Initiative are working together to craft humane and environmentally friendly solutions to reduce the feral cat population. It is LA Animal Services’ desire and duty to care for all of the City’s animals in need and the Department is currently looking to resolve these issues as expeditiously as possible via the environmental clearance process.

In the meantime, LA Animal Services’ North Central Spay/Neuter Clinic is currently devoted to cat sterilization. Since 2006 the Department spays or neuters over 8,000 feral cats annually independent of and in addition to any formal spay/neuter or TNR programs. There is no record of any municipality funding more feral cat surgeries annually than LA City.

I think it might be helpful to explain my commitment to TNR.

Without question, one of the biggest challenges to achieving no-kill in Los Angeles is implementing a program to effectively reduce the number of feral cats in our neighborhoods. Estimates on the feral cat population in LA are difficult to make, but they range from the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands.

Feral cats are cats that have reverted to a wild state. They are born from tame unaltered cats that owners abandon or allow to run loose. These cats mate with other free roaming cats, and their offspring, raised without human compassion, are wild, or feral. These cats then grow up and breed with other feral and free roaming pet cats and the cat population increases exponentially.

Communities employ one of three methodologies to deal with feral cats: 1) Do nothing, 2) Eradication, or 3) Trap/Neuter/Return.

While it is easy to understand why doing nothing has little effect on the problem, it is not as easy to understand why eradication does not work.

Although many communities employ eradication or “catch-and-kill” as a remedy to this vexing problem, 30 years of catch and kill in communities across the United States has irrefutably demonstrated that this methodology does not work.

There are very real biological reasons why catch and kill fails. Wild animals tend to be “survivors.” Feral cats, which are wild animals, typically live in colonies of 6 to 20 cats. You often never see all the cats in a colony and it is easy to underestimate the size of a feral cat problem in a neighborhood. When individuals or authorities try to catch cats for extermination it heightens the biological stress of a colony.

This stress triggers two survival mechanisms causing the cats to 1) over-breed, and 2) over-produce. That is, rather than having one litter per year of two or three kittens, a stressed female could have two or three litters a year of 6 to 9 kittens each.

Even if a person was successful in catching and removing all the feral cats from a neighborhood, that creates a phenomenon called, “the vacuum effect.”

When some or all the cats in a colony are removed, cats in surrounding neighborhoods recognize an opened ecological niche (especially a place with food sources). The removed colony actually kept surrounding colonies at bay. When a colony is removed, all deterrents evaporate and the surrounding cats enter the new territory to over-breed and over-produce, with all the associated annoying behaviors.

The end result of the catch-and-kill methodology is always the same: the vacated neighborhood quickly finds itself again overrun with feral cats fighting for mates, over-breeding, caterwauling, and spraying for territory.

Thirty years of catch-and-kill have taught us that this methodology only exacerbates the problem. It is not a solution at all.

Albert Einstein defined “insanity” as doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. That is why so many communities are trying the newest alternative, trap/ neuter/return, or TNR.

TNR is being practiced in more and more communities across the United States and around the world with amazing results.

When TNR is employed, all the feral cats in a neighborhood are trapped, sterilized, and returned to the area where they originated. They are returned under the care of a Colony Manager. The Colony Manager is a trained volunteer in the neighborhood willing to feed, water, and care for the colony and keep an eye out for any new cats. Once the colony cats are all neutered, new cats tend to be recently abandoned domestics that can be placed for adoption.

There are many benefits to TNR. 1) TNR prevents the vacuum effect from developing. 2) Altered cats display none of the troubling behaviors of intact cats: fighting and caterwauling for mates, and spraying for territory. 3) The cats continue to provide rat abatement, a service many neighborhoods rely on, and 4) because feral cats tend to live significantly shorter life spans than domestic indoor cats the problem literally solves itself through attrition, provided TNR is implemented community wide.

TNR also addresses the concern that feral cats tend to create a public nuisance on campuses and in parks. There is an old adage that says “you can’t herd cats.” In fact, you can herd neutered cats because they tend to hang around the food bowl. Because they no longer have the urge to breed and prey they tend to follow the food bowl wherever the feral cat manager takes it. Feral cats can be trained to congregate in campus or park areas out of the way of the public.

Clearly, TNR is the only viable, non-lethal, humane and cost effective solution to our communities’ feral cat problems. I look forward to the day in the not-too-distant future when Los Angeles can complete the thorough California Environmental Quality Act review required for the legalization of a formal TNR program here.

A Century in Review and Looking Ahead… by Ed Boks

Ed Boks and Today ShowIn 2009 LA Animal Services will celebrate its centennial, one hundred years of providing service to the pets and people of Los Angeles.

Animal care and control is perhaps the most misunderstood animal welfare organization in many communities. To better understand LA Animal Services, and animal control in general, it may be helpful to look through the lens of history at how these programs evolved over the past century.

During the first quarter of the 20th Century, most communities were rural and sparsely populated. Dogs and cats were valued for what they contributed to this rural lifestyle. Dogs, for the most part, were working animals earning their keep on a local farm or ranch, or they were used for hunting to help put dinner on the table. Cats, and some small dogs, were used as mousers to help keep small rodents and rats out of home, barn and business. Cats and dogs were permitted to run free.

By the third decade of the 20th Century, free roaming dogs resulted in a dog overpopulation problem, and with it came an increase in rabies.

The seriousness of rabies in the early 20th Century was brilliantly depicted in the American literary masterpiece, “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Atticus Finch, a Southern small town lawyer was called upon to shoot a rabid dog in the middle of a neighborhood street as residents watched trembling behind locked doors and windows. The context suggests Atticus had been called upon to dispatch rabid dogs before, which may have earned him the respectful moniker “one shot Atticus”.

This all too common scenario occurring across America motivated state legislators to establish rabies and animal control programs to ensure dogs were vaccinated against rabies and licensed. Cats were not included because they were not a significant vector for rabies in most parts of the country. Over time dog vaccination and licensing programs effectively reduced the incidence of rabies in dogs to the level that naturally occurs in cats, that is, rabies became equally rare in dogs.

So successful were these programs that it is easy to forget the terror the word “rabies” evoked in the heart’s of communities. The fact that scenes like the one depicted in “To Kill A Mockingbird” are a thing of the past is a tribute to animal control professionals. And today they do it without firing a shot! They do it by maintaining and enforcing successful rabies vaccination and licensing programs.

Most communities never enacted laws to control cats. In fact, a silly and erroneous notion was promoted that claimed cats are “free roaming animals” that don’t need to be regulated. An exploding feral cat population is the consequence of this short sightedness and today feral cats are a significant public concern.

While animal control programs focused narrowly on controlling rabies a striking societal change was occurring in the human/animal relationship.

Advancing to the 60’s we find many Americans starting to reject the conventional wisdom that pets are meant to be kept outdoors. I recall discussing this societal shift with my father. I was around ten years old. I had bought my first dog with money I saved from cutting lawns all summer.

My father was raised in a rural Michigan community. He explained that he also had a dog when he was a boy. His dog lived in a doghouse in the backyard. The idea of a dog in the home was as incomprehensible to him as keeping a dog outside was to me. “Dogs don’t belong in the house,” he told me. However, I persisted, and the dog was eventually permitted in the house, albeit, in the basement, where I spent many a night comforting him through the anxiety caused by his separation from mother and siblings. As the months and years passed, he eventually took his place under the kitchen table during meal times and at the foot of my bed at night.

All across the United States similar scenes were taking place. As communities continued to urbanize, dogs and cats found their way out of the barnyard workforce into our hearts, our homes, and for some of us, into our beds. Pets were no longer staff; they had become part of the family.

Unfortunately, many animal control programs did not keep pace with this societal change and continued to view themselves solely as rabies control organizations implementing catch and kill methodologies.

An urban dog population explosion in the 70’s caused cities and towns to refocus their animal control efforts to simply getting dogs off the street. Unfortunately, little thought was given to any long-range strategic solutions or to even what to do with all these animals after they were rescued from the streets.

One merely needs to tour the municipal dog pounds built across the United States during the last century to understand the catch and kill thinking of most community planners. These facilities were clearly designed to warehouse dogs until they were “disposed of”. As free roaming and feral cats became a problem, these “dog pounds” were enlisted to warehouse terrified cats as well.

Los Angeles is the first major city in the United States to officially, and financially, respond to its community’s desire for a humane animal control program. LA did this with a $160 million commitment to build state of the art animal care community centers to replace its dog pounds.

The new Centers increase shelter space by more than four hundred percent to help better accommodate the average of 150 lost, sick, injured, neglected, abused, lost or unwanted animals entrusted to LA Animal Services every day.

The new Centers have wide aisles, solar and radiant heating, cooling misters, veterinary and spay/neuter clinics, park benches for visitors, fountains and lush landscaping – a world away from the grim conditions of the old shelters, where animals could become so agitated or depressed that they seemed ill-tempered and, thus, “unadoptable” by old school animal control reckoning. By transforming our animal shelters into places of hope and life, instead of despair and doom, we are already experiencing a measurable increase in our adoption rates and consequently one of the most significant declines in LA’s long history of declining euthanasia rates.

In the nearly ten years since the City of Los Angeles officially embraced the “No-Kill” ethic, the kill rate has plummeted from over 60,000 to around 15,000. Still too many, to be sure, but there is no denying progress is being made.

What is the future of animal care and control in the United States? There must be as much an emphasis on humane, non-lethal animal care programs today as there was on rabies control programs in the past.

The reason so many animal welfare organizations sprang up across the United States during the 20th Century is because most municipal animal control programs misunderstood or were unable to implement animal care programs to compliment their animal control programs. Animal welfare organizations filled the gap because inadequate funding and the threat of rabies forced most animal control programs into advancing expedient catch and kill methodologies rather than long term humane, non-lethal solutions.

Dogs and cats running loose is a symptom of a dysfunctional community. The cause is irresponsible pet guardians. However, many municipalities contribute to this dysfunction by developing the most costly and ineffective response to the problem. That is, they ask their animal control programs to chase, impound, warehouse, kill and dispose of pets. To be responsive in today’s communities, animal care and control organizations must take the lead in implementing cost effective non-lethal (no-kill) strategies.

Strategies like LA’s Big Fix that provides $1.2 million worth of free or low cost spay/neuter for 45,000 pets belonging to residents on public assistance annually. Strategies like TNR (Trap/Neuter/Return) a feral cat program that is having a dramatic impact on solving neighborhood feral cat problems all across the United States. And of course, humane, inviting shelters that serve as pet adoption and community centers.

The 21st Century animal care and control must represent the most proactive, innovative programs. Programs designed to humanely solve the problems of irresponsible pet guardianship, not exacerbate them, which is what “catch and kill” methodologies do.

LA is already experiencing the long-term payoff of such programs. By continuing to work together we will soon see the day when euthanizing a healthy, adoptable animal is as rare as shooting a rabid dog in downtown Los Angeles.

U.S. shelter killing toll drops to 3.7 million dogs & cats by Merritt Clifton and Ed Boks

U.S. animal shelters as of mid-2007 are killing fewer dogs and cats than at any time in at least the past 37 years, according to the 15th annual ANIMAL PEOPLE evaluation of the most recent available shelter data.

The rate of shelter killing per 1,000 Americans, now at 12.5, is the lowest since data collected by John Marbanks in 1947-1950 suggested a rate of about 135–at a time when animal control in much of the U.S. was still handled by private contractors, who often simply killed strays or sold them to laboratories instead of taking them to shelters, and unwanted puppies and kittens were frequently drowned.

The ANIMAL PEOPLE projection each year is based on compilations of the tolls from every open admission shelter handling significant numbers of animals in specific cities, counties, or states. The sample base each year is proportionately weighted to ensure regional balance. Only data from the preceding three fiscal years is included.

Using a three-year rolling projection tends to level out flukes that might result from including different cities, counties, and states each year, but has the disadvantage of sometimes not showing significant changes in trends until a year or two after they start. Thus the effects of the post-2001 slump in funding for dog and cat sterilization programs only became evident in 2004. Comparably, trends involving Internet-assisted adoption, adoption transport, feral cats and pit bull terriers that were just gathering momentum in 2004 are major influences on the 2007 findings.

As of 2004, about a third of all U.S. dog and cat adoptions were believed to be Internet-assisted, via web sites where animals’ photographs and descriptions are posted. Anecdotally, at least two thirds of adoptions are Internet-assisted today, with dogs benefitting most, since dog adopters are more likely to be seeking a specific breed or mix, who may be readily found only through web-searching. Adoption transport also chiefly benefits dogs, since cats are still abundant in all parts of the U.S., but small dogs, puppies, and purebreds are relatively scarce in shelters along both coasts and in the northern Midwest.

Soaring shelter receipts of pit bull terriers in 2001-2004 outpaced progress in sterilizing feral cats, causing total shelter killing to soar by the end of 2004 to the highest level since 1997. For the first and only time since ANIMAL PEOPLE began quantifying shelter killing, more dogs were killed in 2004 than cats. The 1997 toll was 53% cats, 47% dogs, about the same balance as had prevailed since the mid-1980s, but the 2004 toll was reversed, at 47% cats, 53% dogs. [Boks: In LA it is 65% cats and 35% dogs.]

About half of the dogs who were killed in 2004 were pit bull terriers, ANIMAL PEOPLE confirmed by surveying shelter directors in 23 representative metropolitan areas.

Salathia Bryant of the Houston Chronicle was shocked in February 2007 to discover that local shelter intakes of pit bulls had increased from 5% of all dogs in 2000 to 15% in 2002 and 27% in 2006. Actually this was right on the national norms found by ANIMAL PEOPLE nearly two years earlier.

Los Angeles residents were shocked in June 2007 when Department of Animal Regulation chief Ed Boks lamented that 40% of the dogs who were killed in the city shelters during the preceding year were pit bulls. Yet as many as 70% of the dogs killed in some other major cities are pit bulls–who are reportedly 65% of the animal control dog intake in Milwaukee, and may account for more than two-thirds of the dog intake in Detroit and Philadelphia.

While pit bull intake has not slowed down since 2004, and appears to be still rising, the total canine death toll in U.S. shelters has fallen by more than 750,000 since 2004, with pit bulls the main beneficiaries.

Increasing use of standardized temperament tests to determine whether dogs are safe for adoption appears to be driving the change. Traditionally, behavioral suitability for adoption tended to be judged from anecdotal assessments by animal control officers, kennel workers, and people who surrendered animals to shelters. Relatively few shelters ever categorically refused to adopt out pit bulls and other breeds of dog who are considered high-risk, though some did and still do, but the breeds of dogs tended to weigh heavily, if not always consciously, in the judgments.

When most shelters were killing a relatively high percentage of the dogs received, and no one breed predominated, this was not an issue. As pit bulls came to disproportionately fill shelters, however, concern about “breed discrimination” on the one hand and soaring liability insurance costs on the other caused shelter directors to seek ways to support their decisions. Standardized temperament tests offer shelters a way to explain in relatively objective terms why a particular dog may be unsuitable for adoption, and to adopt out some pit bulls with confidence that the adoptions will succeed.

Whether temperament tests really prevent dog attacks and liability is still a matter of debate, with several relevant court cases pending. ANIMAL PEOPLE in January/February 2002 published data suggesting that the breed-specific patterns of fatal and disfiguring attacks among dogs who have cleared behavioral screening are the same as among all dogs.

However, though pit bulls tend to flunk the most popular standardized behavioral tests more often than any other breed, enough pit bulls pass that they have become the breed most often adopted in New York City and Los Angeles. Despite several high-profile failures of pit bull adoption programs in the 1990s, many other cities are now trying similar approaches, based on checklists of behavior that can be taken into a courtroom more persuasively than the intuitive and subjective opinions of animal handlers. [Boks: please visit The Truth About Pit Bulls for more information on pit bull temperament that varies from ANIMAL PEOPLES’ analysis.]

Currently, U.S. shelters kill about 1.4 million dogs per year, including about 750,000 pit bulls and close mixes of pit bull. [Boks: In the City of LA we kill about 6000 dogs annually of which nearly 2,300 are pit bull/mixes.]

While fewer pit bulls are dying in U.S. shelters, the cat toll is rising again for the first time since neuter/return feral cat control caught on in 1991-1992. Across the U.S., the shelter toll is now 63% cats, 37% dogs–the most lopsided that it has ever been. [Boks: In the City of LA our cat intake is 45% and dog intake is 55%.]

Tweety and Sylvester

The 2006 projected total of 2.3 million cats killed in shelters represents an increase of about 300,000 from the level of the preceding several years. [Boks: In the City of LA we decreased cat euthanasia every year for the past six years. 28% decrease in cat deaths over the past six years with a 13% decrease over just the past twelve months.]

Yet this is not because there are more cats at large. Repeatedly applying various different yardsticks to measure the U.S. feral cat population, including shelter data, road-kill counts, and surveys of cat feeders, ANIMAL PEOPLE has found since 2003 that the projections consistently converge on estimates of about six million feral cats at large in the dead of winter, with about twice that many after the early summer peak of “kitten season.” This is down by more than 75% from the feral cat population of circa 1990, which was up by about a third from the total indicated in the studies done by John Marbanks in 1947-1950.

Data collected for the National Council on Pet Population Study indicates that the U.S. pet cat population has not reproduced in excess of self-replacement since approximately 1994. The marked increase in the U.S. pet cat population over this time, from just over 60 million to about 90 million, has been driven by adoptions of feral cats–mostly feral-born kittens. Kitten removals from the feral population, together with neuter/return, has reduced feral cat reproductive capacity to substantially less than replacement. Taking feral cats’ places are other mid-sized predators including growing populations of urban and suburban coyotes, foxes, bobcats, hawks, owls, and eagles.

But intolerance of free-roaming cats, especially feral cats, is the longtime official policy of all U.S. federal government agencies, as well as many state agencies responsible for managing property where feral cats formerly dwelled. Under intense pressure from birders and conservationists trying to save endangered species of birds and small mammals, federal and state agencies have intensified efforts to extirpate feral cats.

Organized opposition to neuter/return feral cat management before 2003 came chiefly from the Humane Society of the U.S. and PETA, which held that feral cats were suffering and should therefore be killed to end their misery, and the American Bird Conservancy, a relatively small organization that originated as a project of the World Wildlife Fund. Soon thereafter, HSUS adopted policies favoring carefully managed neuter/return–but in April 2003 the National Wildlife Federation membership magazine National Wildlife came out strongly against neuter/return. Only The Nature Conservancy, whose policy is to extirpate all nonnative species from their land holdings if possible, has more influence among U.S. wildlife policymakers.

Feral cat colony caretakers have often not helped their cause by maintaining colonies near sensitive wildlife habitats, and by not sterilizing enough cats, fast enough, to reduce the visible population to none within the three-to-five-year average lifespan of a feral cat who survives kittenhood.

Cape May, New Jersey, for example, has had an active neuter/return network since 1992, encouraged by animal control chief John Queenan. ANIMAL PEOPLE mentioned the Cape May project as a model for other communities in 1993. But Cape May is perhaps the most frequented resting and feeding area for migratory birds along the entire Atlantic flyway. Many visiting species are in decline, including the tiny red knot, which flies each year all the way from the Antarctic to the Arctic and back. Cape May is also among the nesting habitats of the endangered piping plover.

The Cape May economy is driven by birders’ visits. When Cape May still had an estimated 500 feral cats in 2003, ten years into the neuter/return program, the city allowed neuter/return advocates to maintain 10 cat feeding stations and weather shelters, but the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service began demanding that feral cat feeding be ended.

Many cats were removed from sensitive areas and housed in two trailers, one belonging to Cape May Animal Control and the other to Animal Outreach of Cape May County, the primary local cat rescue group since 1995. On May 19, 2007, however, the trailers caught fire, killing 37 cats. Cape May is currently considering withdrawing support for neuter/return and prohibiting feeding cats outdoors.

A similar situation may have a happier outcome on Big Pine Key, Florida, home of the endangered Hefner rabbit, Sylivilagus palustris hefneri. The rabbit was named for Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner after he funded the study that put it on the U.S. endangered species list more than 20 years ago. Blaming feral cats for a catastrophic collapse in rabbit numbers at the National Key Deer Refuge, refuge manager Anne Morkill in June 2007 announced that the cats would be trapped and taken to animal control shelters, where they would probably be killed. Hefner then donated $5,000 to Stand Up For Animals, whose founder, Linda Gottwald, told Stephanie Garry of the St. Petersburg Times that she would use the funding to sterilize and relocate as many of the cats as possible.

Among the regional variations of note in the 2007 ANIMAL PEOPLE roundup of shelter killing data are that the dog/cat balance is 72/28 in the Northeast, 65/35 in the Midwest, 63/35 in the Mid-Atlantic region, and 60/40 along the West Coast, but is 54/46 in the South, where intakes and killing of both dogs and cats are highest. Among the possible explanations are that Southern animal control agencies may put more emphasis on picking up dogs, and that communities with more dogs at large tend to have fewer feral cats.

Virginia and Florida data, however, more resembles the data from the rest of the U.S., reflecting the demographic influences of Washington D.C. and migration to Florida from other parts of the country.

Midwest progress

The Midwest has made the most impressive recent gains, almost catching up to the West Coast in reduction of dog and cat overpopulation through high-volume low-cost sterilization. Many of the most ambitious dog-and-cat sterilization projects started within the past decade are in the Midwest, including Pets Are Worth Saving, founded by Paula Fasseas in Chicago, and the Foundation Against Companion Animal Euthanasia, founded by Scott Robinson, M.D., in Indianapolis.

A global veterinary shortage is especially acute in the Midwest, where organizations including the Michigan Humane Society, based in Detroit, and M’Shoogy’s Animal Rescue, near Kansas City, have at times had to cut back services simply because they could not find vets to fill their open positions. [Boks: LA critics find fault with local veterinary shortages not recognizing this is a national crisis. Not withstanding, Animal Services has significantly rebuilt its medical program and has four outstanding veterinarians on staff and more applying all the time.]

The same problem afflicts the Appalachian states, where progress achieved in the 1990s has largely been lost, most markedly in Knoxville. Handling both city and county animal control sheltering out of a World War II-vintage Quonset hut, and operating a major local dog and cat sterilization program, the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley had reduced shelter killing to 24.5 dogs and cats per 1,000 humans by 1999–well above the then-national average of 16.6, but among the best records in the South.

A coalition of local no-kill rescue groups then convinced Knoxville officials that a city-and-county-run shelter working cooperatively with them could operate on less money and save more animals. ANIMAL PEOPLE warned at the time that Knoxville could not realistically try to achieve no-kill sheltering until the animal control intake volume fell by at least half. Instead of lowering the shelter toll, the first five years of animal control under the new agency saw shelter killing increase by 22%.

Regions quit counting

A frustrating aspect of the 2007 ANIMAL PEOPLE shelter toll analysis is that while we received enough data from both the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions to project reliable totals and trends by comparison to past data, including the dog/cat balance, no individual or agency relayed complete enough new data from cities other than New York City and Philadelphia–the biggest cities in those regions–for us to list totals for any others.

This is markedly different from the first years of our annual updates, when the most complete counts we received were from the New England states, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland.

As shelter killing rates in those states have stabilized at very low levels, many of the agencies that formerly collected shelter tolls appear to have refocused on collecting information about adoption transport programs, a very small part of shelter activity 15 years ago, but now the source of half or more of the animals many shelters offer for adoption.
–Merritt Clifton

[Boks: Visit http://www.laanimalservices.com/about_stats.htm for two comparisons of national shelter killing stats. Click on 2007 National Stats or 2007 National Stats Direct Comparison.]

[ANIMAL PEOPLE is the leading independent newspaper providing original investigative coverage of animal protection worldwide, founded in 1992. Their readership of 30,000-plus includes the decision-makers at more than 10,000 animal protection organizations. They have no alignment or affiliation with any other entity. E-mail: anmlpepl@whidbey.com Web: www.animalpeoplenews.org $24/year; for free sample, send address.]

June 07 and Fiscal Year 07 Record Breaking Recap by Ed Boks

When talking about “no-kill”, it is important to understand how this term is defined. At LA Animal Services “no-kill” means using the same criteria a compassionate veterinarian or loving guardian would use when deciding if euthanasia is appropriate. That is, euthanasia is only appropriate when an animal is terminally ill, terminally injured, or dangerously aggressive. When euthanasia is compassionately available for these animals alone we will have achieved “no-kill”.

LA Animal Services contends there is a loving home somewhere for all other categories of animals (the healthy, the treatable, and animals with behavioral issues that do not put people or other animals at serious risk of injury). Until all these animals are safely placed in loving homes Los Angeles has not achieved No-Kill. Until LA is not killing animals for reasons of space or limited medical resources we have not achieved No-Kill.

June 07 Statistics
Let’s look at the June 07 numbers. They reveal a timely snapshot of where we are now, but the real story is the consistent life saving trend we can document over the past five years.

June 07 dog and cat adoptions are up 26% compared to June 06 (1,552 from 1,233).

Dog adoptions are up 14% (839 from 733) and cat adoptions are up 43% (713 from 500).

The increase in cat adoptions appears to be the result of the community rallying to our calls for help with this year’s influx of cats.

New Hope Placements for dogs and cats is down slightly, 5.5% (344 from 376). Our New Hope program is a partnership with over 150 rescue organizations in California who help us place healthy and treatable animals at risk of euthanasia. New Hope placements for dogs is down 14% (291 from 340) but up 8% (235 from 217) for cats.

Where Animal Services Adoption and New Hope program’s synergistic efficiency truly reveals itself is in the euthanasia numbers. Dog and cat euthanasia in June 07 is down 30% (1,847) compared to June 06 (2,647). Dog euthanasia is down 30% (523 from 752) and cat euthanasia is also down 30% (1,323 from 1,895).

LA Animal Services implemented an aggressive orphan neonate kitten foster program this year. Neonates are kittens too young to survive on their own and in need of intensive foster care in order to survive. Neonates are animals state law defines as “unadoptable”, but LA Animal Services’ reverence for life No-Kill philosophy requires us to do everything we can to save these, the most helpless of all creatures.

In June 07 neonate kitten euthanasia decreased 59% (328 from 804). May 07 saw a 40% decrease in neonate mortality (192 from 319). These remarkable life saving results are being achieved by LA Animal Services employees and nearly 100 volunteer foster care givers who refused to let these animals die! I want to thank each and every one of you for your compassion and commitment to life!

In addition to the extraordinary efforts of our foster care givers, I want to thank our wonderful employees and volunteers for taking the time to help the public understand that by keeping these animals at home with momma until they are weaned they can greatly improve these babies’ chances of survival and, of course, for distributing Spay/Neuter Vouchers to get momma spayed after she weans this last batch of babies. These efforts resulted in a 21% decrease in the number of neonates coming into our Centers in June 07 compared to June 06 (862 from 1,095).

Fiscal Year 06/07 Statistics
In Fiscal Year (FY) 06/07, LA Animal Services took in 25,419 (55%) dogs and 20,898 (45%) cats.

34% (15,808) of all dogs and cats were owner relinquished, unwanted. 66% (30,686) were rescued by LA Animal Care Officers who found them as lost, roaming the streets, uncared for and perhaps just as unwanted.

LA Animal Services returned nearly 16% (4,037) of all incoming animals to their very grateful guardians. LA Animal Services consistently maintains the highest “return to guardian” rate in the country.

32% (6,634) of all cats taken (20,898) in were orphaned neonates.

Pit bull and pit bull mixes represent 25% (5,408) of all dogs taken in (25,493), 15% (1,463) of all dogs adopted, 4% (408) of all dogs placed through New Hope, and 41% (2,574) of all dogs euthanized.

In FY 06/07, LA Animal Services dog and cat adoptions are up 6.8% (15,098 from 14,125). Dog adoptions are up nearly 12% (from 8,772 to 9,813) and cat adoptions are down about 1% (5,285 from 5,353).

New Hope placements are down 1.7% (5,918 from 6,023). However, the combination of adoptions and New Hope placements is 21,016 – making LA Animal Services the highest volume pet adoption agency in the world.

In FY 06/07, Los Angeles euthanized (or killed) 17,314 dogs and cats. This represents the fewest number of dogs and cats euthanized in LA ever in a one year period. This is an 11.25% decrease from the previous Fiscal Year in which 19,508 dogs and cats were euthanized. LA Animal Services has consistently reduced euthanasia over the past five years in the double digits. 15% in 02/03. 12% in 03/04. 16% in 04/05. 10% in 05/06. 11.25% in 06/07. This represents a 50% decrease over the past five years from 34,329 to 17,314.

A sincere thank you to all of you who are helping to make No-Kill an achievable goal in LA!