Imagine how you would feel if your boss told you he was so happy with your work that he was going to give a bonus to your coworker. I suspect you would be dumbfounded. Yet, in my line of work, it is not uncommon to hear, “I really love the work my local humane society or spca does – so I sent a donation to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) or to the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) to help support you.”
One of the greatest misunderstandings and biggest challenge local animal welfare organizations face is the belief most people have that HSUS and the ASPCA are affiliated with local animal welfare organizations.
Do you know how much funding HSUS and the ASPCA gave your local humane society or spca? If you said “nothing,” you’re likely correct – and this is true for virtually every local animal welfare organization in the United States.
Ironically, HSUS and the ASPCA raise enough money each year to fund an animal shelter in every state. However, HSUS has no animal shelter anywhere, and the ASPCA has just one shelter in New York City – that actually handles fewer animals each year than most small local humane societies or spca’s across the nation.
The mission of the national organizations is to raise awareness of national animal welfare issues; the mission of local humane societies and spca’s is to actually care for the homeless, abused and neglected pets in their local communities.
Many mistakenly believe their gifts to national groups will trickle down to help animals in their own community. I only wish that were true.
People come to this assumption through misleading marketing tactics. Let me give you an example. I once received an ASPCA direct mail solicitation that was also sent to millions of homes across the nation. The solicitation said, “Together we can stop cruelty to animals. … As you read this letter, somewhere – perhaps not far from you – someone is inflicting pain on an innocent and helpless animal. … You may not be able to rescue that particular animal. … Please send the largest gift you can manage to help the ASPCA save animals like it.”
Clearly, the ASPCA understands that sending “the largest gift you can manage” to their New York office is not the best way to help protect “an innocent and helpless animal,” a “particular animal,” an animal “not far” from where you live.
I have no objection to national animal welfare organizations asking for support for the important work they do. However, I do object to misrepresenting their programs by implying they are helping animals in every community in the nation. This is especially disturbing as you watch the daily barrage of heart-wrenching television ads national organizations use to seek donations.
I believe the maxim “think globally; act locally.” However, I object to national organizations abusing this tenet by suggesting you are acting locally when you contribute to them. Don’t be fooled. When you contribute to these organizations, your money is leaving your community never to return. If that is your intent, fine, but be sure you understand that.
Every local humane society/spca in every city, town and county, was founded to help homeless, abused and neglected animals in their own community. Local humane societies are often governed by a local volunteer board of directors and are funded almost entirely by local support.
Most local humane societies and spca’s receive no funding from the national groups, nor are they governed by or affiliated with them. Local humane societies and spca’s are often the largest local nonprofit 501(c)(3) charitable organization caring for the largest number of needy animals in their community – and these animals need our help. They need your help.
If you are looking for the best way to help homeless, abandoned and abused animals in your community, volunteer with your local shelter or make a life-saving tax-deductible donation directly to your local humane society, spca or animal rescue.
How often do you get to say, “I saved a life today?” When you volunteer with the your local animal shelter that assertion can be a daily affirmation. That is especially true when you volunteer as a foster caregiver. Every animal fostered back to health or to an adoptable status is a life saved. The ability of a local animal shelter to care for all the animals rescued depends on reliable foster volunteers willing and able to help. The more foster volunteers, the more lives saved.
Foster volunteers are typically caring people who do everything from bottle-feeding orphaned neonate babies around the clock to socializing little ones to ensure they are able to interact with both humans and animals to caring for an older animal recovery from an injury or surgery. Foster volunteers provide care, safety and love. Continue reading “Did you save a life today? by Ed Boks”
One of the best kept secrets to being an animal shelter volunteer is a 2011 U.S. Tax Court ruling. The ruling brought some much-needed clarity to deducting unreimbursed expenses incurred by volunteers helping IRS-recognized charities like your local animal shelter or animal rescue organization.
Each spring local animal shelters receive many kittens too young to survive more than an hour or two without a mother. These kittens are called “neonates.” Sadly, most of the neonate kittens that shelters take in are orphans. People find these babies in their garage, barn, flowerbeds and many other places where the mother felt safe from predators and intruders while she gave birth.
Understandably, some people feel they are helping neonate kittens when they bring them to an animal shelter. Actually, they are putting these little lives at tremendous risk because euthanasia may be the only way a shelter can save them from suffering an agonizing death by starvation.
Are you having trouble sticking to your new year’s resolution to exercise more? Maybe you need a good physical trainer to help meet your fitness goals. Have you considered your best friend? Research shows that dogs are actually nature’s perfect personal trainers. Dogs are naturally loyal, hardworking, energetic and enthusiastic…basically the perfect work-out partner. And, unlike human workout partners who may skip an exercise session because of appointments, extra chores or bad weather, dogs never give you an excuse to skip exercising.
In the quest to achieve No-Kill (applying the same criteria a loving pet guardian or conscientious veterinarian would apply when deciding a shelter animal’s fate), one of the challenges we must overcome is the widespread belief in many myths regarding shelter animals.
The fact is some shelter animals have issues. Equally true is the fact that these issues are seldom the animal’s fault and they can almost always be resolved. Knowingly adopting an animal with special needs is one of the noblest acts you will ever perform; you are truly saving a life.
Let me give you an example of a myth responsible for unnecessarily killing far too many animals: “cats infected with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) should be euthanized.” The truth is FIV cats often live long, healthy lives with no symptoms at all.
FIV is an endemic disease found in domestic cats worldwide; it is a lentivirus, meaning it progresses slowly, gradually affecting a cat’s immune system. Cats are typically infected through a serious bite, usually inflicted by a stray male cat – earning it the moniker the “fighting cat” disease (a good reason for keeping your cat indoors).
The most well-known lentivirus in humans is HIV – but there are major differences between FIV and HIV. HIV cannot infect cats and FIV cannot infect humans – in fact, there is no evidence that FIV has ever infected a human in the 6,000 years humans and cats have lived together.
The fear concerning FIV cats came to my attention recently when my shelter rescued a loving 3-year-old American shorthair named Pushkin. Pushkin was surrendered by a family not because of his disease, but because they were moving out of state and sadly could not afford to take him along. Pushkin is so sweet that my team fell in love with him and tried earnestly to find him a new home. However, when potential adopters learn Pushkin has FIV, they immediately lose interest in him.
Being the proud guardian of an FIV cat named Oliver who lives happily with my other cat, Beau Bentley, I am distressed by the apprehension I find among so many cat lovers regarding FIV.
As long as FIV cats are not exposed to diseases their immune system can’t handle, they can live relatively normal lives. When kept indoors, as all cats should, health risks are significantly reduced. FIV is not easily passed between cats either. It cannot be spread casually – in litter boxes, water or food bowls, or when snuggling and playing. It requires a serious bite to transmit the disease.
Before we knew FIV existed, shelters routinely placed these cats into loving homes where they often lived long, normal lives. With the discovery of FIV in 1986 came an undeserved stigma that has since made placing them unduly difficult.
Dr. Susan Cotter, professor of hematology and oncology at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, is helping counteract these misinformed fears. “I would not advise getting rid of a cat that tests positive for FIV,” she says. “If the cat is young and healthy, it could be years before anything changes.”
Best Friends Animal Society veterinarian Dr. Virginia Clemans says “the one important thing is to keep your FIV cat healthy.”
That, of course, is good advice for all cats. In fact, the very advice we offer FIV cat owners is equally appropriate for all cats. That is, all cats should be kept as healthy as possible; kept indoors and free from stress; fed a high-quality diet; and medical problems should be treated as soon as they arise.
If you already own a cat, ask your veterinarian about early detection to help maintain your cat’s health and to help prevent the spread of this infection to other cats.
Although many FIV cats live long, happy lives, some may need periodic medical care or ongoing medical management. This is why adopting a special-needs animal is such a noble and selfless act. If you can find the room in your heart and home for a cat like Pushkin, please contact your local shelter – because every animal counts.
There 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!
In fact, LA Animal Services was recognized by The Maddie’s Fund, the well known pet rescue foundation established in 1999 to help fund the creation of a no-kill nation, for our “transparency,” (i.e., the ready availability of information to the public). Of the over 5200 animal control programs in the United States and the tens of thousands humane societies and other animal welfare organizations, Maddie’s identified only five organizations for their transparency. LA Animal Services was at the top of this list and was the only municipal animal control program recognized.
Over the past six years, LA Animal Services has been able to boast one of the most impressive records for reducing pet euthanasia as a methodology for controlling pet overpopulation in the nation.
However, the first quarter statistics for 2008 have recently been posted, and they are disappointing. Despite the fact that live placements (adoptions, New Hope placements, and redemption’s) continue to rise to unprecedented levels historically and unequaled levels nationally (27,565 in the past 12 months for a 59% live release rate [70% for dogs and 44% for cats]) the euthanasia level also rose.
There are many possible reasons for this increase, and it is important that we understand all of them if we are to address and correct this anomaly as a community going forward.
1. I want to preface this discussion by reminding everyone that LA Animal Services’ statistics showing increased euthanasia and animal intakes during the first quarter of 2008 demonstrates that the department does not “fudge the data” or “manipulate the process to spin the numbers” as some critic’s suggest.
2. A second preface is to acknowledge that we at LA Animal Services are as disappointed with these results as are our critics. To have both the intake and kill rates drift upward in four of our shelters over the past quarter is not acceptable and we are taking steps to reverse this disturbing trend.
To be fair, it should be understood that when you normalize* the statistics and compare the intake statistics to the euthanasia rates in the first quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2007 there was only a 1.49% increase in euthanasia.
But no matter how you assess the numbers, everyone agrees that no increase in euthanasia is desirable, and we will continue to do everything we can to return to our long standing trend of reducing the killing. As was explained in my last message, we have hit the proverbial “wall” and will need the help of the entire animal loving community going forward.
(* Normalization is the process of removing statistical error in repeated measured data. For us, that means comparing the euthanasia rate relative to a fluctuating intake rate.)
3. Statistics do not exist in a vacuum and there are reasons why things are as they are, some reasons are more subject to department control than are others. The bottom line, however, is that there is a lot of work to do and hysteria, hand-wringing and finger pointing does not save lives.
4. The department recently completed a major shelter management reassignment that has impacted almost every shelter. This was done to match the abilities of some of our most experienced managers with jobs we feel they can do well. These changes bring with them adjustment periods as managers learn about their newly assigned, and in some cases, newly opened facilities. These managers must determine how they want to tackle the many challenges they face in their respective shelters. I will soon announce the selection of a new Assistant General Manager of Operations who will work directly with them on these challenges. In the meantime, we started posting statistics by shelter in the hope this information will help the community better target its resources to help the animals most at risk.
LA Animal Services opened three new facilities in the last ten months and we are scheduled to open two more in the next three months. This is the fastest and largest increase of any City Department in LA City history and represents a significant learning curve during a time of intense scrutiny and fiscal instability.
5. Center managers are responsible for determining the optimal animal capacity for their shelter. This is a delicate balance between wanting to save lives and not wanting to be perceived as “warehousing” animals. If a shelter experiences a short-term surge in new arrivals, it could lead to an urgent need to move more animals out of the shelter one way or another. Unfortunately, when that doesn’t happen via adoption, New Hope rescue, or transfer of animals within our shelter system or partnering shelter systems, it’s likely to happen via euthanasia.
Adoptions and Rescues
6. There is a spirited national debate going on about whether shelters can “adopt their way” to No-Kill status. Perhaps we can, but it takes the whole community working together. As noted earlier, adoptions at LAAS shelters were also up during the first quarter of 2008 and, on a month-over-month basis, has been up for 12 consecutive months by a range of from 10-30% depending on the month. That is encouraging.
7. The numbers of dogs and cats placed by our wonderful New Hope rescue partners during the first quarter of ‘08 is up by about 5% over last year. This is also encouraging coming after a year in which New Hope rescue placements were down. Our New Hope partners do all they can to help save animals but sometimes they run out of capacity too, so any month when they are able to increase the number of transfers that is a plus.
8. Increasing animal adoptions can be a challenge when the most easy-to-adopt animals, such as puppies, kittens and purebreds, are scooped up almost immediately after they come into the shelters. That leaves the harder to adopt big and older dogs, so-called aggressive breeds and injured or sick animals that place a larger burden on the casual would-be adopter.
These animals must be marketed more aggressively and creatively, and the simple fact is that marketing is not our strong suit at the moment. We don’t have a public relations staff, nor do we have a volunteer coordinator at the moment to run our mobile adoption program. These tasks are being done on an ad hoc basis by extraordinary employees whose primary responsibilities lie elsewhere.
We’ve been struggling to find a new PR person and volunteer coordinator through the City’s civil service system and have yet to turn up a suitable candidate with the requisite experience and skills. We’ll keep trying to rectify that as soon as we can, and under the new pressures of a deficit-driven City hiring freeze. But in the meantime, getting the word out about our shelter animals, and getting those animals out to a wider public, remains a challenge. The importance of doing so, however, was made very clear by the 52% jump in adoptions at our shelters in the week following Oprah Winfrey’s April 4 show on puppy mills which featured our South LA Animal Care Center.
Riester Ad Agency has generously donated a series of adoption campaign ads that are downloadable from our website. LA Animal Services asks everyone with access to a neighborhood newspaper, LA animal blog, local or business bulletin board to help us get the word out by posting these ads.
9. Some have pointed to the first quarter upsurge in intakes as indicative of some systemic failure on the department’s part, though they offer no logical explanation for this allegation. It is impossible at this point to know if this increase in intakes is a reversal of a long standing trend or if it is a short term reaction to the recent housing market collapse.
To be sure, we are dealing with a unique phenomenon this year – widely documented in the media – and that is the unprecedented upsurge in pet relinquishment’s resulting from families losing their homes to foreclosures or evictions. Many are finding that they are unable to afford to keep their pets or, alternately, to find a new home they can afford where pets are allowed. Intakes system wide were up by 447 animals in March 2008 over March 2007, and it makes sense that housing and economic displacement contributed substantially to that increase. People leaving their pets at our shelters have made that clear. The solution: A House is not a Home without a Pet program.
10. Spring and early summer is traditionally a problem for every animal shelter, as kitten and puppy season brings more neonates through our doors. Hundreds of orphaned neonate kittens are taken in every month at this time of year, and they are the primary focus of our life saving efforts. They require careful around-the-clock care that no shelter is equipped to provide, either in terms of facilities or available staff. Dozens of staff members have, however, stepped up to take on the challenge of fostering litters of kittens, as have more than 100 volunteers, but if a dedicated caregiver can’t be found for an orphaned litter of neonate kittens, they will probably be euthanized. We don’t make excuses for this, and we welcome every new volunteer foster caregiver we can recruit.
It should be understood that LA Animal Services is not the only organization in the greater LA region facing this crisis. All our sister jurisdictions and rescue partners are inundated with hundreds of neonate kittens at the same time. We are all exhausting our limited resources as we take in, care for, and try to place these animals.
11. Apart from a regularization of the real estate market which is probably a number of months away, one thing that must be done to arrest this trend is to create more opportunities for people to keep their pets when they have to move. The local humane community has been discussing this issue and is working on ideas that might help, including providing landlords with financial indemnification against pet-related damage, and/or other incentives that would motivate them to allow pets in the units they own and manage. In a city where 62% of the residents are tenants, increasing the availability of pet-friendly rental units is an issue that deserves much more attention than it is getting.
12. Some blame the upsurge in intakes on the department’s alleged failure to spay and neuter everything in sight, as if that were possible. But LA Animal Services is doing what it can, and may well lead the nation’s shelters in our commitment to provide spay/neuter as a tool for reducing pet overpopulation.
With the generous support of the Mayor and City Council, we’re able to fund upwards of 40,000 surgeries a year, using our two currently operational spay/neuter clinics, the Amanda Foundation and Sam Simon Foundation mobile clinics, and the network of private veterinarians who take our discount vouchers.
As this is written, we have a Request for Proposals (RFP) soliciting operators for the five new spay/neuter clinics nearing completion in our new shelters. Additionally, others in the humane community who have an interest in spay/neuter are preparing to launch new community-based spay/neuter efforts in and around Los Angeles.
The City’s pioneering spay/neuter ordinance that became law on April 8th is already generating a surge in voluntary compliance at various clinics. We have begun to gear up the information and enforcement efforts that will be needed to make the ordinance effective and we expect it to generate results that will become clear in our statistics over the next few years.
13. All that being said, we definitely have not been able to sterilize all the feral and stray cats we want. This is because of a lawsuit threat from an environmental group opposed to the Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) methodology used to control feral and stray cat populations in many locales, including cities contiguous to Los Angeles. This has forced LA Animal Services to undertake a lengthy environmental study process before trying to establish a formal TNR program here. This could take up to another year to accomplish.
In the meantime, valiant community TNR volunteers do what they can to manage the problem in various locations, but untended, unsterilized stray cats can undo much of the progress these diligent volunteers achieve. Many of the neonate litters we see come from this source and, absent the ability for the department to legally conduct TNR, unadoptable feral adults and their kittens will continue to account for hundreds, if not thousands, of the unfortunate cats who are euthanized every year.
14. I don’t offer these explanations as excuses for what we have experienced in our shelters so far in 2008. We share the frustrations of the entire humane community when statistics don’t trend positive, and we should be held accountable when all is said and done. But our larger job is to bring the community together to find solutions, to seek new resources when the City budget can’t provide them, and find new ways to overcome the challenges few communities have ever had to face on the scale we see in Los Angeles.
We hope to soon gather the community together to try to do just that. We will continue to work on identifying new resources to help us meet the challenges posed by the spay/neuter law, make more homes welcoming to pets, get the word out that big, older dogs and neonate kittens make lovable pets, and provide adopters with the support they need to ensure that is the case.
If you would like to help, please consider joining our Volunteer Program or make a donation towards one of our many life saving programs.
This is the ninth 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 ninth recommendation of the “No-Kill Equation,” which is Volunteers.
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 analsys evaluation will be in italics.
Volunteers are a dedicated “army of compassion” and the backbone of a successful No Kill effort. There is never enough staff, never enough dollars to hire more staff, and always more needs than paid human resources. That is where volunteers come in and make the difference between success and failure and, for the animals, life and death.
In San Francisco, a community of approximately 800,000 people, volunteers spend over 110,000 hours at the shelter each year. Assuming the prevailing hourly wage, payroll taxes and benefits, it would cost the San Francisco SPCA over $1 million dollars annually to provide those services. In Tompkins County, a community of about 100,000 people, volunteers spend over 12,500 hours walking dogs, grooming cats, helping with adoptions, and doing routine but necessary office work, at a cost savings of approximately $85,000 if the SPCA were to pay for those services at the entry level hourly rate.
The purpose of a volunteer program is to help a shelter help the animals. It is crucial to have procedures and goals in mind as part of the program. In Tompkins County, for example, the agency required all dogs available for adoption to get out of kennel socialization four times per day. This could not be accomplished by staff alone and therefore volunteers were recruited, trained and scheduled for specific shifts that would allow the agency to meet those goals. It became quickly apparent that having volunteers come in whenever they wanted did not serve those goals and so all volunteers were given instructions and a specific schedule.
Ed’s Analysis: LA Animal Services’ 1,076 active volunteers contributed over 150,500 hours in 2007 in a wide variety of tasks, including shelter clean-up, grooming, dog walking, rabbit exercising, adoption assistance and counseling, assisting staff at mobile adoptions, community information booths and special events, and other valuable tasks.
According to Independent Sector, a nonprofit, nonpartisan coalition of approximately 575 charities, foundations, and corporate philanthropy programs, collectively representing tens of thousands of charitable groups in every state across the nation, the 2006 estimate for the value of a volunteer hour in California is $20.36 per hour. The 2007 value estimate will be released this spring.
Independent Sector calculates the hourly value of volunteer time based on the average hourly wage for all non-management, non-agriculture workers as determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with a 12 percent increase to estimate for fringe benefits.
Using Independent Sector’s 2006 calculation for California, LA Animal Services estimates that its volunteers conservatively donated well over three million dollars worth of volunteer service in caring for the animals in its six Animal Care Centers in 2007.
Volunteers have always been a vital and valued part of LA Animal Services’ work and the volunteer program formalized with the creation of Volunteers in Service to Animals (VSA) in the 1970s. VSA disbanded in the 1990s and was replaced by an official Department volunteer program headed by an on-staff volunteer coordinator. The overall volunteer program was reviewed during 2007 and recommendations for refinements are forthcoming. The recommendations are expected to focus on improving the volunteer experience and resolving issues that arise between volunteers and staff. A new volunteer coordinator is expected to join the staff early in 2008, filling a void that has existed for much of 2007. This addition will strengthen the program by restoring direct management oversight to a network of hard-working animal care center-based volunteer coordinators. Recruitment of new volunteers is ongoing and will be a priority for the new volunteer coordinator.
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.