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.

Time for the Heavy Lifting… by Ed Boks

LA Animal Services has been striving to achieve No-Kill for several years. Over the past five years LA Animal Services has reduced dog and cat euthanasia by 50%. This reduction represents the fastest progress towards no-kill in the nation. Los Angeles joins all Southern California in the steepest decreases in shelter killing nationwide since 2001 according to Animal People magazine.

Cat euthanasia has decreased nearly 19% and dog euthanasia has decreased 68% over the past five years. There are many ways to evaluate this progress. One method is to consider the “live release rate” another is to look at the per capita rate.

Live Release Rate:
Many communities squabble over defining “adoptable” and “un-adoptable”. LA Animal Services resists that debate. The more we focus on No-Kill the more we find the line defining “un-adoptable” moves in favor of every animal. Today many animals are placed into loving homes that only a few years ago would have been euthanized. Today, LA Animal Services looks only at the total number of animals taken in compared to the total number of animals killed.

Over the past twelve months 46,531 dogs and cats were taken in and 19,263 animals were killed. That is a 59% live release rate for dogs and cats combined. The live release rate for cats is 43% and the live release rate for dogs is 71%.

Per Capita Euthanasia Rate:
Many animal welfare professionals have long considered 5 killings per 1000 residents annually to be the threshold to achieving No-Kill. The national average for euthanizing animals reached an all time low in 2005 at 14.7 per 1000 residents annually. In the City of Los Angeles the per capita kill rate is 4.8.

Both these views suggest Los Angeles has reached the most challenging leg of its race to No-Kill. Adoptions are up 6.2% over the past twelve months, at 14,733. New Hope placements are down 8.5% – suggesting LA Animal Services is efficiently adopting out the most adoptable animals and our New Hope partners are helping many of the more difficult to place animals, nearly 6,000 in the last twelve months. This leaves what many might consider the most “un-adoptable” or unwanted animals.

Hitting the Wall: The Three Biggest Challenges to Achieving No-Kill

Orphaned Neonate Kittens: Of the 19,263 dogs and cats euthanized over the past twelve months 5,624 were orphaned neonate kittens, which is nearly 30% of the total number of animals killed. If we could prevent these animals from being born or could effectively care for them once they come to our Centers we would reduce the number of animals killed to 13,639 or 3.4 per 1000 residents.

Feral Cats: Cats represent 64% of all the dogs and cats euthanized. 12,279 cats were euthanized during the past twelve months. After accounting for the neonates, a remaining 6,655 cats were killed and of this number 35% or 2,329 are conservatively considered feral or un-adoptable because they were wild. If we were able to trap/neuter/return these animals to responsible feral cat colony managers we could further reduce our kill rate to 11,310 or 2.8 per 1000 residents.

Pit bulls/mixes: The second largest number of animals dying in our Centers after cats is pit bulls and pit bull mixes. Despite a nearly 42% increase in pit bull/mix adoptions and nearly an 89% increase in New Hope pit bull/mix placements over the past five years, pit bull/mix euthanasia accounts for nearly 41% of all dogs killed. Of the 6,984 dogs killed over the past twelve months 2,838 were pit bull/mixes. If we could fix our pit bull/mix overpopulation problem we could further reduce our kill rate to 8,472 or 2.1 per 1000 residents.

Three solutions are self-evident: Adoption, Spay/Neuter, and Pet Retention Programs. It is well understood that Los Angeles is not going to adopt its way out of the problems associated with pet overpopulation. Adoption and Pet Retention Programs are tactical solutions for the animals on the ground. LA Animal Services is opening six state of the art Animal Care Centers in 2007. These facilities will increase our holding capacity over 400% allowing us to hold animals for longer periods of time while finding loving homes for them. Safety Net is a program on the drawing board that will coordinate the resources available in LA to help keep pets and people together during times when they think relinquishment is their only alternative.

Clearly spay/neuter is the most strategic solution to end the killing. LA Animals Services provided nearly 40,000 spay/neuter surgeries to the pets of needy Angelenos in 2006 and expects to provide 45,000 in 2007. We are working on both a statewide and citywide spay/neuter law. We have accelerated the opening of six high volume spay/neuter clinics throughout the city to 2007. Each clinic is capable of doing between 15,000 and 20,000 surgeries annually. We are engaged in developing a citywide feral cat TNR (Trap/Neuter/Return) program.

LA Animal Services is also working on a number of human/animal bond programs designed to encourage pet retention and adoption, not the least of which is the Humane LA program that maximizes the resources of over twenty City Departments to help promote and protect the health, safety, and welfare of pets and people in the City of Los Angeles.

LA Animal Services is doing its part. Pet overpopulation is a community problem requiring community support. Making LA Animal Services the enemy, as some armchair activists do, is like holding Doctors Without Borders responsible for third world disease. The vile discourse common among a small number of self professed animal welfare proponents in LA serves only to make the final mile of the race to No-Kill more difficult, not less. While I am loathe calling attention to this faction because it only gives them the attention they crave, it is important to understand the damage they do to the cause of animal welfare in Los Angeles.

For over one year I have asked the community to come together to help achieve No-Kill once and for all. Some have responded, and I thank you. Today I challenge everyone – from the ADL to the AKC, republicans, democrats, and independents – anyone who claims to love animals to demonstrate your love by helping to end the killing – rather than hindering the actual achievement of the No-Kill goal.

Please consider signing up for our Volunteer Program or our Foster Baby Program. Kitten season is fast upon us. Fostering a litter of baby kittens is a great project for a family, a class, or a senior center. There is so much we can accomplish together.

Keep Those Cards And Letters Coming! by Ed Boks

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

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

To send your compliment, suggestion, or complaint to LAAS just click on this website: 

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

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

Thank you for your continued support of LAAS!