Business-Savvy Landlords Allow Pets: Cities Should Make it the Default

Imagine being responsible for the life or death of 55,000 dogs and cats every year. As the General Manager for the City of Los Angeles Animal Services Department, the desperate need of these animals weighed on my mind every day.  I was determined to end pet homelessness and the practice of killing and disposing of our society’s surplus companion animals.

Today, most cities and towns across the nation share this noble and ambitious goal. Achieving this requires robust community participation, and our cities desperately need the support of an overlooked constituencylandlords. Continue reading “Business-Savvy Landlords Allow Pets: Cities Should Make it the Default”

Mercy or Terror: Competing Priorities by Ed Boks

Ed Boks and competing prioritiesThese are challenging times for government officials. In many communities the care of lost and homeless animals can be complicated by a host of competing priorities. When evaluating conflicting priorities it’s easy to look to the bottom line. When that happens, questions of compassion can be overlooked.

It’s easy to lose touch with the intrinsic value of animals when confronted with all the issues and problems involved with managing a city, town or county. It’s not difficult to understand how decision makers can feel human needs and wants are more important than animal needs and wants.

When this happens, it’s easy to reduce animal control to a simple equation of expense and expedience. We can fool ourselves into thinking we’re dealing with widgets rather than lives. It’s at this point that a community’s true character emerges.

Indian Prime Minister Mahatma Gandhi taught that the soul of a society is revealed by its treatment of animals.  Animal control is a litmus test for determining a community’s capacity for empathy, compassion and kindness. Imagine the consequences if a community’s treatment of animals translated into how its next generation expressed love, compassion and mercy.

Matthew Scully, senior speech writer for President George W. Bush and author of the book “Dominion,” put it this way: “We are called upon to treat animals with kindness, not because they have rights or power or some claim to equality, but because they don’t; because they all stand unequal and powerless before us. Animals are so easily overlooked, their interests so easily brushed aside. Whenever we humans enter their world, from our farms to the local animal shelter to the African savanna, we enter as lords of the earth bearing strange powers of terror and mercy.”

Terror or mercy; every community makes a choice.  Our community made a choice six years ago and has since accomplished what no other community has been able to achieve and sustain – an end to killing to control pet overpopulation. This was done despite higher priorities, greater needs and many human injustices. There will always be enough injustice and human suffering in the world to make the wrongs done to animals seem small and secondary, however, we err when we think of justice or kindness as finite qualities.

A community shortchanges itself when it reasons there is only enough concern for its elderly but not for its children, or just enough love for its children but not for its mentally ill, or only enough compassion for its human population but not for its animals.

We compound wrongs within our character when we excuse the wrongs done to animals by saying more important wrongs are done to humans and we must concentrate on those alone. A wrong is a wrong, and when we shrug off little wrongs, we do grave harm to ourselves and others.

Each year municipalities renew their commitment to mercy or terror when they renew their animal control contract.  These contractual partnerships helped the quad-city region of Arizona become the safest and most humane community in the United States – for six consecutive years.

This was not always the case. Our community was once called “the most inhumane” in the nation by no less than the ASPCA. Together we transformed our community into a national model. We created a true humane society for ourselves, our families and our animals. By continuing to work together, we can and we will sustain this amazing success into the future.

Source: Competing priorities

Is your pet suffering from loneliness and boredom? by Ed Boks

Ed Boks and pet intelligenceThe New York Times recently (May 7) ran a piece by Jessica Pierce asking the provocative question “Is your pet lonely and bored?” Today there are as many pets in the United States as there are people; and in most homes pets are family — and not just dogs and cats, but rabbits, rats, bearded dragons and snakes.

According to many veterinarians and psychologists this phenomenon is evidence of a deepening “human-animal bond.” Scientists studying animal cognition and emotion are continually peeling back the mysteries of animal minds, revealing an incredible and often surprising richness in the thoughts and feelings of other creatures.

In light of this growing understanding, Pierce confesses feelings of guilt for having had subjected her goldfish to a life of endless tedium, swimming circles in a small bowl – knowing now that goldfish feel pain and engage in socially complex behaviors.

Her feelings of guilt were amplified when University of Tennessee ethologist Gordon Burghardt’s proclaimed “the best we can do for captive reptiles is a life of ‘controlled deprivation.’” Pierce owned a leopard gecko named Lizzy who died after what she now recognizes as two torturous years despite her best efforts to provide proper care. Pierce’s personal awakening caused her to ask how many other “well-meaning pet owners unwittingly cause harm by keeping animals in captive environments that might not meet their behavioral needs”?

In addition to the ethical issues affecting the many small creatures we stuff into cages and tanks, she also asked challenging moral questions regarding our best friends: dogs and cats. Dogs and cats have lived in close contact with humans for thousands of years and are well adapted to living as our companions. They can form close bonds and communicate their needs and preferences to us, and we to them.

Yet their well-being may be more compromised than we’d like to admit. There are, of course, the obvious problems of cruelty, neglect, abandonment, the millions wasting away in shelters waiting for a “forever home” that will never materialize or those lives snuffed out because they don’t or can’t behave the way a “good” pet should. Pierce suggests that even the most well-meaning owner doesn’t always provide what an animal needs, and wonders if our dogs and cats suffer in ways we don’t readily comprehend as a result.

How many dogs, for instance, get lots of attention inside a home, but rarely go outside? How many spend weekdays inside alone, while their owners are at work, save for the one or two times a dog walker or neighbor drops by for a few minutes to feed and take them out briefly? Is it possible our animals are suffering from loneliness or boredom?

In addition to love, dogs and cats need our time, space, energy, patience, money and a strong sense of commitment. If we buy fewer dogs and cats from breeders and pet stores, the pet population boom might gradually taper off, and the numbers of abandoned animals dying in shelters should start to decline as well.

It can be difficult to recognize, much less admit, the harmful aspects of pet ownership when all we hear is how beloved and happy pets are in our company, and how beautiful and enduring the human-animal bond is – all of which is often true!

But if we really care about our animals, great and small, we will look beyond these sentimentalities and carefully scrutinize our actual practices. Animals are not toys; they are living, sentient creatures. Pierce suggests that if we view the world through their eyes we’d better understand the quality of life we provide or deprive them.

Source:  Is your pet suffering?

Applying the No-Kill Ethic by Ed Boks

More than a policy and statistical objective, “no-kill” is a principle, an ethic, and once applied the practical consequences begin to fall into place. The principle is that animal shelters should apply the same criteria for deciding an animal’s fate that a loving pet guardian or conscientious veterinarian would apply. That is, healthy and treatable animals are not killed simply because of a lack of room or resources to care for them.

Killing animals for lack of space may be the quick, convenient and, at least from afar, the easy thing to do.  But I have never, in nearly 30 years in this field, heard anyone argue that it is the right thing to do.  After all, the creatures who fill our shelters can hardly be faulted for bringing trouble upon themselves. People who seek to excuse euthanasia in shelters often say we have to be “realistic.” But such realism is best directed at the sources of the problem and at the element of human responsibility..

There are the heart-breaking cruelty cases that bring so many animals to our doors.  On top of that, there are the thousands of dogs and cats shelters take in each year who are actually relinquished – turned in – even after years living with a family – like old furniture donated to charity.  And there are the orphaned, neonate puppies and kittens.  No one bothered to spay or neuter the parents, and so the offspring are born into the world homeless or unwanted. The general attitude is, “Let someone else deal with the problem,” and – hundreds of times a year – someone else does with a lethal injection.

Along with such failures in personal responsibility is a breakdown in social responsibility.  On the budget sheets, saving animals can seem to a certain mindset as being a lowly or trivial concern.  That’s an easy position to take, as long as you don’t have to be there when the problem gets “solved”.  If the people who brush off animal-welfare as “trivial” had to see the product of their priorities carried out – to witness for themselves how trusting the dogs are even when being led to their death, or how as they drift away they lick the hand or face of the person with the needle – I suspect they would see matters in a very different light, and would enthusiastically support life saving programs.

I can see rays of light.  There is a renewed community commitment to helping lost and homeless animals, and to swearing off euthanasia as a solution to pet overpopulation.

The “no-kill” ethic is a matter of taking responsibility, instead of excusing the problem or hiding its consequences.

No matter how you do the math, there are still too many creatures who have love and devotion to offer, but never get their chance.  And calling the practice euthanasia (as some prefer), instead of killing (as others prefer), doesn’t make it any kinder.

The practice of killing animals has never been anyone’s idea of an ideal solution – let alone anyone’s idea of giving “shelter” to creatures in need.  And, up close, the willful elimination of healthy animals with good years left is a sight to move the hardest heart.  It is time we as a community make this commitment: No animal that comes through our shelters will be killed out of convenience or a lack of space.  For every one of them, there is somewhere a kind and loving person or family, and it is our mission to bring them together.


This is the tenth 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 tenth recommendation of the “No-Kill Equation,” which is A Compassionate Director.

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 blue font.

The analysis will be in italics.

X. A Compassionate Director
The final element of the No Kill equation is the most important of all, without which all other elements are thwarted—a hard working, compassionate animal control or shelter director not content to regurgitate tired clichés or hide behind the myth of “too many animals, not enough homes.” Unfortunately, this one is also oftentimes the hardest one to demand and find.

But it is clear—as better than a decade of success in San Francisco, Tompkins County, and now elsewhere demonstrates—that No Kill is simply not achievable without rigorous implementation of each and every one of these programs and services. It is up to us in the humane movement to demand them of our local shelters, and no longer to settle for illusory excuses and smokescreens shelters often put up in order to avoid implementing them.

This analysis was provided by Mayor Villaraigosa’s office:  LA Animal Services’ current General Manager Ed Boks, hired in January 2006, is a retired pastor and former organizational development consultant.  Boks brings a unique blend of management competencies to the Department, including more than three decades of animal welfare experience where he successfully introduced and implemented No Kill principles and programs as described in the “No-Kill Equation” in two of the largest animal care and control programs in the United States, Maricopa County, Arizona and New York City.

While in Maricopa County and New York City, Boks received numerous awards and recognitions for his “groundbreaking work to introduce his No-Kill mission, educate and involve the community, and protect the lives of lost and homeless pets now and for years to come.”

Boks is nationally recognized by such organizations as In Defense of Animals (IDA) who presented him with a lifetime achievement award for “an extraordinary life of kindness, compassion, commitment and achievement dedicated to ending homelessness and for providing compassionate care for homeless animals.” Alley Cat Alliance recognized Boks for his “vision and foresight to recognize TNR as the effective, ethical solution to feral cat overpopulation.”

His compassionate philosophy and programs have been profiled in USA Today, The New York Times, The New York Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Arizona Republic, and Newsweek, Best Friends, and Cat Fancy magazines.

During Boks’ tenure in Los Angeles he has been recognized by Fred Bergendorff’s The Pet Place television show for “coming to the aid of animals and in doing so displaying selfless acts of courage, heroism and compassion” and by Voice For The Animals Foundation for his leadership role in “protecting the welfare of animals” through the Los Angeles Animal Cruelty Task Force.

Boks demonstrably possesses the knowledge and experience to guide LA Animal Services in the No Kill direction and has actively promoted a philosophy comparable to that expressed in the “No Kill Equation” for many years.

Boks brought in a new human resources team to institute vigorous performance review and disciplinary procedures consistent with City requirements that the Department had not routinely followed for many years. Training in a variety of skills and information areas is being offered to staff on a regular basis. “Secret shoppers” visit the animal care centers and critique conditions, customer service, signage and other aspects of operations to aid management in fine-tuning those operations and upgrading staff performance.

The Department’s veterinary team has been completely reconstituted and its management and administrative teams re-structured, rebuilt and reinvigorated. Additionally, the Department is systematically pursuing legislative amendments to improve its ability to promote adoptions and retention, fight animal cruelty and illegal animal sales, and address other issues of concern to the humane community and pertinent to the pursuit of its No Kill goal.

Since coming to Los Angeles Boks has applied his expertise to feral cat issues, spay/neuter issues, rescue groups and foster care programs, adoption and pet retention efforts, medical and behavioral rehabilitation, public relations and community involvement. The Department continues to progress via increasing adoptions and reducing euthanasia since his arrival.  In fact, in 2007 under Boks’ leadership the Department achieved its most significant decrease in euthanasia in any one-year period – 22%, which confers upon the City of LA one of the lowest euthanasia rates in the nation.

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.

New York Times profiles Edward Boks

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

Ed Boks and Today Show
Edward Boks on the Today Show

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “New York Times profiles Edward Boks”