Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Enlarging The Circle of Compassion

Albert Schweitzer once said, "It is not always granted to the sower to live to see the harvest. All work that is worth anything is done in ---FAITH."

We are an extremely fortunate people. Unlike Albert Schweitzer, we are seeing the harvest. We are seeing the results of both his and our hard work; a work begun in faith. A Jewish Proverb says, “Despise not the day of small beginnings.”

To be sure, the No-Kill movement started small. But why is Nl-Kill receiving so much attention lately; and why here, in Los Angeles, the City of Angels? Is it a coincidence that No-Kill is so quickly rising to a place of national notice? Is it a coincidence that No-Kill is getting so much recognition just now?

We live in troubled times; a time of war and rumors of war. A time of fear so great that men’s hearts are failing them because of what they see coming upon the earth.

We live in a time when just reading the daily newspaper or listening to the evening news can cause you to question the value of life. I remember growing up as a boy in Detroit and listening to the morning newscaster on my way to school. Each day he would begin the News by asking the question “What’s a life in Detroit worth today?” And then he would give an account of how someone’s life had been snuffed out the night before for $20, or a pair of sneakers, or because someone didn’t like the way a person looked at them.

I find it interesting that No-Kill is suddenly receiving so much national attention during a time of unprecedented violence in the world. I’m reminded of a letter that was written by an itinerant preacher named Paul to a group of Romans 2,000 years ago. In his letter he addressed the violence of that generation by explaining, “that where sin, death and violence abound, grace and truth does much more abound.” The darker the world seems to get, the brighter the light of truth and compassion. In a Country where the literal wholesale slaughter of animals is common practice, No-Kill stands as a brilliant contrast and contradiction to the way we live as a community. In a world where people kill each other while claiming they are doing God’s will, it is fascinating to hear stories of how Palestinians and Israelis will join forces to tend feral cat colonies during a cease-fire.

Today, we live in a time when our national leaders are grappling with defining “good” and “evil”. They tell us that we are good and we are at war with evil.

I think it is true that the war between good and evil is manifesting in our age like no other. What is interesting about Good and Evil is that so many try to define good and evil with words alone. However, there is only one way that good and evil can truly be understood or defined, and it is not by what you believe or by what you think, but by what you do. Good and evil are defined and understood by our actions.

On September 11, 2001, we all saw evil manifested in the desperate and hateful act of 19 religious men killing thousands of innocent men, women and children in New York City. Some questioned, as they should, how can religion bring men to do such evil while they think they are doing good?

Albert Schweitzer answered this question for us when he said, "Any religion that is not based on a respect for life is not a true religion." Abraham Lincoln said it another way, “I care not for any man’s religion whose dog or cat is not better for it.”

So what is the significance of the No-Kill initiative in Los Angeles as we enter the year 2007, just five years and three months following 9/11?

Before I answer that question, I need to talk about evolution. In the theory of evolution, Charles Darwin explained that a species evolves by adapting to a changing environment. He further explained that only those members of the species “fit” enough to adapt are fortunate enough to survive. Today we live in a changing environment, an environment defined within the context of a war between good and evil. If that is the case, how will nature determine who is fit to adapt and survive?

More to the point, are we fit enough to adapt and survive to our changing environment? Are you fit enough to adapt and survive?

I am confident the answer to that question is a resounding YES. And the reason for my confidence may surprise you. I think the evidence that suggests we are adapting well to our changing environment is found in the fact that we are attempting to achieve No-Kill in Los Angeles, New York City, and more and more communities each year following 9/11.

I agree with our national leaders when they tell us we are at war with evil. But I hasten to caution that we not make the mistake of thinking this is only an external war, a war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The outward war is merely a manifestation of an internal war; the real war is in and for our own hearts and minds. This war can’t be won through outrageous acts of violence on the battlefield or in the street, not by dropping bombs on each other or by throwing red paint on each other. This war is won by our becoming what we espouse; by living our beliefs.

Faith and reverence for life is the only antidote for the madness that seems to be engulfing the world today. Our reverence for life is the light of the world. The antidote is so simple that it is easily missed, and millions miss it every day.

Schweitzer warned that, “Anyone who can regard the life of any creature as worthless is in danger of thinking human lives are worthless."

Are we, as a society, in danger of thinking the life of any creature is worthless? I think that before No-Kill came along we could argue, in our ignorance, that we had little choice but to kill unwanted dogs and cats in our attempt to control over population. But with clear evidence that NO-KILL is achievable, can we not now argue, along with Albert Schweitzer, that if we chose to ignore No-Kill initiatives we are but one step removed from thinking human life has no value?

Over the years psychologists and law enforcement agencies have come to understand the link between animal cruelty and spousal, child, and elder abuse, and other forms of domestic violence. Violence does not discriminate against victims. If that link exists in the life of a person, could it be true of a community? Can a community’s insistence on catch and kill programs, when humane non-lethal alternatives exist, be the link that reveals a community’s lack of respect for human life?

Not all human life perhaps. A community may start with feeling that the lives of its enemies are worthless. Then perhaps those people who don’t agree with its religious or political beliefs. And if Schweitzer is correct, such an unthinking attitude could lead to the abuse of our aged, our young, our infirmed, and impoverished. When we begin to devalue life, where does it end? It ends only when a community decides to value all life.

Consider the biblical story in which two ancient towns are threatened with destruction because their inhabitants are perceived as living violent, self-absorbed lives. A decidely old school intervention is staged whereby the possibility that 50, 40 or even as few as 5 "righteous men" might live there leads to the possibility that the towns might be spared. If Abraham could prevail upon God to make compassionate decisions, then perhaps we can prevail upon our community to do the same.

Now there may be some who may find fault with my comparing the lives of 5 righteous men to the tens of thousands of lost and homeless dogs and cats living in Los Angeles. But if you do, it would be because you're overlooking the moral of the analogy. The moral of the analogy is not that the lives of feral cats or lost and homeless pets are equal to the lives of men. The moral is that when we, as compassionate human beings, can value the lives of creatures as seemingly insignificant as dogs and cats, we will begin to understand the true capacity of our own souls to make compassionate, life-affirming choices.

Mahatma Gandhi taught us that the only way to determine the true value of a community is to look at how that community treats their animals. Community value is not determined by our political rhetoric, or by our wonderful community and public health programs, or by our art galleries, libraries and parks alone. Our true value according to Mahatma Gandhi is found in the way we treat our animals. So if we as the greatest City in the world can develop a life-affirming program for the lowliest of all creatures, our lost and homeless pets, what does that say about us as a community?

According to Schweitzer, No-Kill is what makes us truly human. His exact words were, "It is a man's sympathy with all creatures that truly makes him human."

That is the role of LA Animal Services, to speak on behalf of the voiceless. Schweitzer warned us to never let the voice of humanity within us be silenced because it is our sympathy for all creatures that defines us as truly human and good. There was another holy man who said, “As much as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto Me.”

Again, it is not my intention to offend anyone’s religious sensibilities, so if you are offended by what might sound like my equating dogs and cats to the lowliest of humans, you have missed my point. I am not talking about the value of lost and homeless pets; I am actually trying to explain the human capacity to love. The capacity to love not only our friends, our neighbors, or even our enemies, but to even love the thousands of pets that find their way into our City Animal Care Centers.

When Albert Schweitzer received the Nobel Peace Prize he gave an acceptance speech titled, “The Problem of Peace in the World Today." In that speech he said, "The human spirit is not dead. It lives on in secret and it has come to understand that the full breadth and depth of compassion can only be known when it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind alone."

I spoke earlier about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. It may surprise you that as a former Pastor I believe in evolution, but not in the same way Darwin did. I believe compassion is the catalyst for our evolutionary growth. In fact, I believe compassion is the only evolutionary force left to us for our own human development. In earlier ages we had to rely on physical strength to survive, in more recent ages we had to rely on our mental strength to survive. Today I think we rise or fall as a species depending on our capacity to love all creatures, great and small. Our survival as a species depends on our ability to extend the circle of compassion to include all creatures. The world does not belong to those who embrace cruelty; the world belongs to those who can love greatly.

Scientists talk about evolution in terms of biology. I think evolution is not so much a biological force as it is a spiritual force. It is not merely a force that makes men out of monkeys; it is a force that can turn men into angels.

Love can be a pretty ethereal term, but we can all understand the concept of kindness and mercy. Once you begin to think kindly and mercifully about life, you begin to truly appreciate the value of life, and when you truly understand the value of live, you become what Schweitzer calls a “thinking being”, and as a thinking being you find yourself looking for ways to act compassionately and mercifully towards all life.

Schweitzer said, "The man who has become a thinking being feels a compulsion to give every ‘will-to-live’ the same reverence for life that he gives his own life.”

In other words, if you are a thinking being you will love your fellow creature as you love yourself… You will extend the Golden Rule to include other species.

According to Schweitzer, a person is not even a thinking being if he cannot reverence the will-to-live in other creatures.

We live in a day and a world where 19 men can fly airplanes into buildings with the malicious intent of killing thousands of fellow human beings. We also live in a day when hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people will devote their lives and their resources to help Los Angeles achieve No-Kill. These two acts in my view define Good and Evil.

But let me be clear, you don’t have to fly an airplane into a building to manifest evil. All you have to do is understand that thousands of animals are dying in animal shelters every year and do nothing about it. According to Schweitzer that is also an evil act. Schweitzer recognized that it was often in such thoughtlessness that evil most often manifests itself.

He explained, "Very little of the great cruelty shown by men can really be attributed to cruelty. Most of it comes from thoughtlessness or inherited habit. The roots of cruelty are not so much strong as they are widespread.”

Think about that. The roots of cruelty are not so much strong as they are widespread. That explains why an act of kindness is so powerful. It is powerful because it is stronger than cruelty; cruelty is shallow and weak. If all men could live their lives in kindness and mercy towards all creatures, soon the light of compassion would overwhelm the darkness of unthinking and habitual cruelty.

Albert Schweitzer said a day would come when “people will be amazed that the human race existed so long before it recognized that thoughtless injury to life was incompatible with truth, love, and compassion.”

This is the mission of LA Animal Services. We are here to acknowledge that in a time of war and violence, the circle of compassion is not diminished but rather grows larger and larger each day. We are here to affirm the small work we started in faith is growing stronger and stronger every day.

At a time of unprecedented evil, we are making an evolutionary leap, a leap that may go unnoticed by many, but a leap nonetheless of thinking beings consciously expanding the circle of compassion to include all creatures. We are here to assert and demonstrate by our actions that love, life, compassion, kindness and mercy are stronger than hate, violence and death.

According to Albert Schweitzer, the "Affirmation of life is a spiritual act;” performed by thinking beings. As thinking beings we affirm and embrace life saving No-Kill programs like New Hope, Big Fix, FELIX, STAR, TLC, the Bottle Baby and Foster programs, and Safety Net as a compassionate means to finally eliminate the troubling conditions of our lost and homeless pets.

I am asking all thinking Angelinos to help us make Los Angeles the safest City in the United States for our pets in 2007! We can solve the problems of pet overpopulation without sacrificing our compassion or humanity, and we can do this together this year!

(Note: I apologize if any religious referrences within this message offended anybody. The text has been edited to be less offensive. The message is intended only to encourage respect for the lives of our community's lost and homeless pets. Happy New Year! Ed)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Happy Holidays!

This past year has certainly been a challenge for the employees, volunteers, partners, and supporters of LA Animal Services. But because of our shared vision and values we have successfully begun to restore LA Animal Services into its rightful place as a nationally recognized animal welfare organization!

I have been involved in animal welfare, and animal control, for nearly 30 years, and in all that time I have never met or been part of a team that made me prouder. The depth of experience and knowldedge in this organization is second to none! The compassion and support of LA for its largest animal rescue organization is second to no other community!

As I prepare to begin my second year working with this outstanding organization and community, I want to welcome both Linda Barth and Debbie Knaan, our two new AGMs, who will be instrumental in helping us take Animal Services to the next level.

However, I don't want to close out 2006 without recognizing the real heroes in this organization! They are our Animal Care Techicians, Registered Veterinary Tecnicians, Animal Control Officers, our Veterinarians, our managers, supervisors, and administrative staff at all levels, and our volunteers and partners! It is because we function as a team, even as a family, that we are able to accomplish what so many consider impossible!

This past year we saw the opening of the expansion of our North Central Animal Care Center. Beginning this Spring we will begin a series of rapid fire openings of our remaining Animal Care Centers and our new Spay/Neuter Clinics. 2007 is going to be our year on so many levels! New state of the art animal shelters and clinics, new life saving programs, and more public support than ever before! And none of that would or could happen without our employees, volunteers, partners and supporters!

Many supporters and employees endured and suffered the wrath of a small uninformed, disengaged radical animal rights community this year. These individuals do an incredible disservice to the very animals they claim to want to help, not to mention delay the progress we could be making in transforming LA into a major No-Kill community! For all who had the courage to align yourselves with the department and the animals in our care, I want to publicly thank you! You played an instrumental role in saving lives and helping to position Animal Services as the best animal welfare agency in the United States!

Thanks to you, in 2006 we saw the greatest number of animals placed into loving homes, the fewest number of animals euthanized, and the most animals spayed and neutered in LA City history! And 2007 will be even better!

As we close out this year, I want to wish you and your families the warmest Holiday Season and thank you again for your continued support in making Animal Services the best it can be and making LA the safest City in the United States for our pets!

I look forward to working with you in 2007! Happy Holidays!
Ed Boks

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

New Hope Alert Improved Again!

The New Hope Alert Program has undergone some recent enhancements making it arguably one of the most progressive innovations to communicating with rescue organizations that can be found in any community in the country. This program includes the thoughtful input of experienced, committed rescuers in Los Angeles, who have been helping us tweak this program on an ongoing basis since its introduction last summer.

The New Hope Alert now has two steps:

The first step is called, “New Hope At Risk (or Green) Alert”. Animals placed on the New Hope Green Alert are free to all New Hope Partners at no cost, and come with free spay/neuter surgery, microchip, and vaccinations. They are not on the list because they are at risk of euthanasia but because they are animals difficult for Animal Services to place. Of course, the public is still able to adopt these animals for the regular adoption fee. It is not uncommon for animals to be on this list for months.

The second step is called, "New Hope Red Alert". Animals who are sick and/or injured and have not responded to at least two regimens of medical treatments, animals who are irremediably suffering, healthy animals who have been in an LA Animal Care Center for at least 45 days, and dangerously aggressive animals not wanted by any New Hope Partner are candidates for the New Hope Red Alert.

When an animal is placed on the New Hope Red Alert the animal’s post is time stamped on the first day so all New Hope Partners and concerned potential adopters will know when the seven-day clock starts ticking. They now have seven days to adopt the animal compared to the 24 hours allowed by the pre-New Hope euthanasia list. New Hope Partners can extend this holding period by working with their New Hope Coordinator.

Both New Hope Alerts, Green and Red, are posted on our website and are updated every hour. Every animal's post is time stamped so you can see exactly how long it has been available and in the case of the Red Alert, when the seven-day period begins (see: www.laanimalservices.com - click on New Hope).

Healthy animals are placed on the New Hope Red Alert only when space is at a premium and needed for incoming animals and AFTER Animal Services has exhausted every option for placing the animal. Should space constraints be alleviated, healthy animals may be removed from the New Hope Red Alert.

LA Animal Services rescues more than 125 animals every day, and despite this constant influx of animals we are committed to euthanizing 10% fewer animals every month than we did the same month last year. This will certainly become less problematic as our new shelters come on line increasing our shelter capacity by 400%. In the meantime, and until we achieve No-Kill, we need the help of all concerned Angelinos to achieve this goal!

Animals placed on the New Hope Red Alert may or may not have been on the Green Alert before being transitioned to the New Hope Red Alert. Animals that are placed directly on the New Hope Red Alert are done so for medical and/or behavioral reasons so as to call special attention to them by our New Hope Partners who can take them at no charge, with free spay/neuter if appropriate, free microchip, free vaccinations, and free medical treatment until the animal is in their care.

Sick and injured animals are removed from the New Hope Red Alert if their physical condition improves during the seven-day period and healthy animals are removed when the space constraints in any of our shelters are alleviated making it possible to transfer animals to another shelter increasing their opportunity for placement.

These enhancements to the New Hope Red Alert are in response to our community’s rescue organizations who are trying to determine which animals are most at risk of being euthanized. The pre-New Hope euthanasia list gave rescue organizations a mere 24 hours to adopt animals before they were euthanized.

The improved New Hope Red Alert now gives rescue organizations 7 days to claim these animals at no charge, with free spay/neuter surgery if applicable, free microchip, free vaccinations, and no charge for any medical treatments already provided the animal. Rescue groups can call the appropriate New Hope Coordinator and place the animal on hold for them, and they now have 24-hour/7 day a week access to come in and evaluate the animal. Animal Services will then work with our New Hope Partner to assist in getting the animal out of the shelter, up to and including transporting the animal for them and will provide more time if needed.

The ONLY time a Red Alert animal is euthanized prior to the completion of the seven days is when the animal’s medical condition deteriorates to the point of irremediable suffering. Should the animal’s prognosis improve it may be removed from the New Hope Red Alert and if space constraints improve healthy animals will be returned to the Green Alert and not be euthanized.

The New Hope Red Alert is our best final way of calling attention to these animals. Everyone now has at least 7 days to marshal their resources to adopt a Red Alert animal. Again, all healthy animals will go to at least one Mobile Adoption Event, or will be showcased in their respective Centers, and will be featured in an e-mail blast to New Hope Partners and interested parties before even being put on the New Hope Red Alert.

If a healthy Red Alert animal is taken to a Mobile Adoption Event, the animal will be returned to a Green Alert to allow volunteers and New Hope Partners at least five days to network the animal in the community.

LA Animal Services is committed to the No-Kill philosophy, which means we are committed to LIFE and we are striving to save as many animals as possible.

We already know what has to be done, and we’re steadily improving our ability to do it.

For all intents and purposes the New Hope Red Alert is virtually the same as the pre-New Hope euthanasia list, except that now the focus is on saving lives in an unprecedented way. The expanded time frame allows groups and individuals the time to find adequate facilities and/or homes for these animals, and it alleviates the "11th hour" rescue that lends itself to wasted efforts and sometimes to the hoarding of animals.

LA Animal Services is asking all Angelinos to come together in the name of life and the life affirming programs of Animal Services. If LA is to become No-Kill it will take all of us working together! Let’s make 2007 the most significant year in LA history towards achieving our shared No-Kill Goal!

Happy Holidays!
Ed Boks

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A New Year's Resolution for the LA Animal Community

Scott Sorrentino, President and Co-Founder of the Rescue Humane Alliance-LA, recently wrote an article for the popular local Pet Press. Its called A New Year’s Resolution for the LA Animal Community. Scott shares five resolutions that I personally agree with, but two seem particularly pertinent to me as we look forward together to 2007. Scott’s entire article can be found in both the current Pet Press and on LA Animal Services website front page at www.laanimalservices.com.

I believe these two resolutions are not only pertinent here in LA but probably in most communities across the United States. I hope you find them as edifying as I did.

Join with me in accepting Scott’s challenges that in 2007 we will have “COMPASSION FOR EACH OTHER. Like it or not, it takes humans to help animals --- humans working together. This past year has been particularly ugly in terms of name-calling, trash-talking and personal attacks. We call ourselves humane, and yet we are so inhumane to each other. We all know how much easier our efforts would be if we could work together, and yet we expend a lot of precious time and energy in endless rants on the phone and over email --- time and energy that would be much better spent in the service of our mission. The truth is, the animals need us to help them, and they need us to work together. Here’s a challenge: think of a person who makes your blood boil, and vow to make peace with them in 2007. Put the past behind you. Whatever he/she did 23 years ago, isn’t it time to bury the hatchet? If we can’t all have personal relationships, can we at least have professional ones? We are fools if we think we can save lives in a vacuum. We are our own worst enemies in this regard. The good news is, this is a problem we can solve right now. Today. We’re trying to promote compassion. How about a little compassion for each other?

BE POSITIVE! Negative energy has never helped anyone. It certainly hasn’t helped the animals. And yet it is like a disease within us, and a contagious one at that! If we are ever going to save the animals from needless death and suffering, we must first save ourselves from ourselves. The next time you find yourself launching into a rant about this or that, stop yourself! Ask yourself a question: Is this tirade going to help the animals? Then ask yourself a follow-up question: What can I do to help change whatever it is that is making me so angry? Take the negative energy and turn it into positive action!

We are making a difference. The statistics are there to prove it. But the progress is slow and unsatisfying. If we want BIG changes, we need to take it to the next level.

We are dedicated and tireless. We give so much of ourselves. Still, what will make all the difference for the animals, is when we work together, think positively, act compassionately, participate in the political process, and spend at least some of our time working on “big picture” issues and projects. Let 2007 be the year. Be positive. Be proactive. Be well.”

From all of us at LA Animal Services, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Mobile Adoption Program

Much confusion is being circulated regarding LA Animal Services Mobile Adoption Program.

Please understand that WE DID NOT CANCEL THE OFFSITE ADOPTION PROGRAM. We simply redeployed our limited human resources. The ONLY off site events canceled were the ones at venues that historically proved to be unproductive and a poor return on time and energy invested.

These events were cancelled because so few animals were adopted at these locations. It was not uncommon for no animals to be adopted from these venues.

In their place staff is selecting higher profile venues such as parks, street fairs, and other community events.

If anyone knows of a venue conducive to placing animals into loving homes, please contact LA Animal Services' Volunteer Office with that information:

LA Animal Services
Volunteer Office
Information Line: (213) 485-8542
MPA Info Line: (323) 766-6895
South L.A. Shelter Annex
3320 W. 36th St.
Los Angeles, California 90018

LA Animal Services conducted nearly 100 off site adoption events in 2006 compared to 15 or 20 in previous years. And we intend to do even more in 2007. As always thank you for your concern and support of LA Animal Services and the animals in our care.