Sunday, April 20, 2008

Breaking down the numbers...

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

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

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

However, the first quarter statistics for 2008 have recently been posted, and they are disappointing. Despite the fact that live placements (adoptions, New Hope placements, and redemptions) 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 increase, everyone agrees that no increase in euthanasia is desirable, and we will continue to do everything we can to return to our long standing trend of reducing the killing. As was explained in my last message, we have hit the proverbial “wall” and will need the help of the entire animal loving community going forward.

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

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

Operational Circumstances

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

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

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

Adoptions and Rescues

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

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

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

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

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

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 relinquishments 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.

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.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A New Level of Transparency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Help LA Avoid a Cat-Tastrophe

Los Angeles – LA Animal Services is calling upon all Angelenos to help the City of Angels reach a No-Kill status. During this time of year LA’s Animal Care Centers are inundated with lost and homeless cats. These cats have little chance of survival unless loving Angelenos find room in their heart and homes to adopt a cat or two. Cats are social animals and two are always better than one!

Many cats coming into our Animal Care Centers are orphaned neonate kittens; kittens too young to survive without their mother unless they are cared for by a foster care giver. LA Animal Services is asking for people unable to adopt a cat to consider caring for these young ones until they are old enough to be placed through adoption. Fostering orphaned kittens is a great family project. It teaches our kids the value of life and the importance of caring. It also demonstrates how we can all make a difference.

For more information on LA Animal Services Foster Care Program click on this link.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Marine Mammals and Birds Stranded on Beaches Expected to Increase

Los Angeles – Marine mammals stranded on beaches are expected to increase over the next 3 to 4 months. One sensitive location for migratory sea birds and marine mammal strandings is the North Channel area in Venice/Marina Del Rey.

Lifeguards have reported as many as 50 free roaming dogs at any one time in this area. Free roaming dogs pose a significant risk to the health and safety of these animals. All Angelenos are reminded they must comply with the City’s Leash Law. LA Animal Services is increasing patrols in the Venice Beach area and will cite leash law violators.

Recently a reported hypothermic seal attempting to beach at the North Channel area was forced to retreat into the ocean by over 20 free roaming dogs. Rescue efforts were thwarted by citizens who allow their dogs to run free in violation of the leash law.

Two years ago, dogs prevented a domoic sea lion from beaching, chasing her into the water each time she tried. The animal ultimately drowned. Domoic causes seizures and disorientation, if a sea lion is not allowed to beach, it will most likely drown.

Marine Animal Rescue has rescued over 50 marine mammals so far in 2008, and this number is inceasing weekly.

The majority of the birds rescued are Oiled Grebe’s. Grebe’s hips are placed so far back on their body that they cannot move well on land and become easy targets for playful or aggressive dogs. Harbor Seals and Elephant Seals cannot climb well which explains why these animals are seldom seen on the rocks; they need the beach.

Dogs are susceptible to diseases (Leptospirosis or Bruceloss) when they come in contact with Sea Lions. Sea Lions have been known to inflict fatal bites to dogs.

For 20 years, Marine Animal Rescue volunteers, working in concert with LA Animal Services, has come to the aid of entangled or beached whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions and sea birds along the California coast. Marine Animal Rescue volunteers have rescued thousands of marine animals. For more information on Marine Animal Rescue visit:

Press Release

Friday, April 04, 2008

The California Humane Farms Initiative

Californians for Humane Farms is an initiative sponsored by The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Farm Sanctuary and many other animal protection groups, family farmers, veterinarians and public health professionals. This coalition is waging a ballot initiative campaign in California to pass The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act in the November 2008 election.

Supporters of the initiative claim The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act asks for only the most basic needs for farm animals: merely the ability to turn around and extend their limbs. It is hard to imagine a more moderate initiative. HSUS explains the purpose of the measure is to prevent three methods of the allegedly most cruel and inhumane forms of extreme confinement in the world of animal agribusiness: veal crates, battery cages, and gestation crates. All three of these practices have already been legislated against in the European Union.

Proponents claim the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act will reduce the suffering of nearly 20 million animals confined in California factory farms. The measure will also prevent other out-of-state factory farm operators from setting up shop in our state with veal crates, battery cages, and gestation crates. Florida, Arizona, and Oregon have banned gestation crates, and Arizona has banned veal crates. Some major California food retailers are already moving away from supporting battery cages and veal and gestation crates.

Gestation crates are used to confine a sow for nearly her whole four-month pregnancy. Right before giving birth, she is moved from the gestation crate into a farrowing crate – a metal stall designed to separate her from her nursing piglets. After the piglets are weaned prematurely, the sow is re-impregnated and confined again in a gestation crate. Farrowing crates are exempted from this measure.

Nearly 800,000 Californians have already stepped up to sign a petition to put this seemingly modest proposal on the November ballot. The petition calls for all Californians to come together to end what many consider to be the cruelest confinement techniques used on factory farms – both in terms of the intensity and duration of confinement. Petitioners assert that keeping animals so restrictively crated that they can barely move for months on end is cruel and inhumane.

For more information on this initiative visit the HSUS website.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Saftety Tips for Transporting Animals

Every year animals die due to inappropriate transportation methods by air and car. LA Animal Services recommends that animals not be transported during extremely warm or cold temperatures. When necessary to do so, appropriate measures must be taken to ensure the health and well-being of the animal.

When traveling by air, only reputable airlines that have a written policy on animal transportation should be used. Transportation should be scheduled when ambient temperatures are more likely to be within animal health and safety margins.

When traveling by car, an animal should be confined within a crate or restrained with a seatbelt.

No animal should be transported in the back of a pick up truck or allowed to hang out of a window without being secured.

It is cruel, inhumane, and illegal to keep an animal in a parked vehicle without air-conditioning for any amount of time when outside temperatures represent a risk to the health and well-being of the animal.