Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Calling All Fosters

There is a fundamental tenet held among most animal welfare and animal rights advocates that we accept as incontrovertible. That precept was perhaps best articulated by Mahatma Gandhi when he said, “the greatness of a nation and its moral progress is best judged by how we treat our animals”. This principle expresses the belief that when a community is compassionate enough to care about the needs of its animals there can be a reasonable expectation that the bar is raised on how we care and treat one another.

The reverse is also true. If we can dismiss the needs of our animals it becomes easier to dismiss the needs of our infirmed, aged, and needy human populations. Caring about animals serves as the ultimate litmus test for determining a community’s capacity for compassion.

This test is applied to the City of Los Angeles every day, but never more than in the spring and summer months.

Spring is the beginning of kitten season in Los Angeles. In 2008 LA Animal Services took in over 7,300 neonate kittens. Neonate means too young to survive for more than an hour or two without a mother. Sadly, most of the neonate kittens we take in are orphans. People find these babies in their garage, flowerbeds, and many other places where the mother felt safe from predators and intruders while she gave birth. Property owners find these crying babies within hours or days of birth and bring them to our Centers without the mother. Taken away from their mother they have no chance at survival without significant human intervention.

Neonate kittens represent over one-third of all the cats taken in by the Department. They also represent over 35% of all the cats euthanized and over 21% of our euthanasia rate in 2008. One in three cats and one in five animals euthanized in LA is a neonate kitten. On the up side, most of our healthy weaned kittens get adopted. So anything we can do to help our neonates reach full "kittenhood" improves the odds of their eventually finding a loving home.

Kitten season in Los Angeles starts around the end of March and lasts through September when it starts to slowly decline over October and November. That means now is the time for everyone wanting to help end the killing of these innocents to contact LA Animal Services to either volunteer to foster a litter of kittens or to make a donation to help others willing to make this commitment.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “foster” as providing parental care and nurture to children not related through legal or blood ties. If Gandhi viewed animals in general as the first rung on the compassion ladder then these little creatures must be considered the least of the least. They can be so easily overlooked and forgotten. In fact, California State Law defines “adoptable animals” as only those animals eight weeks of age or older; which means these little orphans have no legal standing in the State of California. They don’t even have to be counted in the City’s no-kill goal. Nonetheless, they are because we understand that our moral progress depends on our providing adequate care and nurture to these living souls with whom we have no legal or blood ties.

The problem is that we can’t save them all by ourselves. We need your help. During kitten season LA Animal Services can take in over 80 neonate orphans a day, over 2500 in some months. Depending on their age they may require four to 8 weeks of intense foster care. Though dozens of our dedicated employees volunteer to foster neonate litters above and beyond their daily duties, the majority will not survive without the additional help of members of the public willing to step up to the challenge. They will not survive without your help. If you are able and willing to help save these lives, LA Animal Services will provide the training, support and supplies you need to be a successful foster parent.

This is a big commitment and a true test of our compassion. Even with our best efforts not all foster babies survive. But they can all be loved. These babies need to be bottle fed every two hours around the clock for several weeks; making this the perfect family, club, or faith based organizational project. Fostering helpless neonates is an ideal way to foster compassion and respect for the true value and sanctity of all life in our community.

Have you saved a life today? Make a commitment to volunteer as a Baby Bottle Foster Parent. For more information and an application, please click here. Our kittens are hoping you do!

Friday, March 06, 2009

Lessons Learned

LA Animal Services’ February 2009 statistics are now available. Something truly remarkable seems to be happening. Despite encountering the highest January/February impound rates in nearly a decade we were able to achieve the lowest January/February euthanasia rate in the department’s recorded history. And this was done without overcrowding our Centers! This is a tribute to AGM Kathy Davis, all our employees, volunteers and partners! Well done! Thank you for all your efforts!

So how did this happen? From lessons learned!

Over the past two years, LA Animal Services experienced the largest, fastest, most historic growth in service demand in its history. With the opening of our new and expanded Centers we experienced nearly a 250% increase in kennels and workload while Center staffing increased only 100%. The new facilities attracted a greater client base, leading to more animals turned in, redeemed, and adopted. More people are now coming in to adopt and relinquish pets, obtain information, more veterinary care is needed and provided, and more volunteers and trainers want to help. This is exactly the business of LA Animal Services, and it is all being managed with a minimum workforce.

As the Department moved into its new Centers we encountered a learning curve for effectively managing our new facilities and our enlarged shelter populations. As the new Centers began to open in late 2006 we realized in 2007 the lowest euthanasia rate (15,009) in the department’s long recorded history of statistics gathering (since 1960. Over 110,000 dogs and cats were euthanized in 1971).

The low euthanasia rate in 2007 was the result of many reasons, but most notable was our having more space to hold animals coupled with a robust adoption program. In 2008, as we were still moving into our new Centers, we experienced a 20% increase (54,191) in intakes due in large measure to the economic downturn. This increase was complicated by our inexperience managing so many animals in all this new space. Consequently, the shelters quickly filled up (sometimes to the point of overcrowding), animals got sick more often and we sometimes found ourselves forced to resort to euthanasia to bring populations under control again. The nearly 30% increase in adoptions in 2008 did not keep pace with our 20.5% increase (nearly 150 dogs and cats every day) in intakes.

LA Animal Services had to quickly find its balance in an environment of severe budget cuts, unprecedented demand for expansion of services, and a severe staffing shortage. The Department had to re-group, tone-up and empower staff (especially at the mid-management level) to improve accountability and effectiveness.

Having gone through this painful growth experience, our Center Managers are now constantly looking for ways to better promote their adoptable animals more effectively. They are on the lookout for more and better off site adoption partners and events. The Department is exploring partnerships with pet stores interested in abandoning puppy mill sources. Our veterinarians are spaying or neutering some animals in-house. This allows our adopters to take their new pets home on the day of adoption. And our Veterinary team is implementing an enhanced cleaning regimen designed to help maintain a healthier shelter population.

We are aggressively transferring animals to one or another of our six adoption Centers or another municipal or private shelter when appropriate to increase adoption options. We've developed and are strictly adhering to a Population Assessment Management program that maintains our Center populations at least 10% below maximum capacity to allow sufficient space for incoming animals.

Another significant innovation that we are in the process of implementing is a program called, "Heart-to-Heart". This program focuses on animals in our Centers longer than two weeks. Each Center has a Heart-to-Heart team that includes the Center Manager, the Center Veterinarian, the ACT Supervisor, and the New Hope Coordinator or their designees. This team works together to help decide the best options for animals that don't get adopted in their first two weeks in a shelter. The team is charged with considering and exhausting all avenues of release, including but not limited to mobile adoption events, New Hope and other marketing pleas, transfer to another Center or agency, etc, etc.

So, are these strategies responsible for the positive statistics below? Time will tell. The Department will continue to monitor, tweak, manage, and modify as we continually learn from our mistakes, our successes, and the counsel of others.

Intakes/Rescues: February 09 Intakes were up over 7% (from 3,010 to 3,225). This is the highest February Intake since collecting data electronically began in 2001. February 2001 Intake was 3,079. Year to Date (YTD) Intakes are up over 4% (from 6,275 to 6,542). This is the highest January/February Intake since 2001 when 7,034 animals were taken in. This is a disturbing trend continuing from 2008.

Adoptions: February 09 Adoptions are up nearly 18% (1,607) compared to February 08 (1,377). YTD Adoptions are up 17.6% (from 2,848 to 3,351).

New Hope: February New Hope Placements are down nearly 7% (from 329 to 306). YTD New Hope Placements are down just over 10% (from 714 to 638).

Return to Owners (RTO): February RTOs are down 2% (from 376 to 368). YTD RTOs are down 6.5% (from 793 to 741).

Euthanasia: February Euthanasia is down 11% (from 748 to 665). YTD Euthanasia is down 14% (from 1,568 to 1,345). This is nearly 3% lower than the historic 2007 low of 1,384).

Again a sincere Thank You to all our employees, volunteers and partners for all their efforts to help support these life saving strategies.

Monday, March 02, 2009

LA Spay Day 2009: A Huge Success!

As mentioned last week, Councilmembers Alarcón and Cárdenas introduced a resolution declaring February 28, "LA Spay Day 2009".

In celebration of this wonderful event, the two Council Offices partnered with LA Animal Services, Social Compassion, Clinico, The Sam Simon Foundation and The Amanda Foundation to host a free spay and neuter event for residents of the Northeast San Fernando Valley. Local residents were encouraged to bring their unaltered dogs and cats to the Mission Hills Animal Care Center.

The event goal to alter 165 dogs and cats was achieved! Exactly 165 pets were spayed or neutered and dozens more were scheduled for surgery in the coming weeks. Local residents were so very grateful for this free service. The event was made possible through the donations of many who are dedicated to ending euthanasia by providing free spay and neuter as the preferred method for controlling pet overpopulation.

I want to thank all our donors along with the organizations mentioned above and the employees and volunteers of LA Animal Services and the two Council Offices for making this such a successful event.

It is our hope to provide a Big Fix Spay Day every quarter in a different part of the City. If you would like to make that possible please consider making a donation to Social Compassion and indicate that it is to be used for the LA Big Fix program. Thank you!