Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Thinking Outside the Boks...

Since announcing my resignation (effective June 30th) as general manager of LA Animal Services, I have received a tremendous response from the community and I thank all of you who took the time to contact me with your comments and support.

Even some of the Department’s (and my) most resolute critics expressed their regards. Many thanked me for my years of service, many expressed regrets over my leaving, and some expressed concern for the future of LA Animal Services and the many lost and homeless animals who find their way into our shelters.

While the past several years have been some of the most progressive in the agency’s one hundred year history, I am convinced that its best years lay ahead.

The reason for my confidence is the foundational work we accomplished over the past three-and-a-half years. During this time we built the highest volume pet adoption program in the nation while achieving the lowest pet euthanasia rates in the Department’s recorded history. We opened and staffed six LEED Certified state-of-the-art animal care centers and increased staff size 100%.

We enhanced our training programs and developed the Department’s first Strategic Plan. We updated and standardized all the Department’s policies and procedures. We recruited and managed a record number of volunteers, including a spirited group of professionals to spearhead our historic and effective Spay/Neuter PR campaign.

We firmly established the Animal Cruelty Task Force, partnering with LAPD and the City and County Attorney. We improved the Pet Shop Permitting Rules and Regulations. We built a coalition of over 140 animal welfare organizations. We developed two animal welfare television programs; The Home Shopping Petwork on City Channel 35 and another to be unveiled soon.

We implemented many innovative, life saving programs and partnerships. We built and fully staffed an exceptional shelter medical program. We modernized our website, and developed a culture and respected reputation for transparency.

But most important to the Department’s future success, we established a compassionate performance-based executive team comprised of two exceptional Assistant General Managers, an outstanding Chief Veterinarian, an effective, experienced Volunteer Program Manager, a capable Human Resources Director and a remarkable budget team - all of whom have shown their mettle in a difficult multi-year City budget crisis.

This was all accomplished as the Department experienced its largest, fastest, most historic growth while at the same time sustaining severe budget cuts and staffing shortages.

As I said in my letter of resignation, I am proud of the Department I leave behind. I leave the City of Los Angeles an Animal Services Department committed to improving accountability, effectiveness and correcting long-term organizational empowerment and accountability issues. LA Animal Services is uniquely positioned to help establish the City of Los Angeles as the most humane city in the nation.

While some choose to focus on a spay/neuter fundraising event proposed by Hooters, a worthwhile Pit Bull Academy effort and our wanting to ensure funding existed for ongoing spay/neuter programs, the most important accomplishments went largely unseen and unrecognized. But these accomplishments will be the longest lasting and most telling. LA Animal Services now has a stable infrastructure, an able management team, and a solid foundation on which to truly build a world-class animal welfare organization.

Concerning my resignation, Mayor Villaraigossa kindly said, “Ed deserves our gratitude for his efforts and our best wishes in the years ahead.” For this I am grateful. He then acknowledged not only what was accomplished but what can yet be accomplished: “We look forward to building on his legacy and continuing to make the Department of Animal Services the gold standard for pet protection.”

There is still much work to be done and I trust the entire LA humane community will pull together to keep making things better for the animals. That hope is why I am convinced the Department’s best years are yet to come.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Should LA Abandon Its No-Kill Goal?

A recent editorial in a local newspaper initiated debate about whether the City of Los Angeles can achieve a No-Kill status and should even be trying to. Instead, the editorial advocated a retreat to focusing on “core functions” such as humane sheltering, law enforcement activities and pet adoption.

No reasonable observer would dispute the importance of accomplishing core functions, but the author of the editorial clearly did not understand the concept of No-Kill as it has been defined in Los Angeles the last few years, and as it is more widely defined in the animal welfare community across the country. No-Kill means ending the use of euthanasia as a means to control pet overpopulation; terminally ill, terminally injured animals and dangerously aggressive dogs are not included in this goal and these animals will, of course, always be humanely euthanized if and when they must be euthanized.

Although the terminally ill, terminally injured and dangerously aggressive animals are not included in achieving the No-Kill goal, these deaths are included in the City’s euthanasia statistics. This skews the discernment of the City’s policymakers and the Department’s constituency of our progress towards achieving this goal.

Can the City of Los Angeles achieve No-Kill? I contend we can, and further, I suggest we are closer than many realize (and that some have been willing to admit). But to be totally successful will take the whole community working together and must include targeted, affordable spay/neuter programs for needy pet owners.

In the drive to achieve No-Kill there are two commonly recognized hurdles to clear. A community’s progress towards No-Kill usually stalls 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 (13.8 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 toward the second hurdle can be steady. Clearing 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.

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 (in 2007, Los Angeles reduced its euthanasia rate to 3.7).

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, which typically includes bully dog breeds, and feral, domestic and neonate cats.

Breaking through the wall requires 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 implementing and maintaining targeted spay/neuter programs remains paramount.

LA has been doing this, and has been doing this successfully for many years, despite the protests of a small group of misinformed, vocal and media savvy critics.

To abandon the No-Kill goal now would be nothing less than criminal. LA is close to becoming the first major metropolitan community to achieve this goal and the eyes of the nation are on us. Once this goal is achieved we will have stripped away from every other community any excuse for continuing to employ killing as a methodology for controlling dog and cat populations. Even in an era of tight budgets and big challenges, LA Animal Services should remain dedicated not only to its so-called core functions, but also to striving toward No-Kill. In fact, this is a city that has made No-Kill a core function. We have no choice but to succeed.

Before deciding to abandon the No-Kill goal please review these reports:

The 2008 LA Animal Services Annual Report:


The 2008 National Comparison Report Issued by ANIMAL PEOPLE: