Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Proposed Budget for LA Animal Services May Risk Public Safety and Increase Pet Euthanasia

The following letter is from the Department of LA Animal Services to the Budget and Finance Committee regarding impending budget cuts:

In the pre-dawn coolness of Friday morning, April 16, 2010, LAPD officers were waiting for help. Three 130-pound Cane Corso dogs, two males protecting a female, were boxed in by police cars near Slauson and Verdun in Council District 8. The police had to wait for the one person who had the knowledge, skill, and experience to handle the situation safely: an Animal Control Officer. Unfortunately, there was in fact only one Animal Control Officer on grave duty in the entire southern half of the City, and he was responding to a separate LAPD call for assistance to rescue an injured dog in Northeast Los Angeles. Soon after the Animal Control Officer arrived back in South LA to help the LAPD there, the two male dogs crawled out from between two squad cars and were heading home on the sidewalk. There, on the public sidewalk, in this neighborhood of businesses, homes, and churches, two los Angeles Police officers fired at least six rounds, killing one of the dogs. The other two dogs were safely impounded by LA Animal Services.

The reason LA Animal Services exists is to provide for public safety. The City's first obligation is the public's safety. Safe streets are those in which trained Animal Control Officers are available to respond to dangerous animals and handle situations without injury to the public, without wasting police resources, and without shots fired. A safe city is one in which an animal expert is on hand to evacuate animals in a disaster as mandated by Federal law so that people are willing to flee to safety. Safe neighborhoods are the foundation for a Humane LA.

Recognizing the precarious financial situation facing the City, we as a public safety agency nevertheless must be candid in our assessment that the deletion of $1.8 million in funding attributed to the 26-working days reduction compromises the Department's ability to deliver on our public safety responsibility. It compounds the impact of the shared sacrifice cuts we have already absorbed in the last two fiscal years and of the protracted hiring freeze by cutting another 10% of the work force through the 26-working days reduction. The Department believes this will obligate the Mayor and Council to choose closure of an operating animal care center and to sanction a likely resulting increase in pet euthanasia.

Closure of Animal Care Centers/26-Working Day Reduction

Consolidating pet intake into fewer facilities is regression to the conditions that the voters of Los Angeles chose to change in approving the Prop F Bond. Consolidation of the animals leads to more disease, over-crowding, incidences of aggression, and inevitably, increased euthanasia.

We acknowledge the financial imperatives behind the proposed temporary shuttering of the Northeast Animal Care Center in 2010-2001 to achieve short-term financial savings. While this facility is not used for the public now, it is generally filled to about 1/3 capacity with evidence and quarantined animals and for nursing mothers with puppies and kittens. It has proven an invaluable resource for temporary holding of animals evacuated in disasters.

Closing Northeast will require evidence and quarantined animals to be housed in kennels and cages at the other six animal care centers which are currently used to promote the adoption of healthy, available animals. This action will trigger the negative domino effect of: reducing Citywide kennel/cage holding capacity, reducing adoption revenue, reducing our live release rates, and increasing our euthanasia rates. The Department's overall holding capacity will drop by about 10%, and euthanasia will increase by about 2,500 to 4,000 animals, depending on intake trends. The reaction of the humane community to this downgrading of progress is unknown.

The $1.8 million (10%) additional cut of 26-working days is an effective cut of 8 Animal Control Officers, 14 Animal Care Technicians, 3 Registered Veterinary Technicians, 4 Clerical Staff, and 2 Supervisors, the equivalent of the staff of one of the six fully operational Animal Care Centers.' The only remaining option that allows for enough staffing to safely provide the necessary levels of animal care and service to the public is to close one Center. The Department will need direction from the Mayor and Council as to which additional Animal Care Center should be closed during the period of time this 26-working day reduction is in effect.

Closing an operating Animal Care Center in addition to Northeast creates an unfortunate situation for the communities we serve. Net holding capacity will drop by at least another 15% and pet euthanasia will rise by 4,000 to 11,000 more pets, depending on intake and the number of animals held as evidence and quarantine, using kennels that would otherwise be available for adoptable animals. Again, we will also lose adoption revenue, and spend more on euthanasia, aggravating rather than alleviating our revenue situation.

The Department cannot reduce its workload by telling residents that services will be cut or by closing our doors. The pursuit of strays and biting animals, the impoundment and care of animals, and the adoption or euthanasia of impounded animals is not discretionary; it is not even a set of services for which residents can find temporary alternatives. We do not control animal intake, and by law we cannot shirk our duty and responsibility. We must accept animals found or brought to us, 24/7. Failing to do so directly and negatively impacts public safety and the City's compliance with State law.

In the event that the City's financial situation ultimately requires the temporary closure of any Animal Care Center, we recommend that the General Services Department be requested to submit an estimate of the cost for security services from at least dusk to dawn and to erect fences or other physical measures to safeguard the vacant facility and all remaining equipment.

Call Center Closure

The proposed Call Center cut will result in the elimination of the Department's dedicated 888 - toll-free number and will increase phone traffic to individual Animal Care Centers and to the City's 3-1-1 System. Since the 3-1-1 operators cannot have access to our dedicated Chameleon information database (animal, medical, and financial tracking system), operators will be limited in their ability to provide information on topics such as lost animal inquiries. Other than providing general information that is currently available through the City-wide Services Directory, operators will be required to transfer calls directly to Animal Care Centers for assistance which will impact the ability of Department staff to process revenue generating adoption/licensing transactions while servicing and assisting the visiting public. This will result in delays for both callers and on-site customers alike.

The Call Center's six (6) staff members currently handle approximately 400,000 telephonic inquires annually while the 3-1-1 Call Center handles 1.5 million. Dropping the toll free number in favor of having all calls go through 3-1-1 will result in an approximate 25% workload increase to ITA's 3-1-1 Call Center. However approximately $100,000 in toll and Integrated Voice Response (IVR) charges will be saved by ITA, a portion of which could be utilized to hire at least one additional 3-1-1 Call Center operator to assist with the increased workload. Beginning in May, the Department will start phasing out the advertisement of its 888 - number while promoting 3-1-1, in a pre-changeover exercise to see if 3-1-1 can handle the call increase without unexpected problems.

The proposed elimination of the License Canvassers will result in a decrease of approximately $300,000 in annual revenue attributed to them. However, they are not cost neutral and total burdened costs for all 8 staff is over $400,000, without considering the cost of supervision and clerical support. Other changes to the dog licensing program which are in process at this time including multi-year and on-line licensing, have a potential to cover the loss of canvassers while additional alternatives are explored."

The biggest drawback to our program's success has been that the position of Animal License Canvasser lacks the peace officer or public officer enforcement powers to issue citations, unlike the programs in other jurisdictions. Our Animal License Canvassers are able to request payment for licensing fees; however, other than acting as a "good will ambassador" requesting that payment be made, they lack the ability to enforce compliance of the law through the issuance of citations. For example, the lack of enforcement authority requires a Canvasser to make repeat visits while attempting to collect outstanding $15 license fees, rendering any attempt at full-cost recovery unachievable. Proper staffing of this program with classifications able to carry out the required program duties (i.e., Animal Control Officers or Animal License Inspectors) should be considered a key component to a successful in-house License Canvassing Program in the future.

Fill Remaining Vacant Mid-Management Positions

The proposed budget resolves overfilled supervisory and mid-management positions and makes other streamlining changes. The Department will develop an efficient and functional organization based on the proposed regular positions. However, the ability of the Department to achieve effective and efficient operations, particularly under the strain of reduced resources, requires the authority to appoint staff to the existing positions in that structure. Continued reliance on "acting" appointments compromises effectiveness and damages morale.

Early Retirement IP Payouts

The Department will have $170,000 payable in the coming fiscal year as payouts among the 12 employees who took the ERIP in the current fiscal year and for deferred sick leave. This cost apparently is to come from existing budgeted resources.

The Department does not recommend any budget reduction that would dilute public safety, close an Animal Care Center, or increase the euthanasia rate from its steady downward trend.

We stand ready, however, to support the ultimate decision of the policy-makers. On behalf of LA Animal Services, I look forward to further discussion of this proposed budget and any alternatives that may be possible.

Very Truly Yours,
Kathy Davis
Interim General Manager
LA Animal Services

If you would like to weigh in on these important decisions
contact the

Friday, April 16, 2010

Achieving and Sustaining No-Kill

The City of Los Angeles has come a long way towards achieving “No-Kill” over the past forty years. It is difficult to even imagine today that in 1971 Los Angeles killed 110,835 dogs and cats. That was the worst year of killing in LA history and it caused an awakening among civic leaders that led to the City of Los Angeles becoming the first municipality in the United States to fund spaying and neutering for resident pet owners.

City efforts culminated in the lowest euthanasia rate ever achieved in 2007 when 15,009 animals were euthanized. That represents an 86% decrease in killing.

However, the 2008 euthanasia rate for dogs and cats rose for a variety of reasons for the first time in many years, stalling a long-standing trend of impressive annual double digit decreases.

Even though the years 2006 through 2009 represent the four lowest euthanasia rates in the City’s history, the recent upward trend is troubling and suggests new thinking and new programs are needed.

In the drive to achieve No-Kill there are two commonly recognized hurdles to overcome. A community’s initial progress towards No-Kill usually stalls 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, continued significant reductions are often hindered until aggressive spay/neuter programs designed to achieve further euthanasia reduction goals are implemented. With effective, targeted spay/neuter programs progress can be resumed.

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. Los Angeles has substantially done this and the challenge today is to persuade the more difficult populations, which include:

1. The poor,

2. The elderly on fixed income,

3. Individuals with negative attitudes about spay/neuter,

4. People who speak languages other than English, and

5. People who live in relatively remote or underserved areas.

The hurdle before Los Angeles’ quest to achieve No-Kill is characterized as “the wall”. No major city has ever been able to break through "the wall" (with the possible exception of New York). 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. However, in 2009 it was up to 4.9. Clearly Los Angeles has hit the proverbial wall.

On the one hand, hitting “the wall” signifies the success of an earlier generation of programs.  However, on the other hand, it is important not to miss the point that it also reveals the fact that a new generation of targeted programs that address the needs of residual populations not met by earlier or existing programs is now required.

While achieving and sustaining No-Kill may not be rocket science, it does require strategic thinking and targeted programs.

Broad indiscriminate spay/neuter efforts were the reason for LA’s successful life-saving efforts until now. However, only targeted spay/neuter programs will be responsible for breaking through the “wall” and achieving and sustaining “No-Kill” in Los Angeles. Targeted low and no cost, high-volume spay/neuter efforts will lead to fewer animals entering municipal shelters, allowing more resources to be allocated toward other life-saving programs.

No-Kill can be achieved and sustained; however, to do so will require targeted, affordable:

1. Spay/neuter programs,

2. Accessible wellness and other low cost veterinary services, and

3. Human/animal bonding programs designed to promote pet retention.

To learn more about how to help the City of Los Angeles (or any community) break through the wall to achieve No-Kill and ensure this new status is sustained click here.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Counting Down To No-Kill

Many contend it is impossible to accurately determine feral cat populations. In fact, the inability to determine a feral population would call for any humane effort to reduce that population to rely on guess work. All TNR programs should be required to produce measurable results to ensure continued support and funding; and the measure of success depends on knowing the baseline population.

In a study titled, The Birth and Death Rate Estimates of Cats and Dogs in U.S. Households and Related Factors, published in 2005 in volume 7.4 of the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science we find a responsible formula for calculating feral cat populations. This study was published by John C. New Jr. and William Kelch of the University of Tennessee, Jennifer Hutchison of the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Mo Salman and Mike King of Colorado State University, Janet Scarlett of Cornell University, and Philip Kass of the University of California at Davis.

The formula evolved from a 1996 survey of 7,399 U.S. households. The survey found a crude birth rate of about 11.2 kittens per 100 cats in households and an attrition rate that included a death rate of 8.3 and a disappearance rate of 3%. That is, cat births in households equaled attrition. It was further found that the movement of feral/stray cats into homes and shelters was approximately equal to the net growth in the household population plus the number of cats killed in shelters.

In other words, the number of feral/stray cats can be estimated by adding net cat acquisition to the number of cats killed in the shelter(s) and multiplying by three (to account for the one queen, one tom, and at least one sibling not entering homes or shelters who must exist to produce the known feral/stray cats).

More to the point, the feral cat population equals three times the number of cats killed in the shelters serving that area, plus the net cat acquisition (number of cats added to households) minus pet cat mortality.

Let me give you an example of how this formula would work. In a Los Angeles No-Kill plan that I submitted to Mayor Villaraigosa, I identified an area in South LA where spay/neuter efforts should be targeted. In this area 3,917 cats were impounded and 2,212 cats died or were euthanized in the SLA shelter in 2008. This targeted area has an estimated 1.25 million people living in 397,433 households according to the Los Angeles Planning and Demographic Research Unit. According to an AVMA formula this area has 128,768 cat-keeping households, with a total of 283,290 cats among them.

The combined mortality (8% or 22,663 cats) and disappearance (3% or 8,500 cats) rate of 11% per year is equal to the estimated number of births annually. This means there is a net self-replacement of an estimated 32,000 cats per year.

According to the U.S. norm for pet cat population increase over the past 20 years, the Los Angeles pet cat population is increasing at about 1% per year. Thus net acquisitions in this South Los Angeles area exceed attrition by about 2,850 additional cats per year, beyond births.

Of these 2,850 acquired cats, 1,705 come from LA Animal Services (3,917 impounds minus 2,212 killed). Another 1,114 (2,850 minus 1,705) come from other sources. Based on national averages, no more than 290 come from breeders, leaving 824 acquired from other sources like pet stores.

LA cat acquisitions include LA shelter adoptions including feral-born kittens and impounded stray cats, both kittens and tamed strays. The annual adjustment to the feral/stray population is 2,529 (1705 placed by shelters + 824 placed by other sources + the 2,103 who were killed). This totals 4,632 cats. Assuming that each cat had a mother, a father, and at least one surviving sibling, a crude estimate for the feral/stray cat population in the targeted area is 13,896.

Leonardo Fibonacci is considered the greatest European mathematician of the middle ages, born in Pisa, Italy about 1175 AD. Fibonacci developed a formula relating to agriculture productivity.  His formula was later used by Pasteur to predict 70% of a susceptible population has to be vaccinated to prevent an epidemic. Fibonacci’s 70% Rule is recognized by World Health Organization and Center for Disease Control.

If you think of spay/neuter as inoculating feral cats to prevent pregnancy, then according to the Fibonacci Rule, 70% of all feral cats must be sterilized before the successful breeding encounters of the remaining 30% are reduced to a rate sufficient only to replace normal attrition. This means 9,927 (or rounding up for good measure, 10,000) feral/stray cats must be spayed or neutered just to stabilize the feral/stray cat population in the targeted area. Meaningful and sustained reductions will occur only when this rate is exceeded.

It is only with this knowledge that local animal control and/or local foundations can make a meaningful and measurable impact on local feral cat populations.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

TNR as a Public Health response to achieving No-Kill

A substantial number of animals euthanized in animal shelters each year are feral cats and their neonate offspring. A program to control the homeless cat population by neutering instead of culling cats in shelters is critical to achieving No-Kill.

Overpopulation must be curtailed at its source; sterilization is the only humane, non-lethal solution to unchecked reproduction. TNR (Trap/Neuter/Return) is designed to achieve this goal by reducing the stray and feral cat population through attrition by trapping, sterilizing, and inoculating feral and stray cats against distemper and rabies, and then returning them to their already established territory, where they are monitored by feral cat colony managers. The sterilization prevents the cats from reproducing while inoculations prevent disease. Ear-notching provides an easy way to identify cats in a TNR program.

TNR has a history in Denmark, England, Israel, and the United States, is endorsed by the American Veterinary Medical Association and is currently being implemented with local governments’ approval in many communities. Humane organizations have endorsed TNR, including the Humane Society of the United States, Friends of Animals, Alley Cat Allies, Best Friends Animal Society in Utah, Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy, the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights (AVAR) and the Cat Fanciers’ Association. A national opinion poll conducted by Alley Cat Allies in May 2003 found that out of 24,599 respondents, 94% supported TNR as an effective tool in addressing feral and stray cat population. Since March 2002, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association has published four articles in favor of TNR.

TNR has proven to be an effective and workable program for long-term population control and is increasingly being utilized by public and private entities to address feral cat populations and the concomitant problems of protecting the public health from rabies and cat nuisance complaints. It has been demonstrated to reduce overpopulation, complaints about roaming and the number of cats in shelters in communities in the United States and abroad. It reduces euthanasia rates, and costs less than half of the cost of traditional trap and kill programs. Dr. Julie Levy, DVM, Ph.D., monitored an eleven-year TNR project that involved eleven feral cat colonies on a central Florida campus. Dr. Levy concluded that “a comprehensive long-term program of neutering followed by adoption or return to the resident colony can result in reduction of the free roaming cat population in urban areas.”

TNR is working successfully in New Jersey in model TNR programs in Cape May, Atlantic City (at the Boardwalk), Phillipsburg and Bloomfield. In addition, support for TNR was one of the top three recommendations of New Jerseyans in comments received at public hearings on the topic.

Elsewhere in the country, the Orange County, Florida, Animal Services Department, the San Francisco SPCA, and statewide programs in California and Utah have successfully implemented TNR programs. Maricopa County, Arizona and correctional institutions in Ohio, Montana and New York State have also officially approved TNR as a means to feline population control. These programs are additionally beneficial to local governments, as volunteers can often be found to assist governments in managing feral cat colonies but are generally not willing to assist in trapping and removing cats for euthanasia.

Examples of successful TNR programs include:

Alachua County, Florida: A program called Catnip was implemented in 1998 and is responsible for sterilizing more than 22,000 cats since then. The program decreased shelter intake of cats by 61% since 2000.

Maricopa County, Arizona: Ed Boks, former Director of Animal Care and Control, Maricopa County, Arizona, studied conventional methods of feral cat control for over 20 years. He determined that these methods do not properly regulate the population and, consequently, initiated a TNR program that is operated by the county animal control department. Within eight years the euthanasia rate dropped from 23 cats per 1,000 county residents to only eight cats per 1,000 county residents.

Orange County, Florida: Orange County, Florida has a population of 700,000 people. Its animal control department incurs costs of approximately $105 per animal when it must respond to a complaint and impound and euthanize the animal. Before its TNR program was introduced, there were approximately two hundred complaints per year, resulting in as many animals being captured, with a cost of $21,000 to the county. Within six years after the introduction of TNR by animal control services in 1995, complaints decreased by approximately 10% as did the number of impoundments, with a total savings to animal services of over $100,000. Within the six years of the start of the program, euthanasia decreased by 18%.

San Diego, California: Founded in 1992 by Dr. Rochelle Brinton, the Feral Cat Coalition (FCC) introduced TNR to San Diego on a countywide basis. FCC is an all volunteer organization that provides free sterilization procedures for feral and stray cats. In addition to sterilization procedures, the cats are vaccinated for rabies and treated for fleas and any immediate medical problems. FCC volunteers monitor the feral cats after they are returned to the outdoors. The local animal control departments support the program as it has had a positive impact in reducing the feral population, thus reducing the number of cases to which they would have otherwise been required to respond. By 1994, two years after the start of the TNR program, the total number of cats brought into San Diego shelters dropped over 34% and the euthanasia rates in county shelters for all cats dropped 40% (instead of the usual 10% increase). San Diego euthanized 8.0 shelter animals per 1,000 people in 1997; 4.9 in 2002. The reduction in the euthanasia rate translated to an estimated tax savings of $795,976.

San Francisco, California: The San Francisco SPCA initiated a citywide TNR program in 1993. The SPCA has been working with feral cat caregivers to control the feral cat population, provide some medical care, keep the cats adequately fed and, when possible, adopt them into homes. There are three aspects to the program. The first is “feral fix,” a program through which the SF/SPCA provides vaccinations and spay/neuter surgery for San Francisco feral cats, all at no charge to their caregivers. Since the program began they report altering over 10,000 cats. The second aspect of the program is “Cat Assistance Teams.” In neighborhoods throughout the City, CAT members work together to humanely trap feral cats, transport them to Feral Fix, provide post-surgery recovery care, and socialize feral kittens before placing them in homes. CAT members also provide expert advice and assistance to novice caregivers in their neighborhoods. Finally, there is 9 Lives™ Humane Feral Cat Management Video Series including nine comprehensive videos that cover all aspects of caring for feral cats. Within six years of commencing the TNR program, euthanasia rates dropped 70%.

New York City, NY: The New York City Feral Cat Council (“NYCFCC”) is a coalition of NYC animal groups working to humanely reduce the City’s feral cat population through the use of TNR. They established a TNR program on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in 1999. Based on statistics compiled by New York City’s Animal Care and Control, the number of stray cat intakes from the Upper West Side was reduced 73% in the first three years of the program. During the first year of the program, there was a 59% reduction in the number of cats arriving in shelters.

Cape May, New Jersey: In 1995, John Queenan, with the Cape May City Animal Control, proposed an ordinance to facilitate TNR and the feeding of feral cat colonies. Queenan based his proposal on similar regulations in Santa Cruz County, California. Because pick-up and euthanasia had not resolved the city’s overpopulation problem, the ordinance focused on preventing reproduction. As a result of Cape May’s ordinance change, 200 cats were altered in 1997. Based on the number of nuisance complaints, litters of kittens and visual sightings of the colonies, it is estimated that the feral cat population, which was between 500 and 800 cats in 1994, has been reduced by 50%.

Atlantic City, New Jersey: The Humane Society of Atlantic County, in conjunction with the Health Department of Atlantic City and local volunteers, has used TNR successfully and with municipal approval. Through kitten adoptions and natural attrition (since these cats no longer reproduce), the feral cat population under the Atlantic City boardwalk was reduced by more than 70% within three years. Cat related nuisance complaints, common before enactment of the TNR ordinance, are now rare.

Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Phillipsburg, Warren County also authorized TNR. Dr. Robert Blease, a veterinarian and founder of Common Sense for Animals (“CSA”), a non-profit organization that receives no public funding, initiated the municipality’s TNR ordinance in 2001. All feral cats that are brought to CSA are vaccinated, sterilized, and identified by way if ear notching. Cats that are infected with FIV/FEHV, unhealthy or vicious, are humanely euthanized. Since Phillipsburg authorized TNR the stray cat population has reportedly dropped an estimated 350 cats in the first year alone, and citizen complaints about stray cats have dropped to zero.

Bloomfield, New Jersey: The Friends of the Bloomfield/Bukowski Animal Shelter (FOBAS) initiated a TNR program September 2003 with two colonies. The program has been endorsed and supported by the mayor, the town council and the Bloomfield Department of Health. Neighborhood Cats, a New York City-based volunteer non-profit organization, provides advice and assistance to the town, which adopted TNR as its official feral cat program.

For information on the sources for the above information as well as how to calculate the feral cat population in your community refer to page 24 (Analysis of Feral Cat Solutions) and page 28 (Feral Population Formula).

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Applying The No-Kill Ethic

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 your local animal control 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 we lack the 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 ultimately such realism would be better directed at the sources of the problem and, above all, at the element of human responsibility.

There are the heart-breaking cruelty cases that bring so many animals to our doors, and the added wrong of killing animals already victimized by callous or vicious behavior. On top of that, over 30 percent of the 54,000-plus dogs and cats LA takes in each year are actually relinquished – turned in – even after years of living with a family, like old furniture donated to charity. And another third of the creatures LA euthanizes each year are 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 – thousands of times a year – someone else does with a lethal injection.

Along with such failures in personal responsibility is a breakdown in social responsibility in the care of animals. On the budget sheets of government, saving animals can seem to a certain mindset as being a lowly or trivial concern. That’s an easy position to take, just as long as you don’t have to be there when the problem gets “solved” by euthanasia. If the public officials in most locales 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 vote to support local or state spay/neuter programs.

Here in Los Angeles there are rays of light. The City has opened six new animal care centers, a decisive step forward in its commitment to helping lost and homeless animals, and to swearing off euthanasia as a solution to pet overpopulation.

The new Centers provide four times the shelter space to accommodate the average of 150 lost, sick, injured, neglected, abused or unwanted animals entrusted to LA Animal Services every day. The 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 typical shelters, where animals can become so agitated or depressed that they seem 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, odds are we can measurably increase adoption rates.

The “no-kill” ethic is a matter of taking responsibility, instead of excusing the problem or hiding its consequences. More and more communities are moving steadily in this direction.

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

The good news is we are making significant progress, and we have many fine allies in the cause. There are hundreds of groups across the United States dedicated to finding homes for needy animals and to helping sterilize those animals who otherwise might contribute to the pet overpopulation problem. These compassionate, idealistic people show us the way forward.

The practice of killing animals for lack of shelter space 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 for every local animal control program to make this commitment: No animal that comes through those doors 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.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

What did Mayor Villaraigosa learn?

The challenge before the Mayor now is finding a person willing to risk his/her career to come to a community where performance expectations is driven by outside forces making narrow and extreme demands.

A wise man once admonished us to “Beware when all men speak well of you.” Well, the good news is that there is little chance of that ever happening in Los Angeles. In LA we have an ample supply of critics, (arm chair activists), who in the words of Teddy Roosevelt, ever live to “point out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better,” while they themselves never lift a finger to help in any meaningful way.

However, Roosevelt goes on to say, and I paraphrase, that the real “credit belongs to LA Animal Services’ employees, volunteers and rescue partners who are actually in the arena, whose faces are marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strive valiantly, who err and come up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but they know the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, because they spend themselves for a worthy cause; who, at the best, know, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if they fail, at least they fail while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

Such a cold and timid soul recently opined in a pusillanimous letter to the editor of the LA Daily News that, “As we approach the one year anniversary of the resignation of Animal Services General Manager Ed Boks, it doesn't appear that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has learned much… He hired a high profile animal shelter general manager without consulting the stakeholders, namely [me, Daniel Guss]…”

As Mr. Shayne Micklich from Studio City pointed out in a follow up letter to the editor, the general tenor of Guss’ letter sounded “like a veiled threat by the radical animal groups that have terrorized elected officials and employees throughout the tenure of a number of past general managers, not just Ed Boks. The argument that [Guss et al] have sufficient technical knowledge to select the person to run this major multi-shelter city agency is like saying that security guards have the expertise to select the police chief.”

Many wonder why Guss is so hateful in his criticisms of the department; it seems so personal, I am often told. In fact, it is. Guss started attacking the City the day after I explained to him that there was no budget for a public information position that he had been trying to carve out for himself for the past several years; upon learning that he went from supporter to nemesis overnight.

Nevertheless, putting Guss’ irresponsible threats and antics aside, the question, did the mayor learn anything from my tenure? deserves an answer. And it can be answered by the Mayor himself, “Under Boks’ leadership this City revamped the way we treat and care for our pets and animals. The ‘no kill’ policy became a central component of our animal services strategy. Pet adoptions are up, shelters expanded at a rapid rate, and ‘spay and neuter’ has become more than just a call to action; it is the law in Los Angeles. We look forward to building on his legacy and continuing to make LA Animal Services the gold standard for pet protection.”

Despite Guss’ allegations to the contrary, a great deal was accomplished over the past four years, not the least of which was transforming the department into the most successful municipal pet adoption program in the nation (nearly 27,000 adoptions annually); successfully opening six new state-of-the-art animal care centers; establishing the Department’s first ever Strategic Plan; updating and standardizing policies and procedures to ensure a well-run Department; assembling the finest animal care and control medical and executive teams in the nation (who even now continue to identify and correct long-term organizational empowerment and accountability issues); and most gratifying to me, achieving the lowest euthanasia rates in the Department’s recorded history with every reason to expect continued improvement.

Amazingly, this was all accomplished during a time when the Department experienced its largest, fastest, and most historic growth in service demand; increasing shelter capacity over 250% and staffing 100%. This is comparable to recruiting, hiring, training and building a brand new department while running the existing one; no easy feat in the best of times. Over the past four years, LA Animal Services found its balance in an environment of severe budget cuts, an unprecedented demand for expansion of services, and a severe staffing shortage.

The only challenge before the Mayor now is finding a person willing to risk his/her career to come to a community where performance expectations for LA Animal Services is driven by outside forces making narrow and extreme demands. Although small in number, these people are media savvy and love the attention. They use intimidation, false accusations, and violence to forcibly divert attention from the broad causes of the pet overpopulation crisis in the City. They refuse to acknowledge the real challenges the City faces or the progress the City is making in modernizing the department and saving animals in a sincere and committed effort to make Los Angeles the first major metropolitan “no-kill” city in the United States.

While Guss seems to foolishly think the rancorous environment he creates will improve his City job aspirations, he is actually putting at risk the recruitment of talented individuals. It is time he put the animals in need in Los Angeles above his personal ambitions. It is time to stop wasting the time and energy of staff, volunteers, law enforcement, and elected officials and focus on the real work of understanding and solving pet guardianship issues in Los Angeles.

No-Kill is achievable in LA - but not as a house divided. Division is a tool of those who want to conquer and subjugate. We can and should be working together. Three local foundations have already incorporated the attached No-Kill Plan into their strategic initiatives. Click here to learn how we all can all better align our best efforts to achieve No-Kill in LA!

Friday, April 09, 2010

Competing Priorities

During difficult economic times, many communities find the care of lost and homeless animals complicated by a host of competing priorities.

When evaluating competing priorities one’s focus often turns to the bottom line. When that happens, the real questions, the questions of conscience concerning animal care can be overlooked.

In urban communities it is easy to lose touch with nature and the intrinsic value of animals. If we’re not careful, we can forget that companion animals are beings with needs and wants and purpose.

When confronted with all of the issues and problems involved with creating a pleasant urban environment, it is not difficult to understand how decision makers can feel strongly that human need and wants are more important to a community than animal needs and wants.

When this happens, animal care can be reduced to a simple equation of what’s affordable, profitable or expedient. We can almost fool ourselves into thinking we are dealing with widgets instead of lives.

It is at this decision point that we as a community find ourselves engaged in a true test of our character.

Indian Prime Minister Mahatma Gandhi, whose image we honor in Union Park Square in New York City, taught that the true nature of a community’s character is revealed in the way that community treats their animals. In other words, animal care is a measure of a community’s capacity for human empathy, compassion, and kindness.

How a community treats lost and homeless companion animals defines what that community is teaching its next generation about love, compassion and mercy.

Matthew Scully, senior speech writer for President 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 alike.”

In New York City, Los Angeles and many other communities across the nation we are on the brink of an exciting and historic accomplishment; ending the terror of pet euthanasia as a form of pet overpopulation control.

That is not to say there are no higher priorities or that we won’t be distracted by greater needs or injustices.

To this point, Scully points out there will always be enough injustices and human suffering in the world to make the wrongs done to animals seem small and secondary. But we err in thinking of justice as a finite commodity. It is not, nor is kindness and love.

It is dangerous to think a community has just enough compassion for its elderly but not its children, or just enough love for its children but not it’s poor.

Is it easy to think only of the value of human life? Albert Schweitzer warns that, “Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives."

We compound the wrongs within our character when we excuse the wrongs done to animals by saying that more important wrongs are done to human beings and we must concentrate on those alone.

A wrong is a wrong, and when we shrug off these little wrongs we do grave harm to ourselves and others.

When we wince at the suffering of animals, that feeling speaks well of us even when we ignore it, and those who dismiss love for our fellow creatures as mere sentimentality overlook a good and important part of our humanity.” (Scully: Dominion)

So, how do we balance all the competing priorities vying for our attention and resources?

The great philosopher Yogi Berra provided the answer when he said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

When we come to competing priorities such as summer youth programs or animal care, lets take it as an opportunity to implement a Teach Love and Compassion (TLC) program that meets the needs of both our kids and our pets.

TLC is just one example of how we as a community can walk and chew gum at the same time. Choosing priorities need not be either/or it can be both. One part of our community need not suffer because we feel we have to choose another to help.

Your local animal control can implement programs designed to address the needs of your community. Big Fix, FELIX, STAR, Safety Net are a few examples of the role animal care can play in displaying the type of character we would want to see replicated in our children.

What is exciting about these types of animal control programs is that they truly exemplify the character of our community. They exist because of the love and compassion of people who care about the entire circle of life in our communities, a circle that includes our pets.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Ed Boks E-Mails Reveal Mandatory S/N Law Failures - The Truth

Recently Nathan Winograd mischaracterized a portion of an email from me as suggesting LA’s  spay/neuter law is a failure. This is typical of the divisive sniping endemic in all of Nathan’s self-aggrandizing philosophy.

The email quotes a portion of an email that says, “we can’t hide from the fact that veterinarians are raising their prices to a point where people cannot afford the services regardless of vouchers or financial assistance. We need some innovative thinking in addition to more mobile vans.”

Identifying this problem and developing a response is appropriate, and I am thankful that the Coalition for Pets & Public Safety took this admonition to heart and recently added another spay/neuter vehicle to the several already serving Los Angeles. Yet Nathan attempts to malign these types of strategic initiatives by obfuscating the facts with this slanted narrative: “Ed Boks made headlines in his support of a California sterilization law, Assembly Bill 1634. During legislative hearings, Boks admitted that the legislation was more about expanding the bureaucratic power of animal control than saving animals when a Senator asked: ‘Mr. Boks, this bill doesn’t even pretend to be about saving animals, does it?’ To which Boks responded: ‘No Senator, this is not about saving dogs and cats.

Nathan conveniently quotes only the first portion of my response. The entire quote was, “No Senator, this is not about saving dogs and cats ALREADY IN THE SHELTER, it is about saving untold lives in the future by ensuring they are never born.”

Nathan then transitions to attacking the results of a successful spay/neuter ordinance in the City of Los Angeles, claiming I “demanded more officers to enforce it, and was granted over $400,000 in enforcement money to do so, money that was taken away from truly lifesaving programs. The end result was predictable. Almost immediately, LAAS officers threatened poor people with citations if they did not turn over the pets to be killed at LAAS, and that is exactly what occurred. For the first time in a decade, impounds and killing increased – dog deaths increase 24%."

What a horrific lie! What is the reason for such sensational fiction? In fact, LA Animal Services’ budget was reduced after the passing of this ordinance, and the department was the only City department at risk of a layoff of officers. While the dog euthanasia rate did increase 6% over the past year (NOT 24%) the intake rate also rose from 31,082 to 31,953 as a result of the economic down turn NOT BECAUSE OF THE ORDINANCE. All across the United States shelters are experiencing an increase in intakes as a result of the economy, but it seems to serve Nathan’s business purpose to vilify LA’s spay/neuter law.

After much tortured reasoning, Nathan claims I fault the spay/neuter ordinance for his exaggerated claim regarding an increase in killing, quoting an email from me that said, “the failure of our programs… explains why no progress has been made in reducing cat intakes in recent years.” He deliberately misses the point - I was NOT criticizing the spay/neuter ordinance, I was pointing out the failure of LA’S spay/neuter voucher programs and I was suggesting restructuring the program to better target animals most in need. In fact, the number of cat deaths has actually decreased 5.6% since passage of the spay/neuter ordinance.

For a detailed explanation of my proposal to restructure the Voucher program, click here.

Nathan sadly continues: “…to defray blaming the spay/neuter law for increased impounds, Boks and his killing apologists in Los Angeles… blamed the economy. But the data did not bear out the claim. While the City of Los Angeles had one of the lowest foreclosure rates (1.79) at the time, it saw killing increase following the passage of its spay/neuter law.”

Nathan has the luxury to pick and choose the facts that support his presuppositions. He shoots his arrows and then paints a target around them.  While the foreclosure rate for Los Angeles might have been 1.79%, the animals most at risk in Los Angeles come from the East Valley and South LA where foreclosures have seen rates as high as 2.23% compared to the national average of 2.04%.

It is truly pitiable that Nathan has chosen as his guiding business principal Oscar Wilde’s self-effacing precept that, “It is not enough that I succeed; my friends must also fail.” If he would spend as much time helping communities as he does sowing strife we would all be that much closer to achieving No-Kill.