Los Angeles Animal Services “No-Kill” December: Precedent or Deception?
Brenda Barnette, General Manager of Los Angeles Animal Services, and Francis Battista of Best Friends Animal Society, have announced a supposed first for Los Angeles—a “No Kill December” in L.A. city shelters.This sounds too good to be true! Do the actual numbers support this claim? And does it matter what happened to the animals as long as they were removed from the shelter? Let’s do a short course in “No Kill” 101.
In stating L.A. was “No Kill” and using the criteria provided to Dana Bartholomew in a December 16 Los Angeles Daily News article, that would mean that Los Angeles city animal shelters achieved a 90% “live-save” rate, which is not a 90% “adoption” rate. There is an important difference in these terms, although often it is hoped the public will just assume they are the same.
“Live save,” means someone took the animal from the L.A. City shelter alive—but not necessarily to a home. Often the pet is merely taken to another shelter by “transport,” and possibly transported many times to different shelters in different areas in the country if it is not adopted. Once the animal has left the L.A. shelter, its impound (ID) number may be changed many times, so we really don’t know what ultimately happens to it.
Also, “no-kill” doesn’t really mean that no animals are euthanized. Wisely, any behaviorally unsound or very sick animals can be euthanized. In fact, GM Barnette told Dana Bartholomew of the Los Angeles Daily News on December 16, that the City had already euthanized 313 dogs and cats and she told Sandy Banks of the Los Angeles Times on January 4 that “…620 animals were euthanized because they were considered too ill or too dangerous to be adopted.”
Los Angeles City shelters currently have an average euthanasia rate of around 38% because municipal shelters take in any animal in need, regardless of condition or temperament and because they are glutted with Pit Bulls, Chihuahuas and feral cats. (Oct. was 38% and Sept. was 39% in L.A. city shelters in 2012.) Are we really to believe that with no other changes but a change of mind, suddenly all the least desirable animals were swept from the shelter into “forever” homes, or even just to somewhere that they can be assured a humane life?
On December 16, in the same Daily News article, Francis Battista of Best Friends credited the December campaign’s forecasted success to the large billboards and advertising campaign by “No-Kill Los Angeles” (NKLA) coalition, which he said is made up of the city, Best Friends and more than 50 animal welfare groups.
But it appears that NKLA had less-than-expected influence on Los Angeles’ final actual adoption numbers (this is the number of pets being adopted directly by the public.)
The final calculation, according to LAAS computer stats, shows that 66 fewer dogs and cats were adopted from city shelters by the public in December 2012 than in 2011.
WHERE DID ALL THE ANIMALS GO?
So, with lower adoptions from City shelters by local residents, how was this miracle “No Kill December,” achieved?
Could it be because City’s stats also show that 917 dogs and cats were released to New Hope (adoption groups) and Best Friends Animal Society? Battista was quoted by the Daily News regarding Best Friends’ adoption activities, as follows:
“…Since it assumed management of the Mission Hills shelter a year ago, Best Friends has found homes for 3,000 shelter animals, many sent on so-called Pup My Ride transports to the Pacific Northwest.”
Remember, “transporting” means putting the animal in a van, a plane or on a bus. It is not the same as putting a pet in a home!
WHY WOULD BEST FRIENDS TAKE SO MANY ANIMALS FROM L.A.?
In return for removing 3,000 animals from the shelters in 2012, the City provided Best Friends with free use of the new $19,000,000 Northeast Valley Shelter facility, with all utilities and $200,000 maintenance costs paid by Los Angeles taxpayers.
Best Friends does not pay any fee (as do L.A. rescue groups) for the adoptable animals it removes from city shelters and they are not microchipped. When Best Friends takes possession of the pets, their L.A. City impound numbers are removed. This means they are untraceable by the City—and so is their final disposition.
Although all City activities and contracts—because they involve taxpayer money--are supposed to be public information, so far, there has been no indication that Best Friends intends, in the interests of transparency, to provide a complete listing of the 3,000 homes in which these animals have been placed (with confidential information redacted.)
In fact, on July 2, a California Public Records Act Request was submitted to GM Brenda Barnette for the following basic information:
(1) Total number of dogs/cats that have been removed by/released to Best Friends Animal Society from ALL Los Angeles Animal Shelters since December 2011;
(2) Total number of dog licenses sold as a result of adoptions of L.A. City shelter animals by Best Friends Animal Society. (reporting required monthly by the City contract); and
(3) Total amount of revenue derived to Los Angeles Animal Services from Best Friends Animal Society from dog license fees for animals released from any Los Angeles City shelters.
The response by L.A. Animal Services was that this information was “not available,” even though the accounting for licenses sold is clearly required on a monthly basis according to the City contract.
DECEMBER 2012 IS NOT THE FIRST “NO KILL” MONTH IN LOS ANGELES
This isn’t the first time there has been a “No Kill” month declared in this City. Former General Manager Ed Boks declared March 2008 as a "No-Kill Month," using the same criteria as Brenda Barnette. That was in a much more difficult time for animals and people—the height of the recession, when families were losing homes and jobs in record numbers and pets were dumped in animal shelters in record numbers.
But Boks did not have the advantage of Best Friends—or any other national organization—rushing in to remove any surplus animal, and his announcement did not excite the media.
OVERCROWDING L.A. CITY SHELTERS TO BECOME “NO KILL?”
Becoming “No Kill” obviously creates the question of what happens to the dogs and cats when the shelter is full—and dangerously overcrowded? This is the time when fights break out and even normally docile pets often kill each other—or are killed--over food and the small kennel space each claims as its “territory.”
Sandy Banks of the Los Angeles Times writes,” I've heard complaints from volunteers of overflowing shelters, where dogs were crammed five or six to a tiny kennel to make the December numbers look good.” In fact, all of us who went to see the shelters for ourselves observed these conditions.
When I called Ms. Barnette (who was out of town) about the horrific overcrowding at some of the shelters on December 14, she responded with an e-mail that did NOT deny the shelter conditions, but justified it as a temporary situation:
“Wanted to let you know that I talked with Mark [Salazar] soon after I got your call. He has been going around to the shelters and checking inventory and crowded conditions. As of today, there are empty spaces at East Valley and most of the others too. I suspect that you got into the loop just before some transports were pulled at the end of the week and just before some of the rescues/Best Friends made pulls last week.”
Since the first shelter I visited after Ms. Barnette’s e-mail was still overcrowded, I decided to inquire about Mr. Salazar’s visits. Random queries of City shelters within the following days as to when Mr. Salazar was last there all received the response that they “couldn’t remember”, or it was “months ago” or that they “never see him at the shelters.”
Unfortunately, whatever measures Ms. Barnette instituted in getting Best Friends/rescuers to “pull” (remove) and “transport,” the shelters were still unwisely overpopulated.
Local rescue groups reported being unable to take in other animals in need because they were taking extra shelter animals in order to help Barnette reach her goal.
AND THE FINAL COUNT?
Final statistics provided from LAAS for December show that, between Best Friends and the New Hope groups, 917 animals that were not adopted by the public were removed from the shelter in an effort to make sure that the “live save” number matched a “No Kill” rate.
There does seem to be one oddity though. The total cats and dogs on the stats show that 3,461 dogs and cats were impounded and Ms. Barnette told Sandy Banks that 620 were euthanized. We will have to wait to hear how that qualifies under the traditional “No Kill”/90% “live save” rate formula.
With 66 fewer dogs and cats being adopted by the public, it appears someone in charge of “No Kill December” realized that adoptions in Los Angeles weren’t going as well as planned, and were, in fact, worse than 2011--even with the help of NKLA--and assured that the surplus animals for whom the City of Los Angeles assumes responsibility went somewhere.
ARE WE ADDRESSING THE RIGHT PROBLEM?
Is this a sustainable or desirable solution? Shouldn’t GM Barnette be addressing the real problems of pet overpopulation, abandonment and abuse by the petowners who cause the problem, rather than creating the false illusion that it is all solved just by a decision to be “No Kill?”
Is it alright that responsible pet owners continue to pay $20 million a year for L.A. City Animal Services so that the negligent, uncaring and uncommitted can just dump a pet they tire of or have failed to provide a humane life? Now that L.A. achieved a "no kill" month, will this give the impression that litters can be bred and unwanted animals discarded without guilt on consequence? Will this false illusion increase shelter impounds?
As long as thousands of animals are starving in our streets and being hit by cars because someone has broken their promise to keep them for a lifetime, can a “No Kill” media campaign be taken seriously?
THE NEED FOR HUMANE EUTHANASIA
Carl Friedman, former Director of San Francisco Animal Control, addressed the topic of No-Kill in a moving letter on July 19, 1999, and expressed so poignantly why the public must not be misled about “No Kill.
“I know only too well that thousands of our community’s animals (dogs, cats and other animals) had to be administered that final injection in the past year. That many of these poor, needy, neglected creatures couldn’t be categorized as “healthy and adoptable” when they arrived at our doors doesn’t diminish their value, nor does it make their deaths less tragic. Disregarding those lives in public statements, intentionally or not, suggests that San Francisco is a “no-kill” city where no animals are being euthanized. People are being misled to thinking the pet overpopulation problem has been solved, no animals are being destroyed, and when they surrender an animal it is guaranteed to find a new home.”
Los Angeles residents, or anyone who claims only to support “No Kill” shelters, must ask themselves: Does it matter that we do not know the ultimate fate of these animals that are taken outside our City as long as they leave our shelters alive? Does just leaving the shelter end our responsibility to these helpless and needy creatures?
Is “No Kill” really about the welfare of the animals or is it a numbers game?
VIDEO: NO-KILL MYTHS http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUBQqhr6CTJsETjIHMyXevA