Monday, December 3, 2012

L.A. Animal Services Numbers Improve

Two updates recently came out regarding the reduction in the number of animals killed in the Los Angeles Animal Services pounds. The first was an email from Brenda Barnette, the general manager of LAAS, stating that during the first four months of this fiscal year, as compared to the same time period last year, dog and cat impounds have decreased by 799, and the live release rate for dogs and cats has increased by 897, or 5.8 per cent.

The second was a post by Francis Battista on the Best Friends blog, stating that Best Friends’ NKLA initiative had a goal for 2012 to reduce the deaths at LAAS by 3,000, and as of the end of October, with two months left in the year, the deaths are already down by 3,500 (although it doesn’t specify, I assumed this meant a reduction over 2011, and when I checked the LAAS statistics, I came up with a reduction of 3,497, close enough to corroborate my assumption).

It’s good to see the numbers moving in the right direction. Any reduction in killing and impounds, and any increase in live release rates is positive. And if the intake rate doesn’t rise appreciably, and the killing rate continues to decline by between 3500 and 5000 each year, then the NKLA projection of No Kill in five years could actually happen.

But before we get too excited, let’s look at some other, more sobering facts.

–Even with the decrease in killing of dogs and cats by close to 3,500, that still leaves 17,126 animals who were killed this year through October. That is 56 animals a day, every single day.

–Even with the increase by a few percentage points, the live release rate is still little more than half of all outcomes for July through October of this year (57.4 per cent by my reckoning).

–The live release rate for unweaned kittens remains dismal, hovering around 12 per cent.

I don’t want to minimize the improvements, and I certainly don’t want to rain on a parade that is headed in the right direction. As the saying goes, the longest journey begins with one step. And these new numbers could be that first step in the city's journey to No Kill. But I do want to sound a reminder that clearly there is still a long way to go to achieve an end to the killing.

As I have said in a previous post, I don’t know of any community that has ended the killing of healthy and treatable animals without assiduously following the No Kill Equation, and it really doesn’t look as if Best Friends is doing that. But if the numbers hold and Best Friends does achieve an end to the killing, I will be among the first to give them all the credit they are due. The question does arise, though: if they actually were fully implementing all the programs of the No Kill Equation, would the journey be a shorter one?

We need to maintain perspective, and we need to keep in mind that we’re talking about a comparison of two years, and looking at the statistics over past years, one sees that the numbers have a tendency to fluctuate, but never steadily improve. Having said that, with the exception of two months, July-October 2012 has the best live release rate (although not by a huge margin) compared to the same time period over the previous five years. Let us hope that the momentum continues and that this is a not simply a fluke, but an indication that we truly are in the process of ending the killing in Los Angeles.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thankful for Shelters That "Get It"

For those who still think that No Kill is impossible, and who continue to ignore those of us who point out that there is already a growing number of No Kill shelters, perhaps an actual example of a how a truly compassionate, progressive shelter manager handles things, and what happens when killing is off the table, will shed some light.

I direct you to Shirley Thistlethwaite’s YesBiscuit! blog for today. It is a truly uplifting account of how to do sheltering right.

Yes, shelter directors who do what it takes NOT to kill animals are indeed something to be thankful for.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Puppy Mills and Pound Killing: What is the Connection?

On Wednesday, October 31, the Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance banning the retail sale of cats, dogs, and rabbits. The ordinance goes into effect on December 17. This is very good news. It means and end to animals from puppy, kitten, or rabbit mills in Los Angeles pet stores. This is another blow to this horrendous industry, as jurisdictions around the country are joining the bandwagon and passing similar legislation.

Puppy mills* need to go out of business for one reason, and one reason only. They are cruel, hellish places that breed dogs only for profit, and keep their overhead as low as possible by not treating their dogs with even a modicum of care. Dogs live their entire lives in small wire-bottom cages with no bedding, never having any significant human interaction, never getting proper vet care to the point where their teeth rot and tumors, infections, and other conditions go untreated, they never get bathed or brushed or groomed, they’re fed low-quality food that is often stale, even moldy, their drinking water often has a film of green slimy algae, they’re forced to live in blistering heat with no air conditioning in the summer, and freezing cold with no heating in the winter, their water bowls often frozen solid. The females are kept pregnant constantly, then have their puppies taken away from them before they are properly weaned.


This is how millions of dogs have to live out their entire lives, and most of it is perfectly legal. Puppy mills churn out dogs for sale at pet shops and on the Internet, and USDA regulations allow for treatment that would appall any decent person.

But if you listen to people at pet store protests or speaking in front of city council meetings, you will hear them give another reason they believe puppy mills should be banned. You will hear them say that buying puppies at pet stores causes animals in "shelters" to be killed. Their logic is that animals are being killed in pounds because of "overpopulation." "Too many animals, not enough homes." And therefore, the thinking goes, every time someone buys a puppy at a pet store, they are in essence adding to the overpopulation and causing the death of an animal in a pound. At pet store protests, these people will hold signs that say "every dog bred means a shelter dog dead," "don’t breed or buy when shelter pets die" and even "pet overpopulation is NOT a myth."

In fact, at times this message seems to drown out the very real one of cruelty. In fact, the text of the Los Angeles draft ordinance reads, "whereas, the sale of commercially bred dogs, cats and rabbits contributes to the proliferation of homeless or unwanted animals that end up in public animals shelters; and whereas, prohibiting the sale of commercially bred dogs, cats and rabbits in pet stores, retail businesses or other commercial establishments may lower the City’s shelter animals euthanasia rate and lead to a greater adoption rate of shelter animals...." but nowhere does it give the slightest mention of the cruelty and horrific neglect suffered by dogs in puppy mills, which is the only valid reason for shutting down puppy mills.

Puppy mills are horrible places, and must be closed down.

Killing of animals in pounds is unconscionable, and must stop.

However, these are two completely separate issues, because overpopulation is a myth, and buying a pet store puppy is not what is causing the killing in the pounds. What is causing the killing is a failure on the part of the leadership of the pounds to do what it takes to end the killing. We already know how to do this, with a proven set of protocols, the No Kill Equation.

The cruelty perpetrated on the parents of the pet store puppies in the mills is quite certainly enough of a reason all by itself to fight to end the mills. We don’t need to bring in a false reason to help the cause. It doesn’t help, and in fact, it can hurt not only the puppy mill cause, by diluting the message and causing people to lose sight of the very real reasons to end puppy mills, but it can also damage the attempts to bring about an end to pound killing, because the only way we are going to end that killing is by first recognizing and accepting that overpopulation is a myth.

Also, by making a blanket statement that pets die in pounds because of breeding, we alienate reputable breeders, and this is a mistake. These breeders could be a valuable ally against both puppy mills and pound killing. If we could only separate mass breeding for profit from breeding by people whose motive is not profit but a love of the dogs, we could get a much larger number of people to be vocal on our side.

Protesters at pet stores, as an explanation of why we know pet stores sell puppy mill animals, will rightly say that reputable breeders do not sell their animals to pet shops. But at the same time, they are carrying the "every dog bred is a shelter dog dead" signs, and spouting the corresponding rhetoric. Very mixed message. Can you imagine any breeders joining in a protest that voices these platitudes?

And by not distinguishing reputable breeders from puppy mills, we are also alienating another group of people: those who won’t go to a shelter or rescue, can’t be persuaded to, and feel they must have not only a purebred dog, but a puppy, and don’t care that purebred puppies do come into the pounds. If they are given simply a choice between pet stores and the pound, and not helped to find a good breeder, they will be pushed to choose the pet store.

There is a connection between pet stores selling puppies and pounds killing animals, but it is not at all that which the "overpopulation" believers are trying to tell us. It isn’t that animals are being killed in pounds because they are being displaced by puppies sold in pet stores, rather pet stores are able to sell more puppies in part because shelters are not meeting the needs of the dogs and the public–not having offsite adoptions, not having convenient opening hours, not advertising–and therefore killing more animals.

As Nathan Winograd says in Redemption:

[T]he more animals dying in a given community (which traditionalists claim means lack of homes), the greater number of pet stores that sell dogs and cats (which shows homes readily available). Generally, pet stores succeed when a shelter is not meeting market demand or competing effectively, and because animal lovers do not want to go into a shelter that kills the vast majority of the animals....

Someone posted a message on a Facebook page that noted that there are about four million animals dying in "shelters" every year, and that about that same number of dogs are bred in puppy mills each year. Her point seemed to be that if we got rid of puppy mills, the killing could end. The post ended by saying, "number don’t lie."

But this isn’t about numbers. If it were, we would be a No Kill nation today, because there are many more people looking to bring an animal into their home, and undecided on where to obtain that animal and therefore could be persuaded to adopt, than there are animals killed.

Of course it is true that, without the pet store option, some people would turn to a pound to adopt an animal, and that could only help get more animals out of pounds. But even if no pet store ever again sold an animal, even if every puppy mill went out of business today, that would not come close to ending the killing. The "overpopulation" people have it backwards. Shutting down puppy mills will do little to end "shelter" killing; however if the "shelters" begin implementing the No Kill Equation, not only will the killing end (and we know this, because it is already happening in communities across the country), but, by diverting people to the shelters, it will also go a long way to shutting down the puppy mills.

Shirley Thistlethwaite in her "YesBiscuit!" blog has stated it beautifully. The title of one of her blog posts is "Directors of Pet Killing Facilities Keep Puppy Mills in Business." Think about that.

In the blog, she writes:

By killing approximately 3 million healthy/treatable shelter pets that an estimated 17 million people planning to get a new pet are open to adopting, shelter directors are driving those 17 million people to other sources....Killing health/treatable shelter pets ensures that puppy mills will continue to meet the demand for pets that shelters are not.

Sadly, though, people will continue to conflate puppy mills and pound killing as long as the myth of pet overpopulation continues to be pervasive. Because if pet overpopulation did exist, the logic would be sound. But as more and more people are able to step back from their tunnel vision and disengage themselves from the received wisdom of "pet overpopulation" that has been drilled into them for years, and finally open their minds to the proof in front of their eyes, No Kill communities will start springing up even faster than they are now, and at the same time, puppy mills will start falling like houses of cards.



*I speak of puppy mills, because that is where so much of the cruelty is being exposed. However, whenever, for convenience, I simply use the term "puppy mills," I am including the places that churn out kittens, rabbits, and other animals, all equally egregious.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Is Best Friends Going to Make Los Angeles a No Kill City?

About a year ago, a small group of volunteers got together and was given permission to start a pilot pet retention program at the L.A. Animal Services facility in South Los Angeles. The program was to consist of volunteers staffing a table in the lobby, greeting people as they came in to relinquish their animals, and attempting to help them solve whatever problems had prompted them to give up their pets. There was virtually no official support for the program, and no attempt on the part of LAAS to promote it, or to reach out to its volunteer base and recruit more people, so the program was confined to just a handful of volunteers at only one shelter location for small amounts of time. But even on this small scale, it made a difference. We were able to keep a number of animals from entering the pound by providing help with training, veterinary care financial aid referrals, landlord, and other problems that people felt meant they had to give up their animals. And by providing advice and support to first-time adopters, we were probably able to prevent a number of relinquishments down the road.

Currently, that program is struggling to stay alive, down to two or three volunteers staffing a table in the pound when they are able. They still have no support.

In January of this year, another group of volunteers began running an off-site adoption center, offering animals from the six L.A. pounds, in a busy and popular mall. Since opening, they have placed more than 274 (and counting) dogs and cats into loving homes. On June 28, this adoption center, "L.A. Love & Leashes," had to hold a benefit in an attempt to simply be able to keep its doors open. It has nowhere near the support it should have.

On April 17, Best Friends Animal Society officially launched its "NKLA" (No Kill Los Angeles)* campaign to much fanfare. There was publicity from a high-profile PR firm, celebrities, and a brand new, shiny "neuter cruiser" to help people travel to spay/neuter clinics.

When I first heard about the NKLA project, I was hopeful. Even the fact that Best Friends was for the first time actually using the phrase "No Kill" so prominently seemed promising. Perhaps, I thought, they were really, seriously going to be putting their strength into making L.A. a No Kill community. But on closer look, I had concerns. My biggest concern was that, although there was a lot of publicity, and what looked like a pretty major emphasis on spay/neuter and, to a lesser degree, adoption, there didn’t seem to be much attention to any of the other components of the No Kill Equation.

Of all the communities that have achieved No Kill, every one has done it by implementing all the programs of the No Kill Equation. So why does Best Friends believe they can do it without? When I asked someone from Best Friends this question, I was told was that they indeed were following all of the No Kill Equation, but when I asked for specifics, I was told to wait for a Best Friends blog post that would be forthcoming, and which would explain it in detail. When the blog appeared, it was fairly short on detail and not at all reassuring that the entire No Kill Equation would be implemented.

The pet retention program and the off site adoption centers are two cases in point.

Pet retention is one of the programs that is necessary in order to stop the killing. And yet, the Best Friends blog said that two years down the line, they would be attempting to get a grant for such a program. I asked someone from Best Friends why they felt this needed to take two years and a grant when, as I said, volunteers are doing this program now with no grants (the only cost was photocopying some hand-outs), and was told that if I wanted to manage such a program, Best Friends would "send volunteers my way." This wasn’t something that I necessarily wanted to do myself, but since I was pushing for it, I felt I needed to accept. But when I did, I received another email saying that they had decided that someone else would head up the program. Wonderful, the program gets implemented and I’m off the hook, right? Not exactly. When I spoke to the person in question, she told me that no, she had no intention of having such a program in the shelters. Since then I have been going back and forth with Best Friends without getting any answers.

Clearly, pet retention is not a program that Best Friends considers important.

And considering the case of L.A. Love and Leashes, this model is one that should be replicated throughout the city. What a great way to showcase shelter animals, take advantage of foot traffic, bringing the animals to a place where people actually go, catching some people who could easily fall in love with one of these animals, but who would never actually set foot in a shelter to find one. While it is true that Best Friends has taken over the Southeast Valley facility of LAAS as its "adoption center," which is clean, friendly, and has evening hours on weekdays, this is still in essence just another shelter location. If Best Friends were to put its resources behind storefront adoption centers such as Love and Leashes all over the city, adoptions would greatly increase. But instead, this one and only such center must itself struggle to find enough donations to stay open.

Another concern was the five year plan. Why five years? As Nathan Winograd has observed, five year plans are often nothing more than a way to drum up good will and donations, appease those calling for No Kill, and essentially kick the can down the road, until all the promises are forgotten, and the powers that be can then simply announce another "five year plan" and start the cycle all over. It is like a view of a horizon that, however far you travel toward it, it is always just ahead, never actually reached. I’m not saying that it is Best Friends’ intention to deceive, but five year plans are fraught with dangers of complacency and a general sense of having the pressure taken off, which can lead to not doing all that can be done right now.

Best Friends’ NKLA website talks about "fewer in and more out." Yes, that is exactly how No Kill works. It is elementary. But look more closely at how they plan to do this. They say, "fewer in, via Spay & Neuter." But spay and neuter alone will never solve the problem of "incoming." There are more programs that lead to "fewer in," and these programs need to be implemented. For instance, a robust pet retention program like the one mentioned above to help people solve problems that are causing them to relinquishing their animals would keep pets out of the pound (fewer in).

And on the other side, the NKLA website says, "more out, via Adoption & Fostering." So far, so good. But just saying "adoption and fostering" doesn’t say how these programs will be implemented. What will actually be done to increase adoptions and fostering? There is the Best Friends "adoption center" at the LAAS facility. And there seems to be some attempt at a bottle baby foster program being put into place. This is good as far as it goes, but it does not go nearly far enough.

When you click on either the "fewer in" or "more out" link on the NKLA website, all you get is a list of spay/neuter clinics and rescue organizations that are members of NKLA’s "adoption coalition." The programs of the No Kill Equation are nowhere to be found. And yet, these programs–all eleven of them–are the only proven way to achieve "fewer in" and "more out."

I don’t know, call me crazy, but it just seems to me that one would want to reproduce what has been demonstrated to work, when other plans have not. If Best Friends is truly serious about achieving No Kill, why do they not do this? If for some reason they don’t want to call it the No Kill Equation, that’s fine. Just call it "a bunch of programs that will get us to No Kill," or whatever you want. Call each part of the program anything you want (for instance, it looks like Best Friends is using the phrase "shelter surrender intervention" instead of "pet retention," and that’s just fine). It’s the substance that counts. But by whatever name, every single one of these components must be implemented to the fullest extent. Nothing less will end the killing.

*Not to be confused with the original No Kill Los Angeles.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Let's Help L.A. Love & Leashes Stay Open

On Thursday June 28, L.A. Love & Leashes is hosting a special benefit to keep its doors open. The event will include food, live music, an open bar, and, I’m sure, very good company.

Since its opening on January 21, L.A. Love & Leashes has placed nearly 220 dog and cats into loving homes. These animals come exclusively from the six Los Angeles City shelters, so these are lives saved.

If you are in the area and you are able, please consider attending this event. If you can't attend, please consider a donation. It is vitally important that L.A. Love & Leashes stays open, not only to continue to save the lives it can save, but to show that this is type of "store" is viable, and to enable many more to open throughout the area.

Click here to buy tickets.

About L.A. Love & Leashes (from their website):

L.A. Love & Leashes is the first “pet store” that is 100% dedicated to animals at Los Angeles’ six city animal shelters. Dogs and cats are transported daily from the shelter to our store where they are available for adoption.

At our high traffic location in the Westside Pavilion, we are able to reach large numbers of people who may not otherwise visit our city shelters. Through interactions with the amazing dogs and cats we’re privileged to have daily at L.A. Love & Leashes, and through conversations with our staff and volunteers, we are able to help overcome many of the stereotypes people have about the animals waiting for homes at our city shelters.
Beyond adoptions, the store offers a range of animal-related retail items, including pet supplies and toys, with the dual aim of creating a true alternative, humane “pet store” model and offsetting the costs of the store. Feel good knowing that every dollar you spend helps our efforts to increase city shelter adoptions!

L.A. Love & Leashes is a program of Friends of LA Animal Shelters, a volunteer-run nonprofit dedicated to helping Los Angeles Animal Services increase adoptions and raise the live save rate for the 50,000+ animals taken in by our city shelters each year.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Horse Rescue and One of a Kind Jewelry

The California Coastal Horse Rescue is holding its"No Place Like Hope" picnic this Sunday, June 10, in Santa Rosa Valley (near Thousand Oaks, California) to raise critically needed funds for the care of their horses. I will be there selling my beadwork jewelry, so come by and say hi, if you are in the area and you feel so inclined. It is a great cause, and I would love to see you there!

From their website:

"California Coastal Horse Rescue, founded in 2000, cares for those horses that no one else will care for. We provide food, shelter, rehabilitation, medical care, and adoption services for horses that have been abused, abandoned or neglected."

Sunday, June 10
Bridlewood Arena Park
13165 Santa Rosa Rd.
Santa Rosa Valley

Click here for event flyer

Thursday, February 2, 2012

California: Governor Brown Tries to Repeal Animal Protection Law

California’s Hayden Law was passed 1998. This much-needed law gave animals in California’s pounds certain protections they desperately needed, such as assuring the animals get prompt and proper veterinary care, requiring that they be held for a longer amount of time, to give their guardians time to find them in the case of lost animals, and to give animals relinquished by their guardians time to be adopted (as opposed to being immediately killed, as had been allowed before the law), and not allowing animals to be killed if a qualified rescue wanted to take them. It also extended protections to animals other than dogs and cats, such as rabbits, hamsters, and others.

In 2004, then Governor Schwarzenegger attempted to repeal the law, but was besieged with phone calls, letters, and a sizeable presence of protesters, some accompanied by their rescued dogs, descending on the capitol steps, and he relented.

Sadly, some provisions of this law were suspended in 2009 due to the budget crisis. Provisions that are considered “reimbursable state mandates,” those which are required to be funded by the state, are currently suspended. Those include the requirement to provide prompt and necessary veterinary care; the requirement to hold animals for an extended period to increase the opportunity for redemption and adoption; the requirement to post lost and found lists; the requirement to provide care for animals other than cats and dogs, such as rabbits, hamsters, and other animals commonly kept as pets.

That these provisions have been suspended is in itself a tragedy for the animals, but a suspension is temporary, and allows for the provisions to be reinstated when the state is in better shape financially. However, Governor Brown is now proposing to repeal these provisions permanently.

Given the governor’s statements in his recent state of the state address that California is “on the mend” and “coming back,” one would think that, rather than attempting to repeal these provisions permanently, he would be looking forward to a time in the near future when they could be reinstated. So why in the world would he want to repeal these provisions altogether? It simply makes no sense.

The governor claims this repeal is necessary to save money, and yet he has no problem pushing for construction of a high speed rail system that is estimated to cost up to a hundred billion dollars. By the time the high speed rail system is finished, how many thousands of animals will Brown have condemned to death because they lacked the protections of the Hayden Law, the cost of which is a fraction of that of the high speed rail. Shouldn't the governor's priority be saving lives before constructing trains?

Please write, email, fax, and/or call the governor and urge him not to repeal these provisions. And also write to your state senator and assembly member, and ask them not to allow this to happen.

Governor Jerry Brown
State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 445-2841
Fax: (916) 558-3160
Email through his website at

You can watch a video with Tom Hayden, the author of the bill, in which he urges Governor Brown not to repeal any of the provisions of the law.

If you are on Facebook, please visit and "like" Sutter’s Friends, a group dedicated specifically to seeing that the law is preserved.

There are also several petitions you can sign (however, I highly recommend you don’t think that signing a petition is enough. Writing to the governor and your representatives is crucial, as it is much more effective).

Stray Cat Alliance Petition Petition

Dog Park Media Petition