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.