By Dr. Patricia Turner | Long Beach is a city of animal lovers, with a beautiful dog beach, an interfaith blessing of the animals, and an annual parade where people and their pooches show up dressed to the nines to strut their stuff. Yet we rarely talk about the plight of the animals at the Long Beach animal shelter, operated by the City’s Animal Care Services (ACS). Last year, ACS euthanized more than half of the dogs and cats that entered our shelter. That’s 78% of kittens, 75% of cats, 32% of dogs and 18% of puppies – more than 5,000 animals in 2012 and more than 16,000 animals over the past three years.
Contrast this with the City of Austin, which has achieved a 90% save rate for its animals for two years in a row. Their transformation from a high-kill shelter to a shelter that saves 90% of its animals came after the Austin city council passed a resolution and worked with a diverse body of community stakeholders to come up with a 34-point plan to save their city’s shelter animals. In 2011, they reached a 90% save rate and have been going strong ever since. In September, 2013, their save rate was 93%.
When Stayin’ Alive Long Beach (SALB) requested that Long Beach ACS implement more lifesaving programs for shelter animals, ACS squarely stated they already have programs that save lives. A review of ACS records requested by our organization under the California Public Records Act shows, however, that ACS currently does not have many of the most basic programs needed to save the lives of shelter animals. We published our findings earlier this month in a report entitled, “What’s Happening to Long Beach’s Shelter Animals?: A report on the effectiveness of Long Beach Animal Care Services and recommendations for change.”
In the report, we outline the most important programs that ACS needs to implement. These include a comprehensive adoption program featuring frequent off-site adoptions, a foster program for animals at risk of being killed, low-cost spay/neuter, and a vigorous volunteer program to help run these programs. All of these programs are part of the progressive, evidenced-based approach to sheltering called the No Kill Equation. Many of these programs can be implemented at low to no cost and would dramatically decrease the number of animals killed. ACS adopts out only 3% of shelter animals, and euthanizes 3 out of 4 of the animals not taken in by the neighboring spcaLA. Clearly, ACS cannot afford to ignore these programs. Yet, since 2009, ACS has put the lion’s share of its efforts into animal licensing over adoptions and spay/neuter, increasing its budget for licensing by a factor of 8 while reducing spending on the popular spay/neuter voucher program by 77%. Troubling facts indeed.
Some people ask – won’t implementing the No Kill Equation lead to overcrowding? The answer to that is absolutely not. The No Kill Equation is a set of 11 programs – comprehensive adoptions, foster programs, positive relationships with rescue organizations, a sterilization program for community cats, compassionate programs to help people keep their animals, and more. There is no reason for overcrowding to happen when you offer more lifesaving programs instead of less. Simple logic tells us that.
The most successful lifesaving cities, Austin included, have chosen to not only implement the No Kill Equation, but also not kill any animal that is not irremediably suffering. That means they only kill those animals that are not medically or behaviorally treatable. This ups the ante for the shelter, no doubt, as they are now required to find homes for all animals that are healthy and treatable. Why would a shelter do this? Beyond the obvious fact that it saves lives, the answer is simple. People want to volunteer in shelters that don’t kill. They want to adopt from shelters that don’t kill, and they want to donate money, time and resources to shelters that don’t kill. When Austin, Texas changed from high-kill to saving 90% of their animals, they saw an upsurge in volunteers – they now have 350 active volunteers working to save animals in their shelter, and it is largely due to their efforts that Austin can maintain its 90% save rate. This stands in stark contrast with the 28 volunteers that ACS has. We applaud and appreciate those who work at the Long Beach shelter. It’s a very difficult job. How much more rewarding it would be if they knew the agency’s policies and programs worked with them instead of against them.
Then the question is – will committing to euthanizing only animals that are acutely suffering lead to overcrowding? Let us be clear: Overcrowding is an issue for all open-admission city shelters, like those in Long Beach and Austin. The difference is in how each shelter chooses to address that issue. In Long Beach, ACS’s response is to euthanize 53% of shelter animals. Austin’s response, however, is to comprehensively implement progressive programs and advertise to the media, and when they do reach out, which is often, they get an overwhelmingly positive public response.
Patricia Fraga, spokesperson for Austin Animal Care Services, states that letting the public know in no uncertain terms when the shelter needs people to come in and adopt is a strategy that works: “We are a no-kill animal shelter and we do not euthanize animals for space, so when we need adoptions – we tell the public we need adoptions. Once you put it out there and take it to the community, people respond. So it (advertising our need for adoptions) is a strategy and it does work.” In fact, this past June, when Austin put the word out about needing the public to come in and adopt, more than 300 animals were adopted out or placed with rescues over 3 days – that’s almost as many as Long Beach ACS found homes for during the entire year of 2012.
When all is said and done, there is literally no logical reason to oppose the implementation of the No Kill Equation in Long Beach. Implementing more lifesaving programs for animals is just good animal sheltering policy. Now that we’ve seen it work, there really is no valid reason not to move forward in a truly proactive way.
When Stayin’ Alive Long Beach released its report making recommendations for a shift to lifesaving programs, ACS came out swinging, calling the report’s findings false. However, SALB’s report of ACS’s 53% euthanasia rate is nearly identical to ACS’s claim to have a 49.5% live release rate – they are two sides of the same coin. One important difference, however, is that ACS counts wildlife returned to the wild as adoptions. As our report points out, this is not an accurate accounting of ACS adoptions, which numbered only 324 out of nearly 10,000 animals entering ACS in 2012. Stayin’Alive Long Beach has called for clarity and transparency in the way ACS reports their euthanasia numbers to the public. It is only in being clear about the problem that we can work to solve it.
Long Beach should find ACS’s reaction to SALB’s report troubling – our democracy thrives on citizens’ ability to question their government and speak out against injustice. And transparency in government remains one of our country’s most enduring values. Stayin’ Alive Long Beach invites people to review the report at www.stayinalivelongbeach.org and decide for themselves. We urge the people of Long Beach to ask City Council to mandate that ACS implement lifesaving programs for our shelter animals. A 53% kill rate is simply too high when lifesaving alternatives exist.
Dr. Turner is an educator who has taught in California colleges and universities for nearly two decades. She is the spokesperson for Stayin’ Alive Long Beach, an initiative to increase the save rate of animals in the Long Beach shelter.
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