Reading Between the Toes: How Well Does NKLB’s Paw-Point Survey Reflect Candidates’ Animal Advocacy? • Long Beach Post

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Chances are that if animal welfare is an important, if not the most important, issue for you, you’ve already voted by mail-in ballot for all or some of the candidates given top scores by No-Kill Long Beach’s (NKLB) (formerly Stayin’ Alive Long Beach) 2018 Animal Welfare Voter Information Guide. Chances are that you disagree with some of the evaluations and have not, or you’ve balanced the animal scores with other planks on the candidates’ platforms.

The survey was taken to assess how well candidates line up in animal welfare and shelter reform. The 2018 NKLB guide is the third one that the organization has issued. The first was in 2014 before the mayoral election and the second before the 2016 council elections. The 2018 guide was created using a nine-question survey that asked candidates about their views on reforms necessary at the shelter at Long Beach Animal Care Services (ACS) to lead the city to no-kill status, i.e., not euthanizing healthy animals for the sake of space—Los Angeles Animal Services gives 90 percent as a benchmark.

The survey’s questions included candidates’ views about being proactive regarding animal-related issues, advocacy, reduction of euthanasia, management and the unique lease agreement that exists between ACS and spcaLA. The survey also focused on the 173 short-term, long-term and best-practices recommendations described in Phase I of the shelter audit. The questions, along with sample answers from former Fifth District candidate John Osborn, can be found at the link in the first paragraph.

The guide and explanations for the scoring can be accessed on the link above. The press release from NKLB said that more responses from other candidates were forthcoming, but I haven’t been able to locate them. A request for these responses went unanswered.

How the Paws Are Placed

Animal welfare is arguably the most emotionally charged issue anywhere, and it’s important to be aware of candidates’ views on it. NKLB spokesperson Patricia Turner, Ph.D. appears to be passionately dedicated to shelter-pet welfare; despite the fact that she hasn’t lived in Long Beach for several years, she seems determinedly focused on ACS. But scores are arbitrary and don’t always tell the entire story.

The candidates’ scoring is listed below. Each candidate got a “paw” rating—one paw print per point, with four as the highest rating and zero as the lowest. The ratings are as follows:

 

District 3

Gordana Kajer: 3 Paws

Robert Savin: 2 Paws

Suzie Price: 0 Paws

 

District 5

Rich Dines: 2.5 Paws

Corliss Lee: 1.5 Paws

Stacy Mungo: 1.5 Paws

John Osborn: 1 Paw

 

District 7

Jared Milrad: 4 Paws

Kevin Shin: 2.5 Paws

Roberto Uranga: 1.5 Paws

Chris Sereno: 1 Paw

Oscar Delacruz: 0 Paws

 

Mayor’s Race

James “Henk” Conn: 2.5 Paws

Robert Garcia: 1.5 Paws

 

Comparing Paw-tentials

There was one four-paw recipient: Jared Milrad, who’s running for the District 7 council position. His résumé reads like the Crown Prince of Animal Welfare’s would—if you wanted to be educated about animal issues from head to tail, you’d want to take a seminar from him. Milrad is a lawyer who worked in the areas of human rights, civil rights and environmental protection. He’s well aware that running as a candidate doesn’t involve a one- or two-issue platform; his own includes environmental protection, promoting small businesses, alleviating homelessness and affordable housing, and balancing it all. He also describes a lifetime of standing up for animals, and that alone is worth a paw—it generally starts young, with you schlepping home everything from wandering dogs to injured earthworms. Milrad told the Post that he wants to champion practical ways of reducing pet overpopulation and educating the public about not only the effects spay/neuter has on overpopulation but also the health and behavioral benefits for animals who have been altered.

“There are also effective ways to incentivize spay/neuter programs, such as providing discounted or free collars and leashes, assistance with fence building for dogs, and access to training and obedience classes,” he said. “As a last resort, license surcharges for unaltered pets and penalties for non-compliance can be considered.” Surcharges and penalties are in fact in effect at ACS, but someone really needs to come up with a few ideas about how to get more people to fix their pets.

Milrad said that if elected, he looks forward to dialoguing with shelter management, pet advocates, community members and field experts to move the city toward no-kill and well-being for pets. His priorities include a comprehensive adoption program that includes off-site adoptions and public-friendly adoption hours; external partnerships to include fosters and volunteers; rehab programs for animals in need; spay/ neuter and TNR (trap/spay-neuter/release) programs for community (stray and feral) cats; transparency and public-oriented web pages; creative marketing; and effective management.

It should be noted that ACS has done and continues to do offsite adoptions, and they have their own mobile vehicle. Adoptions are run through spcaLA, which is a bone of contention among advocates, and a shelter-based TNR program and a couple of free spay/neuter programs also exist in Long Beach. However, there should indeed be more of same, and if Milrad can figure it out, it would be fantastic. There are no “yes, buts” here; he sounds like every advocate’s dream and pretty up on balancing it with the city, too.

OK, there is one “yes, but”—however, it has nothing to do with Milrad’s qualifications. District 7 incumbent Roberto Uranga got a lowly 1.5-paw score. Survey commentary described him as having “very little interest in shelter animals while on City Council,” but his cosponsorship with Friends of Long Beach Animals of three mobile spay/neuter clinics last year—two at Silverado Park and one at Cherry Park—and his community outreach efforts for awareness of the effects of firework noise on pets don’t equate with “very little.” True, you wouldn’t call him the animal candidate, but his efforts are very strong in areas of social justice and community involvement.

No Longer Best in Show?

If Milrad delivers what he’s laid out, he deserves the points. But he isn’t the first to have gotten the four paw prints, and if they don’t pan out, NKLB will not be pleased. In 2014, then-candidate Robert Garcia got the coveted four points, along with Rosemary Chavez, who had an unsuccessful run for City Prosecutor. In its former incarnation of Stayin’ Alive Long Beach, the organization said that Garcia “demonstrates insight, fairness and a willingness to examine shelter policies and data to make informed policy decisions. Long Beach voters can feel confident that Dr. Garcia will advocate for Long Beach’s shelter animals in a way that will move the shelter toward a 90% save rate.” This year, besides dropping the honorific from his name, NKLB said that in his four years as mayor, he failed to deliver on his promise to increase adoptions to the group’s specifications and that the animals euthanized during those years could have been saved. They also gave the credit for decreased euthanasia to pressure from animal advocates.

Long Beach’s animal community certainly has a lot to do with it, but Garcia hasn’t been curled up on the carpet, either. He’s been especially active in cat adoptions—the Kitty Halls he’d hosted resulted in all or nearly all of the pets going to homes. He also noted progressive measures such as the new Dog Play Yard (which has been fortified by costly Dogs Playing for Life training, provided by Friends of Long Beach Animals), and he noted that even though the euthanasia rate now is a quarter of what it was in 2013, He interprets ACS’s continuous success with live release and dropping euthanasia rates.

“If you want to see the truth, just look at the statistics,” he told the Post.

Shelter statistics can be found on the ACS website, and they show a continuous increase in live release (adoptions, rescues, owner return) and a decrease in euthanasia. The euthanasia rate, in fact, is roughly a quarter of what it was in 2013.

“It’s nowhere near enough,” Garcia added, an opinion shared by the animal-advocacy community at large. A number of local advocates aren’t satisfied with how well the Mayor has kept his promises in working toward no-kill and have been increasingly taking off the gloves. Possibly in response to the pleas and demands for action, the Mayor plans to create a mayoral task force to help implement the shelter changes recommended by Phase I of the shelter audit, and he invites interested people to serve. I know people who are lined up already.

James “Henk” Conn, Mayor Garcia’s opponent, garnered a 2.5-paw score. Conn’s main platform is rent control and affordable rent; to his credit, he put in for a no-kill shelter on his campaign website and gave a thumbs-up to the advocacy and foster groups in the city.

“I think Long Beach loves its animals and we need to do everything we can to end the euthanasia programs to adopt animals,” he stated on the website.

Naught for Nothing?

In District 3, Gordana Kajer’s three points are well earned. Kajer is a businesswoman and an environmental activist, and she’s also a longtime animal activist. On her campaign page, she knits together issues such as neighborhood and community, climate change, land use, volunteerism and fiscal responsibility, and though it wasn’t stated directly, she has been active in animal welfare. During a bucket-list trip to Cuba, she and her husband made a side trip to deliver veterinary supplies to Spanky Project and wound up helping out at a spay/neuter event and still support the organization.

She also said that the city auditor’s recommendations need to be implemented not just for the pets but to preserve the public’s trust, and in a separate interview with the Post said that she has concerns over how the issues are being politicized. She believes that the resources do exist but aren’t being managed correctly, and her experience in business could help.

“Morally and ethically, animals should not be euthanized for controlling an animal population at the shelter,” she said.

So, why only three points instead of four?

“Her stance that a larger budget is needed for a strong adoption program ignores the many low or no-cost audit recommendations (e.g., shifting shelter adoption hours to include some evening hours),” the evaluation reads in seeming contradiction to the Post interview.

Robert Savin received two paws for his observed compassion and interest but lack of specificity. Suzie Price received a goose egg because she chose not to turn in her survey. “No response” would have been accurate; zero scores are for candidates who believe that animals have no souls and are best used as fertilizer. Luckily, there are none of these, and it certainly isn’t true of Price. She cosponsored the Bixby Dog Park and two Fix Long Beach events. She also cosponsored the Mandatory Spay/Neuter Law with District 5’s Stacy Mungo and former District 2 Councilmember Suja Lowenthal.

When she ran the first time in 2014, Price wasn’t delighted with the tenor of the questions and wouldn’t submit responses this time. She added that the comments made this time validated her decision not to participate.

“Clearly, if you don’t agree with them 100%, they won’t give you a fair shake, even when you opt out of their process,” she said. “They don’t acknowledge any progress, and I stand by my own record to help the situation [at ACS].”

District 5 incumbent Stacy Mungo feels pretty much the same. Mungo was given 1.5 paws for the “limited steps” she’s taken to improve shelter animals. These little steps include cosponsoring Mandatory Spay/Neuter, assisting in the funding of another spay/neuter clinic, securing an additional $50,000 above and beyond the budget allotment for the shelter, and actively participating in the Foster the Fourth program on July 4, temporarily housing a dog along with her own two Rottweilers until the fireworks had stopped blasting. Mungo’s husband is a regular volunteer at ACS.

Mungo said that she didn’t feel the need to defend herself, But Emily Ghosh, who is the president of Live Love Pet Care and Animal Rescue and founder of Long Beach Animal Advocates ((LBAA), had good words.

“Stacy and her husband, Scott, have contributed countless hours of support for the animals and LB Animal Care,” Ghosh said. “I’m thankful she participated in our Foster for the Fourth event and championed getting city adoptable dogs on Council agendas. Her support during the Long Beach Animal Advocates initial City Council appearances proved crucial to secure the additional $50,000 in funding in 2018 for our local shelter. No one knows better than our volunteers what needs to be done to improve Animal Care, and I know Stacy is the right person to champion these efforts with us!”

Photo by Good Man.

A Bone to Pick

The lowest rating in District 5 was for former candidate John Osborn. Osborn was given one point for his “underdeveloped” responses and “minimal knowledge of the issues.” As previously mentioned, Osborn’s responses were the only sample responses provided on NKLB’s website, so his responses can be read on the link.

Osborn wasn’t pleased with his evaluation, either—and he replied twice!

“Getting one paw was an affront to me—I don’t think that Dakota and Arthur [Osborn’s two dogs] would take it too kindly,” he said. “I feel alienated from this group [NKLB]”

NKLB’s survey had no questions regarding spaying and neutering pets, but Osborn brought it up independently, albeit somewhat haphazardly, in his second response to Question 2: “On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is the issue of increasing the number of animals saved at the Long Beach animal shelter to you?” Osborn gave the response a 10, and then added, “Do we have an ordinance restricting breeding?”

“I may not have answered the question directly,” Osborn later told the Post. “That was just how I felt. My answers are always going to come back to, what’s the root cause? Why can’t we fine some of these people for overbreeding? We shouldn’t have to be volunteering our time! We need to enforce the ordinance!”

Osborn’s first response to the question was “I don’t like needlessly euthanizing, I don’t know how anybody can look into the face of a domestic pet and harm it.” He honestly admitted that he wasn’t sufficiently educated about certain points such as his own regarding the agreement between spcaLA and ACS, but his answers were genuine and none were pat.

“What we need are more responsible pet owners.” he told me. “A pet is not a toy to be discarded—it’s a lifelong obligation for care. I think that overpopulation is due to people’s irresponsibility.”

I’m with Dakota and Arthur. I don’t think that Osborn deserved only one paw, either.

Accentuate the Pawsitive

Long Beach is a big city with a lot of problems, issues and needs. The shelter isn’t the only peg holding the tent up, but animal advocates’ hearts lie primarily with the animals. Everything right with that—few others speak up for them, and advocacy seems to be on the rise. The perceived golden boys (and girls) topping the survey could be the tin men (can’t think of a gender-specific equivalent for a female, so I’ll let it lie) in office. And low-scorers could do very well for animals when in office.

NKLB made a disclosure in the survey to not take the survey results as endorsements, but the results and description sure quacked like a duck. And why shouldn’t they be? Newspapers endorse candidates as well.

My endorsement is for Long Beach’s animal community, be they volunteers, shelter staff and volunteers, or advocacy group members. Points of agreement or disagreement notwithstanding, each has one thing in mind: the best outcome for every cat, dog and rabbit—and often other animals—in Long Beach. Animal advocates have all four feet on the ground, ready to pounce. They have night vision. They’ll come barking and bellowing for great outcomes, and they have a voice that’s getting louder and more effective daily. As sure as a bear does whatever it does in the woods and the cat has pajamas, these guys will hold every foot to the fire to deliver those outcomes, no matter who’s elected. They have no agenda but animal welfare. Whether you’re an officeholder, a City employee or an animal-loving resident, please, support them.

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