Leaders hope to spare more animals under new shelter model

Long Beach’s animal shelter will slowly begin its transition to a new model that limits euthanasia rates and ensures open admission to the city shelter, despite near weekly protests by outspoken advocates of a no-kill policy.

The City Council voted 8-0 Tuesday in favor of the so-called Compassion Saves model, which will give the city’s animal care services department a new direction and policy makeover. Among other changes, the shelter will be required to have more data transparency and to better support spay and neuter programs.

Animal advocates have been divided on how best to improve the animal shelter, with one faction being staunchly focused on Long Beach becoming a no-kill shelter and others being open to compromises that lower euthanasia rates while also increasing adoptions.

That divide continued Tuesday night, with no-kill proponents vilifying the Compassion Saves model as a continuance of the status quo and their rivals saying it was a step in the right direction. Both camps, however, asked the council to delay a vote on the issue.

Anna Wong, a member of a task force appointed by the mayor to explore improvements for the city’s Animal Care Services, said the task force was not ready for such a broad policy because it had just begun its work. In particular, Wong said the policy did not spell out what a “treatable animal” is when it comes to saving “every life that is treatable” as written in the new policy.

“Two to three years ago our shelter was killing kittens and cats with mange on 3 to 5 percent of their body,” Wong said, referring to a treatable skin disease caused by parasites. “Thank god we’re not doing that anymore, but where are we going to cut this off? What does it mean to be a treatable animal?”

Joanne Kwast, a no-kill advocate, said the shelter having its own adoption program was a priority—something she believes could ultimately be the difference for the shelter. Currently the city and spcaLA, which has a facility next door to the shelter in East Long Beach, have a partnership in which adoptions are handled by the nonprofit.

“Let’s leverage the best practice and use our time and resources to adopting out animals as that is ultimately what prevents shelter killings,” Kwast said. “We can adopt our way out of killing.”

Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce, who co-authored the item with Councilwoman Suzie Price, also pushed for a separate and independent adoption program for the city’s Animal Care Services and for the city to work to make the shelter a true “open admission” shelter that doesn’t discriminate monetarily or through fear that pets turned in will be put down.

“We know that that has to happen,” Pearce said.

“Often when people have a pet like a dog it’s expensive, it’s time consuming, it’s more work than some people understand and they need to know that they can safely take their pet somewhere that will not euthanize them. That is what an open admission shelter means to me and I think means to many of you. This is hopefully a step to get us there.”

The budget impact of implementing such a model is unclear, but Pearce’s agenda item noted that it would “require additional funding resources” that would be outlined in a strategic plan put forth by the city’s Animal Care Services.

Price called for a report to come back to the council within 60 days that would outline the lease agreement between spcaLA and the city’s shelter, including the allocation of space and the responsibilities expected to be met by each entity.

She also called for statistics from the shelter to be presented so that the council could be operating on a singular set of facts, something that has been absent in the public discussion of the shelter over the past few years.


“There’s a lot of allegations, but there’s not a lot of data, and there hasn’t been,” Price said. “So let’s get to know that information so we can move forward.”

While the report is expected to come back before the council in the next few months, the task force will again be asked to decide gray areas in the policy like defining “treatable animals.”

Pearce called the vote a historic move by the city to ensure that as many animal lives as possible are saved.

“I don’t often refer to things as God’s work, but I believe this is God’s work, making sure that we’re caring for those that are the voiceless,” Pearce said.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.