Long Beach Animal Care Services revealed a new model for the city’s shelter during a special City Council meeting Tuesday that may include creating an adoption program that would save as many animals as possible.
For years animal advocates have attended council meetings demanding a “no-kill” model in which all animals would be spared.
Stopping short of that ideal, the Compassion Saves model will ensure that no healthy or treatable animal is euthanized and that the shelter will remain open to admitting any animal, according to newly-hired ACS Manager Staycee Dains and Parks, Recreation & Marine Director Gerardo Mouet.
“Our community is one of the most compassionate communities I have served,” said Dains, who held a similar role in San Jose before starting in Long Beach about two months ago.
But city officials were quick to say it wasn’t necessarily a “no kill” model, avoiding the association with a loosely defined term that has become divisive within the community over the past several months.
Mouet said after studying other models, officials decided to create one unique to Long Beach.
“It’s not ‘No Kill’ it’s ‘Compassion Saves’,” Dains said. “We need something that we can all agree on.”
Both admitted that the division among community members has been one of their biggest challenges, but stressed their intent to work collaboratively with everyone.
“We want to bring unity to make sure we are effective in providing the most compassionate care for our animals,” Mouet said.
What ‘no kill’ means
Responding to Councilwoman Suzie Price’s request to clarify “no kill,” Dains described it as a model that says no animal is ever killed if that animal can be saved, including animals with behavioral or medical issues that could be dealt with by responsible owners.
Dains admitted that defining those issues and developing a selection process that would include pet psychologists, behaviorists and the community would be the city’s greatest challenge.
“That process can take some time, but that doesn’t mean we don’t start somewhere,” she said. “We can and grow from there.”
Just recently, a dog named Trout was killed at the shelter due to behavioral issues believed to be stemming from being in the shelter, according to Dains. However, the shelter could not find someone to take him and his issues began to escalate, though it was hard to know if they would have persisted once he had a home.
“The difference between Compassion Saves and the ‘no kill’ end of the spectrum is we would not continue to let an animal continue to languish in a shelter,” Dains said. “We would also have a robust network of advocates and share information to find a life-saving option.”
Ashley Summers of Long Beach Animal Save, who was allowed to claim Trout’s remains, said she hopes the city will consider setting up a system where advocates can lay to rest animals like Trout who weren’t able to be saved.
Shelters that adopt a “no kill” approach tend to give up one aspect of their service in order to maintain a “no kill” status, Dains said, like limiting admissions to only certain animals.
During the meeting’s public comments portion, multiple speakers (including representatives of PETA) linked “no kill” policies to the trend of limited admissions or admissions with fees, but “no kill” policy advocates clarified they were in support of only open admissions.
ACS and spcaLA collaboration
Last year, spcaLA took 1,200 animals from the city’s shelter into their care, serving as its adoption arm. Without the nonprofit, neither shelter animals nor animals housed inside spcaLA’s P.D. Pitchford Companion Animal Village & Education Center would be able to receive food or supplies. The nonprofit also manages spay and neuter services.
SpcaLA is considered the shelter’s landlord and it has a lease agreement with the city until 2053; each agency pays half of the operating cost for the whole space and neither has oversight over the other.
However, critics have claimed spcaLA is not financially beneficial to the city and take issue with its plucking of “adoptable” animals from the city’s shelter, along with a confusing entryway they feel needs to be distinguished with signage.
The reality is that the city is not yet in a position to provide those same type of services, Dains said, and it’s important to understand each agency’s function before any signage goes up.
The first focus under the Compassion Saves model will be to ramp up volunteer efforts, both with community members and organizations, in order to have a successful adoption program, Dains said.
Price suggested a follow-up audit dealing with the issues discussed Tuesday with Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce, adding that it clarify the landlord-tenant relationship, to which Dains agreed.
Animal Care Services’ current overhaul is the result of an audit requested by Mayor Robert Garcia in early 2017. The City Auditor’s Office hired an independent consulting firm that recommended a number of improvements to day-to-day operations as well as long-term planning.
Since the release of the audit, the department has hired a full-time adoption/volunteer coordinator and full-time veterinarian using $120,000 of one-time funds from the City Council that Dains expects to become annual.
A full-time community information specialist was also added to handle community events and social media.
Councilwoman Stacy Mungo called for the need to put policies in place that would outlast department heads. Multiple community members echoed that sentiment, some suggesting ordinances that would make saving animal lives the shelter’s primary goal.
Mungo asked for a system in determining which animals are considered high risk and then creating a network that would get these animals more rapidly adopted. Mungo also suggested the use of commercial spaces as pet shops for shelter animals.
Councilman Al Austin noted that vacant storefronts in other areas of the city could work as adoption sites and provide other services like licensing that may be difficult for residents to access who don’t live close to the East Long Beach facility.
When asked by Councilman Rex Richardson about how to address the stray population and reaching populations in the city’s edges, Dains suggested exploring a mobile spay/neuter unit and inundating “busy ZIP codes” with resources.
Moving forward with Compassion Saves
In addition to enhancing the shelter’s volunteer program, Dains said the goal is to reduce already decreasing euthanasia rates, develop operating procedures for its kitten and cat population, considered the most challenging, along with creating a behavior and training program and a rescue network.
Shelter leaders also hope to establish a nonprofit that can raise private funds and support its needs.
A strategic plan required by the audit is expected to be delivered in August, with the next visioning session led by a task force created by the mayor scheduled to be held May 14.
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