A conversation with Long Beach animal shelter manager Staycee Dains
Managing a public animal shelter is a stinker of a job. You have to balance a lot of stuff: animal intake, desirable outcomes for animals, making devastating choices, directing staff and volunteers, taking care of your own mental health, doing paperwork, wrestling with and interpreting data, figuring out what various members of the community want, and mainly, what’s best for animals inside and outside the actual facility.
If your heart’s in it, Staycee Dains will tell you, it can be rewarding as well.
“Our community has spoken very loud and clear about what it expects and what it needs from its animal services,” said Staycee Dains, manager of Long Beach Animal Care Services. “Our 2024 goal was to have a robust adoption program where we can place 1,500 pets a year. And this year, it was almost 2,000.”
I sat down with Dains this week in her office to talk about what’s behind that success, as well as obstacles, challenges and things that need to be tweaked and booped.
“The bottom line is: Saving animals and providing a safe space for them to be cared for until they have a home—anybody can get behind that,” Dains said. “That is not a political position—there is no party affiliation with that. It just makes sense. To say that animals should lose their lives because mathematically it doesn’t work out is ridiculous, especially in a city like Long Beach, where so many people have pets.”
Not resting on their haunches
The year got off to a good start, with news that last year’s total number of adoptions was nearly 34% higher than expected. Dains explained how it was done.
“First of all, we have been out in the community like we never have before,” she said, citing the increased number of offsite adoption events, particularly at Pet Supplies Plus and the holiday-themed celebrations for the family that community outreach coordinator Megan Ignacio heads.
The foster program has also contributed to the adoption numbers, as well as to the familiarity of the community with the animal shelter. Fostering is an element of the shelter’s Strategic Plan, and it’s been going on in earnest since the shelter hired a foster coordinator in March 2022.
It’s all part of the shelter’s “Compassion Saves” model for animal care.
It should be noted that critics have called out the model for not being a “no-kill” approach. Dains, however, sees it as a way toward that ideal. The no-kill approach to sheltering, according to supporters, emphasizes adoption, fostering, volunteering, community outreach and spaying and neutering to increase the saving of lives. Most significantly, no-kill models call for an end to killing any animal that isn’t suffering from a condition that is irremediable or irreversible.
“That’s what we want,” Dains said. “The way that Compassion Saves is different from no-kill is this: No-kill is what you don’t do. Don’t kill. Well, now what?
“We don’t want to focus on ‘don’t kill.’ We want to focus on: What do you do? Your compassion saves,” she added. “It’s giving people that opportunity to fan that flame of compassion and let it take fire so that it saves lives.”
Euthanasia, though, is unfortunately a necessary component of all animal shelter operations, so the way different shelter models are defined often comes down to differences in when euthanasia is considered an appropriate course of action.
The Long Beach shelter’s approach, Dains said, is intended to avoid putting down an animal who could otherwise lead a full life, especially if that animal has a treatable disease, injury or fear issue. Euthanasia, she said, is never done at LBACS for the sake of kennel space or how long the animal has been in residence.
Instead, it’s used “when an animal may have a very serious medical condition and its quality of life is diminishing or is no longer able to be maintained, whether it’s inside or outside the shelter,” she said. “And I think the important caveat of that is: If that animal can have a quality of life, would someone want it? Could the animal have a quality of life in a foster home, in an adoptive home?
“So, without the benefit of those resources, keeping an animal in a shelter in certain medical circumstances is not humane,” Dains continued. “We do seek foster care for animals who need medical attention, and if we can’t find a foster home, or that animal continues to decline, or is not progressing despite the treatment, we have to make a really tough decision. We don’t have the benefit of continuing to agonize and say, ‘Well, we’ll just keep going, we’ll wait for the animal to die, or someone to show up.’ That’s also not appropriate. We try to take the stance of a loving owner: If this animal were our own pet, what would we do? Would it be reasonable?”
Dains said that LBACS’ veterinary staff frequently consults with veterinarians in private practice about certain cases to see if there’s any way a suffering pet could see a positive outcome.
Animals with behavioral issues that cannot be safely housed present another challenge.
“We have to think of what’s safe for people and what’s safe for animals,” Dains said. “Is it safe to put a dog who’ll attack other dogs out into the community? Those are also really tough decisions to make, and they’re never made in a vacuum. We’re always discussing them—nobody’s ever thrilled at the end of those conversations. Those really intense medical cases and the really intense behavior-management cases are the toughest.”
It can get crowded in there
As Dains said: If you don’t take lives for space and time, what do you do with the animals?
During my visit, volunteers were walking dogs and caring for them, but every kennel had a dog in it. When that happens, shelter staff have to look to other spaces not generally used for kenneling—puppy rooms, intake spaces, offices of willing and able staff. The crowding comes in fits and starts, and holy cats, it’s likely going to take off again during kitten season.
Many shelters and rescues are overcrowded now. Dains attributed it to a combination of factors: the housing crisis, the shortage of veterinarians, rising prices of veterinary care and people’s lack of resources. Family situations have changed—someone might have lost a job. Spay and neuter procedures, she said, haven’t changed drastically, but their prices have skyrocketed.
“People could afford their pets 10 years ago—now, they’re being priced out of what they used to afford,” Dains said. “They don’t want to see their pets suffer, so they abandon them to their fate.
“The need is huge—people need help with their pets, and there’s no public assistance for pets,” she added. “A lot of people think, ‘Well, they shouldn’t have a pet,’ but that’s to say that poor people don’t deserve the benefit of that incredibly powerful relationship with their pet. But that’s not the reality we live in.”
Accentuating the pawsitive and dealing with obstacles
Spaying and neutering domestic animals, especially feral cats, is the best way I can think of to limit the number of unwanted animals and the amount of shelter overcrowding. Dains hopes to tackle the issue of TNR—trap-neuter (and spay, of course)-return—this year, but it’s tougher with higher veterinary prices and the shortage of veterinarians.
Still, it’s important to look at the shelter’s success so far. And Dains attributes much of its accomplishments to the City Council, the members of which, she said, realized the importance of the work that the shelter does.
“A lot of shelters don’t have the success we did, and it’s entirely possible that the jurisdiction doesn’t support the changes that the public demands,” she said. “Our council and our city management have heard them, and they’re working very hard to continue to support the programs that we need.”
But, Dains said, there are still obstacles.
One significant challenge is a statewide shortage of veterinarians. It’s impacting fosters and adopters, some of whom have had to wait “for months and months and months” for their pets to get spayed or neutered so they can take them home.
“It’s a hard time right now for everyone—even if you come in with a fistful of dollars, you still have to wait,” Dains said. “Even for us, if we call some of our care providers for a medical appointment, it’s two to four weeks out just to get them evaluated. We need more vets! We have been experiencing to the core of our operation the veterinary crisis in the state of California.”
Burnout and turnover, increase in demand, economic factors and fewer students in veterinary programs are among the reason for the shortage of veterinarians. This is true particularly if you’re trying to go the low-cost route, which many people are. Fix Long Beach, a low-cost clinic that LBACS uses to pick up the overflow for their woefully small staff, has a long waiting list for both shelter and public patients.
And what does Dains consider to be the biggest obstacle ahead?
“Money,” she said flatly.
The city did come through with a good lot of stuff last year. LBACS filled three positions: a dog-behavior specialist, a foster coordinator and a community-outreach coordinator. A volunteer coordinator is still needed—Dains said that finding one is like looking for the holy grail. Successful candidates must have experience coordinating volunteers and have the skills and ability to lead and mentor the volunteers. So far, the shelter supervisor is leading the volunteers and doing that well, and several experienced, longtime volunteers themselves are mentoring the new kids.
“We have the best volunteers in the world,” Dains said. “When it was pouring rain and everyone was closing down, our volunteers were basically in scuba gear getting these dogs out. The dogs had an amazing time in the mud! That’s because the volunteers are friends with the dogs. And just because you’re a volunteer doesn’t mean you have to take them all home. You can be friends with them and tell your friends, and then you can set your friends up on a date with the dog.”
Of course, this is a ploy on both our parts to get you to volunteer some time. There are all kinds of ways to do it. To get started, email [email protected] or just go to the webpage. The shelter also has a pet literacy program in which adults and kids can read to cats, dogs and bunnies.
“So many people ask how Long Beach is having such great success,” Dains said. “That success does not belong to our shelter—it belongs to this community. People are coming here to volunteer, to adopt. They’re coming here to donate. The success belongs to them.”
Nope, few of us would want to manage a city shelter. Thankfully, a lot of us want to see more animals be saved and adopted. Here’s hoping Long Beach’s Compassion Saves model will help turn that vision into a reality.
“We have the best volunteers in the world!” Dains said. See for yourself—visit the shelter during the walk-in adoption hours. You might find your best friend forever, and you can be sure that they’ve had a lot of experience in being loved and learning to give it again. Check out the links to adoptables and email [email protected] or [email protected] to apply to adopt or foster a pet.
Belvedere (ID# A685402), a German shepherd, loves his playtime with Marc. As you can see, he’s very, very smart and takes treats gently. He’s 2 years old.
Whitaker (ID#A692005) is just a baby at 5 months old. He can’t seem to get enough loving out of Ruth. He’ll be happy to transfer it to you.
Great furballs of fun!
Author signing: Join Gatsby Books as the shops supports local author Lynne Cox, who wrote “Grayson,” the 2008 selection for the Long Beach Public Library Foundation’s Long Beach Reads One Book. She’ll be discussing her two new animal-themed books, “Tales of Al” and “Yoshi, Sea Turtle Genius,” at the Los Alamitos-Rossmoor Library, and Gatsby’s will be there to sell both titles to attendees. Books are also available at Gatsby’s, located at 5535 E. Spring St., Long Beach.
The free event will be held Saturday, Jan. 28, at 2 p.m. The Los Alamitos-Rossmoor Library, is located at 12700 Montecito Road, Seal Beach.
Pawlentine’s Day Adoption Event: Speed-dating in the best possible way! Find your best match at our shelter, and bring lots of love to the residents already there. Long Beach Animal Care Services invites the community to enjoy music, photos and decorating Valentine’s Day cards to bring home to your pets or place in the shelter’s pets’ Pawlentine’s Day treat buckets. Please also bring unopened store-bought pet treats and toys to put in the treat buckets. Money can’t buy love, so adoption fees will be waived for all pets during the event. Remember—please leave your own pets at home for this event.
The free event will be held Saturday, Feb. 11, from 2 p.m.–3 p.m., at Long Beach Animal Care Services, 7700 E. Spring St. At the entrance to El Dorado Park, there are no parking fees for shelter visitors.
Valentine’s Day with the Fix Project: Champagne! Goodies! Double-chocolate fountain! Love songs of all genres by the fabulous Jennifer Corday! Not for your dog, of course, but for you! All proceeds from the event’s entrance, raffles and drink specials will, however, help The Fix Project heal our fragile Valentines.
The free event will be held Tuesday, Feb. 14, 4 p.m.–10 p.m. at Roundin’ 3rd Sports Bar and Grill, 4133 E Anaheim St. Roundin’ 3rd will generously donate 20% of the tab to the organization.
CatPAWS 10th annual Bowling Fundraiser: Join up with Team Kitty and rack up a few winners for the cats and kittens at Helen Sanders CatPAWS. Bowl for two hours, or pay to just watch the pins fall like a veritable feline. Chow down on hearty appetizers or a personal pizza, with a soft drink included. All tickets include an opportunity drawing, and prizes will be awarded for highest and lowest scores. Buy tickets here. All proceeds benefit CatPAWS.
This event on Saturday, March 18, 2 p.m.–5:30 p.m. is at Westminster Lanes, 6471 Westminster Blvd., Westminster. It costs $45 per bowler or $20 to sit on the sidelines and cheer.
Foster for a while—or furever!
The more than 300 LBACS dogs, cats and bunnies need your help, as The Scratching Post stresses. The city of Long Beach’s commitment to Compassion Saves means that animals in our care can live and thrive. We need our community to show its support of Compassion Saves by fostering, adopting, volunteering, and donating.
LBACS has reached urgent capacity with the influx of incoming animals to the shelter during the holidays. There is no more kennel space to take in more dogs at the shelter. To maintain the LBACS Compassion Saves model of helping those in greatest need—the sick, injured and abused—your help is needed to keep the healthy and lost pets out of the shelter. If you are interested in adopting, please email [email protected]h.gov or apply to foster here.
If you’ve always wanted a pet but aren’t sure if you’re ready for a lifetime (the animal’s) commitment, or if you’re past the pet-roommate days for any reason, fostering might be a great way to go, especially with one or more of the kittens popping up during kitten season. Every one of the organizations listed below is in desperate need of fosters who’ll social them and help save their little lives. Who knows—maybe one of those lives will change your mind about the not-ready-for-roommate thing.
These nonprofits also regularly feature cat, dog and rabbit adoptions. As of now, adoptions are mainly by appointment. Click on the links for each rescue in case of updates or changes. These organizations operate through donations and grants, and anything you can give would be welcome. Please suggest any Long Beach-area rescues to add to the list.
Keep in mind that the rescues are self-supporting and need donations and volunteer help. Most of them cannot accept found or unwanted pets. Contact Long Beach Animal Care Services for options.
German Shepherd Rescue of Orange County
Long Beach Animal Care Services
Long Beach Spay and Neuter Foundation
Pet Food Express Cat Adoption Center
Sparky and the Gang Animal Rescue
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