Friday, March 31, 2006

The Ed Boks Show?

All the way from Broadway, now appearing in Los Angeles, The Ed Boks Show. A few local critics have expressed offense at what they perceive as the Boks “ego” taking credit for the significant drop in euthanasia over the past three months.

Being human and invested in this goal, I suppose I’d like to get some credit for the substantial decline in the killing, but it would be disingenuous for me to say this decline was because of me. These results could never be the work of any one man or woman. These kinds of results come from a community effort.

The credit goes to the incredible supporting cast of the LAAS Team, the 392 employees and growing number of volunteers, partners, and donors who believe that achieving no-kill doesn’t have to take a long time. I am proud to be a member of this cast.

Actually. the remarkable progress of the past three months is simply a continuation of a five-year trend. Over the past five years the dedicated employees, volunteers, partners, and donors of LAAS reduced the killing nearly 50%. And they did this as they bravely weathered an onslaught of personal criticism and threats that few of us would have endured for even a week.

Often we at LAAS hear people say, “I could never do your job.” Our response is, “How could you not?” Everyday the employees and volunteers of LAAS come into our Animal Care Centers to do what few others in our community are willing to do. They care for, feed, treat, and shelter the 120 or more lost, homeless, abused, neglected, sick, and injured animals they rescue from the streets of LA everyday. Thank God they continue to come!

The successes of Arizona and New York City were not designed to feed anyone’s ego. They were designed to help the thousands of animals in need in those communities. Ultimately those successes serve to demonstrate that ANYONE can do this if given a chance and the support of the community!

Any community with the heart and will to end the killing can achieve this goal, and I’m happy to report the heart and will to do this is thriving in Los Angeles. This community is fortunate that this determination existed in the employees, volunteers, partners, and donors of LAAS long before I got here. Thank God it still exists and is growing!

Let me tell you the secret to achieving no-kill: If you really want to stop the killing in any community, you have to support the agency where the killing occurs. This may sound counter intuitive, but if you think about it, it actually makes a great deal of sense. Does anyone really think LAAS wants to be a kill agency? No agency charged with helping innocent creatures and serving the community wants this. This is true in Maricopa County, New York City, Chicago, Miami, St. Louis, Albuquerque, anywhere.

If you want to stop the killing in LA, you have to support LAAS. There are many indirect ways you can help LA achieve no-kill, but there is only one direct way, and that is to help LAAS. We need the help of all the dedicated, creative and committed individuals who call this community their home. We invite your help and ideas. This is a collaborative effort and those who stand to gain are the very animals we all want so badly to help!

If you are waiting for LAAS to be perfect before you help, then we’ll never get there. LAAS readily admits we need the community’s help and we need it now. I am thankful that the community is stepping up in an unprecedented way to help as the excitement to end the killing grows! The killing must end. We all agree. Never has anyone in LAAS ever tried to defend this horrible practice as our critics suggest. We want to end it, and we want to end it in the shortest possible time frame!

Our success depends on you! LAAS is under funded and under staffed. What government agency isn’t? We cannot do this by ourselves. We attempt to do the miraculous everyday with inadequate resources. How much faster can we achieve this goal with your help?

LA City is facing a couple of very difficult fiscal years. Nonetheless, the City is extraordinarily committed to LAAS achieving no-kill, from the Mayor to the City Council to the Commission. LAAS will see an increase in its budget despite a looming City deficit. But I can tell you right now it won’t be enough to achieve no-kill without your help. The only way we will achieve no-kill in LA is if we as an entire community all pitch in to help.

How can you help? You can volunteer an hour or two a week, you can foster orphaned neonates or sick or injured animals and nurse them back to health, you can participate in our many off site adoption events, you can make a donation to any one of our many life saving programs, or help raise the money to fund these programs. If you own a business you can provide in-kind donations in the way of services or products to help the animals.

If you can’t do any of these things, you can still help. Just support the employees and volunteers of LAAS. We are in a war to end euthanasia. LAAS is the front line in this war. Some will criticize the troops when they think a war isn’t going well. But the good news is the war against euthanasia is going well! 2006 could end with the biggest decline in the killing in LA’s history. Fewer animals died in the first quarter of 2006 than in any preceding first quarter on record!

Did Ed Boks do this? No, I did not. This was done through the commitment and compassion of the employees, volunteers, partners, and donors of LAAS. All I’m doing is asking you to support the troops of LAAS as they win this war for all of us and our animals!

Quite frankly, I am far less concerned with who gets the credit so long as the goal is ultimately achieved. I am concerned that our critics who focus so heavily on the issue of credit are wasting valuable time and distracting us from appreciating the fact that fewer animals are dying. The goal is more achievable today then ever before.

In this war, every day, week and month is a battle to save more lives. In January 06 we experienced a 25% decrease in euthanasia compared to January 05, in February 06 we experienced a 33% decrease compared to February 05, and in March we anticipate nearly a 40% decrease compared to March 05.

Can we all just pause for a moment to rejoice for the animals that benefited from all the hard work of all the heroes in this community who are making a positive difference? Can we use the days ahead to better mobilize our forces to help the remaining animals that still need our help?

Only by working together will we make LA the safest City in the US for our pets!

Friday, March 24, 2006

What's New at LAAS

Have you seen what's new on the LAAS Website?

You can now translate the website into nine different languages.

There is a new Blog below on the cruelty of tethering called, "Chains of Love or Abuse".

The New Hope Program scheduled to roll out within the next month or so is described. The document on line is just to help the rescue groups get acquainted with the program. LAAS will have a public meeting to explain the program in detail within the next couple of weeks. The program will not be implemented until after the public meeting.

A report on Operation FELIX (Feral Education and Love Instead of X-termination) is now on line for your information. It details why TNR (Trap/Neuter/Return) is the only viable, humane, non-lethal method for effectively reducing the feral cat population in any community or location.

My position on many common sense approaches to humane animal care on a community wide level is also available under GM's Position Statements.

Also read about Patrick, the Irish Setter mix, adopted by a member of the Mayor's Office at a City Council meeting on St. Patrick's Day!

And much more.

Also, don't forget to check out Dana Bartholomew's new article on LAAS in The Daily News.

Euthanasia for dogs and cats in January 2006 was down 25%, and down 33% in February, and we are on track to reduce euthanasia 40% in March (its at 39.79% as of this writing on March 24th) compared to the same months in 2005. Stay tuned!

Please consider being a life saving Foster mom or dad this puppy and kitten season. More info on our enhanced Foster Program coming soon or contact our volunteer Department for an update.

Together we can make LA the safest City in the US for our pets!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Chains of Love or Abuse?

It’s interesting how a seemingly simple solution to a perceived problem can have traumatic unintended consequences. Consider tethering. A tether is a rope, leash, or chain used to restrict the movement of a dog.

Some people consider a tether an acceptable solution to correcting a misbehaving dog and they never take the time to consider the horrific consequences of tethering. Lets take a moment to think about tethering, but let’s make it a little more personal. Let's consider the consequences on a two year old child as an example.

Imagine a two-year old child confined to a small room all the time. The toddler wakes up each day full of natural curiosity and energy, with a need to be touched and loved by those around her. She can hear them laughing and interacting just on the other side of the door; she can even smell them.

She only sees her loved ones once a day when they fill her bowl with oatmeal and her bottle with water. She loves this brief interaction and tries to lavish her love on them, but they are annoyed by her affection. She is curious and longs to be held by them. But soon they are gone and she is left alone. She has no ability to articulate what she is feeling, only that she must be “bad” to be so rejected. She is never given the opportunity to learn what is expected of her. No one takes the time to teach her to behave in a way where her loved ones would want her to be with them all the time.

She gets no exercise, and eventually gives up trying to even reach the doorknob to break down the barrier that separates them. Then she gives up hope that the door will ever open. She turns inward, depressed and lonely. To occupy her time, she crawls in circles; she sucks her thumbs raw. When someone does come into her room now, she is afraid. She doesn’t know how to behave or interact. What has she learned?

She has learned to believe that she is helpless, and that the little world she knows will not respond to her needs. She has learned that nothing she does matters. She has learned that people are to be feared. She has learned that she must defend herself by shrinking away or lashing out. What was once a curious, trusting, happy, healthy, loving little creature has been transformed into a cowering, aggressive, unstable being because her loved ones refused to share their home and lives with her.

Dogs, like children, are social beings. They have a deeply ingrained need for contact with either human beings or other dogs. When a dog is tethered (chained) outside, it does not receive the socialization it needs to maintain its mental health. Tethering also denies the dog proper exercise. Even if a dog is given proper veterinary care and is fed correctly, tethered dogs are still apt to develop serious behavior problems because their existence is ruled by the length of the tether.

Although it may seem as if the dog has plenty of room to move about, dogs still get tangled up in their chains, making it impossible for them to reach shelter, shade, food or water. Dogs that spend their lives tethered have been known to grind their teeth down to stumps. Many will compulsively lick an area of their body until it turns into a bleeding sore (granuloma). It is reported that tethered dogs inflict one quarter of all dog bites recorded.

Tethered dogs frequently become withdrawn and depressed. Compulsive barking, chewing and digging may also result. Some people tether their dogs because of bad behavior. This only compounds the problem, sometimes resulting in hyperactive or aggressive behavior in addition to the original behavioral problem. These dogs need professional training, not tethering. Unfortunately, many people who tether their dogs are unaware of the cruelty they are inflicting on their pet.

Many dogs are kept tethered because their guardians did not spend the time or energy to properly train them or because they do not have the proper facilities for keeping a dog in the first place. There are even some cultures that consider tethering acceptable because they view dogs as working animals, not companions.

Thanks to the hard work, commitment and compassion of LAAS’ David Diliberto, City Attorneys Robert Ferber and Dov Lesel, and private citizen, Dianne Lawrence, there is another reason to not tether your dog in Los Angeles. IT IS ILLEGAL!

On August 3, 2005, the LA City Council passed LAAS’ tethering ban effective in the entire City of Los Angeles! Tethering your dog in the City of Los Angeles can now result in a $1,000 fine, six months in jail, or both!

If you tether your dog, please consider an alternative. If you know someone who tether's their dog, let them know about this new law. Your veterinarian, members of dog clubs and dog obedience trainers can provide the information you need to correct the behavioral problems that may have led to tethering your dog in the first place.

Please call LAAS (888-452-7381) if you would like more information on the dangers of tethering and what you can do about it.

Together we can make LA the safest City in the United States for our pets!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Catching Up To Reality

Before I arrived in Los Angeles, people told me that this city represents the “acid test” for animal welfare. LA, I was informed, is home to the most active, assertive humane community anywhere in the country.

My first posting on this Blog reproduced my opening remarks from a February 9th public meeting in North Hollywood. In those remarks I noted what I had already observed of this acidity during my brief tenure here and I encouraged activists to work together to rise above the rancor. I understand and regret that some people felt I was being too negative at a time when they felt I should simply set forth my vision and goals for Animal Services (LAAS). However, in light of e-mail debates and news articles that have emerged since then, I think I may have actually understated the situation.

A case in point is the Animal Defense League – Los Angeles (ADL-LA, or simply ADL). I have reached out to the ADL on several occasions since coming to L.A., sometimes over the objections of some who warned they cannot be reasoned with. I personally opened every door in LAAS to the ADL, as I have to all responsible activists. I have invited them to inspect our data, our shelters, and our processes. I have asked them to investigate for themselves the outrageous allegations made against LAAS employees and volunteers. In good faith, I withheld nothing from them.

Having been able to successfully work with the vast majority of activists – including some hostile ones – in other jurisdictions, I truly believed the ADL had the best interests of the animals at heart. I believed they could set aside their focus on the past and negativity to work with the larger humane community to make the present and future better for all of LA’s animals. I am disappointed to have learned otherwise, at least for the time being.

ADL, primarily in its “Stop the Killing” e-mails, has taken to treating LAAS as if there is no difference between the department we are trying to reform today and the one they have criticized for several years. As a long time animal welfare advocate and professional, I can take the criticism. I’m a big boy and I’m used to it, even if I don’t like being lied about. But I’m not sure what ADL thinks it is accomplishing by going after department staff, other City staff and department volunteers with gratuitous attacks of dubious veracity. It’s as if they can only function like a cluster bomb, spewing insult, injury and collateral damage upon anybody within range without any regard to the stated goal to stop the killing.

I want to use this space to set the record straight about a few of the inaccurate statements featured in many ADL messages.

According to ADL, I promised to stay on as Maricopa County Animal Care & Control’s Executive Director for five years. That much is true. I did not want to leave Maricopa County to move to NYC. It took New York City a year to recruit me to move there. I turned that position down several times. It was only when no one else would step up, and after many national animal welfare leaders, especially Nathan Winograd, persuaded me to take the position that I asked Maricopa County to let me do both.

Maricopa County agreed and I spent two weeks in Arizona and two weeks in New York each month for the last six months of 2003 running two of the largest animal control departments in the country simultaneously. If Maricopa County asked me to leave, as ADL alleges, why would they support sharing me with NYC during my last six months there? And why would NYC consitently try to persuade me to take the position for nearly a year if I was doing such a bad job in Arizona?

After six months of double duty, I felt confident that I had a good enough team in place in Arizona that I could comfortably take on the NYC challenge full time. And, to be quite candid, I also felt this move would help provide a better forum for raising the no-kill discussion to a place of national attention. I thought I could help more animals, and I think I did.

ADL also states that I left Maricopa “in receivership.” That ridiculous allegation demonstrates that they neither understand what receivership is, nor how government agency budgeting works.

During my final year in Maricopa, many of the life saving programs I still advocate, that had been effectively implemented there were designed to be funded from donations. Fund raising was a new concept for this government agency and these programs were instead funded for several months from the department’s regular funds. To keep these important programs going, we spent down our regularly budgeted department funds, creating a cash flow crunch for a short while. Once the controller was directed to transfer the money from the donation funds to our operational accounts we were made whole. Government agencies do not go bankrupt or go into receivership.

In fact, as director of Maricopa County's animal control program I successfully ended a decades old deficit based budgeting process with 24 cities and towns. I replaced it with a full cost recovery contract with each municipality increasing AC&C's revenue by more than $4 million annually!

When I did decide to leave Maricopa County, I left with:
1. A Chairman of the Board (of Maricopa County Supervisors) Award "in recognition of outstanding leadership as the director of Maricopa County Animal Control Services."
2. My first Life Time Achievement Award presented by In Defense of Animals "for an extraordinary life of compassion, commitment and achievement dedicated to ending animal homelessness and providing compassionate care for homeless animals." I received this award the same time my partner, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, was recognized for his groundbreaking work in Maricopa County's anti-cruelty efforts.
3. A national award for excellence from Alley Cat Allies for my work in transforming the way Maricopa County cared for feral cats, and
4. A National Association of Counties (NACo) Achievement Award for designing, developing, implementing, and managing Maricopa County's Management Institute that trained hundreds of County supervisors, middle-managers, and executives in better management practices. This Institute was sited by Governing Magazine as a significant factor in Maricopa County being recognized as the "Best Run Municipality in the United States" in 2004.

ADL recently stated that they “now know (I) was asked to leave” New York City Animal Care & Control. Let me be clear on this point. The only person to ask me to leave New York City was Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in Los Angeles. In early December, 2005, after being offered the LAAS job by Mayor Villaraigosa, I met in a closed session of the Board that oversees AC&C in NYC. I had never committed to more than two years in NYC and I advised the Board that I would not be seeking an extension of my contract because I had another opportunity I felt important to pursue.

Not wanting to leave NYC in a lurch, I recommended my friend and former colleague in Arizona and New York, Mary Martin, to replace me. If I had done such a terrible job in NYC, as the ADL alleges, and was asked to leave, then why would the Board implement my recommendation for my replacement? Why did the Chairman of the Board, who is also the City Health Commissioner for NYC, go on public record expounding the “amazing turn around in NYC” under my leadership and then follow up with a letter of recommendation? And why was I invited back to NYC on January 31st, 2006 to receive my second Lifetime Achievement Award specifically for my work in NYC at an event attended by AC&C Board of Directors and Department of Health officials?

My decision to leave NYC was another strategic decision on my part designed to help promote the no-kill message into a national dialogue. NYC and LA now have two of the strongest no-kill voices in the nation running the two highest profile animal control programs in the United States!

Unable to appreciate the big picture, ADL recently fixated on the notion that there must be something amiss because I suggested a five-year plan to achieve no-kill while we are already more than two years into the five-year time period former Mayor Hahn promised for achieving no-kill.

In addition to my experience as an animal control director and pastor, I also have experience in organizational development and strategic planning. Five-year plans are a well-known and acceptable means for moving an organization forward. Five-year plans provide management time to assess the trends and successes of programs, and to make appropriate adjustments. Almost anyone can create an Olympic "no-kill moment,” especially in smaller, easier to manage communities. But I am interested in developing long term, sustainable no-kill programs for large communities like L.A., NYC, and Arizona to serve as examples to both large and small communities across the United States. To establish credibility, I have always under promised and over delivered.

For instance, I implemented a five-year plan in Maricopa County and New York City. Two years into both plans we had already achieved many of our five-year goals. I believe I left both communities in good shape and good hands. I am proud of the work my successors are doing, and I do not think it reflects poorly on my tenure. There was, and is, continuity of leadership and philosophy. If the trends established during my tenure in NYC continue, NYC is well within range of achieving no-kill within the next couple of years.

Before leaving NYC, I requested a City audit of the department for two reasons: 1) To highlight the significant progress since the last scathing audit conducted before my tenure there, and 2) to chronicle how woefully under funded AC&C is in NYC and to call attention to what happens when a City does that year after year. In point of fact, NYC is currently using my success in NYC as a reason to reduce the budget. That is outrageous and I am hoping NYC residents will let the Department of Health know how they feel about this tactic. Will some try to use the NYC audit to embarrass me? Quite frankly, I don't care, if it results in highlighting the critical need for more adequate funding for that department!

As director of both agencies I take full responsibility for any audit findings on my watch. But, despite any findings good or bad, this much is sure, I left both organizations much more sound than they were when I arrived.

Regarding Mayor Hahn’s five-year no-kill goal, I cannot speak for what went on in L.A. before I arrived. However, I can say that there was no actual no-kill plan in place when I arrived. I am beginning to build one now using trends established over the past five years. I am being conservative when I say it could take five years to fully implement our stepped-up program. It is always my intention and practice to move much more quickly than stated goals.

In fact, already in January ‘06, LAAS achieved a 25% decrease in euthanasia compared to January ’05. In February, we achieved a 33% decrease in euthanasia compared to February ’05. We are already achieving significant results.

Finally, the ADL complains that the statistics in Maricopa County and New York City during my tenure were not all that good. I’m not sure where the ADL gets their numbers, but the official statistics from both communities demonstrate significant progress. In NYC we achieved 125% increase in adoptions (and this does not include nearly 7,000 New Hope placements) and a 30% decrease in euthanasia. Maricopa County became the number one pet adoption agency in the world with nearly 22,000 adoptions annually during my time there, and the euthanasia rate fell to a 27-year low.

Maricopa County is one of the fastest growing communities in the United States. It is larger than 17 states, home to 24 cities and towns. Its population was growing at a rate of 4% annually while I was there. That represented a community the size of Berkeley moving into greater Phoenix every year. Despite this huge influx of pets and people, Maricopa County saw a decline in the number of animals euthanized during my tenure from 22 per 1000 residents to 9 per 1000! The national average at that time was 17.

With respect to NYC, Animal People Newspaper reported that “For most cities in most parts of the U.S. 5.0 is for all practical purposes the threshold of achieving no-kill animal control, as on average about five animals per 1,000 humans will be too severely injured, ill, or dangerous to save. New York City is unique in having by far the highest human population density in the U.S., with only about half the U.S. per capita rate of pet keeping. This reflects the predominance of high-rise apartment house living.

The no-kill threshold for New York City is accordingly about 2.5--and the city is almost there, having cut shelter killing almost in half during the 18-month tenure of current Center for Animal Care & Control director Ed Boks.

San Francisco, a distant second in human population density, crossed the no-kill threshold in 1994, and continues to reduce shelter killing by finding ways to save ever more of the animals who would have no chance elsewhere due to lack of resources for treatment and rehabilitation.

At the present rate of New York City progress, however, New York could become the most successful U.S. city at saving animals' lives in one more year--or less.”
end quote.

These numbers tell a story. They say loudly and clearly that I don’t have to apologize to the ADL or anyone else for the work I do. I work in constant collaboration with hard-working department staffers, volunteers, rescuers and the animal-loving public. We’re all striving to do better for the animals, and we will continue to do so every day from now on.

But what may be more important is how grossly inaccurate the ADL has been in assessing the work of LAAS staff and volunteers over the past five years.

How exactly does LA compare to other CA communities and NYC?
The year denotes the census year:

San Francisco 2.5 2004
New York City 2.6 2005
Los Angeles 5.2 2004 LAAS numbers based on 3.9 million population
San Diego 5.9 2004
SF Bay area 7.1 2003
Silicon Valley 8.5 2003
Los Angeles 8.7 2003 City and County Combined

Sacramento 13.4 2002
Lodi, CA 13.9 2002
Today's National Average 15.5
San Bernardino 18.5 2002
Riverside, CA 24.3 2002
Modesto 30.5 2004
Victorville, CA 28.6 2002
Bakersfield, CA 33.3 2003
Fresno, CA 80.0 2002

Visalia, CA 81.1 2002

What concerns me, as the new guy on the block, is why nobody seems aware of the fact that over the last five years LAAS reduced dog and cat euthanasia 45.7%. LAAS significantly reduced dog and cat euthanasia every year since 2002 (17.7%); 2003 (10.3%); 2004 (17.3%); and 2005 (11.1%). It should be noted that the smallest improvement years, as significant as they were, were while the ADL was most vehement in their attacks against LAAS. What could have been achieved with greater cooperation?

I am certainly not suggesting that it is time to rest on our laurels or that we should be content with 5.2 (which represents 20,561 dogs and cats in 2005). Quite the contrary! But these numbers do suggest we are winning the war against pet euthanasia and that now is the time to press the battle to the gate!

But the war is not with LAAS staff and volunteers, as the ADL suggests. That is to miss the point altogether and to prolong the war at the expense of the animals. The battle is against community wide ignorance and complacency. The only way LA can win this battle is by our working together. The animals deserve that; LA deserves that, and I’m hoping the ADL will finally acknowledge that and decide to help LAAS help LA’s animals!