The following are Ed Boks' comments to the Public Safety Committee on Monday, April 17, 2006:
Good Morning Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee,
I could easily begin this address on the state of Animal Services in Los Angeles by paraphrasing Charles Dickens, who said we live in the best of times and the worst of times.
Beginning in July of this year the City plans to open one new state of the art Animal Care Center every month for six consecutive months. These new Animal Care Centers clearly demonstrate the City’s commitment to animal welfare in Los Angeles. They will forever end the “dog pound” image of yesteryear as they provide every section of Los Angeles with a pleasant, green, humane Community Animal Care Center where we will be able to educate residents of all ages on the intrinsic value and benefits of the human/animal bond through a variety of interactive programs. These Centers will also serve as “the” pet Adoption Centers of choice for all Angelinos as well as for residents in surrounding communities.
I want to thank both the Mayor’s Office and the CAO for working so closely with Animal Services to help ensure we have an adequate budget to operate our new Animal Care Centers and Spay/Neuter Clinics in a manner that will meet community expectations. The new Animal Care Centers will require the hiring over 161 new employees to handle the over 300% increase in workload.
This is an unprecedented, yet appropriate, rate of Departmental growth in response to our community’s growing service delivery expectations. Meeting this growing service demand will be difficult. We have two spay/neuter clinics that have been sitting idle for years; soon we will have seven clinics and eventually eight that we want to see fully functional. We are now working closely with the Mayor’s Office, the CAO, Personnel, the Unions and the community to help address this most critical challenge.
Consistent with our new Animal Care Centers and enhanced service delivery programs, Animal Services has renewed its commitment to our community’s expectation to end euthanasia as a means to control pet overpopulation. A goal that some may still think impossible, not unlike what many people must have thought about putting a man on the moon in the 1960s. As a result of renewing this goal, animal welfare communities across the United State are now watching what we do here in Los Angeles; and none more closely than our own.
Like the early space program Animal Services may experience some unfortunate situations, errors in judgement and some confusion over consistent implementation of new policies and programs in all our locations. Change is difficult. Some find change coming too fast, others find it coming too slow. Some may point to isolated situations as evidence that nothing is changing at all. I contend they are evidence of substantive changes and growing pains.
I will not minimize our shortcomings or mistakes. We readily admit them. Every allegation against Animal Services is thoroughly investigated, and with City Attorney approval, we hope to post the results of investigations on our website for all to see. We make no claim to be perfect. Far from it! It is my hope that as we freely identify our shortcomings and needs the community will respond with the same compassion they demand of us, and will choose to help us, not condemn us.
Achieving No-Kill is not an easy task. Animal Services is an organization learning to walk and chew gum at the same time. We are developing programs and policies that are both tactical and strategic, that deal with both animal care and animal control.
Our greatest needs are sometimes revealed by an unfortunate incident or a misunderstanding about an incident. We use these opportunities to review our systems and processes to discover how and why errors occur in an effort to ensure the same mistakes are not repeated. We attempt to correct the problems we encounter at their source; we want to address the causes, but we will not ignore the symptoms.
Some in the community are amazed at the rate of change Animal Services has experienced in so short a time frame, others are unsatisfied and impatient. Some understand the difficulties we have to overcome, while others may have unrealistic expectations. Animal Services may never be able to please everyone all the time. But we are pleasing more and more people every day. We are focused on systemic changes that mitigate customer dissatisfaction and frustration while providing better treatment and conditions for our animals.
During the first 100 days of this year we developed a new mission, vision and set of organizational values. We are reviewing policies and protocols and developing and implementing new programs designed to reduce euthanasia and increase adoptions.
As we deal with each tactical “crisis” that comes our way we are determined to remain focused on our strategic No-Kill goal. As we progress, we will eventually transition out of the crisis management mode that has stymied this department for so many years and shift into more effectively addressing the root causes of pet overpopulation and irresponsible pet ownership. These combined problems are at the root of why we are unable to achieve No-Kill immediately.
Some will ask if No-Kill is an achievable goal. Well, the evidence suggests that Animal Services is at least moving in the right direction. During the first quarter of 2006 Dog and Cat Adoptions were up 9.36% compared to the first quarter of 2005. That represents 3,248 dogs and cats placed into loving homes in three months. That is the highest first quarter adoption rate ever recorded by Animal Services.
Dog and Cat Euthanasia was down 37% compared to the same quarter last year. That represents 2,091 euthanasias in three months. Too many to be sure, but it is still the lowest quarterly euthanasia rate ever recorded in Los Angeles.
Part of this success is due to the our aggressive spay/neuter programs including Animal Services’ spay/neuter voucher programs that pre-existed my tenure. We recently reorganized all our spay/neuter efforts under the program name The Big Fix, a name that recognizes that spay/neuter programs are the only way to truly and finally “fix” the vexing problems arising from pet overpopulation. The brand name “Big Fix” was coined by Best Friends Animal Society in Utah, and we use it with their kind permission.
As a result of our community’s combined spay/neuter efforts, Dog and Cat Intakes were down nearly 14% during the last quarter compared to the same quarter in 05! Animal Services has experienced a 24% decrease in intakes over the past five years.
This decrease is a direct result of the City’s Council commitment of $1 million annually to our spay/neuter programs. Money being well spent as Animal Services has seen a 35% increase in our voucher subsidized spay/neuter surgeries so far in Fiscal Year 06 compared to the same time period in Fiscal Year 05. We have also seen a 50% increase in Feral Cat surgeries during this same time frame.
Animal Services’ is also thankful for the incredible efforts of the Amanda Foundation, the Sam Simon Foundation, Best Friends’ Catnippers, The Feral Cat Coalition, the ABC Spay/Neuter Clinic, and so many more! The tens of thousands of surgeries occurring each year over the last several years by so many wonderful organizations have been instrumental in the declining intake and kill rates in the City of Los Angeles.
Another reason for the lower euthanasia rate this past quarter is a new program Animal Services implemented called Plus One/Minus One. This program compares the adoptions and euthanasia rates of dogs and cats on a day-to-day basis to last year; comparing the first Monday of March 05 to the first Monday of March 06, the first Tuesday of March 05 to the first Tuesday of March 06, etc.Plus One/Minus One is designed to encourage staff, volunteers, and partners to place more animals and kill fewer animals each day compared to the same day one year previous.
The Plus One/Minus One program is a motivational and productivity tool that works on a day to day level. Clearly, sustaining these results over time is the bigger challenge. That is why Animal Services is reaching out to partner with every animal welfare organization and other City Departments in an unprecedented way.
Another reason for our declining euthanasia rate is that Animal Services has one of the highest success rates in the country for returning lost pets to their frantic owners, a rate four times higher than other large cities. Animal Services returns over 4,500 lost dogs and cats to their grateful owners each year. This is due largely to our extensive microchip program, and to a lesser extent to our dog license program, which has a long way to go before it will achieve the market penetration required to make it a fully effective animal management tool.
Animal Services recently developed a partnership with the Department of Water and Power to help identify households with aggressive, unlicensed dogs. DWP tracks this information to help protect their meter readers. Sharing this information with Animal Services makes good public safety sense. I want to thank my excellent Board of Animal Services Commissioners for this and so many other great ideas.
Animal Services is also coordinating with other City Departments and community organizations on a program that will effectively address our community’s most troubled neighborhoods, areas where dogs run at large and sometimes in packs. I will keep the Committee informed as the plans for this program are formalized.
Another reason for the reduced euthanasia rate during the past 100 days is that Animal Services doubled its off-site adoption and special event efforts resulting in 661 adoptions compared to 224 during the same time frame last year. We increased our off site adoption events from 15 to 29 and we are continually looking for new venues to increase our off site adoption efforts even further. We recently developed another powerful partnership with the Department of Recreation and Parks so that we will now be working more closely together on more pet adoption events in our City’s parks!
I also want to thank Councilman Herb Wesson for his Pet of the Month Program that highlights Animal Services’ animals at City Council Meetings. This program is another demonstration of the City Council’s support of Animal Services’ efforts to increase adoptions and reduce euthanasia. Every animal featured at a City Council meeting is now in a loving home! This program draws tremendous attention to the quality animals available at Animal Services as it challenges the community to save a life and adopt a pet.
As Animal Services continues to respond to the needs, concerns, complaints, and compliments of the community we serve, we are determined to keep our eye on the ball! Will Animal Services continue to be challenged with our own shortcomings? Yes, we see this nearly every day. People may be frustrated with what they perceive to be the slowness of our progress. But it took Los Angeles a long time to get into its current situation and it will take at least a little time to turn this situation around.
But we are turning it around. Over the past five years, under four different General Managers and despite well-publicized occasional friction between the department and its critics in the community, Animal Services reduced dog and cat euthanasia 46%. Animal Services significantly reduced dog and cat euthanasia every year since 2002 (18%); 2003 (10%); 2004 (17%); and 2005 (11%). And with a 37% decrease in the first quarter of 06, we are demonstrating that Animal Services is doing everything we can to step up the pace.
But it is important to understand that Animal Services cannot do this alone. We need the help of the entire community. Animal Services invites our community’s concerned residents to help make Los Angeles a No-Kill City by joining Animal Services’ Volunteer Program, Foster Care Program, or our Mobile Adoption Program.
I also invite all active animal rescue organizations to directly partner with Animal Services in our soon to be launched New Hope program, a program designed to make it as easy as possible to release animals to partnering organizations. The program is being officially unveiled at a public meeting in Studio City on April 25th.
Working together as a community we can make Los Angeles the safest city in the United States for our pets and our people. Animal Services is deeply committed to achieving the ultimate goal of ending institutional euthanasia as a method for controlling pet overpopulation! Many individuals and groups have already stepped up to help Animal Services and I look forward to working with all concerned members of the community toward that end. I especially want to thank this Committee for your continued support! Thank you.