Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Compassion: Our Last Great Hope

I was recently asked what my last Blog about "compassion" has to do with fulfilling Animal Services' mission to "promote and protect the health, safety and welfare of animals and people in the City of Los Angeles."

I was surprised when this seemingly compassionate person stated she was not comfortable with the General Manager of LA Animal Services espousing "religion" to express the idea of enlarging the circle of compassion to include all species, especially our companion animals and local wildlife.

Its interesting that the word "religion" means to "reconnect" as in fixing something that is broken. One does not need to be religious to want to fix a broken system. Clearly our animal welfare community is broken, and as the renowned Veterinarian/Philosopher Leo K. Bustad demonstrated throughout his life and teachings, "Compassion is our last great Hope".

Finding fault with compassion, however it is expressed, is serious evidence of a broken society for all the reasons cited in my last Blog.

This person's misguided concern over how or where compassion is discussed reminded me of an excerpt from "The Velveteen Rabbit", when the Rabbit asked the Skin Horse what it means to be "Real". The Skin Horse responded:

"Real isn't how you are made. It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real... It doesn't happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

To people who don't understand the importance of Compassion, everything must appear ugly, which probably explains why they can only espouse ugliness and intollerance in all their discourse.

I'm convinced most Angelinos are persuaded by better angels - after all, (forgive the religous reference), we are the City of Angels...

The Good News is, we are not unique, as this recent article in Time Magazine indicates:,8599,1573345,00.html?cnn=yes

According to David Favre, a professor at the Michigan State University College of Law, who has studied animal rights laws for 20 years, what we are experiencing in Los Angeles is a "grass roots movement" of compassion occuring across the United States - from a concern for feral cats, spaying and neutering, and local shelters. "It is not unlike the environmental movement when I was in law school. Animal welfare is a growing social interest", explains Favre.

Every movement has started with a small group of enlightened individuals calling attention to an injustice. When these people expressed a valid concern, it would touch the hearts and compassion of others and a movement would grow until it reached a tipping point. Once a movement hit a tipping point, and more people were aware of an injustice than those who were not, it was then time to shift gears and focus attention on solving the problem.

We get it. Killing animals is bad. Now lets work together to figure out real solutions to end it. We have passed the "tipping point" in Los Angeles. Unlike so many communities in the United States, we have a Mayor, a City Council, an Animal Services Commission and a General Manager who all champion this noble goal and are calling upon the entire community to rally together until it is finally achieved. There is no going back. No-Kill in LA is inevitable.

Curiously, the most vocal in calling attention to the "catch and kill" injustice practiced by our community, now refuse, when the opportunity for success is greatest, to devote their resources and energy to actually achieving "no-kill".

With the American Revolution as a rare exception, it seems most revolutionaries find it easier to continue casting stones after winning the day than they do stopping to gather stones together. (Is this a religious reference or a Pete Seeger song popularized by the Byrds?) Why do some only see ugliness and refuse to understand that this is the time they have been waiting for? Why do they argue while animals are still dying, when together we could end it quicker!

The City of Los Angeles has established a challenging goal - to make Los Angeles the first major "no-kill" city in the United States. We know that each year millions of lost and homeless pets are euthanized in the United States for no other reason than there are not enough loving homes for them. Los Angeles Animal Services is committed to ending this barbaric practice once and for all.

This is not a new goal. Los Angeles has made the greatest progress towards achieving No-Kill when compared to any other community in the United States by reducing euthanasia 50% over the past 5 years and another 14.6% in 2006 in the case of our canine friends! Animal Services experienced nearly a 70% live release rate for dogs in 2006! (A 2006 Annual Report is forthcoming and will include data on all species and programs.)

To achieve "no-kill", Animal Services has and will continue to initiate innovative and progressive programs. Not the least of which is the opening of six new, state of the art Animal Care Centers. These centers look more like botanical gardens than animal shelters and will be the pride of Los Angeles as they set the gold standard for municipal animal shelters. Animal Services is already the largest animal rescue and pet adoption agency in California, and these new shelters will greatly increase the number of pets placed into loving homes.

With the new Centers we are also opening six new state of the art spay/neuter clinics. A year ago, these clinics were not even scheduled to open until 2008 at the earliest. Today, they are on the fast track to completion and will all be open before this summer. Each clinic is designed to surgically alter 20,000 pets annually. With Animal Services altering 120,000 pets each year, Los Angeles will quickly see a reduction in the number of lost and homeless pets coming into our shelters. This decrease in the number of unwanted pets in Los Angeles will allow us to provide even greater care to the animals still finding their way into our new Care Centers.

Animal Services is an all inclusive organization willing to work and partner with any organization or person wanting to make a constructive difference. We currently partner with over 70 animal welfare organizations in the greater LA area in a program called "New Hope". This program truly offers new hope to nearly 7,000 animals that would have had no hope at all without the help of these great organizations.

Beginning in 2006, Animal Services made thousands of animals available to our New Hope Partners at no cost, including free spay/neuter surgery, free vaccinations and medical care up until the time of release (and sometimes afterwards) and free microchips. Partners are provided 24/7 access to the Centers to evaluate and work with the animals, and even have a "personal shopper" in each Center who alerts them to animals they are interested in helping.

Animal Services' Big Fix Program provides spay/neuter services to our community's most needy pet owners to ensure no pet is left unaltered just because the owner can't afford the pet's surgery. Feral cats are also provided spay/neuter through Operation FELIX (Feral Education and Love Instead of X-termination).

Our STAR (Special Treatment And Recovery) Program is designed to help the hundreds of animals rescued by Animal Services who are sick, injured, abused, or neglected. These animals would have been euthanized if not for this life saving program!

Animal Services' Bottle Baby Program is designed to provide bottle feeding to the hundreds of orphaned neonate puppies and kittens who are brought into Animal Services each year. Before this program was established these animals had no chance at survival. We are also in the process of finalizing our Evidence Animal Foster Program which will for the first time permit evidence animals (victims of cruelty crimes) to be placed in the homes and care of compassionate volunteers so they don't languish in a shelter for months or longer while the case is being adjudicated. Today Animal Services' volunteers and staff provide Foster Homes to orphaned neonates, sick, injured, abused and neglected animals relieving them of the trauma of long term shelter confinement and thus making room for other animals to have longer periods of time to be adopted.

Animal Services is about more than just pets, we are about people too. In 2007 we will launch our Teach Love and Compassion (TLC) Program. This program is designed to assist "at risk" kids by providing them an opportunity to care for "at risk" animals. Many of our community's kids are all too aware of the harsh realities of abuse or neglect, and many know what it means to have a loving foster home to go to. TLC will enlarge the circle of compassion by allowing these kids to care for lost and homeless pets that have been abused, neglected, and are in need of foster care.

Later this program will be expanded to include our community's senior citizens and others making our Animal Care Centers true community centers in every sense of the word, and all rotating around LA's love for it's lost and homeless pets!

This is just a sampling of the programs of LA Animal Services, with many more to come. For more information about LA Animal Services and how you can help, visit

2007 is a golden opportunity for LA to come together as a community to maximize all our efforts and resources to expand the circle of compassion to effectively help our community's lost and homeless animals and finally achieve No-Kill for all the dogs, cats, rabbits, pocket pets, wildlife, farm animals and exotics who come through the doors of Animal Services. I'm hoping you will decide to be part of the solution by helping Animal Services help the animals in our care.

Compassion is our last great hope!