Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Actors and Others Ignore the Obvious

A recent op-ed in the LA Daily News by Sue Taylor of Actors and Others for Animals is perplexing in its blanket criticisms of LA Animal Services.

Ms. Taylor calls adopting animals “irrelevant” to the City’s mission to end euthanasia as a means of controlling pet overpopulation. This is incomprehensible from any reasonable perspective. She then attempts to conjure up the image of the “Titanic” as a metaphor for the state of LA Animal Services, ignoring the fact that the City’s euthanasia rate for dogs and cats shows one of the sharpest declines of any major City in the US, 50% over the past six years! And in a recent comparison study of many US communities, LA City placed fifth in the nation, just behind the much praised San Francisco!

While Ms. Taylor admits the “increased adoption and reduced euthanasia numbers look encouraging” she then takes great pains to disparage these extraordinary results.

“Most days,” she says, “only one animal-control officer is in the field per shelter district, and not picking up strays and loose running dogs.”

Animal Control Officers do in fact pick up lost and homeless dogs, as well as investigate animal cruelty and neglect, and much more. In fact, rarely is a district found with only one officer on duty during the day. While it may happen on occasion due to illness or injuries, this is an anomaly that we are working diligently to remedy.

Ms. Taylor is exaggerating when she states “Shelters don't respond to the majority of calls for assistance” such as when “someone reports a dog that has clearly been abandoned in a park or other public place.” In fact, abandonment calls are a priority and we try to respond to them as we do to all calls. At some times we do better than at others, but we’re always striving to improve.

Ms. Taylor then finds fault with a department policy, originally authored by the Animal Services Commission, to “discourage” an owner attempting to turn in a pet. While “discourage” is a strong word, the department does believe in helping owners find alternative solutions to resolve pet problems in the hope of making pet relinquishment a last resort - as it should be. Most pet guardians appreciate the information we provide.

Incidentally, after criticizing the department for discouraging owner relinquishment, she then praises rescue organizations for doing the same thing, stating that their “efforts are a good thing… attempting to help direct owner-relinquished pets to never reach the shelters.” Commendable indeed; but why does Ms. Taylor find it less commendable when LA Animal Services attempts to offer alternative life-saving solutions to relinquishment?

Ms. Taylor then accuses Animal Services of deliberately putting aggressive dogs “in kennel runs with frightened, docile animals” She claims, “this happens so frequently that the department's medical expenditures have skyrocketed in recent years from sewing up helpless dogs.”

It is pure fiction to allege that “skyrocketing” medical expenditures can be attributed to a proliferation of kennel injuries. The department does have increased medical expenditures, but they actually reflect the department’s growing commitment to providing the best care possible to animals in our shelters.

Ms. Taylor goes on to say, “The biggest release valve for reducing shelter overpopulation - and the primary reason for the adoption increases and euthanasia-rate drops - are the rescue organizations that take hundreds of dogs and cats from shelters, then feed, house and attempt to place the animals.”

She is partly correct. LA Animal Services has always acknowledged the extraordinary efforts of our over 120 New Hope partners to save lives. Animal Services is so committed to their efforts that we provide them with 24 hour/seven-day-a-week access to our Centers so they can come in at any time to evaluate animals in need. We have New Hope Coordinators in each Center who serve as “personal shoppers” for our partners alerting them to animals they may be interested in. We provide all animals from our Green and Red Alert lists at no cost to our New Hope partners and we pay for the spay/neuter surgery, microchip, vaccinations, and medical care up until the time of release (another reason for increased medical expenditures).

What other shelter system works so hard to help their partner organizations save lives? We will even transport animals when necessary to assist our partners. These efforts result in nearly 6,000 dogs and cats placed by our New Hope partners each year. This is in addition to the over 15,000 adoptions LA Animal Services facilitates directly and the nearly 4,500 lost pets returned to their frantic owners by the department each year.

Ms. Taylor, in a desperate attempt to create her own reality, resorts to reverse psychology, stating, “In the parallel universe of public relations, where Boks and Villaraigosa apparently reside, everything is swell and getting better all the time. But the city of Los Angeles has in no way solved its pet overpopulation problem.”

True, we haven’t solved it, but here Ms. Taylor overlooks the biggest contribution the City of Los Angeles has made to help solve the pet overpopulation problem. That would be the $1.2 million annual commitment to provide spay/neuter services to the pets of our community’s needy pet guardians, the ongoing creation of seven spay/neuter clinics, the sponsoring of AB 1634 (Levine) and a local spay/neuter ordinance. No other city in the United States has done as much on as many fronts to address the pet overpopulation problem. Ms. Taylor herself has worked closely with us on this issue, and we thank her.

So, Ms. Taylor appears to ignore all the hard work that has been done over the past five years, instead encouraging the humane community and the department to continue to throw stones at each other. (Unfortunately that is something “humane” Angelenos have seemed more than ready to do over the years.) However, despite Ms. Taylor’s assertions, the real world facts are promising. Six years ago, LA was killing nearly 35,000 dogs and cats. (Ten years ago it was 50,000 or more.) The number over the past twelve months is 16,500. Despite the challenges we continue to face, is it really fair to say that things are not getting better?

Take a look at this website to see exactly how well the City of Los Angeles is doing compared to the rest of the nation: http://www.laanimalservices.com/PDF/reports/2007%20National%20Stats%20direct%20comparison.pdf