Monday, December 24, 2007


This is the fifth posting in a series of messages responding to the recommendations of the "No-Kill Equation". The “No-Kill Equation” is comprised of ten commonsense, long-standing practices embraced and implemented by LA Animal Services with remarkable success.

An animal advocate in our community submitted an analysis comparing the "No-Kill Equation" to LA's programs and practices. Today’s message focuses on the fifth recommendation of the “No-Kill Equation,” which is Comprehensive Adoption Programs.

The Ten "No-Kill Equation" Recommendations are:
1. Feral Cat TNR Program – (Responded December 11th)
2. High Volume/Low-Cost Spay/Neuter (Responded December 16th)
3. Rescue Groups (Responded December 18th)
4. Foster Care (Responded December 21st)
5. Comprehensive Adoption Program
6. Pet Retention
7. Medical and Behavioral Rehabilitation
8. Public Relations/Community Involvement
9. Volunteers
10. A Compassionate Director

The “No-Kill Equation” is in this blue font.

The analysis is in this black italic font.

My concluding comments are in this font.

V. Comprehensive Adoption Programs
Adoptions are vital to an agency’s lifesaving mission. The quantity and quality of shelter adoptions is in shelter management’s hands, making lifesaving a direct function of shelter policies and practice.

As one commentator put it, “if each pet lives 10 years, on average, and the number of homes grows at the same rate that homes are lost through deaths and other attrition, then replacement homes would become available each year for more than twice as many dog and slightly more cats than enter shelters. Since the inventory of pet-owning homes is growing, not just holding even, adoption could in theory replace all population control killing right now–if the animals and potential adopters were better introduced.”

In fact, studies show people get their dogs from shelters only 15% of the time overall, and less than 10% of the time for cats. If shelters better promoted their animals and had adoption programs responsive to the needs of the community, they could increase the number of homes available and replace population control killing with adoptions. In other words, shelter killing is more a function of market share, than “public irresponsibility.” Contrary to conventional wisdom, shelters can adopt their way out of killing.

LA Animal Services' animal care centers have always strived to increase adoptions and have done so every consecutive year for the past six years. As the new and expanded facilities continue to open as targeted during 2008, they will be among the most inviting animal adoption environments in the nation. Even prior to the opening of all of the new or expanded, environmentally-sustainable facilities, the work of dedicated shelter staff and volunteers working in the Department’s existing shelters and at mobile adoption events have made it possible for LA Animal Services to adopt out or release to rescuers more animals than any other municipal shelter system in the U.S in 2007.

LA Animal Services has operated mobile adoption events since the late 1990s and continues to hold five to ten or more such events every month in locations all around Los Angeles, in addition to speaking engagements and information distribution regarding adoption at community events. Department volunteers work with staff to accomplish these activities and also engage in follow-up marketing of the animals that are not adopted from the mobile events. The Department’s goal is to substantially increase the number of these mobile adoptions and outreach efforts in the coming years.

While the "No Kill Equation" asserts a largely unsubstantiated theory (especially in large public shelter systems) that “shelters can adopt their way out of killing,” the reality is that as long as people fail or refuse to spay and neuter their pets, treat their pets as disposable and relinquish them to shelters or abandon them in the streets, favor specific purebred animals over mixed breeds and thus continue to buy animals from breeders and pet stores, there will always tend to be more pets than adoptive homes to care for them.

The "No Kill Equation" chooses to blame shelters and their directors for the fact that animals show up in shelters, are not always adopted, and sometimes are euthanized. This is comparable to excoriating a doctor for the fact that he or she has patients. To be sure, the doctor can and should be held accountable for how he treats those patients once they arrive, but it's not his or her fault that the patient got sick or injured in the first place.

A variety of factors come into play and, yes, one of them is irresponsible pet guardianship. Some guardians simply refuse to have their animals sterilized and let them run loose, where they can breed in an uncontrolled manner. Others willfully breed their animals thinking they can make a few bucks selling puppies and kittens. Shelter directors and the entities that employ them can, and have, used every method available to them to try and persuade people to behave otherwise, but some will never change. To insist otherwise is to be naïve and counterproductive.

That is why the push for No-Kill must include focus on all the factors and influences that contribute to the flow of homeless animals into the shelters, from the need for more spay/neuter, to backyard breeding and puppy mills, to dog fighting and more. If we don't include these as part of our collective focus, we'll find ourselves perpetually frustrated by what seems like an inability to truly get to the root of the problems.

To achieve No-Kill requires communities to both stem pet overpopulation and build robust pet adoption programs. It is not either/or, it is decidedly both. I have managed the three largest pet adoption agencies in the United States, and I can assure you that the "Equation's" contention that shelters can "adopt their way out of the killing" reveals only a naïveté. To focus only on pet adoption is like running on a treadmill expecting foolishly to reach some distant destination.

Indeed, tactical programs (like Adoption and New Hope) are important, but without strategic programs (like Big Fix, FELIX, Safety Net, and legislation like AB 1634) shelters are doomed to be gathering places for our communities' lost and unwanted pets. We must rise above the simplistic solutions of the so-called "No-Kill Equation" and implement multi-focused strategies to effectively end pet euthanasia as a method of pet overpopulation control.