This is the seventh posting in a series of messages responding to the recommendations of a so-called "No-Kill Equation". The “No-Kill Equation” is comprised of ten commonsense, long-standing practices embraced and implemented by LA Animal Services with remarkable results.
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 seventh recommendation of the “No-Kill Equation,” which is Medical and Behavioral Rehabilitation.
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 (Responded December 24th)
6. Pet Retention (Responded December 26th)
7. Medical and Behavioral Rehabilitation
8. Public Relations/Community Involvement
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.
VII. Medical and Behavior Rehabilitation
A shelter begins helping treatable animals by closely analyzing statistics. How many animals entering a shelter are treatable? What types of injuries and illnesses are most common? The answers to these questions will determine what types of rehabilitation programs are needed and how to effectively allocate resources. For example, one community may have many underage kittens in its shelters. Another may have substantial numbers of cats with upper respiratory infections, or dogs with kennel cough. Yet another may find that a large portion of treatables are dogs with behavior problems. Each will need a different lifesaving program.
These can include creating a fund dedicated solely to medical and behavioral rehabilitation. Such a fund lets the public direct their donations and allows a shelter to demonstrate what they are doing to help treatables. In addition, the shelter can establish relationships to have local veterinarians come to the shelter to do rotations. These veterinarians can supplement the work of a staff veterinarian and veterinary technicians and help diagnose animals, give vaccinations, and administer medication and treatment.
A relationship with a veterinary college can allow veterinary students to volunteer at the shelter on a regular basis, providing the students with real life on-the-job training, while shelter animals receive high-quality care under the direction of the veterinary college faculty. Finally, it is impossible to overstate the importance of a foster program for underaged kittens and puppies, undersocialized animals, and those recovering from medical treatment.
LA Animal Services has long provided in-house and contract medical services to the animals in its care. Its new facilities feature modern, fully-equipped medical clinics and medical wards and the Department is reinvigorating its in-house veterinary team with compassionate, highly-qualified veterinary professionals. These efforts will substantially expand its ability to provide a full range of medical services, including emergency care, surgeries and disease control programs.
By the end of fiscal year 2008, there will be seven such clinics in the system, staffed by a total of at least seven veterinarians and over two dozen veterinary technicians (most of whom are fully-accredited veterinarians in other countries seeking the same status here while they work for the Department). Additionally, the Department routinely contracts with dozens of outside veterinarians to provide both preventive and remedial care for thousands of animals a year.
The Department has established a relationship with Los Angeles Pierce College to provide internship opportunities for pre-veterinary students and is negotiating with Western University veterinary school to create a formal internship program that will augment care in the shelters and introduce future veterinarians to the practice of shelter medicine.
Since 1987, the Department has maintained the Animal Welfare Trust Fund to be used to underwrite medical expenses for animals requiring special treatment. The Department has established a network of professional behavioral trainers to work on a voluntary basis with dogs who are nervous or scared and can mistakenly appear aggressive when entering unfamiliar shelters, to ease their stay and enhance their adoptability. Scheduled sessions are held at various animal care centers along with individualized training programs for specific animals on an ad hoc basis.
LA Animal Services is a data-driven department. Data creates the link between assessment, planning, and results. Data-driven animal care and control agencies design targeted programs based on their shelter intake data. For example, in LA, data is used to develop and implement a multi-pronged sterilization program to ensure adopted shelter animals are sterilized prior to release, free or low-cost spay/neutering services are available for the pets of our needy, senior and disabled populations, and that cat specific sterilization programs are accessible.
In the drive to achieve No-Kill there are two commonly recognized hurdles to clear. A community’s progress towards No-Kill will usually stall at the first hurdle which is typically found when its pet euthanasia rate is reduced to between 12 and 10 shelter killings per 1000 human residents annually (12.5 is the current national average). Once a community achieves this rate, further significant reductions are stalled and require the implementation of aggressive spay/neuter programs to achieve further euthanasia reduction goals. With effective, targeted spay/neuter programs, progress to the second hurdle can be fairly quick.
The first hurdle becomes apparent after a community has successfully persuaded all the people who are likely to fix their pets to do so. The challenge then is to persuade the more difficult populations, which include the poor, the elderly on fixed income, individuals with negative attitudes about spay/neuter, people who speak languages other than English, and those who live in relatively remote areas.
To break through this first barrier, LA Animal Services developed free and low-cost spay/neuter programs for our community’s needy pet guardians, and free spay/neuter for the pets of our low income senior citizens and disabled residents, as well as cat specific spay/neuter programs. These programs account for over 45,000 spay/neuter surgeries annually.
Animal People magazine conducted a survey in 1994 that found transportation problems represent 40% of the total reasons why pets are not fixed, equal to monetary considerations. This data suggests that providing spay/neuter transportation is an often overlooked strategy to a community’s breaking through the 10 shelter killings per 1,000 humans barrier. LA Animal Services has used this data to provide over 12,000 mobile spay/neuter surgeries annually throughout the City’s underserved areas by partnering with the Amanda and Sam Simon Foundations.
The second hurdle in the drive to achieve No-Kill has been characterized by Peter Marsh, (founder of Solutions to Overpopulation of Pets - STOP), as “the wall”. Few communities have been able to break through "the wall". A community hits “the wall” when it reduces its pet euthanasia rate to between five and 2.5 shelter killings per 1000 human residents annually (LA City is at 4.3 as of June 07). Hitting “the wall” tells a community that it has come to the point where most of the animals dying in its shelters are irremediably suffering due to sickness or injury, demonstrate dangerously aggressive behavior, or are feral or neonate cats, or pit bulls. Hitting the wall reveals the success of an earlier generation of effectively targeted programs.
To break through “the wall” requires a new generation of programs to address the needs of special populations not met by earlier programs. The paradigm remains the same: comprehensive data collection, assessment, and implementation of programs targeted to meet the special needs of residual populations. Breaking through the wall requires taking the information-based targeting approach to the next level.
As a result, the Department is focusing its efforts on saving these at-risk animal populations. The feral cat/neonate kitten side of the equation is fairly straight forward and can often be handled through volunteer programs. However, to be successful, it does require a significant amount of volunteer time and dedication coupled with meaningful animal care and control support. LA Animal Services is fortunate to have such an army of life saving volunteers and employees staffing robust neonate/foster care programs, as explained in Part IV of this series. We are also working hard to make Trap/Neuter/Return (TNR) a mainstream methodology for controlling feral cat populations in LA, as explained in Part I of this series.
The pit bull side of the equation is more difficult. According to Animal People magazine, San Francisco is currently the only major city in the US experiencing a decline in pit bulls. San Francisco credits local pit bull-targeted spay/neuter legislation for this decline, which may largely be the case. However, other factors may also contribute to this decline. For instance, it is much more difficult for dogfighters and backyard breeders to go underground in San Francisco compared to most other cities. It has been said that a dog can't bark in San Francisco without 100 neighbors complaining, while a hundred dogs can bark in parts of Los Angeles and not be heard above the noise of the freeways.
LA Animal Services’ volunteer trainers provide much in the way of good citizenship dog training for pit bulls and other breeds. LA Animal Services adopts out more pit bulls than any other dog breed. In addition to our neonate, feral cat, and pit bull strategies, LA Animal Services is also aggressively working to save as many treatable animals as possible.
The “Animal Welfare Trust Fund” supports the Department’s STAR (Special Treatment And Recovery) Program. Many animals come into our care centers healthy and eager to be reunited with their families, or to find new families. Sadly, we also receive many sweet and loving animals that have been injured, abused, neglected, or have an illness that requires extensive treatment. When an animal is not irremediably suffering and will respond to treatment, we undertake all measures we can to make that animal healthy again. The STAR program showcases some of these STAR animals in need on our website. Treatments may take weeks or months, require special medicines, or involve one or more complicated surgeries — all at an expense that exceeds the Department’s usual budget allotment. The public can help these animals with donations to our LA Animal Services' STAR Program, which is used exclusively to pay for special veterinary services on animals with surgery or special treatment needs.
Thanks to our STAR program and a newly assembled, highly competent and compassionate medical team, LA Animal Services for the first time ever has the capacity to treat many animals that historically would have been euthanized or outsourced to private veterinarians. Today our staff veterinarians remove tumors, treat pyometra, repair hernias, perform dentistry, treat animals with intravenous fluids, non-narcotic, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and narcotic pain-relieving drugs, and through the use of our state of the art digital X-ray machines, they are able to successfully mend fractures, and so much more.
As is the case in any hospital, attempts at life saving treatments are not always successful and these efforts have predictably resulted in a higher mortality rate than occurred when we did little to nothing to help these animals before euthanizing them. But to focus on the Department’s mortality rate alone is to miss the larger point that not only is our euthanasia rate at an all time low, the overall death rate is also moving downward.
Fewer animals are dying in Los Angeles today than at any other time since statistics were first kept. Thanks to the outpouring of public support for LA Animals Services that resulted in the City’s $160 million investment in new animal care centers equipped with modern clinics and isolation and holding wards, animals in need can now receive care for longer durations as they recover and await adoption or as explained in Part IV of this series, they may be placed in our Foster Program until they recover.
LA Animal Services has veterinarians familiar with clinical behavioral medicine who strive to help find solutions to behaviorally-challenged pets before and after entry into the animal care centers.
LA Animal Services understands that to break through “the wall” will require remedial programs as well as preventive ones, such as training programs for dogs with behavioral issues, foster care for neonatal kittens, veterinary care for injured or sick animals, etc. While preventive programs can get you to “the wall”, they alone can't get you through it. Its going to take all of us working together to break through the wall and make LA the first major metropolitan No-Kill city in the United States.
For an example of a "new generation" program designed to help break through "the wall" read this LA Times article entitled, "LAPD enlists feral cats for rat patrol".