Thursday, May 07, 2009

Should LA Abandon Its No-Kill Goal?

A recent editorial in a local newspaper initiated debate about whether the City of Los Angeles can achieve a No-Kill status and should even be trying to. Instead, the editorial advocated a retreat to focusing on “core functions” such as humane sheltering, law enforcement activities and pet adoption.

No reasonable observer would dispute the importance of accomplishing core functions, but the author of the editorial clearly did not understand the concept of No-Kill as it has been defined in Los Angeles the last few years, and as it is more widely defined in the animal welfare community across the country. No-Kill means ending the use of euthanasia as a means to control pet overpopulation; terminally ill, terminally injured animals and dangerously aggressive dogs are not included in this goal and these animals will, of course, always be humanely euthanized if and when they must be euthanized.

Although the terminally ill, terminally injured and dangerously aggressive animals are not included in achieving the No-Kill goal, these deaths are included in the City’s euthanasia statistics. This skews the discernment of the City’s policymakers and the Department’s constituency of our progress towards achieving this goal.

Can the City of Los Angeles achieve No-Kill? I contend we can, and further, I suggest we are closer than many realize (and that some have been willing to admit). But to be totally successful will take the whole community working together and must include targeted, affordable spay/neuter programs for needy pet owners.

In the drive to achieve No-Kill there are two commonly recognized hurdles to clear. A community’s progress towards No-Kill usually stalls at the first hurdle which is typically found when its pet euthanasia rate is reduced to between 12 and 10 shelter killings per 1,000 human residents annually (13.8 is the current national average).

Once a community achieves this rate, further significant reductions are stalled until the community decides to implement aggressive spay/neuter programs to achieve further euthanasia reduction goals. With effective, targeted spay/neuter programs progress toward the second hurdle can be steady. Clearing 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.

The second hurdle in the drive to achieve No-Kill has been characterized 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 5 and 2.5 shelter killings per 1,000 human residents annually (in 2007, Los Angeles reduced its euthanasia rate to 3.7).

Hitting “the wall” signifies 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, which typically includes bully dog breeds, and feral, domestic and neonate cats.

Breaking through the wall requires comprehensive data collection, assessment, and implementation of programs targeted to meet the special needs of residual populations. Finding more creative and effective ways to reach out to the public and market the adoption of hard-to-place pets becomes an even greater priority, and implementing and maintaining targeted spay/neuter programs remains paramount.

LA has been doing this, and has been doing this successfully for many years, despite the protests of a small group of misinformed, vocal and media savvy critics.

To abandon the No-Kill goal now would be nothing less than criminal. LA is close to becoming the first major metropolitan community to achieve this goal and the eyes of the nation are on us. Once this goal is achieved we will have stripped away from every other community any excuse for continuing to employ killing as a methodology for controlling dog and cat populations. Even in an era of tight budgets and big challenges, LA Animal Services should remain dedicated not only to its so-called core functions, but also to striving toward No-Kill. In fact, this is a city that has made No-Kill a core function. We have no choice but to succeed.

Before deciding to abandon the No-Kill goal please review these reports:

The 2008 LA Animal Services Annual Report:

The 2008 National Comparison Report Issued by ANIMAL PEOPLE: