Friday, April 16, 2010

Achieving and Sustaining No-Kill

The City of Los Angeles has come a long way towards achieving “No-Kill” over the past forty years. It is difficult to even imagine today that in 1971 Los Angeles killed 110,835 dogs and cats. That was the worst year of killing in LA history and it caused an awakening among civic leaders that led to the City of Los Angeles becoming the first municipality in the United States to fund spaying and neutering for resident pet owners.

City efforts culminated in the lowest euthanasia rate ever achieved in 2007 when 15,009 animals were euthanized. That represents an 86% decrease in killing.

However, the 2008 euthanasia rate for dogs and cats rose for a variety of reasons for the first time in many years, stalling a long-standing trend of impressive annual double digit decreases.

Even though the years 2006 through 2009 represent the four lowest euthanasia rates in the City’s history, the recent upward trend is troubling and suggests new thinking and new programs are needed.

In the drive to achieve No-Kill there are two commonly recognized hurdles to overcome. A community’s initial progress towards No-Kill usually stalls 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, continued significant reductions are often hindered until aggressive spay/neuter programs designed to achieve further euthanasia reduction goals are implemented. With effective, targeted spay/neuter programs progress can be resumed.

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. Los Angeles has substantially done this and the challenge today is to persuade the more difficult populations, which include:

1. The poor,

2. The elderly on fixed income,

3. Individuals with negative attitudes about spay/neuter,

4. People who speak languages other than English, and

5. People who live in relatively remote or underserved areas.

The hurdle before Los Angeles’ quest to achieve No-Kill is characterized as “the wall”. No major city has ever been able to break through "the wall" (with the possible exception of New York). 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. However, in 2009 it was up to 4.9. Clearly Los Angeles has hit the proverbial wall.

On the one hand, hitting “the wall” signifies the success of an earlier generation of programs.  However, on the other hand, it is important not to miss the point that it also reveals the fact that a new generation of targeted programs that address the needs of residual populations not met by earlier or existing programs is now required.

While achieving and sustaining No-Kill may not be rocket science, it does require strategic thinking and targeted programs.

Broad indiscriminate spay/neuter efforts were the reason for LA’s successful life-saving efforts until now. However, only targeted spay/neuter programs will be responsible for breaking through the “wall” and achieving and sustaining “No-Kill” in Los Angeles. Targeted low and no cost, high-volume spay/neuter efforts will lead to fewer animals entering municipal shelters, allowing more resources to be allocated toward other life-saving programs.

No-Kill can be achieved and sustained; however, to do so will require targeted, affordable:

1. Spay/neuter programs,

2. Accessible wellness and other low cost veterinary services, and

3. Human/animal bonding programs designed to promote pet retention.

To learn more about how to help the City of Los Angeles (or any community) break through the wall to achieve No-Kill and ensure this new status is sustained click here.