How Journalists Hurt Homeless Animals in “No Kill” LA

@THE GUSS REPORT-LA journalists will soon blindly trumpet that Mayor Garcetti’s animal shelters are “No Kill” when there is no such thing as a genuine no kill big city anywhere in the country. When they do this, those journalists own that lie. 

The questions they should, but haven’t, asked Garcetti are provided further down in today’s article.

Animal rescues receive daily emails with healthy “red listed” animals who are about to be killed at one of Garcetti’s LA Animal Services shelters. Saturday’s red list for dogs is 25 pages long, and many don’t even a photo, or have unflattering photos of scared dogs behind metal kennel bars. And nowhere on the list are those who are about to be killed, who are small, young and highly desirable. 

While LAAS claims that these voiceless animals are going to be “euthanized” at any given moment, these are not animals who are suffering, except for the fact that they are without a family. Euthanasia means killing when an animal’s health is suffering. These souls are about to be killed due to failure to stop them from being born in the first place, and then failing to find them suitable homes once they are born or abandoned by their families. And the city’s failure to stop rampant breeding at all levels. 

A few years back, I asked a local journalist who regularly promotes pet adoption on social media why there are no stories questioning Mayor Garcetti’s dubious claims of how many animals were being killed in the city’s shelters, as well as in other SoCal kill shelters. 

The journo said they like to report on positive aspects of animal welfare (like adoption) rather than the ugly truth (like euthanasia). I subsequently showed how Garcetti’s LA Animal Services chief Brenda Barnette (who is rumored to be retiring shortly after Garcetti makes his stunningly false claim) falsified more than 8,000 pet adoptions, and then quietly reverted the stat without a word of public explanation. To date, our mainstream media won’t touch the subject. 

The following will be the consequences of LA’s journalism community’s failure to report accurately on Garcetti’s politically motivated “No Kill” claims. 

By falsely promoting that LA is “No Kill,” journalists give the public the impression that they can dump their pets at LA shelters without fear of them being killed. 

There is a shocking scene that regularly plays out at animal shelters in Los Angeles and elsewhere: a family comes into an LA Animal Services Shelter with an elderly or sick dog, abandons them there, instead of getting them proper veterinary care or a dignified euthanasia at their vet, and walks out with a younger dog or cat … in the range of vision of the pet who they abandoned.  

Marie Atake, a former LAAS Commissioner appointed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, regularly points out that LAAS is not a “shelter,” but a killing factory. By falsely claiming that LA is “No Kill,” and that LAAS is a safe harbor for animals, the city – and our local journalists – lift the guilt people should feel when abandoning a pet there. (Atake, who received numerous accolades from LA City Council, was subsequently fired by Villaraigosa resulting in this KABC story.) 

Atake defines genuine “No Kill” in this video.  

By falsely promoting that LA is “No Kill,” journalists give the public the impression that spay/neuter for their dogs and cats is not a priority 

One of the biggest humane failures in LA is the lack of truly free spay/neuter, and rigorously enforcing it except for animals who are not healthy enough to have the surgery. But in falsely promoting the notion that LA is “No Kill,” LA journalists will permanently decelerate our already tepid efforts to stem the tide of unwanted animal pregnancies, especially in low income areas where private veterinary care is hard to find and often considered a luxury. 

By falsely promoting that LA is “No Kill,” journalists give the public the impression that buying an animal, instead of going to the shelter or rescue groups to adopt, won’t result in homeless animals being killed. 

The whole point of the LAAS red list is to call attention to animals who are about to be killed in the shelters. While it primarily shows pit bulls and Chihuahuas, LAAS still kills plenty of small, young, healthy and happy dogs and cats – and puppies and kittens. But you don’t see them on the red list, nor do you see the red list being promoted publicly in media outlets. 

The media has yet to ask Garcetti – who keeps his shelter Commission dumbed-down by replacing his appointees with less and less qualified ones – the following key questions: 

  1. Since LAAS falsified nearly 9,000 pet adoptions, where specifically did they go, and why did LAAS revert its statistic without explanation? 
  1. Why is there no audit of what happens to animals LA sends to Best Friends, but requires strict reporting on those animals taken in by all other groups…except those that Best Friends pays cash to take on more animals than those groups previously handled? 
  1. If LA is “No Kill,” please identify what programs correlate to that result? LA doesn’t have a mandatory spay/neuter law, and can’t account for scores of animals. How did you achieve “No Kill” without a cause and effect explanation? 
  1. How many animals who enter LA Animal Services alive end up exiting dead, or to other agencies which fail to find them homes? 
  1. If LA is now “No Kill,” are you going to end the “red list?” If the red list continues, it means the killing continues, and that’s nothing for a politician to celebrate. 
  1. How do you define “death” of a shelter animal, and why doesn’t each one count the same? 

Garcetti, who never has honest answers for uncomfortable truths, will be stuck. 

There is no shame in admitting that he has failed thousands of healthy, happy and highly adoptable animals. It would humanize him, provided that he doesn’t claim their deaths as a twisted form of victory.   

Journalists, especially those who want to bring a sense of urgency to pet adoption and spay/neuter, should remember that promoting false “No Kill” claims is a bell which cannot be un-rung, and that they, then, own that lie.


(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a member of the Los Angeles Press Club, and has contributed to CityWatch, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Magazine, Movieline Magazine, Emmy Magazine, Los Angeles Business Journal and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. Verifiable tips and story ideas can be sent to him at His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.