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Best Friends Claims LA is ‘Almost’ No Kill … or, is it?


ANIMAL WATCH-On May 3, the Los Angeles City Council reaffirmed its intention to make Los Angeles a “no kill” city, meaning 90% of all adoptable animals would leave the shelter alive. Where they go after that is not of particular concern, as evidenced by the lack of monitoring of rescues nationwide and the inability to follow the destination of animals that are transported freely across the country and to Canada, and often relocated numerous times. 

While responsible rescues are vital to Los Angeles, we wonder if local politicians watched the revealing investigative report, Some So-Called Nonprofit Pet Rescues May Not Really Be Charities, by David Goldstein of CBS News. Goldstein attempted to interview the owner of Saving Spot Rescue, an alleged 501(c)3 dog rescue in Los Angeles, which claims to be non-profit but was found to not be in good standing either with the IRS or the CA Attorney General. 


Los Angeles Councilman Paul Koretz’ representative discussed the City's "no kill" achievement with KABC, stating, “We enacted several policies that will get us there. It’s not going to happen overnight but we increased funding to spay and neuter, that was a big part of it.” 

What he didn’t say, or may not have known, was that as of March 31, 2016, LA Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette had an unspent balance of $5,004,395.66 in the Animal Services Pet Sterilization Trust Fund and had to be instructed by the Commission to increase her spay/neuter efforts. Barnette admitted that an additional 2016-2017 annual contribution by the Council was canceled because of her high reserve. 

“We try to make it as reasonable as possible for people to adopt,” Councilman Paul Koretz (who claims he had 19 cats as a child) told KPCC. He did not admit that an ASPCA grant funded "free" cat adoptions, and discounted LA Animal Services' dog and cat adoption fees to $20.17 from December 27 through December 31, 2016. And he ignored that Best Friends is adopting out kittens, cats and dogs for the Cinco de Mayo weekend for $5 each. 

While “cheap” or “free” adoptions may empty shelters and lower euthanasia stats, what happens if that animal needs expensive veterinary care, special food, or training and the adopter merely wanted a freebie or bargain-basement special? Isn't it also the duty of a shelter to assure the adoption of a helpless animal is considered a serious investment and long-term responsibility--not just a trial run? 

The issue of owner responsibility, along with their failure to insure law enforcement as one of the obvious causes of stray and homeless animal problems, seems to allude Los Angeles officials.


For more than five years we have heard that LA Animal Services was quickly climbing to the coveted 90% live-save rate called, "no kill." However, under the Best Friends' Policy and Statements, it seems it is not quite that simple. 

After stating that a benchmark is important, Best Friends affirms, "Generally, the no-kill threshold for a community is considered to be 90 percent." 

But, the next paragraph states: "It is important to note that a 90 percent save rate is not necessarily defined as no-kill. This is because a community with a 90 percent save rate could still be killing animals who are not cases of true euthanasia. It is also possible that…a given community may achieve no-kill even if the save rate isn’t 90 percent." 

So, perhaps the formula explained in a March 13, 2017 Best Friends' media release will help us better understand the method of computation:

LA Animal Services reported an 86.6 percent live release rate from July through December 2016 (the fiscal year to date.) This is a formula that calculates the percentage of animals that leave shelter facilities alive through adoption, return to owner, or transfer and is calculated on total animals entering the shelter system. As a national organization, Best Friends uses the save rate benchmark, which reflects intake minus euthanasia outcomes divided by intake, for all its program cities. Save rate reflects only the percentage of animals not euthanized and does not account for the number of animals still held in the shelter or in foster care


There are no audits of Best Friends' by the City Controller; however, at the September 8, 2015, LA Animal Commission meeting, Marc Peralta,  Director for Best Friends at the Mission Hills shelter stated that, under its No Kill Los Angeles program, Best Friends pays each NKLA rescue $150 for each animal it “pulls” for adoption over the number taken the year before, and that it has more than 110 participating organizations in the NKLA coalition.  

On November 1, 2013, Best Friends posted, Pup My Ride transports 10,000th pup, which describes that an LA city shelter dog, named Bart "...rolled away on the Pup My Ride van to Greenhill Humane Society in Eugene, Oregon, making him the 10,000th pet transported by Best Friends Animal Society-Los Angeles to an adoption rescue partner across the country. 

Once an animal is transported, there is no guarantee of its fate. PETA provides an ongoing list of "rescues" that have gone awry at ‘No-Kill’ Label Slowly Killing Animals. Here are a few of these media reports for the past two months: 

NJ Pet Rescue Owner Charged in Second Animal Cruelty Case, April 26, 2017 -- FLEMINGTON, NJ -- For the second time in less than 18 months, the owner and operator of the Catnip Friends Rescue has been charged with animal cruelty by the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Frank Rizzo, chief of the Law Enforcement Division of the NJSPCA, said in a statement. In February 2016, Wilferth plead guilty to one $500 civil count of animal cruelty based on charges filed against in December 2015 regarding the death of a dog. 

Woman Charged With Animal Neglect…50 Cats Found in Cages at Store, April 20, 2017 - RIVERSIDE, Mo. -- An animal neglect charge was recently handed down against the owner of Street Cats Rescue in Riverside after police discovered awful odors and 50 cats inside cages, some of which suffered from poor health, KSHB reports. The court documents describe strong odors of feces and urine coming from the business, and cats being found in such poor health that they had to be euthanized. 

24 dogs, 10 cats seized from Phoenix rescue group in "devastating" condition, March 15, 2017 -- PHOENIX, AZ -- ABC15.com reported that authorities had seized 24 dogs and 10 cats from a self-professed animal “rescue” doing business as Wiggle Butts Dog Rescue…animals were found covered with ticks, suffering from hair loss and untreated injuries, and “extremely malnourished.” Many animals were covered with feces, and their paws were stained, evidently from standing in their own waste. 

Washington County Woman Charged with Animal Neglect, March 11, 2017 – WASHINGTON COUNTY, OR -- KATU reported that a woman who had allegedly been operating a “cat shelter” at her home had been charged with first-degree animal neglect after a dead cat was found near the residence. Authorities investigated after receiving complaints alleging that the woman had moved out of state and left cats without care, including some inside the house…at least one of the cats found in the abandoned residence had a serious bacterial infection and another had ringworm. Some also had severe upper respiratory infections and could be heard wheezing loudly before they were even seen hiding throughout the house. 

Fayetteville Woman Facing Animal Cruelty Charges After Nearly 30 Dogs, 3 Dead, Found In Her Home,  March 8, 2017 -- FAYETVILLE, AR -- 5NewsOnline.com reported that authorities had seized 26 live animals and three dead dogs from a woman who told them that she worked with self-professed animal “rescue” groups. The animals were found inside small cages with accumulated feces inches deep, their coats were saturated with urine and feces, and several were “abnormally thin or weak.” In some areas of the home, accumulations of feces were 3 feet deep. A veterinarian who examined the three dead dogs determined that one of them had been dead for months. The woman had reportedly adopted 10 dogs since 2015 from a self-professed “no-kill” group in Texas doing business as San Antonio Pets Alive and had adopted another dog from a shelter in Fort Smith, Arkansas. 

Dozens of Animals Seized from Florence Animal Shelter, March 22, 2017 -- FLORENCE, TX -- Authorities had seized 89 cats and a dog from a self-professed “no-kill” shelter [[[ http://5newsonline.com/2017/03/08/fayetteville-woman-facing-animal-cruelty-charges-after-nearly-30-dogs-3-dead-found-in-her-home/ ]]] doing business as R.U.G. Activity Center Animal Shelter after a state health inspector found cats housed in cages “with not enough room to move about,” overflowing litterboxes that contained days’ worth of feces and urine, and sick cats housed with healthy ones, FOX7 reported. 

Greyhound Adoption Shelter Accused of Mistreating Animals, March 2, 2017 -- Hopkinton, MA -- FOX25 Boston reported that a self-professed “no-kill” “rescue” doing business as Greyhound Friends, Inc., had been issued a cease and desist order by state authorities. A former board member said that state officials had told the “rescue” that cages were too small for the size of the dogs being held there. Two former board members who were interviewed said that they were alarmed to learn that many dogs had been kept in cages at the “rescue” for years. 


When a new Los Angeles city animal shelter and clinic broke ground in 2008, it promised to provide the Northeast Valley with badly needed animal control services. In fact, the plea to pass Prop. F bond funds in the amount of $154,000,000 was based upon studies which showed it was essential for animal welfare and public safety to provide an additional shelter in that area. 

However, upon completion of the Mission Hills (NE Valley shelter) in 2011, the City decided it couldn’t afford to staff it. It was the perfect opportunity for Best Friends, which leases the $19 million facility for $1 per year, plus the City pays $200,000/year for maintenance. 

A December 7, 2016 report by the City Administrative Officer states, "Since January 2012, BFAS has invested over $3.5 million annually in the operation of the NEV facility." 

In the five-year period ending in 2015, Best Friends "took in $313,676,006 in total support -- tens of millions of dollars more than when it came to LA in 2011," according to the Guss Report on January 9, 2017. 


AUSTIN, TX -- "This coming February, Austin will celebrate its five-year anniversary of being America’s largest no kill city, saving more than 90 percent of its homeless animals since 2011," writes Kristen Auerbach for the Huffington Post.  

But, there's another side of the story: As City Reaches No-kill, Free-roaming Dogs Still Trouble Neighborhoods  April 27, 2016 -- At about the same time as one of the most brutal dog attacks in recent San Antonio history — a South Side man had his scalp and ear ripped off by a pack of dogs in December, before a police officer arrived and shot three of the animals — the city's Animal Care Services department announced it had reached a long-elusive goal. As 2015 closed, more than 9 out of every 10 dogs were being released from ACS care alive. 


ANIMAL CARE CENTERS OF NYC (ACC) RELEASES Q1 2017 DATA -- 94.3% Placement Rate Highest in Nation -- April 18, 2017 -- Animal Care Centers of NYC (ACC), the only open-admissions animal shelter serving all five boroughs, announced today…the overall placement rate for cats and dogs reached 94.3% with 95.5% of cats and 92.6% of dogs finding placement, either through direct adoptions or through its New Hope adoption partner program. Risa Weinstock, ACC’s Executive Director, attributes this accomplishment to the ASPCA, 200 active New Hope Partners; however, she also notes that “intake has decreased by 35% over last year..." 


Efforts to ban easy retail access to purebred dogs can merely make them more desirable and/or drive purchasers to a nearby city or to the Internet, which is rife with easy access to every breed. This can be a desire to replicate a childhood pet, preference for certain genetic characteristics, or a loss of confidence in the transparency of shelter information and fear of potential temperament liability caused by the desperation to "save" every animal. 

This could provide an insight into why the number of breeders' licenses sold by LA Animal Services increased by 44% -- from 466 to 669, according to Brenda Barnette's Woofstat report for February 2017, and was up 71% from the same period last year. 

Also, LAAS statistics have shown a decrease in impounds. If this were due to intense low-income community spay/neuter efforts, then it is admirable. However, it is clouded by the fact that City residents claim they can't reach LA shelters by phone to get stray and aggressive animals picked up in their communities; and Los Angeles has the highest number of bites to postal carriers in the U.S. in 2016. 


In discussing the laudable efforts to increase the live-save rate in Austin, John Bachman, co-executive director of Voice for Animals, makes a point that should also be heeded by Los Angeles: "By being obsessed with...no-kill and then say 'Oh we've reached it,' they give a false impression to the whole city that 'Oh we don't have to worry anymore, we're no-kill.’" 

In Los Angeles, we must share the concerns that announcements of a city reaching "no kill" can cause politicians and communities where stray animals are not a constant threat to safety to tune out other serious animal-related issues. We already see it in the failure to hire badly needed Animal Control Officers and replace dangerous vehicles in service for over 15 years. 


The emotionally charged, enigmatic buzzwords “No Kill” is right at the top of on-going controversies over semantics and statistics and can be strategically interjected into any discussion regarding animal shelters in order to elicit passionate response by the public -- i.e., donors -- where tugging on heartstrings usually opens pocketbooks.  

But are we really getting the truth about the plight of unwanted animals and a clear concept of what is meant by reaching “no kill?” Or are statistics and reports regarding euthanasia manipulated to show progress or failure depending on who stands to benefit philosophically and/or financially? 

Factors that are missing in the mandate to just "save" animals at all costs is the need to create and enforce owner responsibility and to solve the "birth problem" to avoid overpopulation, strays, and the need for euthanasia. John Bachman said it is pure mathematics: "Adoption is like treatment. You're treating the problem, but you're not solving the epidemic."


(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


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