Writing L.A.'s Wrongs With A No-Kill Animal Shelter Proposal

Los Angeles kills 30,000 – 50,000 of our dogs and cats at our city shelters each year for an annual cost of $14 million dollars. Not only does this turn our city's animal "shelters" into death houses, at great expense, it is entirely unnecessary.

"No kill" means to end the killing of all healthy or curably sick dogs and cats at shelters within city boundaries.

Mayor Hahn says he wants to make L.A. "no kill" by 2008, but inside sources say this is mere rhetoric, for he will be out of office by then, and that city bureaucrats have no notion how this objective might be accomplished other than to increase shelter space.

The city is spending $154 million to renovate and build new shelters. At the completion of the construction project, the kennels will increase from 366 to 1253. These 887 extra "runs" may give the animals a longer holding time, but L.A. cannot solve its euthanasia problem without a more comprehensive plan, drawing on a cooperative effort between government agencies and the animal rescue / welfare community.

"No kill" is an achievable goal: San Francisco has virtually succeeded, while Utah, New York City and various counties around the country have begun the process.

These areas rely heavily upon financial assistance from a nonprofit called Maddie's Fund, which has $200 million dollars in free money available to aid localities, even entire states, with the "no kill" objective. Maddie's Fund provides a structured, ten-year (or shorter) plan.

Rich Avanzino, the head of the organization told me several months ago, "Until you, no one has ever asked us to help Los Angeles. We would probably give $20 million, but since the city is so big, we would require that you raise a matching $20 million in nonprofit funds over a decade. This would be easy. New York raised $16 million in a few months."

Though I was shocked to learn I was the first from LA to approach Maddie's Fund, I saw it as a cue, the impetus to do extensive research and write a full-scale proposal for Los Angeles.

My three-part proposal—which costs nothing to implement and will eventually save the city money—is weaving through the bureaucracy now. It has made it to the ears of the L.A. Animal Commissioners, been passed by the Greater Valley Glen Council, and sits on the desk of Guerdon Stuckey, the new General Manager of Animal Services.

The first two parts of my proposal are to be undertaken simultaneously.

First, I have proposed that each of the 86 Neighborhood Councils in Los Angeles appoint a local Director of Animal Welfare (DAW), who will have a duty to look out for the animals in the area. The DAW might arrange Animal Care Fairs, with free spay-neuter, dog training, education, and adoption services. One DAW might deal with dog-fighting problems, while another may assist with horse-related issues. Neighborhood Council meetings and newsletters are cost free means for reporting progress or pulling the community together for a particular project. A similar idea was practiced in Alameda County, resulting in emptier shelters.

Secondly, Los Angeles must prepare the general strategy. It should establish a nonprofit regardless of whether it decides to take Maddie's Fund money or "go it alone." The Maddie's Fund two-pronged program--which focuses both on increased adoptions and spay-neuter efforts--will not give money directly to any government entity, but only to a nonprofit set up on its behalf. In addition, people prefer to contribute when a nonprofit tax deduction is available. Two local businessmen have agreed to donate a combined $500,000 to start the matching fund.

The new Los Angeles nonprofit can review numbers, strategies, and successes related to current Maddie's Fund participants. Data is available on the Internet, and the base plan can be found at

Maddie's Fund money can be used to finance or supplement spay-neuter and adoption costs, as well as to bankroll less orthodox campaigns. Utah has a "Hooters for Neuters" program, which links pet population control with the restaurant chain. Some Oregon malls install satellites to advertise adoptable dogs and cats to shoppers.

Many localities have instituted free dog training, "pets ok" rental referrals, humane education, free feral cat assistance, foster homes for pets, enforcement of laws regarding current breeding limits, longer or different shelter hours to accommodate the public, better public relations and professional advertising campaigns, and bathed and beautified shelter dogs to make them look more adoptable. Incentives can even be provided for those who adopt from shelters, such as free shots and medical exams for their new companion animals.

Thirdly, my proposal allows for a potential legislative solution after the completion of part one and two; if, for example, Los Angeles has not eliminated the killing of pit bulls and pit bull type dogs. This is currently the problem in sections of Northern California. These types of dogs are regularly euthanized, while all other breeds find homes.

The State of California disallows breed specific legislation with respect to dangerous dogs (Section 31601), however it says nothing about breed specific legislation for highly un-adoptable animals. The latter shifts emphasis away from depriving people of a right, such as the right to own the dog of their choice, and towards the need to preserve a life.

A "Highly Un-Adoptable Dog Law" could be presented in the form of a short-term pilot program and passed as an ordinance by the L.A. City Council. It could require, for example, pit bulls to be "fixed" and micro-chipped, and prohibit those not already living in the area from entering. The pilot program could be evaluated routinely for its efficacy or lack thereof.

A number of city officials, Maddie's Fund representatives, animal welfare leaders, and insurgent animal activists reviewed my drafts in advance. All expressed approval and a willingness to cooperate with the plan, an astounding achievement, considering the conflicting opinions and combative attitudes that have dominated the L.A. shelter situation for some time.

If my proposal can find a home in L.A., perhaps our four-legged friends can look forward to homes too, rather than the rendering plant near Vernon, where many unfortunately find themselves now.


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