Long Beach is “almost No Kill”? Not by a long shot.
Last week, Long Beach Animal Care Services attended a community meeting about how to help homeless animals in Long Beach. We were pleased to see that LBACS attended the event and spoke about the need for volunteers at the Long Beach animal shelter. We at Stayin' Alive have been advocating for this for three years now, and we're happy to see this change in the way LBACS is talking about volunteers. We very much hope it will be followed up by continued efforts to publicize the need for volunteers, more frequent volunteer orientations and a streamlined process to get more volunteers on board. If LBACS is serious about getting more volunteers out at the shelter, there is no doubt that the people of Long Beach will step up and help out the shelter animals. In spite of this, we were very troubled by a number of things that LBACS said at the meeting – notably the statement by Long Beach Animal Care Services manager Ted Stevens that Long Beach is “almost No Kill,” as reported by a local newspaper.
Saying Long Beach is “almost No Kill” is like saying that California is not in a drought. Long Beach is not by any reasonable measure “almost No Kill.” No Kill is defined as saving 90% or more of the animals in a shelter or community by putting in place a group of lifesaving programs, including a strong adoption program and a strong foster program. In making this grossly overstated claim, Mr. Stevens cited an 87% save rate for dogs in March and an “upper 60s mark” for cats. There are several problems with this claim that we feel the public in Long Beach needs to be aware of. The first thing to note is that “upper 60s” for cats is clearly not No Kill, so the 87% save rate for dogs was evidently what was meant by “almost No Kill.” Unfortunately for Mr. Stevens, No Kill is not defined by the save rate of one species or one age group of one species (e.g, puppies vs. dogs). ALL species must be calculated, and at a minimum, that includes, dogs, cats, kittens and puppies. When you factor in those groups, Long Beach's save rate in March was substantially lower. On a related note, we have noticed that Mr. Stevens often cites vague numbers, especially when it comes to cats. For a public servant who makes over $100,000 a year, according totransparentcalifornia.org, and received a raise in 2013, a year when the shelter killed over 5,000 animals and only adopted out 434, we think that at the very least he should know the number of animals they kill over at LBACS.
However, the other problem is that it is simply inaccurate to declare “almost No Kill” based on one month's statistics. Variations from month to month in kill and save rates at animal shelters are significant and often seasonal, as they are affected by things such as holidays and the high birth rate of kittens during the spring. In October of last year, LBACS' kill rate peaked at 49% (save rate 51%). That's a whopping 36 percentage point difference between what Stevens claims and the grim reality that was taking place at LBACS just a few months ago. The only accurate way to assess the No Kill status is to set performance goals for each month, record the statistics for each month and then look at the total at the end of the year. Ideally, the shelter will make the 90%+ goal each month, but if not, the goal is to make 90%+ at the end of the year. It is disingenuous to pick out the numbers for one species – the highest save rate – for ONE month and call the shelter No Kill. For a shelter director to do so is to show a lack of knowledge of the area of sheltering that borders on incompetence, or it is done to mislead the public.
Stayin' Alive Long Beach requests kennel statistics reports from LBACS every month under the California Public Records Act. Here is what the numbers tell us:
1. LBACS' kill rate for companion animals in 2014, the most recent full year for which statistics are available, was 39%. That's a 61% save rate, which is a far cry from the 90%+ goal of shelters that are genuinely committed to No Kill. Based on their own numbers, Long Beach Animal Care Services is decidedly NOT No Kill.
2. LBACS only adopted out 403 animals last year. Compare that with the more than 3,000 animals that Sacramento Animal Care Services adopts out each year. If Sacramento can do it (with a smaller budget than LBACS, we might add) Long Beach can do it, too. Instead, city administration and LBACS choose to continue killing on your behalf using your tax dollars. Calling a shelter that doesn't have a strong adoption program in place “No Kill” is to have missed the point of No Kill altogether.
3. The lion's share of improvement at LBACS over the past year has been due to two things: the first is a Shelter-Neuter-Return program that Stayin' Alive and other animal advocates had been asking that LBACS implement for at least 2 years if not longer. When it was finally implemented this past year, the program produced a significant increase in the number of feral cats saved. The other area of improvement has resulted from an increase in the number of animals that rescues have pulled from the shelter. It's worth nothing that both of these efforts are largely fueled by the efforts of people and organizations in the community who are passionate and dedicated animal advocates who, when LBACS does not stand in their way, have proven that Long Beach is capable of doing great things, including decrease the number of animals our city shelter kills.
4. In spite of these improvements, LBACS continues to invest most of its efforts in pass-the-buck policies rather than dig in and do adoptions themselves with the use of a strong volunteer program. They continue to transport small numbers of animals to cities thousands of miles away by plane to shelters that supposedly have a need for more animals – they do this when it is far more efficient and cost-effective to regularly take animals to offsite adoption events locally. LBACS is NOT No Kill, but it could easily become No Kill, if it were serious about having a strong adoption program, foster program and other animal-friendly policies and programs that have been proven to work at progressive shelters across the nation.
We don't deny that the general push of this meeting was to get more volunteers, for rescue groups and for the shelter. That's good news. But we can't help but notice that LBACS doesn't mobilize unless their lack of effective policies and programs is brought to the attention to the public, hence, this post.
This is not to in any way diminish the efforts that volunteers and general staff make at LBACS, or the efforts of those who organized this meeting – we know they're working hard and trying to help animals and applaud them for it, but the system, policies, programs and management at LBACS are working against them. These policies and programs need to change, and LBACS has to stop misleading the public by cherry-picking their statistics. We have talked to the Mayor about this and are very disappointed that it is continuing to happen. We will continue to report on the progress (or non-progress) of Long Beach Animal Care Services – because the people and animals of Long Beach deserve a city animal shelter that is run with integrity and transparency, and we don't have that yet.
When I was twelve, I volunteered at my local animal shelter. My job was to match shelter animals with descriptions of lost animals people had called in, and if we had an animal that matched that description, I called people to tell them to come down and look to see if we had their pet. That was 30 years ago, and back then, that was essentially that shelter's (and many shelters') only method of getting the animals back into homes. There were no big adoption fairs, no offsite adoptions, no public-friendly adoption hours or mobile adoptions and certainly no social media to network animals to larger audiences of potential adopters.
Today, we live in a vastly different world. Society has changed - people see their pets more like family, Americans spend over $55 billion a year on their pets' welfare, and the Internet has revolutionized every aspect of our lives, including the options we have for saving shelter animals' lives.
These changes have made adopting animals into good homes a vibrant and viable option for shelters -- it is now possible for one single organization to adopt out thousands of animals per year.
Great shelters do this by hitting the adoption effort from every angle - getting local businesses involved, participating in offsite adoption events at EVERY opportunity, changing their hours to include "after-5" hours, decreasing the cost to adopt an animal (the University of Florida did a study that showed that there was no correlation between how much someone pays for an animal and how much he or she loves that animal), establishing adoption goals, and constantly thinking outside the box in order to meet goals they've established.
This is what we want in our city, and we don't currently have it. We've been pointing this out for some time now.
Now - a small group of people in Long Beach have said that pointing this out means that we're bashing ACS. They say that talking about the fact that ACS euthanizes 50% of the animals at the shelter is being negative. They've said that we all have to get along, and in order to do that, Stayin' Alive has to stop talking about what's going on at the shelter.
Talking about numbers and discussing programs and how to improve them is something that goes on every day in our country. In fact, it's one of the major ways that we improve our society and our institutions. Turn on NPR on any given day, and they're reporting on educators' and policy makers' discussion of how we can improve our educational system, how we can increase our graduation rates, and how we can get more students prepared and out into the workforce so they can have positive, productive lives.
This process is applied every day to multiple institutions. This is life in a civil society...we allow multiple voices so that everyone is heard, and in a democracy, we then can make decisions about how we want our cities, states and nation run. That's why we at Stayin' Alive continue to talk about programs and numbers. Avoiding the truth is never the way to make things better. We don't take that stance in any other area of civil society. Why would we do it with animal shelters?
Recently, someone posted the following question on our Facebook page.
When you say the City continues to resist having an adoption program - who exactly do you mean?
There seem to be a number of individuals who are opposed to an adoption program in Long Beach City government. The director, Ted Stevens, is credited in a Press-Telegram column this year with saying that adoptions are "hopeless." He's not alone in thinking that. We have talked to a staff member of a prominent city council person who thinks that LBACS shelter animals are "defective" and basically unadoptable. We have been told by shelter insiders that the resistance to having an adoption program goes all the way up to the City Manager, who declined to meet with us this year when we asked for a meeting to discuss the concerns we brought up in our October 2013 policy report. This City administration, led by a City Manager under whose watch more than 42,000 dogs and cats have been killed over the past 8 years, is very aware of the programs that we have proposed, and rather than take steps to look into what other cities have done with great success, learn from them and apply them to our situation in Long Beach, has opted to launch a publicity campaign designed to cover up LBACS's problems and show LBACS in the best possible light, and thereby lull the public into thinking all is well and that more than 4300 animals weren't actually killed in 2013 alone.
This is just an intensification of a campaign to keep the public in the dark that LBACS has long been involved in. Less than 18 months ago, this was printed in a local paper: "The animal services officers do still collect and catch stray animals, and unfortunately some dogs and other animals still are put to death if they can’t be saved or adopted out, but that’s certainly not the emphasis anymore, according to bureau manager Ted Stevens."
LBACS's official stance, then, is that "some" animals are still put to death, and killing was "not the emphasis" in a year that LBACS killed 50% (more than 4300) of dogs and cats that entered its shelter. Clearly, LBACS is not in the business of telling the public the truth about the number of animals the agency is killing.
This past year, LBACS began a campaign of releasing inflated "decrease in euthanasia" numbers that rely on a very unorthodox method of calculating a shelter's progress in saving animals - this method inflates the progress the shelter can claim to make and hides from the public the fact that the shelter only decreased its adoption rate by 3% from 2012-2013 rather than the 20 and 30% numbers they have recently begun releasing through a local animal organization that supports the status quo at ACS.
More recently, LBACS has even started to blame No Kill advocates (that would be Stayin' Alive Long Beach) for its dismal decade-long record of (not) attracting volunteers by saying in an AP news article that advocates are "scaring away volunteers" by telling the public about the agency's euthanasia numbers. The LBACS rep goes on to say that LBACS doesn't hide the fact that animals are dying at the Long Beach shelter. The problem with the logic behind this reasoning is immediately apparent - if LBACS doesn't hide its killing and is completely open with the public, as Director Ted Stevens has also said to the press, then Stayin' Alive's informing the public would have no impact on volunteerism at LBACS. Could it be the fact that LBACS is still smarting from the fact that Stayin' Alive recently brought to City Council the fact that in 2013, LBACS logged only 2300 volunteer hours, while Sacramento ACS logged more than 36,000 volunteer hours? The truth is that LBACS doesn't have a vibrant volunteer program -- a necessary program that is key to saving lives -- and that has been the case for at least a decade. In fact, Stayin' Alive, in an attempt to help LBACS increase its volunteer program, offered recommendations for how to attract more volunteers, many of which, including an idea for posting volunteer opportunities at Cal State Long Beach, still haven't been implemented more than two years later.
LBACS will not do an adoption program, we were told, because it would be redundant with spcaLA's adoption program. In other words, LBACS doesn't need a full adoption program because spcaLA already has one. The problem is that spcaLA only takes in 26% of the animals (spcaLA actually decreased the number of animals they took in from LBACS from 2012-2013 from 28% to 26%). That means that 74% of the animals in 2013 were stuck at LBACS without an adoption program and without a foster program. Clearly, an adoption program at LBACS would not be a redundant service since thousands of adoptable and treatable animals are being killed that could be saved -- if the city had an adoption program.
It's not a question of paid staff vs. unpaid volunteers for the City. For whatever reason, and we suspect it's none of the reasons we've been given officially, the City is digging in its heels about an adoption program. That is why we have focused on asking City Council to look into this. We're hopeful that the new mayor will prove faithful to his origins as an educator, and look at the situation with an unbiased and discerning eye. But in the meantime, as we wait for the town hall meeting he has proposed, we are continuing to educate the public about what *really* is happening to our shelter animals.
As a final note: We have nothing but good things to say about the individuals who work at the shelter - they do their best with a horribly unfair and poorly designed system that binds their hands and makes it difficult, if not impossible in many cases, for them to save our shelter animals from the euthanasia needle. When LBACS finally makes a change, it will be good not only for the animals, but also for the people who try to save them on a daily basis.
Recently, the website NerdWallet ranked Long Beach as the 10th best city to be a dog guardian in. We respectfully disagree with this characterization. Why? Because the writer of the article, Sreekar Jasthi, did not take into account the kill rate of dogs at the Long Beach city animal shelter, which reached 29% last year for dogs generally, and according to ACS's own Facebook page, is a whopping and troubling 50% for pitbulls. He also didn't take into account the cost of getting one's dog back out of the shelter if he or she is unfortunate enough to be impounded there - that fee ranges $169 - $269 and up, and there is no reduced fee structure for people who have difficulty paying that fee, leaving them with the very real possibility that their canine companion will be killed.
We sent a letter to Mr. Jasthi at Nerd Wallet explaining that Long Beach is a great place for dog guardians -- unless they lose their dog. At that point, a 29-50% kill rate for dogs is a serious problem for the well-being of Long Beach's dog guardians and their animals. We would argue that it's a serious problem for all of Long Beach. You can read our letter to Nerd Wallet here and Mr. Jasthi's article here.
Once again, we are compelled to say: Please don't forget the shelter dogs, cats and other animals. Tell Long Beach City Council you want a comprehensive adoption program, foster program and the programs of the No Kill Equation in the Long Beach city shelter.
Let's talk about cats for a moment. In 2013, 72% of the cats that entered Long Beach ACS lost their lives. Since Stayin' Alive Long Beach started advocating for a Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) program for community cats (some call them feral cats), ACS has started one. We're pleased to see that Stayin' Alive's drawing attention to their programs and policies is resulting in positive changes. We expect to see a dramatic increase in the number of cats saved this year as a result of ACS's taking this step.
However, not all cats that enter our shelter are feral. Cats like Chiyo, whose guardian dropped her off at a church in Long Beach to avoid what she knew would be a virtual death sentence at the Long Beach shelter, will not benefit from a TNR program. They are not equipped to live on the streets in the way that feral cats are. They need an adoption program -- a comprehensive adoption program -- to make sure that they are placed into homes and are not put to death or inappropriately returned to the street where they never lived.
Chiyo's guardian's note speaks for itself:
Unfortunately, Chiyo DID end up at the Long Beach shelter, and because rescue and advocacy groups mobilized and got her out, she was saved. Not all cats are so lucky. In fact, last year, more than 3200 cats and kittens were killed at the Long Beach shelter. An adoption program would dramatically decrease this number. We'll continue to advocate for an adoption program, foster program and the programs of the No Kill Equation at the Long Beach shelter. Things are changing as a result of our work - as a result of YOUR work. Please continue to support the No Kill Equation at the Long Beach animal shelter. The killing will only be replaced by positive programs when you, the public demand it. We can do better, Long Beach. But your voice is needed to make sure it happens.
But ACS also includes a couple of things that we find really troubling: In response to our public records request, ACS told us they include wildlife that are released to the wild and animals transferred to high-kill shelters in this number.
While we at Stayin’ Alive Long Beach appreciate the return of a raccoon to the wild after rehabilitation as something that is both important and desirable, we don’t think most people would view this as an “adoption.”
While we think that it is good to transfer an animal to a place where he/she might be granted more time to find a home, we don’t think that most people would call this an “adoption.” Especially if that animal is transferred to a high-kill shelter.
There is no nice way to say that we think that ACS is not being entirely honest with the public when they say they had 5773 adoptions/redemptions in 2012. We think that ACS has a duty to the public to be transparent about what their numbers are. A shelter that has nothing to hide, hides nothing.
A review of the records provided to us by ACS reveals that ACS had 324 adoptions of companion animals and returned 1172 animals to their owners (the standard definition of “redemption”), which is a total of 1496 adoptions/redemptions in 2012. Of course, that number is nowhere near 5773. And we only found that out because we used the power of the California Public Records Act, which protects citizens’ rights to know what their government is doing. ACS does not give out that information willingly, and one can guess why.
We hope that the people of Long Beach will think about that. ACS, an agency with more than $6 million to spend every year, adopted out only 324 dogs and cats in one year.
That’s fewer than many small, private rescue organizations place in a year on a shoestring budget. Comparing apples to apples – that is, comparing one municipal shelter to another -- in the same year, the City of Sacramento adopted out 2427 dogs and cats – that’s nearly 8 times the number that ACS found homes for. In 2013, Sacramento increased their number of adoptions to 3,105.
Unless ACS has undergone a massive change in how they report their numbers, we expect the same slide will be shown today, with an even higher number of adoptions/redemptions than the 5700+ they reported last year. We hope that people who attend the meeting today will think about this when they see ACS put up this same slide, citing adoptions and redemptions in the thousands.
And please know that only 434 dogs and cats were adopted out by Long Beach Animal Care Services in 2013.
To each of those 4,382 animals that died last year at the point of a euthanasia needle because ACS does not pursue an adoption program to its full capacity, we owe at least this one thing: to tell the truth.
SALB Co-founder and spokesperson, Dr. Patricia Turner Urges City Council to Implement the No Kill Equation
Let your voice be heard! Write to Long Beach City Council - Support the No Kill Equation in Long Beach!
Who would have thought there were so many silly election cat photos were out there on the Internet?
Well, here's a serious cat from one of them to remind us that on April 8th next year we're having an election in Long Beach, and that means it's time for Long Beach residents to take action.
Shelter animals in Long Beach need you to speak up for them and let City Council know that you support the No Kill Equation at the Long Beach animal shelter. Unless we speak up and let our voices be heard, 5,000 MORE dogs and cats will be killed at the Long Beach shelter next year.
Number one on the agenda is a Comprehensive Adoption Program. The shelter in Long Beach does NOT currently have an adoption program. Incredible, you say? Yes, we think so, too. Long Beach is full of animal lovers - the animal shelter, run by Long Beach Animal Care Services, needs to get in line with the values of the people of Long Beach by doing off-site adoptions, holding evening adoption hours for the working public, doing energetic marketing of animals and starting to work toward mobile adoptions. These are all part of a comprehensive adoption program. Write to your City Council member today - here is a sample letter you can print out, sign and send. The person who can make this happen is you. The animals are counting on us!