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.
An initiative to make Long Beach a No Kill community.