City Council’s discussion around animals was brief at last Tuesday's meeting, in spite of the fact that a number of people spoke during public comment on the budget presentation by Parks, Recreation and Marine, the city department which houses Long Beach Animal Care Services.
Parks, Recreation and Marine head Marie Knight kept her comments about LBACS brief, recycling LBACS’ inaccurate mid-year numbers and talking about LBACS’ progress in reducing “the unwanted pet population.”
The issue of the inaccurate numbers aside (Stayin' Alive has written a report about LBACS' inaccurate reporting practices, which can be found here: https://goo.gl/sDgNZP), we’d like to point out that words matter. The use of the term “unwanted pets,” by the head of Parks and Rec to describe our shelter animals perfectly encapsulates the deficit view that City administration has of our shelter animals, and it is this negative and pervasive view that keeps our shelter animals suffering in a broken shelter system. We can only hope that through education about how other cities are saving lives through No Kill programs, this view will change.
Knight ominously warned that recent increases in the save rate at LBACS “may plateau” if the City doesn’t invest further in space and “intervention resources.” It’s unclear what was meant by intervention resources, but one thing we do know: The City only needs more space because it warehouses animals for far too long, and does so because there is no strong adoption and foster program. This often results in inhumane treatment of animals and points to much bigger issues than simply “space.” Knight also talked about two new positions requested for LBACS in the next fiscal year. New positions are all well and good, but without a strong framework of programs in place, and a change in culture, these types of cosmetic changes, even if they come in the form of new positions or more money, will not make a difference.
The sadly remarkable thing about the evening was the apparent lack of interest most of the council members showed in the comments of those who spoke on behalf of the animals. After public comment, city council members have an opportunity to ask questions about the budget presentations by city staff. After listening to almost 40 minutes of public comment, the vast majority of which was about shelter animals, here is how the City Council members responded:
Vice Mayor Rex Richardson, District 9: Deferred questions to a later date. No questions about LBACS or shelter animals in council.
Lena Gonzalez, District 1: No questions about LBACS or shelter animals
Susie Price, District 3: No questions about LBACS or shelter animals
Daryl Supernaw, District 4: No questions about LBACS or shelter animals
Dee Andrews, District 6: No questions about LBACS or shelter animals
Roberto Uranga, District 7: No questions about LBACS or shelter animals
Al Austin, District 8: No questions about LBACS or shelter animals
Mayor Garcia was notably absent.
The only two councilmembers who addressed in any way the issue of our shelter animals were Stacy Mungo, District 5 and Jeannine Pearce, District 2. Stacy Mungo brought up two points, which to our knowledge have never been publicly acknowledged by a city council member, though many of them have known about it for years.
The first was the question of how to address the many problems caused by the City’s troubled 19-year partnership with SpcaLA, which has been absolutely disastrous for Long Beach’s shelter animals. This was the first time to our knowledge that the stranglehold the City administration allows SpcaLA to have on LBACS has ever been acknowledged. We hope, for the sake of the animals, it won’t be the last.
Second, Stacy Mungo asked her colleagues if they would be open to an ordinance that would have an impact on the problems at LBACS. She was not specific about what such an ordinance would look like, but Stayin’ Alive has long advocated for an ordinance similar to that passed by the City of Austin, which resulted in that city’s being the nation’s largest municipal shelter to reach and maintain No Kill status. We will be monitoring any ordinance development that may occur going forward and offering our input. You can read Stayin' Alive's model ordinance here: https://goo.gl/x9qozK).
Jeannine Pearce, who Stayin’ Alive supported in the last election, also spoke about issues at LBACS, asking Knight about the possibility of a presentation by LBACS about exactly how it runs its programs and operations. Significantly, Jeannine Pearce noted that it may be time to ask what kind of shelter we want to be, which speaks to an interest in a deeper look at LBACS. This is a departure from how city council members have behaved in the past, preferring instead to perpetuate the myth that LBACS is doing great. More importantly, she also admitted to having spoken to Sacramento Animal Care Services and the Austin Animal Center (Stayin’ Alive specifically asked Jeannine Pearce through a series of meetings to contact Sacramento and Austin to find out about the programs they put in place and how Austin was able to reach No Kill – we’re happy to hear that she followed through).
In the end, the facts remain: it’s not about money, and it’s not about space. It is most definitely not about asking SpcaLA to take more animals in, given that SpcaLA opposes No Kill and is not accountable to the public.
It’s about changing the culture at LBACS and passing an ordinance that codifies LBACS’ priorities and requires it to put in place lifesaving programs. While we see faint glimmers of that from time to time, this time provided by Jeannine Pearce and Stacy Mungo, it is clear that much more advocacy remains to be done by Long Beach animal lovers to ensure that our shelter is a safe place, where they are truly sheltered from the storm of human whim and circumstance.
We encourage all community members in Long Beach to share your voice at the next City Council meeting. Our shelter animals need ALL of us to be their voice.
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An initiative to make Long Beach a No Kill community.