by Shannon Baker-Branstetter & Peggy Trento
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In August 2003, Mayor James Hahn announced that he was backing a plan to make all of Los Angeles' municipal animal shelters no-kill within five years - by 2008. We seek to answer the policy question: How can the City of L.A. implement a no-kill policy in all of its animal shelters by 2008? If no-kill is not feasible, how can L.A. City animal shelters become low-kill?
Los Angeles Animal Services (LAAS) euthanized 29,202 animals in fiscal year 2003-2004 (FY2003-2004), which is almost half (49.4%) of the number of animals impounded. This represents a 19.3% decline from FY2000-2001, when 68.7% were euthanized. There is a clear downward trend in euthanasia during the past four fiscal years. However, breaking the number of animals euthanized into cats and dogs reveals that the number of dogs euthanized has declined dramatically, while the number of cats euthanized has remained steady.
Young animals and a few specific breeds dominate the animal population that is euthanized. Kittens constitute 85% of euthanized cats and the greatest number of cats killed. Kittens also have the highest age-specific kill rate (70%). Puppies are euthanized in the greatest absolute numbers and account for 45% of the dogs put down. While fewer in number, older dogs have at the highest age-specific euthanasia rate (44%) for dogs. Cats, German Shepherds, and Pit Bulls comprise 60% of animals euthanized.
LAAS' sterilization programs are not demonstrably decreasing the kill rate, although similar programs have been very successful in other locations. The most likely explanation for LAAS' weak results includes the following: (1) the number of animals fixed is relatively small compared to the total animal population, (2) the undocumented dog population in South L.A. may obscure program benefits, (3) data patterns and missing data prohibit conclusive outcomes, (4) narrow pet owner participation weakens the effects of sterilization programs, and (5) sterilization programs do not address the feral cat population. Finally, longstanding departmental shortcomings, such as a debilitating veterinarian shortage, a problematic request for proposal (RFP) process to run the SpayMobile, and contentious past relationships with area humane organizations, stall efforts to reach the no-kill goal.
Our recommendations on how LAAS can reduce its euthanasia rate are broken down into two main categories: (1) improve sterilization efforts and (2) address departmental deficiencies. To improve sterilization programs, we recommend that LAAS implement the following: "The Big Fix", a large-scale effort to spay and neuter as many animals as possible; acquire a second SpayMobile; and target feral cats through increased trap-neuter-release (TNR) efforts. We also recommend hiring a statistician and an analyst to comb policies for cost-effectiveness and to keep track of the animal population.
Given its current trajectory, LAAS is not on target to become no-kill by 2008. Focusing LAAS' efforts on sterilization programs and education will ultimately be the most effective way to reduce its kill rate to low- or no-kill. In his short tenure, the new General Manager has taken large steps to turn LAAS' policies in this direction, which bodes well for the future. Even if implemented immediately, however, the full effect of these programs will not be realized by 2008. Taking longer to become no-kill should not be viewed as failure, but as a function of the magnitude of the problem and the limited resources available to rectify it.