Benchmark results from Los Angeles point to bright future for no-kill

By Gregory Castle

In 2011, Best Friends laid the groundwork for a coalition-based initiative to lead the city of Los Angeles to no-kill. Working closely with Brenda Barnette, general manager of Los Angeles Animal Services, and a small group of leaders of local animal welfare agencies (Found Animals Foundation and FixNation on the spay/neuter front, Downtown Dog Rescue and Karma Rescue on dog issues, and Stray Cat Alliance and Kitten Rescue for cats), we laid out a plan based on the coalition model that we had refined in Utah several years earlier.

Best Friends had had long-standing relationships with the city and the local rescue community, but it was important to establish buy-in from as many partners as possible for this quantum leap of engagement. We also conducted an in-depth analysis of the problem for this incredibly diverse, sprawling city on a shelter by shelter, zip code by zip code basis. What types of animals were entering which shelters from which neighborhoods? What resources were available or lacking? Where would our target efforts be most effective and what should those efforts be?

The result of all that work and consultation was a broad coalition that comprised the nucleus of the NKLA initiative that Best Friends Animal Society launched at the beginning of 2012.

I am very proud to report to you that the effort has worked exactly as planned. Well, not exactly. It’s worked better than that. Shelter deaths in Los Angeles have been cut nearly in half in just two years.

In 2011, the year before the NKLA initiative began, the number of healthy or adoptable animals who died in L.A. shelters was 17,400. By the end of 2013, that number had dropped to 9,075.

The NKLA initiative has been an all-out blitz on the city of Los Angeles for the last two years. If you live in L.A. or have been following the initiative through our reports in the Best Friends Web pages, you are likely to have seen the beautiful and striking NKLA ads featuring powerful black and white images. The ads and the public look and feel of the initiative were created for Best Friends, pro bono, by legendary advertising genius Lee Clow and his team at TBWA\Chiat\Day. Their genuine commitment to the cause catapulted the NKLA initiative to the forefront of public attention from the beginning.

But the heart of the effort is the NKLA Coalition. Today, 75 like-minded rescue, spay/neuter and animal welfare organizations are working together to end the killing. That’s a pretty incredible feat, and their sharing of resources and information is a large reason for the dramatic decrease in deaths.

I believe initiatives like NKLA are essential to our movement’s success and mission achievement. Coalition members do not have to agree on every single point within the animal welfare world; the essential bargain within a coalition is to focus the groups’ combined energy and resources on the overarching and urgent goal of ending shelter killing. And, for NKLA, that goal is to end the killing in L.A.’s animal shelters.

How we’re achieving this isn’t exactly rocket science. High-volume adoptions and economically targeted spay/neuter have been the priorities for the first two years of the coalition.

On the adoption side, coalition partners are moving more animals out of the shelters backed by support from Best Friends and increasingly refined and effective promotions.

A big boost has been the two pet adoption centers operated by Best Friends. The relatively new NKLA Pet Adoption Center has been a welcome addition, allowing the members of the coalition to showcase their animals in a state-of-the-art facility in trendy West L.A.

The larger Best Friends Pet Adoption and Spay/Neuter Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles operates out of a recently constructed city shelter that never opened to the public because of budget shortfalls. Thanks to a public/private partnership with the city, Best Friends took occupancy in January of 2012. Every day, hundreds of dogs and cats from the six L.A. city shelters are showcased for adoption there. Combined, the two centers in 2013 report roughly 3,800 adoptions!

For spay and neuter, the goal has been to increase access and delivery of services to the communities most in need. Coalition partners are providing better access to spay and neuter services for low-income people with pets and are offering shelter surrender intervention services for those with few resources. The beneficiaries are the pets of L.A. residents who care deeply for their animals, but are unable to afford expensive surgery or, in some cases, transportation to the clinic. Increasingly, the underserved are now being served, and we’re seeing the effects from that in fewer animals entering the shelter system.

As part of this effort, the Best Friends Mission Hills spay/neuter clinic has performed 6,183 surgeries in 2013 alone. Roughly half of those were for pets of low-income families.

These are incredible results. Our goal for L.A. to become No-Kill Los Angeles by 2017 is very much in reach. But we’re not there yet, nor are we stopping.

This initiative for Los Angeles to become a sustainable, no-kill community offers a template for how the same can be replicated in other large cities around the country. No-kill is the future of sheltering and we are excited to see it unfold.

Together, we will Save Them All®.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society