Best Friends proposes to operate a lifesaving center in Los Angeles

UPDATE: We are thrilled to be able to announce that the City Council passed this proposal by an 11-1 margin! We'll have more details coming soon, but we want to say thank you to all of you who took the time to advocate on behalf of the animals of Los Angeles! 

Pop quiz: Which saves more lives? A boarded-up building or a bustling community facility conducting adoptions and spay/neuter surgeries? While the answer may seem like a no-brainer, you might be surprised that not everyone’s noggin computes like yours and mine.

Best Friends Animal Society has submitted a proposal to the city of Los Angeles to operate a lifesaving, high-volume adoption and spay/neuter center at the Northeast Valley shelter, a facility that has never been opened to the public due to budget and staffing shortfalls.

Full disclosure: I love Los Angeles. It’s a great city. I was born and went to college in New York City, but I love L.A.  My wife, Silva, and I have been working in L.A. since 1991, and we have many friends in the animal welfare and rescue community. We developed model programs here and watched our local L.A. programs grow from a couple of people (us) and a group of volunteers knocking on doors for foster homes to a leader in the L.A. animal welfare community.

So, when the opportunity presented itself to do something really big for the animals and people of Los Angeles, I was delighted — especially since it is an opportunity to partner with the city when they really need a partner.

It’s a sweet deal for Los Angeles and for L.A. shelter pets. Best Friends will invest over a million dollars per year to turn what has now become a vacant building into a thriving adoption center and low-cost spay/neuter clinic for an underserved community. Our goal in the first year alone is to place 3,000 homeless pets from the other city shelters in good new homes and to fix 6,000 dogs and cats. That’s 3,000 fewer animals who will die in the L.A. shelter system and 6,000 pets who won’t have babies going into the community.

So the proposal should be a slam dunk, right?

Not so fast!

Let’s back up a tad. Northeast Valley was proposed for closure in the Mayor's Proposed 2010-11 Budget, and as revenues continued to shrink, the city administrative officer (CAO) of Los Angeles issued a Request for Information (RFI) to see if a qualified nonprofit would step forward to apply to operate the facility, avoid closure and save more animals’ lives.

The RFI period was extended from the normal four weeks to six weeks, and Best Friends was the only organization to submit a proposal. Being the only entrant, the city attorney gave the CAO the go-ahead to negotiate a draft contract with Best Friends to run the high-volume adoption and spay/neuter model out of the otherwise soon-to-be-closed Northeast Valley shelter.

The draft contract needed approval of the L.A. City Council to move to the next phase of evolution into a final contract.

Last Friday, our proposal went to the City Council. Council Member Richard Alarcón, who represents the 7th district where the Northeast Valley shelter is located, has objected to this idea from the start, feeling that his district deserves the full-service shelter that the bond measure that created it promised back in 2000. That is quite understandable, but just not possible in the current down economy.

Adoptable catWhile we can’t give Alarcón’s district the full-service shelter originally planned, Best Friends is offering to run an adoption center that will place 3,000 pets with families in the first year. We are offering to provide 6,000 spay/neuter procedures, including at least half for low-income residents of the 7th district who would otherwise not be able to afford to have their animals fixed. What we are not offering is to provide animal control services. Unlike spay/neuter and adoptions, this is not our area of focus or expertise. However, since the Northeast Valley shelter has only ever had a skeleton staff, animal control services have never been offered from this location, so there will be no drop off in service. In fact, there will be a big boost in public services as described above.

Council Member Alarcón opposed our bid vociferously on Friday, citing everything from procedural issues to labor issues. Apparently he would rather see the facility fenced and boarded up, which will happen soon, than see it operated as the lifesaving center we have proposed.

We needed 8 votes to pass but only got 7 of the 10 council members in attendance to vote in favor. Council Member Alarcón managed to pull two fence-sitters into his camp.

Well, a 7-3 vote didn’t carry the day for L.A.’s shelter animals, but we are still in the game. We have another shot this coming Tuesday when a revote is scheduled and more council members will be in attendance. If you live in Los Angeles, we need your help to secure that 8th vote.

This is politics, folks … it’s not a spectator sport!

It is really important that you contact your city council member and tell them that you want them to vote in favor of Best Friends’ proposal to run a lifesaving adoption and spay/neuter center at the Northeast Valley shelter.
Call or write now and tell them to vote in favor of Best Friends. The vote is Tuesday, August 16th. They need to hear from you right away!

If you don’t live in LA, we can still use your help.  Please post this on Facebook and Twitter, and email any family or friends you have in L.A. who may be in favor and wish to voice their support.

Thank you for all you do to help homeless pets. Our work wouldn’t be possible without you.


Many questions are circulating about the operation of the Northeast Valley shelter, so we’re taking the opportunity to answer them here.

Q1 – Is it the case that Best Friends will only have 50 animals at the 200-capacity shelter, and those 50 will be "cherry picked" from the city shelters?

A1 - Best Friends plans to have 100 to 150 animals at the Northeast Valley shelter at any given time. The language in the draft contract was intended to establish the minimum number of animals that we might have there on any given day without being in violation of the contract. Our budget and staffing estimates are based on having 100 dogs and 50 cats at the shelter.

Q2 – Will Best Friends only have small adoptable dogs who would ordinarily get adopted at the shelter anyway?

A2 - Best Friends will have dogs of all sizes and breeds.

Q3 – Is Best Friends really qualified to run a shelter? 

A3 - Best Friends operates the nation’s largest sanctuary for abandoned and abused animals, many with behavior and/or health problems. We have run emergency shelters all over the country, from New Orleans to North Dakota, that cared for thousands of animals. We have also run several high-volume retail adoption centers. Additionally, we have run the highest volume mobile spay/neuter clinic with lowest cost and lowest complication rate per surgery in the country.

Q4 - Why should Best Friends be handed the shelter for free when they are a $40+ million organization?

A4 - Best Friends intends to invest in excess of $1 million per year to operate the Northeast Valley as a lifesaving center that will help find homes for 3,000 shelter animals and spay/neuter 6,000 pets.

Q5 – Will any Los Angeles Animal Services staff be laid off so Best Friends can take over this facility?

A5 - No Los Angeles Animal Services staff will be laid off as a result of the Best Friends proposal.

Q6 - Why can't the city just open the shelter as a full-service facility?

A6 - All city services are being cut. L.A. Animal Services has a hiring freeze due to budget constraints. The city doesn’t have the money to open a seventh shelter.

Q7 - Why weren't other groups considered as well to take over the shelter?

A7 - Any organization could have applied, but Best Friends was the only group that did.

Q8 - Where will all the animals that typically go to Northeast Valley go now (e.g., moms with puppies/kittens, court case and transport dogs)?

A8 – These animals will go to non-adoption quarantine areas of other shelters. Because the Northeast Valley shelter is already closed, that is where they are already being housed. If Best Friends is allowed to reopen the Northeast Valley shelter as a lifesaving shelter, animals will be brought there for adoption from other shelters, which will relieve shelter crowding.

Q9 - Northeast Valley shelter was full of evidence animals and nursing moms and kittens. Is it true that because Best Friends is taking over, they were sent to the other high-kill L.A. Animal Services shelters or killed?

A9 - The shelter was scheduled for closure in July, with or without Best Friends.

Q10 - Why isn’t Best Friends planning to accept owner surrenders?

A10 - Best Friends will run a high-volume adoption center and high-volume spay/neuter clinic. We are not fulfilling animal control functions. Animal surrenders from the Northeast Valley will go to the East Valley shelter as they always have.

Q11 - Why is an “outside” group going to run an L.A. shelter?

A11 - Best Friends is not an outside group. Although we are based in Utah, we have been working in Los Angeles since 1991. Many people who began their rescue career as a Best Friends volunteer founded a number of the local rescue groups. Best Friends has worked to save shelter pets with seven Los Angeles Animal Services general managers through three administrations.

Q12 - Why didn't Best Friends have to do a Request for Proposal (RFP)?

A12 - Best Friends submitted the only response to the RFI, and the city attorney declared that the CAO could go straight to negations for a draft contract. RFPs normally take a long time, from six months to a year. The shelter would still have been closed with no benefit to the animals or the community.


Francis Battista