A new chapter in Los Angeles

Person wearing Best Friends hat, hugging a German shepherd, by the Mission Hills location

Like so many other things in our changing world, lifesaving is about meeting the moment. Even if your goal hasn’t changed, the path to get there often does, so meeting the moment can mean changing course.

But the road to achieving no-kill in every shelter and every community by 2025 was never intended to be a straight line. We knew that the landscape would change as we went along. And this has certainly been the case with our work in Los Angeles.

In 2011, the save rate for Los Angeles Animal Services (LAAS) was around 58%. To meet that moment, Best Friends began operating the LAAS facility in Mission Hills, California. We formed the No-Kill Los Angeles (NKLA) Coalition, now made up of more than 140 animal welfare organizations, including LAAS. It’s the most ambitious public-private partnership in animal welfare.

We had the backing of Mayor Villaraigosa and the city council, who had the vision to partner with Best Friends, as well as the support of Brenda Barnette, who was leading LAAS. Together, in 2020, we achieved our goal of taking the second most populous city and the second largest sheltering system in the country to no-kill with a save rate of just over 90%. For dogs, the save rate is even better — between 90% and 95% for the past five years.

I’ve written about this before and even though it isn’t the subject of this blog, I have to say it again. Huge kudos and thanks to LAAS, our coalition partners, and all of Best Friends’ staff, volunteers and supporters for this amazing achievement.

The last 10 years have brought changes throughout the country and our work is, once again, evolving to meet the moment. Right now, cats make up about 70% of the animals killed in shelters across the country, even though dogs and cats enter shelters at about the same rate. To achieve our goal to bring the entire country to no-kill by 2025, we need to address this head-on through increased foster and trap-neuter-vaccinate-return (TNVR) programs. To reach every community, we must move away from the 150-year-old model of brick-and-mortar animal sheltering and bring our programming into communities. And via transport programs, we need to move homeless pets from places where they’re in abundance to places where they’re in demand.

This is the moment we need to meet, now, in 2022. We’re doing this in countless ways throughout our organization and in conjunction with our 3,700 network partners. In Los Angeles, we’re doing it by centralizing our operations in our West Los Angeles facility and transitioning out of the Mission Hills facility by December 31 of this year. Given Los Angeles’ tremendous and sustainable success in lifesaving, we no longer need to house large numbers of dogs, which is the primary capability of the Mission Hills facility. To meet our 2025 no-kill goal, it is imperative that we begin to help more communities and animals in shelters that still have significant lifesaving gaps.

Our West Los Angeles facility is expanding to include a state-of-the-art clinic. We’ll still take in dogs, provide care for neonatal kittens, hold events, host trainings, serve as a transport hub and do many of the things we’re already doing. But with a centralized workforce in our improved West L.A. center, we’ll be able to support not only LAAS, but other organizations, and we’ll continue to support TNVR efforts in Los Angeles.

It will be a bittersweet day when we turn over the keys to the Mission Hills center. So much was accomplished there, so many animals were saved, so many relationships were formed and matured, and so many lessons were learned. Our struggles and accomplishments over the last 10-plus years wrote an essential chapter in the no-kill story — one that has positively impacted other cities in ways we’ve clearly seen and in ways we will probably never know.

Everyone involved in the operation of the Mission Hills facility, our staff and volunteers, our NKLA Coalition partners, and especially our partners at LAAS should be incredibly proud of how they met the moment and changed animal sheltering not just for Los Angeles, but for the entire nation and for the countless animals who are now in loving homes.