NKLA continues to exceed goals

Los Angeles is the second largest city in the United States with 4 million residents. It is over 40 miles from its northernmost communities to its southernmost and covers 468 square miles. It is also incredibly diverse and multicultural – just what we are looking for in a city to demonstrate the viability of no-kill for any municipality.

No-Kill Los Angeles (NKLA) is a coalition of over 50 no-kill animal welfare agencies working to end the killing of shelter pets in Los Angeles city animal shelters. Since the NKLA campaign began, shelter deaths have been lower every month compared with the corresponding month of the previous year. So, January 2012 was better for the animals than January 2011, and so forth for every month of 2012. That trend continues as the first five months of 2013 saw fewer shelter deaths each month than the same months in 2012.

For calendar year 2012, over 4,200 fewer animals were killed in Los Angeles city shelters than in 2011. Through May of 2013, NKLA is already ahead of the 2012 pace by 1,115 fewer shelter deaths.

OK, enough on numbers for a minute! As one of my colleagues is fond of saying, it’s beginning to sound like a report from the Bureau of Weights and Measures, and it’s easy for numbers to obscure the fact that we are talking about lives saved. Lives that not only have intrinsic value in their own right, but lives that are now adding joy to homes and families, offering companionship to seniors, and bringing smiles to children’s faces. NKLA is working, and the community of Los Angeles is better for it.

NKLA is an initiative of Best Friends Animal Society. We fund thousands of free or low-cost spay/neuter procedures for pets of low-income families in Los Angeles, and we offer adoption incentives to coalition partners to increase their adoptions of L.A. Animal Services shelter pets to good homes.

So, while NKLA is funded by Best Friends, the success of NKLA owes to the commitment and hard work of NKLA member organizations – to organizations like Stray Cat Alliance, which is pounding the pavement of South L.A.’s most challenging neighborhoods to get cats into their NKLA-funded spay/neuter program, or Downtown Dog Rescue, which has initiated a pet surrender intervention program at the new South L.A. shelter that, in its first three months of operation, has prevented 659 pets from entering the shelter. Staffing for this program is funded by another NKLA partner, Found Animals Foundation, which has also inaugurated and sponsors innovative shelter adoption promotions, such as their Twelve Pets of Christmas, which offered a seasonal adoption subsidy to the public for adopting from 12 categories of harder-to-place pets, such as older animals, larger dogs, dogs or cats with minor medical issues, etc. Implicit within all of this is the role of our most important NKLA partner, Los Angeles Department of Animal Services, under the leadership of general manager Brenda Barnette, who has embraced NKLA and worked to collaborate with lifesaving programs at every turn.

As NKLA continues to gain momentum, it is becoming what we had hoped it to be, a campaign that is a point of pride for the entire city of Los Angeles and one that is “owned” by all segments of the community – from city government, to business, to the public, and of course the rescue and spay/neuter communities, which is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to providing the needed support for L.A. Animal Services to become no-kill.

One of the key drivers for the success of NKLA is Best Friends public/private partnership with the city of Los Angeles through which we operate one of the city shelter facilities, located in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles, as Best Friends Pet Adoption and Spay/Neuter Center. All animals who come into the adoption center are from one of the six other city shelters, and spay/neuter services are low cost or free depending on the income level of the pet owner. As of the end of May 2013, Best Friends had pulled 2,800 dogs and cats from city shelters. With new adoption opportunities planned for the second half of the year, we expect that rate of transfer from the city shelter to Best Friends Pet Adoption and Spay/Neuter Center to increase. During the same five months, the spay/neuter clinic at the center performed 2,458 surgeries.

When NKLA was launched, we knew that addressing the disproportionately high number of kittens under eight weeks of age who are dying in the shelter is a priority. In 2011, over 7,000 kittens were killed in the shelter owing to a lack of resources to care for them in the shelter environment and to the lack of a neonatal foster program proportional to the task. In 2012, we began to develop a robust kitten foster network, and in 2013 we set up a bottle-baby nursery at the Mission Hills facility and brought an additional staff person to manage the kitten neonatal care and fostering program. As of the end of May, Best Friends had claimed 894 kittens from L.A. Animal Services and moved them into our nursery/foster care network. Other NKLA partners who are making a significant contribution on this front are Kitten Rescue, with a long-standing foster care network, and Found Animals Foundation, which is building out an additional kitten foster care program.

The kitten challenge for Los Angeles is made worse by the fact that in 2009, a California state court issued an injunction against the city of Los Angeles that prohibits L.A. Animal Services from providing any assistance, information or referrals to the public about trap/neuter/return (TNR) resources, which are available for free through rescue groups. The injunction was sought and won through a lawsuit filed against L.A. Animal Services by the Urban Wildlands Group, a bird advocacy group opposed to TNR.

The lack of a robust, well-organized TNR-based community cat program means an increase in the number of shelter kittens. This is simply a reflection of the increased number of kittens being born to free-roaming cats, most of which don’t enter the system and naturally go on to breed themselves. The injunction is entirely counterproductive for birds and cats, but until this matter is resolved through the courts and a progressive community cat management protocol can be implemented by the city, we will be dealing with community cat populations with one hand tied behind our back. Still, more kittens are being saved than ever before, and NKLA will continue to build those options open to us with more programs, and more innovation, and more foster homes, and more adoptions.

It’s one thing to draw all this up on paper as my colleagues from Best Friends and I, along with other NKLA founding leaders, did in 2010. It’s quite another to see it coming together in terms of reduced shelter killing and broad community participation.

We are excited about NKLA and gratified by the dramatic drop in shelter killing even as we are acutely aware of every life that is still lost in the shelter. Our NKLA partners and we are committed to ending the killing in Los Angeles city shelters, but we need your help and support. Visit NKLA.org to find out how you can be a part of this historic movement. We will make L.A. into NKLA. We will Save Them All.