Reinstate funding and staff positions at Los Angeles Animal Services

Black, brown and white dog with upright ears
By Julie Castle

Los Angeles has many things to be proud of — many championship banners to fly, a cinematic industry that has shaped world culture, and much, much more. But perhaps the achievement of which L.A. should be most proud was remedying a social ill that even its proponents believed was impossible in a city of its size and complex diversity. In 2020, Los Angeles became the nation’s largest no-kill city for pets in shelters against all odds and against all naysaying predictions. This was a win for the people of Los Angeles because this wasn’t an idea cooked up by animal activists but rather the result of years of community engagement. In eight years, LA Animal Services (LAAS) went from a 56% save rate to over a 90% save rate.

It had long been held that Los Angeles was just too much of everything to become no-kill: It was too large geographically, it had too many shelters, too many animals — 53,000, as a matter of fact — entering the system each year, too many residents living below the poverty line, too many passionate animal people who could seldom agree amongst themselves on the color of the sky. City council meetings featuring animal services issues were a food fight. It was just too much.

And yet, the people of Los Angeles pulled together and achieved what had been considered impossible. The second largest city in the country had, against all odds and naysayers be damned, become a no-kill city. And that is a banner to be very proud of. Los Angeles stood as a proof point for lifesaving. If it could be done there, no city could claim theirs was too challenging, too complex.

Best Friends Animal Society is a significant stakeholder in lifesaving outcomes for LAAS pets. Since the 2012 launch of NKLA (No-Kill Los Angeles), a Best Friends-funded coalition, we have directly saved over 55,000 LAAS pets and supported the rescue and adoption of thousands more through adoption subsidies to our NKLA partners. We have also invested in human capital by funding 800 good-paying positions at our lifesaving centers over that time period. Our work and our investments continue. To date, we have invested over $75 million in the success of LA Animal Services. In 2020, as a result of broad community engagement and animal-loving Angelenos, the 154-organization-strong NKLA Coalition helped the city achieve the 90% no-kill save rate for pets in shelters, without overlong stays for healthy and treatable animals.

All that is not to toot Best Friends’ horn. None of that would have been possible without hardworking partners and the invested, active participation of the mayor’s office, city council, and LA Animal Services. Rather, it is to validate the fact that my comments on the current situation are not made without standing and come from a place of genuine concern and support for LA Animal Services and the city.

Achieving a no-kill community is not a box to check and then move on from. The years of work and the development of programs and policies are like an athlete developing the habits and routines to get to peak performance. Once that peak performance is achieved, those habits and routines need to be continued, or those muscles, reflexes, and instincts wane.

Achieving a no-kill community, which was declared official city policy several years before the launch of NKLA, was not intended to be a demonstration of what is possible but an expression of the value that the community places on the lives of pets who find themselves without a place to call home and are entirely dependent on the trust they have placed in their human friends for their lives. It also demonstrated that animal services is worthy of investment by the city as a crown jewel in the array of public services delivered by the city and is ready to move to the next level of performance as a fully modern lifesaving-centered community resource.

The past few years have been historically challenging for the entire country, no question, but this is not the time to defund or short-staff both a department that has accomplished so much or an issue that is so important to the community. You don’t have to be very old to remember the drama, public demonstrations, vandalism, and harassment of department staff that took place in the early 2000s in response to the killing of pets in shelters, and it created a revolving door at the LAAS general manager’s office — which saw nine permanent or interim general managers between 1999 and 2010. Animals in shelters matter to the people of Los Angeles, and, animal lover or not, no one believes that tax dollars should fund the killing of dogs and cats.

Today, LA Animal Services is in the news for all the wrong reasons. That is why the new city budget that docks animal services $1.5 million and cuts 43 staff positions is so shortsighted. Now is the time for investment in the department before it backslides to an irrecoverable position.

I respectfully encourage Mayor Bass to reinstate departmental funding and staffing and to stipulate that those staff positions be dedicated to lifesaving outcomes to reduce shelter hold times and the accompanying problems associated with shelter-related behavior issues.

No-kill is not just about animals. It’s about our own integrity and our worthiness of trust at a very simple and basic level.

This can be done. It’s not too late. Los Angeles can regain its position as a model of lifesaving for the United States.


Follow Julie Castle on X and Instagram.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society