A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

Feb 18, 2020

"Leadership is an action not a position"

The subject of pit bulls and other "bully" breeds has always been fraught with agita as we have steadfastly fought against breed specific legislation and bias while focusing on the owner. Even so, there has been an acknowledgement that sometimes nurture loses to nature and that shelter personnel must responsibly make difficult decisions that allow for the adoption of these dogs while considering public safety issues as well. It neither fosters trust in the shelter i.e. to place a dangerous dog in a home, nor protects adoptable dogs of a certain breed from negative media hype and bias.

Sadly, the fear of these dogs results in adoptable ones not being chosen, euthanized, and banned completely from placement opportunities. I write now as two stories crossed my desk today. One, a twenty year old pit pull ban in Denver was about to be repealed and then vetoed at the eleventh hour, while reports of other bites, here in Los Angeles and elsewhere surfaced.

The inroads that were made in stressing reasonableness and responsibility have given way to the ignorant ideologue chants of place everything. They pressure shelter directors around the country to sanitize files, to use euphemistic words to mask aggressive behavior, and to tell well-meaning adopters that just a little love will cure all. The result is more bites, negative press, and lawsuits, which creates shelters full of wonderful dogs that the public is afraid to take home. Again, victimizing the dogs for the sins of those who should and are in a position to know better is cruel. Allowing these pets to languish in shelters creates an appearance that bully breeds are all that shelters offer - so the family turns to puppy mills, Instagram, Craig's' List peddlers, and other questionable sources for a healthy, reliable dog. This leads to warehousing of dogs, hoarding, and overcrowding - again - driving people away from the shelter.

This is not fair at all. Running an animal shelter means leading, managing, and protecting both the shelter pets from harm at the hands of the public as well as protecting the public from dangerous dogs at the shelter. It does not mean running away from difficult decisions.

"Leadership is an action not a position"  Donald Mcgannon


P.S. spcaLA never stopped placing pit bulls and other bully breeds despite the trend to do so, nor will we place a demonstrably unsafe dog into a home. Animal evaluation is not a perfect science - but- our supporters appreciate that we try.




Feb 4, 2020

The Empty Cage Outrage Game


In 2016, six dogs came into spcaLA’s care in very dramatic fashion – their owner let them loose on the 710 freeway during a police pursuit.  After the requisite holding periods, spcaLA transferred in all six dogs from Long Beach Animal Care Services.


Four were puppies and adopted very quickly, but two of the dogs - Honey and Brittney - were adult Pit Bull mixes, who were in poor condition, under-socialized, and clearly presented an adoption challenge.  

For the next year, spcaLA staff and volunteers worked with Honey and Brittney, rehabilitating them physically, including grooming, and veterinary care. Training staff worked on socialization and basic commands so that they would be successful in their new homes. The effects of this attentive and expert attention began to show, and the dogs improved dramatically. These training, grooming, vet care, and education activities all take place outside the kennel. At the end of 2016, Brittney began working with children in spcaLA’s award-winning violence prevention program, Teaching Love and Compassion (TLC ™). Each day, she would leave the shelter to train with the students, her kennel was cleaned and left empty for her return. 
Sadly, there are ignorant agitators who see an empty cage and accuse Brittney of causing the death of another dog who needed that cage. How irresponsible and ridiculous. What true animal lover would not want a dog to be taken out of the cage and be seen? There is no correlation between an empty cage and occupancy. Ask yourself, does a hotel put other occupants in a room while a guest is out sightseeing? No.

This empty cage outrage game is common everywhere animal welfare exists. Those spouting these alternative facts are not serious thinkers and certainly not actual helpers. Their business model is to simply agitate and to recite false facts.

At spcaLA, we have the benefit of 140+ years of animal welfare experience to draw upon to help pets like Brittney and Honey. All of the in-shelter programs, training, vet care, and more is done with one aim in mind: rehabilitating pets and getting them into permanent homes. But, what if you do all the work, and no adopter comes forward? Luckily, we have multiple adoption locations and relationships all over the country to give animals a chance. One pet that gets no looks at one location, can be moved to another, and low and behold, the perfect adopter inquires. Why wouldn’t we, as animal welfare professionals, give a pet every opportunity and benefit possible for a good home including sending them to another location and vice versa?

Does a world class city like Long Beach want to be known for building a wall around their borders to prevent the network of reciprocity between shelters to find homes for difficult to place pets? (A suggestion of the agitators.) Of course, this wont help the pets.

The uninformed recite the same talking points even when educated to the facts. Saddest of all, the agitators find willing vessels in those that prefer to mimic and recite rather than to think and learn for themselves.

Unfortunately these people find those most susceptible to finding similar parasites to spread their nonsense. Fortunately, most thinking individuals see through them. 

spcaLA and our colleagues will continue to do what is best for the animals including  that they be seen by all sorts of potential families. Brittney and others like her will get out of their cages and thrive - whereas the agitators and their infected are doomed to remain in their cages, surrounded by a wall, and wait for the puppeteer to send them their new thoughts.



For those interested in more about Brittney and Honey - see below:


Video of their story: https://youtu.be/y7a5cg3dgxg
Video of Brittney at TLC in East Whittier: https://youtu.be/h4xd-ExU-Po









Jan 14, 2020

spcaLA and the Long Beach State of the City -2020

Mayor Beverly O'Neill opening day 2001

spcaLA served the residents and animals of City of Long Beach since the forties! We operated Long Beach Animal Care & Control from  1940-1960 under the name Southern California Humane Society. At the time, the Long Beach shelter was located at 2150 W Cowles St. Today it’s a used truck sales company.

In the late 1990's, the city of Long Beach again asked spcaLA for help. In a dark overcrowded shelter on Willow street, Long Beach Animal Control was taking in approximately 14,000 animals a year, with a very low live release rate. Under a very forward thinking Mayor, Beverly O'Neill, and a like-minded council the idea of a public private partnership was born. spcaLA began a capital campaign, built and opened the spcaLA P.D. Pitchford Companion Animal Village in 2001. 
Finding homes for over 40,000 Long Beach animals is one of our biggest sources of pride. Our aggressive adoption programs, combined with the fact that our adoptions procedures are trusted throughout the country (as evidenced by our Air Chihuahua program, active since 2009, and other transport activity) has resulted in this fabulous number.

 In addition to our adoption strategies, spcaLA's  robust educational initiatives, affordable vaccine and sterilization programs, creating a beautiful village where people come from around the world, and working with at risk community survivors, have, after 2 decades created at least 2 generations of compassionate and responsible adults. “Compassion saves” is not just adoptions. It is mindful decision making, forward thinking policies, respect for our work, collaborating with other cities, and a moral and ethical approach to ensuring the best quality of life for all our animals. The impound rate plummeted to a remarkable 5195 in 2019. 

On this, the Long Beach State of the City celebration, and the beginning of a new decade. spcaLA congratulates the city of Long Beach, our hundreds of thousands supporters in Long Beach, including our Long Beach staff and volunteers, as well as our millions of supporters throughout the state and other countries who join in this success. Annual visitors since 2001 from Japan, Australia, Dubai, the United Kingdom, have come to Long Beach to study our methods and our public private collaboration – the first of its kind in 2001 and still the best!

Congratulations Long Beach!








Dec 30, 2019

A New Years' Wish

Thank you for all your support and confidence ...

My wish for the new year, and every year, is that we are kind to each other, to animals,  and, to our planet. That we intervene and stop gratuitous cruelty and waste where we find it. That we mentor empathetic behavior so our future is guaranteed.  That you continue to support spcaLA and do not confuse us with that organization in New York.

And, that we all can raise a toast to our health and to lots of laughter.

Happy New Year!

Oct 16, 2019

California enacts Animal Control Standards Act

Google images

Animal control officers have no standard training requirements. Each locality decides what training it wants to provide other than on the job experience. Yet these officers go into private homes to sell licenses. issue citations for animal related violations, investigate animal cruelty, handle dangerous animals and are often in confrontational situations. 

It is in the best interests of the public, our animals and the officers’ safety to provide standardized training and to professionalize the profession as a whole. These officers are not “dog catchers” but rather legitimate law enforcement personnel/public safety officers who should be treated as such.

Governor Newsome has just signed a law, the Animal ControlStandards Act (AB 1125)  which will mandate the creation of standards and training to certify animal control officers. Hopefully, every officer in California will be certified.

Animal control officers are NOT the same as Humane Officers who are sworn, may exercise the powers of peace officers, have mandated extensive training and are not the subject of this legislation.


Oct 8, 2019

New DOG BITE DISCLOSURE law - effective January 2020


California Governor, Gavin Newsom, has signed AB 588 into law. The law effectively mandates the disclosure of a dog’s bite history, prior to their being re-homed. The bill goes into effect January 1, 2020.

Despite existing civil and criminal remedies that apply in addressing fraudulent and deceptive practices, such as sanitizing bite histories, or laundering a bite dog through the rescue community, AB 588, requires that an animal shelter -- defined to include a public animal control agency or shelter, society for the prevention of cruelty to animals shelter, humane society shelter, or rescue group, must disclose a dog’s bite history and the circumstances related to the bite and obtain a signed acknowledgment from the person to whom a dog is sold, given away, or transferred.


Rescue groups are defined as a for-profit or not-for-profit entity or a collaboration of individuals that removes dogs from a public animal control agency or shelter, society for the prevention of cruelty to animals shelter, or humane shelter, or re-homes a dog that has been previously owned by any person other than the original breeder of that dog.

The bite history begins at 4 months of age and is a bite that broke a person’s skin.

The public looks to the animal welfare community to be forthright regarding an animals’ history. If we obfuscate, we lose the public’s trust who will then turn elsewhere to adopt a dog. This legislation protects the shelters and the public, and writes into law what has always been the best practice of credible organizations and rescue groups.

Please take this time to create the documentation requirements before the effective date of the law. 



Sep 13, 2019

"Man is a race of monsters inefficiently chained." Brandon Sanderson




"Man is a race of monsters inefficiently chained."  Brandon Sanderson

help in a hurricane
The quote is from a fantasy trilogy, by Brandon Sanderson, in which some people mysteriously develop superpowers and promptly proceed to try to destroy each other and the already dystopian planet in fits of narcissistic rage. The hero and his group try to save it all. Trying to understand why the superheroes, called "epics", become corrupt and choose evil rather than using their powers for good - the hero is told that "man is a race of monsters inefficiently chained".

I began to wonder what the chains were. Religion, Laws, Facts, Nature - all things used to control, unify, and limit human conduct while promoting a civilized society. Also, all things that can be ignored, manipulated, overridden, and polluted, which will result in anarchy and chaos. The presumption seems to be, that at our core, we will not do the "right" thing without force. If left unattended we will scramble for the power to create new controlling chains, become corrupt, and, compete to become the most powerful.  In the process, destroy everything.

My career has always focused on the awful - crime and the things people will do to each other. Today is no exception. Yet, against the backdrop of the Amazon forest fire, the hurricane in the Bahamas, the rise of hate crimes and violence against innocents and "others", and the constant drum beat that there is corruption in the execution of our societal rules -  I have to say this:

Our super power is our basic good nature. It is a quiet power rather than the ability to fly or melt steel. It is an invincible power and present in most of us. However, it must be asserted and exerted through action and collaboration. We can all be kind to others and outnumber the bullies. We can all refuse to purchase tortured dogs from around the world and drive out puppy mills, we can all expose those who would steal and cheat us, and, we can rise up and mentor acts of moral rectitude for our children and those who don't yet know that they possess a super power.

We are a race of philanthropists and altruists who, when, left alone, need no artificial, inefficient chains to do the right thing. We just do it. This is a fact.