A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

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.

Aug 13, 2019

spcaLA & National Police Foundation Unveil Report to Reduce Dog Shootings in Police Encounters

Statistics indicate that 70% of shots fired by law enforcement are at animals, mostly family pets, then wildlife. In response to a highly publicized shooting of a dog in Hawthorne California, spcaLA developed a course, certified by the Commission on Peace Officer Training and Standards, to assist officers in avoiding lethal force where possible thus enhancing the safety of pets, the officers and members of the public at or near the incident. 

We have worked in concert with the National Canine Research Council (NCRC) and MILO Range, to create an evidenced based report , and an interactive training using a force option simulator.

This 21st century training will transform the way that law enforcement interacts with dogs—tremendously enhancing safety for the officers, the animals and the public.  

Additionally, this program will be unique in that, unlike other simulator programs, we are using family pets in the simulations and NOT trained police dogs or animals actors. No trainer can tell a dog to pretend to be a household pet, nor is it fair to the officers to provide such inadequate training and put them back in the field. 

There are times that an officer must use lethal force to protect him or herself. Where the officers find themselves criminally and/or civilly liable is when the justification for lethal force is not present. When this happens, everyone suffers.

Our collective intention is to make sure that this doesn’t happen and that poor training with outdated information doesn't actually cause a shooting.

Los Angeles County has already made this training MANDATORY for its Bureau of District Attorney Investigators.

Aug 7, 2019

Socially Conscious Animal Sheltering - A guest blogger in her own words

Marcia Mayeda- Director DACC 

Director's Blog

August 7, 2019

DACC is Redefining Care

I am pleased to announce that DACC has adopted the term “Socially Conscious Animal Sheltering” (SCAS) to describe its animal care philosophies and procedures. SCAS is a new term being used by forward-thinking animal welfare organizations in a response to the misleading terminology and negative consequences of “no-kill” philosophies and practices.
The term “no-kill” is poorly defined and misunderstood by many members of the public. The term itself implies that a 100% live release rate (LRR) of animals is achieved, but that is not accurate.  “No-Kill” proponents proclaim that a 90% LRR means an animal shelter can be labeled “no-kill”, but there is no data to support this as a justifiable measurement. It is simply a number chosen by “no-kill” proponents without any basis in meaningful and objective longitudinal studies of animal shelter statistics. While one national organization recently released a “dashboard” of statistics for animal shelters throughout the country, it is fraught with errors and cannot be relied upon. People investigating this topic must be educated readers who closely analyze the information provided.
The “no-kill” movement’s use of the LRR for animals as a measure of success fails to consider various key factors. These include, but are not limited to:
  • The adoptability of incoming animals such as aggressive dogs, feral cats, and irremediably suffering or terminally ill animals;
  • The resources of the animal sheltering agency to provide intervention and rehabilitation services;
  • The household income and population transiency of pet owners in the community, including the increasing numbers of pet owners experiencing homelessness;
  • Pets that are at the ends of their lives and whose owners surrender them for humane euthanasia because the owners cannot afford to seek this service at a veterinary hospital;
  • Low cost resources available to assist pet owners.
Blaming or shaming animal welfare agencies for circumstances beyond their control is unreasonable and has caused great disharmony in the animal welfare field. However, using the “no-kill” label have been an unbelievable fundraising success for both national and local organizations.  Adopting “no-kill” has also been used as the easier response by both local government agencies and private organizations to community activists, rather than doing the difficult work of delving through the multifaceted issues surrounding the care for unwanted animals. Like any social cause, animal sheltering is a complex issue that cannot be explained away with a polemic slogan.
Many “no-kill” practices have created a number of negative consequences in order to meet the artificially established 90% live release rate of animals established by its proponents. These include:
  • Refusing admissions to animals they cannot subsequently offer for adoption, thereby denying these animals a safe haven from abandonment or neglect. This practice results in animal abandonment and suffering, and threats to public and animal safety because dangerous animals are not removed from the community;
  • Delaying admission through waiting lists for space availability or reduction of hours of operation, intentionally making it difficult for the community to bring in stray or owned animals, resulting in animal abandonment;
  • Refusing to accept cats that are unwanted in the community, or re-abandoning the cats to fend for themselves. While trap-neuter-return programs can be successful in the context of saving cats’ lives, they require intensive management to maintain humane conditions for the cats. Simply abandoning cats without thorough and consistent support is inhumane and possibly illegal. There are also significant negative consequences for native wildlife that are preyed upon by outdoor cats. We should care about ALL animals in our communities, including wildlife, and not dismiss their well-being to serve a statistic.
  • Refusal to euthanize animals in the shelters, creating severe overcrowding, behavioral trauma, disease outbreaks, animal attacks, and complaints of animal abuse and neglect. A number of “no-kill” shelters have been cited by local authorities for failing to provide humane environments for their animals. Some have been taken over by national organizations to resolve serious disease and neglect situations.
  • Releasing dangerous dogs for adoption into the community in order to meet the statistical live release goals, seriously jeopardizing public and animal safety. It is a sad reality that some dogs, through genetics or other factors, simply cannot safely coexist in our society. Many of their victims are other animals. Don’t we care about protecting these potential victims from horrible and violent deaths caused by dangerous dogs?
  • Increased budgetary needs of more than five times the original budget in order to pay for staff and programs to strive for a no kill status. In a time where government budgets are stretched thin and nonprofit donations are dropping, finding the gargantuan resources to respond to this demand is not sustainable.
Many animal welfare organizations, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have expressed deep concern over the negative results of “no-kill” practices. The Colorado Veterinary Medical Association has taken a strong opposition to “no-kill” because of the harm its practices have caused.
For these reasons and others, the Department of Animal Care and Control (DACC) has instead adopted the SCAS term for expressing its operating principles. SCAS strives to create the best outcome for all animals by treating them respectfully and alleviating their suffering. The mission is to maximize live outcomes for animals, while also balancing animal well-being and public safety. Fundamental goals of SCAS are provided through DACC and its seven animal care centers to:
  • Ensure every unwanted or homeless pet has a safe place to go for shelter and care. DACC care centers will not turn away animals in need of protection and care.
  • Making every healthy and safe animal available for adoption. DACC will not offer for adoption animals that are irremediably suffering or dangerous to the community. Shelters that do so create a public aversion to homeless pet adoption, making it more difficult to achieve our missions.
  • Assess the medical and behavioral needs of homeless animals and ensure these needs are thoughtfully addressed. DACC, through its medical team and its animal behavior and enrichment team, provides a holistic approach to ensuring each animal's needs are properly addressed.
  • Align DACC policy with the needs of the community. DACC recognizes its responsibility to the public trust, and ensures its programs and policies reflect and support this obligation.
  • Alleviate suffering and make appropriate euthanasia decisions. DACC often accepts animals that are irremediably suffering and cannot live without experiencing severe, unremitting pain or other serious health challenges. In these situations, it is most humane to relieve an animal's suffering with compassionate euthanasia.
  • Consider the health and wellness of animals for each community when transferring animals. DACC participates in many animal transport programs where animals are taken from DACC's care centers to areas of the country that are experiencing a shortage of shelter animals. These win-win programs save thousands of animal lives each year. However, it is also important that animals transported through these programs do not suffer from physical or behavioral defects that could endanger animals or people in their new communities. DACC transferred 7,763 animals last fiscal year to low-intake animal shelters.
  • Enhance the human-animal bond through thoughtful placements and post-adoption support. DACC works with potential adopters to ensure animals they select are suitable matches for their lifestyles, the adopter is able to properly care for and handle the animal, and other factors to make certain the placement is successful. DACC provides post-adoption support to adopters to ensure the placement thrives.
  • Foster a culture of transparency, ethical decision-making, mutual respect, continual learning, and collaboration. DACC remains committed to upholding the highest ethical standards in meeting its mission of protecting people and animals.
DACC’s live release for dogs is 88%, and cat live release has increased from 26.5% to 50.5% in the past five years. Through collaboration with strategic partners, especially the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), DACC has been able to greatly improve outcomes for animals in its care.
Solely relying on the LRR as a measure of success ignores many other factors. For example:
  • As animal ownership improves in a community, fewer adoptable animals will be surrendered to the animal shelter because they are all spayed or neutered and in permanent homes. The only animals entering a shelter will be those that are truly unadoptable (vicious, untreatable, etc.). In this scenario, the LRR will drop to nearly zero because the only animals that arrive will in fact require humane euthanasia. For this reason alone, using the LRR is chasing a false target that will actually drop as the community solves its unwanted animal problem.
  • When we drive our cars, there are many measurements that are important to ensure a safe journey. Simply checking the fuel gauge ignores the oil level, tire pressure, and other important indicators. Relying solely on the LRR ignores the health of the animal population in the shelters, the average length of stay for animals in the shelters, number of bites and attacks in the community, and number of animals that died on the street. All of these, and more, are important to evaluating a community’s approach to solving its animal welfare issues.
The term “no-kill” initially served a good purpose several decades ago to bring to light the crises of animal euthanasia in our nation’s animal shelters. However, animal sheltering has evolved tremendously since that time, and the phrase “no-kill” cannot be used to describe or measure modern day animal welfare best practices.
DACC is committed to continuing our efforts through Socially Conscious Animal Sheltering to save animals’ lives and protect our communities. Are you with us?
For more information about Socially Conscious Animal Sheltering, please see: Colorado Veterinary Medical Association
For more information about no-kill concerns, please see: PETA
For an insightful commentary by spcaLA president Madeline Bernstein on this topic, please see: spcaLA

Jun 18, 2019

We Are ALL No Kill

I call on every animal welfare individual, organization, group and association to stand together and simply say, post and remind everyone - we are all "no kill" - who isn't? Of course!

I saw an interview of one of the actors in The Handmaid's Tale, who was discussing new Georgia anti-abortion laws, as this show films in Georgia. She looked into the camera and said - "we are ALL pro-life. Who isn't?" (Serial killers excepted)  She went on to discuss that we have to care for all life, i.e. the mother, the rape victim, the doctors, and, of course starving children and vulnerable populations everywhere so as not to be hypocritical. Is letting a mother die or killing a doctor pro-life? Of course not.

The question is not are we pro-life, (pro-choice people are pro-life too), but rather how are we treating life? What choices do we make so we ensure all a good quality of life and prevent suffering?

 This is also a truth for those of us in the animal welfare business.

We are all "no kill". Whether one calls it Getting to Zero, Compassion Saves or Save Them All. The point is to rehabilitate and place all who can be into homes, and eliminate pain and suffering from those who can't be safely placed. To do so requires community trust, volunteers, legitimate rescue/help, and increased outlets for our pets to be seen. These terms have no rational opposite. It is ridiculous to think that we, an empathetic and compassionate people, who rally to help a stranded puppy, a homeless person, or a disaster victim on the other side of the world is anything but that.

Yet the ideologues, whether political, religious, or one-issue wonders, are rabid, disruptive, sometimes violent and never helpful. For example, telling children not to adopt a pet from an overcrowded pound, a place with the greatest need, because the shelter does not adhere to their definition of "no kill", leaves more pets not adopted as visitors are scared away. As ideologues never actually help, but rather holler nationally issued talking points and rehearsed propaganda, they leave those who work in the shelters and rescue groups, who really have dedicated their lives to tending to these pets, to do it all against a cacophony of insults. The ideologues are neither "no kill" nor are they advancing an animal welfare platform, but rather, they disrupt and demonize those who are. They divert people and treasure from doing their jobs. They actually cause the killing by this behavior.

They are the opposite of no kill.

Haruki Murakami, author of Kafka on the Shore, defined ideologues as "hollow people". People who fill up on talking points, lies, and anger with no independent thoughts or moral center. They fraternize in a gang like atmosphere with other hollow people who mirror each other's positions. Sadly, when they pair up with hollow politicians they can make some think that they are of people of substance. They are not. They are parrots rather than serious thinkers. They never do. They just yell at the people who do. They obey their cult leaders.

The good news is that we, actually, everyone else in the world are not hollow people. We brim with facts, empathy, science and a solid ethical core that leaves no room for toxic sputum. As we soothe and heal those who suffer, ideologues, the hollow people, criticize this help. It is not just shameful behavior, it is grifting, as their aim is to divert help from the needy to themselves, and deliver nothing in return. Think about it, by scaring people away from the shelters they perpetuate themselves. Fundraising is often a factor as well. In other words, they sustain the problem and their fundraising platform! This diverts funds from those need them most. Our homeless pets and those who tend them.

We are all pro-life and "no kill".  We strive so that all may live a quality life. We must not invite or suffer the hollow people to fill spaces in which they can metastasize and ruin our good works.

Every animal shelter, public or private, and rescue organizations, is "no kill". Who Isn't? - Of Course!

Jun 6, 2019

Puppy Peddler charged with 52 criminal counts. Are you a victim?

A 26-year-old man has been charged with 52 criminal counts for selling puppies that became very ill soon after they were sold to more than two dozen victims, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced today. The charges are the result of an investigation by Society for the Prevention of Cruelty toAnimals Los Angeles (spcaLA).

Gustavo Gonzalez (dob 4/1/93) of Downey faces 28 felony counts of cruelty to an animal, one felony count each of first-degree residential burglary and grand theft as well as 22 misdemeanor counts of petty theft.

The case is being tried by Deputy District Attorneys Kimberly Abourezk, Animal Cruelty Coordinator, and Duke Chau of the Consumer Protection Division.

Arraignment is scheduled on June 10 in Department 30 of the Foltz Criminal Justice Center. Case BA478369 was filed for warrant on June 5.

The criminal complaint charges Gonzalez with selling 28 sick puppies to 25 families throughout Southern California from February 2018 to April 2019. Most of the puppies died after the victims brought them to their homes.

Bail is set at $740,000. If convicted as charged, the defendant faces a possible maximum sentence of 36 years in custody.

Anyone who believes they may have been a victim is encouraged to call the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs at (800) 593-8222.

spcaLA is the only private animal welfare organization in Los Angeles that is also Law Enforcement. spcaLA Humane Officers hold the same powers of Peace Officers in the state of California when investigating animal cruelty. spcaLA is a non-profit agency that relies on donations for its programs and services, including animal cruelty investigations. 

The case remains under investigation by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles, DCBA, the District Attorney’s Office Bureau of Investigation and the Downey Police Department.

May 23, 2019

What do you think? An eternal bond? Is it right?

Courtesy Google Images
There is no question that the human animal bond is serious, real, and really serious. A bond that crosses species lines so much so that people risk their lives for their pets and vice versa. A bond that is the subject of custody disputes during divorce, pre-nuptials and one that has created the need for pet trusts in estate plans. It is a bond for the ages and one that survives death.

After much litigation, whereby a former police officer wanted to be buried with his dogs, so that they could be together in the afterlife, New York now allows cremated humans to be buried with their pets in pet cemeteries.  In this case, the dogs predeceased the officer who was to join them when he passed on.

But - how far do we take this. Many are horrified that a woman, in her estate plan, ordered the euthanasia and cremation of her healthy dog and directed that the dog be buried with her in the cemetery.

Notwithstanding that animals are legally considered property, (and may be euthanized at an owners' request), and that the law, (which varies from state to state) may allow pet remains to be buried with humans, should this be OK?

Is this right to love pets so much that you would kill them in order to spend the afterlife with them? Is that love? Is it loneliness, fear, or fear of loneliness? Is it a misguided need for comfort or real comfort? Is there an afterlife?

What do you think? 

Apr 17, 2019

Compassion Saves model made possible by a Village!

Left-Phil Pitchford, BettyWhite,me Right-Clear the Shelter 2017 event
with Telemundo
I commend the City of Long Beach for formally introducing a "CompassionSaves" approach to animal control to their City Council. This was truly made possible by our "it takes a village" ethic! 

At a study session meeting of Long Beach City Council on April 16, 2019, new Long Beach Animal Care Services (LBACS) Bureau Manager, Staycee Dains, made a presentation about the past, present, and future of LBACS.

Long Beach has always been a compassionate and innovative community.  It took real vision more than twenty years ago to look at the old Willow street shelter and imagine the first public-private partnership in animal welfare. But, that’s exactly what Long Beach city leaders, spcaLA, and our community had when we created and built the P.D. Pitchford Companion Animal Village and Education Center in El Dorado Park. Since spcaLA and the City of Long Beach opened the Village in 2001, LBACS has transferred over 40,000 animals into the care of spcaLA. The Village set a replicable benchmark in cost-effective, life-preserving care for abandoned and abused animals.

During her presentation, Dains emphasized the significant increase in positive outcomes for animals entering LBACS at the Village since 2010, including a 49% decrease in dog and cat admissions and an 82% decrease in euthanasia for the same. Further, Dains reported an 84% live release rate for LBACS cats and a 94% live release rate for LBACS dogs, in the 2010-2019 reporting period.

spcaLA facilitates the adoptions for animals at the Village, and also prepares them for a healthy life by spaying and neutering them before they go to their forever home. spcaLA thereby allows LBACS the luxury of space and time to work with responsible and vetted community helpers to manage animals that would not thrive in a shelter environment and give the pets a chance at a home.

I am proud spcaLA could help LBACS -- an open admission, municipal shelter -- realize these momentous achievements in animal care. In addition to caring and finding new homes for homeless and abused Long Beach animals, for decades, spcaLA has provided the Long Beach community violence-prevention initiatives and other education programs; dog training and specialty classes; and the fundraising for, and, the providing of buildings, flea treatment, food, litter, and other supplies for animals in the care of LBACS. 

We knew this would work 20 years ago!

Dains further discussed broad strokes for the Compassion Saves model of animal care which would continue positive trends through intervention programs meant to keep animals out of the shelter (high-volume spay/neuter, pet retention programs) and programs aimed at improving the lives and outcomes of pets in the care of LBACS (foster care, behavior and training programs), as well as the creation of standard operating procedures, staff training, and professional development.

When we work together, we can make great strides in the welfare of animals and our community, We look forward to the continued partnership between the city of Long Beach and spcaLA.