A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

Dec 17, 2014

Donate Smart-Donate Locally

As we again come upon the busiest fund-raising season of the year I, urge you to know your charities and to donate locally. 

It is not a coincidence that amid a frenzy of holiday solicitations, predators claiming to be victims and fake organizations, try to capitalize on the “season of giving”. Additionally, real organizations can also mislead donors, omit material facts, and/or create a deliberate misimpression regarding the tax-deductibility and use of your gifts. So – fake charities, real charities asserting fake claims, and pretend victims with fake needs, though operating all year round, step up their efforts during the holidays. You can end up trying to claim a nondeductible gift, (an unincorporated self-proclaimed rescue group soliciting funds) or giving to an east coast organization like aspca with nearly 200 million dollars instead of to a charity that desperately needs funds for local pets,

How many of you reading this did not know that the aspca and hsus are not national umbrella organizations that funnel contributions back to communities by zip code as actual national charities do? spcas throughout the country are individual legal entities and not chapters of any mother organization. Yet aspca spends tens of millions of dollars annually on television and other fundraising outlets which omit that significant fact. That is fine if you knew that and meant to give there – but – what if you didn't.

Donors everywhere often feel duped and upset to learn that they donated to the wrong organization and that their precious hard earned funds neither contributed to programs nor helped needy pets in their communities. What could happen to your spcaLA and to our vulnerable populations here if a lot of generous people make that mistake?

It is essential for you, your lawyers and estate planners to research reputable existing charities and locate those that serve the constituency and community that you wish to help. Determine if that charity provides the specific service that you wish to fund in the place you wish to fund it. Only then should you donate. Frequently, your local charity may be providing international relief as well or is affiliated with one who is. 

Giving locally also helps to strengthen the community in which you live by creating jobs, bolstering the economy and enabling the community to thrive. Stronger communities result in stronger cities, states and countries. Our ability to help others improves with our own increased strength and solvency.

The Center on Philanthropy & Public Policy produced a report that sounded the alarm on the implications of Los Angeles exporting charitable dollars out of the city and state stating “…the inflow of philanthropic dollars is less than the outflow, resulting in Los Angeles being a net exporter of philanthropic dollars based on the grant making of the foundations included in the grant sample. …They highlight the opportunities that exist to strengthen the future of foundation philanthropy and nonprofit capacity in Los Angeles County and in so doing to improve the lives of Angelinos and their communities."

Please - give to your spcaLA and other local charities.  If you can afford to donate to multiple organizations - please do. If not - please choose your home charity first.

Please also accept my best wishes for a healthy and happy holiday season.




Dec 3, 2014

stop calling rape victims "accusers"

Courtesy Google Images
The media needs to stop calling victims of rape and sexual assault "accusers''. It implies that there is no victim, but rather a shrill, angry, mean accuser who is victimizing the rapist. It is not done with any other crime. If you are robbed, killed, kidnapped or pick pocketed - you are a victim. Why is a rape victim an accuser? Why is the universally accepted legal language changed? In fact, it is the people of a state that accuses the defendant on behalf of the victim.

This perversion of language and inversion of sympathy began with the allegation that Kobe Bryant raped a woman. Somehow, either the media on its own or in response to pressure from his legal and/or public relations team, began to refer to the woman as the "accuser" to soften the charge and to subliminally suggest that Bryant was the real victim. (That case was settled,) Now again, the 13 or so women alleging rape and sexual misconduct against another celebrity, Bill Cosby, are being referred to as "accusers".

It is the way of our world that when dealing with bullies, batterers and big shots there is an effort to blame the injured party for somehow causing the violence.  I am used to and expect abusers of all sorts to deflect blame, ascribe unscrupulous motives for the charges and exercise their right to defend themselves. I am also used to dealing with those who cannot or are afraid to report a crime. (By the way, should the allegations be false or part of an attempt to extort, the original victim and perpetrator change places!)

It is always difficult for those with less power or those in the minority to be treated fairly by those trying to retain their power and majority status. Trying to equalize the playing field so victims of domestic violence, animals and other vulnerable classes have the ability to fight back is part of what we do here at spcaLA. We try to be the secret weapon that forces a fair fight between unequal players.

I absolutely find it appalling that when it involves sexual abuse crimes, the terminology used by the media  magically transforms the victim into the aggressor, thereby putting a thumb on the scale in favor of the criminal,  making it that much harder for a victim to come forward and for those of us trying to force the fair fight.

Is this terminology shift by the media a result of bowing to exogenous pressures? Is it a manifestation of a culture of woman hating, celebrity loving, misguided political correctness, or a conspiratorial inchoate attempt to sway the jury pool and the arbiters of public opinion?

Is the media naive or complicit? 

Just stop it!









Nov 25, 2014

MUSEUMS and SKINNY DOGS WITH PINK LEGS

courtesy spcaLA
I am not an art expert, but I must ask why we need a live skinny dog with a pink leg, bees, ants, and hermitage crabs put into an exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)? Is it art? Is it to attract customers? Is it entertainment? Is is ethical? I need not spell out the stress factors involved for a dog, roaming an exhibit, surrounded by crowds taking photos, making noise and trying to reach for him.

For now, the exhibit is closed as the matter is under investigation by spcaLA and the Los Angeles City Department of Animal Services. It may very well reopen once in compliance with local requirements, which again raises the question - just because we can use animals this way - should we?

I think not. The power to exploit members of a vulnerable class must include the courage to not do so, and a refusal to encourage those who do. 


Nov 10, 2014

On November 8th and 9th  spcaLA again partnered with Animals for Armed Forces® to give pets to members of the military and their families at no charge.

Photo courtesy of spcaLA
Many veterans can benefit from a bona fide service dog to assist with head injury issues, and all can be helped by the therapeutic healing powers of a family pet. Unfortunately, the difficulties encountered by veterans in getting treatment for, or even recognition of their injuries, such as PTSD, have become insurmountable as we learn more each day about the ineptness of the Veterans Administration.

As the daughter of a World War II veteran, I grew up hearing of the indignities and injustices delivered to our troops instead of  the support they deserve. My father served in the Air Force on a bomber crew. His plane was shot down and they landed behind enemy lines. They miraculously reached the allied forces wounded, hungry, scared and happy to be alive. While waiting for medical attention, they were greeted by the Red Cross who offered the boys coffee and doughnuts for a charge. Yes - for money. Of course, they refused the refreshments and continue to hold a grudge against the Red Cross to this day. Upon his return stateside, my father was hailed as a hero and labeled a member of the great generation but immediately encountered the difficulties and dangers of being "helped" by the VA. One could survive getting shot out of a plane but die waiting for a doctor. Suffice it to say that whenever my father needs medical care -he says - "if I am unconscious, don't take me to the VA."

Why is this important today? spcaLA opened 135 years ago protecting the vulnerable in our society. Women, children and pets - were all considered property, and were all bullied by those in power. Our veterans, some who are as young as 18, are over-driven  (3 tours of duty), exploited and discarded and are returning home injured, traumatized, suicidal and vulnerable. They are not treated as employable or useful but rather left to be homeless, exploited by lending companies and ignored at epidemic proportions.

This must not stand. I have spoken against military dogs being treated like equipment, being denied veterinary care and being left behind when their service is over. Today, I am imploring those with the doughnuts and the power to not do the same with our veterans. It is cruel and inhumane.

spcaLA will continue to do what we can to provide solace and comfort to our veterans with our dogs. We will continue our work with other military groups to pair veterans in need with service dogs. And we will continue to speak out on behalf of the vulnerable.


Oct 14, 2014

The Black Cat Phenom is to Halloween as Ray Rice is to the NFL


Courtesy spcaLA
Halloween is the event that prompts Americans to collectively reflect and debate the issue of animal cruelty, specifically, cruelty to black cats.  This, in itself, may not be a bad thing.  The sad fact is that animal abuse happens year-round, to all types of animals whether in families, as part of organized commercial abuse or as victims or pranks on the street. 

If it takes the urban legend of legions of Satanists targeting black cats to remind us that animal cruelty exists, then so be it.

Halloween is dangerous for all animals.

While abusers might feel more comfortable targeting a loose black cat or other animal on Halloween night, the biggest dangers for pets on Halloween are far less salacious: chocolate, an often-opened door, guests in terrifying costumes, and pets dressed in costumes that are not meant for them.

Do your pets (and yourself) a favor - give them Halloween night off. Settle your pets into a quiet room in your home, with dim lights, soft music, a few toys and treats, and shut the door. If you think the stress of your Halloween bash or a constantly-ringing doorbell may be too much for your pets, consider boarding them for the night. 

Most pets that get into trouble on Halloween do so because they slip out  the door while treats are being given, or they break away from a trick or treater on the street.

Accordingly, spcaLA will not ban black cat adoptions.

Cats, of all colors, are in ever-increasing supply at spcaLA and other area shelters.  It takes them an average of about two weeks longer than dogs to find new families.

At spcaLA, our goal is to find the thousands of animals who come through our doors each year permanent, loving homes.  To ban adoptions for one type of animal, especially a black animal, who has a statistically significant hardship being adopted, is doing that animal a disservice.  We screen adopters and reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.

That being said, if an adopter feels uncomfortable bringing an animal home on All Hallows Eve, spcaLA will offer November 1st pick up for any pet scheduled to go home on Halloween night.

Your spcaLA has been here to help every day since 1877.

Finally, spcaLA Humane Officers respond to thousands of animal cruelty tips each year, concerning turtles to tabby cats.  If you see animal cruelty, report it by calling 1-800-540-7722 or submitting a tip online.  spcaLA offers programs for kids from at-risk communities, juvenile offenders, and domestic violence survivors – all aimed at breaking the cycle of violence.

Special thank you to Miriam Davenport, spcaLA Senior Director, for her contributions to this piece.



Sep 17, 2014

FBI Endorses Plan to Add Animal Cruelty Crimes to FBI National Incident Based Reporting System




Your spcaLA has been on the front lines prosecuting crimes against animals since 1877. We have also led the campaign to prove that it is no coincidence that those who abuse animals will often commit violent acts against people. Your spcaLA also set the national example in creating programs that strive to address and reverse this progression including the launch of the only mandatory animal diversionary program for juvenile offenders convicted of animal cruelty, bullying or other qualifying crime, in the country.


That said, we partner with the  National Law Enforcement Center on Animal Abuse, of National Sheriff's Association, which is coordinated by Interim Executive Director John Thompson.

John has worked tirelessly to rally the masses to convince the FBI to add animal cruelty crimes to the National Incident Based Reporting System rather than classifying these crimes as "other". This comports with the goal of the system to gather reliable crime data which can reveal patterns, trends, tendencies to commit other crimes as well as isolating behaviors that correlate to and often precede more violence. Ignoring the part animal abuse plays in this arena was allowing a huge piece of the picture to be absent and wasted opportunities to gain insight and knowledge from this data that could be used to prevent or reverse criminal behavior.

I personally, having been in law enforcement my entire professional career, am thrilled to finally see this come to pass and I thank John Thompson for his leadership and perseverance in this effort.




Sep 9, 2014

Can Ray Rice Horror Open Eyes



Notwithstanding the fact that the NFL has been the most hospitable sanctuary for the vulgar and the violent, (animal abuse, domestic violence, bar fights etc.), I am hopeful that some good will come of the latest horror story involving the Raven's Ray Rice.

It is not coincidental that violence against the vulnerable allows for multiple targets in the same setting. In other words spousal abuse and animal abuse, abuse of the disabled and elder abuse and so on and so forth. The crime is the same – the opportunity reveals the victims. These are all parts of one deranged whole.

As early as the mid-nineties spcaLA (not affiliated with any other spca) began a domestic violence program, (Animal Safety Net) designed to provide a safe place for pets of victims of domestic violence thus removing a very significant barrier which often prevented a victim from leaving an unsafe situation. The catalyst for this involved a woman who was repeatedly beaten by her spouse who (the spouse) also tortured the family cat in front of an 8 year old child. The woman killed her spouse and then committed suicide leaving the child and the cat to fend for themselves. Since then we have provided peace for dogs, cats, horses, fish, rats, reptiles and hamsters while their human companions sought shelter and a path to a sane life.

Today, despite the fact that there is more awareness of this cycle of violence, more cross training on the issues, and more mandatory reporters there is still a reluctance to get involved as evidenced by the willingness of both the NFL and a prosecutor to look the other way by handing down de minims sanctions (2 game suspension and a diversionary counseling program) which would have allowed Rice’s record to remain clean. Then, the surfacing of the video showing the actual violence ended his career.

Let us not waste the opportunity offered by this high profile case. Friends, neighbors, social workers and law enforcement need to see the entire crime scene. If called for animal cruelty – look for domestic violence and vice versa.  There could be another victim in front of you,  that blinders built and sustained over centuries of looking the other way, who will finally be seen as a homicide statistic.