Photo by Seen Enkidu
The City of Long Beach may soon allow residents to have up to six pets in their homes, two more than it currently allows.
Gerardo Mouet, director of Long Beach’s Parks, Recreation and Marine Department, stated in a Nov. 15 memo to the city manager that next month the city council will consider amending an ordinance to increase allowed pets from four to six and also regulate animals brought into the city for adoption.
The purpose of the amendments is to promote the Long Beach Animal Care Services (LBACS) “Compassion Saves” approach designed to minimize the number of animals euthanized, Mouet said.
According to the memo, LBACS already reduced the number of its animals euthanized by 82% between 2010 and 2018, dropping from 5,651 to 1,044. It also increased pet adoptions by 370% from 144 to 677 during that period.
“As recent as 2012, LBACS started seeing less animals coming into the shelter due to effective population-control efforts,” Mouet said in the memo, adding that it reduced euthanasia rates with the help of a 2015 spay-and-neuter ordinance and partnering with adoption organizations.
Mouet further stated that city staff plans to work with spcaLA (the Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)– which is housed in the same facility as LBACS– in negotiating a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to maximize the effectiveness of LBACS’s Compassion Saves approach.
That approach stems from an April 16 LBACS study session showing the positive impact of animal population-control efforts. The City had created a task force the previous October following results of a two-phased city-auditor’s report on LBACS completed last year. The City also hired a new LBACS manager, Staycee Dains, last February.
Along with deficiencies in LBACS operations, the audit noted that though they maintain separate leadership and identities, both LBACS and spcaLA are housed at the P.D. Pitchford Companion Animal Village in Long Beach, with a 55-year lease-back agreement expiring in 2053. LBACS leases part of the facility from spcaLA for its shelter operations and the City pays spcaLA 50% of the total facility’s operating expenses, according to the audit.
And though LBACS’s live-release rates (LRR) of animals have increased, the audit found that the LRRs and impound improvements strained LBACS’s resources and spread thin the shelter’s staff.
It also found deficiencies in LBACS’s standard-operating procedures, resulting in inconsistent decision-making, conflicting shelter practices and changes implemented without proper direction and explanation.
Though Mouet said the three proposed steps are designed to aid LBACS’s effectiveness in reducing euthanized animals, Dr. Patricia Turner of No Kill Long Beach, an advocacy group calling for no animal to be put down unless it has untreatable pain or illness, told the Signal Tribune that the steps are too limited.
“These actions don’t go far enough,” Turner said, adding that the real problem is LBACS’s physical and operational proximity to spcaLA.
“The MOU must establish LBACS’s independence from spcaLA […] as its own entirely city-operated animal shelter and facility so that they can operate at scale to meet the needs of the people of Long Beach,” she said.
Turner said that such a separation would allow LBACS to operate full-service adoption and foster programs and a robust volunteer program.
“Ideally, spcaLA would not be associated with the City of Long Beach,” she said. “They are on taxpayer land.”
Turner also said that the MOU should require transparency by spcaLA about the outcome of animals under its care, such as how many it euthanizes or sends out to adoption, foster care or to other shelters.
“That MOU is the most important thing,” Turner said when comparing the three steps.
The step of limiting the number of animals brought into the city for adoption is a response to the general perception that spcaLA brings in animals from other places, Turner said, but noted that the memo doesn’t specify that organization as the problem.
“Nothing in this memo, in regards to animals being brought into Long Beach, mentions spcaLA,” she said. “It applies to anybody.”
Turner said therefore a person who finds a kitten in Lakewood couldn’t by law bring it to the Long Beach shelter, nor could a rescue organization that finds a dog in neighboring Compton bring it in for adoption.
“It places a burden on these rescue organizations who are already overburdened, under-resourced and they’re doing the work that LBACS should be doing of adopting animals out,” she said. “LBACS is not adopting large numbers of animals out because spcaLA doesn’t want them to. It’s just foisting the problem back on the community.”
She remarked that the 677 adoptions LBACS reports is small next to comparable cities like Sacramento, whose shelter managed 5,000 adoptions. That city’s website states that the shelter sent out 5,037 dogs and cats for adoption last year and 4,321 as of October this year.
And regarding the proposed ordinance amending the number of pets people can have, Turner said her organization advocates for eight rather than six but said such laws don’t impact animal welfare by themselves.
“If you’re concerned about animal welfare, the laws don’t do anything in terms of changing human behavior except to deter responsible people who would take good care of a larger number of animals from having them,” she said, adding that Sacramento allows up to 10 pets per household. Sacramento’s website states that residents can harbor up to three dogs and seven cats.
Public opinion supports a no-kill policy and stronger adoption efforts, Turner said, but also noted that LBACS and spcaLA practices affect all pet owners.
“If your dog gets out, your dog could go to the shelter,” Turner said. “And if he gets sick, […] he could be killed.”
Despite these concerns, Staycee Dains, LBACS manager, told the Signal Tribune that she collaborated with Mouet on the steps and is hopeful for continued progress.
She said that the City has already made great strides in reducing its stray-animal population following the four-year-old spay-and-neuter ordinance.
The City increasing its limit of how many pets residents can have will further reduce the stray-animal population, she said.
“The idea is to allow people to have more animals so they can adopt more animals from the shelter,” she said.
Dains said she is also hopeful that the MOU with spcaLA will formalize the ways in which their operations work together, especially as LBACS has evolved over the past decade.
“We really want to make sure our efforts are collaborative and make sure whatever we’re putting into place is going to be definitely beneficial for the LBACS shelter animals” she said. “I’m very hopeful that we will be able to come up with a memorandum of understanding.”
Dains added that LBACS will begin negotiations as soon as possible and expects the process to be short, hoping to complete the agreement early in 2020.
Dains said she is also confident in LBACS’s Compassion Saves model to ensure the animals in its care get everything they need and especially an appropriate outcome, whether that means being returned to an owner, adopted, placed in foster care or sent to a rescue organization.
“We want to make sure that we’re making excellent outcome decisions for them,” Dains said. “Making sure that animals are getting to their outcome as soon as possible is a really important part of the Compassion Saves model.”
Dains said she is also pleased with reforms allowing volunteers to come on board faster.
“We’ve streamlined some of our training so that those who can come to the shelter and go through the screening process and be trained has been thankfully truncated,” she said.
She added the City has opened up the window of time it can screen volunteer candidates by contracting with another organization to provide such services as fingerprinting.
“People won’t have to wait from their orientation to their processing time, which for some people could be weeks,” Dains said. “We’ve definitely seen an increase in volunteer retention from going to that process.”
More volunteers have allowed LBACS to develop new programs, such as behavior rehabilitation for dogs, Dains said.
“Prior to starting this program, [some dogs] were not getting their needs met and so would languish in the shelter [and] their behaviors would become increasingly concerning because they weren’t getting the right type of enrichment, like getting out of their kennels and getting the right type of handling,” Dains said.
She noted that a lot of the dogs at the shelter have been through trauma and need someone to guide them through that experience through specific activities with volunteers, such as educational training that helps them cope with the shelter environment.
“It has made a huge difference in the stress level of our dogs in our kennels and the ease of volunteers being able to handle the dogs,” she said.
As for cats, Dains said her own office has become the place for especially scared cats to calm down before continuing into the shelter.
“People have been so invested and have really made a lot of personal sacrifices to see our animal-services department succeed,” Dains said. “We’re very excited to keep up the momentum and progress that everyone in our community has worked on for so many years.”