When Best Friends pulled together the first No-Kill Los Angeles (NKLA) Steering Committee meeting in 2010, comprised of veteran leaders of local grassroots organizations, along with the recently appointed general manager of L.A. Animal Services, Brenda Barnette, the non-verbals of the assembled company conveyed the collective experience of the community’s previously failed attempts at coalition-building or any organized approach to creating a no-kill community. Add to that the wary eye with which animal organizations occasionally regard each other, and the atmosphere was a mix of a close-to-the-vest poker game and a Tony Robbins’ can-do seminar complete with flip charts.
Brenda was the seventh general manager or interim GM at L.A. Animal Services over the previous ten years. Everyone else in the room had watched the parade come and go and had listened before to grand plans for citywide no-kill campaigns. The fact that there wasn’t a lot of eye-rolling and clock-watching was a measure of the collected company’s respect for Best Friends and Brenda’s long and impressive history with no-kill going back to her tenure at San Francisco SPCA during its heyday under Rich Avanzino in the 1990s.
Tentative at first, the NKLA Steering Committee quickly became a team of seriously invested individuals and organizations under Best Friends leadership that formulated a plan and a campaign tailored to the specific dynamics of the complex city that Los Angeles is, including the high-functioning, but poorly coordinated, animal rescue community that has been a long-time feature of the city.
Beginning with an in-depth community assessment of needs and resources, the NKLA team tailored programs, identified target zip codes, and recruited local rescues to be part of the campaign. It took almost a year of data-gathering, planning and consensus-building in a city that thought it had seen it all when it came to animal rescue before we launched the first phase of the NKLA initiative in late 2011. The coalition is now 53 members strong and is surpassing expectations.
NKLA had a year one (2012) goal to reduce shelter deaths at city of Los Angeles shelters by 3,000 animals. As of the end of October, and with two months left to go in 2012, the number of animals dying in L.A. Animal Services shelters is already down by 3,500. In keeping with the envelope-pushing spirit of the campaign, the revised goal is now 5,000 fewer deaths for the year.
The threshold for a no-kill community is considered to be a 90 percent save rate of all animals entering the shelter system. This allows for the reasonable likelihood that about 10 percent of animals entering a given shelter system will either be irremediably suffering due to injury, illness or age, and euthanasia to end that suffering will be deemed appropriate and humane, or will be too demonstrably or historically aggressive to be responsibly adopted to a member of the public. In 2011, about 17,000 healthy and treatable animals were killed in Los Angeles city shelters out of a total shelter population of around 56,000 animals. The goal of NKLA is to reduce that 17,000 number to zero. Three thousand fewer deaths in the first year of the program would be a great start. Five thousand fewer deaths would be extraordinary.
What is particularly exciting about the way NKLA is succeeding in Los Angeles is that L.A. is an early adopter community that sets mainstream trends across the country. It is an extremely diverse 21st-century city, with a population that reflects the changing demographics of the country as a whole. L.A. is also a media center for the country, and the values, ideas and causes that take hold in Los Angeles make their way into the national cultural narrative through TV, film and celebrity representation. NKLA is not only changing Los Angeles, it is indirectly changing a much broader spectrum of the country.
We are well on our way to turning L.A. into NKLA. For more information, please visit NKLA.org.