As most people know, I am not one to run from controversy or conflict. My background in eastern studies have taught me that one must face the enemy head on in order to win, and one should fight with honor. I have lived by my honor my entire life and fought for what I believe in even when the odds seem insurmountable.
This was the case recently when I weighed in on the Best Friends Animal Society deal with Los Angeles Animal Services. In short, LAAS considers giving Best Friends (BF) a $14 million dollar state of the art facility. On the surface this seemed like a great idea to me. After all, BF is a $50 million a year empire, imagine how much good they could do for the pets. Well, looking a little deeper, my fears were realized. In general I’ve learned that if something is too good to be true, it usually is. That would be the case here.
There are a couple of objections that I, as well as others offered (although they were never addressed by BF or LAAS).
1. Why would BF not take in any strays, animal surrenders or at risk animals from the neighborhood? That is after all the most important service a “shelter” must provide.
2. Why would BF be able to operate the shelter as an adoption facility and spay neuter clinic, this in a facility that was built to be an animal control center, i.e. shelter?
3. Why would LAAS offer this facility at a $1.00 a year lease to BF and not to a local LA based rescue group?
On top of this a major concern, actually my primary concern is: How will this help the animals at risk in LA Shelters and in LA in general?
There is a simple issue at stake, many animals in shelters are considered less adoptable than others. Those working in rescue understand that shelters are overrun with certain breeds, colors and temperaments. Sprinkled in among these pets are the cute, sweet, young and friendly dogs. The only saving grace the less adoptable animals have is that someone may fall in love with, and see the amazing potential of a dog that, on the surface, seems un-adoptable. In reality these animals are often much better pets at their core than the cute, fluffy ones that people rush to the shelter to see. The greatest hope these dogs have is that someone will stumble upon them while looking for someone else.
This hope is ripped away when rescue organizations “cherry-pick” the “fluffies and leave behind the needy. Rescue groups come in two varieties, the opportunistic and those doing the hard work of rescue. Those doing the hard work despise those that rush the shelters, pick up the cute puppies for $50 and then “sell” them at adoptions for $500. Adoption fees are supposed to be there to supplement rescues for the exorbitant expenses involved in rescuing truly “at risk” animals – not to turn a healthy profit for the “non-profit.” But there are those who operate this way.
I’m not saying that BF will take this stance at this new facility, but there is no language to prevent this. It is up to Best Friends to pick their dogs from LAAS Shelters, and since it is the goal of BF to adopt out dogs, I find it hard to imagine that they would choose un-adoptable animals. After all, after a BF adoption event, those animals not adopted out don’t get transferred to BF in Utah, the local rescue is left trying to board, foster or ship the dog to get them a home.
If it were the goal of a multimillion dollar organization to help, it’s quite easy to do. Look at the Heigl Foundation, they partner with rescue group and donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to help animals at-risk. With large sums of money, transports can be paid for, training set up for dogs, spay/neuter for inner city residents with mobile spay/neuter vans, and the list goes on. None of these were offered in this proposal. Furthermore, try to find one of these big organizations in a smaller community, for example the inland empire here in LA. This area consists of Riverside, San Bernardino, Lake Arrowhead, etc. This area is killing tens of thousands of animals because no help is available. These areas don’t receive the media attention that West LA, Downtown LA or the San Fernando valley receive. Yet there are rescuers busting their asses trying their best to save animals at risk there.
As a rescue, behaviorist and animal rights activist, I have visited some of the best shelters and several of the worst. My heart goes out to animals at risk everywhere, but in particular to those who have ZERO chance of adoption – those that get locked into shelters in areas where there is no funding, and no one coming to help them. These areas need help! They don’t need a fancy magazine or new adoption centers… they need someone to step up and help.
So, I ask you, when it comes time to make donations, please consider the hard work of the groups that are busting their asses to save animals in places you don’t want to go, consider those that are functioning on a shoe string. These groups don’t receive any help from the big money organizations that send you the fancy mail and have celebrity spokespeople. Just think about it. Think about what is best for the animals. The big organizations that pop into your mind first are not at your local shelters saving animals. Even though you see their t-shirts at the photo ops, don’t kid yourself into thinking that they are there long after the photo has been snapped. I know!