Winograd Responds to Bickhart's Charge that LA is Different, and that No-Kill Can't Happen Here

In response to the Winograd news bulletin about the No-Kill success in Reno posted below, Jim Bickhart wrote to Mike Bell as follows:

"Please note that the ADL/Winograd bulletin is about a private humane society, not a public shelter. There's also a Washoe County Animal Services and there's not mention of how they're doing. And, yes, in most of these dual animal agency situations there's a difference, and it's a difference that matters.

According to the Humane Society stats, their kill rate for dogs was already down to 14% in the same quarter of 2006 before and now it's at 7.8. And they're talking about 192 kills instead of 313 over three months. It's nice progress but it's also a completely different situation and order of magnitude than what we're dealing with here.”

Jim Bickhart


Dear (et al?)

Thank you for forwarding the e-mail from Jim Bickhart of the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office disparaging the success of Washoe County (NV) which I reported in a recent e-mail. It is unfortunate to learn that Mr. Bickhart is trying to deflect criticism for the unnecessary high level of shelter killing at Los Angeles Animal Services by disparaging the achievements of the Nevada Humane Society (NHS) and Washoe County Animal Services.

To claim that Reno, NV is unique because NHS is a private shelter, as opposed to Los Angeles Animal Services which is a municipal one, and because the save rate was better than Los Angeles to begin with is just an excuse, and a poor one at that.

To begin with, the figures cited in my announcement are county-wide and include animal control as clearly indicated in the e-mail I sent out. These are total and complete data that includes Washoe County Animal Services (the shelters collectively take in about 15,000 dogs and cats per year) which have a year to date save rate as follows:

Save Rate for Dogs: 92%
Save Rate for Cats: 78%.

Broken out, it looks like this:

NHS Save Rate: 94% Save Rate (6% Death Rate)
Washoe County Animal Control Save Rate: 81% (Death rate: 19%)

If you include April data, 93% of dogs and 85% of cats are being saved for both agencies. The result is an over 40 percent decline in killing in four short months, compared to what has occurred in Los Angeles—no increase in the save rate in the last year despite distortion of the No Kill philosophy and empty promises.

Second, the agency (NHS) was as bad as LAAS before the new team took over. It had a staff ripe with nepotism, shirkers were protected by friends who were supervisors, animals were being needlessly killed while the rescue groups who were willing to save them were not allowed to help because of bureaucratic hurdles and arcane rules.

What the new director did was to bring accountability to the agency. Ten employees were fired in ten days, others resigned under the specter of termination, and rescue groups were embraced. At the same time, the shelter began rigorously implementing the programs and services of the No Kill Equation, and demanding hard work and results from new and existing staff.

In short, the focus has been on eliminating under-performing staff, building the programs and services of the No Kill Equation, embracing the public, and involving them in the lifesaving enterprise.

But the first order of business was—and always is—to fire the long list of incompetents who passed for the shelter’s mid-level managers and core staff. That is what any poorly run shelter must do to create change from killing to a culture of accountability and lifesaving. That is what Richard Avanzino did in San Francisco. That is what I had to do in Tompkins County. That is what the new Director had to do in Philadelphia. That is what the director did in Charlottesville. And that is the reason for the new renaissance in lifesaving now occurring in Reno. And that is what has not happened in Los Angeles, and it has made all the difference.

Before anyone accepts the false claim that poorly performing employees cannot be fired in a union environment, if leadership is committed to high quality services, if it focuses on saving lives, if it sets standards, protocols, and programs, if it holds staff accountable, it can fire shirkers even in a union environment.

At the Philadelphia Animal Control Association, an all union shop, roughly half the union staff was terminated in the first year under their new director. As she explained it to the Philadelphia Daily News: “When a manager accepts sloppiness, mediocrity, and incompetence as the standard… you get more sloppiness and more failure and more incompetence.”

Do not allow Mr. Bickhart or anyone else in L.A. to claim that Los Angeles is different, that somehow its problems are unique.

When San Francisco achieved success by saving all healthy dogs and cats city and county-wide (including animal control, now with an 86% save rate), bureaucrats complacent with the status quo across the country said it could only be done in an urban community, not a rural one because of what they claimed were antiquated views of animals and poverty.

When No Kill was achieved in rural Tompkins County at an open door animal control shelter (93% save rate), they said it could not be done in the South for similar reasons.

When it was achieved in the South in Charlottesville, VA at an open door animal control shelter, which incidentally takes in 40% more animal per capita than L.A., (92% save rate), they said it could not be done in developing communities that are seeing tremendous population growth and urban sprawl because of the influx of new people and animals.

The developing success in Reno disproves that, too.That is why the question of public vs. private shelter, urban vs. rural, South vs. North, or urban vs. rural is not relevant. The only relevant query is whether the shelters are comprehensively and rigorously implementing the programs and services that save lives. If they do, they will achieve success.

And looking at LAAS data in terms of foster animals, rescue animals, adoptions, missing animals, DOA animals, animals dying in kennels, it is clear and unequivocal that they are not. And until they do, they will continue to unnecessarily kill savable animals.

But rather than focus on that, we hear “they are different,” “it is not the same,” “we are unique.” Why? For one reason and one reason only. For every success in one community, there are a legion of bureaucrats in another community threatened by that success who will downplay, disparage and misrepresent. There will always be naysayers who put their careers and their own personal gain above the animals to deflect blame for the unnecessary killing still occurring in their own cities.

But know this: Los Angeles is failing to achieve No Kill not because it is unique or different from San Francisco, Tompkins, Charlottesville, and now Washoe County (Reno). It is failing because the political will does not exist to achieve success.

When I met with the Mayor over one year ago, he told me that saving animal lives was not a priority for his administration. He told me that he would rather focus on education and police services. (I have news for Bickhart and the Mayor: saving the lives of animals is a priority for a majority of his constituents.)

But, in the end, that is why Los Angeles is failing. And it will continue to fail as long as those in power fail to take responsibility for the killing occurring under their watch. But that is the way of bureaucrats: to disparage the success of others in order to deflect blame for a failure that is theirs, and theirs alone.Nathan (Winograd)

08 May, 2007

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