The role of national nonprofit organizations is not always easily defined. They exist as national spokespeople to act as a voice for a meaningful cause, but often the perception can be different than the name implies. This is especially true in the animal protection/rights venue which solicits donations to support their efforts to make this a better and safer world for animals.
In September, LA Animal Rights Examiner Carole Raphaelle Davis reported on a 15 year-old poodle called Grandpa and the action taken by Best Friends Animal Society. According to witnesses, the Best Friends facility in Mission Hills, California, ". . . transported the geriatric dog to the East Valley Shelter and left him there." The East Valley public animal shelter is part of a city system in which ". . . thousands of pets are killed per year".
For many public shelters throughout the United States pet overpopulation is a perpetuating crisis and one that has public entities always on edge and subject to criticism as they try to deal with often overwhelming odds to help animals in need. When ". . . one of the wealthiest 'No Kill' rescue organizations" invests in helping local rescue operations their intentions may be good, but they open themselves to criticism from the public who may perceive their charity can do no harm and will save all animals brought to their door.
"Whoever brought the geriatric poodle to the Best Friends facility in Mission Hills, California, that night believed the charity would rescue him. The dog was barely able to walk—he was matted and in pain from severe arthritis. But Best Friends did not rescue the dog." Instead, Grandpa spent almost two weeks at East Valley ". . . waiting to be rescued or to die behind bars" growing sicker with kennel cough.
In responding to an inquiry by this columnist, Best Friends Senior Manager of Public Relations John Polis questioned why the Examiner article on Grandpa was printed without asking for their comment. Since this columnist didn't write the original story we can't answer that, but the disturbing nature of the article prompted us to follow up. It is relevant not only to Los Angeles, but to the consideration of all national animal organizations that further their mission by engaging in local operations to assist animal concerns through adoption efforts, animal cruelty and neglect cases, disaster planning and response, and more.
Best Friends stated in written comments to this columnist their commitment ". . . to transparency and stand behind our initial response to this situation. Neither of our adoption centers in Los Angeles are intake facilities, nor were they ever intended to be so. Our contract with the city of Los Angeles (which owns our Mission Hills adoption center) does not allow us to take in surrenders or strays from the public, but clearly requires that we direct or take such animals to the East Valley Shelter."
Best Friends has maintained a strong presence in Los Angeles since 1991 when they ". . . began organizing innovative model programs and providing support for area shelters and rescue groups." The next big step was taken in 2011 ". . . by entering into a groundbreaking public/private partnership with the city of Los Angeles to operate one of the LA Animal Services city shelters as Best Friends Pet Adoption and Spay/Neuter Center. The center takes animals directly out of Los Angeles shelters, and specializes in high volume adoptions and low-cost and free spay neuter services for area residents."
Last year, Best Friends launched No Kill Los Angeles (NKLA) ". . . vowing to make it the largest no-kill city in the nation." In partnership with Los Angeles Animal Services and key local stakeholders ". . . NKLA is a coalition of 50 area animal organizations, corporate partners, and regular people throughout Los Angeles who care about the fate of LA's pets."
Despite all this collaboration, the Grandpa's of this world still manage to fall through the cracks of whatever system a community has in place. While we agree that a collaborative approach is often best this incident just proves much is still amiss. In this case, Best Friends did not place a hold on Grandpa but ". . . were aware of his situation in the event that he was not pulled by another rescue and a space for a senior dog with medical needs opened up at one of our adoption centers. The unfortunate reality is that space is limited at either adoption center for dogs and cats (other than neonatal kittens) with special medical needs because both operations are geared to high volume adoptions from all six LA shelter facilities." Limited space is a very common theme in the animal sheltering community nationwide.
That explanation was not satisfactory to everyone and their response to the uproar on social media could be considered both "self-serving and slippery". In the Davis Examiner article, local animal rights activist Carole Sax is quoted. She said, "They sentenced that dog to death. Best Friends calls themselves 'No Kill' but how are they 'No Kill' if they find someone else do the killing for them? Isn't that just outsourcing euthanasia?"
The Davis article goes further, citing the position of those critical of the city's fiscal engagement with Best Friends is the private charity ". . . should be audited by the city comptroller and the IRS, should not be subsidized with public funds, and if it is to be in business with the city, it should be obligated to become an open admissions shelter as opposed to being allowed to 'cherry-pick adoptable animals for their facility while outsourcing euthanasia to city shelters.'"
The perception could be imagined that Best Friends may be hiding under the contract it negotiated with the city to hand pick the most adoptable animals with more ideal conditions while shuttling animals like Grandpa away. Even though Best Friends stated they ". . .followed Grandpa's status while he was in East Valley and were very happy to learn that the dog was pulled by a local rescue and is safe. It is the collaborative participation from all rescues in Los Angeles that will ensure no-kill is achieved, and that all dogs like Grandpa are saved."
However, there is another way to view the role of national nonprofit organizations in local venues. They are not, and let this be repeated, not the panacea for all the problems caused by pet overpopulation and other animal crises throughout the nation. They are often a guide that helps facilitate a movement in need of leaders to bring together disparate groups on important issues within the animal world. Sometimes, this includes hands on delivery in areas as support for local operations.
Best Friends will tell you ". . . the need is great and we are not the answer to every problem. It takes us all working together to address the variety of needs presented by shelter pets like Grandpa. Together we can save them all and that is the guiding principle of the NKLA coalition." That might sound like a bunch of public relations doubletalk, but they're right in essentially saying no one organization (even one with a national reputation) has all the answers and we need to work together to make progress for the animals. Of course, Grandpa might see things differently in this case.
Look, when someone sends in a five, ten or larger dollar donation to a national nonprofit animal based charity they often expect those dollars to help make a direct impact on saving animals. Sometimes that is the case, but as previously noted more often than not these national organizations lay the groundwork for advocacy legislation, defense of individual animals, planning guidelines and response that will benefit animals on a national and international scale. They're not your local humane society, SPCA or rescue group; at least not in most traditional respects. Their mission is also important, but often different in scope than local animal services or shelter components in a local area.
When national nonprofits do engage in a local hands on operation we think they do so with the right intention to serve the animals in need, but again from a perception standpoint they are caught in the middle of a community's scorn if they're not serving everyone that makes up that local profile.
If a national organization like Best Friends is going to enter into a contractual relationship with a local city like Los Angeles it must be made clear to the greater public exactly what their role will be and under what specific rules they will operate. If dogs like Grandpa are to be left out of their scope of business then either more sensible rules should be developed or it should be crystal clear to the public what your function is and why your standing is different than other shelters operating in the same local area.
To merely speculate isn't a productive course of action, as one city hall insider commented in the Davis Examiner article, "Clearly, for them, a seemingly unadoptable dog like Grandpa is out of sight and out of mind. They got rid of it. They dumped it at East Valley." We hope this isn't some sort of class war within the animal community to show one faction can look better than another by not dealing with potential unadoptable animals and thereby profit from it in fiscal means or public recognition. If you don't like the restricted boundaries that Best Friends operates under then at least acknowledge some of the good work they and their supporters do for the animals in your community while reserving your right to approach them and the city as to why they can't do more.
As stated in a recent letter to the editor in the Orlando Sentinel, "We are their voices, and those of us who do rescue are frequently overwhelmed with the abundance of healthy homeless animals who are waiting for love and a home and find death instead." We must be their collective voices if we have any chance of saving them.
We are all pieces of the puzzle and must help each other to address animal concerns in any area nationwide. This is not unique to Los Angeles or anywhere else. Let your voice be heard if there are questions to be asked, but also listen to the intent of those whose actions you question. As large as the animal community may be it is also small when we fight each other instead of attacking the important issues we face. We thank everyone who supports advocacy on behalf of animal rights and urge you to work in collaboration with your fellow advocates for those four-legged friends we respect and love.