Twenty Years in Review – The first in a series
A few years ago, I was browsing the works of art from my childhood and the projects that I had saved. As I recalled the paintings, stories and sculptures, I noticed that every element was about animals. I started to think about what a one dimensional child I was. Didn’t I have other interests than animals? Then I came across an elementary school story I wrote about meeting a leprechaun. I was so relieved to find that I had another subject in my collection.
In this story, I asked the pixie many questions about where he was hiding his gold, and through negotiations, I convinced him to take me to the treasure. We walked some distance until he brought me the gold, and I asked him to give it to me so that I could. . . buy all the animals in the world! I laughed at this story and realized that my love for animals was my destiny from the start.
The DACC is the largest animal welfare and control agency in the country, so I guess my Leprechaun story has come true in some way. July 2021 is my 20th anniversary as the head of DACC, and as I reflect on all the improvements over the years, I am extremely grateful to the staff and volunteers who have worked alongside me to successfully implement these. changes and make DACC the nationally recognized industry leader. it’s today. I also thank the Los Angeles County Board of Directors for their trust in my leadership and their support for our mission.
When I joined DACC, I discovered philosophical and operational differences from what I knew as best practices. DACC had a more 1950s-style approach. I was shocked that the country’s largest animal control organization was so far back.
I set out to change the organizational culture from a dogcatcher and pound mentality to the progressive animal welfare organization it is today. Fortunately, I had many supporters in the department who wanted to see these changes as well. We started making changes right away and these continue today as we discover better ways to serve our community. We are a learning organization and always scan the environment to identify best practices.
Thinking about all the improvements we’ve implemented, I realized that a monthly blog isn’t long enough to even discuss the highlights. Because these deserve further discussion, this month’s blog begins a series of blogs on how DACC has revolutionized operations. This month’s edition is about how we’ve transformed animal care in our Animal Care Centers (ACCs).
When I joined the DACC the animal care was substandard. Overcrowded and dilapidated cages and poor sanitation were often the case. Dog courses had three to four large dogs per course, creating a stressful environment and competition for food, water and resting space. Fighting was not uncommon. The cats were housed in small cages – feral cats in old primate research cages – in dark, neglected rooms. Several cats were caged together without enough room for proper distance, feeding and disposal. Cleaning practices were poor, resulting in animal disease and odors that discouraged adoptions. Dogs were fed by large hanging feeders, which were not cleaned regularly, spread disease, and made it difficult to properly observe whether a dog was eating enough. The food was of poor quality and the nutrition minimal.
In 2001, the DACC had only six veterinarians and six veterinary technicians licensed to treat more than 90,000 animals each year in six establishments. Because all dogs and cats are required by law to be sterilized prior to adoption, medical staff only had time to focus on sterilization surgeries and not on the general health of the animals in the centers. of care. Most of the surgeries were performed in dilapidated single-width trailers that were no longer suitable for use. Medical problems, including simple upper respiratory disease, were neither observed nor treated and resulted in a high rate of euthanasia. The DACC hasn’t even vaccinated against kennel cough, the most common canine disease in animal shelters.
Twenty years ago, there was no behavioral enrichment program to reduce stress in animals and make them more adoptable. No behavioral assessment was performed and we were unable to provide informed recommendations to potential adopters. The lack of enrichment contributed to the stressful environment, lowering the animals’ immune systems and making them more susceptible to disease.
Most appalling, 70% of dogs and 79% of cats were euthanized instead of finding concrete results such as return to their families, adoption or placement in animal rescue groups. I immediately told DACC officials that we would strive to achieve a 90% live animal release rate. They thought I was a crazy “humanist,” but I knew I needed a bold goal to really change the way they viewed their responsibility to animals and the public. And that’s how we started.
The year 2021
Thanks to many approaches, we have significantly reduced euthanasia to just 12% for dogs and 34% for cats. While it will always be necessary for us to euthanize to end an animal’s suffering or protect the public safety of a dangerous dog, we continue to identify innovative strategies to reduce these percentages even further. Our efforts to further reduce cat euthanasia will be discussed in a future edition of this series.
Since 2001, the county and DACC nonprofit, the Los Angeles County Animal Care Foundation (LACACF – www.lacountyanimals.org), have invested millions of dollars in improving healthcare center environments. New sterilization / sterilization clinics, cat housing (including new cat cages, cat solariums, exercise pens, gates to double the size of cat cages and outdoor “catios”), dog play areas for children. ‘exercise and socialization, new or renovated dog kennels, new stables and breeding buildings, improved HVAC systems and the addition of our seventh animal care center in Palmdale have all improved the quality of housing and care To animals. We have also completed a facilities master plan for the renovation and replacement of our aging animal care centers when funding becomes available.
We’ve implemented state-of-the-art disinfection protocols, automatic dog drinkers, commercial washers and dryers to wash bedding, and commercial dishwashers to properly clean food and water bowls. All of this has contributed to a great reduction in diseases by providing more hygienic environments and increased the comfort of the animals.
We incorporate industry best practices in animal care facility management into our operations. The DACC has implemented the nationally recognized operating framework for Socially Conscious Animal Shelters, which is based on respectful treatment of animals, placing every animal in good health and safety, transparency and leadership. , thoughtful public policy and safe communities. We have adopted the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare, the international standard for housing large numbers of animals. The Five Freedoms are liberation from hunger and thirst; discomfort; pain, injury or illness; fear and distress; and the freedom to express normal behavior. We have also implemented the specialized animal handling program called Fear Free Animal Handling to reduce the fear, anxiety, stress and frustration of the animals in our care.
Our medical team has grown to 13 veterinarians and 28 licensed veterinary technicians to treat approximately 19,000 animals / year in seven animal care facilities. The DACC follows the best practices of shelter medicine recommended by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians. All animals receive admission and discharge examinations, basic vaccines, flea / tick treatment, and preventive and supportive care. We now provide individualized medical treatment for each animal and perform other surgical procedures, beyond routine sterilization and sterilization, to save animals’ lives. LACACF’s Dreams Come True program and Healthcare for Homeless Animals organization fund extraordinary medical procedures for animals admitted to our CPAs, saving countless lives every year. LACACF’s Grooming Gives Hope program pays professional groomers to groom severely matted animals, usually with underlying medical issues that can then be treated.
We now have a professional animal behaviorist on staff and a team dedicated to environmental enrichment through toys, dog play groups, cat habitat expansion, horse exercises , specialized enclosures for reptiles and other means. We provide objective assessments of animal behavior and make good recommendations for the most appropriate placement.
It is so gratifying to see the transformation we have made in the animals we care for. I no longer cringe when I visit our CPAs, but I am delighted to see the exceptional care our team provides. Next month, I’ll tell you how we’ve revolutionized our work in protecting the community.
Marcia Mayeda is the director of the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control.