L.A. shelter deal transfers cash crunch to Best Friends

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  January/February 2012:

–“There is progress in Los Angeles!” exulted City
of Los Angeles Animal Services general manager Brenda Barnette on
January  5,  2012,  anticipating the imminent transition of the idle
Northeast Animal Care Center from a costly liability to an operating
asset,  run by the Best Friends Animal Society.

“The contract between the city and Best Friends for the
operation of an adoption and spay/neuter services center at the
Northeast Animal Care Center in Mission Hills was completed over the holiday break,”  elaborated city spokesperson Jason Killeen.  “Our goal is to have the facility open to the public by the end of

But the deal appeared to transfer financial stress as well as
animal care duties to Best Friends,  at least until fundraising
specific to the project brings returns.  Amid rumors of cuts to other
programs,  Best Friends chief executive Gregory Castle told ANIMAL
PEOPLE that,  “There are no significant numbers of people being laid
off.”  Castle said an internal review “has resulted in changes such
that we have no further need for about a half dozen jobs,”  but added
that some of the personnel involved “have transferred to other jobs
within Best Friends.  At the same time,”  Castle mentioned,  “we are
hiring at least double that number for new and expanded functioning,
including in Los Angeles.”

The contract between Best Friends and Los Angeles,  more than
a year in negotiation,  includes few specific financial figures.
When ratified in concept in August 2011 by the Los Angeles City
Council,  Los Angeles Daily News staff writer Rick Orlov reported
that “The city would save an estimated $3.3 million a year in
salaries and related costs by allowing Best Friends to operate the
shelter,”  while Best Friends “would invest in excess of $1 million
to administer adoption and spay-neuter services,  plus community
outreach and education programs consistent with the mission of Los
Angeles Animal Services and Best Friends.”

Completed in 2008,  the Northeast Animal Care Center cost
$19.5 million to build,  financed by a $154 million bond issue to
upgrade animal facilities.  Operating costs were to come out of the
Animal Services annual budget–but cuts to the budget left the
shelter mostly unused.

“The city was not able to give Animal Services enough money
to operate all of our shelters,”  Barnette told ANIMAL PEOPLE.  “Had
Best Friends or some other group not stepped in,  we would have had
an empty shelter.”

But the contract with Best Friends hardly solves the whole
Los Angeles Animal Services budget crunch.  “With one more shelter
due to be completed this spring or summer,”  Barnette said,  “we will
be facing that same issue,  with a six to 12% budget decrease,  and
will be looking for another group to operate one of our other

The contract in final form requires Best Friends to “use its
best efforts to take approximately 3,000 animals annually from the
Department of Animal Services for adoption through its operations at
the Northeast Care Center,”  and to “use its best efforts to annually
provide approximately 6,000 spay/neuter services for adopted animals
and animals owned by members of the public.”  All animals to be
adopted from the Northeast Care Center are to be received from Los
Angeles Animal Services.  Best Friends will not be allowed to accept
animals brought to the center by the public,  or by other humane
organizations,  and must direct people who attempt to surrender
animals to other Animal Services shelters.

No TNR allowed

Best Friends has for more than 20 years been a national
leader in promoting neuter/return feral cat population control.
However,  Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Thomas McKnew in December
2009 ruled on behalf of the American Bird Conservancy,  the
Endangered Habitats League,  and three local chapters of the National
Audubon Society that Los Angeles Animal Services was in violation of
the California Environmental Quality Act for issuing $30
sterilization vouchers to neuter/return practitioners and for
referring people who call to complain about feral cats to charities
that do neuter/return.

Therefore the contract between Best Friends and Los Angeles
enjoins Best Friends from knowingly engaging in neuter/return of
feral cats at the Northeast Animal Care Center  including sterilizing
feral cats,  transferring feral cats to other locations to be
sterilized,  disseminating information about neuter/return from
Northeast Animal Care Center or the center’s web site,  releasing
feral cats to “groups or individuals for release or return into
colonies,”  and referring “complaints about feral cats to TNR
[trap/neuter/return] groups or individuals who engage in TNR.”

“Notwithstanding the foregoing”  the contract says,
“nothing in this agreement shall be interpreted to preclude [Best
Friends] from engaging in TNR activities generally from any other
facility or location,  from disseminating TNR information,  or
linking to other organizations involved in TNR activity on or through
its best-friends.org web site.  Moreover,  operator shall not be
precluded from informing individuals who affirmatively request
information about TNR at the Northeast Animal Care Center that,
‘Because of an injunction against the City of Los Angeles,  which
owns this facility,  we can’t provide you with any information about
TNR or engage in any TNR-related activities from this location.'”

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