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LA animal shelters close to reaching citywide 'no-kill' benchmark

Chihuahuas await adoption at a Los Angeles Department of Animal Services shelter on December 15, 2009 in os Angeles, California. December 15, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.
Chihuahuas await adoption at a Los Angeles Department of Animal Services shelter on December 15, 2009 in os Angeles, California. December 15, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.
David McNew/Getty Images

Los Angeles is moving steadily toward its goal of becoming a “no kill” city by 2017, according to the latest euthanization numbers from city animal shelters.

So far this year, the city’s shelters have maintained an 84.3 percent overall live save rate, L.A. Animal Services said in a statement Monday.

That’s up substantially from 57.8 percent in 2011, when the city's "No Kill Los Angeles" initiative got underway.

“In the last five years, we have made steady progress towards saving the lives of thousands of orphaned pets,” L.A. Animal Services general manager Brenda Barnette said in the statement. “We are hopeful to have our best year of reducing shelters deaths and increasing the live save rate since establishing to become a no-kill city.”

Barnette said she credits a public-private partnership, the No-Kill Los Angeles Coalition, which is led by Best Friends Animal Society and includes more than 100 local animal welfare organizations. The coalition helped find homes for 27,100 dogs and cats in 2015, she said.

"The momentum of NKLA is absolutely thrilling. We're very excited about the progress that has been made so far and look forward to the day when L.A. is declared a no-kill city. With numbers like these, that day is not far off," said Francis Battista, co-founder of Best Friends Animal Society, in a written statement.

The city’s goal is to reach a 90 percent save rate by 2017, which means 90 percent of all healthy, treatable cats and dogs will exit the shelters rather than being euthanized, according to Sara Ebrahimi, an Animal Services spokeswoman.

Battista said the 90 percent threshold is an indicator of a shift in the sheltering system's overall strategy.

“So there’s always going to be some animals that don’t make it. You know, they come in, they’re injured, they’re hit by a car, they’re sick. Others are too dangerously aggressive,” Battista told KPCC. “But when you hit a 90 percent save rate, one thing you can say with a fair degree of certainty is that animals are not being killed as a method of population control.”

Best Friends launched the NKLA campaign about five years ago. Through NKLA, the group provides grants and support for participating organizations, works to identify areas of need and helps people retain pets, Battista said.

Over time the efforts have paid off. This year alone, the city said it has seen a 30 percent reduction in the number of deaths at its six shelters. Only about 850 pets were euthanized compared to more than 1,200 for the same period in 2015.

Overall since 2012, deaths at city shelters are down 66 percent.

One area that’s been particularly challenging: saving kittens.

Of the 23,000 animals killed in L.A. shelters in 2011, 7,000 were kittens under the age of 8 weeks, Battista said.

Very young kittens are extremely vulnerable and so require more resources and attention from shelter staff. Someone has to be on hand to bottle-feed them every couple of hours around the clock, Battista said.

To help reduce the number of kitten deaths, Best Friends helped create kitten nurseries starting in 2013. Since then, the group has saved about 4,900 kittens, and they expect to save even more this year in collaboration with their partners.

“Once you get them past that critical couple of weeks where they’re very vulnerable, you have what amounts to the most adoptable creature in the entire world — you know, a cute, cuddly kitten, who goes from being untenable in the shelter’s environment, with a few weeks of TLC, into the most adoptable pet you can find,” Battista said.

The next major benchmark will be in July, when the city releases statistics for the whole fiscal year.