LOS ANGELES–“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 January.”
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 said, “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 said. “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 shelters.”
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.'”