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SECESSION SKETCHBOOK

Activist Sees New City as Fresh Start for Pets

Animals: Valley could 'certainly do better' than L.A. agency, newsletter says.

September 19, 2002|JAMES RICCI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Amid the contending calculations in the San Fernando Valley secession debate, Nancy Smith has marked a small territory as her own. While others quarrel over how many millions in federal grant dollars City Hall has denied the Valley over the years, and whether a new Valley city could afford the $1.3 billion in "alimony" it would owe Los Angeles, Smith sticks to small integers.

Secession, she believes, will benefit not only human residents of the Valley, but their four-legged and feathered companions as well.

Smith is co-owner of the California Cat Center, a luxury feline boarding facility in Van Nuys, and editor of a newsletter called the Valley Pet News. In a recent editorial, she sounded a call for Valley independence, declaring that residents "can create a new consciousness and set a new standard for the way animals are handled in our new city."

Cities' animal euthanasia performances vary widely, depending on their education, adoption, and sterilization programs.

In the editorial, Smith charged that the Los Angeles Animal Services Department uses killing "as a management tool. Our new Valley city can certainly do better than killing nearly 75% of the pets turned into the Los Angeles-run shelters."

Smith's kill figure is a little dated and somewhat inflated. While L.A. Animal Services' "kill rate" hit 72% in fiscal 1999-2000, when the department euthanized 53,445 animals, it dipped to 61% the next year. Final figures have not been tabulated for fiscal 2001-02 or the current year, but the department estimates the kill rate will drop to 57% and 51%, respectively, thanks to stepped-up sterilization and other programs.

The newspaper Animal People, which tabulates cities' animal euthanasia rates per 1,000 human population, places Los Angeles, with a score of 14.4, below the national average of 15.7. Animal People's editor, Merritt Clifton, said the Los Angeles figures include the entire county.

But Smith, a 51-year-old lawyer and former journalist who wears work smocks depicting smiling cartoon cats, has a brawling mouser's attitude when it comes to her profound love of animals. L.A.'s progress, she said, is laudable, but not good enough.

She pointed to San Francisco as an example. There, close cooperation between the city's department of Animal Care and Control and the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has lowered the kill rate for impounded cats and dogs to 28% (San Francisco holds first place among cities in Animal People's tabulation, with a score of 2.6).

On a recent morning, Smith visited Los Angeles' East Valley animal shelter in Van Nuys. She walked between rows of kennels, pausing to greet the barking, yelping occupants affectionately. She made her way to the cat room, where various felines pawed through cage bars at her extended fingers.

The place was tidy, if utilitarian. Cats were housed one to a cage, but dogs two to a kennel.

"The way you increase adoptions," Smith said as she piloted her California Cat Center van east toward Pasadena, "is to mimic retail, and that place, while not hideous and reasonably clean, looks more like a doggy jail than a pet store."

The Pasadena Humane Society shelter provided a sharp contrast. The society, which is more than a century old, handles animal control for Pasadena, La Canada-Flintridge, South Pasadena, San Marino, Sierra Madre and Arcadia--cities with a combined population of 400,000.

At the Pasadena shelter, dogs are one to a kennel in spotless outdoor enclosures provided with sun-dappling shade, radiant heat for cool nights, drop-down roofs for rain and misters for hot days. In the cat room, animals are one to a cage and breathe filtered air that replaces itself 12 times a minute to cut down on the respiratory diseases to which cats are prone. A separate, locked facility, dimly lighted and quiet, houses feral cats, which are dangerous and easily spooked.

Last year, the shelter euthanized fewer than 10% of the 3,537 dogs it impounded, said the Humane Society public relations director, Ricky Whitman. The figure was much higher for cats--58% of 3,193. That is because the shelter takes in large numbers of newborn kittens, which cannot be hand-nurtured without placing an unjustifiable burden on resources, and also impounds sizable numbers of unadoptable feral cats.

For dogs and cats combined, the kill rate last year was 33%, somewhat more than half that of Los Angeles.

Whitman said the Pasadena shelter's aggressive education, adoption and spaying/neutering campaigns have begun paying unheard-of dividends. The shelter did not euthanize a single adoptable dog or cat this past March, April or May.

"It gives me chills even talking about it," she said. In its long history, it had never before had a "no-kill" month.

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