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Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is not keeping his campaign promise to animals
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa promised to make LA a NoKill city for animals. He hired Ed Boks to be the General Manager of LA Animal Services. After over a year on the job Boks failed to reduce the euthanasia rate. This is the first time the euthanasia rate has not gone down since they had public records. Fewer animals made it out alive. What went wrong? And what is the Mayor going to do about it?
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is not keeping his campaign promise to our animal loving City
When Antonio Villaraigosa was running for Mayor of Los Angeles in 2005 he promised the citizens of Los Angeles that if elected, he'd "hold the new General Manager (of LA Animal Services) accountable for creating a legitimate plan to reduce euthanasia." He said he would "demand better performance and real accountability from the Department." Well, the truth is in the statistics and the statistics show that his new General Manager Ed Boks failed. In 2006 751 fewer animals made it out of the shelter alive than in 2005. The euthanasia rate did not go down from the previous year. This is the first time since they had public records available that there was no improvement. What went wrong? And what is the Mayor going to do about it?
In January of 2005 then Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa told a packed room of animal activists, rescuers and welfarists that if he became the Mayor, he would hire a new General Manager with experience, compassion and the knowledge to make LA a NoKill City. NoKill basically means that no adoptable animal will be euthanized for lack of space. Only animals that are dying or dangerously vicious would be euthanized. At the time LA City shelters were euthanizing 41% of all animals that came into the shelter, over 22,000 animals a year.
A few months after Antonio became the Mayor of LA he fired then General Manager, Guerdon Stuckey and immediately appointed Ed Boks as the new GM. Ed Boks has over 20 years of animal shelter experience whereas his predecessor had none. Boks believes in NoKill sheltering and was even a NoKill consultant. We've been told that Boks reduced the euthanasia rate and increased animal adoptions in Phoenix, Arizona and New York City. More importantly, animal people seemed to like him whereas they hated his predecessor. He seemed like the man for the job and by coincidence, he was in need of a job as his animal control contract would not be renewed in New York. Should this have been a red flag?
Boks started his new job officially January 3, 2006. He immediately "introduced" a host of new programs with catchy names like Big Fix, S.T.A.R. and FELIX. He opened his arms wide to the rescue groups and activists. He said yes to every request and offer. He wrote Op-Ed pieces for the local newspapers. In front of City Council he swore LA would be NoKill by 2010 it not 2008. He even started a blog, and the activists rejoiced. Well, maybe not all of the activists. The Animal Defense League of Los Angeles (ADLLA) was still on the fence about Mr. Boks.
Month after month he was churning out positive reports about the new programs and progress. His six month report came out and things looked good. The euthanasia rate was dropping and dog adoptions were up. He made some rosy projections of continued success by the end of the year. Meanwhile, ADLLA started to send out negative emails about Boks' past in New York, accusing him of "fudging the numbers," spinning the news, sleeping with female rescuers, boozing it up and other general misdeeds. They started to demand that he be fired even though his numbers looked okay at the time.
Then all of a sudden there were no more monthly reports after August. The reports just stopped. Activists thought nothing of it as the positive news and press releases just kept flowing from the Department in abundance. In early January the annual statistics report was finally released, and a bomb was dropped on the animal community. The annual euthanasia rate did not go down for the first time since they started keeping public records! Fewer animals made it out alive! How could the NoKill King fail? Even though the numbers showed a failure to improve Boks bragged in a press release that "the Kill-Rate hit an all time low in 2006!" and "we will take another giant leap towards No-Kill" in 2007. Was he looking at the same numbers? The rate wasn't down and there was no "leap" of any type. What was happening?
If you take a look at the reports and statistics, you can see why he failed. It turns out Boks was holding the animals longer than ever before. That is why the euthanasia rate looked good in the first half of the year. He held those animals over into the second half of the year. He was holding animals with little chance of adoption, like large pitbulls which are always in abundance. One can only assume that was done to improve the numbers, not the dogs' chances at adoption.
Of course the shelters then filled up to maximum capacity. He had to start euthanizing them so the numbers for the second half of the year were horrible. He missed all of his rosy projections by a long shot. This brought the euth rate back up to 41%, where it was in 2005. The euthanasia rate is the number of animals euthanized divided by the number of animals that enter the shelter. This rate is the main number that shelters use to gauge their success, or failure.
In comparison, the 2004 rate was 47%, 2003 was 53% and 2002 was 56%. All of Boks' predecessors improved the euthanasia rate even though they had less money, fewer employees and smaller facilities. More animals were now dying, getting sick, being stolen and escaping than ever before. The only positive thing he did was increase dog adoptions by a fraction. Cats, rabbits and other animals did not fare as well. Boks was definitely not on his way to meet his NoKill goal, not by a long shot.
Why didn't all his catchy new "NoKill" programs work? Well, most of them were not new or else not implemented. He took LA's existing programs, gave them catchy new names then rolled them out as his own creations. FELIX was his feral cat program from NY but LA already had one, it just didn't have a name. He put all the current spayneuter programs under his Big Fix name and called that a new program. He started the S.T.A.R. program to help rehabilitate very ill or injured animals. Again, they were already doing this, they just didn't call it a program or give it a name. While using all of his programs in NY he was only able to get their euthanasia rate to 43%. LA was already doing most of these programs and their rate was at 41% when he got here.
He brought his "new" Foster, Senior 4 Senior, Bottle Baby and New Hope programs. There are only a handful of animals in the Foster program which actually already existed. The Senior 4 Senior program was written before he got here and it is still not even approved or implemented. The Bottle Baby program is an old program with few participants. The New Hope program was just the renamed old Adoption Partner program. What's more, New Hope animals were free to rescuers in 2006. When it was called the Adoption Partner program and rescuers had to pay for the animals in 2005, they actually saved more animals. The drop in New Hope animals was significant. Other programs such as Plus One Minus One, No "e" below the knee and others just fell by the wayside.
Most of his "programs" were actually not very life saving to begin with. They are more about positive press than saving lives. For instance, Boks says the Bottle Baby program will save the kittens and puppies who die in high number every year. In reality they feed the babies until they can eat on their own and legally be adopted at eight weeks of age. They can't seem to get their current eight week old kittens and puppies adopted so how will adding to those numbers help? They will just have to euthanize them at eight weeks instead of seven weeks or less. Even the Senior 4 Senior program won't save many lives. Low income elderly people are not a huge force in animal adoptions. His TLC program (Teaching Love & Compassion) is not implemented and it is geared to help children, not animals. But, all these "new" "NoKill programs" do look good in the news section. Maybe a fancy new website and positive press is all the Mayor really wanted all along.
Most importantly, everyone knows that you cannot adopt your way out of pet overpopulation. Boks himself says this. You must stem the flow of animals coming into the system. Spayneuter is the only proven way to reduce pet overpopulation. What did he do for spayneuter in 2006? Not much. He lost one Spaymobile. The opening of the shelter spayneuter clinics is at least a year or more away. He did not increase spayneuter this year by much and baby season is almost upon us. We can expect another bumper crop of babies soon, babies who will have to be euthanized or "murdered" as the activists like to say.
So what was Boks doing during 2006 if not saving animals? ADLLA sent out countless emails stating he was dating quite a few female members of the local rescue community. That does seem to ring true with reliable sources. His online Match.com profile says he's a "social drinker," "spiritual but not religious," a "successful administrator making a real difference in my field," he only wants to date white women with degrees who make over $75,000 a year who are between 5'4" and 5'8" and not fat, he's into "cuddling" and his politics are "non-comformist." There are quite a few photos of him online hugging female Department rescue-partners with one hand with a drink in the other at parties. He spends time on the Board of Directors of some of the groups run by these women. He was never one to miss a party or event, an opportunity to rub elbows with politicians, celebrities and more cute animal rescuers who looked up to him as the "animal savior." Basically, he had a good time in LA on the tax payer's dime.
On top of it all, it seems he was involved in a few scandals. He posted a sexy photo of a woman in a string bikini on the Department website to advertise a bikini contest at Hooters. Local women's groups called him sexist. The Mayor and Laura Chick made him end the Department's involvement in the event. He spoke out against a Jewish religious ritual and was called anti-Semitic by local Jewish groups. He was sued by an African American ex-employee for discrimination. Seems Boks fired the African American employee who had years of experience and then hired his white friend who had no experience but did have a criminal conviction on his record. Pissing off women, Jews, African Americans, what next?
Within the last week there have been new accusations about possible Hayden Act violations. As per the Hayden Act the shelter must hold an animal four days before euthanizing unless the animal is dying or unweaned. Blog "LA Animal Watch" run by a past supporter of Boks has posted charts supplied by Shelter Watch that show over 1,000 violations within the first ten months of 2006 alone. At the time of this posting Boks is stating that it was just poor record keeping, which is still a violation of the Hayden Act besides evidence of poor administrative skills. The final Department response should be out soon. LA Animal Watch used to be a keen supporter until the failure in the annual statistics and the Hayden Act violations came to light. Boks seems to have lost support even from his staunchest defenders.
There was an accusation that he was in fact behind an infamous blog fan site called "LA Animal Friends." That blog would post positive inside information about him and the Department and basically refute anyone who ever said anything negative about Boks. It seems Boks ordered a volunteer to start and write the blog. He provided the content of the blog and even wrote parts of it. Ghost writing your own fan site? When the volunteer his "number one fan" finally saw the horrible year end statistics, she immediately shut it down. A few other pro-Boks blogs seem to have turned against him and now there are rumors of sexual harassment lawsuits against Boks by some of the female rescuers. Even Gary Michelson the billionaire inventor-surgeon who originally introduced Boks to the Mayor seems to have lost confidence. Earlier he'd pledged to donate large sums of money to the Department but seems to have changed his mind because of Boks failure. A new support group was formed to raise funds named SALA but they too seem to have lost confidence. It was not a very good year for Boks, and especially not a good year for the animals.
So what has the Mayor done about this mess? He promised to make LA NoKill. He said he would hire a NoKill specialist and hold him accountable. He would make him write a NoKill plan. Boks has never even made a plan and he's been here over a year. Locals talk about another NoKill "guru" named Nathan Winograd but he does the same programs as Boks so what would be the point. He's only a consultant and not a manager. He has no track record making a large City NoKill or even getting one below 41%. Causing more concern, he is very closely aligned with the extremists ADLLA who have been attacking the Department and employees for years. The extremists have been trying to force Winograd's expensive consulting services down the Mayor's throat with threats and angry protests so I doubt he'd be welcomed by the City.
It's been two months since the horrible 2006 numbers came out which clearly show that Boks has failed, which means the Mayor has failed. Will the Mayor keep his promise to the animal loving public? To the animals? Can he force Boks to do a better job and make LA NoKill? Or is it time for yet another new General Manager? He must do something and soon. This lack of oversight of Animal Services makes you wonder if maybe some of Antonnio's other Departments are also failing. I've only looked at the numbers for Animal Services, what about DWP, LAPD, LAFD? Has Antonio failed LA as a Mayor as a whole? How can he ever expect to run for Governor with a track record like this.