By Marcia Mayeda
The Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control (DACC) has adopted a new strategy for helping animals as part of its implementation of the nationally recognized animal sheltering model known as Socially Conscious Animal Sheltering (SCAS), adopted by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on August 6, 2019. Called “Managed Intake,” this strategy aligns DACC practices with the needs and resources of the community to reduce the need to accept animals into the seven DACC animal care centers and increase positive outcomes for stray and unwanted animals.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, DACC reached out to other animal sheltering organizations across the country to learn and adopt best practices to provide SCAS in this current environment and in the future. As a result, DACC has determined the former practice of receiving animals into DACC animal care centers without some measure of control should be refined to provide better animal population management and customer service. By partnering with the community to identify other options for stray and unwanted animals and provide solutions to the problems that bring these animals to our doors, DACC can prioritize situations in which receiving a pet into our care is the best or only option for that animal.
Managed Intake programs allow agencies to manage and reduce the flow of both owned pets and homeless animals into their care. By reducing the intake of animals from our communities, DACC is better able to provide individual care and attention to each animal in its care. With limited space at Los Angeles County animal care centers, it is our responsibility to identify any possible alternatives to impoundment, provide more robust resources, and increase positive outcomes for the animals that do have to be admitted into the care centers.
Community engagement is the key to successfully employing a Managed Intake approach. DACC has found that many community members, given the appropriate training and resources, would like to retain their pet or help a lost pet find its way home. By viewing the community as an extension of DACC the collaboration benefits vulnerable animals, is more rewarding for the people who care about them, and increases DACC’s capacity to provide services. Animal care centers serve as community resource centers by aligning animals and owners in need with the resources they need, when they need them. The engagement of volunteers and community partners are also key components to a successful Managed Intake approach because of the vast human and material resources they can bring to fostering, networking, facilitating adoptions, or solving problems to allow pets to stay with their owners.
When an owner considers relinquishing a pet, DACC first recommends and offers resources such as training and behavior advice, food and supplies, or support with other solutions to help keep the pet in the home. The most common reasons for pet surrender in Los Angeles County are medical care costs and housing issues. Under Managed Intake, DACC staff discuss these concerns with owners and refer them to resources that will allow them to reconsider surrendering their pets. Other times owners are simply frustrated with behavioral problems or lack the resources to fix fencing or address other one-time needs. With support to resolve these issues, pets can remain with the family that already knows and loves them. If a pet owner is still unable or unwilling to keep their pet, DACC provides advice to owners about how to rehome their pets themselves and avoid having to surrender their pets to an animal care center. This can be a less stressful outcome for both pets and their owners and saves valuable and limited animal housing space for those animals at the animal care centers who have no other options. If the owner is unable to rehome their pet on their own, DACC will accept it and seek the best possible outcome for that animal. Managed Intake at DACC also assists pet owners experiencing homelessness or other serious but hopefully temporary personal situations such as severe illness or domestic violence by referring pet owners in need to resources for pet friendly housing, homeless services, free veterinary treatment, or free temporary pet boarding.
Most stray animals are found within a few miles of their homes, and methods other than animal care center intake may more quickly and less expensively reunite these lost pets with their families. DACC encourages people who have found lost pets to first attempt reuniting the pets with their families by having the pets scanned for microchips to identify owner contact information, using neighborhood and social media apps to publicize found pets, and posting fliers in the neighborhood. DACC advises on effective pet reunification strategies, provides templates for flyers to post in neighborhoods, and offers other suggestions to engage the neighborhood and community. When finders are not successful or are unable to engage in these activities, DACC will accept the animals to ensure the safety of both animals and the public.
Healthy free roaming cats are generally deferred from impoundment because they are thriving in their current environment. Many free roaming cats have a family and vary their time between the home and outdoors. Bringing these cats to an animal care center removes them from their home territories, and owners generally don’t look for them at animal care centers for many days. Unfortunately, the return to owner rate for cats is less than 5%. By the time the owner comes to an animal care center, their pet cat could have come and gone. Other times, a home or group of homes is providing food and water to unowned neighborhood cats. These cats have established themselves as part of their neighborhood and do not need animal care center assistance. Prior to Managed Intake at DACC, approximately 50% of impounded cats were euthanized. That number has dropped dramatically because healthy free roaming cats are allowed to remain where they live.
Additionally, DACC has launched a “Got Kittens?” campaign to address the seasonal influx of kittens into animal care centers. By educating the public about identifying whether kittens are truly abandoned by their mother and in need of immediate assistance, more kittens can remain with their mothers during the critical nursing stage until weaned. This approach is healthier for kittens and improves their chance to later be successfully adopted. If the kittens have actually been abandoned by their mother, DACC provides education and fostering supplies to community members who enjoy caring for them until they are old enough for adoption through DACC or other resources. Underage kittens impounded without their mothers are in fact the most common reason for animal euthanasia, and DACC is preventing the unnecessary impoundment of kittens by educating the community and expanding its volunteer foster program.
Any cats or kittens that are malnourished, ill, injured, or require assistance are welcomed at DACC so they can receive the care they need. DACC is also exploring opportunities to expand low-cost spay/neuter services for cats to prevent the birth of unwanted kittens.
Public Safety and Animal Welfare
DACC recognizes that some animals must be immediately brought to an animal care center for their own safety or the safety of the public. Animals that pose a safety threat will immediately and safely be impounded. Animals that are sick or injured will be accepted so medical assistance can be provided. Additional situations may include an owner’s sudden and complete inability to provide care, animal cruelty and neglect cases, and other special circumstances.
DACC has implemented appointment only services to better assist the public. DACC’s move to appointment only services has eliminated the long in-person customer waiting lines of the past. Every case is unique, and by using appointments to provide services DACC staff can anticipate needs and be better prepared to individualize the provision of resources and the outcome plan for each animal to meet our commitment to their health and safety and best chance of a positive outcome. Appointments are conducted with a case management approach emphasizing the individual human-animal bond. Preliminary phone interviews are conducted prior to in-person services and can even prevent the need to come to an animal care center. Phone interviews also prepare visitors to ensure proper physical distancing requirements are maintained when in-person services are required.
In summary, through the Managed Intake approach DACC is better able to dedicate its limited resources to the animals and people most in need. Prior to Managed Intake, animal care centers often operated at or above capacity in terms of space and staffing availability. These challenges compromised DACC’s ability to provide a full range of services to optimize animal care and meet the needs of the public. With Managed Intake, impounded animals receive better care given DACC capacity, and people receive more personalized attention with their animal issues.
Managed Intake is a thoughtful public policy to create the best outcomes for all animals while valuing the human-animal bond. By engaging the community, more pets and families can remain together, lost pets are more quickly reunited with their families, limited governmental resources are preserved for those animals and people with no other options, and animal euthanasia is decreased. DACC will continue to refine and adjust its practices as circumstances warrant and is grateful for the support of the community, both in these troubled times and into the future as we work together to create communities where every animal is wanted and loved.
Best wishes to you and your loved ones for safety and good health.