During his tenure as General Manager of Los Angeles Animal Services (LAAS), Ed Boks made headlines in his support of a failed California mandatory sterilization law, Assembly Bill 1634. During legislative hearings, Boks admitted that the legislation was more about expanding the bureaucratic power of animal control than saving animals when a Senator asked: “Mr. Boks, this bill doesn’t even pretend to be about saving animals, does it?” To which Boks responded: “No Senator, this is not about saving dogs and cats.” The bill was defeated.
But Boks convinced the City of Los Angeles to pass its own version. He also demanded more officers to enforce it, and was granted over $400,000 in enforcement money to do so, money that was taken away from truly lifesaving programs. The end result was predictable. Almost immediately, LAAS officers threatened poor people with citations if they did not turn over the pets to be killed at LAAS, and that is exactly what occurred. For the first time in a decade, impounds and killing increased—dog deaths increased 24%, while cat deaths increased 35%. In the process, he also fed the backyard breeding market for more (unaltered) animals.
Boks made further headlines when he abolished the subsidized spay/neuter voucher program a short time later, a program that was aimed at helping poor people comply with the law. A public outcry led to the program’s reinstatement but the subsequent embarrassment, among others, led to a unanimous vote of “No Confidence” by the City Council and Boks resigned shortly thereafter.
Despite public claims of success and the touting of the L.A. law in a bid to pass A.B. 1634 statewide, recently released e-mails show that Ed Boks knew that his much touted mandatory sterilization law was harmful to animals for another reason. According to the e-mails, after the mandatory sterilization law was adopted, veterinarians across the City of Los Angeles sought to exploit the captive market by raising their prices. Veterinarians wanted a windfall, even though cost was—and is—the primary barrier to spay/neuter. The end result was that while spay/neuter was now the law, the effect of the price increases in response to the law put sterilization increasingly out of reach for those at the bottom rung of the economic latter, forcing them to surrender their animals, which the shelters under Boks’ command put to death.
In a 2008 e-mail to Ed Boks, a supporter writes to Ed that “we can’t hide from the fact that veterinarians are raising their prices to a point where people cannot afford the services regardless of the vouchers or financial assistance.” (To help defray these rising costs, the City was offering $30 vouchers, and in a smaller number of cases, $70 vouchers, toward the cost of sterilization.) By August 2008, Boks admitted a problem and indentified what he called the “unintended consequence of s/n law is vets raising prices,” though he did not share this information with legislators he was lobbying to pass statewide mandatory spay/neuter.*
By early 2009, however, Boks could no longer ignore the failure. In an e-mail to his managers and the Mayor’s Office, he admits that the voucher program’s attempt to stem the increases in impounds was largely a failure, saying,
[T]he use of coupons is not cost effective because of our inability to control co-payments. The same is true of the $70 coupons. While they are targeted in a modest way, I doubt that even a subsidy this size brings pet sterilization within the reach of caretakers living in poverty because coupons don’t guarantee that the amount they have to pay themselves, the co-payment, is affordable to them.
Boks concludes that “the failure of our programs… explains why no progress has been made in reducing cat intakes in recent years.” (While he discussed trying to more effectively target indigent people with spay/neuter assistance, less than two months later he simply abolished the program.)
Instead, to defray blaming the spay/neuter law for increased impounds, Boks and his killing apologists in Los Angeles publicly (and sometimes privately) blamed the economy. But the data did not bear out the claim. While the City of Los Angeles had one of the lowest foreclosure rates (1.79) at the time, it saw killing increase following the passage of its spay/neuter law. By contrast, communities with higher rates like San Diego (2.51) and Alameda (2.41), saw killing nonetheless decrease. In fact, some of the California counties with the highest foreclosure rates during this period saw killing decrease.
Moreover, Washoe County, Nevada provides a striking contrast. As a tourism-based economy, Washoe County (Reno and surrounding communities) has been very hard hit by the economic downturn. Loss of jobs and loss of homes are at all-time highs. In fact, the state of Nevada has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, second only to Michigan. At the same time that LAAS was impounding and killing more animals, Reno increased adoptions rates, increased reclaim rates, and despite taking in over three times the per capita rate of animals than Los Angeles, saved nine out of every ten dogs and, at the time, about eight out of ten cats. Today, 90% of all cats and dogs are being saved.
In addition to the e-mails about the failure of the mandatory spay/neuter law, recently uncovered e-mails were found between a PETA writer and Boks trying to undermine my arguments in Redemption. I will write up a response to those claims in the near future, including an admission by the PETA writer that the shelters I cited for good results, in her words, are “Not perfect… but they are open-admission … and they’re among the best-performing animal shelters in the country.” The PETA writer also goes on to admit that I was right in another regard, citing the example of shelter management at the shelter she volunteers for, which ignored pleas for more comprehensive adoption efforts because they found killing of cats easier than doing what was necessary to stop it. Her conclusion: management should be fired!
Despite these admissions, she (a woman who writes for an organization that wants to see every dog who enters a shelter and is labeled a “Pit Bull” systematically slaughtered, and which also seeks out and kills 2,000 animals a year) and Boks (a man who has made a career around killing animals and misleading the public about No Kill progress) conspire to undermine my philosophy and approach. Stay tuned…
* Judie Mancuso, another proponent of mandatory spay/neuter, was, however, made aware of the price increases by L.A. veterinarians, information she too has buried.