Discussion: Is Best Friends Doing “The Very Best” It Can in L.A.?

In 2011, the city of Los Angeles gave the $19 million Mission Hills animal shelter to Best Friends Animal Society without allowing any other non-profit group the chance to bid on operating the facility.  Best Friends launched an initiative aimed at making Los Angeles a no kill city by 2017.  Critics have cried foul from the outset, contending that the BFAS “No Kill L.A.” initiative is little more than a publicity campaign designed to pad the BFAS bank account with donations from compassionate pet lovers.

One week ago, several readers sent me a link to an article which asked the question:  Did Best Friends Animal Society dump an old poodle at a high kill shelter? The short answer appears to be yes, BFAS took a 15 year old dog to the East Valley pound in Los Angeles after someone left him at the BFAS shelter in Mission Hills. The larger issue, based upon Best Friends’ initial response to the public outcry over the betrayal of this dog, is that apparently the group does this regularly.

From the initial response by BFAS:

Per the contract with the city, we are legally required to direct the public to take these [surrendered] animals directly to the East Valley Shelter, or in the instance an animal appears at our center, we must do this as well. This is so the city can do their legally required procedures. Best Friends and other qualified rescues are able to pull animals after the legally required hold time has passed, giving the public the first chance to adopt.

[…]

Just like most rescues and shelters, the Best Friends sanctuary in Utah has limits and there is not always room. We do the very best we can to save every animal that we can.

When pet lovers continued to express their anger over the situation, BFAS issued a new boilerplate response which begins:

Dear [angry pet lover’s name here], the comments floating around regarding senior dog Grandpa are disappointing and hurtful (and in some cases simply not true) and will do nothing to further the no-kill movement in Los Angeles.

In other words, questioning the ethics of Best Friends = killing animals, you ignorant slut.

Despite the claim made by BFAS that the organization is “just like most rescues”, Best Friends is not your typical rescue organization operating on a shoestring budget out of a handful of foster homes.  Charity Navigator lists BFAS 2011 net assets as $47,266,990.  This is a national organization garnering major donations (which I’ve questioned in the past).  To my mind, you don’t get to maintain a bank account with that many zeroes without being held to a higher standard.  That includes both the hands-on work of actually rescuing animals and the need for transparency and accountability.

In an effort to address the larger issues more thoroughly, I wrote to BFAS seeking information:

Subject: Questions Regarding BFAS in L.A.
From: <eiderdown@yesbiscuit.com>
Date: Mon, September 02, 2013 7:31 am
To: barbara@bestfriends.org, info@bestfriends.org,
bestfriendsla@bestfriends.org

I write a shelter related blog and have some questions regarding operations at the Mission Hills facility in L.A.:

How many animals has BFAS taken to the East Valley facility since taking over at Mission Hills?

What has happened to each of the animals taken to the city pound by BFAS?

When taking an animal to the city pound, does BFAS always perform documentation and networking of the pet in order to help get the pet reunited with his owner (if there is one) or get seen by rescues and adopters?

When taking an animal to the city pound, does BFAS always place a “hold” on the pet so that, if the animal goes unclaimed/unadopted and ends up on the kill list at the pound, BFAS will be notified to pick up the pet?

How many pets has BFAS brought to the city pound and then later rescued via the previously described process?

Regarding the animals BFAS has pulled from the city shelter, what fee has BFAS paid to the city per animal? What has happened to these pulled pets? Have any of them been transported to rescues or adopters in states other than CA?

Thank you for you time.

Sincerely,
Shirley Thistlethwaite

After receiving no response, I re-sent the message and received an auto-reply.  The auto-reply contained just general information (“LIKE us on Facebook”, etc.) and a non-personal statement that I would receive a response in a few days.  As of this posting, I have received nothing from Best Friends in response to my e-mail aside from the auto-reply.

My questions still stand.

What are your thoughts?

Leave a comment

28 Comments

  1. mikken

     /  September 9, 2013

    Oh dear. Their second response should have been better thought out, shouldn’t it?
    The old, “If you’re not with us, you’re practically strangling kittens with your bare hands” response is NOT GOING TO FLY anymore. You *might* have been able to get away with that back in the day before social media, but those days are gone, now.

    And – a word to the wise. In this life, we are none of us gods. We are mortal and fallible and some days we are awesome and some days we suck. We have free will and we get to choose in which direction we wish to go. As such, sometimes it’s not always easy to see where we’re going. How to stay on the righteous path? Friends. Look at who our friends are, with whom we are associating, who we count on to back us up when the going gets tough. And most importantly, we listen to our friends when they call us on our shit. Hell, we NEED friends to call us on our shit and if it’s valid, we need to have the maturity and the sense of purpose to say, “You know, you’ve got a point there. I’m going to address that.”

    Best Friends is supported by (many) people who are passionate about animal welfare. When those supporters call them on their shit, the correct response is not, “Shut up, we’re good people, you’re either with us or against us.”

    Just because BF can’t see a solution to this issue doesn’t mean it isn’t there. USE your vast resources (and I don’t just mean money, I mean PEOPLE) to find a way to MAKE IT WORK. Innovate, dammit.

    Reply
  2. I have had that same impression – right from the beginning the NKLA *program* which was essentially a partnership with an advertising agency for some glossy posters. Contrast the BFAS NKLA approach to the very hard work that is being done & the amazing number of lives saved by Downtown Dog Rescue. They are working with some of the poorest communities, have an ‘intervention’ program with the South LA shelter to help people retain their family pets & prevent them from entering the facility. All this while raising $370k for a new shelter facility. Wouldn’t it have been nice for LA to share some of that wealth with people who are really making a difference?
    Having attended three of Best Friends’ conferences, I came to the awareness that they are essentially media focused & have ‘jumped the shark’. No more BFAS for me …

    Reply
  3. It certainly seems that much of the criticism is unwarranted. If there are legal contracts in place that require animals to go through the city shelters before going to Best Friends, then it sounds like they did what they had to do. Under Hayden’s law, if the dog was a stray, then the dog had to be held for a minimum amount of time and being at a city shelter makes it more likely to be reclaimed than going to a private facility. This type of thing happens ALL THE TIME in ever community in the country where dogs go to city pounds before rescues pull them because unless they are tagged/chipped, there is almost no way for a person to find their lost pet if they go immediately into the private rescue circles. So in this case, it sounds like Best Friends is getting a lot of criticism for doing something that happens in pretty much every city in the country and something they may have been legally bound to do — merely because as Best Friends they’ve become an easy target.

    As for the contract itself, I sort of laugh about the uproar that they got the contract….how many animal welfare organizations can afford to run a facility of that size without government subsidy AND put $1 million into upgrading the facility. The city was smart to give them the contract.

    No one is perfect, including Best Friends, but they have a pretty amazing shelter director out there and are making a lot of progress. I swear that the animal welfare movement can turn on the good guys faster than any other movement on the planet.

    Reply
    • Of the rescue groups I am familiar with, your assertion is untrue. They do not take pets to the local pound and leave them there as BFAS apparently did with no hold, no networking, and no follow up. The groups I am familiar with attempt to do the very best they can for the animal by placing a hold, networking the animal and following up with the pound.

      As to your other comment, “how many animal welfare organizations can afford to run a facility of that size”, that answer will never be known since the city built the $19 million facility then gave it to BFAS. No other group had the chance to determine if they could afford to run the place. They were not asked.

      Reply
      • There are some local legal issues that need to be considered. I know of several large shelter/rescues/sanctuaries across the country that are required to turn over stray or abandoned animals to local animal control shelters. It has nothing to do with if they want to keep the animals or not, it simply is a local law. Many animals will be pulled again after the legal holding time is over.
        I don’t think many non-profit organisations are able to operate such a large scale animal shelter and I think LA made a smart decision to hand it to BFAS.

      • Leslie

         /  September 9, 2013

        I think some of the criticism is unwarranted although I do wish they had responded to your questions. From what I understand, the shelter was built by the city but never really opened because the city couldn’t afford to run it. Best Friends had a plan to utilize the building for a high volume adoption center/low cost spay and neuter clinic and the city agreed to the plan since they couldn’t afford to do it themselves. I believe Best Friends approached the city and not the other way around. I’m sure if other groups had approached the city with a plan, the city would have considered those plans too. To complain later because someone else beat you to it seems a bit like sour grapes. Best Friends was never intending to run a municipal pound, so criticizing them for not taking in owner surrendered or stray pets doesn’t make sense. The fact that a pet owner decided to bypass the city’s process for surrendering a pet by dumping that pet at the Best Friends adoption center doesn’t, in my mind, place an obligation on Best Friends to take a special interest in that specific pet. Are they doing everything they can? I don’t know, but they are doing something the city wasn’t doing and more pets are being saved.

      • I run an independent nonprofit animal shelter in Baltimore County, MD, and we are required to turn over strays and animals that are left at our shelter to County Animal Control. We do place holds on the animals to retrieve them after their stray hold is up (if we have room) and we do take a photo and post on social media/craigslist stating that the animal was brought here and is now at County Animal Control. However, we don’t often have room to be able to take the animals back.

  4. mikken

     /  September 9, 2013

    Even if they are required to turn the animal over, why not place a hold on that animal? And since I’m asking, why not clean the poor beast up, first? That animal’s comfort was compromised by the matting and dirt, surely a little compassion is warranted even if they felt obligated to relocate him to another facility.

    No, I’m sorry. There’s no excuse for not doing everything you can to help an animal when you’re IN THE ANIMAL HELPING BUSINESS. Why not clean the dog up – not only will that help the dog feel better, it will increase adoptability. Why not put a hold on the dog, or if you cannot take the dog, work to market the dog six ways from Sunday to get that dog out of that shelter as soon as humanly possible?

    BFLA may be suffering from “island in a storm” syndrome – figuring that because they can’t do a thing, no one else can, either. So they don’t engage the rescue community to help where they cannot. How many senior pet rescue groups did they contact about this dog? How many poodle groups? How many small dog rescues? Did they put a photo up on the FB page? Did.they.network.this.dog.at.all?

    Reply
  5. Lot’s to say since this whole BF NKLA thing is just a bit north of me here in Cali. While I have volunteered for many a rescue who has treated a stray the same way–first to the shelter to be scanned, logged and see if an owner will claim then because they look to the county shelters first when a dog is lost. I get it-all that as is proper procedure. BUT said rescues know how the horrible county shelters operate (And LA is way worse than down here in San Diego trust me) and they always place a hold on the animal and have first rights to pull that animal after stray hold and all waiting periods have not accomplished a return to owner.

    So turning them into the shelter is not so bad but not following up and placing hold, keeping account and records of all this is troubling if that’s what BFAS Mission Hills facility is NOT doing. It seems from what I hear that they pick and choose the best of the shelters options to adopt out of their facility as well. So they are limited admission. That’s their right too.

    BUT they are sadly mistaken if this kumbaya effort to have a slick ad campaign with hollywood celebrities and thinking cant we all just get along and we’ll spay and neuter our way out of killing will not work. No kill has never worked without the comprehensive implementation of all the procedures in the No kill equation. They have no compassionate director. Brenda Barnett is a joke and fighting everything except when BFAS makes her look good. If they lower a kill rate one month she takes credit. They have no TNR program. Most county shelters have horrible hours, horrible customer service, no offsite adoptions etc. BFAS is taking any and all credit for any success when it is the partners they enlist like Downtown Dog Rescue, Angel City Pit bulls, Karma Rescue etc that are doing the good work in the trenches. The program Downtown Dog rescue does (basically pet retention) of helping owners keep their pets by meeting them at the shelter doors when they are surrendering is one thing every shelter should be doing but aren’t, and DDR should be applauded. I understand BFAS gave them a grant when their lost their building to get a new one. A $20K down payment or something (I could be wrong on the figure) but compared to what BFAS has as a larger national org, come on!

    BFAS has become the ASPCA or HSUS in my eyes. As soon as greed got involved, the greater good left the building. They made their name off Katrina and profited handily. But then they really kinda abandoned the Sandy hurricane animals and still profited handily by advertising that they did help. I would ask what their advertising budget is! Because thats’ all that’s getting paid for it seems. Just my opinion but it annoys me to no end when they could be doing so much good with that budget. Such is the case with the large national orgs though. Good luck on getting a response Shirley!

    Reply
  6. Triangle

     /  September 9, 2013

    I can’t verify any of this, but I’ve heard from disillusioned volunteers that Best Friends itself is no longer what it once was. Volunteers have reported great trouble getting repairs done, and that the facility is actually under populated…that they’ve basically adopted out a lot of the dogs, but aren’t bringing in new animals as a way to save money. I would love to know if anyone can either verify or refute this

    Reply
  7. Tina Clark

     /  September 9, 2013

    I don’t have a problem with their running the Mission Hills shelter, and I can even understand their turning Grandpa in to the East Valley pound, if they were legally required to do so. What I can’t understand is, as others have mentioned, why they didn’t put a hold on him, network him, and keep tabs on him, and the minute he was available, spring him from that place. And as mikken said, they certainly should have cleaned the poor boy up a little before taking him. Also, their responses to the complaints were lame and, especially the second one, maddeningly blame shifting non-responses. And with their money, they shouldn’t be whining about not having room. They could afford boarding as a last resort.

    And I don’t know if you heard the final outcome to the story, but a rescue called Leave No Paws Behind rescued Grandpa, and he was in his new home for a brief period before he died in his sleep. At least he had some comfort and love before he passed.

    Reply
    • I agree completely. And dying in his sleep in his new home in the company of someone who loved him is a wonderful way to go. Bless the rescue and his family for making his last days good ones.
      RIP Grandpa

      Reply
  8. April

     /  September 9, 2013

    Please I understand the whole stray hold thing, the scanning and I remember a few years ago an employee of BFs was on her way to work and she found a dog (stray) and because she was a BF Employee in Kanab, Utah and asked for a favor (for BF to take in the dog BFs did so) What about taking the dog to a shelter for the stray hold (oh, they made an exception..I get it) This is what ticks me off. An, organization whose motto is Til they all have homes. Best Friends is double sided. I have my rescues that I support and these rescues do what they say they are going to do and they don’t have million dollars given to them every year and they wouldn’t be sending a dog to death row either.

    Reply
    • Um, as best I can tell, there isn’t a public shelter in Kanab for the dog to go. The city (population 4,000) doesn’t list animal control, or a shelter, on their website. Seems like that might be a logical explanation. Seems like you’re reaching a bit for this one….

      Reply
  9. April

     /  September 10, 2013

    Brent,
    Not to be rude..do you know how to do your research before opening your mouth? There is an animal shelter in Kanab, Utah. I wasn’t reaching for the stars.
    Kanab City Animal Shelter
    1050 Chinle Dr, Kanab, UT 84741 (435) 644-8057

    Reply
  10. Call me skeptical. The shelter isn’t mentioned at all on the city webpage and the phone number doesn’t seem to work. No one appears to have every visited and posted anything on Yelp or any other similar site. It also doesn’t look terribly inviting based on google street view: https://maps.google.com/maps?ie=UTF-8&layer=c&z=17&iwloc=A&sll=37.041823,-112.513797&cbp=13,240.6,0,0,0&cbll=37.041836,-112.513768&q=1050+chinle+dr,+kanab,+ut&ei=LYQvUqjNN5D5rAHCj4EI&ved=0CC0QxB0wAA bas

    Regardless. Can we at least agree that finding your lost pet in Kanab, UT is an easier task than finding it in the city of Los Angeles? Which may account for the discrepancies in policy. That, and the whole legal contract they have with the city.

    Reply
  11. April

     /  September 10, 2013

    Well, here is my feeling about the whole dog situation BFs have been known to fight legally for animals (and that happens when it suits them or brings them more recognition which = $$$$) taking this little dog would not do either…so why bother. BFs is like no other rescue they have their own legal team, their own vet. staff. I once supported BFs and that was years ago but since then when I saw them change. Do you know who one of their big supporters is? Warren Buffet. Money changes people when they let it and Best Friends has let it. I don’t support them anymore. I don’t even respect them anymore. It boils down to MONEY

    Reply
    • Out of curiosity, why should I be concerned if Warren Buffett gives them money? I’m not sure what vested interest Buffett has in dogs and cats.

      And sure they have their own legal team. A look at this blog (which is fairly tame by most standards) shows no shortage of people wanting to take shots at them. And many of those lawyers are actually making a pretty big impact on some pretty important laws around the country.

      Here’s the thing. Rescues all over the country hire lawyers from time to time to handle issues. Rescue groups (different from open admission shelters) all the time pick and choose which animals fit into their programs and which ones don’t.

      Yes, BF’s is all of that on a larger scale like no other. That, by itself, doesn’t make them evil.

      Reply
      • April

         /  September 10, 2013

        Not all rescues pick and choose who they are going to help. Stray Rescue of St. Louis (a true rescue in every sense of the word) go out into the streets of St. Louis and rescue stray dogs. If there is a dog that needs rescuing, Stray Rescue will go and rescue the dog period end of discussion. This is a rescue I support and we drove 4 1/2 hours to adopt our dog from them and that is where we will go to adopt our next.
        I truly like what Buddy2Blogger says and I believe it. With BFs it has become more about money then animals.

      • I operate a shelter and we work with around 100 different rescue groups. They all pick the animals that fit into their programs and leave others behind. That’s how most rescues work.

        But it sounds like your mind is made up.

  12. Jessica Cronk

     /  September 11, 2013

    $42 million?! Do you know how many dogs I could save with that? And considering all the celebs that help out BFAS to get them even more money ranking in, Im sure they will be doing just fine. If they are legally required to take the older dog to the ACC then okay but for that money, youd think their kill rate would be much lower (and they dump animals that they cant deal with a lot less). Lots of animal shelters would love to be able to do more to help animals but just dont have the money to.

    Reply
  13. April

     /  September 11, 2013

    Brent I am glad you operate a shelter. Not all rescues pick and choose which animals they will help. STRAY RESCUE of St. Louis goes into the drug infested, gang infested worst part of St. Louis to rescue dogs and Randy Grim is every dogs angel and he is my hero. Randy Grim operates a true rescue. He has had guns put to his head while saving the life of a dog. If Randy picked and chose which dogs to rescue he would not be saving lives in the worse part of St. Louis. This area is so bad animal control won’t even go. Wish there were more people and rescues like this rescue.

    Reply
  14. I will say that Best Friends has been a heaven send to the animals of San Antonio, mostly funding TNR and for cats and providing financial backing for San Antonio Pets Alive (an offshoot of Austin Pets Alive) who has now saved over 10k lives around 2 years (not sure on the exact timeframe).

    That being said, I think they could learn a few things from APA and SAPA because LA has much few pets per thousand of people than both cities and should be able to go to No Kill faster, especially with the financial help of BFAS and the celebrity backers. For example, both San Antonio and Dallas, Texas are attempting to go No-Kill. However, both have different methods of doing so. San Antonio is advancing at a much faster rate (there other controversial issues that the animal control services are dealing with such as having a facility that isn’t open to the public which slows their increase in Live Release Rate down) than Dallas.

    Two cities, both are probably 6 hours drive from each other. San Antonio is a much poorer city than Dallas and the are both huge metropolitan cities. The marketing and outreach that are done are very different in both locations. For example, Dallas doesn’t have an “Urgents” page on Facebook but SAPA manages both an Urgents and a PASS page (networking for incoming strays and owner surrenders). It seems that San Antonio is much more transparent than Dallas (although they certainly try to CYA too) about the killings, due to SAPA’s marketing. I’m sure there are more differences which contribute to differences in increase live release rates and I would imagine that that is probably why San Antonio will likely be No Kill in the next year or so and Dallas hopes to in its 5 year plan. It seems to me that San Antonio engages its community much more to ask for help and people step up.

    Reply
  15. Knows the truth...

     /  June 25, 2014

    Obviously it’s been some time since the last posts but FYI, it is a screwed up place on so many levels and in so many ways. Much of what was pointed out by others here (the vast majority) is true. I lived through that place and it saddens and sickens me how much more could be done for so many more with all that money they rake in.

    Reply

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