Mayor Garcia’s Statistics are Misleading

Patricia Turner, Ph.D.

Mayor Garcia recently stated that the number of animals euthanized by LBACS was down by 36%, and the live release rate was up by 8%.  

We have been monitoring Mayor Garcia’s use of LBACS statistics for several years, and the statistics released last week clearly demonstrate the misleading way that Mayor Garcia typically reports LBACS' statistics to the media.  Notice that in the first instance, that of euthanasias, he has reported the number of euthanasias. In the second case, he has reported the rate of live releases. He has chosen to do this because these are the most favorable numbers to report, although he is not comparing similar measures (apples to apples), which is required for a valid and meaningful analysis of shelter progress.

Euthanasia rates and live release rates are complements of one another. If the live release rate has increased by 8%, the euthanasia rate has, in turn, decreased by 8%.  However, the Mayor has calculated the decrease in the number of euthanasias, and not the rate, because that calculation yields a larger number. The problem with this, however, is that looking only at numbers does not take into account the shelter's intake (which is the denominator used for calculating the rate).  The shelter's intake represents the community's need, so looking merely at numbers, rather than comparing the rate from year to year, is really just citing a meaningless bit of data that obscures the actual situation and the community's need.

The accurate way to report a shelter's progress is to report that LBACS' euthanasia rate has decreased by 8%, (or even more accurately, by 8 percentage points). Logically, this also means that the live release rate has increased by 8% (percentage points).

Stayin' Alive wrote an analysis of the City's inaccurate reporting measures in February of last year. It explains in more detail what I have just explained above. You can find our report here. I’m also attaching it to this e-mail.

As an aside, we do not dispute the fact that LBACS' live release rate increased by 8% in 2017 or that the euthanasia rate decreased by 8%. We have run the numbers and have found that to be the case. However, the 36% figure cited is misleading, and it gives the public the wrong impression about the impact their tax dollars are having.  And the 8 percentage point decrease in the euthanasia rate would be larger – and more lives would have been saved – if LBACS had a full adoption program, independent of SpcaLA, which uses restrictive adoption criteria to approve adoptions, according to their promotional materials.

Sacramento’s shelter adoptions vastly exceed Long Beach’s
Another problem with Mayor Garcia’s numbers is that they never mention adoptions.  Perhaps that is because the adoption rate has barely crept up over the past year from 9% of all outcomes (571 adoptions) in 2016 to 12% of outcomes (682 adoptions) in 2017.  This is an extremely small increase relative to other cities' adoption numbers. 

Sacramento did 5,051 adoptions from Jan-Nov 2017.  With a live intake of 10,274 animals, this means that Sacramento adopted out 49% of their animals into homes (that is adoptions only -- their total live release rate is 85% when you include sending animals to rescue, returning animals to their owners and other live outcomes common in shelters).  The comparison is striking, and it should really make people wonder: Why is LBACS still euthanizing over a thousand animals a year when LBACS' adoption program is clearly not running at capacity?

Why adoptions? Research shows - Adoptions save lives
We would also like to address the implication by SpcaLA that return rates after adoptions are high. A 2012 study by the American Humane Association found that retention rates after shelter adoptions ranged from 87%-93% in the shelters they studied.  They noted that earlier studies (e.g., Kidd, Kidd & George, 1992) found that anywhere from 7-20% of animals were returned to shelters. 

This means that conservatively-speaking, 80% of animals potentially stay in homes after adoption.  Adoptions are clearly a productive and effective way of reducing euthanasia (and reducing cities' costs), and this fact is supported by data. LBACS needs a full and autonomous adoption program if it is to do the job that Long Beach’s compassionate public wants them to do.

An adoption program at our city shelter should not be a controversial request, and yet the City has refused to establish one.  This casts serious doubts on the City’s interest in making LBACS a truly humane animal care services facility.

Audit Recommendation: A Formal Operating Agreement with SpcaLA

Finally, as to Marie Knight's characterization of our statements regarding SpcaLA's influence over LBACS as "highly inaccurate," this observation is based on information conveyed to Stayin' Alive directly by LBACS manager Ted Stevens, who said in a face-to-face meeting that SpcaLA did not want LBACS to have an adoption program.  The accuracy or inaccuracy of that statement lies entirely with Mr. Stevens and LBACS.  The extremely low adoption numbers, the City's clear reluctance to put in place a full adoption program at LBACS, and Ms. Bernstein's stated unwillingness to put a formal operations program in place lend credibility to Mr. Stevens’ statement that SpcaLA does indeed have undue influence over LBACS, but the question of SpcaLA's influence aside, the audit has made several recommendations pertaining to clarifying the relationship between SpcaLA and LBACS, particularly around adoptions, including recommendations that: 

  • The City "work with SpcaLA to develop a formal operations agreement," (Audit, Phase I: page 6)
  • The roles of spcaLA and ACS...need to be more clearly defined to allow better promotion of the ACS adoption program" (Audit, Phase I: Page 21 
  • The City (should) "create clarity around the process of adoptions by clearly defining the roles of ACS and spcaLA" (Audit, Phase I: Page 22)
  • The City should work at "maintaining ACS’ flexibility in placing animals itself if ACS can do so more quickly, rather than waiting for spcaLA to take the animals" (Audit, Phase I: Page 21)

The clear message from the audit is that an informal verbal agreement between LBACS and SpcaLA is not adequate and that formalizing an agreement would be sound organizational practice. The City has said it agrees: "We agree that improved clarity is needed regarding the roles and processes with respect to adoptions and related to our partners at spcaLA." However, if the agreement does not establish a full, robust adoption program and foster program at LBACS, but instead only records the current status quo (namely, a weak adoption program and no foster program), which is harming our shelter animals, such an agreement would not be helpful.

Until LBACS has a full adoption program that is led by qualified management with expertise in shelter management, programs and policies, LBACS' shelter animals will continue to die needlessly in a shelter operated by city management that is unwilling to take the steps to make LBACS a shelter that reflects the values of the animal-loving and compassionate people of Long Beach. 

The good news is - the people have the power to change that.


American Humane Association (2012).  Keeping pets (dogs and cats) in homes: A three-phase retention study: Phase II: Descriptive Study of Post-Adoption Retention in Six Shelters in Three US Cities.

Kidd, A. H., Kidd, R. M., & George, C. C. (1992). Successful and unsuccessful pet adoptions. Psychological Reports, 70(2), 547-561.


Patricia Turner, Ph.D.


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