“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, the immortal words of Charles Dickens pretty much sums up the last week at the Los Angeles County Department of Animal ‘Care’ and Control.
I’ll start with the best of times. In perhaps one of the finest displays of teamwork and thinking out of the box to make things work, the Downey, Carson and Baldwin Park Shelters joined together with Melanie Pozez and my Bark Avenue Foundation team, Yehuda Netanel’s Wings of Rescue organization and Steven Latham of Shelter Me to stage an unprecedented 105 dog airlift to the no kill Kootenai Humane Society and the Panhandle Animal Shelters in Idaho. Using the $7,500 we were able to raise from the Friends of the Baldwin Park Shelter Facebook page which Marcia Mayeda has tried assiduously to shutdown we were able to have 8 private planes meet us at the Long Beach airport to fly the dogs to safety. Within 24 hours nearly sixty of the 105 dogs were adopted into their forever homes. I have nothing but admiration for Danny Ubario, Debbie Tittle and the Downey shelter team, Gil Moreno and Kat Rosales and the Carson team, and of course Lance Hunter and the Baldwin Park team in making this, the biggest air transport from a County Shelter work. Things went so well that Yehuda and Steven have informed us that they want to do this on a monthly basis, and we are already working on securing corporate sponsorships to make this work. Our next mega-transport date is tentatively scheduled for April 30th.
Now for the sadness and the worst of times. Lance Hunter, the most inspiring and gifted shelter manager and more importantly one of the most fundamentally decent human beings I have ever had the privilege of working with, has resigned his position as shelter manager of the Baldwin Park Shelter. This is devastating news to the staff and volunteers at Baldwin Park. I don’t think there is a single shelter manager, or person within the animal rescue community who is more revered and inspires more loyalty than Lance Hunter.
Personally, when I first considered getting involved with the Baldwin Park Shelter nearly six years ago, I remember Ed Boks, then head of the Los Angeles City shelter system telling me I would be horrified by what I saw and predicting I would be back in the city within a few weeks. He was wrong. When I arrived at Baldwin Park I met Lance who was all too happy to accept any help I or anyone else could offer in solving the monumental problems facing his shelter – an uneducated public dumping unprecedented numbers of pets at a facility down a deserted alley in a bad neighborhood that no one wanted to come to. Lance promised me he would try his best to help me help his shelter, and he delivered in spades. He allowed me to set up our networking program and encouraged me to look for new avenues at getting the shelter’s pets exposure. I watched as he developed partnerships with Best Friends and other organizations to bring in transports and mobile adoptions and above all I watched the Baldwin Park Shelter’s euthanization rate plummet while the shelter’s morale soared. Baldwin Park, with its outdated facility became a true adoption and rescue center, and my former city colleagues looked at the shelter with envy – all because of Lance Hunter’s leadership and commitment to teamwork.
I am pleased that Lance is departing for a fabulous and exciting chance to make an even bigger difference in improving the plight of animals as he takes on a new position with the ASPCA. Like everything in Lance’s life it is about teamwork, dedication and sacrifice – and we know he will continue in the same vein especially with the latter as he is going to have to listen to endless commercials featuring Sarah McLachlan turgidly warbling as she busks for money.
Meanwhile the staff, volunteers, rescues and especially me wonder who Lance’s successor is going to be and only hope she or he will carry on in Lance’s footsteps and remember Yogi Berra’s truism, if it ain’t broken – don’t try and fix it.