First there was quiet, a lull before the
battle. Then came salvos from
animal-rights activists lambasting the
latest head of the Los Angeles Animal
But unlike a long string of embattled
predecessors, Ed Boks came out swinging.
He fired up a blog. He hit the radio.
He locked horns with critics and waded
deep into mud slung at him and his
Most importantly, after three months
on the job, the fifth general manager in
five years claims to have cut the number
of dogs and cats killed at city shelters
"If you don't blow your own
horn, someone's going to use it as a
spittoon," Boks, 54, general
manager of the department, said during a
recent visit to the West Valley Shelter
"There is so much that's right
about the department. It doesn't need
changing - what we must do is let the
genie out of the bottle. I want to set
the soul of this department free."
The flamboyant manager who'd lowered
animal deaths as head dogcatcher in New
York City and greater Phoenix was hired
Jan. 3 by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to
replace Guerdon Stuckey, fired after a
storm of protest by animal-welfare
Stuckey and Animal Services employees
were the target of extreme animal
activists investigated for smoke-bombing
Stuckey's apartment and other acts of
vandalism against department workers.
Boks was undeterred. The smooth and
dapper former preacher fond of quoting
Ghandi quickly set out to spare all but
the most sick and dangerous unwanted
He did this, he said, with a
directive: Each of the city's six animal
shelters must adopt out at least one
more pet than on the same day last year,
and destroy at least one less.
In January, the death rate for dogs
and cats at city shelters dropped 25
percent compared with the same period in
2005, department statistics show. In
February, the number of euthanasias
plummeted 33 percent, while adoptions
rose 11.5 percent.
"So far, I'm impressed,"
said Charlotte Laws of Valley Glen,
founder of Directors for Animal Welfare,
a coalition of 36 neighborhood council
and community representatives.
"He's completely reached out to the
"He's got a mission plus a
program. Stuckey, the former general
manager, didn't do half as much in a
Boks hopes to rebuild - and rebrand -
the city's shelter system with a blur of
new services with such names as
"Big Fix," "Felix"
(Feral Education & Love Instead of
X-termination) and "New Hope."
The makeover calls for eight shelters
to be constructed by next year,
including a $13 million expansion of the
West Valley Shelter, an $11.6 million
East Valley Shelter to open in Van Nuys
and a $12.2 million Northeast Valley
Shelter to open in Mission Hills.
For Boks (pronounced Bokes), city
pounds will be relics of a bygone era,
and shelters will be turned into
"community centers" where
at-risk kids join seniors under his new
Animal Services slogan: "Teach love
Some program goals: Free spay and
neutering to needy pet owners; trap,
neuter and release for feral cats; extra
care for sick animals; grooming for
shaggy pound pets; foster homes for
suckling critters; free
"senior" pets for senior
citizens; and round-the-clock access to
city shelters for animal-rescue groups.
To help accomplish this, Boks is
seeking to boost his annual budget from
$18.5 million to $25 million and to hire
an additional 178 workers - this despite
a $300 million budget shortfall facing
Now that Boks has reached out to
rescue groups and redesigned the
department Web site to include
department statistics and goals, some
say his next step is to develop a
comprehensive no-kill animal plan.
"No-kill is not just about
shelters," said Scott Sorrentino,
co-founder of Rescue and Humane
Alliance, a North
Hollywood-based coalition of 53
"The entire community needs to
be involved if we are serious about
reducing pet overpopulation and ending
the killing of healthy and treatable
animals in our city."
Boks said Animal Services is serious
- and that in the past five years his
department has reduced dog and cat
euthanasia by 46 percent, from 37,000
animals killed in 2001-02 to 20,000 in
2005-06. The number of animals admitted
to city shelters dropped from 62,000 to
47,000 during the same period.
Boks intends to beat such cities as
San Francisco, with no-kill animal
goals, to make Los Angeles the first
no-kill animal city in the nation.
"Euthanasia is a form of disease
that suggests we're a sick
community," Boks said.
"There's something wrong with a
community that kills dogs and cats.
"That's why I'm so fond of
quoting Ghandi: 'The best way to
evaluate any community is how well it
treats its animals."'
At first, critics of Animal Services
But then stories began to circulate
about Boks' record in running shelters
in New York and Maricopa County, Ariz.
Alternative newspapers took aim at his
euthanasia statistics, finances and
so-called "window of
Some accuse Boks of a
larger-than-life ego and of bringing his
"Ed Boks Show" - and hyped-up
promises - to Los Angeles.
"Do I think he's capable of
doing great things? You bet," said
Judy deHaviland of Animal Alliance, a
rescue organization. "Do I think he
needs to be watched? You betcha."
The Animal Defense League, Los
Angeles, which has been charged with
harassing Animal Services workers while
protesting on behalf of animals,
officially remained neutral - but then
aired unattributed criticism of Boks on
its Web site.
Thus began a war of blogs between
Boks and the ADL-LA.
"The sad thing is, we're all
hoping to stop the senseless slaughter
of dogs and cats and other animals in
this city," said ADL-LA co-founder
Pamelyn Ferdin, who has demanded a
written protocol from Boks on his plan
to reduce euthanasias. "We're not
sure that Ed Boks is the one to do this.
"The freezers are just as full
of dead and homeless and lost animals,
the corpses are piled just as high ...
Nothing has changed."
Countered Boks in his blog: "I
can take the criticism. I'm a big boy
and I'm used to it, even if I don't like
being lied about.
"I'm not sure what ADL thinks it
is accomplishing by going after
department staff. ... It's as if they
can only function like a cluster bomb,
spewing insult, injury and collateral
damage upon anybody within range without
any regard to the stated goal to stop
For some shelter workers, the jury is
still out on the city's most targeted
"I still don't have a feel for
him," said one Animal Services
employee. "Everything he says is
fantastic. I hope it works. If not,
it'll all fall apart and we'll be back
to where we started."