LOS ANGELES (AP) — Any animal can end up at a public shelter, but most of them won't stay long. There, millions of dogs and cats face euthanasia, driving one filmmaker to turn his camera into a lifesaver.
Workers at several of the shelters, where no animal is turned away, say pets have a champion in Steven Latham, who directs and produces a PBS series called "Shelter Me," featuring animals that are running out of time. Seeing the urgency, he took his efforts a step further, starting a website, helping set up adoption events and coordinating flights full of pooches to cities able to get them adopted.
"The pets at open admission shelters need our help the most," said Latham, who has made other documentary films and series for PBS and Netflix.
With thousands of public shelters nationwide and just as many no-kill rescues and other animal welfare groups, finding loving homes for pets has become a battleground. Latham believes pets at public shelters should get priority, underscoring the intense competition that exists between the no-kill movement and shelters that euthanize.
Latham's "Shelter Me" series, presented by Ellen DeGeneres' natural pet food company — Halo, Purely for Pets — has filmed several shelter animals that became service, therapy and search-and-rescue dogs, or just good pets. Each documentary episode tells two or three stories.
Episode 4, "Shelter Me: New Beginnings," is scheduled to premiere in Los Angeles on Oct. 8 and features volunteers in Idaho welcoming a plane packed with shelter dogs from Southern California. It also shows a trainer teaching shelters how to hold play groups for pooches. The next episode is tentatively set for February 2015 and will highlight how East Coast police departments turn shelter dogs into K-9s.
Before the first episode of the series aired in March 2012, Latham spent a year visiting shelters around the country. Last year, he started ShelterMe.com, where people can find pets facing euthanasia.
Twenty-five shelters in California, Idaho, New York, Massachusetts and North Carolina post photos, videos and stories about animals that need homes. Thousands of pets have been featured on the site, and most of them were adopted or taken in by a rescue, Latham said.
He has given a leg up to Animal Care Services of Long Beach, California, which was nearly full last week with 112 dogs, 138 cats, and some rabbits and turtles, said Kelly Miott, the shelter's outreach coordinator.
"We have really limited space here," she said. "That's why Steven supports us. Euthanasia is a fact of life. We are what the no-kill people are trying to get rid of."
Miott said she tried for years to get dogs from Long Beach on airlifts to other cities without success, but Latham made it possible. He also connected her to a store where she could hold weekend adoption fairs.
Members of the no-kill movement are "scaring volunteers away because they are making it very clear that animals are dying at our shelter. We don't try to hide that," Miott said.
Francis Battista, co-founder of Best Friends Animal Society, a leading no-kill organization based in Utah, said finger-pointing won't help animals.
"The no-kill movement seeks to collaborate with and support open admission shelters that are committed to do whatever it takes to end the killing of healthy, treatable shelter pets," Battista said.
Latham's website helped Alexandra Spinner of Los Angeles find a perfect feline companion last year.
"It wasn't just a one-sided picture of a cat, but an interactive opportunity to know the animal more intimately," she said. "I wanted a lap cat, and she was sitting there in a bright room, being petted. Had I not seen that video, I might have passed her by."