Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Comments and Next Topic

ORV not used in TNR

cambstreasurer posed in interesting question regarding use of oral rabies vaccinations in feral cats. The oral rabies vaccine (ORV), from what I understand, was developed for use in wild animal populations and has been used to great success for raccoons, skunks, coyotes, and other animals to prevent the spread of rabies to domestic animals and humans since the late 1990s. It is administered via baiting stations.

From what I have read, the use of this vaccine is not recommended for cats and dogs nor in TNR efforts, but I am not sure why. I think it is not effective for domestic animals or maybe it has not been developed with them in mind yet. ORV use is discussed in the documents available from these links, and the first link also provides feral and rabies facts from Alley Cat Allies:

Rabies Control in Feral Cats

Feral Cats and Public Safety

One of the top veterinary leaders in our nation regarding feral cat management is Dr. Julie Levy. She is usually at the forefront of any new developments and is part of the Maddie’s Fund Shelter Medicine team. If anyone knows about the possible development of other ideas for rabies control in ferals, it would be this excellent researcher. Her information is included in the following link:

Dr. Julie Levy

A note about pet limit laws

The No Kill philosophy agrees with Have a Heart about the dark side of many animal laws, and this includes ridiculous pet limit laws. The number allowed in the City of Las Cruces is ridiculously low for sure. There are many people willing to provide a home to more than two pets and do so responsibly, and why should they have to apply for a yearly permit and home inspections to do so?

Animal Control’s role is to step in and help when something is wrong; otherwise, I agree they have no business in our homes … but, this is part of the Old Guard mentality in our region that punishes everyone for the sins of the minority. Because some people are neglectful, abusive, or animal hoarders, the rest of the pet-loving population (the majority) suffers.

For more about the dark side of pet limit laws, see this article from the No Kill Advocacy Center:

Pet Limit Laws

Coming up next: Programs and services administered the No Kill way

It never occurred to me that even a shelter that is doing sub-standard work can point to the No Kill Equation and claim to be doing it all. My next posting will compare and contrast programs and services that are run from a genuine No Kill perspective to those same programs being run by an Old Guard shelter.

In other words, not all programs are created equal or run from the philosophy and paradigm shift that No Kill requires for success … for instance, you can say you are doing “rescue”, but what does it take to run a rescue program that truly saves the most lives possible? The same can be said for all of the programs and services of the No Kill Equation. Even doing only one or two well will not lead to the kind of save rates we all wish we had.

Monday, December 29, 2008

TNR answers and resources

This blog is pretty up front in its philosophy and belief system regarding animal welfare, including that of the humane treatment and management of feral cats. Say what you want about me personally, Anonymous, but you cannot say that I do not try to report facts and that I am not well-informed about animal welfare and its trends in this nation. You can also not say that I am someone who never lifts a finger to help animals in real ways; I spend most of my time off from my real job doing volunteer work for animals.

My last blog posting was filled with rabies facts that I was careful to research. I agree with you that rabies is serious and deadly and should not be taken lightly, but we also need to regard it realistically and from a place that acknowledges the ACTUAL threat it poses in our day and age. That was my point in going over those facts, especially in regard to ferals. Unless you are a sadistic wacko who is out every night cornering and harassing feral cats, the likelihood you'll get bit by one is extremely low. For your own safety, don't mess with feral cats; they don't mess with humans at all.

I am not sure why the recent comments from you keep coming nor why you keep reading this blog and saying your questions are not being answered. I am guessing it is for the same reason that I read everything that I can get my hands on that comes from the Status Quo and Old Guard. It's the old adage of keeping our friends close but our enemies closer. More power to you, Anonymous. I have nothing to hide or apologize for ... after all, this is just a blog!

However, I do not wish to make this a forum for endless argument that gets us nowhere. To answer your questions again regarding TNR--it is the feral colony caretakers that both keep track of the cats in their care as well as their medical records, including the rabies vaccinations. Since you think rabies is such a huge threat in our area via these cats, then it makes sense that homeless cats who are vaccinated and cared for are much less of a public threat than cats who have no caretakers and are not altered nor vaccinated, which is the sad outcome when TNR is against the law--as it is now in our City and County.

Caretakers are also responsible for keeping feeding stations discreet and clean. This includes cleaning up any of these messes to which you refer and being responsible for dispute resolution in the neighborhoods where the cats are trying to coexist peacefully and safely. If there is a true issue that cannot be resolved and the cats have to be relocated--though this should be done as a last resort--that's what barn cat programs are all about. In addition, any kittens that are born are caught and socialized so they can be adopted into loving homes. Again, it is the colony caretakers that handle all of this hard work ... bless all the feral caretakers out there, as far as I'm concerned!

I am not sure what other answers you are seeking, Anonymous. My guess is that you are an AC officer who firmly believes in the current catch and kill policies and how they are now administered. Maybe you have been successful in killing any and all cats in your neighborhood.

But, if you do work in the realm of animal welfare, surely you know that catching and killing cats has NOT been successful in our community nor nationwide. Homeless cats are still there, they are still multiplying, and without proper management, they are making messes, mating/multiplying, fighting, marking, and running around as rabies threats faster than anyone can trap and kill them all. The few that are trapped are sent to the shelter and immediately killed. This has not solved the issue and costs taxpayers a lot of money in traps, AC manpower, and the needless, daily killing that shelter staff are forced to do. Plus, most people in the general public do not wish death on these animals.

Yet, the other side of that coin is that successful TNR programs here on our college campus and across the nation show that managed colonies cause less problems, die off naturally, and that the cats in them live long and healthy lives. In the long run, they cost less in tax dollars and waste of life as well. Any that are accidentally trapped and taken to the shelter are identified by their ear docking/microchip and returned to their colonies; oftentimes, caretakers are called to pick up the cats themselves.

As I said, these are the two options at this point in time for ferals. If anyone can come up with a better solution that is both humane and protects the public, then I will be the first to bow down and kiss that person's feet! In the meantime, we can all make our personal decisions on which road we want to take regarding ferals. Anonymous and anyone else who opposes TNR are free to do so and fight your battle. I am not sure this is the place for it, though. I can assure you that you will not sway myself or others who see this issue differently, and I am posed to fight the battle from the other side of this issue.

As for the wolf-hybrid case, my point was that these animals--like ferals--inhabit a very gray area as well in our nation as pets/wildlife. Even if the City AC department did properly ID this particular dog, Apache, as the one who bit the neighbor, that does not erase my other valid points on how and why I think the case could have been handled differently.

In the confusion over the animal's proper identification as the dog who did the biting and as his status as a wolf-hybrid, I was reporting what the owner told several people who were trying to help her in her hour of need. She was frantic and trying to save her beloved dog's life, as any of us would do in that situation. I do think that before a beloved pet is forced to be put down, it is our AC department's responsibility to ensure that sacrifice is being made for a legitimate reason/threat. I also made it clear that I fully think this particular animal was not a rabies threat nor was it fair to classify him as some uncared-for wild beast.

Dogs bites occur in this nation of ours on a regular basis; in most cases, the bites are not serious nor lead to rabies for the humans involved. Also missing from most bite stories in the media these days is the full and entire circumstances of how and why the bite occurred. Usually, there is an understandable reason, and most of the dogs who bite are not vicious and do not need to be put down.

In this particular case, I was careful to do some research about wolf-hybrids before making my mind up or considering how I might have handled the situation if I did hold a position of power in animal welfare. Unfortunately for all involved, I do not.

My obvious intent with this blog is to call others to action in the area of the lifesaving philosophy and programs I believe in (The No Kill Equation) and which have been developed and implemented by others in our nation since the 1990s. I also want to tell people that as citizens of this community and as taxpayers, we have every right to ask the questions and make comments about how our money is being spent in our animal-welfare systems. These are public services we collectively fund, and we should not be chastised for speaking up, being constructively critical, nor silenced for advocating for that in which we firmly and passionately believe.

You are free to continue posting negative comments, Anonymous, and I will always publish them because I believe any reader of this blog has the right to comment and be heard. But, I do wonder why you are wasting your time reading this blog at all since you come at this subject from the opposite end of the spectrum? No matter ... that is your business and your own time to spend as you wish.

So, I have tried to sincerely and carefully answer your TNR questions and concerns again. I hope that, this time, I have succeeded! If not, as I said yesterday, please take the time to read some of the excellent TNR literature out on the websites of leaders in our nation regarding feral-cat management: Alley Cat Allies, Best Friends Animal Society, SpayUSA ... even many of those powerful Old Guard organizations are pro-TNR now, including the HSUS and ASPCA. That was not always the case.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Roads less traveled

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

--Robert Frost


Rabies: Fears vs. Reality

I feel like I have to talk about this subject first before I address a comment I received about TNR and also in discussion of a recent case in our City where an owner of a wolf-hybrid was forced to kill her dog. Both illustrate how many of our fears far outweigh the reality of the threats and how the laws we have in our books are many times behind the times and not based on recent, scientific information.

For instance, the threat of rabies from a domestic cat is so rare that the last case of a cat transmitting rabies to a human was registered in 1975. There are several sources that cite this fact (including the recent book Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians and Staff, page 379). Even more significant than this, there has never been a case of a cat transmitting rabies to a human as long as that cat received at least one rabies vaccine in its lifetime. (All cats in any reputable TNR program are fixed and vaccinated against rabies, at the minimum).

According to Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians and Staff, in the chapter titled "Feral Cat Management", more than 90 percent of rabies cases occur in wildlife, primarily in raccoons, skunks, coyotes, foxes, and bats. Yet, rabies vaccinations for wild animals have not been extensively tested or administered, including for wolf-hybrids. Since 1981, rabid cats have outnumbered dogs in the U.S., with 249 cases reported in the year 2000 and 281 in the year 2004. Still, with an estimated 60 million ferals and another 90 million house cats, that's still only 0.00002 percent of cats found to be rabid.

The likelihood of a human getting rabies from a domestic dog or cat is almost as rare as the likelihood of getting mauled to death by a dog (yet our fears of both are grossly exaggerated by the media and others). For example, the odds you or anyone you love will get killed by a "vicious dog" are 1 in 11.5 million, which is also not very high considering the 80+ million dogs in our nation. We are more likely to get hit by lightening ... that number is 1 in 4 million. For those of us who get in cars to commute to and from work each day, that literal road is a far, far scarier place!

Two roads for feral cats

I received an anonymous comment from someone who said that I cannot answer how TNR addresses the threat of rabies from cats and that no one else can answer that either. Well, I don't mean to be rude to this person, but if you are online reading this blog, the answers you supposedly seek are readily available regarding feral cat management from most reputable animal-welfare websites. As I explained previously, the threat of rabies from feral cats is extremely rare, and this is especially true for any cat in a managed colony.

These cats are cared for and managed by a caretaker who traps the cats, takes them to a vet to get tested/spayed or neutered/vaccinated, etc. When returned to their colony, these cats are now less likely to engage in the behaviors that annoy people, such as roaming, fighting, mating, marking, hunting, etc. They are given discreet feeding stations and given fresh food and water on a daily basis as well as areas for litter boxes, which are also cleaned by their caretakers. Usually, these colonies are healthy and thriving, and their numbers start to decrease by attrition.

This is true for the cats being managed right now on the NMSU campus. There is a link at the left for this program's website (fCamp), and those cats get a full line of services: they are altered, microchipped, tested for the standard diseases, vaccinated, and then cared for on a daily basis. That program also has a database that shows the numbers! That means our area has a successful TNR model right here from which to get answers to questions.

The only other alternative to dealing with feral cats is to trap them and send them to the shelter to be immediately killed. This is the system that has been in place for decades and which has failed for decades because it is literally like putting a Band-Aid on a gaping, fatal, bleeding wound!

The problem is that a vacuum effect occurs when you remove some or most cats from an area. More feral cats quickly move in to take their place, and the cats mate to make up the numbers lost in the colony from those trapped and killed. That's why we've never had an overall effect over time with this old catch and kill method. Not only are the numbers of cats not decreased, but none of these cats are vaccinated, none are fixed, and the threat to both the human population and wildlife from unmanaged cats is greater than threats from managed colonies. Most studies now show that the threats to birds from cats are also small in comparison to the threats to birds from humans!

This should sufficiently answer your questions up to this point, and there is far greater and better detail available from the following sources online, all of which are linked to at the left-hand side of this blog: Alley Cat Allies, Best Friends Animal Society, SpayUSA, and the No Kill Advocacy Center. I suggest that anyone who is blindly against TNR who has not read a word about it needs to do that first ... have enough of an open mind to visit these sites and learn the facts. The answers are out there, including a busting of many myths you probably have regarding cats. These false beliefs are what leads to millions of cats killed in our shelters nationwide each year and thousands killed in our community.

Lastly, no one is saying that the lives of feral cats are ideal or the situation is wonderful, but when it comes to the two roads animal welfare can take to address cat colonies and overpopulation, it seems clear that one alternative is far superior to the other. What stands in our community's way is not that there aren't any people willing and able to manage the feral colonies ... I get calls all the time from people wishing to do it. What stands in our way is our antiquated laws and that neither our local government nor our AC departments are willing to change the laws for the better. That's one roadblock we all need to work to remove.

The foggy road of the wolf-hybrid

In a recent case in our City, a woman who owned a wolf-hybrid and was a very responsible owner to this animal whom she also loved dearly, was forced to put down her dog when she came home one day to find the dog got out of the yard and AC officers were accusing the dog of biting a neighbor. It is still unclear to me whether the wolf-hybrid was attributed to this bite because he was found running loose at the same time or if the dog himself was specifically identified. (Some reports I got were that the hybrid did not even match the description of the dog given by the bite victim.)

In any case, the wolf-hybrid was attributed for the bite for whatever reason. So, what our City decided was that this fell under a law that requires that any "wild animal" that bites a human must be immediately killed and its head sent off to a lab for rabies testing. This was the law that our City enforced in this case, and if you think of it in these simplistic terms, it seems pretty cut and dry--i.e., there is a law, so enforce it and apply it. (By the way, the test came back negative for rabies.)

Yet, nothing in animal welfare is simple or black-and-white, even the application of our laws and ordinances. There are gray areas and choices that can be made, and this case shows that there were many mitigating circumstances that should have given our leaders pause.

Wolf-hybrids are popular in our country as pets (no matter if we personally agree with this or not), and in our area alone, the laws differ. Hybrids are prohibited by the City (an ordinance of which many are unaware), yet they are permitted in the County with the proper permit. Nationwide, some states require permits to keep a hybrid, some states prohibit them, and then many others do not regulate them at all.

What makes this road even more foggy is that it is impossible to tell that a dog is a wolf-hybrid unless the owner says that their dog is a wolf-hybrid or has documentation from a breeder showing this. It is not a simple thing to identify by just looking at a dog, and it is unfair to the animal to do so by sight alone. DNA testing is now available, and in this case, the owner requested that her dog be allowed to be tested and agreed to pay the cost of the test. She was denied this request, but she was "allowed" to take the dog to her own vet to have him killed.

Even more fog appears on the horizon when animal control departments state that rabies vaccinations are not proven for wolf-hybrids and other wild animals. That is true ... but, they are unproven because no one sees the need to go through the expense to do these tests. (Does anyone else see the irony here? What does that say about the true threat of rabies to humans/domestic animals from wild animals?)

Then there is the human toll and emotion in this case. This dog was not some neglected yard dog. The owner had cared for this dog since he was a puppy, and he was taken to the vet regularly for his shots, yearly exams, etc. He was even a beloved staple at our Farmer's Market and said to be a very well-behaved and trained dog.

In other words, he was not some "wild animal" that was running loose each night with the threat of getting bit by another wild animal--which would have been the only way he could have contracted rabies. Also, in the case of the canis genus--wolves being canis lupus lupus and regular dogs being canis lupus familiaris--99% or more of the genotypes of these two species are alike. In this case, common sense would dictate that though untested and unproven, a rabies vaccination would probably work in a well-cared for hybrid! He could also have been checked over thoroughly by his vet to make sure he didn't have any recent bite wounds, etc., in order to protect his bite victim.

My point here is that our City leaders and AC department could have handled this case much more responsibly and compassionately and still protected the dog's bite victim. First, they should have been 100% certain the dog was the one that bit the neighbor; an ID in person should have been required. Second, the dog could have been put under strict home quarantine or under his vet's observation and a thorough exam given as well as the DNA test. If the dog had not shown any signs of rabies in the past year, then the only other way he could have gotten the disease was from a wild animal biting him. Lastly, when given a clean bill of health for both dog and bite victim, the owner could have been given a chance to comply with the City's ordinance. She could have re-homed the dog or sent him to a hybrid rescue or perhaps she might have chosen to move into the County and acquire the required permit.

(Remember the cat Buddha, who was put down shortly after being trapped and taken to our shelter because the pet cat was deemed feral? His owners were so disgusted by what happened, they have since moved from the area.)

When in doubt, our City should have looked to others for advice before making a final decision in this sensitive case. They could have put in a call to UC Davis, Best Friends Animal Society, or any other leading experts in this nation that could have offered sound advice. Instead, they chose to hide behind a "wild animal" law and apply that law in a case that was not as cut and dry as many would think.

Bad SNAP decision

It has been one case of bad news after another these days in the area of animal welfare in our community. Though the details are still murky, there was talk from the City of cutting its meager yearly funding ($14K) to SNAP (the local Spay and Neuter Action Program)--be it immediately or after the next fiscal year. Given that SNAP is the only low-cost spay and neuter program that administers vouchers and also has been funding the County's new spay/neuter van to run in outlying areas, this decision is very short-sighted.

Some reports were that some City leaders felt that since they just hired a new vet at the shelter, that the full demand for low-cost spay/neuter services in the City could be handled by the shelter. Anyone who works or volunteers at the shelter knows this makes little sense. Already overwhelmed with the number of animals coming into the facility, there is no way one vet can do the kind of high volume of surgeries that we need to start making a difference in the shelter's intake numbers and subsequent kill rate.

That said, the shelter does need to get back into the business of offering same-day spay and neuter services, but this should not replace SNAP's voucher and other programs and efforts. We need all of the above and more to get to the kind of volume in spay/neuter that will truly make a difference in the numbers of animals we kill each year.

As taxpayers, we have the right to speak up about this issue and how our City and County apply our tax dollars in our public animal-welfare systems. Prevention of cat and dog litters is money well-spent and costs less per animal than housing and killing them. The City is not doing any of us, including SNAP, a favor by funding these preventative measures. It is a sound fiscal decision to do so as well--they either decide to spend less money today to prevent animals being born or they spend more money in future years in the continued catch and kill systems our tax dollars now fund.

Let's hope our City leaders reconsider this decision. Let us also hope that any of our City and County leaders that are going to serve on the animal shelter's oversight board will feel that it is their duty to become very well-informed about all facets of animal welfare.

Comment for VR

I must say, this is the first time in a long time that anyone has accused me of being too nice in my criticisms of our animal-welfare leadership! I think that although I am tactful and respectful in what I say, I am probably the most vocal and frank critic of our system and not the most popular person because of this.

I agree that the decisions made by our leaders directly lead to our high kill rate and that decisions to implement modern, progressive programs would make a world of difference. I have been saying that so much that my face has turned blue!

However, I think it takes more than one person to speak up with the same message to finally be heard. If anyone out there feels even remotely the way I do, then please get your voice out there, too. Do so via letters to the editor and calls/letters to your local representatives and State representatives.

If you are upset about the cut of funds to SNAP, then say so. As another comment stated, let's go over our local leader's heads to the state level to see what funds might be available from other places. We can all do a small part, and the coalition we are forming next month will try to do just that -- organize ourselves into action groups that make a difference for our homeless animals starting NOW.

Today's last road

Ending on a good note, I've added a new link to the list of progressive animal welfare sites at the left-hand side of this blog--the Missing Pet Partnership site. Please visit the site to learn about Missing Animal Response and how this organization is making a big difference in how people who lose pets search and rescue their loved ones. There is also great advice on how our AC departments and shelters can play a better and more successful role in this as well.

Our recovery numbers are dismal, and as you'll learn, this is not solely because lots of animal owners do not care about their pets (which is what we've been brainwashed to believe). With only 2 percent of cats and 20 percent of dogs recovered from shelters each year, clearly our system is also lacking in how it deals with missing pets.

There are also great tips on this site you can share with your family and friends if they ever lose a dog or cat. Looking at the list of certified pet detectives on this site, there is one Missing Animal Response Certified Technician in Las Cruces who is also available to help. (I know Renee from my volunteer work, and she's smart and always willing to help people and their animals; I didn't even know she was a certified pet detective--modesty is another great quality she possesses!)

For the article about Missing Animal Response from the No Kill Advocacy Center, please follow this link: Missing Animal Response

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Small moves in the right direction

City hires vet for shelter

I am hopeful about the new veterinarian the City of Las Cruces hired for our municipal animal shelter. Dr. Laura J. Henckel has worked many years in the animal welfare world, with extensive experience in high-volume spay and neuter as well as having worked for a couple of years at one of the most beloved places for down-and-out animals in the United States: Best Friends Animal Society in Utah.

It is also good to see that Dr. Henckel got her veterinary degree from the university that has been at the forefront of shelter medicine for some years now: the University of California, Davis. As a discipline, shelter medicine is fairly new and wasn't documented very well until a few years ago. The UC Davis Shelter Medicine Portal contains a vast amount of factsheets and advice for shelters struggling with disease management and trying to save more lives. Check them out via the following link:

UC Davis Shelter Health Portal

I sincerely welcome Dr. Henckel to the area and hope the vision she has is to help turn our shelter around in the area of the veterinary care our homeless animals receive as well as lifesaving efforts. This includes a big welcome back to our shelter offering low-cost spay/neuter and vaccinations for those less fortunate but who still love their animals and want to care and provide for them.

Additionally, protocols and procedures that outline proper intake, routing, and assessment of animals is a must for any shelter wishing to improve its save rate. I am already having dreams of vaccinations at intake or shortly thereafter and the end of darker days of the past when mistakes led to unnecessary death to large groups of animals who should not have been introduced to disease in the first place.

111 animals altered in Chaparral

The partnership between the Dona Ana County Sheriff's Department and the Spay Neuter Action Program got the new mobile spay/neuter van on the road for the first time in our county. The last two weekends were spent in Chaparral, and more than 100 cats and dogs were altered. Congratulations to all of those involved.

To help start making a dent in our community's kill rate, the van needs to stay on the road for many months in outlying areas of the county, which contribute about 60% of the animals that end up at our shelter. SNAP is planning to run the van next in Radium Springs and Hatch in January and February, but I urge other non-profits to join their ranks or donate money to SNAP to keep up the good work. I also strongly challenge our County Commission to look into allocating more funds to this important effort, as well as the City of Las Cruces.

The last I heard, the City Council decided to stop its funding of SNAP programs next year because of the new vet that was hired at the shelter--assuming this one person can handle providing spay/neuter services to the entire city. However, that is a big mistake and very short-sighted.

In order to get to the kind of volume we need in spay/neuter in our entire community, we need to attack the issue at all fronts. We need many programs and services and opportunities for everyone in the city and county to do the right thing. That means we need the shelter to provide services to City residents, but we also need SNAP's voucher program to get funded and keep up the volume in the city from that end, and we lastly need the mobile van to run in outlying areas of the county each weekend to target those people who cannot or will not drive to the city to get their pets fixed.

Last but not least: stop the cat killing

It is truly time for our community to open its eyes and see that the way we deal with stray/feral cats is sorely outdated and does nothing to reduce their population nor protect public health nor mitigate issues people complain about regarding loose cats. Our city and county leaders need to look at model ordinances from around the nation that allow for feral cat management programs and change our local laws to emulate these. And, our animal control departments need to do some research, too. They could start by talking to others in the state, such as those working TNR in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, etc. Even our next door neighbor and fellow border community in El Paso supports TNR efforts and has ordinances in place to allow for this.

Until we stop killing up to 300 cats a month at our shelter, our kill rate will not go down. More importantly, these deaths are doing nothing to help people deal with the reality they face every day in their neighborhoods. Most of the calls I get for help are from people who want to continue caring for a group of cats that have moved onto their property. They mostly need help getting them fixed and vaccinated and wish it was not against the law to feed and care for the animals.

Very few people want to see these animals hauled off and killed, which only creates a void that other cats come in to fill anyway. We could even go as far as raising funds to help people put up cat fencing on their properties as well. I'm about to put up a cat fence in my home which I purchased from the Deer Busters company online, but there are other options for cat enclosure systems, including instructions from Alley Cat Allies on buidling a fencing system from scratch and at a much lower cost and from items you can purchase at a home improvement store:

Do-it-yourself cat fence
HSUS: "Fence Me In"

If you have not read the information provided by Alley Cat Allies and others who are working hard to save the lives of homeless cats, please do so. It is the start to dispelling the myths we have operated from for too long.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

County mobile spay/neuter van successful this past weekend

Thanks to SNAP and the Dona Ana County Sheriff's Department

This past weekend's run of the county's new mobile vehicle that can be used for various animal-welfare needs, including as a spay/neuter clinic, was a success in Chaparral. About 65 surgeries were performed on dogs and cats, and the van will be back in Chaparral this coming Saturday and Sunday.

For the latest information on where the van will be next and to find out how to volunteer for this enormous effort at raising the volume of spay and neuter in targeted areas, please log onto

Coming soon: a coalition aimed at action

In January, we are forming a coalition that will perform a logical community assessment followed by actions we can take to start saving more animal lives in our community TODAY. As soon as we have our first meeting time and place set, I'll let everyone know. Look out for announcements on this blog, in the newspapers, via e-mail, etc. If you are interested in participating, e-mail me at cheressemm@gmail.com.

More from interview with Sue Cosby

Here is another great response to a question from the Las Cruces No Kill Study Group's survey from a shelter director in NJ who has experience and know-how in working toward no kill in a community. Her responses alone were instrumental in my own personal change of perspective in that convincing our leaders that no kill is possible in our community cannot be achieved by writing another report, no matter how detailed or well-written. We need to start showing them that it can be done here.

Q: What other shelters or No Kill resources do you think we should contact for the purposes of this report--which is to try our best to describe what is going on in our nation in regards to No Kill advancements? As a successful director yourself, do you have any advice about the path we are taking in writing a full report on the state of No Kill in our nation today in hopes it will show our leaders that more and more people are showing success when the programs are implemented correctly?

A: This is just my opinion, so please don’t be offended! There are lots of different ways to accomplish your goals but this is my take on it and how I generally operate:

I’m much more of a believer in doing rather than talking or writing although I use writing to support the accomplishments. When you talk (or write) about things before doing, you open the door to the endless criticism that comes from anti-no kill camps, which does nothing to advance the cause and can actually hurt worse in the end. No matter how many examples you can find from around the country, you will always be attacked by the basic premise you noted above – "it can’t happen here". Other arguments include demographic, financial, you-don’t-know-what-you’re-talking-about, you name it.

When you DO things and then tell people about it, the criticism is quite often meaningless or blunted because you can let the world know that what you are talking about actually works. You’ve done it in your community.

While your effort is laudable, I don’t believe it will be as effective as jumping in and accomplishing something important such as tackling one aspect of the No Kill Equation and proving that change can happen within your community. Then your writing efforts will be more effective because you are coming from a position of accomplishment within your own community. You will be viewed less as someone who is criticizing and more as someone who is a knowledgeable person in the field.

One of my favorite phrases to hear is when someone overtly or implicitly gives me the challenge “prove me wrong” when it comes to saving lives. I also love it when my staff does it to me if I think they are in over their heads. The next time someone says a particular program that you believe will work is impossible, prove them wrong by getting the job done.

These are just my thoughts, and I’m sure that other people will have differing opinions.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

My e-mail address

This is in answer to Christi and anyone else who is considering becoming part of our action-oriented coalition geared toward saving more animal's lives in our community. You can reach me at cheressemm@gmail.com.

Thank you for your interest!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Busting our myths & prejudices

Othering types of people as a whole

I received a few comments on this blog recently about how some of the barriers to saving more animal lives stems from the animal welfare world being prejudiced against and turning off many people, especially the poor and those of Mexican origin. I hate to say that I often see and hear these prejudices firsthand. Being a human mutt myself with a French last name, often people I talk to and work with do not know that I consider myself a Chicana and grew up on the border and am half Anglo and half Hispanic.

I, too, find it offensive that many times all Hispanics and poor people are regarded as a whole and lumped into one huge group that represents the few that are neglectful and abusive toward companion animals. I know there are many of us, including everyone in my family, who are educated--humanely and otherwise--and who are responsible, loving pet owners. Even those not fully educated about animal welfare often love their pets and give them a decent, if not perfectly pampered, life.

I also don't think that because you are poor means you cannot adequately care for an animal. If you can afford low-cost options for vaccinations, spay/neuter, and food for your animal, I say that is good enough if you are giving that animal love and attention. Some might not be able to afford high vet bills when the animal becomes ill or something serious occurs, but when it comes to the choice of an animal dying today in a shelter instead of going to a loving home for a few years before a humane euthanasia is actually necessary, I say we give some of those less fortunate the opportunity to share their lives with animals, too.

I agree with some of the comments I received about how punitive laws and negative views perpetuated by our own Animal Control agencies lead to more killing as well. However, I myself as well as many others who volunteer in the world of animal advocacy do not have the power to exert any pressure in the decision-making ranks of our animal-welfare leaders. All we can do is try to show, by example, that there are other options and means to success than our current catch and kill system, which is obviously not very successful at anything except killing.

Othering some animals

We who work in animal welfare need to think and work and challenge ourselves outside of the myths we ourselves repeat all the time, or else we'll never be able to show that things can and should be done differently. Some examples of our own antiquated, unproven ideas and scripts are as follows: "many people adopt animals to be bait for fighting dogs; "don't adopt black and white cats during Halloween because of Satanic rituals"; "don't adopt out to anyone that raises a supposed red flag of any kind because they might return the animal", "avoid impulse adoptions or pets as gifts," etc.

These myths and prejudices that surround our dealings with animals and people on a daily basis are often what leads us to kill more animals each day, each week, each month, and each year and turn away many more good people than the monsters we assume are entering our oganizations to adopt. They do so by completely closing the door and opportunity for connection and honest dialogue. This is especially true in a shelter that is killing about 1,000 animals a month. If you engage with people in open conversations and provide good screening/adoption counseling, you should be able to weed out the few BAD people that try to adopt. In other words, reject the few individuals for legitimate reasons than whole groups of people for unfounded, unproven myths and future fears or something someone has supposedly done in the past.

So, I ask ourselves to question our own logic and brainwashing and look for evidence and do research about the reality in our specific community. After all, how much sense does it make to not adopt an animal from a shelter that will probably kill that animal in a few days because the animal "might" be returned to the shelter? How much sense does it make to not allow people to give animals as gifts if you properly screen the adopter to find out if the person receiving the animal will welcome the pet and can care for him/her and make a good match for that specific dog/cat? How much sense does it make to say the holidays are too stressful of a time for people to adopt when it is a great time of giving and love?

More scary than these scripts and myths we repeat over and over again are anitquated ideas and prejudices among those in animal welfare about some groups of animals, such as feral cats and pit bulls--even in the face of evidence to the contrary and that these animals are the ones in MOST need of our help and compassion and dealing with them more progressively is actually better for public safety, too. These prejudices directly lead to more killing of innocent animals that are also lumped together as a whole for the sins of a few (much like racial profiling).

In the case of pit bulls, it is substandard breeders and owners who misuse powerful, individual dogs that are to blame for isolated attacks and dog fighting, "monster" media representations, etc.--not this entire breed of dogs. History shows that powerful breeds who are popular, misused, overly/poorly bred, etc., are the ones involved in fatal attacks BECAUSE of humans, and the breeds of dogs involved in attacks has changed over time and that any dog is capable of killing a human being, but it is currently pit bulls who get all the attention and bad press--not other kinds of dogs who commit the same "crime". And, to blame it on breed alone is simplification; looking at details, there is often an explanation or circumstances that show how the event happened, however unfortunate. Like humans, animals are also not perfect beings.

Of the millions of pit bulls in our country today, if they were all dangerous dogs, we'd have far more attacks than our media outlets could even keep up with. But, to the contrary, as a whole breed, more pit bulls save human lives every year than take human lives; more share homes peacefully with families than not; and more are excellent when put into good service for humans -- yet that is not reflected in the press or the stories we read. It has been shown that newspaper reporters purposely seek out negative pit bull stories, ignore fatal attack stories when it is not a pit bull involved, and ignore good pit bull stories, which has directly led to the hatred and mistreatment of these dogs at the hands of humans. More humans hurt pit bulls now than any of these dogs have collectively hurt humans in the long course of history. This once proud, American breed has been betrayed by all of us for far too long.

And, most unfortunate of all, many animal welfare people share in this hatred and fear of these dogs, which is very sad and leads to about 1 million innocent lives being snuffed out each year in our shelters and few bothered by this fact. This cycle needs to stop.

The same is true for feral cats. When we look at the numbers and see that of the 4 to 5 million cats and dogs being put down each year, a large number of those are pit bulls, pit mixes and feral cats, we need to ask ourselves what is wrong with this picture and how we can work to turn that tide around. And, to help, we should be working to become more informed. Read the latest and greatest out there about the subject, such as The Pit Bull Placebo by Karen Delise, before you make up your mind to discriminate against a whole group of animals. Visit sites like alleycat.org and read about TNR before you revile it. These animals need our help right now, and they need it the most because they are suffering and dying the most.

If we want to break and bust these myths, however, we can't argue with others in order to do so. When that happens, we are too busy talking instead of working. In order to break cycles of fear and hatred, we need to work against what most people believe to show there is another way. That's the only way our entire community, including our AC departments, can start working toward saving more lives. For an example, see the work Best Friends has done to rehabilitate the supposed worst of the Michael Vic dogs.

Excerpt #1 from interview with Sue Cosby

I recently sent a survey to a successful shelter director about the reality of working toward No Kill in a community. I'm going to start sharing some of her responses with me in excerpts. They illustrate how ideas become reality--from someone who knows and works in the trenches of No Kill.

Sue Cosby is now the director of a private shelter and spay/neuter clinic in New Jersey. Before that, she worked at a municipal shelter that took in 25,000-30,000 animals a year in Philiadelphia. She is also the founder of www.thenokillnation.com.

Here's the first excerpt from the survery, starting with the question posed:

Q: People here, even most adovcates, point to our Mexican-American border region being somehow worse regarding animal neglect and mistreatment than other regions in the U.S. because of Hispanic’s antiquated views about animals and a culture of “machismo”. To me, as a Hispanic who grew up in this region, I often find this insulting because many of us are educated and love our pets and treat them very well, and I see a macho culture that is alive and well in most of America, too. I’ve lived in the border region most of my life, so it is hard for me to compare animal treatment here to other areas. Do you have any insight on this issue I can share with others here?

A: I have had the pleasure of working with and talking to people across the country. Each and every community had some aspect that they were convinced made them uniquely different than other communities. While that is sometimes true, I have yet to meet the community where that unique aspect was ultimately the cause of killing in shelters. Sometimes it wasn’t even a real problem but rather a stereotype, myth or downright prejudice.

It is this type of attitude, though, that starts a spiral of shelter deaths. When we assume that a stereotype is true, how easy is it to adopt an animal to people of that ethnicity/community/-add any type of maligned persons here? How easy is it to find foster homes in that community? Will we even try? And how can we communicate effectively with a group of people that we have declared (either publicly or privately) essentially poor to unfit pet parents? And what if we aren’t right to begin with?

Different community values – if they are actually real and measurable - are a starting point for dialogue and research in an ongoing effort for animal advocates to become more effective at creating targeted programs. They are not a scapegoat for killing. There will always be bad pet owners and they come in all colors, shapes, sizes, communities, religions, etc. but most importantly there are many, many, many more GOOD pet owners who come in all the same flavors.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Less talk, more action ... starting with ME

When all of us in animal welfare start talking too much, and I am guilty of this as well, we sometimes end up down a path of negativity, defeatism, and face empasses with each other that get in the way of the work we could be doing. I have seen us get stuck on words and ideas, and I truly think we play out too many scripts in our minds and hold onto too many myths and sometimes have elitist views about "others" that are not in tune with reality. Instead of arguing endlessly about what "no kill" is or isn't, let's just do some good work to save lives ... I'm sure we can all agree that the more lives that are saved and enriched, the better.

I for one am tired of the talking and philosophizing and hitting brick walls. I am also sick and tired of letting the way our animal shelter does or does not operate be the main focus of my own thoughts and actions and what I write about. I honestly and truly believe that saving more lives is something the entire community can achieve, with or without the shelter's leadership or help.

I guess I am realizing the error of my own ways these days and the need for me to prove my worth with more action as well, which I know can lead to bigger things (good, hard work usually begets rewards). Any non-profit organization doing good work now started somewhere, usually doing small things, doing them well, and growing from there. On the other hand, there is nothing more disappointing than endless cycles that lead to more of the same--especially when that is failure. I know I can do better than that, and I know that our community can do better, too.

Another challenge I pose to myself and others is to be able to work toward goals and the good of animals/people right alongside those you may not personally care for or have past bad experiences with. After all, we are not seeking each other's hand in marriage--just a working partnership for the good of others. In other words, I see that our own egos sometimes lead us to make poor decisons or to refusals to work with one another, and we often do not genuinely put what is best for animals before our own selfish feelings.

So, where do we start?

Thinking about everything that has to be done in our community to seriously make a dent in how many animals we put to death is overwhelming, and there is no way one person or one group can get it all done alone. I think if we break things up into manageable bits that individuals/existing groups/new groups can take on and dedicate time and effort to reach success in--one area at a time--we'll even surprise ourselves. Some of the best private sanctuaries and shelters started off as small groups reaching small goals. Wouldn't it be nice to prove to ourselves that we can do more and better as a community?

Here's some places to start ... by addressing needs that our community has AT THIS MOMENT.

Pet Help Line Needs Help

Pet retention efforts in our community are needed desperately, and I was trying to find the time to lead these efforts myself, but I have not been able to dedicate enough time to it. I envision area trainers and behaviorists stepping up and joining together to lead a pet help line, which will take inquiries by phone and e-mail. I am willing to volunteer some of my time to this as well as some materials to help start it off, and I can answer some calls from those who only speak Spanish.

I last posed this project to the Humane Society of Southern New Mexico, who approved it. All they need is a group of volunteers and a leader to run the program. If you are interested in helping, please contact HSSNM; you can find out how to get ahold of them by visting their website at www.hssnm.org.

Networks for Saving Lives

Another dire need in our community is temporary help taking care of animals that are homeless for whatever reason and re-homing them. For example, we need a foster network independent of the shelter that can simply care for animals that have been left behind by owners that have passed on--a group concentrating on just this issue would be pretty busy and would make a huge impact on animals that end up at the shelter, not to mention ensuring that these once pampered pets don't end up in a stressful situation. Many of these pets are seniors themselves and could be matched up with new senior owners.

I know that HSSNM and Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary get many of these calls. They also get many of the calls a pet help line would best serve, such as someone at their wit's end with an animal behavior issue that may soon lead to a relinquishment. One group could help with re-homing efforts alone for anyone who is willing to hold onto a pet long enough for that new, better-matched home to come along, or anoher group of foster homes could be formed to help mitigate many owner turn-ins at the shelter as well.

Look for a new, action-oriented coalition we are forming in January that is going to be all aboout action we can take now to save more lives. We'll call a meeting for this soon to start the year off on a positive foot.

I have realized that writing yet another report about the good others in our nation are doing in animal work is a waste of time at the moment. I've been there and done that. I wrote a Shelter Reform White Paper for our leaders that went ignored, which I turned in before they hired a new director. You can view it online at the HSSNM website on their News page, if you are interested in that blast from the past!

Why I thought another, more detailed report would do wonders is beyond me. I have tried to communicate with our leaders enough times to know that no one will read it or even respond to it. I also know we'll just hear the same mantra about why "that would not work in our community because ..."

I want help proving these assumptions wrong! Yet, I also don't want the research and answers we have gotten in the no kill study group to go to waste, so look for excerpts on this blog. We can also use some of the examples from other areas to help us build successful programs and services.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Organizations need volunteers for spay/neuter van runs

The Dona Ana County Sheriff's Department has procured a Marc van that has multiple uses ... with the first and most important use being disaster rescue and relief. However, when it is not being used as such, it is available to be used by the shelter and non-profit animal groups--through agreement with the AC department--as a mobile adoption unit and spay/neuter clinic. From what I have heard, plans are in the works from the local Spay Neuter Action Program (www.snapnewmexico.org) to run the van in Chaparral for two weekends in December and then they hope to move on to Hatch in January. SNAP hopes to get about 350 animals fixed on the van before the Spring wave of litters hits our area.

SNAP is looking for volunteers, especially bilingual ones, to help with the van runs in our outlying County area. If you can help with the tentative plans to run the van in Chaparral on Dec. 5, 6, & 7 and Dec., 12, 13, and 14, please call the volunteer coordinator for this effort, SNAP volunteer Julie Miller, at 405-1295. You can also call myself at 644-0505 as I am helping Julie with volunteer efforts and outreach in these areas. It's time to start speaking some Spanish again for me, and thank God for that. I am rusty at the moment from non-use!

Rumor has it that the Humane Society of Southern New Mexico will also be looking into an agreement to run the van, and we can only hope more non-profits come on-board because high-volume spay and neuter is one of the biggest and best ways we can save more lives in our community. Like our border sister city of El Paso, our kill rate is higher per capita here than in many other places in the country, and we have to get the numbers of litters born each year under control. Only then will we be able to concentrate our efforts even more on the other programs and services of the No Kill Equation and outreach ideas for helping poor people provide better for their animals, through efforts such as fixing fences, providing dog houses and dog/cat food to the needy, and perhaps one day helping to build more cat fencing systems as well.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Calling all those interested in forming action groups

Wise words from a wise man

Sometimes, I have moments of doubt, as all people do. When it comes to my personal No Kill advocacy, I wonder if I am going about things the "right" way or in an engaging way or if there is something I have not thought of before that I could try to connect with people in real ways.

I sometimes write to Nathan Winograd, whom I admire, to ask for advice. He is very gracious about answering the inquiries of "green" advocates such as myself, though I am sure he is a very busy man. His recent advice to me was golden: Instead of concentrating on the words "no kill" and the progressive philosophy behind the words (the semantics), try to focus your attention and actions around the logical, helpful programs and services that make it possible.

I had a lighbulb moment when I thought about the possibilities in our community. Honestly, we have so much opportunity for growth, and if we look at that in a positive way, it is very exciting to explore ideas and possibilities and be in a position to start things from the ground-up. As my Las Cruces No Kill Study Group is speaking to other shelters in our nation, we will learn more and more about what others are doing and what might apply here.

It dawned on me that we have so many untapped resources in our communithy as well ... such as people with proven track records in running successful rescue programs, those that have been working in the area of spay/neuter services and outreach, and countless animal lovers and trainers and behaviorists and business owners and retirees with specific skill sets, etc. I'm sure there are bilingual people like me willing to do outreach work in areas that need it the most, too.

The possibilities ARE truly endless ... none of them are free, but there are many national resources and local organizations and grants our community can tap into if we get organized, set our personal agendas and personality differences aside for the benefit of our homeless animals, and get down to some real work. I know I am happier when I am acting rather than sitting around philosophizing--belive it or not! Just from online dialogue I have had with readers of the Las Cruces Sun-News recently, it is obvious others have wonderful ideas to do more to help our animals, such as a Habitat for Humanity-type approach for expanding our shelter. We could first hold brainstorming sessions to get our collective creative ideas flowing.

My challenge to all of us who care about our homeless animals is this: Look long and hard at the programs and services listed at left in the No Kill Equation ... save for the few of you that are opposed to TNR, I'm sure many of you are drawn to one or more of these ideas. They are not radical, and it makes logical sense that any community working hard and in an organized fashion along the lines of all of these services will save and enrich more lives--animal and human alike. I can't think of one single animal lover that would not support this end result, and positive action begets positive consequences.

Here's some examples of what I mean.

If you are interested in helping with the foster program at the shelter, and if you have previous experience and a track record in such programs, a group of you could get together and make a unified offer to the shelter for your volunteer support in this capacity. I know our shelter is now utilizing more foster homes than they have in the past, and that's a good start. However, a successful foster program runs like a well-oiled machine, and we are not there yet. We need to support foster homes in proactive ways that move animals along into permanent homes in a timely manner so that foster parents can keep fostering and saving even more lives. In other words, those foster doors need to revolve more smoothly, and we can work to still grow the foster home numbers even more. The more people that have positive experiences fostering, the more that word-of-mouth will help the program grow, too. PR and outreach to the community to explain the benefits and rewards of fostering can also do wonders; I don't think the Average Joe understands what fostering a shelter pet entails.

If you are interested in comprehensive adoption programs, you can group together to offer adoption counseling at the shelter, form off-site teams that can run adoptions througout the week in various locations and events where people are already out and about (with a goal of someday doing at least one daily), etc. Explore and research other ideas for adoption, such as organizing super adoption events that include all area animal groups, offering special promotions, helping to attract adopters to some animals overlooked most often, such as big black dogs, pitt mixes, and nondescript cats, etc.

If you are a local cat or dog behaviorist or trainer, you could help with pet retention efforts through a Pet Help Line and/or donate time to the shelter for socializing and rehabilitating troubled but treatable animals. You could also work with foster parents trying to help a dog overcome treatable issues such as food agreesion. Any would-be trainer or behaviorist could also gain valuable experience for their own careers by working with more animals, so it would be a win-win for all.

If you work in any of our prison systems or correction systems or in social services of some kind (and we have several correction facilities nearby), you can work on "cell dogs" or "cell cats" programs that work to rehabilitate or socialize the animals that need that help the most, which in turn helps the humans involved in this empowering process. In one TV show I watched about such programs in our nation today, dogs were even placed in maximum security prisons with carefully-selected inmates. These men lived with and trained the dogs 24/7, and they even did the online postings on Pet Finder for the dogs and placed them. The warden was very happy with the program because it remarkably reduced inmate violence as well.

So, ask yourself some questions ... how can you apply what you do for a living or your skillsets to saving animals? Are you a PR maven? Do you have connections with the area radio stations and TV stations, or do you have filmmaking skills? Can you create print and audio/video PSAs around responsible pet ownership and humane education for adults and children that approach these audiences in more respectful and engaging ways? Are you a bilingual person? Did you grow up in our border area, as I did, and do you want to help your fellow raza learn how to become better pet owners?

I know I have personally influenced this change in many of my personal relationships over the years in supportive, not didactic/accusatory ways, and people with just a bit of humane capacity can grow into more understanding and care of their animals when we make it easy for them to do so or help them find their lightbulb moments and compassion. One of my previous friends went from having dogs tied up to a tree in his backyard to sharing his inside home life with them years later and thinking of his dogs as family members. I remember how sad it was for him when, within weeks of each other, his beloved dog died as well as his mother. I have seen other people change when they realize the error of their former ways; it might not be possible to change everyone, but each change counts.

I ask this, too: If we can canvass for political votes, why can we not do the same and go out into our underserved communities and see what is needed to help resolve animal issues? A team could go out to deliver donated food from pet stores and individuals to struggling areas, or we could speak at community centers or knock on doors to talk about spay and neuter and convince people to do the right thing and explain how we can help them do so. Explain why it is cruel to abandon a dog in a yard with no social contact, etc.

Do you own a van you could donate for use as a "neuter commuter" service for people that work too much or are elderly or infirm and cannot drive their pets to the vet for vaccination and altering appointments? Do you own a business, and can you lend a hand at mending fences, installing electric fences or covered runs for jumpers, or offer other kinds of work for the community and shelter alike?

I am very interested in organizing action/working groups around actual programs and services, which can be done outside of the shelter or presented to our shelter leaders as a concerted offer for help from people who are experienced or passionate about a certain area. If you are interested or want to find like-minded people to partner with, please e-mail me at cheressemm@gmail.com.

Pumping Up the Spay/Neuter Volume

Our community has one hard-working, overtaxed low-income program for spay/neuter, which is SNAP. They have grown and are doing more surgeries than they can keep up with, done by local vets, and it is good they serve the poor in our community. The volume of surgeries has grown as well, and now with the County having a Marc van that can be used as a mobile clinic, there are possibilities to increase the volume even more.

Yet, for our combined City/County population of roughly 300,000, we are still allowing more animals to procreate than we should, and we are still killing thousands of animals a year. We need to find ways to up the volume of spay and neuter. How can we also help those that may not be living at the poverty level and are median income but still struggle to make ends meet and may rightfully put the family pet's needs last in their long list of necessary housing and family expenses? How can we offer more options for services, in other words?

Some of the most progressive ideas for spay and neuter outreach and programs and services can be found in the links listed at the left for PetSmart Charities, Humane Alliance, SpayUSA, and Best Friends' No More Homeless Pets. National charities and organizations like PetSmart Charities and Humane Alliance are opening full spay/neuter, low-cost clinics across the country, and we can research how we can get them to come here. We could approach area vets to donate their surgical units on days they close and their services to do more surgeries. We could rent out empty office spaces in underserved communities and run MASH units. We can also reach out and target those that need it the most.

We can incentivize spay/neuter of the types of animals we see too much of in our area, such as pitt bull mixes and chihuahua mixes. One community offers a $5 reward to anyone who brings their pitt in to get fixed, so imagine if you partnered with gas stations or movie houses to offer free movie tickets, a gas card, etc., for anyone who brings in their animals for alteration, vaccinations, licenses, microchips, etc.? I even have ideas of how to tackle the macho attitudes that sometimes get in the way in our culture. I had an idea to hold a spay/neuter fiesta of some sort ... part of the fun is thinking about new things to do.

The local non-profit organizations that are already formed in our area and have some money in the bank and are wondering how they might be of most help or could make the biggest dent in this issue could first start in this important area of high-volume spay/neuter. It is true that in our current circumstances, we cannot simply adopt our way out of our problems. We need to also cut off the supply next spring of puppies and kittens born and relinquished at the shelter and keep up that work each year thereafter. Most areas that are having spay/neuter success and are offering more services do so without the need for punitive legislation. However, mandatory legislation can only come after you provide ways and options and time for people to comply; otherwise, the enforcement of laws can indadvertently lead to more suffering for people and death for their pets.

Think of the possibilties with spay and neuter alone ... we could put up billboards, devise catchy, bilingual mail inserts, etc., to get the word out and ask people to help with the solution to these issues. And, the impact of this would be huge ... for, once the shelter stops getting such an influx of animals, it can more readily concentrate on other programs and efforts, such as pet retention, community involvement, rehabilitation, etc. First, it needs to get to a place where it can implement sheltering best practices across the board, including equitable routing and animal assessments, disease control, implementing good policies and procedures, etc. We can all understand that is hard to do so when you are overwhelmed with the day-to-day care of hundreds of animals under one roof.

Though we often point to our area being too poor and backward/antiquated, it does not mean we can't start chipping away at the issues little by little. It seems that areas that start toward progressiveness attract money down the line as a reward for their good work. You cannot attract prosperity out of negativity or lack of action. Plus, running a shetler at ~$4 per capita is not that bad--other areas have it worse in this sense.

I know my "concentrate on the positive" mantra gets on some people's nerves, but what do we have to lose by trying this? Let's put our own negative voices and scripts aside and think of one positive program or service we are intersted in helping with ... let's organize around those efforts for now and see where that leads us.

Day of the Dead Momento Cards

The pet altar we built last weekend for the Dia de los Muertos celebration in Mesilla was a big hit. Thanks to volunteer Kim Doner, this was more the case when she had the wonderful idea of giving people cards to write memorial notes to the pets they have lost and pinning these to our altar. People really loved participating in this, and we have more than 170 notes written to beloved pets--some with just the name of the pet, some with funny notes on them, and some with very sad sentiments as well. Some people were crying as they filled out their cards and hung them up, and it was a truly heartfelt experience for us all. We are in the process of reading through the cards, and some examples of tributes written will be featured with pictures from the event at the Humane Society of Southern New Mexico's website: www.hssnm.org.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Join us for Dia de Los Muertos in Mesilla Plaza

I'd like to interrupt my regular blog postings to talk about an event we are having this weekend in Mesilla Plaza. As part of the Calavera Coalition's Dia de los Muertos celebration, the Humane Society of Southern New Mexico (HSSNM) is leading the charge in building an altar to honor and welcome the spiritual visits from our beloved pets who have passed on as well as the thousands of homeless animals we still put to death each year in our community. All the animal-welfare groups are invited to participate, as well as the general public.

We will build the altar this Friday, starting at 4 p.m. I have not written my high-volume spay/neuter blog this week because I am busy making candles and other items to decorate the altar. I want it to be as authentic as possible, but animal calaveras are hard to come by.

For those unfamiliar with this Mexican holiday (also celebrated in other cultures as well in different ways), we believe that the souls of our loved ones visit us one day each year, and we build altars to remember them, honor them, and offer their favorite things to them as well. Nov. 1st, also known as All Saints Day, welcomes children who have died, and Nov. 2nd, also known as All Souls Day, welcomes the adults who have died.

Traditional altars are decorated with various folk art pieces that depict skeletons (calaveras), also called muertos, engaging in celebration or other enjoyable activities as well as actual pictures and other momentos. (See the calavera cat at left, enjoying itself in front of the fireplace). Depending on who you are honoring with your altar, you make sure that those visiting have all of the things they used to love, from their favorite food and drink to items that represent their hobbies and pasttimes, etc.

For our pet altar this year, we are honoring our personal pets that have passed away as well as all our homeless animals that have been put to death. We are including items such as fresh water, dog food, cat food, toys, treats, leashes, brushes, etc., and we invite the public and other groups to bring items to add into the altar. We also would like the various animal groups to bring literature we can hand out all weekend.

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is one of my favorite celebrations. It may seem morbid, but that is not its intent. It strives to give us a healthy outlook toward death, which is an inevitable part of life for us all. It gives us hope that we live on somehow in spirit and can actually visit our loved ones and come back to see how they are paying tribute to us. To me, it shows that death is the greatest equalizer in that no matter what you look like, no matter how much money you make, no matter your gender or the color of your skin, when we die, we are all calaveras underneath it all. On one hand, you honor and remember those you loved and reminisce about good times with them, and on the other hand, you mock death and come to terms with it.

So, come join us for this wonderful celebration. Bring pictures of your dearly departed pets, write a tribute poem or two to them, bring offerings to the homeless animals who are gone, or just stop by to pick up literature and buy a muerto candle or candle holder that myself and my boss have been busy handmaking this year (thanks Charlotte!). All money collected for these items will be donated to the participating animal-welfare groups.

The Calavera Coalition is also asking for canned good items for HUMANS -- to be donated to various women's and children's groups in town. So, you can give something to all of those less fortunate in our community. There will be other altars up as well as crafts being sold and food and music and more.

I hope to see everyone there. Myself and other HSSNM volunteers will be at the pet altar both Sat. and Sun. from about 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and we will break down the altar on Sunday.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sorry my blog has gotten off-track

I want to apologize to the readers of this blog; I think I have been talking too much about philosophy and No Kill and putting the cart before the horse. I understand how confusing these two words are, and it is hard to grasp the difference between killing for population control and euthanasia, and we all use the words interchagably. I know, too, that as a community we are stuck in a mindset of punishing and stopping irresponsible people from what they do. Believe me, if I could wave a magic wand and change people, I would! I honestly think some people can change, as I have seen in my own life and personal relationships, but I also think others will never do so, and the best thing they can do is just not have any pets!!

However, my initial intent for this blog was to first talk about all of the No Kill Equation in detail, offering advice and ideas and examples from around the nation of how--when you fully and vigorously implement all of these programs which I'm sure most of us support (save for those not in favor of TNR)--you can work toward replacing killing for population control with saving more and more lives and work hard to send euthanasia and its application back to its dictionary definition.

The research myself and the Las Cruces No Kill Study Group are doing right now will give us even more information from which to draw, but there are ideas that the best in the business also share readily. I only wish I was in Las Vegas this coming week, for example, for the Best Friends Animal Society's No More Homeless Pets Conference, where the motto is that in this case, what you learn in Vegas you should not leave in Vegas!

And, next May, I plan to attend THE conference where all my heroes and sheroes will be in one place ... the No Kill Advocacy Center's conference in Washington, D.C. Some of my animal-welfare colleagues and I are going to attend, and I'm sure we'll be chock-full of ideas and momentum after hearing from the likes of progressive sheltering partiarch and Maddie's Fund president Richard Avanzino, no kill's tireless leader Nathan Winograd, 2007 Shelter Director of the Year Bonney Brown, and others.

My next blog postings promise to talk about each of the items on the No Kill Equation list with ideas of how we can work on these programs here with what we have available (even at our funding levels) and what it will look like when each is fully implemented, and then I'll be hoping that all of the people in this community--who want to reduce the intake at our shelter and increase live exits to second chances/good homes and enrich shelter animals' lives when in our care--can get together and brainstorm about how we can work together to make this a reality. Let's fundraise and launch programs and find ways to get our shelter to partner with us instead of all the distrust and friction that exists now. Surely, we can get past this and find a better way.

I think we all want the same things, but we word it differently or come at it differently or misconstrue what we are each saying and read our own judgements in between the lines. After all, if we love animals, we want to save as many of their lives as possible. We'd like to enrich their lives with their current owners or rescue them from bad owners. We'd love to get to a day when we decrease the shelter's intake enough to give those that are medically or behaviorally challenged an opportunity to rehabilitate and get a second chance in a new home, fight against prejudices that hurt some kinds of animals more than others, and work toward individual, equitable assessment of each cat and dog.

When you look at these programs and services, that's what they are about. At the same time, we all agree that animals should be free of neglect and suffering at the hands of bad owners, and we try our best to help those that we see suffering and hope that our law enforces do their jobs from a perspective of animal care and control, which do not have to be mutually excusive. We can be in favor of all of it--punishing and deterring the bad people AND partnering with the good to save more lives.

I'm going to start some of my own efforts in helping people and their animals by launching a pet help line under the Humane Society of Southern New Mexico by the end of November/beginning of December. I am working on a comprehensive resource booklet, I am working on a help line caseworker handbook so that volunteers can help me answer calls and e-mails from people, and I will post helpful behavior tips and other pet retention information via the HSSNM website. We will be trying our best to help people deal with their legitimate pet guardian issues. After all, dogs and cats don't come with manuals, and there are times when people are at their wit's end and truly don't know what to do, and we want to try to help them keep their animals instead of give up on them. We will also be looking into dog and cat food banks for those in our community that are struggling in these harsh economic times to feed their animals on top of the high expenses for themselves and their children.

So, it's time to start talking programs and exploring ideas and ways to implement them. No Kill will just happen as a result one day, or at least lower and lower kill until we get there, and it will surprise us all and inspire us to keep working in that forward direction. Just as negativity begets negativity, so do good things and good experiences and success stories beget more of the same.

Next posting: How do we work toward high-volume spay and neuter in our community? I think that is the most important place for us to start. Right now, we can fully support our local no- and low-cost programs--SNAP and FSNP. By the way, SNAP is having their big gala this Sat. night; I hope to see many of you there.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Why "tough love" is not the answer

Joint City/County meeting today gave a shelter update

The City Council and County Commission gathered today to talk about the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley and other "joint" topics, and the theme of the day as far as our animal shelter is concerned, if I can so boldly summarize, is that they are all in favor of a "tough love" approach to animal sheltering. On the one hand, I can understand all of us getting caught up in wanting to punish the bad and irresponsible pet owners out there and obsessing over them. Yet, only focussing on that blocks so much good that we could be doing if we only had some compassion for human beings and didn't punish the good people for the bad. The cornerstone of No Kill is this: don't worry about the bad people (you will change few of them or force few of them to become good and laws are in place to punish them NOW, so enforce those and move on). Instead, concentrate on networking and working with the good people for the sake of the animals in your care. Lucky for us and for our animals, we the good far outnumber the bad. We just need inspiration and an open, welcoming environment in which to thrive.

It seems like a simple concept and makes good business sense, but more and more, I am seeing how hard it is to overcome the culture of negativity and defeatism that we face in animal sheltering and that is so deeply embedded in our collective psyches (including those of our current leaders). It is very frustrating for advocates of No Kill who finally "get" it and cannot find apt words to explain the subtle differences of which we speak. The negative, defensive attitude we still have at our shelter is THE biggest hurdle we have to overcome, and we need the general public's help in doing so.

More need to speak out

Ironically, our shelter's management and oversight consists of people preaching tough love for the public but not being open to ANY constructive criticism that may come their way. The lack of respect for and accountability to the public is palpable (especially toward any animal-welfare advocate), and I hope that impunity does not last forever and changes when the new oversight board is in place.

For example, some of our leaders today had the audacity to not only ignore recent incidents that fly in the face of the law or show total lack of integrity on our shelter's part--such as killing a cat before its legal 72-hour holding period was up and defending that decision or shrugging off a dog becoming pregnant in the shelter and whose pregnancy was aborted very late-term when this was reported to our leaders--but we were told our criticisms via e-mail take up too much of their precious time. Part of this was that age-old deflection move where you are told that the time they have to take just reading about your issue could be time spent toward real (i.e., important) work. Since the issues are not fully nor responsibly addressed, it is not like much time is wasted on those efforts.

I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen of our City Council and County Commission, but you are elected public officials, and our shelter is run and operated on our tax dollars and serves the public as well. We have every right to report legitimate, often well-documented incidents to you that should be greeted professionally and handled responsibly, and you, in turn, should all be ashamed of yourselves for not doing so in many cases. Your distaste for hearing things from the public that are blunt and truthful is unfortunate, but even those of us you consider "animal wackos" and dismiss without honestly listening to a word we say will not simply go away and relinquish our rights. Many of us take our work seriously, and we are advocating for things in which we strongly believe and in which we put many hours of our own precious time into as well.

Along with that, I am urging everyone in the public to speak up and tell it like it really is, too. Don't be unfair, and don't stoop to any low levels. But, do it when it warrants the complaint,and do it to send a loud and clear message that we deserve better -- better service and some respect, too. Any of us that walk into the shelter for whatever reason, even to relinquish an animal we no longer want to care for, deserve better, too. In addition, so do our homeless animals.

On the path of irony still, if it were not for annoying advocates like myself and others in this community who have been working hard at change for much longer, we would not have many of the few improvements we are seeing at our shelter today. If no one speaks up, then it is assumed all is well. When all is not well, then it behooves our homeless animals to speak up. If you or your pet is a victim of some sort at the hands of our shelter or other animal-welfare pubic service, you have every right to seek accountability from our leaders about your complaint or issue. Transparency and accountability are a big part of No Kill as well, and we are far from that place today, as we are also far from fully implementing 8 of the 10 programs and services of the No Kill Equation as claimed today, especially not the progressive philosophy behind No Kill.

As for this horrible problem in our area that we seem to think is so unique--that there are bad and neglectful pet owners who consider animals throw-aways--well, that's a sad given and always will be and is a given in our entire nation. And, that's what animal-welfare groups and shelters are here for ... to care for the poor creatures abandoned by these people and not, in turn, throw the majority of them away themselves. Our system treats them as throw-aways the majority of the time, too. Saving lives should be our main goal. We need to stop complaining about this important work that is put before us and start approaching it and thinking of it differently. If you look at the whole of the human-animal relationship, the good outweighs the bad. That's what we need to brainwash ourselves with--that truth--to expunge the negativity from our own minds because it clouds our vision and stops us from approaching these issues creatively, progressively, proactively, positively, etc.

As for tough love, that is not progressive or new. For decades, we have created countless animal laws and legislation that try to punish the bad into being good, but there is a dark side to this as well (follow the link from this blog's title to read more about that). When this leads to a defensive, negative attitude that permeates all dealings the shelter has with the public it serves and the volunteer help it has access to, it closes many doors and ideas and opportunities to save more lives. This is especially true because the vast majority of us good people who could lend our service and expertise don't do so or are thwarted when we try to do so, and the waters are poisoned for those wanting to just adopt an animal or go find a pet that might have gotten away from us because no one is perfect.

Troubling issues with today's presentation

Trying to get on the No Kill Equation bandwagon, our shelter director reported that they are administering 8 of the 10 programs and services of the no kill model now. That the shelter's management is making this erroneous claim shows just how ignorant they are of what the full programs and services are about. For example, we are nowhere near having the kind of PR programs and presence in place that we need. We do not use the Internet or websites to their fullest capability and have no shelter website of our own, and our shelter has been working on their website for months with nothing to show for it yet. We do little pet retention and have no formalized programs for it, etc. In other words, simply dabbling in these programs and services, which most shelters do, is not full implementation of them. I suggest they read more of the details behind each before making such false claims.

Also troubling in the presentation were the statistics for our shelter shown that were entirely different from the ones handed to animal advocates just a few weeks ago (of which I have copies). The stats for the last few months, and the kill rate often repeated by shelter staff in the last few months, showed that rate at 70+% for all this time, yet the stats shown yesterday showed rates in the 50% region for some months. Which is it? And, how can we trust the integrity of the statistics in light of this huge discrepancy? If our shelter is truly looking at working toward No Kill, it needs to adopt standard sheltering statistical examples as well as full, equitable assessments of each individual animal that feed these numbers from the national experts, such as the Asilomar Accords model or the No Kill Adovcacy Center's Lifesaving Matrix model.

There were other areas of misinformation as well. No Kill advocates do make comparisons to communities based on the level of services and programs and especially the business-like, welcoming atmosphere that most progressive shelters put forth, as opposed to the "us against them" atmosphere of failing shelters. Shelters in our nation truly following the No Kill Equation model are having success, and not just small communities like Tomkins County rural NY, which our shelter loves to point to because their intake numbers are low and they say we can't compare to them in size alone. Well, Reno, NV in Washoe County is the comparison I think fits our community better because their intake numbers are similar, their growth rate is similar, and it shows that even a community with high homeless pet numbers like our own can turn things around rather quickly. Just their program that incentivizes people fixing their pit bulls has shown great success, and they have many programs like this in place. Look to their website for all the programs and services they have: www.nevadahumanesociety.org.

I shared their director's "How We Did It" document in my last blog posting, and her description of changing to a more customer-service orientation and utilizing/training hundreds of volunteers to help with the programs and services is key. Our shelter's director yesterday said we are struggling to train and hold just 100 volunteers "accountable" or to a set schedule, but maybe our shelter needs to look to iself for that failure--its lack of training, organization, empowement, ability to delegate, etc. For one, the hour-long volunteer orientation given now is not formalized training, and our shelter has yet to put formalized, documented training into place for staff, much less volunteers.

That's why we cannot say we are THERE and administering all these programs. We have a LONG way to go. The volunteer program alone is key because we don't have enough funding to hire the staff to fully implement all of these programs from within the shelter alone, and we need to use the expertise from the public and partner with and empower these stakeholders to help in meaningful ways. Many of us are out here and willing to help, and I started from this standpoint and mindset in the beginning with our new shelter's management ... sharing resources and ideas ... offering to help in meaningful ways that played into my strengths and talents ... I think many have done the same and been ignored or outwardly thwarted.

That's what I mean by "tough love" not being the answer ... for the mistakes of the irresponsible public, we are all made to pay in the eyes of the shelter (even volunteers). We cannot progress from that negative, defeatist standpoint.

Aside for Barb Lunn and Buddah

I guess most people think they are perfect; they never speed or never get caught and get tickets; they never make mistakes. It is inherent in our culture to tear down others in order to feel better about ourselves, too, a sad testament to our American culture and a past-time we all engage in one time or another. Sometimes, this is taken way too far.

As an example of this lack of compassion and quickness to judge others harshly, I was very surprised and shocked to see that a story that ran in the paper yesterday about a family cat that was killed within hours of being in our shelter garnered more online comments in outrage against the cat owner than the shelter ... both broke the "law" ... and, in callous statements made and quoted in the paper, the shelter's director contradicted her own logic in this decision at least three times and said if that cat hadn't given them a reason to be put down then "something else would have been euthanized instead" (that's not a throw-away mentality toward animals at all, is it?) Yet, not too many people were outraged over this and the incident itself -- only a handful.

There is a system in place to punish lawless pet owners, and that family legally had three days to go get their cat back and pay heavy fines and receive their punishment for breaking the cat leash laws, and they went to the shelter three times in one day trying to do just that. So, where is the accountability and punishment for the system that failed and broke its own laws? Where is the apology to this family as well?

I hope that Barbara Lunn does look into her legal options in this case and follow wherever that may lead ... not for revenge, but to honor her cat that she loved and had for 11 years and to get retribution for her loss. I would be livid if it was one of my pets, who are considered members of my family. Buddha should not have died in our shelter the day he was brought in, and there is no way we can assure this does not happen again to another cat or dog in this system unless someone challenges it. I urge Barbara to do so if she can afford to. I know many people do not have the means to do that, but you can still speak up, still file complaints, and call the newspaper to tell them your story as well.

Just as pet owners have to pay for breaking the law, then the shelter should have to pay the price that it deserves--no more or no less--for this mistake or any others it makes. The right thing to do, and the No Kill approach, would of been to admit you made a horrible error, apologize for it, make amends for it, and talk about the system changes you are going to put in place to make sure that never happens again (i.e., you won't kill any animal before its alloted hold time is up). Instead of taking a defensive stance, which is an attitude that is chosen, there are other, more positive, more sincere, and more professional ways in which any situation can be handled.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

No vigilantes here!

It never ceases to amaze me how three tiny letters--a mere abbreviation--can lead to so much vehemence and backlash (usually based on untruths and unfounded myths) as the letter string of "TNR".

Nothing in what I wrote when I invited people to our Las Cruces No Kill Study Group tonight suggested we are forming some kind of masked, lawbreaking wacko group out to do TNR on the sly in a community in which it is outlawed at this point in time. Luckily for us and other communities in this unique nation of ours, local ordinances are not laws written in stone and which are never changed for the better. And, we have every right as anyone else to push for changes in the law to support a program we believe is the most humane and sensible and successful in homeless/feral cat popoulation control--much more so than the "catch and kill" option that has failed for decades, much to the chagrin and misfortune of us all.

I respect all animal life--cats, dogs, pigs, cows, birds, etc. No one more than myself wishes all cats were spoiled and living in the lap of luxury, out of harm's way and not out to harm any other living creature. Sadly, that is not reality for our cats or for wildlife in general. Anyone that has other innovative ideas about feral cats is welcome to share their views, but we are researching and will lobby for the best solution to this issue at this time in our history, which I strongly believe is trap-neuter/spay-return to where they live and care for them until attrition slowly ends each colony. We will do so professionally and legally and will address this issue the correct way.

Our No Kill TNR group is going to base any arguments and lobbying for ordinace change on careful research and models of successful TNR programs in our nation, of which there are many -- one right here in Las Cruces on state land (our college campus); many in other communities in New Mexico; and even more so in progressive communities saving more than 90% of their homeless dogs and cats instead of killing them like we and others do.

In our shelter, statistics from this year alone show that cats categorized as "feral" are killed to the tune of 200+ a month, and we will report how much that system costs us as well (it is not as cheap as some would believe). This also adds to our high, overall kill rate, which is currently 70+%--higher than the national average. Plus, there are serious issues about how our shelter system assesses, routes, and ultimately kills most cats that are brought in.

In a recent incident reported to me by reliable sources, one family's cat was trapped by a neighbor and picked up by the City Animal Control, only to be killed at our shelter within an hour of arriving. That is against our laws, which require ANY homeless, stray animal be held for 3 days if they lack identification or 5 days if they do have identification of any kind--so that owners can have an opportunity to reclaim their family pet and so that the system can charge and collect hefty impound fees that add to our shelter's yearly "revenue" and slap pet owners on the wrist as well.

Needless to say, this one family is devastated by this incident and the loss of their cat. That they broke cat leash laws is not being argued here, yet it does not mean this family did not love their cat and value his/her life. They went directly to the shelter to reclaim their cat, which is something most irresponsible cat owners don't even bother to do.

Even if this cat was acting wild in the cage in which it was trapped when it arrived at the shelter, it is Sheltering 101 to deal with this issue and correctly hold, assess/route each individual animal equitably. That's why shelters have special animal handling gloves and feral cat boxes for cages--the tools of the trade. Many a tame family cat can behave badly in stressed situations--you should see my usual Mellow Milo turn into Cujo the Cat at the vet's office--and that's why it is difficult to determine whether a cat is "wild" or not. Cat Behavior 101 also shows that most cats take days to weeks to get used to any new situations, and some adjust better and faster than others.

Cats are not simple creatures, which is what makes them interesting and also hurts them as well. They are a rare species that truly domesticated themselves and that can survive and thrive on their own, unlike dogs. Because of their unique nature, they deserve unique solutions and options at the hands of human beings.

Other communities and TNR caretakers and caregivers have faced TNR opposition at some time or another. And even the HSUS, which used to be strongly opposed to TNR, changed their official stance on feral cats in 2005 because of success after success in proven programs that ultimately help to curb the numbers of homeless/feral cats, which is a plus for all of us and for all wildlife, too. New studies emerge every year that show human beings taking over more natural habitats and filling them with windows and wires and pesticides injure and kill millions of all species of birds each year, yet we still point to feral cats as the biggest culprits.

I can assure everone that any and all work the Las Cruces No Kill Study Group engages in will seek to be fair and above-board and exemplary. I would not have it any other way. It's what our community deserves, and it is what our homeless animal population especially deserves.

That said, tomorrow (Oct. 16th) is National Feral Cat Day. Visit www.alleycat.org for the latest information about feral cats and ways you can help spread the word that the days of simply catching and killing these creatures are slowly but surely coming to an end.