Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Also in the near future, I will announce the time and place for my first No Kill Study Group meeting. I plan to hold these very soon, and anyone interested in helping to do research for some reports I plan to write are all welcome to attend and participate. These reports are going to be the basis for lobbying our leaders to implement the programs and services that are showing success right now in our own state and elsewhere in the U.S.
As one commenter asked, doesn't the fact that our shelter's annual budget was increased from about $500K to $1.1 million mean we are poised to do a better job? I think it does, and these are exciting/hopeful times for our shelter and the animals that end up there hoping for a second chance at life with a better-matched owner -- not the end of the road.
Another commenter said that my obvious criticism of our shelter at this time is not helping matters, and I imagine it does look that way--especially to anyone working hard on a daily basis at our shelter and feeling very burnt out because of this. I understand these staff people care about animals, but I also think that many are stuck in a negative mindset that hinders progress. And, in this way, our shelter is not unique; many have operated in this way for decades. I liken it to anyone who has repeated the same story in their head over and over again being so brainwashed by those ideas that they have never considered that maybe they are not true. This blog asks each and every one of us to question what we have always taken as fact and truth and think beyond that and the possibilities of improvement. If a shelter like ours concentrated on providing, say, great customer service to everyone walking through its doors, especially potential adopters, and if they approached each person from a place of mutual respect, imagine the possibilities that could open up from just that one shift in perspective?
I assure you that any criticism is meant to always be fair and constructive and offered up as more of a challenge to our community's leaders to see that things can be done differently and MUST be done differently if our shelter and our animal services are ever going to change. Which industry, I ask you, is static and does not seek ways to improve or progress? How do we move forward if we can't turn a critical eye on what we have been doing, how we have been doing it, and considering alternatives? Even if our shelter's leadership and our city/county leaders have their doubts, I hope they will consider each and every program and service for what it is -- tools for saving lives.
None are very controversial today; even TNR (trap-neuter-return/release of feral cats), which I will go into in greater detail in my next post, is more controversial here because people have not kept up with its successes and how mainstream it is becoming elsewhere because of some brave souls of the recent past who have stuck with it and shown over time that it works better at reducing population and issues with loose cats than anything else can (much better than catch and kill ever has). We have a program here that has done wonders at the NMSU campus, and my TNR discussion will cover the latest about that as well. I will also address the one comment I received about TNR in my next posting as well.
So, I do not write this blog out of some malicious place meant to harm others ... I write it because I wholeheartedly and passionately believe what I am saying and advocating for ... if I didn't, I would not bother. I understand walking in another person's shoes, and what I am asking our shelter's leadership to do is the same thing ... consider change ... consider alternatives ... consider that maybe approaching each day from a place of defeatism is a self-fulfilling prophesy we cannot break out of until we open ourselves up to other ideas. At the rate we are still killing homeless animals in our community, what do we have to lose in trying?
I received another comment from an anonymous person who was put off by the fact that the comments on this blog are moderated. I want to assure this person and all the readers of this blog that I will post each and every relevant comment--even if it is critical of myself or anything I say in the blog or any ideas. The only reason I moderate them is to avoid automatically posting anything with language that is too obscene (especially for the host of this blog, the Las Cruces Sun-News) or something that is unrelated or off-the-wall.
So far, I have gotten nothing but good, relevant comments and have posted every one of them as they were written. I thank every person who has posted a comment for your feedback, and I will try my best to provide an answer or my thoughts on each one.
Tonight, I am tired from my trip and the work that was piled up on my desk after taking a couple of days off from work, so I will not be up late this evening. However, I will leave you with some words from Mr. Nathan Winograd--author of "Redemption" and a lawyer-turned-shelter director and now director of the No Kill Advocacy Center--who was gracious enough to answer my e-mail inquiries about how he dealt with emergency situations in the past or how shelters operating under the No Kill Equation are able to save more lives when 100+ from a hoarding case hit at one time.
Here is what he replied:
"If the shelter has comprehensively implemented all the programs of the No Kill Equation, it will be better able to deal with extraordinary situations like those described. It would be able to call upon its network of foster homes, its volunteers, its rescue group relationships, its supporters, and its media contacts to rise to the occasion and help save the lives at risk. Last year, the animal control shelter in Charottesville, VA, fostered 1,700 dogs and cats with a population base very close to Las Cruces, NM ... that's a lot of foster potential to care for cats seized under a hoarding situation or to foster others while the shelter cares for those. In Tompkins County during my tenure, we took in about 70 dogs with major medical problems, including blindness, neurological problems, and more. We issued a volunteer alert to come and provide supportive care, we called upon our contacts in the veterinary community to provide immediate and emergency medical care, we contacted our rescue network and the media and even adopters and all of the animals were out of the shelter within 48 hours. There are always going to be times when out of the ordinary events strain a shelter's capacity. But, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure ..."
Next, we'll explore each and every program and service of the No Kill Equation. None of these ideas are radical or new ... most shelters are doing some or most to a certain extent. I will also report on what I learned others in our state are doing and how it is not an impossible dream to think that we can start moving to a progressive model ourselves in the near future.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
The most recent case in Mesilla is the most common example of animal hoarding and the detrimental conditions in which animals are sometimes found. It is obvious to us all that these animals must be impounded and rescued from these conditions -- where not even the basic minimal care for multiple (in this case hundreds) of animals are being met, and cruelty and neglect have been allowed to sadly flourish. These extreme cases point to persons with severe mental illness who are in denial about what they have been doing. It is a sad, horrible case where most of these animals will and have met their death already, but many more are attempting to be saved by our shelter putting out an emergency plea for foster home help. That is something ... it is refreshing to see our shelter do that. I urge anyone who can help to please do so!
That said, not all hoarding cases or groups of animals brought to the shelter are in these conditions. Case in point is another incident from about a month ago where the County AC department answered a "free kitten" classified ad in order to try to catch hoarders in the act. What they found in that case was 30+ cats in relatively good condition and care; however, that's not to say there was not a dire need for some kind of intervention, especially to stop the reproduction of these animals. In this case, the cats could have been saved a trip to the shelter--where some probably met sure death or caused the death of cats already housed at the shelter at that time--if other, creative options would have been exercised ... such as offering to spay and neuter all these cats and help the people find homes for their excess cats and dogs in exchange for pet number compliance from these people in the future.
In other words, a big part of working toward no kill is thinking and working outside of the normal box that animal sheltering and animal control departments have been operating under for decades. If animal control gave the shelter a heads-up about an incoming case, maybe the shelter could start working on creative problem solving before the animals even end up at their facility.
This excerpt is from an interview by Maddie's Fund with Bonney Brown in 2007; she's the director of the Nevada Humane Society, who talks about the benefits that can be reaped from both the animal control and the shelter adopting the philosophy and programs that lead to more lifesaving (see the list of programs and services at the left of this blog posting):
"Our relationship with the county is very good. The county program is very well run and they are in sync with our goal of achieving a no-kill community. Their field officers work hard to reunite animals in the field so they don't have to bring them into the shelter. For example, all officers are equipped with scanners to look for microchips and cell phones to make calls while they're out on patrol. If they pick up a dog, they post notices in the neighborhood. They work with the local TNR group, Community Cats, to return ear-tipped cats to their colonies and allow the group to do feral surgeries in their clinic two days a week.
Here's a great example of how we work as a team: officers gave us a heads up recently when they picked up over forty orange cats who had been abandoned in carriers in a field. They gave us time to plan for and tell the public about the "Great Orange Cat Rescue" and to line up potential adopters before the cats even came to our shelter."
When a shelter is led by people who embrace creative problem solving, you can see the possibilities, even with a hoarding case as horrendous as the new one out of Mesilla. I know I'd be on the phone all day looking for people who could help. You could call on all the horse owners and experts in the area as well as local farmers to see who would be willing to take and care for the livestock. You could be on the phone asking all area kennels and groomers and vets to provide services and support for the cats coming in. Ask them if they have space for one or two of these animals ... organize a clean-up the matted cats day ... etc. If you ask the community to come forward, especially with a personal call, you might be surprised by the response.
Since these animals came from Mesilla, call up the contacts you have there to see what land/space might be available for short-term housing as you assess all the animals coming in. You could also ask the county to provide their emergency housing space available on their Mark Van for a short period of time until you can find alternatives. If you look and work at it, you might be able to save all but those that are seriously too sick and suffering and who might be better off with euthanasia.
In other words, even the worst of hoarding cases should not put a stop to your lifesaving, no kill efforts, and those cases that can be resolved in the field should be handled just as creatively and supportively -- where animal control is still protecting people from animals but finds solutions besides impoundment/immediate death to make sure animals are protected and well-cared for as well.
I hope this has somewhat answered the comment from "cat hoarder".
Facing reality does not mean accepting defeat
A comment from "hardfacts" shows what operating from the standpoint of defeatism yields. This person says that even if you get to an 80-90% save rate, it means that we are still euthanizing 10-20%, and this person asks that I or we face the fact that euthanasia is reality and that it is time to deal with it.
I took great pains in a recent post to distinguish killing from true euthanasia, so I won't repeat all of it here. Suffice it to say that just because euthanasia and killing are still a fact we all have to face and live with, it does not mean that you give up and stop trying to reach the day where you make your community as safe as possible for all homeless animals abandoned or brought to the shelter. To do that (give up and shrug your shoulders) is to accept defeat, and I, for one, refuse to do that ... not without exhausting all alternatives first and never peacefully accepting death as the only option.
A shelter at the no kill status would not be killing any animal that can be saved. Yes, euthanasia would still be carried out and necessary for those roughly 10 percent of animals that come in either irremediably suffering from illness or injury and those few dogs that are dangerously vicious and pose a real threat to the community. In these cases, euthanasia is something I accept and support.
Nevertheless, "hardfacts", how could our shelter and community not be proud and happy on the day we actually see our save rate going from the 30-35% it has been in recent history to a rate of even 50%? That would be a milestone and something to celebrate. Now, we kill roughly 11,000-12,000 of the 16,000 to 17,000 animals that pass through our system each year. Imagine how good it would feel to drop that kill rate to 8,000 ... then 7,000 ... then 6,000, etc. To me, that is worth fighting for and working toward.
I'll let Bonney Brown, the 2007 Animal Shelter Director of the Year, end this thought for me with a passage from the same Maddie's Fund 2007 interview I quoted previously. Keep in mind that Reno and Washoe County, NV, are similar in population and growth to Las Cruces and Dona Ana County. When asked how the community was responding to their success in just one year, here's what Ms. Brown had to say:
"From January 2007 through August 2007, our community euthanasia is down 54% for dogs and 41% for cats. Adoptions are up over 70% for dogs and 100% for cats over the same period in 2006. Our live release rate for the first eight months of 2007 is 91.8% for dogs and 72.8% for cats. I think one thing helping to drive our numbers is that we now set monthly adoption goals. For August , the goal was 800, and we exceeded it by three. Goals excite the staff, public, and volunteers.
The response has been overwhelming. We've gone from 25 to 900 volunteers and from 12 foster families to 220 foster families -- without really trying! People are flocking to join our lifesaving mission. We have new volunteer dog walkers and cat socializers. There are teams who post animals on craiglist.org and volunteers who make posters of animals needing homes. Volunteer carpenters have made new cat trees for colony rooms. One couple knits and crochets dog and cat beds -- they made 100 last month."
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
The closet comparison between homeless animal intake numbers in a very high growth area such as Las Cruces is Reno. I have picked up the phone and talked to Bonney Brown myself, the director of the Nevada Humane Society, and she is very responsive and willing to share ideas and information. She came to Nevada via Best Friends Animal Society, so of course she has that positive drive. She just sent me a copy of their Animal Help Desk manual, and I plan to use it as a basis for a pet help line program being developed here by the Humane Society of Southern New Mexico. Pet retention efforts are also part of the entire no kill solution base.
Oftentimes, shelter leaders will hear of another area experiencing success, and they will automatically look for the holes in what is being done or reported or for excuses of why it isn't possible in their areas and completely dismiss/distrust the success. Instead, you'd hope they'd do something uncharacteristic--like perhaps pick up the phone and talk to another shelter leader in another area experiencing success to see what they have been doing and how they are reaching that success. After all, if euthanasia is just a reality and given, why not take some chances and try things differently? What's the worst that can happen?
The comment received from "dog lover" is much appreciated, and I agree that spay/neuter is one of the most important elements in the No Kill Equation. Education for adults and children alike; research and programs to reach high volumes of surgeries; and providing many services and opportunities for people to do this very right thing is something we need to strive toward and start working on today. I have already written about this subject more than once in this blog, and it will be a main theme throughout. We'll explore all ideas regarding spay and neuter.
However, the reason shelters need an entire equation and many kinds of efforts and programs to help solve the issue is that the problem is not simple. If it were a simple 1 minus 1 equals 0 kind of equation, then simply raising awareness and volumes of spay/neuter surgeries would be the only answer. However, any shelter professional can tell you it isn't that simple. There are issues with animal behavior that people have no idea how to deal with (hence,the need for pet help lines and Dog Whisperer episodes!); there are issues with people's expectations of animals despite more and more animals being openly welcomed into homes as family members; there are issues of people being unable to care for their pets after loss of life or health; and there are issues of finding better ways to work with animal control departments and educate them as the first responders in the field that can work with and not against people at every turn. If the issue were that simple, a 10 or more step solution would not be necessary.
I am also sure that for shelter staff, euthanasia is never an easy decision nor an enjoyable/rewarding experience. You'd have to be sadistic for that! There is nothing more tragic than the fact that humane organizations are in the business of killing the very beings they are sworn to protect. My heart goes out to people who carry out this awful work. I suspect that is what causes so much conflict--it starts internally. Most shelter workers also do not receive the kind of emotional support and counseling they need.
This struggle dates back to the founder of the first ASPCA in America in 1866, Henry Bergh. He was a powerhouse animal savior and advocate of one. Although he tried to change and modify pound practices from the outside, he refused to accept the City of New York's offers to run the pound under contract because he deeply understood the great divide between protecting animals and the business carried out at the city pound. Though things have progressed since the days pound animals were drowned or clubbed to death in mass killings and the public spectacles of these killings, things have also stagnated in this country in the area of animal sheltering since humane societies took the reigns of pounds--which happened shortly after Bergh's death.
For a stark example of the stagnation, it is only now that shelter medicine has come out as a "new, emerging" field in the world of veterinary medicine. It has taken that long for shelter animals to merit that kind of attention, which is odd. After all, it is understandable that humane organizations took the reigns of shelters to provide better care and opportunities to homeless animals and more humane deaths, but what took so long to merit good vet care? Shouldn't the main priority be care of and lifesaving for these animals? Well, that is what no kill is all about. It even adds opportunities for behavior modification to help an animal become more "adoptable".
So, back to that hero of long ago ... Henry Bergh fought until the very end to not take over pound operations. This is from a passage of "Redemption", which offers a rich and detailed history of sheltering in our country: "He [Bergh] believed the ASPCA was a tool to champion and protect life, not to end it. He believed that its role to protect animals from people was fundamentally at odds with that of a pound. Bergh understood implicitly that animal welfare and animal control were two separate and distinct movements, each opposing the other on fundamental issues of life and death. To this day, that tension can be bridged somewhat, but never eliminated."
It is because this work is hard on the minds, hearts, and souls of shelter staff that you'd think they'd be on the path to exploring other alternatives. It is hard to explore or try other avenues, however, when leaders have accepted and completely internalized the myths of there being more homeless animals than available homes and that the best we can hope to do is save a few lucky dogs and cats and kill the rest. This is a vicious cycle for our shelters and their staff, which is why a complete change of heart and mind is required from the top down. Imagine the power of success, even in bits at a time? Imagine the power of negativity and defeatism being replaced by a resolve to accept and fight the challenges with a positive, can-do attitude?
That said, I end this post with an assurance to "dog lover" that this blog will definitely talk about the importance of spay and neuter and the various ways to raise awareness and volume of this important part of no kill. But, I also will pose challenges to our leadership to raise the bar for our shelter as I believe that despite the fact that killing may be reality for shelters, this should not stop us from trying to reach higher goals.
This reminds me of one of the monthly meetings our City and County managers were having with area animal advocates during the shelter's transition time and when they were first forming the newly-coined Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley (ASCMV). They kept assuring us that we'd be soon moving past the pound mentality our shelter had been operating under. At one point, they presented their mission and vision statements for the ASCMV. They said they had sat and discussed these with each other at length, and we anxiously waited to hear what they came up with, hoping for something progressive and visionary.
Instead, they repeated the same mantra ... that no kill was a noble idea of a very far, far future, but the ASCMV's mission was to adhere to state statues and laws regarding the running of an animal shelter. That was a real letdown ... at least for myself. I wanted to stand up and say, "With all due respect, Mr. Moore and Mr. Haines, but that is not either a vision nor mission statement ... that's a given."
Of course our shelter has to adhere to state and local laws. When and if no kill does oppose laws or the way they are enforced, it does so from a legal point-of-view. If your current laws, such as ours, are in opposition to implementation of good programs for feral cats--for example--you lobby and fight for the laws and ordinances to be changed in such a way to allow for these programs. If, for another example, your current laws don't allow the shelter to fix dogs and cats found roaming at large until they are in the system the third time and the owner comes to claim them and pay their dues, you work to change that law, too, so that you can automatically spay and neuter any dog/cat coming into the facility.
One by one ... one law at a time ... one attitude at a time ... one animal at a time ... you work toward saving more lives until you start to turn the tide. You don't just shrug your shoulders and say it cannot be done.
Monday, August 18, 2008
... about getting turned off at our shelter's door just by a sign that started exhibiting a negative, distrusting atmosphere before this person entered to look for a dog to adopt. And, I hope more people in the public will start to speak up about their experiences. I say this not because I encourage mean-spiritedness with no purpose, but because I honestly believe that in order to improve and get to no kill, the first step is for our shelter to take a self-critical, sobering look at itself through the eyes of the many good people they turn off and away, which does directly tie into the numbers of animals that get killed.
Let's not let the no kill phrase get in the way of working toward lifesaving
No kill as a term seems to send everyone on different loops—from a person off the streets who is not familiar with shelter lingo to animal-welfare advocates and shelter professionals who work regularly in this world and especially for leaders in our communities who don’t think animal welfare warrants the time, money, and staff necessary to do the kind of heavy research it takes to muddle through the world of no kill much less lead the efforts toward a change in philosophy and the way shelters do business.
Some people I know prefer to use the term low kill, and Maddie’s Fund started shying away from the term no kill—probably because success has been slow for this program despite the hundreds of millions dedicated to it—and started calling shelters “adoption guarantee” when they reach their goals of adopting out all “healthy” animals. To me, we spend too much time worrying about and arguing about terminology. Even terms like healthy, adoptable, treatable (medically/behaviorally), and all the other terms that are used in shelters are relative to the way they are either equitably and thoroughly applied--or, as is the case in most shelters, not applied fairly. Furthermore, statistics from one shelter to another are not easily comparable because these numbers are not collected and reported on in the same ways at all shelters. Only programs like Maddie’s Fund and the matrix suggested by the No Kill Advocacy Center are starting to standardize statistics across the board, but anyone can skew their own statistics with the way they categorize the incoming animals. Confusing is just the tip of the iceberg.
No kill from the No Kill Advocacy Center’s point of view is simple. It means not killing any healthy and treatable animals that can and should be saved and reserving euthanasia only for the dictionary definition of the word—giving a humane death to those who are irremediably suffering because of illness or injury, to those with a poor prognosis for recovery from an illness, and to those seriously vicious dogs that pose a threat to our community. In this sense of no kill, one can see what they mean ... if you reach the goal of only performing euthanasia in the true sense of the word, then you are no longer killing ... hence, you have reached no kill.
Determining which animals fall in which categories takes trained medical and behavioral professionals and a commitment to assess and route animals on an individual basis. Otherwise, animals are assessed less fairly and thoroughly, such as deciding to kill one dog over another for simply being of a certain breed or color or age or just not as “cute” as some others (the fate of most pit bulls, for example) or because the dog is behaving in a shy, fearful manner (understandable behavior in a shelter setting).
People in the general public are understandably confused. Recently, our shelter’s new leadership announced a no kill goal and said it would take five to seven years to get there. All people saw and registered in the headlines and news bites were the words no kill. To regular people, this means we are there NOW. All those animals they are having issues with—the ones that escape and jump out, the ones that dig too many holes in the yard, the ones that bark all night out of sheer boredom, the cats that spray the house, the ones who were toylike and cute as puppies and kittens but grew up to be annoying without leadership and attention to the animals’ needs—well, all those animals are ending up at our shelter even more so than in the past.
This is where the community needs to understand that things aren’t that simple that someone snaps their fingers and the shelter suddenly grows in its capacity and the services and programs it offers. That does take time. Whether it takes a year to make strides or a few years to completely reach the goal are also arguments that take our focus away from what matters most—which is action and taking it now. Even discussions that say increased funding is needed first can make it so no one acts until that happens, and all we are doing is wasting more time and more lives.
This is where Richard Avanzino and Maddie’s Fund are teaching us some lessons. When Avanzino took over the San Francisco ASPCA in the early 1990s, he had zero experience running shelters and the non-profit was three months away from bankruptcy. He didn’t wait for funding; he started acting. He is the grandfather of comprehensive adoption programs, one of the necessary elements leading to no kill. That’s why Maddie’s Fund focuses so much on this aspect, but what this is showing is that if you throw millions toward that aspect alone, your success will be marginal. All of the comprehensive no kill programs and services need to be happening at the same time. When that started working in
So, let it take as long as it takes, and don’t worry about that in the beginning, but start working toward implementing all the programs and services that help bring it about TODAY, especially beginning with the sheer willpower to stop the needless killing—whatever it takes. This set of To Dos for shelters is simple (see my last blog for the high-level list), and though each can be tailored for each community and tweaked or added to, that should not stop us from moving forward now. For too long, our leaders here have been talking about our shelter being in transition since the city and county took over operations of it in January. That has gone on for about eight months now.
It’s time for all of us—advocates like myself and those in the general public that are responsible pet owners and anyone who cares at all about animal welfare—whether we all can agree on the terminology or not, to ask that this time of transition come to an end and some real talk and action begin toward the various programs and services that are going to get us there.
Start asking the tough questions and demand answers. Our animal services are made possible by either our tax dollars or charitable contributions, so we are all stakeholders in reaching the no kill goal and for the welfare of the animals in our system. For example,
Lastly, the entire community needs to be allowed and welcomed to support the shelter in tackling and implementing each and every service and program that needs to be in place. Starting work on these programs does not take years' worth of time. Maybe the full benefits may take years to materialize, but there should be measurable progress made year-by-year to show you are headed in the right direction. Then, maybe the funding and other opportunities will present themselves when we prove that we deserve them.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
When necessary to end an animal's suffering or protect people from dangerous dogs, and these decisions need to be made with the utmost of care and assessment, euthanasias that are performed should be carried out in the most humane and respectful way possible. Otherwise, shelters are treating animals in the way they criticize the public of doing -- as throwaway, disposable.
In some twisted sense of logic, or maybe to be able to sleep better at night, it could be that shelters have to tell themselves that in the end, they are "rescuing" animals from a sure life at the end of chain (or being relinquished to a shelter again in the distant future) because all shelters see and concentrate on is the worse of the worst. That's part of that endless loop of killing that shelters are stuck in at this moment, except for some examples throughout the U.S. that show no kill is within our reach, and not in some distant, miraculous future.
The Role of Spay/Neuter in No Kill Programs
Without a doubt, spay and neuter is one of the programs of the No Kill Equation, and not just access to low-cost options but efforts made to get out in the public (especially areas that do not spay/neuter as much) and perform high volumes of surgeries. In my last post, I provided a link to the Best Friends site and some articles that talk about these efforts. I also provided a recent example of success in running a spay/neuter van in Chaparral for one weekend and how great the need is to get back there and to other areas like it to provide these and other services (vaccinations, microchipping, etc.).
It is widely known that finance is the biggest barrier to most people not fixing their pets and that people with high incomes are four times as likely to spay and neuter. With surgeries running over $100 these days (and that's without the pre-surgery blood test costs that vets recommend), that is not surprising, especially now with average income families struggling more than usual. And, even in this community, when I am out talking to the general public, most of them are not aware of the two low-cost/no-cost options in our community now -- SNAP and FSNP. Why is that, and how do we get the word out and encourage people to use these options more, and what other services can we provide to increase the volume?
I agree wholeheartedly with the anonymous comment I got from the person who said spay/neuter is key. This person also made reference to issues of overcrowding in shelters trying to "get to" no kill. That is a mistake shelters make -- announcing this as a goal for years and years out. The general public is not well-informed, so I can see where more animals are turned in by people washing their hands of the animal and assuming it will not die. That is what was happening here of late.
However, the other important point is that no kill IS an act of will for a shelter -- starting from the day you make the proclamation to stop the killing. If you are in that mindset, you exhaust every option before death and look for alternatives and become self-critical to improve. And, though no one would say success comes overnight, it has been shown that major strides can be made in a year's time. Engaging the support of everyone in the public is key and educating them of the programs needed and how to support them will help move away from simple overcrowding to options for moving animals out on a timely basis.
What is the No Kill Equation?
This equation is a set of comprehensive programs that shelters have to rigorously put into place from Day 1 to make real strides toward the reduction in the percentage of animals being killed. I'll explain each in more detail as this blog progresses and how our community could accomplish these programs, but here's the simple, high-level list out of the No Kill Advocacy Center's documentation (http://www.nokilladvocacycenter.org/nokillequation.html):
I. Implementation of a feral cat TNR program
II. High-volume, low-cost spay/neuter services and support
III. Partnering with rescue groups
IV. Building a foster care network
V. Comprehensive adoption programs
VI. Pet retention efforts and services
VII. Medical and behavioral rehabilitation
VIII. Public relations/community involvement
IX. Establishing a big volunteer base of support
X. Hiring a compassionate director
What did I mean by adopting animals to less-than-perfect homes, and how does that impact killing rates?
I got a great comment from "bowser" out of the South Valley who--along with others--probably misunderstood a previous comment I made that shelters are overly picky about who they adopt to and that they often turn away good, acceptable homes based on some ideal of perfection for their shelter animals or based on the "bad" owners they deal with daily, yet the irony is that many that are rejected would probably love and care for their pets very adequately, while the alternative is probably death in shelters with kill rates of 70+ percent.
To be honest, the rate of killing is not solely tied to the "bad" people out there, and based on the 165 million animals in households throughout the U.S. today, that 5 million of those end up dying in shelters is tragic, but that means 160 million are cared for and in their homes, and of these, it would be interesting to learn how many are neglected/abused. I'd have to guess that that percentage is also a lesser number than those well cared for. It is these other types of people -- the decent people -- that shelters need to try to find to adopt their animals.
As someone who volunteers and runs off-site adoptions for organizations in our area, I want to assure you that I would never make the decision to adopt to a person who had plans to tie up a dog 24/7 or who was getting a dog for solely utilitarian purposes -- that's not the way to reach no kill. In talking to a person, these motives are usually revealed. I have had to reject a few adopters for several reasons. However, this is done carefully ... weighing the quality of life the animal will have with this person (as far as you can tell) vs. dying at the shelter now, and this subjective decision should be made by well-trained adoption counselors based on a series of open-ended questions instead of check boxes on a form. There is the element of the unknown, and shelters do have animals returned regularly post-adoption. However, to not adopt out to avoid a return is not giving an animal a new chance at life, is it?
Everything is connected in the no kill programs ... pet relinquishment in an "open-admission" shelter such as ours means our shelter has to accept any animal dumped on them; however, the staff could make efforts to counsel and talk to the people and try to determine the reason for the relinquishment. If it is a behavioral or environmental issue that could be resolved, perhaps just giving the people the advice and tools they need would help mitigate some relinquishments. Giving them the sobering truth in a non-judgmental way, and requiring a tour of the shelter, might also help turn that tide. Pet retention services and education are needed because though shelters have always concentrated on humane education for youth, what about advice and education for adults that sometimes don't know any better but might do better if given the choice and other options to try?
There is no benefit of the doubt at shelters ... it seems to me like someone walking into a shelter to adopt is already trying to do the right thing, or -- like 80+ percent of the people in our nation -- they would be getting a pet from a breeder or unknowingly from a puppy mill via a pet store or the Internet. So, to automatically assume that each of these interested adopters will be like the bad people shelters deal with daily is very skewed in one direction.
I wonder what would happen if bowser did a check of his/her entire neighborhood and how most of the pets in the area are cared for? Are most tied up, or do some have a decent life? Is a decent life only one that is "perfect", and what does that mean?
I'll give you an example I heard about from our shelter recently. A woman was interested in adopting a golden retriever or mix and was told by a friend of hers, a volunteer, that one was available at the shelter. She stopped by and was asked to fill out a full application before she could see the dogs available for adoption. One of the policies at our shelter is to not adopt out to "outdoor-only" homes for dogs. However, they go one step further and ask the person where the animal will be kept "during the day". This woman said the dog would be "outside" in the daytime, and she was told that her application was rejected, and she was not allowed to see the dogs.
She turned around and adopted a dog a few days later at a sanctuary instead, where she was asked a series of questions that led to more information. The woman lived on two secure acres; the dog would be inside with the family in the evenings (after work) and given proper care; and there was plenty of shade and protection from the elements for the dog outside. So, ironically, a sanctuary that does not engage in any killing and can be very particular about who it adopts to approved this woman's adoption vs. a shelter that is still killing many, many animals.
I ask, does this make sense? What has happened to our animal-protection systems that they routinely make decisions toward death in the name of doing what is "best" and from some twisted sense of love for "their" animals that anything short of perfection is not enough?
That's why these decisions need to be made on a case-by-case basis, and not by a standardized form. Decisions need to be made fairly and from an objective perspective despite the only picture most shelter staff have in their minds of the public pet owner is a dog at the end of a chain. This is a great challenge to most shelter staff, who understandably think the worst of everyone but in doing so often set animals up to die and punish the good people out there, which -- again -- far outnumber the bad. This then leads to more animals being disposed of in our landfill.
In the adoption counseling curriculum I developed for a local humane society that conducts offsite adoptions, there are clear guidelines for what makes a good, acceptable home, and they are as follows:
- It seems like a good match between the chosen pet and adopter/family
- The pet’s social, behavioral, and companionship needs will be met
- The pet will have a livable, comfortable environment
- The pet will receive the needed veterinary care
- The pet will be respected, valued, and not abused/neglected
There might be an outside-only dog that gets daily play sessions and walks vs. one that is completely abandoned and ignored. It is these kinds of shades of gray from which adoption counselors must work and make the determination that a life with this family is better or worse than death. The less a shelter has to put animals to death, the more and more restrictive they can become, if they so choose.
Nevertheless, I agree that a lifetime at the end of a chain is a slow, sad, unfortunate death for many dogs, who are social, pack animals that have to be a part of their families in one way or another. In that extreme case, death today is better than death at the end of a chain.
I was very humbled to find a comment from a group that I want to model my no kill study group after: FixAustin.org. Thank you for reading this blog, and I hope to join you in your efforts and other groups like yours in the near future. I know we all believe in our hearts that a "no kill nation is within our reach"--the mantra of the No Kill Advocacy Center.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Just a few years ago, I didn't know there was an old guard vs. a new guard in the world of animal sheltering--I learned that as I read various materials written on the subject, from archive articles of Animal Sheltering out of the Humane Society of the United States to the documentation of my favorite animal-welfare group, Best Friends Animal Society. Then, I began to see examples for myself first-hand in my volunteer work, and I started picking up the phone to talk to people, too. It's surprising how forthcoming some shelter directors are.
Some people and groups are at the forefront of this revolution -- such as the progressive, in-your-face views offered by Nathan Winograd--who challenges much in the status quo system. He's the revolutionary thinker and rebel that is never afraid to tell it like it is, and I'm sure some of the things he says do not win him fans from the status-quo community. However, even if you don't agree with every word he says or writes, his book, "Redemption", is an eye-opener and great history lesson on sheltering from the beginning (back to the late 1800s). It got me to thinking that I, too, have spent most of my life regurgitating the same views as most people ... he's the first one that made me stop and think ... is that the "truth"? Or, is that something we've all brainwashed ourselves to believe?
Here's the basic way this war is waging, as far as I can tell, and more details will be forthcoming that show more comparisons and contrasts in greater detail. I see that most of the old, rich, powerful animal groups and humane societies--such as the HSUS, ASPCA, PETA, etc.--are at odds with the new ideas being brought forth because it challenges the way they have been doing business and their platforms. Their attack of the Winograd no kill philosophy and his No Kill Advocacy Center are fighting for is veiled in their writings and not in-your-face. Yet, if you can read between the lines, you can see they are accusing many Winograd no kill facilities as being hoarders and not offering adequate care, but that's about the only argument--that and their view that one set of programs can't possibly work in every community. On the other hand, Winograd will openly talk about HSUS/PETA and their leadership, and he will be openly critical of popular personalities, such as Wayne Parcelle, HSUS's CEO.
Still, there are others working toward no kill in other ways, and even the HSUS and the ASPCA have adopted their own views and programs toward no kill (none showing much success so far, such as the ASPCA's Mission Orange). Maddie's Fund is a $250 million foundation that is trying to help communities reach no kill, but their moderate success so far points to another myth we all believe--that money and funding are the key to lifesaving. After millions given to some areas that have shown little or no increase in their "save rates" for all impounded animals, it makes one wonder.
Maddie's President, Richard Avanzino, was the first pioneer of progressive ideas and brought us such innovations as daily off-site adoptions and other pioneering strides that make up the backbone of the No Kill Equation's set of simultaneous programs that Winograd pushes for. Avanzino was also the first in the country to get a community to 90+ percent save rates (with the San Francisco SPCA), and he was Winograd's mentor at that time (early to late 1990s), and Winograd was his successor in San Francisco and went on to try the model in a rural area after it was said only an urban, rich area could reach no kill.
Since that time, Winograd and Avanzino are working on this goal in much different ways, with Avanzino advancing the ideas of everyone in animal welfare coming together to cooperate and coordinate efforts, which led to the Asilomar Accords, a document that supports the ending of killing of healthy animals in shelters and which was signed by most of the leaders of these powerful animal groups. Except Winograd ... his view is that waiting until all animal people agree on matters is a waste of time and life because you are waiting to act. The way he sees it, there is a successful model available to all shelters to try, so why aren't they doing that? It would not hurt shelters to try to implement the programs, and none of them are radical. He says cooperation between all is not key ... what is key is strong leadership and reaching goals through rigorous implementation of programs and a commitment to stop the killing.
In other words, this war is complicated and has many winding roads and charismatic characters, as all revolutions do. And at yet another forefront is Best Friends and their No More Homeless Pets campaign. Best Friends is the positive, friendly group that anyone who cares about animals knows and loves, yet their philosophies about saving animals' lives are more in line with the Winograd way of thinking and especially with the programs and policies that must be in place to start changing the tide away from the killing. They are too nice to attack anyone openly or otherwise, and they do run the biggest sanctuary in the U.S. and are probably too busy saving lives to get too deep into the trenches.
Now for a comparison
One specific comparison and contrast I can make is in the area of customer service and adoptions at shelters. No kill says that much success can be had by running a shelter more like a business than from the pound-mentality shown in most facilities. At the heart of this issue is the love/hate (mostly hate) that is felt by the public for their shelters ("they kill animals there, don't they?") and also by shelters for the general public ("all those people out there are no good and MAKE us kill animals every day, and it's hard on us doing that ugly work and we really , really hate all these people").
Both views are understandable, but getting past these views is the key to success. For, getting stuck in this endless loop is the Catch-22 situation we have been in for decades, and it is not working.
How does no kill suggest we break free of this defeatist pattern? It starts with questioning our core beliefs ... are there too many homeless animals and not enough homes, or are shelters too critical and closed-minded, and do they end up turning people away or off with the way they have come to make adopting a pet more like trying to overcome extreme obstacles, and they automatically assume that the person there to adopt a pet is just like the guy that showed up two hours ago to relinquish his cat or dog because he was moving and couldn't take the pet with him?
Looking at numbers on the national level, which are well-reported by sources such as Winograd, Maddie's Fund annual reports, etc., the truth is that there are 165 million pets in American homes today, yet people got those pets from shelters less than 20 percent of the time. That's a huge market waiting to be tapped into. If we are killing 5 million at this time, could we not save that 5 million if we worked hard to capture just 5 percent of this market in the next year nationwide? I know that's a numbers game and that it is not that simple, but it is worth exploring how we can save at least the majority of that 5 million.
Some successful shelters make the adoption process much more friendly by simply making the shelter an opening, welcoming place for all. They encourage people from the public to visit a facility that they--in all fairness--contribute to either through their tax dollars and/or charitable contributions. Instead of getting a wall of suspicion at the entrance, people get excellent customer service and thoughtful adoption counselors ready to help them make the best choice in a pet based on their lifestyle and desires--instead of filling out an outdated form on which they may circle the "wrong" answer to a question and be rudely told they are not a good enough adopter for an animal that may be put to death a few days later. Some programs try to force good matchmaking with forms, too, and they assign a "color" to animals and people. Then, people are ONLY allowed to see animals that match their color ... talk about starting to complicate matters more and limit the options for both animals and humans.
Don't get me wrong ... I am not proposing that shelters do not need to screen adopters and should do anything to get a "sale" and be careless in their business. However, being far too picky can also be the leading cause of a shelter's high kill rate. Instead of making it like taking a test an adopter has to "ace", make it so that you have a normal, open conversation with a person to get a feel for whether they would provide an acceptable (maybe not ideal) home -- one that would be much better than sure death. Maybe a shelter not killing 12,000 animals a year can be that choosy, but I don't think we have that luxury at our shelter at this time.
At the Nevada Humane Society, for example, there is a literal celebration each time an adoption is made ... a bell is rung and everyone on the staff shows gratitude and genuine well-wishes and congratulates the new "parent". Dogs are walked through the shelter wearing "adopt me" vests and allowed to meet and greet people. Cats are lounging around in designated areas and on counters instead of caged up all the time, and people can sit and interact with them in this more natural setting. And, there are ad campaigns to push adoptions for the harder-to-place, such as big black dogs and pit bulls. A "reward" is offered for anyone who brings in their pit bull to be fixed, and there's an Animal Help Desk that gets 400 hits a month via phone and e-mail.
These are all part of the philosophy, programs, and new ideas driving progressive sheltering today.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Thanks for the comments from everyone so far; for tonight, here's my responses to some of the subjects that came up.
Response to comment about full utilization of space in shelters:
Full utilization of kennel and cage space should be a given at any shelter that kills unwanted animals, and I hope I live to see the day this becomes the standard across the country. Unfortunately, it does not seem to be this way now. Shelters are notoriously known to have many empty slots available while their kill rates remain high, and the simple reason seems to be that taking care of more animals is harder work (more cages to clean, animals to feed, etc.) But, we tend to forget that killing is much harder on the minds and souls of the staff and is more detrimental to the entire system in the long run and especially detrimental to the many animals whose lives are lost before every effort was made to save them.
Our shelter resembled the status quo not too long ago (lots of empty cages/kennels, especially in the adoption sections) with high kill rates. At our shelter currently, there was a shift when the new director took over a few months ago. Space is being utilized more, and many more animals are cared for under that roof and offered up for adoption than in the past, and that’s a definite improvement.
That said, nothing is that simple in this industry. Utilizing space more efficiently will not—in and of itself—lead to less numbers going down in the long run. And, along with utilization of space comes the responsibility of humane care for all the animals in cages/kennels as well as areas for isolation/quarantine for the sick and contagious; also with this comes the need for equitable evaluation of individual animals and fair, systematic, efficient routing through the system. As you can see, this points to more staff needed for animal care, vet care, behavior assessments, and implementation of lifesaving efforts.
Using space more wisely is not the most important effort for an animal shelter moving toward no kill, although it is a component of it. The most important decisions and actions are the vigorous implementation of many programs that will provide options for the animals to move through the system and out the front door as safely, sanely, and quickly as possible--to either a rescue, another shelter here or other area of the country, a foster home, a new forever home, etc. The other side to the no kill coin is to simultaneously and just as vigorously work on programs and systems that start reducing the number of animals coming to the shelter in the first place, such as low-cost/high-volume spay and neuter, pet retention help, support for the elderly/those living below the poverty level, feral cat programs, and working with animal control departments to see if some issues could be handled in the field more often (such as return to owner or other options instead of simply impounding all the animals you can just because you can by law ... in other words, working to reform animal control to a more CARE and control model).
As this blog progresses, we will discuss all of these programs and ideas of how to implement them in greater detail. We can explore ideas of what may or may not work here, or we can form groups to hit the street and start talking to people to find out the exact reasons they don’t spay/neuter their animals, etc., and work on campaigns and programs that target these reasons or give people more incentives to act differently.
Response to comment about cultural changes needed in our area:
Is culture in this area fully responsible for the lack of respect for animal life? Are Can't we both address the attitudes that lead to cruelty while we also do the important work of implementing no kill programs and services?
Can't we both address the attitudes that lead to cruelty while we also do the important work of implementing no kill programs and services?
Cases of neglect and cruelty happen everywhere in this nation, and all you have to do is watch Animal Cops on Animal Planet to see that. As we all know, media focus does not tell the full truth either. These stories on this one TV show illustrate one slice of a very large pie made with hundreds of ingredients.
People from different cultures and backgrounds may show apathy and cruelty in unique ways particular to that group of people—but, the bottom line is the same: There will always be neglectful, cruel people in this world of every race, color, sex, age, social status, etc. Because they exist or cannot be influenced or changed does not mean we can’t reach no kill for many years to come. If we waited to try to change every “bad” person out there, we’d never get to no kill because some miracles will never happen. No kill does not worry about these people except to support the punishment of cruelty and to encourage these people to not own pets and to stop adding to the problem.
In other words, it isn’t just the lower classes in this county who are capable or guilty of cruelty. For example, I live across the street from a typical, middle-class American family with a nice home and huge yard that have a dog living outdoors and fenced into one corner of that yard. He never gets any attention from the multiple members of that family, and he barks and barks and barks out of boredom. But, because he has shade, a dog house and adequate food and water, the owners are not breaking any laws. Alternately, the lady at my office that works for our janitorial service lives in Chaparral, is from
I believe reaching no kill means you have to start by showing compassion for people, too, which means to try to think about these issues in the larger scheme of things and from differing perspectives. We must also remember that people do awful things to each other on a regular basis. Furthermore, in the U.S., what we do to animals in various industries in the name of science, the food we eat, etc., is very cruel, and many of those animals are not covered under state or federal anti-cruelty laws. You could say that our entire HUMAN culture considers many animals “throwaways”, so it is no wonder some people extend this system of beliefs to cats and dogs as well. It's truly a global problem that manifests itself differently in different regions based on belief systems.
This reminds me of something I read in the true story of Best Friends and how this organization made it their mission to NOT concentrate on the bad they see on a daily basis, and this has been the cornerstone of their success. After a call to go rescue some dogs from a puppy mill, one of the Best Friends founders, Faith Maloney, was furious and cursing people and the world on her drive back to the sanctuary. When she got back to the office, she noticed someone had erected a huge Wall of Triumph, a collage of pictures and stories from around the world of all the good things people were doing with and for animals.
Personally, I approach any animal legislation with caution when it s trying to force responsible pet ownership. Just like you can’t change some people’s spots with humane education or awareness campaigns or an hour-long conversation where you both want to pull each other’s hair out, there is no way to easily force people to do the right thing through laws alone. If that were the case, all our current animal laws would have us closer to no kill than we are, and we'd hear very few and rare stories about animal neglect/cruelty.
The only way I’d personally support mandatory spay/neuter would be if many support programs and services were in place to provide low-cost, high-volume surgeries so that these laws don’t have the backlash effect they can lead to, which is more impounds of animals and more killing at the shelter. Sometimes, it does behoove us to contemplate how these laws will be enforced, in other words. In fact, you can get out in the community with progressive spay/neuter programs and ideas and work toward more surgeries without the need for mandatory laws.
I wonder if laws for spay/neuter are necessary when I think back to the positive experience I had when I volunteered the weekend the Santa Fe Spay and Neuter Van made its way to Chaparral a few months back; the response there was immense! People were asking when we’d be back and talking about the need for more visits, and in the end, Chaparral's people donated more than $400 to the Free Spay Neuter Program jar over that weekend because they were so grateful to get the services for free.
While we were there, we convinced a lady to keep her spraying male cat and gave her ideas of how to deal with the issue because many of us have one of “those” cats at home, too, and another lady whom we took a litter of puppies from agreed to have the mama dog fixed in return, who was a stray, and agreed to keep the mama. We ended up saving all the puppies, and they were all adopted to good, responsible homes some weeks later after living with and driving their foster family a little nuts! One shares a home with the new volunteer coordinator at our shelter!!
These are those small victories and the building blocks that help get us to no kill. Let's all try to remember our own Wall of Triumph stories to keep us from falling into the Black Hole of Helplessness. None of us can act positively from that point-of-view.
For more creative solutions for spay/neuter, and great articles, see this Best Friends link on this topic: http://www.bestfriends.org/nomorehomelesspets/resourcelibrary/snindex.cfm.
Friday, August 8, 2008
I encourage comments and will respond to them as well. I encourage you to speak up about your experiences at our shelter so that we can use those examples to show how things could be different or to give kudos where they are due.
This is about a peaceful revolution that will lead us away from bloodshed and the roughly 12,000 cat and dog bodies Dona Ana County has historically dumped in our landfill each year. It seeks to let go of the past and not dwell on it. However, this revolution is not without its detractors, and a national battle is raging now between animal welfare camps -- an old guard that is holding on to outdated notions and a new, progressive movement that is showing if we all start to think and act outside of our usual boxes, we can do wonders.
Progressive sheltering is based on a philosophy that says there are more good pet owners than bad and it is a longstanding myth that, as a nation, there "too many animals and not enough homes" ... I used to take that as fact myself, without considering it might not be such a simple truth. There is a collective group of people that spends billions of dollars a year on their animals' care and welfare; I am part of this group of people, and I know many others who are as well. We all have pictures on our cell phones of our cats and dogs and regularly show them off; we celebrate our animals' birthdays and buy them toys and treats; we dread the day they die and mourn them deeply; and some of the richest in our country even leave millions of dollars for their pet's future care and are building multi-million foundations for pet rescue efforts.
Surely, a nation made up of people like this can do better than continue to kill about 5 million homeless animals each year. It wasn't too long ago that national number was more like 15 to 20 million, and I bet at that time, no one believed it could drop to 5 million. Let's keep working to drop it lower and lower each year!
For every "deadbeat" pet owner that is abusive, neglectful, or gives their animals up to the shelter for petty problems or sometimes for legitimate reasons, such as financial hardship in this day of outrageous costs of living--there are many more like us that care about animal welfare and can join together to save more of these abandoned animals' lives. I say we not dwell on nor let those "bad" people poison us against everyone else. We can join together and do so much ... to help people resolve their issues with their animals to enrich those lives and mitigate relinquishments to the shelter ... to help others understand that they need to stop contributing to these homeless animal numbers by spaying and neutering all their pets ... and, most importantly, we can move past this decades-old blame game and start to envision new ways to approach the issue.
If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again in the same way yet expecting different results ... well, I hate to say it, but our nation's shelters resemble this description, and ours has been no exception. Let's explore how we can move past this insanity.