Sunday, August 24, 2008

How No Kill Handles Hoarding Cases

Not all "hoarding" cases are alike

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 [2007], 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 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."


Anonymous said...

The big problem with your suggestion of creative options for animals seized from hoarders, such as spay and neuter them, is the cost. Who is going to pay to have this done? The taxpayers? I don't think so.

It would not be fair to expect the taxpayers to foot the bill for someone who obviously has mental issues when it comes to caring for their alleged pets.

Anonymous said...

I have a huge problem with your TNR
It doesnt stop the fact that there are still stray cats that go into peoples yards and make a mess.
I was bitten by a cat on NMSU campus and i had to go thru the rabies treatment because the cat did not have a responsible person takin care of it and there was no way to verify if it had rabies or not, because the TNR group got mad at AC because they put a trap out to try and get the cat.
So tell me who is responsible for the messes these cats make in peoples private yards and when they bite someone.TNR may save lives, but there is the problem of stray cats (which btw is a violation of the city ordinance)
And dealing with the fact that euthanasia happens is not giving up, you cant just pretend that it will myteriously go away because it will always be a part of life

Michelle said...

As the Director of the NMSU Feral Cat Management Program (FCaMP), I wish to address the "anonymous" comment dated August 26, regarding TNR of "stray cats".

First, if this individual was bitten by a cat on campus and reported being bitten, the Animal Control authorities WOULD HAVE BEEN REQUIRED to trap and quarantine the cat.

Secondly, feral cats generally are very wary of humans, so I have to wonder what was taking place in order for this person to be bitten by one of the cats on campus. Were they trying to hand feed the cat? Did they corner the cat, in an attempt to pick it up or pet it?

Our TNR program on campus IS working, as evidenced by the fact that I am aware of only two small litters of kittens being born on main campus this season, as opposed to the 7-10 litters we would typically have when we began doing TNR on campus. At this point, I feel confident in saying that the feral cat population on main campus is relatively stable, meaning that the numbers are no longer continuing to increase.

Cats are territorial creatures and will "guard" their turf. Sterilizing them and returning them to their turf guarantees that they will not continue to reproduce. If you simply go in and remove the cats from an area and euthanize them, more cats will move into that area and will begin breeding, so you can never get control of the population. Although TNR is not a "quick fix", it is an effective, long-term fix for the stray/feral cat population, both on the NMSU campus and in Dona Ana County.

Thank You,
Michelle Corella
Director, FCaMP