Sunday, September 7, 2008

Responses to Recent Comments & The Most Important Thing Anyone Who Cares About Sheltered Animals Can Do TODAY

About recent comments

I have gotten some fantastic feedback and comments on this blog in the past couple of weeks that I have yet to address. I want to take the time to do that tonight before I move on to my discussion about the second item of the No Kill Equation, which is high-volume, low-cost spay and neuter.

TNR comments

First of all, I received an anonymous comment from someone not liking the idea of TNR and claiming to have been bitten by a feral cat at the NMSU campus. Instead of answering this one blind, I asked the Director of FCaMP, the TNR program on the NMSU campus, to give me some advice about how such cases are handled and how common cat bites are on campus (from what I understand, feral cats attacking or biting humans is very rare--they are not like feral dogs). Michelle Corella, the Director, did one better and posted her own comment in response. You can read that under my "How No Kill Handles Hoarding Cases" blog from August 24th. Thank you, Michelle, for clearing that up and for your report about the success of your program.

Like Michelle says, TNR is not an easy, quick fix, but it is a far cry better than what we have been doing. Catching and killing some in a feral colony does little to reduce their numbers. The only thing that does is TNR because though many cats can live and survive the harsh lives of wild animals, attrition eventually catches up to the group of altered cats, and less and less are born each year until the population is limited and controlled.

Some other anonymous comments about TNR came in that show more wise insight from people who have implemented TNR and have hands-on experience. The more people that share these success stories, the better! I thank everyone who wrote in with their experiences, especially the person who ran a TNR program back in 1978--which was a time that this subject in the U.S. was more unheard of than controversial.

I think many cat lovers do not consider how different these animals are from most domesticated animals. History shows they domesticated themselves, and only to a certain extent. They are one of the few groups of domestic animals that can survive and thrive as wild animals (even in the harshest conditions) or as pampered lap cats. We do not catch and haul off any other group of wild animals to our shelters to be killed in the numbers feral cats are killed each year. That's why no kill cannot happen without TNR for most feral colonies. Any shelter's kill rate for cats cannot go down without support for these efforts. Luckily, most of the public would support TNR if they understood how it actually works and how successful it can be.

Ed Zimmer's comment

I was very appreciative of the comment I received from Mr. Ed Zimmer of the Zimmer Foundation, which I believe supports TNR efforts. (Correct me if I am wrong, Mr. Zimmer.)

An anonymous comment came in shortly after asking myself and Mr. Zimmer if we are aware that animals/pets are still considered personal property in most states, including New Mexico. Although this is true, I don't think Mr. Zimmer meant to say that the legal truth of that is no longer the case. It is the thoughts and feelings pet owners now have that has changed, and the laws regarding animals and their protection have changed, too. Now, for example, it is a felony in many states to hurt or kill animals, even if they are your own "property".

More important for the movement of no kill is this shift in people's personal (not legal) attitudes about their pets and about animal welfare in general. When you look at the majority pet owners, there has been a major shift in people thinking of their pets as part of the family and the numbers of pet homes has substantially increased each decade. Right now, there are approximately 165 million pets in homes, and the rate of shelter killing is about 5 million a year. Just from these numbers alone, it is easy to see that the vast majority of pet owners are caring for their pets, and that is true of any area, even Dona Ana County and the City of Las Cruces.

No kill does not deny that there is some public irresponsibility. Of course there is. However, it argues that "good" pet owners far outnumber the "bad", and this is what shelters need to keep in mind while going through their daily business. All of the people that walk into a shelter are potential adopters, foster homes, or volunteers that will go out of their way to save animals' lives if given the chance and the right atmosphere from which to work.

In the Maddie's Fund 2006-2007 Annual Report, Richard Avanzino (the president and former director of a successful no kill--San Francisco's SPCA in the late 1990s) has some fascinating things to say in his President's Letter. Here is an excerpt:

"The United States population is growing, and more people are adopting pets. In 1996, there were 130 million pets in homes. Today, there are more than 165 million pets in homes. We project that by 2016, there will be over 200 million pets in homes. We can save all of the healthy and treatable shelter pets if we adopt out three million more each year, a doable feat in light of the growing number of available pet homes."

Looking at the national projected numbers, that means that in 8 years, there will be 35 million potential homes. That's about 4.68 million animals being adopted per year. If the majority of the public gets animals from somewhere other than a shelter/rescue, which is the case now (only 20% adopt from shelters, etc.), then there is a huge market shelters are not tapping into. It's way past the time that shelters need to better compete with backyard breeders and puppy mills, and even legitimate breeders for that matter.

If there wasn't a market out there, breeders of any kind would not exist. If millions of good pet homes did not exist, then the pet industry would not be earning multi-billions a year. Add to this the increase in giving for pet charities and foundations coming into the mix, and it is obvious that old-guard sheltering has not kept up with what is really going on in the world of pet ownership and animal welfare in this country.

From these ideas and numbers, the no kill movement was born, and as Mr. Zimmer says, it was Nathan Winograd who gathered up everything about the subject into one, comprehensive book. It's not that other no kill pioneers, like Avanzino, had not talked or written about no kill and innovative ideas, but "Redemption" takes the reader through the fascinating history of animal sheltering and makes a compelling argument that the time has come for sheltering to match public sentiment and support.

Fantastic comment from a shelter worker

I want to thank "mute witness" for your flattering comment about this blog. Coming from someone who works in a shelter, I am especially humbled by your generosity of spirit. It gives me hope that someday in the not-too-distant future many shelter workers such as yourself will start to see there are many sides to animal issues (and many gray areas, too). Your blog gives some wonderful examples of how important it is for shelter workers to not lose touch with their humanity and compassion for their fellow man and woman in your day-to-day business.

At some shelters, for example, the idea of pet retention counseling when someone is bringing in a pet to relinquish is to hammer them over the head with the idea the animal will most likely die and it is their fault because they are bad, irresponsible people. You get a sense they'd love it if this person could witness the animal's death or maybe even partake in it so they "can see what it feels like".

What this might do is guilt someone into keeping a dog or cat they may be having serious, legitimate issues with. Instead, what would it hurt to have a positive, compassionate conversation with the person to find out what has been going on and offer support to help them deal with the issue? Granted, you may only reach a few people this way, but those you don't reach will give you honest information about the animal so you know how to work toward rehabilitating the animal or making a better adoption match for him or her the next time around.

There are examples like this from everyday dealings between shelter staff and the public. I continue to stress that this disconnect between the two "sides" (shelters vs. the public) is what most directly leads to more killing--not just the simple fact that irresponsible pet owners exist.

Again, thank you, mute witness, for your candidness about how it is a moral, spiritual, and intellectual struggle everyday to do the work you do. I have no doubt this is true and have much compassion for the pain and suffering of shelter workers as well. That's what is such a shame ... Winograd says it is uncaring directors and workers that leads to the high kill rates, and this is one statement I do not fully agree with. I know most shelter workers care about animals, so it is not that simple.

However, I see from where his frustration comes as well. He knows first-hand that if each shelter adopted all the progressive programs of the No Kill Equation and more successfully competed for the pet market, less killing would be the result. Euthanasia could be returned to its dictionary definition in every shelter. And, that could only help to improve the morale of every shelter worker in our country and make us proud of this work instead of fed up, burnt out, and negative.

Imagine that?!

What is the most important thing you can do today?

I hate to sound like I'm making a commercial plug here, but I sincerely, honestly, and wholeheartedly believe that if you are someone who works in the world of animal rescue and welfare, the single most important thing you can do today is to read "Redemption" if you have not already. It is a VERY important book on the subject of sheltering. Shelter directors and workers, especially, should read it--no matter how turned off you may be by it in the beginning. Grit your teeth and try to keep as much of an open mind and heart as you possibly can. If you genuinely care about the animals that end up in your facilities, this may be the most important thing you can do for them. You may see or find ways to help more of them make it out of your shelters alive.

Refreshingly, some communities have not struggled as much as ours. There are stories of shelter directors and municipalities coming away from reading this book with a complete, 180-degree turnaround and immediately beginning the important work of implementing all the No Kill Equation programs.

Cute approach to spay/neuter

Important messages cloaked in cute or catchy commercials can do more than someone standing around trying to lecture people about being responsible, especially with a tired old subject like spay/neuter. I am elated that not only is the National Geographic channel on its second season of Dogtown, which chronicles some cases that the Best Friends Animal Society works on (such as rescuing and rehabilitating many of the Michael Vic fighting pitt bulls), but the station also plays some Best Friends commercials when the show airs on Friday evenings.

In true Best Friends spirit, there was a commercial that played about spay and neuter that is sure to touch many people's minds and hearts. It was a very simple commercial showing a dog entering a convenience store. A caption comes up on a black screen that reads, "If your pet could practice safe sex, he would." The scene goes back to the dog coming out of the store holding a box of condoms in his mouth that have some kind of "stud" label on them. The dog looks sheepishly into the camera and walks off with the box ...

How is that for creative advertising and something that might help sway anyone on the fence about fixing their male dog or cat because of macho attitudes they hold? When trying to combat beliefs held, it is especially imperative to try to find other ways to relate to and reach people.

Next blog: More about creative solutions to spay and neuter that can increase the volume of surgeries in any community ... no kill knows that fixing more animals is the cornerstone to curbing the number of animals entering shelters each year. This gives you more time and opportunity to save more of the lives at risk for being put down for treatable medical and behavioral conditions. Each part of the No Kill Equation and programs informs the other in these ways.


Ed Zimmer said...

You asked whether I were involved in TNR. I am -- my foundation conducts TNR and low-income spay/neuter programs in SE Michigan -- . And we're fighting the same battles with with our local shelters as you are there.
Ed Zimmer

margaret said...

I *love* the Best Friends commercial to encourage spay/neuter! I think it's an excellent--and positive--way to get the message across.

Someone I know who works at a no-kill shelter said that she wished her organization would use the ad (BF apparently will allow other orgs. to do so). But her organization nixed the idea because it had concerns about viewers who might be offended by the commercial--even though it's tastefully done. What a shame!