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.