Sunday, January 25, 2009

Humane Disconnections

Why Humane Education Needs a Broader Outlook

In traditional animal sheltering and control philosophy, humane education and outreach usually boils down to visiting schools and trying to reach future generations (children) with a message of compassion and responsibility toward companion animals, and that message is usually very oriented toward the importance of spay/neuter. Usually not included in humane education is teaching children how to understand animals and their behaviors and reasons for these and issues that can arise and how to deal with them, nor bite prevention tips, nor the amount of work it takes to care for animals, etc. After decades of humane education, it is hard to tell how much of an impact this approach has had. There are no studies that have tracked its progress from a practical or statistical perspective, such as tracking how many children in a given humane education program have grown up to be more responsible pet guardians or if they have had an influence on their own families.

I grew up in a small, poor, predominately Hispanic community myself. I can say that many people were neglectful of their animals (or worse), and there are still issues with abuse/neglect, hoarding, dogs running at large, etc., in this town. Yet, I also witnessed transformations, starting with my own immediate family. I have personally influenced friends and co-workers to a more humane perspective in ways that were not accusatory/judgmental. I can say I have seen many people change from neglectful/irresponsible owners to responsible/caring guardians who have learned to accept and love animals as members of their families--bringing them inside the home instead of strictly outside, etc.

I think there is hope, but I think humane education and outreach has to grow and change to reach more people and to not just focus on future generations. I say that keeping with tradition in humane education cannot hurt anyone or anything, but I think we need to also think outside the box and expand the information we impart to the public. We need to come up with ways to reach adults through outreach, hands-on work in the community, stronger pet retention efforts with advice about the realities and strategies of day-to-day life with dogs and cats, as well as savvy and catchy public relations techniques. Advertising is a powerful tool from which animal welfare could benefit much more.

I have talked before about the huge disconnect between animal-welfare workers and volunteers and the general public. I have also pointed out that animal welfare suffers from a very elitist view oftentimes, with too much "othering" of people who are not perfect animal guardians or perceived as such. I think we need to mend these gaps--slowly but surely--and learn how to communicate with people and get past the judgments. How many times do we hear ourselves think and say things like the following: We find a loose dog, assume the worst, and we say, "I can't believe people let this dog run loose without a collar or tag", etc. We assume they are not worthy of the animal without knowing any details about the animal or his/her owner. Well, first of all, we should believe whatever we see because we see things like this every day. Instead of getting caught up in disbelief, we should be trying to sincerely understand WHY and HOW, and not only that, but how we can communicate and reach into a person to bring out more of their humane compassion and understanding or help them reach their own light bulb moments. Most people possess some compassion toward animals. We need to ask ourselves how we can help change their views toward animals or help them be more responsible. Maybe they need to be taught and educated about all the options that exist if they lose an animal or find one, etc. We think everyone knows this stuff, yet if you talk to the average person, many do not have all the information they need.

I have a "Mending Fences" idea that would target outlying/poor areas that show more animal neglect. We could provide supplies such as houses, food, better tie-outs if that is what a dog's life must be for the time being, etc. We could do presentations at community centers that focus on animal behavior, care, expectations, needs, the joy and accomplishment of properly walking dogs and leading them on a leash, etc. While helping people learn how to better contain their animals in their yards, for example, we can talk to them about the social nature of animals and why they need and thrive from human attention and how many of their bad behaviors stem from boredom and neglect. While there, we could interact with their dogs and cats in ways that are different from what they are used to ... teach them how to teach an old dog a new trick ... etc. These would be the building blocks for bettering the lives of those animals we pass by and look at from afar ... wishing we could do something to help them.

NACA article link

As I reported recently, the National Animal Control Association (NACA) and their president, Mark Kumpf, have come out with a complete new policy statement concerning cat management. One of the articles about this recent change is online at HSUS's Animal "Taking a Broader View of Cats in the Community."

In this article and interview, Kumpf shows some wonderful insight to what is meant by a more care and control model for animal control agencies. It's also about a complete philosophy shift in this industry, much like No Kill is a shift in how shelters do business and relate to the public. Kumpf says: "What we're saying is the old standard isn't good enough anymore. You need to be able to be flexible with your community animal management strategies for both cats and dogs. And if you continue to follow the old philosophy, eventually everybody else is going to pass you by. Progressive communities are seeing that being flexible in their strategy allows for economic savings. The cost for picking up and simply euthanizing and disposing animals is horrendous, in both the philosophical and the economic sense. So giving someone the alternative, and telling them it's OK to think outside the litter box ... it's an opportunity for those agencies to be able to sell that program to their administration and work on it. Our goal is to reduce needless euthanasia."

More refreshing words from the leading national animal control association could not have been spoken, and it is good to see them being spoken now ... it is never too late to get on the progressive train that all communities will someday get on board.


I wanted to urge VR to contact SNAP directly to ask all of your questions (at 575-524-9265). They do have answers and are always ready and willing to work with anyone in the community who wants to fix their animal(s). Low-income guidelines are put into place from the City and County grants that SNAP receives, and I don't know all of the details of these guidelines myself. I know that the income requirements are not as low as you might expect ... in other words, you don't have to be living at the poverty level to qualify. The same guidelines used for HUD and other low-cost public services apply to SNAP's services as well.

I understand your frustration at fees charged for some services or for adopting homeless animals whose fate could very well be death, VR; however, nothing is very simple. I think fairness needs to be the guide for how much of a fee is charged for any given thing, and not all people will agree with any one decision. For example, to compete with people selling puppies out of boxes in parking lots, your prices cannot be too high, but the other side of the coin is that when you pay for something, it holds more worth than if that something were given to you for free. That said, it behooves us all to revisit the reasons behind the decisions we make, and people need to have different services from which to choose. You also have to show flexibility and willingness to try new things and track the progress and all the factors that apply to success or failure.

When it comes to low-cost spay/neuter services in our area at this time targeted to low-income families, SNAP is the only organization working in that area. It is my understanding that the Animal Services Center, the shelter, is also going to start offering low-cost spay/neuter and possibly vaccination services to the public again if they aren't doing so already. They needed to hire a new vet to get back into business. To find out when these services will be available, call the shelter at 575-382-0018.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Action Needed for Animals

This blog posting will address some recent questions and comments from VR and jacksonthornton as well as introduce a new action-oriented coalition we are calling Action Programs for Animals (APA). It is my humble hope that the latter will start the spark for multiple lifesaving programs and hands-on efforts for animals in our community. We need to take our collective love and wishes and ideas for animals and start putting these into action and addressing issues in targeted ways.

SNAP van details

To address some questions from VR about SNAP's run of our County's spay/neuter van, please visit their website again at The SNAP low-income qualification guidelines are described under the left-hand link titled "Criteria and Application Process". The fees are $25 for dogs and $15 for cats--the same co-pay applies to the van surgeries. For special circumstances or if you need help with a particular situation, please call SNAP at 575-524-9265 to see what you can work out with them. (I am only a volunteer and not a decision-maker in the organization.)

MORE volunteers are needed. If you can help one day out of your weekend, please contact their van volunteer coordinator, Julie Miller, at 405-2195. She can also offer the most accurate and up-to-date information about the van runs.

You can find the dates and locations for future van runs from the left-hand link on their website titled "Mobile Spay/Neuter Van Info". I know they will be in Hatch the last two weekends of January and in Chaparral the last two weekends of February. Depending on what funds are left over at that point, they will keep running the van in outlying areas of our community for as long as they can afford to do so.

One approach is not enough

No matter what portion of the No Kill Equation's set of programs and services you are talking about, one approach to each is not enough. This is especially true of low-cost, high-volume spay and neuter efforts in our community, which is the biggest way to get to the root of our evils. It is also the most cost savvy way of doing so. It costs our community about $85 per animal to catch and kill them, which is the fate of most. Estimations from 2008 point to about 17,000 animals taken in at our shelter with approximately 13,000 put down. In contrast, it costs SNAP about $45 per animal to alter them. With each animal altered contributing possibly multiple animals in the future to our shelter's intake, it is not hard to see the savings in cost and lives. This is only possible with multiple, targeted efforts and programs to increase our area's spay and neuter surgeries from here on out.

The demand is there. Each community that SNAP has taken the van to thus far has responded. Many people in these communities are still seeking services. Many people in the City are needing the help as well.

There is no way the van alone can address the numbers and the demand, just as there is no way our shelter can do so alone either. But, if we do all of the above--the van runs, the voucher program, and a clinic or the shelter offering low-cost services to the public as well--we can truly make a dent in our shelter's future intake numbers, starting with the coming Spring season when the shelter usually gets slammed with kittens and puppies. There are also other ideas we can explore in the future -- such as running MASH-type spay/neuter programs, projects targeting only feral cats, offering commuter help for those who do not have transportation, etc.

A No Kill Plan and Leader

From my brief time here, I have some observations about the animal-welfare groups in our community. First of all, we really have few groups and organizations in place to address the issues at hand or collectively run the No Kill Equation in the way needed. We have one open-admission shelter that is swamped and a very small sanctuary. Other than that, we have SNAP, fCamp, and a couple of humane societies that do not run or operate shelters and who offer little in programs and services at this time. We also have a handful of breed rescues.

All of these groups are off doing their thing and operating in their niche without much communication or cooperation cross-group. Many of the programs and services we need--run the No Kill way--require collaboration and inspiration that will bring everyone together. Unfortunately, the leadership in that direction is not there yet--not in our City/County leaders who are sitting on the newly-formed governing board of the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley and not in the shelter's director and not in our Animal Control departments.

Part of the issue is everyone is on a different page. No Kill means different things to different people and groups. Many of our animal-welfare group leaders and civic leaders have not taken the time to read and research animal welfare thoroughly to understand the differing philosophies and approaches to issues. That is the first step they need to take.

As for our shelter and its current leadership, jacksonthornton is correct to comment that a goal of No Kill was announced prematurely and without much detail given to the public on the plan to get there. The only plan of action that has worked in other communities in the U.S. is the No Kill Equation and the philosophy behind it -- a complete paradigm shift in the way shelters engage with the public and regard the public.

Unfortunately, we've seen only smoke and mirrors up to this point. At first, our shelter's current director was saying her plan of action was the following: 1. Responsibility; 2. Education; 3. Spay/Neuter; however, no one has elaborated on the details behind each. When I first heard this, I have to admit that I cringed a bit ... I was worried. It seemed to be a retooling of the old L.E.S. (Legislation. Education. Sterilization) model that shelters and animal-welfare systems have been operating under since the 1970s. All of those efforts are good, but they have not been enough for decades. This also entirely ignores the efforts that HAVE led to success, which are all very well-documented and described if you choose to look for that information.

Later, when challenged by animal-welfare advocates and questioned about the proven No Kill Equation model, our leaders fed the public more misinformation. At the last Joint City/Council meeting where shelter issues were supposed to be addressed, we were given a presentation that led everyone to believe the shelter is NOW implementing the entire No Kill Equation model except TNR programs because those are against the law.

Anyone who has been in the shelter for any amount of time and knows what the No Kill Equation model/philosophy is about was not fooled by this claim. It was clearly a way to deflect the questions and constructive criticism at that time and mislead those that don't know better. It was also a way to NOT have to engage with the public or groups in meaningful ways.

For example, we were told the shelter is working with rescues and advancing rescue efforts. That is true to a small extent but not to the extent necessary to treat all animals equitably and save the most lives possible. Aggressive, open networking and an organized approach has not been put into place to ensure that all those animals who can go to rescues are getting there. There are stories of a few animals being driven for hundreds of miles to rescues, and that is noble. The shelter now works with Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary to send some dogs there, and that is great, too.

But, this is still not the No Kill way of working with ALL the individuals and groups that can assist you to save the most lives possible -- not just a token few per month. From not utilizing the PetSmart Rescue Waggin' that takes animals from areas like ours to shelters in the country that are lacking in animals to not taking advantage of the Internet to network with all those that you can to a lack of a consistent process for all local rescuers to walk through and rescue animals--we are just not administering rescue efforts in the way we need to, and that goes for the entire efforts described in the No Kill Equation that our shelter claims to have under full operation and control.

It is my great hope that all of our local leaders who have been chosen for our shelter's oversight board will first educate themselves on No Kill efforts and especially success stories in our nation to learn these nuanced differences and set policy and guidelines that can open our shelter up for more support and efforts from our community groups and the public. It is my hope that their ears and hearts and minds will be open to constructive criticism and the spirit in which it is given -- a hope for improvements and for saving more lives. We cannot do this if we cannot sit down with each and every aspect of our issues and talk about them openly and honestly and share ideas for tackling them.

If our leaders, for example, get repeated complaints and reports of people getting turned off at the shelter's doors before they ever look at animals, then you would hope they'd look into this issue in more detail. If 10 animals are put down in a day that 5 people were turned off at the door by the negative attitudes of the staff or having to wait for more than 30 mintues to fill out a full application or whatever the case may be, the best course of action should be to start keeping track of some of these statistics to make sure your policies are not driving people away before you've even had the chance to administer true adoption counseling. In other words, if practices are leading to more lives lost, it behooves you to look into these practices more closely. Oftentimes, in trying to mitigate a few animals being returned, shelters turn off more potential good homes. It's a common problem in regressive shelters.

In successful No Kill communities, there is one bottom line: leadership in the right direction. In many successful communities, there are two big shelters--one operated as a municipality and one operated by a humane society. These two work together to implement the No Kill Equation, and when they do so well and collaboratively, they are able to save 80+% of the animals that end up in their systems.

We cannot mimic that exact system or model at this time with only one shelter. However, that does not mean we should shrug our shoulders and give up. No Kill is a community effort. If all of our current animal-welfare groups communicated more and shared more of their resources and knowledge and efforts and recruited more people from the public to assist in efforts and fund-raising, we could start implementing many programs and services our community needs outside of the shelter. We can even start and form more non-profits around common goals and programs.

For instance, you don't need the shelter to run successful pet retention efforts; you don't need the shelter to increase the volume of spay/neuter services; etc. On the other hand, the shelter will have to collaborate on efforts to send more animals to rescues and to develop programs and services to give more animals in their care the opportunity to make it out of there alive (more foster homes, better PR, medical/behavioral rehabilitation, etc.).

The good news is it is not too late for this leader to emerge. Many good shelter directors of today were operating in regressive ways in their past lives. To read some inspiring words from a director who saw the light and changed her ways of doing business, see Sue Cosby's recent posting at Rising from the Betrayal of Animals: A Phoenix from the Ashes.

Action Programs for Animals

That leads me to the new action-oriented coalition that myself and others are beginning in February. We want to bring each and every individual and group in our community together to start looking at actual programs and services we can start putting into action starting today. Instead of looking at the No Kill Equation and feeling overwhelmed with it all, let's start to tackle each portion that we can--one at a time. We can start small and build from there. As we show success, I have no doubt it will snowball into opportunities to provide more and more avenues for saving lives.

If you are interested in joining this coalition and starting some hands-on work, please come to our first meeting on Feb. 5th, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at the Branigan Library's Dresp Room. For more information or to share ideas about this coalition, contact me at All are welcome -- all groups, all individuals, local leaders, shelter representatives, etc.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Annoucements and "the No Kill way"

DAC/SNAP van run this weekend

This weekend's run of the Dona Ana County Sheriff Department's mobile spay/neuter clinic--thanks to the support from the Las Cruces Spay and Neuter Action Program (SNAP)--was very successful this past weekend. On Friday, Jan. 9th, the van was at the Community of Hope in Las Cruces, and 36 animals were altered that day. On Saturday and Sunday, the van was in Radium Springs, where there were many volunteers from that community on-hand to help. On Saturday, the 10th, 33 animals were altered. Today, another 27 animals were altered -- that's 96 animals in our community that will no longer be adding to our issues of unwanted litters of kittens and puppies in coming years.

Congratulations to all involved, and keep up the good work! However, our work in high-volume spay/neuter is just beginning. The difference between providing spay/neuter services when you do so "the No Kill way" vs. what we have been doing in the past is that in order to make a real dent in the number of homeless animals coming into our shelter/rescues/sanctuary, we need to alter about 400-500 animals per month for quite some time.

In the past few years, SNAP has done a good job with their voucher program in increasing numbers each year since they began. In 2008, they helped with about 1800 surgeries via vouchers used at local vet offices, which is about 150 surgeries per month. As we can see, though, a voucher program alone is not enough. The No Kill way requires many options and services for spay/neuter and targeted efforts as well in order to get the volume up.

If you add a couple of weekends of running a mobile spay/neuter van in outlying areas at about 30 animals done per day, you begin to see how the numbers increase. That adds another 150-180 surgeries per month, with a total of approximately 300+ each month. The one other area in which we are lacking is having at least one stand-alone, low-income clinic somewhere in our community as well and/or for the shelter to step up to provide this service to the public as they used to in the past. That's the only way we can reach the kind of volume that has been successful in other communities, and many of these low-income clinics can also offer other vet services that some people cannot usually afford.

From the limited knowledge I have, SNAP seems to operate on roughly $26k a year in City/County funding, some small national grants, and local contributions. The cost of running the van alone is about $1500 per day. At those numbers, even with collecting co-pays, SNAP is going to run out of money to fund the spay/neuter van pretty soon. We need everyone in our community who supports these efforts to donate when they can.

SNAP is still needing volunteer support as well. If the same group of a few volunteers tries to keep up this kind of a schedule each month for the long-term, they will burn out. More volunteers are needed to share the load, and more outreach in each community is needed to recruit local volunteers from each area.

Please help however you can. You can reach SNAP at 524-9265, and visit their website at

Once we get up to the volumes we need in spay/neuter surgeries, then we also need our two Animal Control (AC) departments to revisit and take a constructively critical look at their policies as well. We will still be killing too many cats in our current system, for example. And, if and when our community ever does adopt a spay/neuter ordinance, it has to do so from a No Kill perspective, too. That means that our AC departments should not simply use the law in order to impound and kill more animals; instead, they should serve notices and warnings and give people the time and opportunity to comply with the laws. Having multiple low-income options and services in place, this will make things easier for everyone.

NACA supports TNVR

The National Animal Control Association's November/December 2008 issue of their bi-monthly news magazine was entirely dedicated to the subject of community cat programs, and for the first time, the NACA came out in support of TNVR (trap-neuter-vaccinate-return) for feral cats. They openly admit that what AC departments have been doing for decades is not working and will never work (trying to catch and kill all loose cats), nor does it protect the public or wildlife from any real or perceived threats. This is wonderful news, and I hope both of our AC departments have read through their copies of the magazine.

Whether some like the idea or not, it is one whose time has not only come but an idea that is passing our community by each and every day that we don't seize the opportunity to change the way we deal with this issue. With more and more communities showing success with this model (including the NMSU fCamp program), it is only a matter of time until these programs are the norm, much like many shelter programs we have today are the norm when they were not so in the recent past--such as off-site adoptions, Home for the Holidays campaigns, foster programs, rescue efforts, etc.

If you are in support of our community getting with the TNR program, the biggest step you can take at this moment is to contact your state representatives and push for our state laws to change. Also contact your local city/county representatives and urge them to pass cat-friendly local ordinances that allow non-profits and volunteers to organize efforts for feral cat management and care. Lastly, urge our two AC departments to also support these efforts and show the flexibility in the way they do business that it will take for us to be successful as well.

Coming Soon: Action Programs for Animals

Myself and a few others are starting an action-oriented group called Action Programs for Animals (APA) in February. If you are interested in not only exploring ideas that can help companion animals and their caretakers but also putting them into action, please join us for our first meeting on Feb. 5th, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., at the Branigan Library on the corner of Main/Spruce-Picacho. We'll be in the Dresp Room.

More about the APA will follow!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

PETA and the Pitties

First of all, thanks for the comments. Good or bad ... I sincerely welcome and appreciate them all. For tonight, I am going to address a few of them.

Although I cannot nor will not agree with any comment on my No Kill blog that tells us to "kill all the animals" to solve the issue, this comment from i hate animal control does open a door to say: Isn't that what we're doing already? It is impossible to do away with animal control services (there's the little pesky business of having to protect the public's health and safety involved here), but I advocate for a care and control model instead of a strictly control and punishment one.

Thanks also to VR for the insight on where our current cat leash laws originated. I have not lived in Las Cruces that long to know all the history, but this does show how one person's decisions--if he/she is a lawmaker or influences lawmakers--can have such lasting and disastrous effects for many years. Putting animal-welfare into law should never be taken lightly or based on personal feelings; our local lawmakers need to be well- and fully informed before voting on each law they pass. Those local lawmakers that will make up the oversight board for our shelter should also do what many of us do: become well-read and informed about all aspects of sheltering before you put policy and procedures and programs into practice.

We see the disastrous effects of laws passed for years to come in other communities as well--not just here. Look at Denver's anti-pit bull laws. For me, reading "The Pit Bull Placebo" by Karen Delise is teaching me things I never knew; it is a must-read for anyone interested in how sensationalism and misinformation can grow into discrimination and prejudice and laws put into place that do more harm than good and don't address the true nature of canine aggression nor how to prevent bites and attacks in the first place.

VR also asked about the possibility of asking PETA for assistance. I'm sorry to say that the likelihood of that is very low. Unfortunately, some powerful animal-rights groups do not all have the same progressive views about animal welfare nor companion animals as I wish they did. (Yet, if they did, imagine how much closer to No Kill we would be right now with the backing of not only their power and reputations but also their multi-million operating budgets?)

If you have not read my blog post entitled "Old Guard vs. New Guard" from August 14 of last year, please do so. It explains the long history of sheltering in our country and how many of the powerful groups in the nation divide up into different philosophical camps. Unfortunately, PETA not only supports the high-kill, old-fashioned model, that organization actually kills many of the animals they "rescue" as well.

In 2006, they got into some very hot water over this issue. PETA does have a shelter, but they are not like Best Friends ... at PETA, they don't spend their funds on lifesaving ... most animals go there to die, I hate to say. In 2006, their kill rate for animals they took in was over 90%. If you Google "PETA kills animals", the newspaper articles might still be available that also talk about some PETA workers getting caught throwing away dead cats and dogs in public dumpsters.

For the most part, the only assistance PETA offers for companion animals is for spay/neuter. It is not a secret that Ingrid Newkirk, PETA's president, is looking forward to the day that dogs and cats go back to being only in the wild and not in people's homes. Ultimately, I think they truly believe that people have no business having animals in the home.

There is alot of detail about this at Nathan Winograd's No Kill Blog (also a must-read). He says it best and provides all the details about PETA. In doing so, he has earned their wrath, and PETA has been coming out with anti-No Kill literature and false claims that all No Kill shelters are equivalent to animal hoarders. What a shame this is the road PETA is taking.

Nathan Winograd's entire website has just been revamped recently as well. Please visit it again if you haven't done so recently. Go to to read his No Kill recap of 2008 -- the winners and losers and what we can expect from this new year.

Thanks also to jacksonthornton for the insight that referring to any and all criticism as pointing fingers is a smokescreen our leaders often hide behind and the way they keep many of us at bay. It is very rare for there to be real dialogue about actual issues with our leaders. Many of us have tried for some time now. Unfortunately, the best reason to be open and have such honest dialogue is lost in our community as well, which is to come up with solutions and partner with everyone who can help to reach some No Kill goals.

Petey is looking for a home

This cute pittie pictured in today's post is named Petey. He was rescued from life at the end of a chain by a rescuer in Hobbs for Dogs Deserve Better. He is young, friendly and playful with everyone(including other dogs), and he is in desperate need of a foster home at this time and a permanent home as well. This rescuer, as many in small towns, is overwhelmed with the lives she works to save on a daily basis. I have met and known many a small-town rescuer. What they do with zero infrastructure and support is amazing.

To find out more about Petey or if you can offer any assistance, please contact me at, and I can get you in touch with Petey's rescuer. She also has another sweet female pittie named Sunny who was hit by a car, has an amputated leg, but has a heart of gold.

You can learn more about Dogs Deserve Better at their website: