Sunday, March 29, 2009

Meeting big challenges with small, targeted steps

Looking at our community's big picture concerning animal welfare, it is common for many people to think we somehow have bigger or worse problems than most places in New Mexico and in the entire U.S. We blame it on not having enough funding or on our local "culture", but when you look at the big picture nationally, it becomes clear that most who say this are living in a tiny bubble and not looking outside of that.

There are many communities facing similar challenges to our own, and there are pockets of progressiveness in animal sheltering and control throughout the nation dealing with these issues in different ways and showing success because they have changed the way they do business. What we should be doing is looking to emulate these programs and efforts to help stop the cycles of abuse and catching/killing of homeless companion animals in our community. There is no reason we cannot do this.

The truth is that it is human culture and attitudes toward animals in general -- in this entire nation and worldwide -- that lead to neglect, abuse, abandonment and some people thinking nothing of this. Many animal-welfare advocates think nothing of the suffering and throwaway attitudes toward those that are not companion animals. The good news is that although it has taken decades, companion animals have now moved away from their mostly utilitarian uses and being seen as property into our homes and families and daily lives and especially our hearts. It is because of these changes that No Kill is now possible nationwide.

It should not shock or surprise us that antiquated views still persist among some; after all, humans beings are still prejudiced and cruel toward their own kind. These views persist among people of different social and racial backgrounds and in many areas nationwide--not just here. We see these old-fashioned views in those dogs tied out all their lives or not offered the basics in care and comfort and socialization. It's what also leads to cats being abandoned, abused and trapped/killed for any small annoyance or transgression. Unfortunately, not everyone progresses away from these views.

All we can do is chip away at these prejudices and attitudes slowly but surely, but because they still exist does not mean we cannot work toward No Kill. One does not follow from the other.

Evidence now shows that the vast majority of the 165 million companion animals in the U.S. are NOT abused and neglected. For every dog you see tied up and mistreated, you probably don't notice the other side of this coin -- people going places with dogs in their cars, dogs living with their families inside the home, and people out exercising with their dogs or spending quality time with them. That's why we spend millions a year on pet supplies and care and veterinary bills. We are actually in the majority now, and we can work together toward the day those pockets of antiquated views and treatment of animals become smaller and smaller and until we can guarantee every homeless animal has a good home.

Where we are now -- looking at our statistics

Successful communities and shelters look at the big picture nationally, then at the big picture in their community, and then they break that big local picture down into parts -- into definable, manageable issues that can be tackled one-by-one. Because most wheels have been invented in progressive animal welfare, it is easy to borrow ideas and tailor them to what you need. When and if you need to invent a new way to deal with an issue, you can do so as well.

In Dona Ana County, the big picture is a bit bleak. In 2008, our shelter's intake was 15,523, and we killed/euthanized 10,387 of these animals (66.9%). There were 2321 adoptions (14.95%), 2095 animals were returned to their owners (13.50%), and 249 animals were transferred to rescues or other groups (1.60%). Without break-downs of these numbers, it is hard to see where the issues originate. In order to tackle the big picture, we need to understand what specific issues and factors help paint it.

We need to ask ourselves questions and find answers, such as ... Are there ways we can reduce the intake numbers without putting people/animals at risk? Where and how are animals coming in? How can we increase the numbers of animals transferred out to rescue and other areas? Can we do something to successfully return more animals to owners? Which animals are being put down and why -- are there trends in these numbers that show specific problem areas or demographics? Can we do a better job of competing with backyard breeders in our area and adopt out more animals?

Our shelter uses a software system called PetPoint. It is essentially a database that can be culled for specific information and reports, and if the shelter shared this detailed information with other groups, that's how we could target our efforts first to the greatest areas of need.

For instance, the SNAP program is taking the DAC spay/neuter mobile clinic to outlying areas of the county, but if we knew more about which areas of the county those 60% of animals entering the shelter come from, the SNAP program could target those areas first and more heavily and even target specific kinds of animals, too (such as pit bulls). If PetPoint can produce reports by zip code and other categories for our shelter's intake, for example, that would be great information to share. This is why information transparency and sharing is vitally important.

At the last ASCMV shelter oversight board meeting, more detailed statistics for January 2009 were shared. These tell a more detailed story, to a certain extent. The intake for that month was 1143, with 489 animals coming from the city and 641 coming from the county. Of these, 694 animals were killed/euthanized (60.71%); 244 were adopted (21.35%); 134 were returned to their owners (11.72%); and 10 were sent to rescues (0.9%). On average, we put down 22.4 animals per day.

Looking at the kill rate more closely and in some of the categories our shelter provides, 146 cats deemed feral were put down, 183 cats with URI (upper respiratory infection) were put down, and 7 cats with ringworm were put down. Twenty-one dogs with kennel cough were put down, 20 dogs with parvo were put down, 1 dog was put down for distemper, 1 heartworm-postive dog was put down, and 20 dogs were put down for being pit bull type dogs. One-hundred and sixteen animals were deemed aggressive and put down, 4 were put down for being timid, 5 were put down after being hit by a car, and 77 were put down for other medical issues. Other numbers include 47 animals being put down at the owner's request, 25 put down for space, 3 put down for being too old, 1 put down for being too young, and 17 put down for a policy reason. There were also 18 that expired in the shelter and 42 that were dead on arrival.

These break-downs show us several things. The greatest numbers that are the most alarming are the numbers of cats coming in and getting URI/being killed. If there is an oubreak at our shelter, it's URI, which is hard to combat in stressed cats being held in crowded conditions.

That's why dealing with cats in a more progressive way through community education, community cat management programs (TNR), and targeted feral fix efforts would alone cut our kill rate in half. Seeing that TNR is now supported and advocated by every national animal group, and seeing the success of more and more communities using these approaches, and acknowledging our shelter's inability and lack of space in dealing with these high cat intake numbers, there is no better time than now to openly discuss and change the way we handle feral and other cats. Trapping and killing is not working for anyone nor lowering the cat population, and it is costly in so many ways. What is holding us back is our cat leash laws and ordinances in both the city and county that do not allow people to feed or care for outdoor cats. So, we need to change the ordinances first; when that happens, there are plenty of people who are willing and able and waiting to participate in modern approaches.

Some of the other reasons listed for putting animals down seem problematic, too. For instance, No Kill experts often say that it is usually about 10% of animals coming in that truly need euthanasia in the true definition of the word (to alleviate pain and suffering or for a poor prognosis); a fewer number are truly aggressive in the sense they are a public threat. Many animals fall into the treatable category, and this includes behavior issues. It is very rare for there to be this many animals that need to be put down for true aggression/viciousness. This points to our lack of behavior assessments and equitable, fair categorizing from professionals who understand animal language and behavior.

For instance, if a dog barks at you or growls from inside their kennel, this "cage aggression" rarely translates into a dog that will bite or harm you once that dog is outside of the territory or stressful environment or once you enter that territory with the dog. If a dog shows food guarding, that is an aggressive issue, but it is one easily rehabilitated. And, many cats behave aggressively in a shelter setting but not outside of it.

Going back in time to years past, there are only very high-level statistics to share. In 2007, our shelter's intake was 15,743, and 11,000 of those animals were killed/euthanized (69.87%). In 2006, the intake was 17,112, and 12,311 of those were put down (72%). In 2005, the intake was 15,355, and 11,451 of those were put down (75%). Most of this decade looks similar -- with an intake average of 15,000 and a kill rate average of 11,000 (70%+). In the 1990s, the intake in earlier years was about 11,000 and the intake increased to about 14,000 at the end of that decade. The kill rate was in the high 70 percentile and up to 80% some years.

In other words, our big picture over the years shows a similar picture. Most of the animals taken in at our shelter are being killed/euthanized. This has been the case for some time.

For statistics to be useful, and for shelters working toward reducing kill rates, standardization is a must and sharing of detailed information with others working in animal welfare is necessary. Many shelters are now using the statistical method recommended by Maddie's Fund, which also stress the need for statistical transparency. Here's a link to some other interesting shelter statistics and recommendations:

Maddie's Fund pet evaluation matrix
Shelters reporting to the Asilomar Accords
No Kill Advocacy Center's Lifesaving Matrix

Moving Forward with Targeted/Incentivized Efforts

Targeted, incentivized efforts come from being able to identify specific problem areas and targeting those areas with highly-publicized programs that will make a difference. For example, let's say our shelter sees a certain breed and their mixes coming in more than others (for us, it's chihuahuas and pit bull mixes). Spay/neuter efforts can be targeted to this specific breed and owner, and incentives can be offered to owners of these types of dogs who agree to bring them in for the surgery -- a cash "reward" or something they get for free, such as a gas card good for one fill-up.

Naysayers will probably argue that people should be doing the right thing for the greater good or fully from their own free will; however, how can it hurt to sway a person to fix their dog? Maybe someone has never fixed their dogs before and is scared of it or has some antiquated ideas; all they might need is one good experience to be forever swayed to do the right thing from this point forward -- for them to realize their fears were unfounded and to appreciate the benefits of having an altered dog.

That's how we chip away at the antiquated attitudes -- by substituting something progressive and modern for the antiquated. Whether it is helping owners of chained dogs to realize the benefits of a happy, socialized, trained dog or providing some support during bad times with free food from a pet food bank, all of these collective efforts are what will change our community and reduce those intake/kill rates at our shelter.

First, as a community, we need to figure out where the problem areas are, what the problems are for people and animals, and then develop a plan of action from there. We cannot do this without data collection and shared information from our AC departments and the shelter with all the non-profit groups and those of us stakeholders who can help target the areas of need. It's imperative we all work together and share information if we truly want to change the outcome for too many of our homeless animals.


Anonymous said...

so what is your solution to save the 60 % or so that gets humanly euthanized?with TNR we still have all the problems with stray nuisance cats and the deseases that come with them.why do you only advocate TNR for felines why not dogs(is a cats life more important?)
I never see you or your groups going out to help educate the public other than bashing the shelter all the time, that is not progressive.
why dont you ever bash PETA with a recent report of a 95% kill rate.

Bad Bad LeRoy Brown said...

I highly suggest that you look at the pound's policies as to adopting animals. Frankly they make even viewing animals a square pain. Maybe it's just easier to kill them, rather than do the job right. It's cheaper in the long run to kill.

I heard on the news that they are whining about how much more is killed here than up in Albuquerque in ratio to populace And that the pound is going to hold another dimwitted meeting about it.

Shit just kill them all off when you get them and quit pretending!

In reply to annoy'mouse'...Ar you stupid or something. Dogs pack when they are left on their own and they go back to their roots and hunt when the Dog Cow isn't there any more. Maybe you would you rather have a pack of hungry pitbull's running the streets???? So what's with the cat hate crap out of you anyway?

Miss Meow said...

Hey Cat Hater.....It's spelled disease.

badlands said...

Great article, Michel. As for Anonymous' statement regarding TNR of cats. As LeRoy Brown, commented, cats are generally not a threat to humans, as roaming dogs can be. In fact, truly feral cats shun human interaction. As for "nuisance cats", our city and county animal control officers, along with the general public, have been trapping and removing cats from areas for many years, to no avail. It has been proven, time and time again, that TNR can and does work to stabilize and reduce feline populations over time. Why not try something different, that not only will save taxpayer dollars (fewer animals being impounded and euthanized at the shelter) and will actually accomplish the goal of LESS CATS???

Billy Bob said...

I see something wrong with a city who has more animal control trucks running around than police. It's city, county, and NMSU buzzing the city constantly like some obsessed crazy person. I hear they actually have running out of cats to kill and are planning a Prairie Dog round up next.

Jose Can U See.... said...

I see the AC crowd caught themselves some chicken dinner. What a joke! Yer obviously they used to fight Roosters. But if they stopped what were they going to do with them? Kill em? Old skinny roosters don't make for good eatin' Turn the loose? Then they would be in trouble for that. The only thing they could do is keep them. The news didn't report any actual proof they were still fighting them. But guilty or not they will just let it slide and have a finger licken' AC picnic on their confiscations

htte said...

so why do you all have a double standard when it comes to dogs and cats.
so you all think it is ok to kill a ferel dog but not a cat.
i never hear any one addressing the problem of the nuisance of stray cats other than we should just deal with it.
and no one never has a solution on how to keep track of the rabies vaccinations for these animals.
and this is scary especially when there has more and more cases of animals both domesticated and wild becoming possitive in this region.
what are you going to do if we have a rabies outbreak again like there was in the early eighties. at that time in El Paso all animals running at large where dropped on site.
I think if your going to advocate a no kill TNR it should include all animals, not just one species because they dont run in packs
and remember even if a animal has a home and it is running at large off it's property it IS stray