Wednesday, May 20, 2009
However, when one looks at the big national picture regarding dogfighting and how it is handled in our legal system, no other case has catapulted the atrocities of dogfighting to the public arena in this way and no other case has done more to show that the victims of these crimes deserve a second chance at life instead of what was and is usually recommended for them -- a "humane" death. Pit bulls are now regarded with more compassion and understanding, and that is something that no other dogfighting bust has ever accomplished. As we all know, there are many of these busts nationwide each year, with a few here in Dona Ana County as well--for both cockfighting and dogfighting.
In reality, Michael Vick paid a much higher price than the average dogfighter pays in our justice system. It is because of his celebrity that such a bright and harsh light was upon him. As most of us know, he is not the first nor the last who will use and abuse this powerful yet loving dog breed. Most of those busted for these crimes get away with a slap on the wrist (as we have seen here), and most of their victims meet the fate of death after all the anguish and fear they have endured most of their lives.
There is talk out of HSUS that Michael Vick may go to work for them in their campaign against dogfighting. I hope this does happen for several reasons. First of all, I genuinely believe that all former criminals deserve a second chance at life and to redeem themselves after they have paid their debt to society. Michael Vick is no different and isn't more of a monster than anyone else who has committed this crime. I also think that, even if Vick is not genuine in his feelings toward wanting to help dogs, his ability to get the message to the public is a powerful one. He can speak to those youth who are caught up in this lifestyle in a much more meaningful way than you or I can do so.
Another thing I often point out, which does not necessarily earn me any popularity points among my peers, is that even some of those who work in animal welfare are prejudiced against this dog breed and fear these dogs. I can't help but wonder about the irony, too, of an animal-welfare and justice system that calls for the systematic death of the victims of the crimes it fights so hard against. Imagine if we did this for the human victims of crimes? These dog victims are "saved" from their abusers to often suffer more in intense confinement after their supposed salvation and then meet their demise when all is said and done. That is something we need to question and raise our voices against, too.
As Michael Vick goes to work for the HSUS, I hope he and all of us will openly challenge this big, powerful, rich animal group to use some of its vast resources to do more than just lead busts against dogfighters and call for harsher penalties and laws. The HSUS needs to do more than launch educational campaigns to convince the people of this nation that dogfighting is nothing more than a human-constructed world of carnage and cruelty. Although I agree with all of these messages and efforts, where I diverge with groups like the HSUS is that they then walk away from the very victims that they alone have the most power and resources to redeem and rescue.
I hope we can convince HSUS, PETA, and others to monetarily and vocally support the animal groups in this nation that are poised and ready to help the actual victims of each of these crimes (BAD RAP, Best Friends, Villalobos Rescue Center, etc.). The Michael Vick dogs have proven that most of the dogs from these cases are savable and deserve as much of a second chance as any other homeless dog. For an update on the ones that ended up at Best Friends, all of which were deemed the most challenging to rehabilitate, see this recent story: Boon to the Breed.
As we reach a point in this nation where more and more homeless animals are saved, we need to ask ourselves what is the way forward for the humane movement. To me, it is in saving and advocating for all the underdogs and undercats of this society. After all, it was not that long ago we were killing 24+ million homeless animals a year. Now, that number is down to about 3 to 4 million. Of these, about a million are pit bulls and bully mixes. Another large quantity are feral cats. These are the underdogs we should be targeting most for our efforts.
After all, it's easy to save a cute and cuddly animal; there is no want of homes for these types. The ones we need to save now and speak up for are those that are most marginalized.
At right is a picture from the recently-released DVD documentary about some of the Vick dogs called Vicktory to the Underdog. I encourage everyone who can to order this film and watch it. It is about both human and canine underdogs, and it is a story of success and triumph over all that ails us.
I sincerely wish Michael Vick a better future -- one that is not riddled with the suffering of innocent dogs forced to do something that is more unnatural to them than any of us realize. I hope he can also reach some of the people out there that continue to participate in this sorry excuse of a "sport".
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
The main point to remember and that those who argue against TNR seem to forget is that our outdated catch and kill method is the only other approach that has been used and has miserably failed for decades and decades. We know it has failed because feral cat populations have grown steadily instead of diminished, and these cats that are not managed by colony caretakers are not vaccinated, not fixed, and cause more issues for humans and other animals than those who are managed.
"No one can ever tell me how and who will be sure all the cats in a TNR program are vaccinated for rabies. Who will keep all of these records and who will be liable if a cat does happen to bite someone. And now with the fact that we have bats that are positive in the area and two unvaccinated cats had to be euthanized because they came into contact with the bat. It was ordered by the State health department. And how about other feline diseases that can spread rapidly. Who will have all the records of each cat if they are vaccinated."
All the cats in managed cat colonies are trapped, fixed, vaccinated and released back into their colony. In rare cases, cats can be relocated to a new territory via barn cat and similar programs (check out http://www.barncats.org/).
Colony caretakers/feral cat groups are the ones who keep records on the cats and are responsible for them. Look to the NMSU program here in our community; they keep a database and are tracking each and every cat. TNR caretakers also provide feeding stations and dispute resolution when cats become a problem for anyone. By feeding and caring for the cats, it is less likely the cats will be out hunting or disturbing people.
Usually, TNR programs do a very good job of catching all of the cats in a colony, and this is why these programs work. With most cats in the colony fixed, vaccinated, and released, that makes it so that other cats are kept out of the colony. It stabilizes that colony and its population. When some or all cats in a colony or territory are caught and killed, it only makes it so that more cats move in and multiply that much faster. That's why there's now an estimated 60-80 million feral cat population in our country--that's above the 80 million in homes!
TNR is the only solution that has worked to reduce the population of feral, abandoned, unwanted cats. These managed colonies are much safer than the alternative for other cats and humans. Now, all the cats in our community that are loose are not vaccinated, not taken care of, etc.
As the cat populations in colonies begin to diminish over time, they naturally die off. The other plus is that most feral/wild cats do not come into contact at all with humans. You'd have to be looking for trouble to get attacked by a feral cat. They hide and do not bother anyone except for their natural prey, so TNR also helps address this issue by providing food to hungry loose cats, which then saves more of their prey.
To me, this answers your comments, Anonymous, that you say no one can answer. This also addresses the recent case of the rabid bat and the cats that "might" have come into contact with the bat that were killed. If those cats had been vaccinated even once in their lives, the chances of them being infected would have been extremely rare.
Also remember that the last time there was an incident in this nation of a domestic cat involved in a human rabies incident was back in 1975. As we know, wild animals still have issues with rabies, but our domestic animals are pretty well-protected these days because of our emphasis on vaccination for the past few decades.
Next post: I'll summarize my favorite workshop at The No Kill Conference 2009, "How to Overcome Internal Obstacles to Success".
Friday, May 8, 2009
The new paradigm says that it is a given that animals will be homeless, neglected, and relinquished to shelters. It's a shelter's duty to be animals' safety net and afford them an opportunity at a second chance at life in a good home. It is also a given that there will always be those that are not good with animals, and it is a shelter's duty to protect animals from these people. However, if you look at how animals are loved and treated as a whole by most people, there is an entire army of compassion ready to be tapped into. Those of us who love and care for animals far outnumber those who do not, so how can we attract more into the shelter to help save more lives?
Foster homes kicked into overdrive
At most shelters, foster homes are utilized to help care for some animals that are not ready for adoption for many reasons, especially puppies and kittens that need extra care. Most shelters have a small number of dedicated fosters they rely on, but to get to No Kill, a small number of fosters is not enough. Progressive shelters work to build the foster numbers in order to save most animals that are treatable and can be readied for adoption. Some No Kill directors have been so successful as to turn the number of fosters they utilize from two digits to three digits ... from 10-50 foster homes to hundreds and some have even thousands of foster homes.
Susanne Kogut, the director at Charlottesville SPCA, did just that. She turbocharged the number of foster homes by using this formula:
Organize & ativate
FIND is perhaps the most important part of building a foster network. Too many times, shelters are complacent with or settle for the few foster homes they have, assuming people are not interested in this work. From the public's point-of-view, the message is just not getting to them often enough or clearly enough. Most people don't understand what fostering is, what it entails, how rewarding it can be, or how it fits into a lifesaving model of sheltering.
Kogut uses media to help get her messages to the public. She played a story that came out on a local news channel that highlighted the work of one of her foster families. This family traveled often and could not have their own pets full-time, but they loved and adored animals. Fostering was their way of having pets in the home when it fit into their schedule, and the whole family participated in the efforts. There's nothing like people who actually do the work taking about fostering to help clarify the message to the general public at home. Kogut also uses other methods of reaching the public ... postcard mailers, fliers, etc.
Once people sign up to foster, the next steps are to offer the support they need to be successful. Instead of relying only on those with fostering experience or experience in a certain area (e.g., neo-natal kittens and puppies), the Charlottesville SPCA organizes and activates those who are willing to give it a try, offers full information and support along the way, trains and teaches people how to care for special-needs animals, empathizes with fosters when they are having issues and energizes them to keep on going, and last but not least, rewards their fosters often. They never let fosters feel like they are alone or saddled with animals forever; they offer support to adopt out the fostered animals when they are ready and to keep the lifesaving cycle moving along.
Kogut ended her presentation with advice to have a set program but to also remain flexible. She also talked about using Internet social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, to reach out to more segments of the population. That way, even if some foster families end up keeping the animals they were caring for and no longer want to foster, there are more volunteers available to foster animals and the cycle goes on. This way, you don't run out of foster homes; on the contrary, you attract more and more of them.
Building resources for TNR
Unfortunately, TNR and community cat programs are scarce in our community because both our city and county ordinances make feral cat caretakers into outlaws. One person who commented on this blog asked who is working on TNR in our community, and all I can point that person to is our one program on the NMSU campus (which is a very successful local model of how these programs work). The FCamp website is listed under my Progressive Animal Welfare Links to the right of this blog. Contact that group if you'd like to help.
That said, I hold onto the hope that our area will someday come up to speed on cat population management and the only method that has proved to be both humane and effective. This is the case for both rural ferals and urban ferals, of which there are many in our community.
Mike Fry, the director of a sanctuary in Minnesota called Animal Ark, talked about how they grew their feral program. They have a spay/neuter van they run that only fixes cats. They started out strongly and boldly and even before they had all the funding they needed. His philosophy is that if you make a decision to do something, start doing the good work you want to do, then the additional resources you will need usually follow. It may be along the lines of the cliched phrase "Build it and they will come", but this mantra seems to work for many successful No Kill shelter directors.
It worked for Animal Ark. They started out by purchasing a used spay/neuter vehicle and barely getting by, but as they worked in the community, their good work was rewarded. After some time, an individual in the community purchased a new van for their neuter commuter, and now they are out performing surgeries on groups of cats on a regular basis.
His advice for working in communities that are anti-TNR was to get out there and talk about how and why TNR works. Usually, those that do not approve of it or fight it have misunderstandings and are not well-informed. Instead of arguing with people and getting nowhere, he says you must address the problems head-on, acknowledge real issues with loose cats, and talk about how TNR helps address these issues. There is common ground for those on both sides of this debate: everyone acknowledges the fact that shelters are inundated with cats, that there is nowhere for them to go in the sheltering system, and that at a great cost to taxpayers, they are put down. Polls on the subject also show that the majority of people in the public do not want the cats trapped and hauled off and killed. This method has been used for decades and is not successfully reducing cat populations or shelter deaths.
The way to address the concerns of those that love and feel sorry for birds is to first respect and understand where they are coming from. Agree with them that birds being hurt and/or killed by cats is a sad reality. Explain how feral colonies controlled by TNR will address this issue better than catch and kill ever has.
Boost those volunteer numbers
Bonney Brown, director of the Nevada Humane Society, shared her secrets for increasing the number of volunteers at her shelter from 30 to 1,300 in one year, and then increasing this to 2,740 the next year. She says that it begins by seeing that volunteers are ambassadors of your shelter in the community and well worth the efforts of having their work and enthusiasm in your facility -- no matter if there are issues with volunteers from time-to-time.
Although all shelters have those die-hard volunteers that are there no matter what and last the test of time, studies show that most volunteers last 30-90 days. However, you can still tap into these volunteers for shelters as well. Make it easy for people to come out and help.
She spoke about the importance of written materials and training for volunteers. Coming from Best Friends, Brown understands that even if a person shows up for one day to volunteer and nothing else, you can still put them to work for the good of animals. In order to keep the flow of volunteers coming so that you don't miss those that are going, you need to work hard at recruitment and training. Among all those you attract, you will find more and more of those faithful volunteers that won't disappear after a few months.
Start by sharing your mission, goals, and programs/areas of need with the public. Provide many volunteer opportunities that help people use their own skills and interests in their volunteer work. Clearly define shelter policies, and write volunteer job descriptions. When expectations are clear, less issues arise.
The Nevada Humane Society offers orientations that are very short that then break up into training groups. Seasoned volunteers are used as mentors and trainers.
It all starts out with creating the volunteer program, putting it in the hands of a capable volunteer coordinator, and adjusting the program as you go along. Be flexible in scheduling, and don't turn people off or away. In your recruitment, you can be specific about your needs. However, the biggest secret to volunteer program success is to focus on fun. After all, people are there because they want to be; they are not paid to care.
In order to recruit volunteers, share success stories with the public. Use good photos in all stories you share, and ask for help from volunteers and others in getting the word out. Employ grassroots strategies, use classified ads, send out PSAs on a regular basis, and use online networks, such as the one on the Best Friends website. Get out there and engage with civic groups, too.
Working with rescue groups
The last part of this Harnessing Compassion workshop was about working with rescue groups, and the presenter was Abagail Adams, the director at the Tompkins County SPCA. The first words out of her mouth were, "More is better; network, network, network..."
Don't sit back and wait for rescues and other groups come to you; be proactive and contact them. Contact rescue groups, other animal non-profits, trainers, etc. See how and when you can facilitate them coming to your shelter on a regular basis to take animals or make suggestions of where you can transfer out of the area.
Rescues and shelters can help each other by sharing referrals and sharing advertising. Rescues have breed expertise that can come in handy with rehabilitation cases or with other issues. They also have a vast group of resources and relationships that you can tap into. By sharing this information, you start to build a bigger and stronger network. This network helps make the safety net for the animals in your shelter larger and larger. The larger the network, the more lives you will save.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
More to come ...
Sunday, May 3, 2009
The Clock is Ticking
Susan Cosby opened the session with the important message about the kind of urgency needed in getting animals through the system quickly in order to save the most lives possible. As an example, she and her staff carry pagers with them, and as soon as any animal's time is up in the stray hold period, they immediately have a plan in place for the next spot that animal will take in the routing process.
When it comes to intake, the key is to look at the data to see which animals the shelter is taking in and why. Are they of specific breeds more than others? Are they feral cats? Are they from a certain part of the jurisdiction? When you identify those trends in the data, you can proactively work to prevent some animals from coming to the shelter in the first place by addressing these specific issues or areas with outreach and programs/services.
Another concept she introduced was whether you have to take animals in now or push it off to later ... saying the director and staff need to try to manipulate intake as much as possible. One example was a person coming in with a cat they found and her few-week old kittens. It can't hurt to ask that person to consider holding onto the cats for a few days or more until space opens up, and you can also arrange to have animals who are being relinquished come in by appointment instead of in an uncontrolled fashion. The latter also helps shelters to NOT reinforce to the public that animals are throw-aways if a person has to make an appointment and talk to someone about the animal they are giving up to gather data about each animal you can at intake as well ... while also evening out the flow of animals in your shelter.
Once taken in, the most important thing to do at that point to prevent disease spread and severity is vaccination at intake, which is also recommended by shelter medicine experts. This prevents the animals from becoming ill and needing special care and treatment. Vaccinate early and often; follow strict protocols for handling animals; and clean the shelter well and with the proper disinfectants at the proper diluted rate. This will do wonders for your animals so that by the time they hit the adoption area of the shelter, volunteers and the public and others can interact with them and provide the needed socialization that is also key to fighting disease because nothing causes disease spread more than stressed animals with depressed immune systems.
For cats, this is especially true. Give them what they need to give them a paw up on a second chance at life. Give them blankets, towels, hiding spaces, and time to adapt. Recognize the signs of stress and disease early-on and respond accordingly.
Important in the routing process is determining who is "savable" or not via appropriate, fair, and equitable medical and behavior assessments. Isolate those who are showing signs of illness, and then divide and conquer the rest. Send all those who can be sent out to rescues and other partner organizations, send some who need special care to get them ready to adoption to foster care, and then adopt out more animals with creative and comprehensive adoption programs and promotions. The goal is to move animals through the system quickly so they don't languish in stress and disease and to make room for the new ones coming in.
Keeping Pets in Homes/Increasing Pet Adoptions
Bonney Brown spoke next about shelters needing to take their own lifesaving impact test when it comes to evaluating their progress. She talked about how a shelter should be the last resort for homeless animals, and it is imperative to communicate this honestly and understandably to the public. It is up to shelters to be proactive and helpful in educating the public on alternatives to relinquishing animals they don't want to or can no longer care for--whatever the reason.
One tool/program helping in Reno is their Animal Help Desk, where volunteers are structured and trained to answer calls and e-mails from people needing help resolving issues with their pets. Brown is more than willing to share their program details and caseworker handbook with anyone who asks for copies.
Another advantage in the battle to reduce intakes is to educate people that instead of leaving an animal they may care about at a shelter in which the animal may lose its life, another alternative is to support and offer advice to people on how to re-home animals themselves. Give people the information and tools to do this, and don't give up hope that this or other efforts you make to reduce intakes will pay off.
In the case of adoptions and promotions, Brown showed her application of retail-business savvy to adoption promotions, with the focus on getting the word out and getting people in. She stressed the need to make the shelter experience fun for everyone -- the animals in the shelter and each and every visitor. Using simple posters, donated ad spaces, public service announcements, and other media/public outreach, this shelter has frequent adoption promotions specials and promotions. They shamelessly tack themselves onto every holiday known to man, from national ones to local ones. Some other promotions they have tried are Furry Speed Dating, Staff Picks, and creative answers to hoarding cases, such as the Great Orange Cat Adoption. They also take advantage of national adoption promotion events, such as Home 4 the Holidays.
The main message Brown had was that lifesaving and creativity should take precedence over rigidity and getting stuck in the way things have always been done. Don't be afraid to try new things, and doing so does not mean that you have to make unwise adoption decisions or compromise the quality of homes pets go into. It all falls into place and adoptions increase when you learn how to make the shelter experience a pleasant and positive one for all.
Life Enrichment for Sheltered Animals: Thinking Outside the Cage
Mike Fry rounded out the workshop on No Kill Sheltering by talking about the importance of alleviating stress for each animal in the facility. He also stressed the importance of doing this from the moment the animals arrive -- to help mitigate disease. And, he thinks this should apply to all species who coexist in shelters, including the human visitors.
One of the greatest challenges for shelters is how to deal with cats, who become easily stressed and then become ill. In his shelter, they found the two extremes of stark cages with one cat per cage and large colony rooms both created stressful conditions for sheltered cats. What they decided to build was colony condos in the rooms that used to house steel cages. He finds that having cats inside these condos at about 4 per condo has worked the best, especially since these condos are equipped with cat furniture, piped-in music, separate air sources, and other amenities important for cat health and enrichment.
When they decided to replace the cages with the condos, which turned out to be more cost-effective, they didn't have all of the funds for the project. However, in true No Kill fashion--which preaches the mantra of "start to build it and they will come"--they found that once word got out to the community about what they were doing, people stepped forward to sponsor one condo until all the ones that they needed were built. In exchange for this sponsorship, the name of the person or organization/business that donated the condo was placed on a metal plaque on the condo itself--giving credit where it was due and offering a permanent way of thanks.
Since going to this condo concept, Animal Ark has seen a drastic increase in cat adoptions, zero cases of ringworm outbreaks, and a 95% reduction in upper respiratory infections. There are even accommodations for challenging felines!
The formula for success at Fry's shelter seems simple but does require hard work: provide adequate, low-stress housing, proper vet care, cleaning/disinfecting, nutrition, socialization, play time, exercise, and in the case of dogs, training to prepare them for their coming forever home. Also in the case of dogs, the canines are not short-pawed because of the new cat digs. Large kennels provide a nice space where dogs can move and also a better space for multiple dogs to be housed. Dogs are given beds, blankets, toys, treats, and music-listening enjoyment. They are also on scheduled playtime and potty breaks -- about three a day.
The shelter has also found that integrating dogs in the environment and as much as possible is key for their health and to help shy dogs come out of their shells. Dogs share office spaces, break rooms, etc. Dogs also enjoy some other enrichments, such as large parks they can run and play in outside. They enjoy daily walks, obedience training, agility training, rooms with sofas, TVs, and private yards where volunteers and others can take a dog to meet a new potential owner or just hang out.
Overall Workshop Message
Try to think outside of the normal sheltering model to route animals through quickly and to create success for your shelter, which is measured by your increasing save rate. There is nothing more powerful or rewarding, and the only way to get from standard sheltering to No Kill Sheltering is to believe you can do it, work toward it, and let people get on board and help. Make it fun for you, them, and the animals.
Saturday, May 2, 2009
It was wonderful to meet some of the people I have only communicated with by phone or by cyberspace or have admired from afar, including No Kill's fearless leader, Nathan Winograd. I got to put the faces to many other names as well--Ryan Clinton of FixAustin.org, Richard Avanzino of Maddie's Fund, Bonney Brown of the Nevada Humane Society, Susan Cosby of The No Kill Nation, Abagail Adams of the Tomkins SPCA, and Suzanne Kogut of the Charlottesville SPCA.
Starting with the keynote address by Nathan Winograd and Richard Avanzino, the message of the day was set -- No Kill is an inevitable social movement. Those communities who have not achieved it yet will do so someday--either now or later. It takes a paradigm shift where animal rescuers, shelter directors and community civic leaders come to terms with some overwhelming facts in the face of the myopic vision they have of irresponsibility and abuse of companion animals. The facts, as Avanzino presented, are these:
- In 1970, we were killing about 24 homeless animals nationally.
- By 1996, that number was reduced to about 6 million.
- By 2007, that number was further reduced to 3.7 million.
- With more resources available, more compassion and giving to animal-welfare groups and causes, and with the pet population growth to go from the roughly 135 million in homes today to 190 million in homes projected by 2015, we are at a place to compete more for that companion animal adoption market than ever before and reach a time that all healthy and treatable animals entering shelters find a second chance at life instead of the end of the road.
Winograd talked more about the narrow vision that rescuers sometimes have that blinds them to the entire picture. It is understandable why some people, who deal only with the worse-case scenarios day in and out, cannot see that caring and compassion toward animals far outweighs the cases of abuse and neglect. Yet, the evidence of this caring is all around us if we will pay attention to it -- it's in the billions spent on animals by pet owners each year, it's in the dogs you see walking each day with their owners, it's in the numerous best-selling animal books on the market as well as successful movies about animals that people cannot get enough of. It is because of this compassion that we have the power to harness the people and resources necessary to change ... to "bring animal sheltering into the 21st century".
That's the social movement we all have to get behind. It is a movement and revolution that is inevitable. The progressive philosophy and sheltering models are there for us to follow and create. Because of this, not a day goes by that more shelters around the country are added to this list of No Kill success stories.
So, the question is: What are we waiting for, Dona Ana County?!?!