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.