Thursday, October 7, 2010

Grassroots Press story on LC animal shelter

Here's a new story that came out about the animal shelter written for Grassroots Press by Jeff Berg. I was interviewed for the story, too.

Berg tries to show all sides to the story, but I'm afraid the press will always have issues understanding animal sheltering and our animal-welfare systems enough to fully explore solutions to problems. They also easily get sidetracked by the deflection our shelter uses of the animals coming in each month and being full as the excuse for not doing better and of the issues only being in the public and with the people.

The press does not understand, too, what some of us mean by saying that for most animal shelters and animal control departments, it is much easier to keep the status quo and to do things as they have always been done, which always leads to more killing than necessary. Killing is much easier than the hard work of fully administering the No Kill Equation and thinking outside the box to solve problems differently; it is also easier when you have the evil public entirely to blame to wash your hands of the killing.

Also important is for animal control departments to change the way they do business and be more proactive than reactive. Operating in old ways leads to more animals hauled in than may be necessary as well (such as for cats), so the issues are complex and never as simple as "too many homeless animals and not enough homes".

Nevertheless, thanks to Jeff Berg for his article:

Animal Shelter: Divergent perspectives on progress

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Should the daily newspaper be taking sides?

I wrote the following letter to the editor of the Las Cruces Sun-News in response to an "Our View" in the paper this past week where the paper's editorial staff came out against the ASPCA's offer to help our shelter get on the right track. The paper has been in the shelter's pocket, so to speak, for some time now, but I question the validity of their views and what they are based on. I don't see how they can weigh in on an issue they know so little about, and wouldn't they be doing the public more service by covering this story fairly and presenting the facts as they get them and all sides to the issue?

Here's the letter I sent. I hope it makes it to print in the paper, but in case it does not, I wanted to share it with everyone.

The real elephant in the room
(submitted as a letter to the editor to the Las Cruces Sun-News on August 11, 2010)

With all due respect, perhaps the editorial staff at this paper should not be writing an “Our View” about a subject you know little about—animal sheltering. Perhaps you’d do better to cover the facts and give equal opportunity to all sides without taking a side of your own.

We who raise the voice of shelter reform do so from a place of wanting the best for our homeless animals. Telling us our efforts do more harm than good won’t guilt us into silence because we know that from silence, nothing changes.

The real elephant in the room is the one you don't see—the lack of accountability for proper shelter operations. You scoffed at shelter reviews by different industry experts since 2006. All point to the same repairs needed for the kennels/ventilation system and the lack of adhering to well-documented best practices regarding shelter medicine and humane animal care. To this date, none of these issues have been addressed.

In any industry, we’d expect best practices to be applied; why not with our animal shelter? The standards should be applied no matter how many animals enter the facility each day/month/year. At the same time, our shelter should ensure each animal in their care is living according to the Five Freedoms and being equitably routed through the system. It’s a challenging job—but not impossible.

Instead, our shelter is housing more animals than they can properly care for, and they are releasing unvaccinated/unaltered animals into the public they chastise for such practices. Yet, the only progress that has been made under new management working with a vastly higher budget is a small drop in the kill rate for dogs.

For those who want an animal-sheltering education, start here:,,,, and

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Urge our leaders to partner with the ASPCA on shelter repair and reform

I am going to be very blunt: we have the worst case of animal hoarding right inside the Las Cruces, NM, municipal animal shelter at this time. Because of this, the ASPCA is offering to send a team of experts to help us clean up and repair the physical building and train management and stafff on sheltering best practices and animal intake, routing, herd health, shelter medicine, etc. It is a challenge to our leaders and community to work hard for two months to make drastic change, and we'd be fools not to accept this help and make it happen. Where there is a will, there is a way, and conditions are so dire that drastic and immediate action is necessary (it has been for some time). See yesterday's blog post for the ASPCA report and details.

If you want the ASPCA to help our shelter progress and right its wrongs, please contact the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley's oversight board. Right now, it sounds as if many of them have completely closed the door to the ASPCA because of them calling for the shelter to close for 60 days, but there are possibilties and options for what we can do with our homeless animals during that time frame. Our leaders have not even sat down with the ASPCA to work out those details. It is incumbent upon them to do so, as far as I'm concerned.

The board's names, e-mails, and phone numbers are listed next; contact them with your opinions!

Miguel Silva, ASCMV Board Chair, City Councilor, 541-2066,

Dolores Connor, Board Member, City Councilor, 541-2066,

Nathan Small, Board Member, City Councilor, 541-2066,

Terrence Moore, Non-Voting Board Member, City Manager, 541-2076,

Scott Krahling, Board Member, County Commissioner, 525-5810,

Oscar Vasquez-Butler, Board Member, ,County Commissioner, 647-7201,

Jess Williams, Board Member, Dona Ana County Director, 525-5801,

Brian Haines, Non-Voting Board Member, County Manager, 647-7201,

Saturday, August 7, 2010

ASPCA report on municipal shelter

Recently, a team from the ASPCA's Community Initiatives was invited to Las Cruces to help our shelter and community with proactive and modern approaches to our animal-welfare issues. They were invited here by the shelter's director, whose focus is usually outside the shelter's walls and on the ongoing overpopulation issues we have here with cats and dogs. What the shelter manager did not foresee and what the ASCMV Board did not expect was that this group of seasoned professionals would be so shocked by the state of overcrowding and improper housing in our animal shelter that the group was impelled to write a report and offer to come to our community to help us turn things around.

What is even more shocking for myself, as I have been calling for shelter reform for some time now and even became a broken record on this blog, is that our shelter's oversight board would react so defensively to the ASPCA. I felt for sure that this time they would have that light-bulb moment I have been wishing upon them for years; instead, they are entrenching themselves even more deeply in the rhetoric that the shelter is doing the best it can because it is so overwhelmed with animals.

Let me remind everyone that our shelter is no more inundated now than it has been in the last 15 years. Our rate of intake is the same. What has changed now is that the pendulum has shifted all the way from empty cages to cages and crates overfilled with animals and with basic animal sheltering practices of intake, routing, animal husbandry, and shelter medicine not being implemented at all. What has resulted is a situation that is going to explode if something is not done about this soon.

The shelter has also been using a double-wide trailer to house dogs in for many, many months. What is wrong with this picture is many-fold. They house dogs in small crates 24/7 with little time away from the intense confinement; they have issues with cleanliness; they have serious rat infestation issues, etc. This trailer is not designed to nor should have ever been used for this purpose.

Guess what? The ASPCA team agreed. They called for the immediate cessation of using this trailer to house animals and for our shelter to never use it again for this purpose.

Please see their report, which is copied next. Please urge our leaders to work with the ASPCA and take them up on their offer to come out and help our shelter start from scratch. It is really our only hope.

ASPCA Report:

August 2, 2010

Request: Beth Vesco-Mock, DVM, Executive Director, ASCMV approached Karen Medicus, Senior Director, ASPCA Community Outreach, asking if there was any way the ASPCA could provide assistance with the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley. Karen suggested she visit the shelter with an ASPCA team to explore areas for assistance and collaboration.

The ASPCA team toured the shelter on July 27, 2010.

Situation Found at a Critical Level:
Building capacity has been surpassed beyond minimal standards for space requirements per animal.
Care and husbandry of animals not consistent with basic/adequate infection or disease management.
Facility is in a state of disrepair. HVAC system needs repair and kennel surfaces in need of repair and sealing to allow proper disinfection. Trailer house not appropriate for animal housing. There is no way to properly sanitize or ventilate this building.

Immediate: Need official request for ASPCA assistance from the joint animal services board agreeing to:
Stop receiving animals at this location until building repairs can be completed.
Remove all animals from the building and transfer animals that can be placed with placement organizations within and without of the City of Las Cruces.
The ASPCA will provide assistance from our Field Investigation and Response team to transport animals out of the area.
Decontaminate and repair the shelter building.
Discontinue use of trailer house building for animal housing permanently.
Work with assistance from the ASPCA shelter veterinarian, Dr. Mc Reynolds and team to develop the plan for management of shelter flow, and herd health.
Coordinate all media outreach and interview opportunities with ASPCA media and communications team to ensure consistent and proper messaging.

Intermediate- If requested the ASPCA will facilitate a community planning process to engage the community in joint life saving programs for the community animals.

Proposed time-line:
Week of August 2 – 6
Karen Medicus return to Las Cruces, on evening of the 4th, meet with Dr. Beth and her staff at 7:30 am on the 5th and attend the Board meeting at 9 am. Karen will be available until 2:30 pm on the 5th to work out details and answer questions if the Board asks for ASPCA assistance.

Identify location for delivery of shipping crates and supplies for transfer of animals to placement partners.

Week of August 8 – 14
Dr. Mc Reynolds return to Las Cruces with two team members to assist ASCMV staff with identification of animals appropriate for transfer to placement partners, complete medical, paperwork, etc.

Cease animal intake on 11th.

Continue spay/neuter surgeries.

Week of August 15 – 21
ASPCA team arrives in Las Cruces with transport vehicles to begin transfer of animals.

ASCMV staff begins cleaning and decontamination of vacated animal holding areas.

Continue spay/neuter surgeries.

Week of August 22 – 28
ASPCA staff begin work with ASCMV staff on reorganization of operations and development of SOPs

ASCMV staff continues decontamination.

Contractors begin HVAC repairs and kennel wall and floor sealant process.

Continue spay/neuter services.

Week of August 29 – September 4
Finish SOPs and begin personnel management plan and staff training.

Continue repairs on building.

Continue spay/neuter surgeries.

Weeks from September 5 through September 26
Continue building repairs until complete.

Continue spay/neuter services.

Week of September 26 – October 2
Begin intake of animals and re-open shelter.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Pets and No Kill initiatives in mainstream national news

This week, I came across two MSNBC articles worth sharing that relate to progressive animal welfare efforts. On one hand, some cities are banning retail puppy sales, which is vastly increasing shelter dog adoptions, especially for shelters that offer friendly customer service and adoption counseling, matchmaking. On the other hand, there are some serious dangers to approaching NO KILL the wrong way, and for some shelters, the horrors animals suffer before anyone does anything to stop the insanity is a sad example of how local and state leaders are woefully out of touch with modern sheltering and best practices.

The following story talks about the progress being made in Albuquerque and other cities since they banned retail puppy sales:

No pups for sale? Cities ban pet shops: Movement aims to curb puppy mills, spur shelter adoptions, MSNBC article, May 27, 2010

The next article talks about shelters that have become literal places of horror for animals because of misguided management that did not understand or did not care that reaching NO KILL should not come at the sake of basic, humane animal care for pets housed in their shelters. I may be in the minority, but I fear our local shelter shares many characteristics with these shelters, such as housing multiple dogs in kennels with very little escape from this small confinement, very little supervision and care, etc. Some smaller dogs housed with bigger dogs getting trampled on and injured; some dogs do not eat enough because they are the submissive ones in the confined pack, etc. There's also a double-wide trailer on the property used to house sick dogs in drop-down crates not meant for holding dogs more than 8 hours in a row.

This article is very important for our local leaders to read so they can understand that simply lowering the kill rate is not what we are asking for as animal advocates. We expect a high level of care for the animals housed in our facility as well.

Animal shelter turned into a ‘house of horrors’: Quest for low-euthanasia rates led to charges of criminal neglect, cruelty, MSNBC article, March 16, 2010

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Thinking outside our boxes is animal welfare's biggest challenge

Home or Heaven: Are those the only two choices we have?

I have yet to watch the recent documentary film made about our municipal animal shelter, the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley (ASCMV), by the local City of Las Cruces Channel ( It is called Home or Heaven, and what that refers to is whether a sheltered animal finds a new home or is instead sent to heaven by way of lethal injection. I know the shelter director's answer to someone who inquires about a specific animal that has been put down is often, "He (or she) is in heaven now."

Sadly, those who work in shelters see the world in this black and white way and don't often think of what other choices there may be. By also imagining a nice, heavenly place where these animals must surely go, it may also lessen the sting of the reality of killing so many animals per day. That shelter workers do this to cope is understandable, but this complacency also leads them to believe there are few alternatives to death. They often say that the animals HAD to be euthanized for a lack of homes. It paints a very simplistic picture.

If a shelter had 50 interested adopters one day and turned away 25 of those for either arbitrary reasons or perhaps via bad customer service, can we really say that the picture is that black and white? And, why are the only choices home or heaven? They'll say it is because of a lack of space, and there's no doubt our shelter often does take in more animals that can comfortably fit under one roof at one time.

But, is there another choice to housing the animals when emergencies happen, such as the influx of puppies that supposedly came from an animal control raid through a neighborhood? Perhaps if the shelter reached out to the community and asked for help with finding other choices besides death and heaven, less animals would "have" to be put down. Maybe temporary holding pens could have been erected, maybe boarding facilities could each have taken in one litter of puppies, maybe people would open their homes to one litter of puppies ... at least for a week or two until a lifesaving plan could be implemented. In other words, an immediate permanent home is not the only option that exists.

So, when I do have a chance to watch the film, I will write more comments about the information presented and the challenges presented and how an animal-welfare system run from a progressive perspective may approach those challenges. More to come on this film later.

TNR setback points to great need for bird/wildlife and cat advocates to unite in shared goal

I heard that the County Commission tabled the updates submitted to them for changes to the animal ordinance that would have allowed for responsible TNR efforts. I am not sure why this decision was made, but I know that in doing this, our commission swept away hours of work of cat advocates, and it dashed many hopes we all had that our community could finally start approaching the cat population control issue in a more progressive and humane way.

TNR stands for trap-neuter-return (or relocation) of free-roaming cats, and it started in England about 55 years ago as an alternative to traditional catch-and-kill models of cat population control, which have failed miserably after being tried for the past few decades here and abroad. We realize we are losing this battle when we look at the number of cats estimated to be living in the U.S. today and when we look at our own animal shelter’s statistics over the past few decades.

An estimated 70−80 million cats live as family pets in homes in the U.S. today; an additional 70−80 million cats roam free. In our own community, our animal shelter has consistently killed hundreds of cats a month for the past few decades with no end to the killing in sight and, sadly, little reduction of our free-roaming cat population over time. The reality is that cats breed, reproduce, and thrive as outdoor animals at a far faster rate than we catch and kill them.

In 1980, TNR was introduced in the U.S. by the nation’s leading cat advocacy group, Alley Cat Allies. As more TNR success stories are experienced across the nation today, and as more municipalities are implementing TNR-friendly ordinances, we also have a success story in our own back yard: the NMSU Feral Cat Management Program (fCaMP). Still, some controversy and arguments against TNR persist, mainly from bird /wildlife advocates and people in the general public who do not understand how and why TNR offers a solution.

In a nutshell, properly-implemented TNR programs result in the following: decreased population and eventual elimination of homeless cats by preventing new litters, which is a benefit to affected wildlife as well; decreased complaints about homeless cats by eliminating behavior that some people find bothersome, such as territorial spraying, fighting, and mating; improved health of the existing homeless cat population via vaccination, which reduces public health risks; and decreased shelter intake (and killing), thereby freeing shelter/rescue space and funds. Traditional catch-and-kill models do not come close to producing these kinds of results.

Locally, we kill 80+% of the cats that end up in our animal shelter, many of which come from being trapped by our AC departments or individuals. Like it or not, we are losing the battle, and the impact is a great cost on our animal-welfare system in terms of dollars and the emotional toll this killing takes on our shelter’s staff. The director of the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley even says that what we are currently doing is not working, and we should consider all options available.

Isn’t it time for local bird/wildlife and cat advocates to sit down together to work on the complicated issue of cat overpopulation in our community instead of engaging in the simplistic battle of animal vs. animal that has gotten us nowhere? It’s time to find solutions that benefit all those affected—humans, cats, and birds/wildlife. Some communities have cat/wildlife cooperative undertakings that we can emulate, such as the Burlington County Feral Cat Initiative in NJ and the feral working group in Pinellas County, FL.

In the end, all of us want the same thing – a reduction in our free-roaming cat population. If we work together instead of against each other, we will reach this goal. Right now, we are still spinning our wheels, and the losers of our uncooperative spirit and verbal battles are all the animals we claim to protect.

Local groups in favor of TNR are as follows: The NMSU Feral Cat Management Program (fCaMP), ACTion Programs for Animals (APA), the Humane Society of Southern New Mexico (HSSNM), the Dona Ana County Humane Society (DACHS), the Spay and Neuter Action Program (SNAP), and Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary (SHAS). Local groups and others opposed to TNR are the Mesilla Valley Audubon Society and some wildlife rehabilitators. Notable national groups that support TNR are the National Animal Control Association (NACA), Alley Cat Allies, Best Friends Animal Society, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), and SpayUSA.

To learn more, start at these websites:,, (Focus on Felines outreach campaign);; and

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Blog posts will be few and far between

I wanted to let my blog readers know that the posts on this blog will be few and far between from this point on; in fact, they have been that way for some time now. Though I am not trying to make excuses, I choose to spend more time these days working on change than talking about it or writing about it. I've pretty much covered all areas and topics in detail that would help our community reach its no kill goals. Some of the blog posts took alot of hours of writing and research, so I hope they have been of use to someone.

I work full-time and am running a nonprofit in my spare time, so little time is left after that for blog postings. However, I will leave the blog up and will sometimes write new entries when a topic comes up locally that needs to be addressed. This will happen as time permits, so check back periodically.

Overall, what I have seen in the last couple of years from our community is more groups and individuals working together to better the lives of animals and also many individuals working hard to help other individuals. I believe that this work will pay off over time.

Few of us have any real impact or power over how our official animal-welfare powers that be operate -- whether this is our AC departments or our animal shelter. I don't think we'll ever have an impact until we ourselves make an impact in the wider community. Many of the programs and services that lead to no kill can be administered and operated outside of the sheltering system. That is where I am focusing my efforts personally with my work with ACTion Programs for Animals.

That said, keep voicing your opinions to our local leaders. Keep demanding the best there is to offer for our homeless and abandoned animals. If we keep up these demands, they will someday listen or someone who has power will understand what is needed and will make the widespread changes that many of us are still waiting for.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

No Kill does not take generations to achieve

This week's cover story in The Bulletin about the animal shelter is incorrect in its estimation of how long our community should take to reach No Kill. If this were truly the goal of our shelter and AC leadership (meaning our city and county leaders), we'd see many more strives by now than the small changes that have been made in the past couple of years since the Dona Ana County Humane Society lost its contract to run the shelter. The truth is, it should not take generations to accomplish major changes in a community's animal-welfare systems.

The assumption of our shelter's current leadership is that No Kill comes when the community is somehow transformed into 100% of its pet owners becoming responsible. Not only is this impossible, but communities that have achieved No Kill realize this is not necessary and that shelters, by definition, exist to help care for animals abandoned and abused by some people. The shelter and its leadership also do not take any responsibility for what has to be changed within the walls of the shelter to reach the goal. Other communities are making great strides by administering sheltering in a positive way instead of the negative way that simply wags its finger at the irresponsible public. As long as our leadership continues to solely look outward instead of inward, things will not change dramatically.

How did Reno, NV, go from a high kill rate community to one that now saves more than 90% of its homeless animals? It's not because there aren't irresponsible people in that community any longer. It's because a new shelter director came into the community with an explicit goal to make widespread changes and did so, and that community's sheltering system and animal control systems turned themselves around in a matter of a couple of years. They did so by teaming up to provide excellent services to the community and by working together toward the shared goal of lifesaving. (Read How We Did It by director Bonney Brown by clicking here.)

Looking to all of the programs and services that need to be in place (the No Kill Equation list at right), we can see how and why we are lagging so far behind. It's not about dabbling in any of there areas. It's about running them well and simultaneously.

Let's take this list of what is needed to achieve our goals and rate how we are doing at this point in time:

1. Feral cat TNR program--to this day, we are killing 80+% of the cats that enter our shelter, and both our AC departments are very regressive in the way they deal with free-roaming cats despite their own national association calling for a shift in the approach to one of trap-neuter-return. So, we still catch and kill the majority of loose cats. On top of that, those that enter our shelter receive no enrichment or care other than a staff person cleaning the cage. We are terribly failing our homeless cats, and our kill rate alone proves this. This is not just the public's fault when our leaders do not address the problem in more humane and effective ways.

2. High-volume, low-cost, and targeted spay/neuter--we are doing a bit better at this than in years past, but our volume is still not at the level it needs to be at to make a difference, and we are not targeting the efforts to areas that need it the most. To our credit, the county's spay/neuter van ran a few times in the past year, thanks to the SNAP program picking up the bill. And, the shelter is now offering low-cost spay/neuter services again. But, in order to make a difference, we need to UP these efforts considerably, and our city and county leaders need to see the need for vastly increased funding and targeted work in this area. We need not only one voucher program and a van running from time-to-time; we need to sterilize hundreds of animals each month to start with and offer the support to do so.

3. Rescue groups--we are doing a bit better in this area, from what I understand. The shelter does reach out to some rescue groups to come get animals out of the shelter, and they do ship some animals out to other locations. But, again, the level of this effort needs to be much higher, and there needs to be a good working relationship established with each and every animal group in the area and outside of the area, and this is not the case due to our shelter leadership's distaste for some individual people. That should never get in the way of lifesaving, but it is still a hindrance.

4. Foster care--again, we are doing a bit better in this area but not advancing to the level needed; those communities that are saving more lives are doing so by having hundreds of foster homes available to help in times of need, such as the recent puppy crisis at the shelter. We are not there yet; these efforts take more organization, more advertising, and more trust in the public that can do more good than harm. The shelter's new foster-to-adopt program needs to be administered well or not at all; it is incumbent on the shelter to ensure the animals leaving the facility are altered and vaccinated on a timely basis, or they need to go out there and recover the animals from people.

5. Comprehensive adoption programs--to my knowledge, the only stride we have made in this area is holding more frequent offsite adoptions at the usual places on one day each weekend, such as the Farmer's Market and PetCo. We need to get to the point when each day there's at least one offsite, and we also need better adoption policies and systems in place in the shelter itself. We need adoption counseling and counselors that can make sound adoption decisions based on common sense, not just a check-box list off an application. We also need to have special adoption promotions and invite the public to help out in times of need instead of blaming the public for what sometimes amounts to situations arising from Animal Control raids or the poor working relationship between AC and shelter leadership.

6. Pet retention--the shelter does not have a program in place at this time to help people work through issues with their pets instead of relinquishing them; to my knowledge, there is no pet help line in place at the shelter nor an interview of those wishing to give up an animal to find out the causes and possible solutions. We are sorely lacking in this area.

7. Medical and behavioral programs--our shelter still lacks equitable assessments of incoming animals as well as efforts to rehabilitate medical and behavioral issues. There is no behaviorist on staff, and animals are slated to be put down arbitrarily (i.e., shy dogs, decisions based on breed alone, scared cats, etc.). Cats are allowed no attention or enrichment from volunteers for supposed disease control despite this not being the standard in care suggested by industry experts because stressed cats get sick far more than enriched ones, and volunteers can easily be trained to mitigate disease spread as well as staff can. So, the horrible kill rate for cats reflects how badly our system is failing cats. Sadly, dogs do not fare too much better with a lack of daily enrichment for them as well.

8. Public relations/community involvement--though the shelter has been in the news more this past year than before, much of the message that comes out of the shelter is a negative one and a vague one as well. Communities that reach No Kill understand that this is not the way to approach the challenges of animal sheltering and that reaching out to the public with positive messages and approaches gets you much more ahead of the curve; it also pays to reach audiences with issue resolutions by using several means of PR--radio, TV, billboards, etc. You also need to involve all people who can and want to help the opportunity to do so. Simply blaming the evil public for all the killing is not going to work, but we are stuck on that broken record in our community and in our media outlets.

9. Volunteers--shelters that are making great strides toward No Kill are doing so with the support of hundreds of volunteers; our shelter is still operating with very few volunteers and very few opportunities for people to volunteer in ways that truly make a difference in lifesaving. There don't seem to be comprehensive volunteer programs and efforts at this time, as there weren't any in the past. This directly relates to the small strides made up to this point.

10. Proactive redemption--short of allowing people to post lost/found reports at the shelter, there are very little efforts on our shelter or AC leadership's behalf to help return animals to their owners or educate people about lost cat/dog behavior and what they need to do to help find their pets. Our city is also very negative in not allowing those looking for lost animals to post flyers or other information on public property such as light posts in neighborhoods, etc. We have a long way to go in this area as well.

11. Compassionate shelter director and AC leadership--compassion has to be toward animals and humans to make a difference. Plus, the leaders in all our animal-welfare systems need to establish good working relationships with each other as well. Instead, we have notorious infighting between some of these leaders, which only leads to more loss of animal life. Leadership also still runs in old-fashioned ways that lead to more killing. We also have very little compassion and understanding about the issues in our community and ways to start tackling these issues and helping more people become better pet guardians.

The bottom line is this: never has a community achieved No Kill by simply chastising the minority of those that are irresponsible in the public. Instead, transformation happens when you realize that the majority of people love and care for animals and should be invited to help make a difference by administering animal sheltering and control in a vastly different way. This is something our city and county leaders still do not grasp. Unfortunately, it is also something many animal loves still do not grasp as well.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Speak up for TNR

Those of us who support community cat programs and Trap-Neuter-Return/Release (TNR) for free-roaming cats need to speak up and do so with every resource and national-group backing we can. In light of the recent article about TNR in our local paper, it is still very clear we have a long way to go in our community before our Animal Control leaders and wildlife protectors get up to speed on this method and why it is beneficial to all animals and people involved, including birds and other wildlife. When it comes to this topic, more people than not are very misinformed. Luckily, our animal shelter, who has to deal with the trapped cats coming in and is killing 80% of its cats, is finally speaking up about our community's need for TNR.

Where wildlife advocates go wrong is in the assumption that what we have been doing for DECADES is working. It is not working, and millions of free-roaming cats prove it. There are as many free-roaming cats as there are cats in homes as pets -- about 80-90 million nationwide. If we were going to eradicate feral cat populations by trapping and hauling them off to be systematically killed at shelters, we would have done so already. Nationally, we have killed millions to date with no end in sight. That's becasue free-roaming cats are some of the most resilient animals around--going from domestic to wild and surviving and thriving despite many obstacles and adversities.

That said, no one more than I wishes that all domestic cats had a nice indoor home and a warm lap to lay on. I also do not wish upon any wildlife that they be injured or killed by a feral cat. If you look at this issue logically, that's why TNR is the only alternative we have come up with to date. It may take time for TNR to work, but over time, the populations finally decrease and die out when you fix cats, vaccinate them, and release them back into their environments. Where this is not feasible for whatever reason, you relocate those cats via barn cat and other similar programs. By doing this, it keeps other cats from moving into this "bubble" of territory, and that territory then stabilizes and then starts dying off naturally by atrition.

When we reduce feral cat populations over time, as has been done on the NMSU campus because of fCamp's tireless work, what we do is reduce the supposed health risks to humans; reduce the nuisance of loose cats to humans; and, most importantly, we also reduce the number of wildlife hurt or killed by feral cats. It truly is the only Win-Win for all, and it has nothing to do with hoarding cats (as suggested by one AC supervisor in the story in the paper). It does take alot of hard work, but doing this work in small bubbles of managed colonies throughout the community will finally start paying off. Eventually, all those bubbles, or pockets of cat territories, will start to reduce the overall feral population in our entire community.

Those of us who want to do this work or support this work cannot get anything done in a regressive community. Those who are detractors of TNR or animal people not up to speed need to take some time to learn about how it works and why it works and need to stop to think about why all the following groups now support these efforts (including the National Animal Control Association). Read through these vast resources listed below, which is not an exhaustive list, and help us start advocating more strongly for TNR to first be made legal in all of Dona Ana County and the City of Las Cruces; that's the first step we need to take. And then we can finally start getting to work and reducing cat populations and also reducing the stress and waste of money it is to haul cats in to be killed at our shelter with no results to show for it over time except very similar numbers from month-to-month and year-to-year.

Those who still oppose TNR might consider volunteering at the local shelter with the poor workers forced to kill cats by the hundreds each month and thousands each year when there are many alternatives proving effective in hundreds of other communities in the U.S. Those concerned for wildlife should understand that these cats are wildlife as well, and just like all wildlife, the greatest threat to those populations is us--human beings. What studies have shown is that our urban sprawl and pesticide use, among other human evils, have killed far more birds and other wildlife than all feral cats combined.

In other words, it's time for us to get with the times. TNR today is not as controversial as it was 10 to 20 years ago ... that we think it is in Las Curces shows how collectively behind the times we are. Even El Paso has legalized TNR for free-roaming cats. What haven't we?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

It's raining puppies

The recent influx of puppies at our municipal animal shelter and the press this has been getting is a good backdrop for a discussion on no-kill approaches to this age-old shelter problem. There are some good parts and bad parts to how this story has been handled in the press, but most importantly, there has been an influx of public support at our shelter, which is the cornerstone to no-kill success. The fact that hundreds of people showed up at our shelter asking how they could help, adopting dogs and puppies, and offering to foster puppies not ready for adoption shows that our community is ready for no-kill success. It just has to be lead in that direction by the animal-welfare powers that be.

It's very important how these powers that be communicate with the public. No matter how many puppies or other animals a shelter has to deal with, I am not in favor of some of the statements made by shelter leadership in the press recently. For example, they made it sound, when the story first came out in the Las Cruces Sun-News, like there was only one choice for the surplus puppies -- deciding which 50 would be put to death a few days after publication of this story. They talked about the horrible burden of this decision, yet they did not talk about all the vast alternatives to this decision as well. When we consider these vast alternatives, one has to wonder about the message the shelter is sending--about how horrible it is to HAVE to put animals to death.

With that many puppies under one roof at one time, with how overburdened the shelter was at that time, it was the perfect opportunity to discuss not only the obvious problem we have with "overpopulation" but the solutions to situations such as these and to avoiding them in the future. The press only gives you a few sound bites in which to get your message across. Each word you choose is of utmost importance because of this.

There are ways to approach this issue that do not involve talking about injecting puppies with a deadly syringe. Much less is it appropriate to suggest that people should expose their children not only to the miracle of life but the miracle of death by bringing them to the shelter to hold puppies while they die. What an ugly thing to say and totally unnecessary.

Perhaps our shelter's leadership thinks this approach is working due to the influx of people there to help and adopt, but that kind of response and support could be had without these hysterical, untrue, and horrible tactics. If the leadership would have come out with the same story and positive approaches to solving the issue and asking what they specifically need, they would have gotten the same kind of response or perhaps an even better one.

Clarity of the message is important as well. They needed to explain where the puppies came from and the various options for them, of which euthanasia is only one. They needed to ask for help and support in the community to save these precious lives, and they needed to say the LAST thing they ever want to do is to end lives that have just begun. They needed to challenge the community for help and support to save these lives in a way that was inspiring and educational.

The influx of puppies opens up the opportunity to talk about the importance of spay/neuter and the existing programs and support in our community for people to take advantage of as well as the needs to grow the support and services in this area to reach a higher volume of spay/neuter. The opportunity to talk about what each individual can do to help saves lives was also lost. The opportunity to educate people that the shelter should be the place of last resort and offering alternatives to the puppies being dumped is another one lost in the stories that have been coming out. Also lost is the opportunity to discuss what the shelter is doing about outreach and education in the areas in which the puppies are coming from.

Alternatives to the deadly blue solution for puppies are vast. It is far more challenging to place older animals in any shelter. Here are some of the choices shelters inundated with puppies could consider and try before putting puppies to death:

  • Have a special puppy adoption promotion with a catchy name and send out public service announcements so the message can inundate the public. Use this also as an opportunity to educate adopters and the public on the long-term commitment of puppy adoption. Consider reducing the adoption amount, offering two for one adoptions, etc.
  • Ask area obedience trainers or groups to offer free monthly puppy classes for six months for each puppy adopted during this crisis so that adopters and their puppies can make it through the challenges of puppy hood and especially through those adolescent years (age 1 to 3 yrs.) when dogs are usually relinquished to shelters.
  • Contact all local rescue groups, sanctuaries, shelters, and animal-welfare nonprofits to work with the shelter on this issue; have a special emergency action meeting with all of them to come up with a plan of action for saving lives.
  • Contact shelters and rescues around the country to see who is short on puppies and devise a plan for getting puppies to them. Start with areas nearest your area and then move outward. Put out a call for transport help in your community to help with this Great Puppy Exodus, and urge the press to cover this ongoing rescue project.
  • Have a special event featuring the puppies and inviting the public to a meet and greet; or have a puppy parade tied to a super adoption at a local park or other bigger venue; and/or ask the local newspapers to feature a puppy litter a day in their publications.
  • Going forward, tell the community how they can help; ask for what you need specifically, such as foster homes for puppy litters and mom dogs, people to help make calls and network, people to get out to areas in need of more outreach for an all-out education campaign aimed at diverting the same puppy issues in the future from these areas, etc.
  • Offer a week of free spay and neuter to any family that relinquished puppies at the shelter; be sure you are sitting people down and counseling them before they are allowed to drop puppies off at the shelter; educate them on alternatives and how they can help find homes for the puppies themselves, etc.
  • Be sure that in all your messages to the public, you let people know the cornerstones to saving lives: urge everyone to spay/neuter all their pets and keep them up-to-date on vaccinations; urge everyone to adopt from a rescue or shelter vs. buying from backyard breeders or puppy stores; urge people to address behavior and other issues with their existing pets and offer them the resources to do this with; and, last but not least, urge people to think of the shelter as the place of last resort for homeless animals and offer alternatives and information on what they can do with pets they find, etc.

These are just a few options of the many; if you got more than one person sitting at a desk brainstorming, as I am doing now, they would come up with even more ideas. It's clear that the option to kill puppies should be considered last. A shelter leadership working toward no kill would not name that as the first and ONLY option available.

What we have shown this week is that Dona Ana County and the City of Las Cruces are ready for no-kill success. People showed how much they care when the news came out that the shelter was overflowing with puppies, and the people that care far outnumber the people that are disposing of these puppies. So, what is missing is helping caring people connect the dots to figure out how they can put their great love of animals to good use. That's why our shelter will continue to have these issues in the future; their messages are convoluted and mostly self-centered around their terrible burden instead of ways to solve the problem and utilizing the vast public resource of caring people in order to uncover every other alternative besides the usual one that regressive shelters choose: DEATH.

In today's Las Cruces Sun-News story, the shelter's leadership is quoted as saying that the 100+ adoptions of the last week have "not made a dent". How can that be possible? Each day that I have driven past the shelter this past week on my way home from work, I saw the parking lot more full than ever before. And, there is power in this kind of a response. Our shelter will lose that power if they don't genuinely appreciate it and positively nurture and lead it.

What is lacking, in other words, is harnessing that power in a way that leads to our community simultaneously implementing all of the programs and services we need to save more lives. The kind of response our shelter got last week should show the public can do far more than make a dent in the issues; they could help bring about radical change.

The public is showing they are ready to be led in that direction and to accept this challenge. Who will lead us there?