Gogebic County, MI

[For today's News Bit and the Running Totals, click here.]

Gogebic County in Michigan and Iron County in Wisconsin are located across the state boundary from each other at the western end of Michigan’s upper peninsula. Gogebic County contains the town of Ironwood, which has over 5,000 people. Together, the population of the two counties is over 22,000 people.

The “Helping Orphaned Pets Everywhere” (H.O.P.E.) animal shelter, located in Ironwood, contracts with Gogebic and Iron counties  to provide sheltering for lost, stray, and abandoned animals and cruelty cases. The shelter also accepts owner surrenders “as space permits.” I called the shelter for more detail on the owner surrender policy and was told that if someone needs to surrender a pet and cannot wait, the shelter will take the pet even if they are full. A 2009 article about the shelter states: “Animals are not euthanized except in cases of unrelievable suffering, terminal illness or a known history of being a threat to the public.”

The state of Michigan collects statistics on all animal shelters in the state and posts them online. The report for H.O.P.E. for 2013 can be accessed here (scroll down to Help Orphaned Pets Everywhere). Intake in 2013 was 407 cats and dogs. The live release rate was 98%, with no reported owner-requested euthanasias. All animals adopted out were spayed and neutered. The shelter reported a 99% live release rate in 2012, with an intake of 472 cats and dogs. In 2011, H.O.P.E. reported a live release rate of 98% with an intake of 401 cats and dogs.

Gogebic County, MI, was originally listed by this blog on June 4, 2013, based on its 2012 statistics. This post is a revision and update with 2013 statistics.


[For today's News Bit and the Running totals, click here.]

A report out of Waco, Texas, states that the city shelter’s live release rate is currently “as high as” 85%, up from 25% or less in previous years. Waco is a city of 125,000 people that in 2012 had a shelter intake of 10,000. That’s about 80 pets per thousand people, which is a gigantic number. The 2013 intake was 6700, which is 54 pets per thousand people – still an enormous number. (Average shelter intake in the United States is thought to be 15 to 30 pets per thousand people.) There are a lot of moving parts to this story and not a lot of information, but if a turnaround is in fact happening in Waco then it’s very encouraging. The city has been consulting with Target Zero Institute (TZI) since December 2012. I have been skeptical about TZI because Waco adopted mandatory spay-neuter legislation (don’t know if TZI pushed for that or not) and their “pyramid” for action seems to me to underplay adoption. But if they can produce good results in Waco, including that big drop in intake, then kudos to them. The jury is still out, but this is a very interesting situation.

The report from Waco follows a recent report from Huntsville, Alabama, another city that is consulting with TZI, of a very successful adoption event. See the October 23rd News Bit for a brief report on Huntsville.

It’s still too early to know whether Waco and Huntsville are on a sustainable right track, but one thing that strikes me about the cities that TZI is consulting with is that none of them are easy. If a consultant wanted an easy win, the thing to do would be to consult with, or even take a position as director of, a non-profit contract shelter with a good endowment in a small, progressive community that already has an above-average live release rate. Then the consultant or director could push the live release rate up over 90% and dine out on that the rest of his life. What TZI has done is pretty much the opposite. They are wading into places like Baton Rouge and Indianapolis that have been the graveyards of previous No Kill attempts. Indianapolis is a horror story right now, and not  a place that anyone would go looking for resume items.

Best Friends is trying to do something similar with their efforts in Utah and in Los Angeles, where they have a boots-on-the-ground contingent. Austin Pets Alive has helped to work a near-miracle in San Antonio. Bonney Brown and Diane Blankenburg are running a consulting service, Humane Network. All this activity with people actually jumping in and helping specific communities with the nuts and bolts is encouraging.

Being a consultant or a community partner, where it’s your actions and advice that are on the line, is a risky proposition because you’re opening yourself up for possible failure. Not to mention that it can be a thankless job because you may need to challenge the orthodoxy. In No Kill in the past we’ve had quite a bit of general information that various people have put out that isn’t specific to any particular community. That’s great, but now we seem to be entering a new phase where it’s not enough to stand on the sidelines – where No Kill leaders get really involved and it’s not one-size-fits-all. I don’t know whether TZI is going to succeed or fail, but at least they are getting in there in some pretty tough communities and trying.

Delta County, MI

[For today's News Bit and the Running totals, click here.]

Delta County is located in Michigan’s upper peninsula and has over 37,000 residents. The county seat is the city of Escanaba, with 13,000 residents. The county is also home to the city of Gladstone, with 5,000 residents.

Delta County used to have a county-run animal shelter, but budget cuts forced the facility’s closure in August of 2011. A group of residents then incorporated as the Delta Animal Shelter (DAS), a non-profit, and the county leased the shelter building to the new organization. The shelter “accepts all animals, regardless of age, health conditions, or situation.”

DAS management quickly realized that the existing shelter building was too small (2000 square feet) and outdated for their needs, and that the building had a mold problem. After trying to work through the options for staying in the building they decided to relocate the shelter, which would give them a chance to find a more adoption-friendly venue. They completed the purchase of a 9-acre plot and construction is underway.

Shelter manager Sue Gartland, in an interview with the local Daily Press, described some of the changes that DAS made after taking over: “We now vaccinate. We spay and neuter all the animals. We started micro-chipping all the animals. We test the animals for heartworm . . . .” Gartland told me in a telephone conversation that animal control is provided by law enforcement agents in the county. DAS is the only shelter in the county and receives strays from every jurisdiction in the county, including Escanaba and Gladstone. The shelter accepts owner surrenders from residents, with no conditions. They have a barn cat program for feral cats.

In 2013, the shelter reported to the state of Michigan that it took in 1135 animals (scroll down to Delta Animal Shelter in the link). The shelter had a 96% live release rate, and adopted out zero unsterilized animals. In 2012, the first full year that DAS ran the shelter, the live release rate was 92% with an intake of 1121 animals. That was up from a 69% live release rate in 2010, the last full year that the county ran the shelter.

Delta County, MI, was originally listed by this blog on August 12, 2013, based on its 2012 statistics. This post is a revision and update with 2013 statistics.

Question For My Readers

[For today's News Bit and the Running Totals, click here.]

I’m working on a post about how communities get to No Kill. I went into the research for this post thinking that there were 4 main ways to get to No Kill — (1) a volunteer group or non-profit works with the existing city or county shelter to increase live releases, (2) a non-profit takes over the city or county shelter by contract with the purpose of increasing live release rates, (3) shelter management or city or county officials decide on their own or as a result of education by local advocates to take steps to reduce killing, or (4) grassroots political action creates enough votes or negative publicity to either force unwilling city or county officials to reform their shelter or elect new officials who are willing to reform the shelter.

What I’ve found so far is that lots of the communities I’ve listed got to No Kill by one of the first three methods, but as to the 4th method I’m aware of only one community – Austin – that could be classified as having gotten to No Kill by a political fight. And Austin had one of the best non-profits in the nation, Austin Pets Alive, helping the shelter, so it does not appear to be a case of pure political action making the difference.

You might be wondering why I don’t simply call up all the shelters I have listed where I don’t know the “backstory” and ask them how No Kill was accomplished in their community. The reason is that I have well over 100 shelters on my list and, with a surprising number of them, their 90%+ live release rates go way back. For example, in Colorado in 2000 there were 9 municipal shelters that reported a live release rate of 90% or more, and there were a couple dozen more in the United States by 2005. Cold calling all those shelters and trying to find people who could accurately tell me what was going on 10 or 15 years ago would be a challenge. Not to mention that in the case of a political fight, people at the shelter might not be anxious to talk about it. But my readers have a lot of collective knowledge and I’m hoping you can furnish me with some leads.

So, readers, help me out here. I would like to identify more communities where local activists fought and won a political battle for No Kill that resulted in No Kill happening. I’m looking for cities or counties where officials were not interested in No Kill and rebuffed attempts to educate them, and local activists forced the officials to change their tune and successfully implement No Kill. Even if a political fight was only part of the solution (as in Austin) I’d still like to hear about it. Any suggestions?

Introducing the “News Bit” Page

[For today's News Bit and the Running Totals, click here.]

There’s so much news these days about 90%+ and Worth Watching communities and shelters that I can’t even stay close to keeping up with it by blog posts. So – I’ve added a new feature to the blog, the News Bit page. There will be a News Bit each day, and to make it even easier to find, I’ll put a link to it in a heading in each post.

The running total in the blog’s subtitle has been expanded and moved to the News Bit page. In addition to the total of communities reporting 90% plus, I’ve added a total of the human population in those communities. Enjoy!

Crawford County, MI

Crawford County in northern Michigan has a population of about 14,000, including the county seat of Grayling. The AuSable Valley Animal Shelter (AVAS) is a non-profit corporation located in Grayling that does animal sheltering for Crawford County. I could not find an owner surrender policy on the AVAS website, so I inquired about the policy in a call to the shelter. I was told that AVAS accepts owner surrenders from Crawford County residents, with no conditions other than a fee.

In 2013, the shelter took in 170 cats and dogs (scroll down in the link to Animal Shelter of Crawford County). It had a live release rate of 99.4%. All of its live releases were reclaims or adoptions, except for one dog who was transferred.

The form listed online by the state for 2012 had errors in it, so I obtained the 2012 statistics directly from the shelter. The shelter had an intake of 173 cats and dogs, and adopted out 113, returned 63 to their owners, transferred 1, and euthanized 1, for a live release rate of 99%. There were no owner-requested euthanasias and no animals died or were lost in shelter care in 2012. AVAS reported a 99% live release rate for 2011 to the state of Michigan, with an intake of 187 animals (scroll down in the link to the report for “Crawford County Animal Shelter”).

This Facebook page describes how a volunteer named Dixie Lobsinger ran the county animal shelter from 1992 until retiring in 2005, and instituted many programs such as low income spay-neuter and offsite adoptions. In 2012, the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance recognized Crawford County for its success. An article about the award reported:

“Although the AuSable Valley Animal Shelter serves Crawford County, the award was given to include broader efforts to care for animals in the community such as the Leaning Oaks Cat Haven, a cat shelter in Beaver Creek Township, Crawford County Animal Control Officer Gail Foguth, individuals who rescue homeless animals and people who make donations to the shelter.”

Crawford County, MI, was originally listed by this blog on May 31, 2013, based on its 2012 statistics. This post is a revision and update with 2013 statistics.

90% Reported – Georgetown, TX

[NOTE: The 90% Reported category lists communities whose animal shelter systems report having been at a 90%+ live release rate for at least one year but who do not qualify for a listing in the right sidebar because they do not make their full statistics easily accessible online.]

Georgetown, Texas, is a city of 47,000 people in Williamson County just north of Austin. The Georgetown Animal Shelter is run by the city and provides animal control and sheltering services for people who reside within the city limits. The shelter’s website describes the shelter as “an open door shelter that accepts all dogs and cats found within the city limits or surrendered by owners that live within the city limits.” It does not mention any conditions for owner surrenders.

The city of Georgetown has announced that it achieved a 90% live release rate for its most recent fiscal year, from October 1, 2013, to September 30, 2014. The city noted that intake was 12% higher than in the previous fiscal year, at 1863 impounded animals. (That intake is high, at a rate of 40 per 1000 people.) Adoptions and returns-to-owner were also higher. The shelter manager said the shelter has been making increased efforts to find owners of strays and to work with owners to return pets to their homes.

In the three preceding fiscal years, the shelter reported live release rates of 81%, 85%, and 90%. In a 2012 interview, the shelter manager attributed the shelter’s live release rate to volunteers, a barn cat program, an initiative to have shelter staff train dogs as they are cared for each day, and adoption outreach.

Chippewa County, MI

Chippewa County, Michigan, is on the eastern edge of the Upper Peninsula. It has about 40,000 residents, including the county seat of Sault Ste. Marie. The Chippewa County Animal Shelter used to be high kill, but after local citizens got involved and asked for change the county hired a new shelter director, Holly Henderson.

In answer to an e-mail inquiry I sent to Henderson, I was told that the shelter takes in strays from both the county and the city of Sault Ste. Marie. The shelter takes in owner surrenders, although in situations where the animal is not at risk, the shelter may ask the owner to first place a listing on the shelter’s Facebook page and attempt to re-home the animal. Henderson told me that the owner surrender policy is flexible, and if the staff get the feeling that the animal is better off at the shelter, they will accept it even when they are full. They also immediately take in the ones who are not spayed or neutered, so the shelter can be sure they are altered before going to a new home.

The shelter reported a live release rate of 99% in 2013 with an intake of 1238 animals (scroll down in the link to the Chippewa County page). With owner-requested euthanasia counted as part of total euthanasia, the live release rate was 98%. The 2012 live release rate was 98%, with intake of 1076. If owner-requested euthanasia was counted with euthanasias in 2012, the live release rate was 97%. For 2011, the shelter reported a live release rate of 97%, with an intake of 959. In 2010, the shelter reported a 97% live release rate from an intake of 1,000 animals.

Henderson credits volunteers for much of the shelter’s success. She said that Friends of Caring Animal Shelters (FOCAS) and Guardian Angels for Animals had provided support to the shelter’s mission, and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians had made a $10,000 grant for a spay-neuter program.

Chippewa County, MI, was originally listed by this blog on April 16, 2013, based on its 2012 statistics. This post is a revision and update with 2013 statistics.

Important New Study Published

Boston University has just published the results from its 21st-Century Mayor’s Leadership Survey. The purpose of this survey is to improve how cities function, and the methodology included interviewing over 70 mayors from representative cities both large and small.

One of the questions asked during the interviews was: “Which three cities (either domestic or foreign) do you most often look to for policy and/or management ideas?” The report lists the 18 cities most commonly mentioned by the mayors (see page 29 of the report) and the percentage of mayors who mentioned each city. The results are stunning. Of the top 10 cities cited for policy and management ideas, five of them are No Kill (#3 Austin, #4 Denver, #5 Portland, #7 Salt Lake City, and #9 Seattle), one is in the 80-90% live release range (#10 San Francisco), three have active efforts in place to get to No Kill (#1 New York City, #6 Philadelphia, and #8 Los Angeles), and the remaining one, (#2 Boston), is probably doing better or much better than average but we do not have numbers to verify it.

On page 34 of the study is a list of the mayors’ responses to the question: “What is the most recent idea you have learned about from another city (domestic or foreign) and then brought to your own?” Of the 48 ideas listed, one is “No Kill animal shelter.”

This study shows pretty conclusively that the most admired cities in the United States, the ones that other cities look to for leadership, have a commitment to No Kill. It seems obvious from this survey that the best mayors in the United States are keenly interested in No Kill sheltering, realize that it is an innovative and progressive idea, and look at it as a strong positive for their cities.

One encouraging fact is that the No Kill movement is already doing many things to help mayors achieve their No Kill goals. In numerous cities advocates have formed large non-profits that are assisting the cities with fundraising for medical treatments, fostering neonatal kittens, TNR, shelter-neuter-return programs, adoption events, volunteer management, publicity, and more. In some cities, like Austin, Reno, Atlanta, Kansas City, and New York, the non-profits partner with the city shelter or have contracted to run the shelter.

In addition to the proliferation of No Kill non-profits, the No Kill movement has stepped up to provide resources for city leaders who want to create a No Kill shelter. Bonney Brown and Diane Blankenburg teach a certificate program at the University of the Pacific for lifesaving shelter management. Maddie’s Fund has created a free online library getting into the nuts and bolts of management of a successful No Kill shelter. We have “how to” workshops taught each year by American Pets Alive in Austin. There are several national conferences, including those put on by Best Friends, the No Kill Advocacy Center, the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance, and New Mexico Pets Alive, among others.

This is an exciting new era for No Kill.  With mayors on board, the only obstacle left is the actual implementation. That’s a daunting challenge, but there are lots of knowledegable No Kill advocates and leaders who are willing to partner with cities to make No Kill a reality.

Animal Stories

In the course of research for my book on animal shelter history, I’ve been checking out how children learn their attitudes toward animals. For well over 100 years now, children’s books have included a genre where animals are presented as thinking and feeling like humans. After movies and television were invented, children started seeing these stories on the screen as well.

One of the first of these stories to be widely read was the novel Black Beauty, which told the life story of a horse in the style of an autobiography. Over 2 million copies of Black Beauty were distributed back in the late 1800s by humane educators in the United States who hoped that reading the story would create empathy for animals in children. (Today, the total number of distributed copies of Black Beauty is over 50 million.) Since 1900 there has been a steady stream of kindred stories, including Rin Tin Tin, the Terhune collies, Lassie, Old Yeller, various Disney characters, Stuart Little the mouse, and Charlotte the spider.

Many people criticize these stories as anthropomorphizing animals — attributing human characteristics to them that they don’t have. Is this a fair criticism? Have generations of parents been leading their children astray by encouraging them to read and watch stories about animals who think and talk like people?

Scientists point out that we do not know if any domestic animal has a “theory of mind” – an ability to recognize that others besides itself have minds like its own. One could argue in rebuttal that theory of mind is not needed to form emotional attachments, and that animals, including people, form social attachments based on emotion, not on reason. Even if your dog were to think of you as a giant robot, it would still love you. And I doubt if dogs and cats go beyond the feeling of love to examine the mental nature of the people in their lives. I doubt if, when they are looking inscrutable, they are wondering if you have a mind like theirs.

Several people I’ve interviewed who were involved with animal sheltering back in the 1970s and 1980s noticed a change in the attitude of the public toward their pets during that time. People became more reluctant to bring their pets to a shelter. At the same time, shelter intake began to drop sharply. There may have been several reasons why people changed their attitudes about pets, but one factor could have been children’s stories and movies that created a sense of empathy with animals. The generation that matured in the 1970s was exposed to more “anthropomorphic” stories, in more types of media, than any generation before it. Stuart Little was published in 1945, Charlotte’s Web in 1952, and Old Yeller in 1956. Some of the most popular Disney movies about animals were from that period as well, including Bambi (1942), Lady and the Tramp (1955), the movie version of Old Yeller (1957), and 101 Dalmatians (1961). There were seven Lassie movies between 1943 and 1951, and the Lassie television series started in 1954.

So do anthropomorphic stories and movies help children learn to be kind? We don’t know for sure, but it’s very possible. And since children (and adults) love such stories, hopefully the tradition will continue. It may be a very good thing for shelter animals if it does.