News of the Week 05-24-15

The big news this week is that Austin has selected Tawny Hammond as the new director of the Austin Animal Center. Hammond was previously the director of the Fairfax County, Virginia, animal shelter, which had a live release rate of over 90% during her tenure. She starts her new job on June 15th. Fairfax County is similar in population to Austin, but shelter intake in Austin is much higher. Intake in Fairfax was 3,747 in 2013, whereas the Austin Animal Center usually receives about 17,000 animals yearly. Austin has a rescue partner in Austin Pets Alive! that takes in thousands of animals each year from the city shelter, though.

Waco, Texas, has gone from a 36% live release rate in 2013 to a 90%+ live release rate so far this year. City leadership has been solidly behind the effort, and they called in a consultant group, Target Zero, to help. Here is a Q&A about the process with three of its leaders, and here is a column from the mayor including comments on work yet to be done.

Chester County SPCA in Pennsylvania is celebrating its recent achievement of No Kill status with its Forget-Me-Not annual festival.

A city named The Colony, which is a suburb of Dallas, Texas, is a No Kill community with over 36,000 human residents. Its animal services department reports a euthanasia rate of 9% for 2014.

We often hear that the state of Maine is No Kill. I’m not aware of any source for Maine statistics, but here is an article about one Maine shelter that has a 90% live release rate.

The Bay Area Humane Society in Green Bay, Wisconsin, is setting up an owner-to-owner rehoming page as an option. This is a great idea for owners who have to give up a pet and want the peace of mind of knowing the new owners. It also allows owners to foster-in-place until their pet can go to a new home.

3-D printing for animal prostheses is creating some amazing results. It has been used to make a non-standard prosthesis for a dog, and now it’s created a titanium lower jaw for a severely injured turtle. Amazing stuff.

Another great story from KC Pet Project. When a trucker was taken sick in Kansas City, far from home, and had an extended hospital stay, the shelter took in his dog and arranged to board it past the 10-day shelter hold time. Trucker and dog are now on their way home to Arkansas.

A cat cafe has popped up in San Jose.

Natalie DiGiacomo has written an introduction for Million Cat Challengers to HSUS’s Adopters Welcome initiative. The most interesting part of this article to me was her observation that in spite of research showing the effectiveness of removing barriers to adoption and the practical success of open adoption in shelters that have tried it, barriers to adoption “just keep hanging around.” Hopefully that will not be true for much longer. It has now been over 15 years since some of the major players at the national level started pushing for adoption reform, so this is one paradigm that should long since have been mainstream.

There’s something of a bandwagon of shelters signing up for the dog facial recognition app, Finding Rover. Napa County in California and the Fluvanna SPCA in Virginia are the latest to sign on.

A nice story from Arin Greenwood giving some of the history of the Vicktory dogs, on the occasion of the death of Ray.

Lots of enrichment ideas for shelter dogs.

Pets Alive Middletown hosted a Dogs Playing for Life seminar recently, and John Sibley has written a very interesting blog post about it. Large groups of dogs playing together can work near miracles for everything from aggression to lack of socialization.

Daily rounds for shelter pets. What a great idea! A check-up by a shelter professional on every pet, every day, can identify issues before they become problems. I’ve often wondered at the high number of animals “lost” in shelter care at some facilities. With a daily check on each and every animal, shelters can find out within hours when an animal goes missing, and have a much better chance of figuring out where that animal is. Also, a daily check can catch illnesses and behavior problems early when they are easier to deal with, thus saving time and resources for the shelter.

The Glass is Two-Thirds Full

If you follow some of the most popular No Kill social media sites, you might get the idea that things for shelter animals are terrible. Those sites feature an onslaught of negative news – cruel acts by shelter workers, mistakes by ACOs, indifference by city leaders. Today I want to give everyone a “good news” break by taking a look at the bigger picture, which is amazing.

Shelter save rates have been climbing steadily for the last 20 years. As of the year 2000, live release rates were about 25% nationwide, up from 10% in earlier years. From 2000 to 2010, the nationwide live release rate doubled, going from about 25% to 50%. In the last 5 years that progress has continued, with the rate going up to 65% or even 70%. That’s huge. The glass is now 2/3 full.

It’s interesting to note that the progress in shelter save rates parallels the progress of the internet. In the 20 years that Petfinder has been in existence, the estimated live release rate nationwide has gone from perhaps 10% to 70%. Petfinder was the first website that allowed shelters to market their animals directly to adopters. For shelters that had no advertising budgets in the 1990s and few employees with marketing skills, Petfinder was a game-changer. It was an entirely new way of communicating with adopters that went beyond anything that had been available previously.

The ability to market pets through Petfinder was also a major stimulus for the formation of rescues, which had suffered from the same marketing problems as shelters. The number of rescues in the period from 1995 to today has probably increased even faster than the live release rate.

The progress in shelter save rates also correlates with the increase in the spay-neuter rates for owned pets, starting in the early 1970s and including the advent of pediatric sterilization in the 1990s. In 1970 there were five times as many pets per thousand people in shelters as there are today, far more than any community could adopt out. From 1970 to 2000, humane advocates engaged in a massive spay-neuter campaign that caused shelter intakes to drop some 80% in relative terms. Without this, No Kill would not have been possible. The strongest advocates for the historic spay-neuter campaign from 1970 to 2000 were people in the traditional shelter industry. So you could say that it was the traditional shelter industry that paved the way for the advent of No Kill starting in the mid-1990s.

Within the last 5 years many communities have topped out their live release rates, hitting 90% or more. Today we have Seattle, Portsmouth, San Francisco, Washington DC, Atlanta, Richmond, Denver, Austin, Salt Lake City, Jacksonville, New York City, Tampa, and Fairfax County, Virginia, at 80% or above. Many of those metro areas are over 90%. In most of these big cities people have been working diligently since the 1990s or early 2000s and have been slowly and steadily bringing up their live release rates. Today more than 35 million people in the United States live in a jurisdiction that is known to be saving 80% or more of shelter animals. If we add in all the jurisdictions that are at 80% but don’t publish their statistics, that number is probably 40 million or more.

No Kill status has been recognized as an important attribute for a well-managed city. The number of people who want to adopt shelter dogs is approaching the number of shelter dogs needing homes. Transports have been professionalized and now run like well-oiled machines. The new cat paradigms offer a humane and sensible way for shelters to save every savable cat. Virtually all of the important stakeholders on the national scene are in agreement on the new cat paradigms. Some grass-roots No Kill advocates are critical of transports and the new cat paradigms. I hope they will give these programs a chance – after all, one of the big criticisms that No Kill advocates make of the traditional shelter industry is that it’s too quick to reject new ideas. No Kill advocates should not fall victim to that same mistake themselves.

Amazing things are being done in shelter medicine. Back in the 1990s it was almost unheard-of for shelters to vaccinate on intake, something that is now becoming routine. The Association of Shelter Veterinarians was founded in 2001, and its growth has been phenomenal. Today, No Kill shelters can save a high percentage of parvo puppies and neonatal kittens. It used to be that heartworm and ringworm were death sentences, but today they are treated. Shelter veterinarians have gone beyond the traditional role of treating the sick and have become involved in shelter design, behavior interventions, and consulting.

So don’t let the bad acts or indifference of some shelter workers and ACOs weigh you down. The No Kill communities movement that started in the mid-1990s is approaching its goal. With so much of the country already doing very well, the cities with the worst shelters and the rural counties and little towns that have not been paying much attention to their shelters will get the help they need to improve. As the problem areas dwindle in number we will be able to concentrate more resources on them and fix them faster. Things are getting better at such a rapid pace that it’s hard to keep up with all the good news.

News of the Week 05-17-15

A wonderful story that gets little attention is what happened in 1998 in Otsego County, Michigan. That year, a group of citizens got together and decided that they wanted to stop the killing at their county shelter. They did so in a big way, achieving a live release rate of over 90% in 1999 and every year since then for which we have statistics. The Otsego County shelter was one of the first No Kill shelters in the United States. This article is a nice reminiscence by the current Otsego County shelter director about the people who made the community No Kill.

The Salina Animal Shelter in Salina, Kansas, has announced that it has achieved a 90% live release rate. The Petco Foundation has provided a grant to help the shelter upgrade its facilities and sustain its live release rate.

The Stockton, California shelter, which is under new management, announced a free adoption event for pits and pit mixes to try to reduce the numbers at the shelter. Twenty-four hours later, 13 of the dogs had been adopted or rescued.

Hillsborough County, Florida (where Tampa is located) has had a mystery drop of up to 20% in cat intake at the city/county shelter. Both stray impounds and owner surrenders have dropped. The shelter has a community cat program, but director Scott Trebatoski does not think that program has been in effect long enough to account for the change. He speculates that maybe there has been a change in attitude as to how people deal with cats in their neighborhoods. Perhaps people who hear about the community cat program are deciding to do-it-themselves by getting neighborhood cats spayed and neutered. It will be interesting to see if the drop persists through kitten season.

A great story about the power of one. Lisa McCormick of Belleville, Illinois, adopted a couple of cats from an Illinois pound 15 years ago. The pound did not adopt out many animals, and it had buckets of collars sitting on top of its gas chamber. McCormick was inspired to start a rescue, and since 2002 her rescue, Partners for Pets, has re-homed over 12,000 dogs and cats. The rescue has acquired a site for a new shelter and will be moving soon.

And a great story about what a No Kill group can do to create the change they want to see. Operation Pets Alive of Montgomery County, Texas, just north of the Houston metro area, is partnering with the county shelter to help it move toward No Kill. Operation Pets Alive programs include transports, offsite adoption events, fostering, and targeted spay-neuter.

One of the No Kill flagship shelters, the Nevada Humane Society, is increasing its efforts to serve its area. There are neighborhoods in every city that have few resources for pets, just as there are neighborhoods that have few resources for people to buy healthy food. In such neighborhoods it can be hard for the providers of free and low-cost spay-neutering and pet health services to reach the people who need that help. Recently some shelters have started programs to reach out to these neighborhoods on a person-to-person basis, and NHS is one of them. The shelter’s director, Kevin Ryan, has announced that this work will be furthered by the shelter’s selection as a Pets For Life mentor in the HSUS program.

Lost Dogs of America has a very helpful blog on how to trace an animal’s owner from its microchip even when the contact information is out of date or the chip was never registered.

A former shelter dog is doing search and rescue in Nepal.

Dubuque County, Iowa, is discussing a deal with a private non-profit No Kill, Whispurring Hope Rescue, to take over most animal control duties in the county and adopt out animals.

A new documentary, Dog by Dog, follows the money trail in the puppy mill business.

Sometimes transporters have to refuse to work with a shelter. It doesn’t happen very often, and it is hard for rescuers to walk away from a shelter, but it keeps transports safe.

One of Best Friends’ week-long workshops on how to start and run a sanctuary is coming up June 7-13. Best Friends has been putting on these workshops since 1999.

Peter Wolf has a cautionary tale about what can happen when you try to fool Mother Nature.

Here is a helpful blog post about getting access to journal articles about canine science.

Dogs Playing for Life hosted a very successful event for shelter staff and volunteers from six shelters in Phoenix, Oregon, last week. The director of one of the shelters said play time had a “fully transformational” effect on one German Shepherd who had previously leaped at her gate and barked when approached. One of the host shelters, the Jackson County Animal Shelter, is currently at an 85% live release rate and is aiming for 95%.

Virginia Shelters in 2014

Now that shelters in Virginia have filed their reports with the state for 2014, we can see how the top communities did compared with previous years. One thing to note is that the Virginia reports count owner-requested euthanasia in the euthanasia category. Lynchburg, Augusta County, and Nelson County are not included in this article because I have previously posted their updates for 2014.

Charlottesville and Albemarle County

The Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA (CASPCA) is a private non-profit that has the contract for animal sheltering for Albemarle County and the town of Charlottesville. The combined population of the city and county is about 118,000 people, although that total does not include non-resident students who attend the University of Virginia. For 2014, CASPCA and animal control matched their 2013 live release rate of 96%. If animals who died in shelter care are counted with euthanasias, the live release rate was 94%.

Fairfax County

Fairfax County is in northern Virginia near Washington, DC, and has 1,082,000 human residents. The Fairfax County Animal Services Division (FCASD) is the municipal agency providing animal control and sheltering for the county. The shelter reported an 87% live release rate for 2014 (86% including animals who died at the shelter). This is better than it sounds because shelters in northern Virginia have traditionally offered end-of-life euthanasia for pets who are incurably ill, and their owner-requested euthanasia numbers are therefore higher than usual. The shelter recently abolished its former policy of having extra requirements for the adoption of pit-bull-type dogs.

Fluvanna County

Fluvanna County is southeast of Charlottesville, and it has 26,000 residents. A private organization, the Fluvanna SPCA, contracts with the county for animal services. The Fluvanna SPCA’s live release rate increased to 96% from 93% in 2013. The rate was 95% if animals who died in shelter care are included with euthanasias.

King George County

King George County is between Washington, D.C., and Richmond, and has 24,000 residents. Animal control and sheltering are provided by a county agency, King George County Animal Control (KGCAC). An enthusiastic group of volunteers known as the King George Animal Rescue League partners with KGCAC to pull animals from the shelter. KGCAC reported a 96% live release rate in 2014, up from 91% reported in 2013. The rate was 95% if animals who died in shelter care are included.

Powhatan County

Powhatan County, Virginia, has about 28,000 residents and is part of the Richmond metropolitan area. A municipal office, Powhatan Animal Control, handles animal control and sheltering. Powhatan’s live release rate was 94% in 2014, down slightly from 96% in 2013. The rate was 93% if animals who died in shelter care are included.

Conclusions From This Data

Overall, it is notable that when communities achieve No Kill they tend to stick to it. Many communities have double-digit increases in live release rates on their way to No Kill, but I don’t recall ever seeing a community have a double-digit decline in live release rates once No Kill was achieved. This is a good argument for the fact that a No Kill public shelter system adds value to a community. Residents like to have an animal shelter that is a safe haven for homeless pets, and once they have it they don’t allow it to deteriorate.

News of the Week 05-10-2015

The Asheville Humane Society (AHS), which handles animal sheltering for the city of Asheville and Buncombe County in North Carolina, has hired a new director, Tracy Elliott. Like many shelter directors these days, Elliott comes from a non-traditional background, having never worked in animal welfare. Instead, his career has been in non-profit management and business. AHS did a nationwide search and selected Elliott from more than 140 applicants. AHS reports that in November and December of last year it had a live release rate of over 90%.

The city of Evanston, Illinois, is moving closer to formalizing its relationship with Saving Animals for Evanston (SAFE), a group that has been working with the police department to save 96% of animals, not including returns-to-owner, in the past year. If SAFE is appointed to run the city shelter it will replace the previous operator, which the city terminated due to citizen complaints about its high kill rate.

The executive director and the director of operations at the Greenhill Humane Society, which holds the animal sheltering contract for Eugene, Oregon, have graduated from the animal shelter management program taught by Bonney Brown and Diane Blankenburg at the University of the Pacific.

The Tri-County Humane Society in St. Cloud, Minnesota, which takes in about 3750 animals per year, is reporting a 97% live release rate so far this year. The director credits their improvement to a new approach to feral cats including barn cat and return-to-field initiatives, low-cost and free adoptions, social media, fosters, and veterinary care.

The Charleston Animal Society in South Carolina, which handles more than 90% of the community’s homeless pets, is reportedly running at a 92% live release rate. The Society has a 10-point program, including reducing animal cruelty, a medical fund for treating sick and injured animals, an aggressive lost-and-found program, return-to-field for community cats, vaccination clinics, and humane education.

The Elmbrook Humane Society in Brookfield, Wisconsin, is reaching out to help its neighbor, the Humane Animal Welfare Society of Waukesha (HAWS), increase its live release rate for cats. Elmbrook will take adoptable cats to its own adoption facility, and HAWS is offering a return-to-field program for community cats.

Waco’s mayor looks back on Waco’s three-year effort to go No Kill in this article. The efforts have included ordinance changes, spay-neuter, fundraising for a new shelter, hiring a full-time veterinarian, and consulting with Target Zero. The shelter and its regional partners report being at a 90%+ live release rate so far this year.

The Flathead County Animal Shelter, a No Kill municipal shelter in Kalispell, Montana, recently held an open-house adoption event to showcase a renovation of its facility. The new rooms allow the dogs and cats to be more relaxed, which helps them get adopted more quickly. The director said that animals are getting adopted much more quickly than they were a few years ago. Intake at the shelter is down, which the director attributes to spay-neuter programs and the public becoming better at caring for their pets.

The Best Friends super adoption event in Los Angeles last weekend was a big success, with 522 pets finding homes. The adopted pets included one bunny and one pig.

The Nevada Humane Society (NHS), which provides No Kill animal sheltering for Washoe County and Reno, took over animal sheltering last year for Carson City. In spite of an old shelter building, the NHS director is reporting a 97% live release rate for Carson City in recent months. The director credits adoption marketing, microchipping, and aggressive return-to-owner efforts, while warning that the save rate may fall some as kitten season sets in.

Los Angeles is home to pup-up cafes.

The Chester County SPCA, which serves two counties in Pennsylvania and has been reporting live release rates of over 90% for the last 6 months, has received a $60,000 grant from the Petco Foundation. The grant will be used for programs including targeted spay-neuter, free vaccinations, and wellness care.

Prince George’s County in Maryland has a draconian pit bull ban and a live release rate of only 64%, much lower than other DC-metro-area shelters. The director of the shelter, Rodney Taylor, wants the ban repealed. In the meantime he is sending pit bulls to other organizations such as the Fairfax County Animal Shelter in northern Virginia, a No Kill municipal shelter. He has also invited Aimee Sadler to teach the staff how to run dog play groups. He wants to get the live release rate to 90%.

The long-running concern about whether organizations that do TNR for feral cats in Virginia could be criminally prosecuted has finally been put to rest. Robin Starr of the Richmond SPCA reports that Virginia’s Attorney General has retracted a 2013 opinion letter that interpreted the “return” part of TNR as illegal. Starr and her board had continued with their TNR program in spite of the threat of prosecution, and have now been vindicated.

The ASPCA has provided this summary of the recommended capacity for communal cat rooms.

Here is a nice article from Arin Greenwood of the Huffington Post about the rapid progress that No Kill sheltering is making. She touches on some of the most important trends, including the growing number of people who are willing to adopt from a shelter, the use of transports to take advantage of the shortage of shelter dogs in some areas, great marketing, and outreach efforts.

Meet the Director: Makena Yarbrough

Makena Yarbrough photo Makena Yarbrough grew up in a dog-oriented family. Her father had Brittany Spaniels, and she and her father participated in field trials with their dogs. After graduating from college she became the marketing manager for a real estate construction company, and in her spare time she volunteered for the Richmond SPCA.

In the summer of 2000 she had a life-changing experience when she went with her parents on a vacation to Greece. She was dismayed by the number of street dogs and cats she saw. People told her that the dogs and cats had caretakers who fed them, but they had no homes and she could see that not all of them had enough food. One night as she and her parents were leaving a restaurant she saw a starving dog huddled in the street. She fed that dog and others that she saw, but was overwhelmed with the magnitude of the need and a feeling of helplessness.

When Makena returned to the United States she began to think seriously about what direction she wanted to take in life. She decided that she wanted to work on animal welfare, and the memory of the starving dog she saw in Greece led her to decide to help homeless animals. That fall, she quit her promising career in marketing and took a job with the Richmond SPCA as its Director of Education. In a few months she was promoted to Director of Operations.

The Richmond SPCA in the early 2000’s was one of the best places in the United States for a person who wanted to make a difference for homeless animals. The Richmond SPCA CEO, Robin Starr, had visited the San Francisco SPCA during Rich Avanzino’s tenure and was implementing his No Kill programs in Richmond. Makena stayed at Richmond for 7 years before moving in 2007 to another groundbreaking No Kill shelter, the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA. She was associate director there for two years, working with Susanne Kogut.

In 2009, a board member for the Lynchburg Humane Society (LHS) contacted Makena for advice. Lynchburg is an independent city in Virginia, about an hour southwest of Charlottesville and considerably more rural and blue-collar. LHS had the animal sheltering contract for the city and had been running the shelter for decades. Lynchburg’s live release rate was only 51% in 2008. The LHS board members had read Nathan Winograd’s book Redemption and decided that they wanted to shake things up and improve, and that was why they contacted Makena.

One of the things Makena recommended was that LHS hire an executive director, since the only leadership the shelter had was the part-time oversight of a board member. The board agreed, and offered Makena the job. She took over in July 2009.

LHS had some major obstacles in the way of improving its live release rate. The shelter building was very old and cramped, and almost impossible to sterilize. The staff had been doing things the same way for so long that it was hard for many of them to change. One of the first things Makena did was to ditch the shelter’s overly restrictive adoption requirements and institute open adoptions. She tripled donations to the shelter in two years. She instituted TNR and managed-admissions programs, and oversaw the takeover and successful restructuring of a failing spay-neuter clinic. In 2010, her first full year as director, the live release rate was 84%, and by 2011 LHS’s live release rate was over 90%. Makena continued to innovate, and was one of the early adopters of the new cat paradigms after reading the California draft whitepaper in 2013. LHS is now a member organization in the Million Cat Challenge.

Perhaps Makena’s biggest single accomplishment to date has been the new LHS shelter, which just opened in March. She set an ambitious fund-raising goal for the shelter of $4.8 million, and exceeded that goal by raising $5.2 million. The great majority of this money was from private donors, as the city’s contribution to the building is only a modest fee to lease the stray-hold area.

Makena’s marketing background has helped her keep the shelter in the public eye. Last summer LHS was runner-up in its division in the ASPCA Rachel Ray challenge. Makena used the competition aspect of the contest to get the city cheering for the shelter. She hopes to continue that kind of intensive marketing this year. The new shelter should help in the effort, as it is in a better location and provides a much better experience for visitors than the old shelter. Makena also wants to expand the help that LHS is already providing to the county and other nearby jurisdictions, and do more work on helping owners keep their pets.

The guiding principle for Makena and her board is to try new things. A new idea may not always work, but you won’t know until you try it. It is that attitude that has taken LHS from a failing traditional shelter to one of the most innovative No Kill shelters in the nation. Makena will be presenting a talk about LHS at this summer’s Best Friends National Conference in Atlanta.

News of the Week 05-03-15

There is a lot of news from Texas this week. An audit in Austin has found overcrowding at the city shelter. This is no surprise, as many said when the new shelter was built a few years ago that it did not have sufficient animal housing. The city has already taken steps to deal with the problem by adding 100 kennels.

Best Friends magazine is featuring Michael and Pam Kitkoski of Texas in the “Inspiring People” section of its May/June issue. The Kitkoskis founded Rockwall Pets in 2010, which led to the cities of Rockwall and Royse achieving No Kill status. In 2014 they founded No Kill Solutions, to consult with shelters in Dallas-Ft. Worth.

Houston’s BARC public shelter has announced that it had an 80% live release rate for the first three months of 2015, after having had only a 64% live release rate in 2014. BARC is a very large operation, taking in 25,000 animals per year, and until recently was chronically underfunded by the city. The shelter attributes its improvement to increased funding and new partnerships. One rescue partner, the Rescued Pets Movement, has pulled 6700 dogs and cats from the shelter since September of 2013. The Rescued Pets Movement transports about 150 pets per week to Colorado. It takes about 60% of the animals that BARC transfers to its rescue partners.

A great example of the power of one is Debbie Fatheree in Hearne, Texas. Since she started helping the Hearne Animal Shelter in 2013 she has saved 900 dogs and cats and, according to the linked article, the shelter has not euthanized a single animal. A big part of her efforts is social-media networking. She also has adoption events and recruits fosters.

Maddie’s Fund has collected a list of resources on disease prevention protocols in shelters.

ASPCA president Matt Bershadker has written an article pushing back at the audit report by New York City controller Scott Stringer that was critical of the city’s Animal Care and Control unit. Bershadker points out that the audit does not reflect that in the last year AC&C has taken action on most of the problems mentioned in the report. He also argues that the report does not give the AC&C credit for the degree to which it has increased the city’s live release rate.

The Pet Animal Coalition of Kansas (PACK) is trying to get the state’s Department of Agriculture to tighten up requirements for animal shelters. High on the list of things they want implemented is a ban on gas chambers. At least three shelters in the state still use gas to kill impounded animals.

It’s super adoption season for Best Friends, with a three-day event last weekend in New York City and events this weekend in Salt Lake City (Friday and Saturday) and Los Angeles (Saturday and Sunday). The Los Angeles event is featuring over 1000 shelter pets.

Four Florida International University students have designed an open-source app that they envision being used to create a single regional database for shelter animals. This will facilitate adoptions by allowing potential adopters to quickly locate animals they have seen online, and allow shelters and rescues to work with the adopters.

Scarlett’s Story

Scarlett, before she was named Scarlett, was a homeless calico cat who lived in a poor neighborhood in Brooklyn. In the late winter of 1996 she had a litter of five kittens in a deserted garage. The garage was a decrepit hulk with unstable beams – a neighborhood eyesore. One early morning before daylight, about three or four weeks after Scarlett had her kittens, the garage caught fire. The fire appeared to be arson, not an accident, and flames were roaring out the front when firefighters arrived.

The firefighters could not enter the building due to the danger of collapse. Fortunately, there were no homeless people sleeping there that night. One of the firemen who responded to the call, David Giannelli, was an animal lover who had often rescued animals from burning buildings. As he fought the fire he heard some faint meows. He traced the sound to the lot next door, where he found three kittens huddled against the wall of a building. Their fur was scorched and their ears were a little singed. Giannelli heard more cries, and he found two more singed kittens. It was easy to deduct that the mother of the kittens had carried them through the fire, but there was no mother to be seen.

After putting the kittens in a box, Giannelli and a couple of bystanders looked for the mother. They finally found her lying in the vacant lot across the street, not moving and and badly burned. Her coat was singed, the skin on her head was so burned that she could not open her eyes, and her ears were burned. Giannelli put her in the box with the kittens, and their meowing revived her enough to do a head count by touching them each with her nose.

By the time the fire was out it was daylight. Giannelli was acquainted with the staff at North Shore Animal League, where he had taken injured animals before, and he called and told them what had happened. They told him to bring mom and kittens in right away. The kittens had some burns, but the main danger to them was smoke inhalation. Scarlett was in the worst shape, with significant burns on her head and body. And she was very thin, not in the best shape to fight off possible infection and lung damage. North Shore had a full-service veterinary clinic, and they were able to stabilize mom and kittens and put them in an oxygen chamber to help their lungs.

Scarlett’s kittens were each a different color – white, dark brown, pinto, grey, and Siamese. The two that Scarlett brought out last, the white and grey ones, had to have fluids. They improved, and all five kittens did well enough to be placed in foster care. Then disaster struck, as the white kitten and the brown one came down with a virus. The white kitten died, and the brown one was left with a little nerve damage. The surviving kittens showed virtually no scarring from the fire, but Scarlett clearly looked like a burn victim. She had severe scarring on her face, her eye rims were burned, and her ears were half gone.

Meanwhile, the news media had been going wild with the story of the heroic mother cat who had raced back and forth through the flames five times to carry her kittens to safety. Scarlett became internationally famous, and North Shore received more than 6000 letters from people wanting to adopt her or one of her kittens. Scarlett wanted to be an only cat, and her four surviving kittens had bonded into two pairs, so North Shore selected three lucky homes for the celebrities. In a follow-up story in 2001, all were reported as doing well.

There have been many animal heroes, but one nice thing about this story is that it involved a stray cat. Scarlett does not appear to have been feral, and instead was what we today would call a community cat. By the time Scarlett had her kittens in 1996, there was a growing number of shelters where cats like her had a chance. And her story shows that the public will help when given the opportunity. From the firefighters and bystanders who rescued Scarlett and her kittens to the thousands of people who offered to adopt, the “irresponsible public” saved the day once again.

References: Martin & Suares, “Scarlett Saves Her Family,” Simon & Schuster Editions (1997); New York Times, May 2, 1996, Mar. 4, 2001.

News of the Week 04-26-15

Several public shelters reported progress on live releases this week. The Southern Pines Animal Shelter in Mississippi takes in almost 5000 animals per year and provides animal sheltering for a county of 75,000 people as well as for surrounding counties. They had a live release rate of over 75% for 2014, but in the last 5 months they have been over 90% each month. Shelter manager Ginny Sims attributes the improvement to new programs, fosters, volunteers, and new partnerships.

Sacramento’s city shelter, the Front Street Animal Shelter, has made great strides since director Gina Knepp took over in 2011. Now comes word that the Sacramento County shelter has also improved by using adoption specials. Director David Dickenson says the live release rate at the county shelter so far this year is 75%.

The Los Angeles Animal Shelter reports a 73% save rate currently, with 85% for dogs and 57% for cats. Best Friends, through its No Kill Los Angeles initiative, is trying to reduce the kill rate for cats with a neonatal kitten program and support for TNR and return-to-field.

The City of Calistoga, California, has decided to grant a contract to the Petaluma Animal Services Foundation (PASF) for animal control and sheltering. This article about the process describes how a social media campaign helped to persuade city officials to select PASF over a rival bidder based on PASF’s history of higher live release rates, even though the PASF bid will cost the city slightly more.

In transport news, shelter dogs are being flown as carry-on passengers on commercial flights from the Big Island of Hawaii to the Portland, Oregon, area. About 60 dogs have been placed through this program so far.

Brent Toellner has two blog posts on length of stay – the importance of managing it, and how to decrease it. And Peter Wolf’s Vox Felina blog is celebrating its five-year anniversary.

The fourth in the Maddie’s Fund series of free webcasts on the five initiatives of the Million Cat Challenge is set for Tuesday, April 28, at 9 PM EST. The presenters are Ollie Davidson, program director at the Tree House Animal Shelter in Chicago, and Kathleen Olson, director of a Washington state shelter with intake of over 12,000 animals per year. Both shelters improved the shelter environment and saved more animals after instituting capacity for care programs. Register here.

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer is criticizing NYC Animal Care & Control. The AC&C has a five-year contract with the city.

The Humane Society of Silicon Valley won the Shorty Award in the Best Social Good category for its “Eddie the Terrible” marketing campaign.

PetSmart Charities has an interactive page showing its impact by state.

The Center for Shelter Dogs has many webinars covering a variety of topics.

The Humane Society of Utah has a cat room with remote-controlled toys that people can operate online through the iPet Companion website. In addition to amusing the cats, the shelter hopes that the promotion will call attention to available cats and help change the perception of the shelter as a sad place.

The “Per Thousand People” Metrics

The most common measure of shelter performance is the live release rate, which measures the live outcomes of an individual shelter against its euthanasias. There is another measure of shelter performance in common use, and that is Pets Per Thousand People (PPTP). Although it says “pets,” what it really measures is shelter intake per thousand people. Additional “per thousand people” measures include euthanasia (EPTP) and adoption (APTP). Proponents of the “PTP” metric (which was invented by Merritt Clifton) argue that we must standardize shelter statistics against human population to be able to compare communities to each other in a meaningful way.

I think that the PPTP and its associated measurements suffer from a serious flaw in that they assume that human population is a limiting factor on a shelter’s ability to save lives. In fact, there seems to be little correlation between PPTP and shelter success. In my research on shelter stats, I have seen many successful No Kill shelters with higher than average PPTP, and some less-than-successful shelters with low PPTP. In spite of this, I think that two of the PTP measures – PPTP and APTP – can provide very useful information in some circumstances. Shelter directors may want to be familiar enough with PPTP and APTP to derive those numbers for their own shelters and to know what the numbers mean for their shelter’s performance. Explaining why is going to take a few paragraphs.

Let’s start by setting out the limitations of the PTP numbers. Standardizing numbers is a good thing to do if you have a relevant variable that is not accounted for by the numbers coming out of the shelter itself. For example, if community A and community B both have 5,000 homeless animals each year, but community A has 900,000 people while community B has 100,000 people, then the task of finding homes for all the animals seems as though it would be considerably easier for community A. Thus it seems unfair to judge community A’s shelter performance as “better” than community B’s performance if the shelter in community A rehomes 4800 of its 5,000 homeless animals and the shelter in community B rehomes 4200.

In the real world, though, it doesn’t seem to be true that having higher intake per person is a handicap. I have a spreadsheet where I’ve entered data on the 100 shelters that were listed on this blog at the end of 2013 as having live release rates of 90% or more (serving over 200 communities). The PPTP for the communities served by 82 of those shelters for which I had 2012 intake data ranged from 3 to 139. I don’t think there is anything significantly wrong with the data going in, because the average intake for the shelters I list was 33 per thousand people, and that is near the estimated average for the United States of 15 to 30 pets per thousand people. The communities I list on my blog are a homogeneous group in that they are all very good at successfully placing the great majority of the animals their shelters take in. I verified this not by the live release rate alone, but by my research on each community. If PPTP is a relevant variable for a shelter’s performance, then one would think that these shelters, which are all performing at a similar high level, would all have a similar PPTP, but instead the variation in PPTP is huge.

Why is human population not a fully relevant variable for shelter performance? One reason is that the relationship of total human population to potential pet-owning population varies a lot from one community to another. Let’s look at an example. The community in the United States that has the lowest or near-lowest PPTP number is New York City. New York City is far from the best in terms of the live release rate, though, since the live release rate was at only 77% in 2013 and 81% in 2014. So which is it? Is the New York City community the best in the nation at saving homeless animals, or is it only somewhat above average? The problem with trying to standardize shelter killing against population for New York City is that, as a big city, it has lots of small apartments and a very high cost of living. In other words, New York City probably has a higher percentage of people who are not pet owners and are not prospective pet owners than any other city in the United States. These people are not going to affect shelter performance. They are not going to affect the intake rate because they are not going to give up a pet, fail to have a pet sterilized, or allow a pet to stray. The low PPTP is simply an artifact of the type of housing in New York. So using PPTP to compare New York City – or any other large, highly urbanized, expensive city – to a surburban or rural community is not very meaningful for shelter performance.

Another reason that human population in a community is not a limiting factor on shelter performance is that today we are living in the age of transports. Transports, by taking animals from an area of low demand for shelter pets to an area of high demand, can level the playing field between communities. Going back to our example of Community A and Community B, if community B transports 4000 of its 5000 animals to Community A each year, then each shelter will have to place 10 animals per thousand people. Yet Community B will still have a much higher PPTP than Community A, because PPTP is calculated on intake without subtracting out transfers. In theory, the PPTP could be modified to account for transports, but I have not seen this suggested by any of its proponents.

Proponents of the PTP metrics argue that the live release rate is unfair to the shelters that are doing the best job, because the best shelters are those that are diverting healthy and treatable animals and only taking in vicious dogs and hopelessly ill animals. This idea makes some sense in theory, but in all my researches I have yet to see an example of a public shelter that has a low live release rate because it is taking in only tough cases and diverting the easy cases. Instead, it appears that a central shelter that impounds animals before diverting them to rescues, treats most of the treatable ones in-house, and centralizes return-to-owner and lost-and-found, is the more efficient arrangement. And for that type of shelter the live release rate is an accurate measure. Even if shelters do begin to divert large numbers of animals, such as cats who go to a return-to-field program, it would be an easy matter to calculate a live release rate that reflects the diversions.

Having said all that, I nevertheless think that two of the three PTP measures, PPTP and APTP, are useful in limited circumstances. The average Pets Per Thousand People (remember this is really “shelter intake” not “pets”) in the United States is estimated at 15 to 30. There are many examples of successful No Kill shelters with PPTP higher than 30. As the PPTP number gets higher though, more and more of those shelters are achieving their high live release rates by transports. Although human population is not a limiting factor for No Kill success, at some point it is a limiting factor for being able to place animals within the community. Exactly where that limiting factor is no doubt depends on the individual community, but I think a shelter with PPTP of over 40 that is struggling to maintain a high live release rate may need to think about transports. (They also need to figure out why intake is so high and see if there is anything that can be done to address it, but that is likely to be a longer-term solution.)

Of the three PTP metrics, APTP is the one that has the best argument for statistical validity, because it makes intuitive sense that the number of adoptions will depend on the number of people in the community. Yet this is not entirely true, because the real limiting factor on adoptions is market share, not the number of people in a community. In all but a handful of communities in the United States, the total market for pets far exceeds the total number of pets needing homes. There are currently some 180 million pets in the United States, and only about 5 million healthy or treatable shelter animals needing homes each year. With sufficient market share, replacement alone would provide more than enough homes for shelter pets. Furthermore, about half of the animals needing homes are cats, and many of them can be returned to field, further reducing the gap between the market for pets and the supply of shelter animals. Because market share, not human population, is the real limiting factor for adoptions, shelters can control their own destiny in terms of adoptions.

Some people argue that there is a ceiling to APTP and that adoption rates cannot exceed 4 to 10 APTP on a sustained basis. In fact, statistics show that No Kill shelters regularly exceed 10 APTP, which demonstrates that 10 APTP is not a ceiling but a floor. The reporting shelters for the state of Colorado, for example, averaged 17 APTP in 2014. The Nevada Humane Society has historically averaged over 20 APTP. The value of the APTP is that if a shelter is under 10, you know it has a lot of room for improvement in adoption marketing. In fact, if a shelter has an APTP below the mid-teens, it very probably can do better and it should be able to raise its live release rate without resorting to transports.

I have never been able to discover a use for the EPTP, which relates the number of animals killed in a community to the number of human residents. The idea behind EPTP is that we need it to accurately evaluate public shelters that take in only vicious and terminally ill animals because they are diverting all the healthy and treatable animals. This is ill-considered since, as mentioned above, today we do not have any such public shelters. In addition, EPTP is flawed because it fails to take into account all the ways animals can be live releases without going into a home within the community. Those ways include transports, TNR, and return to field.

The way I think of PPTP and APTP is not as measures of shelter performance, but as information for shelters that are struggling. Shelters that have PPTP of 30 or less and APTP of over 10 probably do not need to be concerned with the PTP metrics. But for those that do not meet those standards and are having trouble achieving a high live release rate, PPTP and APTP may provide some useful information.

So how do you calculate the PPTP and APTP? The easiest way is simply to divide the intake number or adoption number by the human population of the jurisdiction served by the shelter minus three zeros. For example, if you have intake of 15,000 animals per year in a city of 1 million people, you divide 15,000 by 1,000 for a result of 15 PPTP. The APTP for a city of 40,000 people where the shelter adopted out 400 animals in a year would be 400 divided by 40, for a result of 10.