News of the Week 03-29-15

The big news this week is that Richard Avanzino is stepping down as president of Maddie’s Fund in June. Avanzino is often called the father of No Kill. Individual No Kill shelters have been around since 1884, but Avanzino started the No Kill communities movement back in the 1970s and 1980s with his innovations at the San Francisco SPCA, which led to the historic Adoption Pact in 1994. He went to Maddie’s Fund in 1999. His retirement will mark the end of an era.

The Beagle Freedom Project is getting publicity for its efforts to get dogs used in scientific experiments out of laboratories and into homes, including a bill in Nevada requiring laboratories to put dogs up for adoption instead of killing them. Although the number of dogs used in labs is far smaller today than it used to be, there are still a significant number. Beagles are the most common “purpose-bred” dog used in experiments. Purpose-bred dogs rescued from laboratories are similar to puppy mill dogs in their lack of experience living in a home environment.

In transport news, large black dogs are going from Miami, where they are hard to adopt, to Iowa, where large dogs are in great demand. And Front Street in Sacramento is sending dogs by private plane to Idaho.

HSUS has a new page on its website that collects the science proving that breed-specific legislation is misguided. The page makes note of the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendation that breed not be considered in formulating dog-bite prevention policy. The CDC has more expertise and credibility than any other organization in the United States on matters of epidemiology, so their conclusion that dog breed is not a relevant factor in dog bites deserves serious attention. The HSUS page also quotes the American Veterinary Medical Association for the proposition that dog bite statistics “do not give an accurate picture of dogs that bite,” citing factors such as the failure to correct those statistics for the relative population of each breed. In other BSL news, a bill has been introduced in the Michigan senate to ban BSL.

The Tree House Humane Society in Chicago will include a cat cafe with its new facility. It will be the first cat cafe in Chicago.

Madrid, the capital of Spain, has reportedly passed a bill making it illegal to kill stray animals in the city.

The Chester County SPCA, which serves Chester and Delaware counties in Pennsylvania, says it has saved over 90% of its animals in each of the last four months. The shelter has just received a grant of $305,000 from PetSmart Charities to start a community-cat program that can help 4700 cats over the next 26 months.

Maddie’s Fund is presenting a 5-part series of free webcasts, with Q&A sessions, on the Million Cat Challenge. It’s on five Tuesdays, starting April 7 at 9 PM EST. The presenters include Wally Stem from Waco, a city which has been making amazing strides lately. He is a city-management expert who will talk about alternatives to impoundment. Barbara Carr and Kathie Johnson will speak on the crucial topic of managed admission. Scott Trebatoski, who managed the city shelter in Jacksonville as it transitioned to No Kill and is now the shelter director in Tampa, will speak on one of the newest ideas, return-to-field. Kathleen Olsen and Ollie Davidson will speak about how to make big improvements in outcome by knowing your shelter’s capacity and how to manage it. Dr. Cynthia Delany and Kelly Lee will talk about removing barriers to adoption, including less-intrusive matchmaking.

The governor of Virginia has signed the bill modifying the state’s definition of “private animal shelter.” Supporters of the new law are hopeful that the change will force PETA to shut down its slaughterhouse “shelter.”

The voters in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, approved a measure last November to allow the county to borrow up to $3.79 million to build a new shelter. However, some county officials are now trying to derail the project, arguing that the proposed new shelter is too fancy. Lynchburg, Virginia’s new shelter is open. One of the features is an outdoor cat room which is “similar to a screened-in porch with pillowed benches.” Lynchburg is not far from Spotsylvania. Perhaps the Spotsylvania County officials could tour the new Lynchburg shelter and learn how proper housing is important for disease control and the mental health and ultimate successful placement of shelter animals.

We keep hearing that the state of Maine is No Kill, but the trouble is in finding stats. In this interview, the incoming director of a Maine shelter says that shelters in the state do not have to kill animals based on capacity. In fact, they import animals from out of state. He attributes the state’s success to its people, who take good care of their pets, and a tax on pet food that is used to provide low-cost spay-neuter services.

Meet the Director: Rebecca Guinn

Rebecca and dogIn 2001 Rebecca Guinn, like most people, was not aware of the issues facing homeless pets. She was a successful criminal-defense attorney in Atlanta with a caseload including high-profile white collar criminals, and that was more than enough to occupy her time and attention.

Then one day while she was at home she heard loud howling. She went out to investigate and found a stray dog on a neighbor’s property with his paw trapped in a fence. Guinn did what most people would have done – she called animal control and asked them to come help the dog. Animal control officers arrived and were able to free the dog. Then they loaded him on a truck to take him to the shelter. Guinn asked what would happen to him and was shocked when they told her that if no owner claimed him within his 5-day stray hold period he would be killed. She felt remorseful thinking that she had taken an action trying to help the dog, only to find that it might result in his death.

Guinn called the shelter and asked them to allow her to adopt the dog if his owners did not reclaim him. They told her if she wanted to adopt the dog she had to come to the shelter in person and write her name on his card. So she made time in her busy day to go to the shelter to do what easily could have been done over the phone. When she walked into the shelter she was overwhelmed to see hundreds of dogs, several to a cage. She found “her” dog, wrote her name on his kennel card, and arranged to come back to pick him up as soon as he was off stray hold. That was on a Friday and she was told she could pick him up on Monday.

When Guinn returned on Monday afternoon, she walked into a nearly empty shelter. They had just finished killing, and almost all the dogs she had seen on Friday were dead. As she stood there in the shelter looking around at the empty runs, she was devastated. In that moment, she decided that what she was seeing was wrong and that she wanted to change it. Her dog, one of the few left alive, was waiting, and she went through the adoption procedure with him. She left the shelter determined to do something to stop the slaughter.

Guinn began to educate herself about animal shelters, and one of the things she did was attend the 2002 Best Friends conference. She met the leaders of Best Friends there and was inspired by their ideas and encouragement. Soon after, she formed a non-profit, LifeLine Animal Project, to put some of the things she had learned into practice. One of the first LifeLine initiatives was Catlanta, a TNR program for feral cats. Best Friends continued to offer assistance and mentoring, and she even worked for Best Friends at one point. It wasn’t long before she quit her job, took a giant pay cut, and started working on LifeLine full time.

LifeLine started a private shelter that took in cruelty cases and special-needs animals needing rehabilitation. Their first spay-neuter clinic, founded in 2005, provided reduced-cost and free sterilizations. They offered vaccination clinics. Guinn’s philosophy was to work with the existing institutions in the community, and she tried to help the local shelters in any way that she could. In 2010, LifeLine opened its second spay-neuter clinic. That same year saw passage of a law Guinn had helped draft that banned gas chambers as a method of shelter killing in Georgia.

The Atlanta area has a county-based shelter system, with each county having its own shelter. Most of Atlanta is located in Fulton County, with a small part in DeKalb County. The combined population of the two counties is about 1.7 million people. In Fulton, various non-profits had contracted to run the shelter over the years, and in DeKalb the county ran the shelter. Guinn and LifeLine worked primarily with these two shelters. In 2012, Fulton had a live release rate of about 35%. As Guinn put it, she had been working to support the shelter for 10 years doing everything she could, and yet had seen it go the wrong way. DeKalb was better at about a 55-60% live release rate, due largely to LifeLine having partnered with the shelter to run a feral cat program.

Guinn decided to put in a bid to run the DeKalb shelter, not knowing if the bid would even be considered, much less granted. Shortly thereafter, the Fulton contract went up for bid, and LifeLine bid on that as well. Time went by and Guinn had not heard on either bid. Then, in January 2013, she was notified within the space of two days that LifeLine had won both bids. LifeLine took over in Fulton on March 15, 2013, and in DeKalb on July 1, 2013.

The last two years have been a whirlwind for Guinn and the LifeLine staff, but it has been time well spent. The live release rate for Fulton County in 2014, in their first full year of running the shelter, was 76%, an increase of over 40 points, and in DeKalb County it was 80%. Intake at the two shelters was over 15,500 animals in 2014. Right now, going into kitten season, both shelters are running at a rolling live release rate in the mid-to-upper 80s. They have accomplished this in spite of the fact that both shelter buildings are old and outdated.

LifeLine has made many improvements at the Fulton and DeKalb shelters in the last two years. These include a cat room and adoption area, pet retention programs,  and a streamlined adoption process, The Fulton County contract includes animal control, and the officers can now check for microchips and return animals in the field. The shelters treat the treatables, spending about $10,000 per month on animals who are sent to private veterinarians. LifeLine transports some animals to the north. It is continuing its anti-cruelty, pet health, and spay-neuter efforts in the community, and has sterilized over 80,000 animals.

Rebecca Guinn is an example of the “do it yourself” ethic that we are seeing more and more in No Kill sheltering today. In both Fulton and DeKalb counties, outside pressure had made officials aware of the problems with the shelters. It seems very unlikely that significant positive change would have happened in either county, though, without LifeLine stepping up and making proposals to run the shelters. The do-it-yourself approach allows people who do not have a background in traditional animal shelter management or animal control to take over leadership of large city and county shelter systems. If someone with a non-shelter background applied for a job as a shelter director through the usual municipal-government process, that person would probably not be seriously considered. As the head of a non-profit with a track record of actively assisting the shelter, though, such a person is in a good position to bid on a shelter contract.

The Atlanta community has been very appreciative of what Guinn and LifeLine have done. Guinn was selected as the recipient of the 2013 Leadership DeKalb’s Sue Ellen Owens Award “for creating a permanent and positive legacy of initiative and vision in the community.” Guinn defines No Kill as saving every savable animal, and she has a goal for both shelters to meet that standard in 2016.

This is the first in an occasional series of blog posts on successful shelter directors.

Should We Be Doing TNR for Community Dogs?

TNR for dogs? It may sound crazy, but hear me out.

We have a few cities, particularly in the southern part of the United States, where large numbers of stray dogs apparently continue to be a problem. I have heard this from credible people who support No Kill — it isn’t just the No Kill deniers who make this claim. In some of these cities live release rates are going up, but local people question whether there is really progress toward a No Kill community since large numbers of stray dogs are not being picked up.

We have other areas of the country where there are dog shortages, and dogs are brought in from outside for adoption. I believe that based on the numbers nationwide we are very close to an overall balance in dog population and that, if we had a great transport network combined with every jurisdiction maxing out its adoption rates, we could have No Kill this year for dogs. But we are not there yet.

One way to tackle the problem of isolated excesses of stray dogs in some of the large cities is classic spay-neuter programs aimed at owned dogs. If 30% or more of the owned females in a city are not sterilized and if the local human population is open to the spay-neuter message, then this approach can have great results. If sterilization rates of owned pets are up around the typical 85% average for the United States, though, or if sterilization rates are lower but people resist sterilizing their pets, then we cannot expect huge reductions in strays with this method.

Some cities resort to trying to catch and kill all the strays. This is a bad method not only because it is morally wrong, but because it is ineffective. Cities tried for 100 years before 1970 to control stray dog populations by means of catch and kill, and it was a complete failure. Stray dog populations continued to rise until the 1970s, when mass spay-neuter became possible.

So what to do? In many cases, stray dogs who live outdoors have a reasonably good life. Alan Beck’s 1970 study of stray dogs in Baltimore found that being hit by a car was the biggest danger for homeless dogs (other than shelter killing), but only a small minority of the total dog population was killed by cars each year. He concluded that, surprisingly, stray dogs were able to find adequate food, water, and shelter and they did not ordinarily suffer from hunger or exposure. Many of them were fed by people living in their neighborhood, and their presence was tolerated.

This sounds a lot like what we now know about community cats. And the preferred solution for community cats these days is TNR or SNR, not catch and kill.

What about simply finding homes for all the stray dogs? I recently spoke to a dedicated No Kill advocate in one southern city who estimated that there were 150,000 stray dogs in his city. That would be 88 dogs per 1000 people, which is an astronomical number and far beyond the ability of even the best No Kill shelter to place within the community. Even if the number of stray dogs was only 1/3 of what this advocate estimates, it would still require an adoption-per-thousand-people rate of 29 dogs, which is well beyond the best rates I know of. And that does not even count dogs who are already going into the shelter. Colorado, which has over a 90% live release rate for dogs, adopted out only 10.5 dogs per 1000 people in 2013.

Recently the leaders of the shelter establishment in the United States have come together behind a set of ideas that are embodied in the Million Cat Challenge. Those ideas include the concept that rather than kill a healthy community cat, the cat should be sterilized and returned to where it was found. Feral cats should be sterilized and returned to a supported colony. Why couldn’t we do the same thing for dogs?

TNR for dogs is not a completely unheard-of idea. India passed a law in 2001 forbidding the killing of street dogs. There are differences of opinion about what has happened since then in terms of nuisance factors and the growth of the dog population, with some people feeling that the dogs are a serious nuisance and a danger to human health (especially from rabies, which is a big problem in India, and dog bites) while others believe that the dogs serve useful functions. The government of India has reacted by instituting a TNR program for street dogs. Other countries are using or considering TNR for stray dogs as well.

Dogs are different from cats in that community cats are less intrusive than stray dogs, because they tend to be nocturnal and more cautious around people. Another difference is that there is a substantial feral population in cats whereas there are very few truly feral dogs, at least in urban and suburban areas. It does not appear as though either of those differences would be fatal to a TNR program for dogs. Beck theorized that the reason that street dogs lived more openly than cats was because people were more accepting of their presence.

I think one reason people don’t like the idea of TNR for dogs is that we see dogs as being more dependent on people for their happiness than cats. People hate the idea of a dog living in the street without a person of its own, and think such a dog must be miserable. Beck’s study indicated that is not the case. Certainly, if the choice was living without a human attachment or being killed, I think the great majority of dogs would choose to live.

Moreover, a TNR program for stray dogs could very quickly reduce the number of strays, probably far more quickly than TNR for cats. Dogs do not have the reproductive capacity that cats have, and something like 75% of puppies born to free-roaming mothers do not survive. And, dogs are easier to locate and capture.

Before a city considers a dog TNR program, it would need to make an effort to answer the following questions:

1. What is the sterilization rate for owned dogs? If it is not at least 70% of females, then an all-hands-on-deck traditional spay-neuter campaign for owned pets may be the best approach, unless the local human population is resistant to that message.

2. What is the number of stray dogs that are not being impounded? If the number of stray dogs that are not being impounded plus the number of unreclaimed stray dogs that are impounded plus the number of owner surrendered dogs substantially exceeds 10 or more per 1000 people, then the shelter may have difficulty adopting its way out of killing with local adoptions.

3. How many dogs could be responsibly transported to other areas of the country where there is a dog shortage and transports would not take homes away from local dogs? Are there sufficient resources to make those transports safely?

If spay-neuter of owned pets is already high or the human population is resistant to pet sterilization, if the number of stray dogs is high, and if responsible transport cannot bring the number of dogs needing adoption down under 10 per 1000 people, then TNR is about the only thing left. A dog TNR project would be a novel and innovative idea for one of the big national organizations to take on. If the program succeeded, it could, in combination with the Million Cat Challenge initiatives, be a quick way to make even the most intransigent southern cities truly No Kill.

News of the Week 03-22-15

There is a lot of news this week, so let’s get to it:

Miami-Dade County Animal Services has announced that it achieved an 81.5% live release rate for dogs and cats in 2014! The shelter had an intake of 27,000 animals. A $4 million budget increase has allowed the shelter to implement a raft of new programs that are having an effect. In other news from Miami, the shelter is now using the Finding Rover face recognition app for lost dogs.

Hillsborough County Pet Resources Center, the open admission shelter for Hillsborough County, Florida, is running at an 85% live release rate so far for its 2014-2015 fiscal year (counting animals who died or were lost in shelter care with euthanasias). This covers the 5 colder months, so we can’t guess what the rate for the entire year will be, but things are looking good. Two years ago the live release rate for Hillsborough County, which has a population of 2 million and includes the city of Tampa, was only 46%. When current director Scott Trebatoski started a year ago, he made a lot of changes to adoption procedures, all designed to make the process as smooth and attractive to adopters as possible. He has also repaired relationships with local rescues. Tampa has proven to be a very tough venue for No Kill in the past, so it is encouraging to see this progress.

The Clermont To The Rescue Humane Society just started running the Clermont County Animal Shelter in Ohio on January 1st this year. Clermont County has about 200,000 people and is part of the Cincinnati metro area. Manager Eva Devaughn reports that in the first two months under new operation, the shelter has euthanized only 7 cats and dogs, all based on a veterinarian’s recommendation.

West Virginia has certainly not been known as a promising venue for No Kill, so every ray of hope in that state is important. The Huntington-Cabell-Wayne Animal Shelter is reporting that it has saved 85% of its dogs this year and has just started a TNR program for feral and community cats.

In more West Virginia news, the Mercer County Animal Shelter reports that it has not killed any animals for space in the last 2 months. The shelter is transporting at-risk pets out of the area. Actually, a group of volunteers is doing transports for the shelter, including networking to find receiving rescues and, twice a month, driving 12 to 20 hours round trip. In 2014 the volunteers saved over 1300 animals. Mercer County’s population is 62,000 and its median household income is $26,600, about half the national average. One in five people in the county live in poverty.

In more transport news, PetSmart Rescue Waggin’ is helping the Vincennes Animal Shelter in Indiana. PetSmart has picked up animals for transport four times since the arrangement was made in January, and the shelter now has empty cages. Vincennes is a small town in the southwestern part of the state. The town’s population has been declining, and it has no significant population centers near enough to be an easy drive for potential adopters.

North Shore Animal League’s Tour for Life rolling adoption event to assist shelters across the United States is celebrating its 15th year.

The Brown County, Indiana, shelter is reporting a 98% live release rate for 2014, which is a repeat of its great performance in 2013.

A flashback: Seattle’s mayor noted in a recent proclamation honoring the city’s spay-neuter clinic that the Seattle shelter took in 18,401 animals in 1982 and killed 45% of them. Last year, intake was 3,344, and Seattle euthanized only 7% of them.

The HSUS Expo is almost here – starting March 30th in New Orleans. In recent years the Expo has become an important event for No Kill leaders, and a lot of them will be there. The only conference that seems to draw more No Kill leaders is the Best Friends National Conference, which will be held this year in Atlanta, Georgia, July 16-19.

Austin, Texas, is facing possible changes in the rules that govern shelter vets.

The city of Waco, which has been running at a live release rate of over 90% in 2015, is entering the home stretch in its effort to raise $2.5 million for a new shelter. The campaign has raised $2.3 million so far.

ACCT Philly took in about 28,000 animals in 2014 and had a 74% live release rate. Adoptions and fosters both showed increases. A 74% live release rate is nothing to cheer about, but Philadelphia has been a very hard case for No Kill for a very long time, and it’s nice to see things at least moving in the right direction.

New List of No Kill Communities

As you may have heard, there is a new list of No Kill communities in town, maintained by an organization called Saving 90. In a quick inspection of the site I did not see a list of founders or directors of Saving 90, but this new organization appears to be linked to the No Kill Advocacy Center, since the two sites link to each other and Nathan Winograd has been promoting Saving 90.

I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to get other people interested in doing shelter stats for years now, so I am thrilled to see this new site. The listings do not entirely agree with my listings, and Saving 90 says there are only 9 million people living in No Kill communities compared to the 15.6 million in my list, but the general message is the same — No Kill is possible pretty much anywhere. One advantage that Saving 90 has is that Winograd has a much bigger audience than I do, so hopefully his list will reach more people.

I’m also happy about the debut of the Saving 90 site because having someone else do “the list” will mean that I can spend more time on No Kill news. So here’s the plan going forward. I will leave my existing list up for now, at least until I make sure that Saving 90 is going to stick around. But instead of doing statistical analyses of existing No Kill communities, I’m going to switch my focus to day-to-day news about No Kill. This news will still include a lot of reporting on No Kill communities, but the emphasis of the blog will shift from reporting statistics to reporting on what communities are doing – new programs they are trying, new coalitions, problems and how they are addressed, what the national organizations are up to, etc.

There appears to be a real need for this type of reporting, as I’ve seen based on the response to the News Bits page over the last few months. News Bits has been more popular than any other page on this blog except for my post on the coming shelter dog shortage. And e-mail subscriptions to the blog have been on a sharp upward trend since I started News Bits.

So now that someone else is handling the statistics and “the list,” I’m looking forward to integrating the news into blog posts. That way it will go out directly to e-mail subscribers and be directly sharable. If you have any opinions on how you would like to see this done — daily blog posts, “news summaries” once or twice a week, or some other format, let me know, either by commenting or sending an e-mail to the blog.

Financial Incentives for Catch and Kill

No Kill advocates rarely address financial issues in animal control and sheltering. That’s natural enough, because we believe that the primary reason shelters should want to save animals is that it is the right thing to do. When we do address finances we tend to look at it by comparing the revenue of kill versus No Kill shelters. Again, natural enough, because that is the most direct way of looking at how much No Kill costs.

But there is another way of looking at animal shelter finances, and that is to ask what incentives are created by the method of funding. Although outcomes can have a big effect on the funding of private animal shelter organizations, outcomes may be having little or no effect on the funding of their municipal counterparts. And that is the problem we have to attack when dealing with municipal shelters.

Municipal animal shelters and dog pounds started out back in the 1800s with payment for the employees based on the number of animals they impounded. This payment system has persisted up to today in many places, with cities funding animal control and sheltering entirely or in part based on the number of animals impounded. Outcome for the animals impounded is not a consideration in funding in these cities. Since space in shelters is limited, this funding method creates a very powerful and direct motive for shelter directors to have as much turnover in the shelter population as possible.

That means getting animals out the door as quickly as possible. Killing is the fastest way to get an animal out the door, since an animal can be killed as soon as the hold time is up, and another animal put in its place. If funding is entirely based on intake, then the shelter director does not care if the shelter loses money on the disposition. The holy grail for a shelter funded on intake is to keep length of stay as short as possible, regardless of how that is done.

We as advocates have been stressing the fact that it can be cheaper to adopt out an animal than to pay the cost of killing it and disposing of the body, and that the cheapest thing of all is to keep animals from coming in the door in the first place. Those arguments are not going to impress a shelter director who is paid based on intake numbers, though. That shelter director is not going to care whether he or she makes money on each animal “transaction.” The only thing that matters is intake, because the cost effectiveness of disposition does not affect the money they receive from the municipality.

When a shelter is funded based on intake, the director has a very powerful incentive to oppose any measure that would reduce intake. Help desk? No way. Diverting cats to a community cat program? Not going to do it unless they can be impounded first. Returning animals in the field? Forget it. Spay and neuter? Shelter directors will give lip service to spay and neuter, but how enthusiastic will they be about it when a successful spay and neuter program will reduce their funding?

Funding a shelter based solely on intake is also a motive to label as many animals as possible “unadoptable” due to bad temperament. If an animal has a bad temperament it will be killed as soon as the hold time is up. Then the shelter can take in another animal and make more money. When I first started looking at shelter statistics, I thought the ridiculously high number of “behavior” killings in traditional shelters was just a way to disguise killing for time or space. It is that, but it is also a way to institutionalize a short length of stay.

All the incentives connected with funding shelters based on intake are wrong. We advocates wonder sometimes why traditional shelters are so reluctant to change. Maybe we should be looking at the incentives that are in place due to the way the shelter is funded. Private, non-profit shelters, even those with contracts to run municipal shelters, are not as subject to these bad incentives because they do not need to rely solely on the municipality for their income. They have an incentive to save as many animals as possible because their ability to fundraise depends in large part on how well they do at saving animals. This is one reason why so many No Kill communities today have their animal sheltering done by a non-profit.

So, how to fix this? I think we need to consider whether the way we as advocates have approached the issue of finances is the best approach. We have tried to argue that No Kill is cheaper, but we have done so on the basis of what amounts to anecdotes and best-case scenarios. City officials are not going to be swayed by slick brochures prepared by advocates. Before they will believe that No Kill is cheaper than catch-and-kill they would need to see professionally audited comparisons prepared by neutral auditors, and I’m not aware that any such audits have been done. There are so many moving parts to No Kill transitions, and cities are so different, that I’m not sure such audits even could be done in a meaningful way.

Personally, I think we should be arguing based not on whether live releases are cheaper, but on what the tax payers want. The evidence I’ve seen, based on the success of ballot measures to support better animal sheltering with tax dollars, is that people overwhelmingly want their local shelters to save animals and they are willing to pay for it. Another sound argument is that there are intangible benefits to No Kill that are not captured by a dollar-and-cents analysis. This argument is supported by the fact that the best cities in the country are overwhelmingly either already No Kill or working on getting there.

Local advocates who are trying to reform shelters might want to make record requests to educate themselves on exactly how the local shelter is funded, and do surveys on what local people would be willing to spend in tax dollars on life-saving sheltering, before approaching city officials. Instead of berating traditional shelter officials for being evil people, we should look at the incentives they are working with, and try to change those incentives when they are bad.

One final note – a very quick way to change the incentives is for local advocates to start their own non-profit to take over the municipal sheltering contract or pull large numbers of animals from the shelter. A non-profit animal shelter that is supported in part or entirely by public donations makes money by saving animals’ lives and does not have to deal with the perverse financial incentives that afflict city shelters. This approach can work even in a city where tax payers are not willing to pay for a better municipal shelter, where current shelter management is so bad that it’s abusive, or where city officials turn a deaf ear.

The State of No Kill

To borrow a phrase from the last few State of the Union speeches, the state of No Kill — is strong. In fact, it’s great. But the movement is now at a place where it behooves us to take stock and think about where we are and where we’re going. So here is my two cents on the State of No Kill.

No Kill has matured enough as a movement that it has divided into two wings. We have a moderate, practical group that is made up of people who are doing the boots-on-the-ground work and direct support of boots-on-the-ground. These people include the directors of No Kill shelters, the active consultants, the donor organizations, the people in large national organizations who are working on individual community No Kill efforts, and shelter medicine specialists. The moderate wing has been enormously successful, as can be seen by the rapid growth of No Kill communities.

The second faction is what I call the radical wing. It is made up of advocates who speak directly to the public and try to get them to take action to reform their local shelters through grassroots political and social pressure. The radical wing is led by Nathan Winograd, and it has also been very successful at what it does. In my work I frequently see cases where grassroots pressure from local people has caused city or county leaders to pay attention to their animal shelter. Pressure by itself does not create No Kill, and it seems to me that these communities do not actually succeed in getting to No Kill without people from the moderate middle coming in and taking the practical steps to effect the transition, but the radical wing can wake people up and give the moderate middle a chance to work.

The State of No Kill is not perfect, though. The biggest issue I see right now is that No Kill moderates have not developed a leadership class to speak for them as a whole. Right now No Kill has been proven to work anywhere, under any circumstances, although some communities (San Antonio, for example) face far greater challenges than others. But there is no leadership structure in the moderate group to carry this message. This appears to be because the moderate middle is large and diverse, consisting as it does of several big organizations and hundreds of individuals who are actively managing No Kill shelters and programs.

The radical wing has tried to fill this gap to some extent by talking about No Kill successes, but the radical wing lacks credibility with the traditional shelter establishment because the radical wing’s leaders are, by and large, engaged in advocacy rather than in the day-to-day work of running No Kill shelters. The radical wing, in my opinion, is more effective at its core mission, which is to get the No Kill message out to the masses and to urge existing No Kill communities to become even better. The reason that most effective movements have more than one wing is precisely because there is more than one message that needs to be conveyed. The radical wing of advocates has enough to do carrying its message of the faults with the system. It should not be expected to also carry the positive message of the moderate group of boots-on-the-ground creators of No Kill communities.

No Kill moderates are ideally positioned at this time to move the traditional shelter establishment rapidly in the direction of No Kill. The debate about the effectiveness of No Kill is over. There is a need now for the traditional shelter establishment to hear from a moderate No Kill faction that is speaking with a clear voice. A moderate middle that is not interested in criticizing the traditional shelter establishment or in setting standards that the traditional establishment thinks are unattainable. Instead, the message of the moderates should be “we are people who are currently working in open-admission No Kill shelters and we understand what your problems are and we are here to help you.”

There are signs that No Kill’s moderates are coalescing. A recent example is the Million Cat Challenge, which has a long list of signatories from the moderate middle. The Challenge got off to an impressive start and I can’t help but think that the support of the signatories had a lot to do with it. And in recent years the Best Friends No More Homeless Pets Conference has become a kind of de facto meeting place for No Kill moderates.

The natural next step is for No Kill’s moderates to formalize in some fashion a leadership structure to guide its outreach to the traditional shelter establishment. It would be helpful if that leadership started off by setting some standards — i.e., what does “No Kill” mean, what is an “open admission” shelter, how should shelters calculate their statistics, what is required for shelter transparency, what are best practices, etc. This would be a big, much-needed, and worthwhile task all by itself. An even greater need, however, is for the moderates to be able to speak with a unified voice to the traditional shelter establishment, to let that establishment know that No Kill is now mainstream and that we will welcome them in joining us.

Lynchburg, VA

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

Lynchburg is an independent city of about 76,000 people in Virginia, located southwest of Charlottesville and east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Lynchburg Humane Society (LHS), is a non-profit that has a contract with the city of Lynchburg for animal services. LHS requires an appointment for owner surrenders and charges a small fee, but states that it will make exceptions for people who need to surrender a pet immediately or cannot pay the fee.

The shelter reported a 90% live release rate for the year 2011. LHS did not do quite as well in 2012, when it had an 87% live release rate. For 2013, LHS was back over 90%, reporting a live release rate of 92% for the year, with an intake of 1537 animals. The city of Lynchburg animal control euthanized 25 animals, and the live release rate for the community as a whole in 2013 was 90%. Performance improved in 2014, with a combined live release rate for the shelter and the city animal control of 93%.

LHS has struggled with a relatively high number of shelter deaths. They attribute this in large part to their badly outdated shelter building, which has made it difficult to control infectious diseases. If animals who died in shelter care are counted in with euthanasias, the modified live release rate for 2013 was 83%. In 2014, the modified live release rate improved 6 points, to 89%.

LHS began fundraising for a new building, but director Makena Yarbrough did not want to wait for it to be built to try to reduce shelter deaths. Last spring she consulted with epidemiologists at Cornell to find out how shelter staff could keep infection under control as much as possible in the old building. She implemented their ideas, including getting as many kittens out of the shelter as fast as possible. Yarbrough started a Kitten Warrior neonatal foster program and made it an all-hands-on-deck event. These efforts were responsible for the 6-point  increase in the modified live release rate from 2013 to 2014, as kitten and cat deaths were 65% lower.

As of this past Monday the new shelter building was completed and they are moving animals in.  The grand opening is March 21, 2015. This new shelter should substantially help Lynchburg in its continuing effort to reduce the number of shelter deaths.

Many shelters have blogs, but the LHS blog is particularly worth following because it occasionally has posts that analyze its programs from a statistical or outcomes point of view. Three posts that are worth reading for their statistical analyses are linked here:

Lynchburg is listed in the Running Totals as a 90%+ community.

When Was The First No Kill Community?

Here’s a pop quiz: In what calendar year did a community in the United States first report achieving No Kill, defined as a 90% or more live release rate maintained for the entire calendar year across all intake shelters in the jurisdiction?

A – 1884

B – 1944

C – 1986

D – 1994

E – 1999

All of the years listed are landmarks for No Kill, but the correct answer is: C – 1986.

In 1884 the Ellen M. Gifford Sheltering Home for Animals was founded in Boston. It was the first No Kill shelter we know of, but it did not take in all the homeless pets in Boston and so it did not create a No Kill community. It is noteworthy nonetheless for inaugurating the idea of a shelter that did not kill animals. In 1903 a shelter similar to the Gifford shelter, called Bide-A-Wee Home, was founded in New York City.

In 1944 the North Shore Animal League was founded in New York. In the 1970s North Shore became the first major shelter to proudly use the term “No Kill.” Its use of the term, combined with its pioneering of adoption marketing, drew a lot of attention to No Kill. North Shore was also a limited admission shelter, though, and did not create any No Kill communities.

In 1984 a group of friends who had been doing animal rescue for years settled on a large property in Utah and built a sanctuary. Today we know them as Best Friends Animal Society. Best Friends reports that they informally took over animal control and sheltering for their local jurisdictions, Kane County and the city of Kanab, in 1986, and saved well over 90% of the animals. Eventually Best Friends helped the jurisdictions set up their own animal control and sheltering system, but they have continued to take in animals that are not adopted or reclaimed in the jurisdictions.

In 1994 the Adoption Pact was signed in San Francisco, guaranteeing that all healthy animals who came into the sheltering system in the community would find a home. San Francisco also saved most of the treatable animals. Although San Francisco did not reach a 90% live release rate in the 1990s, it was by far the biggest city at the time to set a goal of saving all healthy and treatable animals. Its approach to lifesaving served as an inspiration to many other communities across the United States.

In 1999, the county shelter serving Otsego County, Michigan, went No Kill and reported saving over 90% of its animals. This was the first time we know of that a community-wide grassroots effort saved over 90% of animals who came into the sheltering system.

There have been many other landmarks since 1999. In the year 2000 we had the first fully documented No Kill communities, as several small Colorado cities reported full statistics that showed live release rates of over 90%. In calendar year 2002, Tompkins County, New York, became the largest documented community that we know of up to that time to achieve a 90% live release rate, with an intake of over 2500 dogs and cats. A few years later Charlottesville and Reno set new records by achieving No Kill with even higher intakes. Several additional Colorado cities and counties joined the 90% group in this time period. In 2011, the first major city – Austin – became No Kill.

Don’t feel bad if you did not get the right answer on the quiz. Almost no one knows about the early No Kill shelters and communities because they were founded a long time ago and few people today talk about them. They were wonderful accomplishments for their respective times, though, and without them the No Kill movement would not be what it is today.

Larimer County, CO

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

Larimer County is located along the northern border of Colorado, and has a population of 300,000 people. The county is growing rapidly — its population was only 251,000 in 2000. It contains several cities and towns, the largest of which is Fort Collins (population 149,000).

The Larimer Humane Society is located in Loveland, Colorado. LHS describes its contractual responsibilities as follows: “Larimer Humane Society is [] home to the county’s only Animal Protection & Control unit. Through contractual agreements, Larimer Humane Society provides full-service animal control for Fort Collins, Loveland, and unincorporated areas of Larimer County, as well as stray-animal sheltering for Wellington, Windsor, Timnath and Berthoud.”

LHS accepts owner surrenders and asks for, but does not require, a small surrender fee. The shelter has a humane education program, including school and community presentations, critter camps, and job shadowing. LHS has a large volunteer program. Volunteers logged over 43,000 hours in fiscal year 2013-2014, including over 21,000 hours in foster care. Volunteers are involved in virtually every aspect of shelter operations.

The shelter reports to the state of Colorado. In 2013, it had a live release rate of 86%, with an intake of 6401 animals. Intake was down from 2012, when LHS took in 7143 animals (the reportable animals are dogs, cats, small mammals, reptiles, and pet birds; the shelter also takes in a small number of farm animals who are not reported to the state). The shelter’s live release rate for 2013 was also down somewhat from 2012, when it was 89%. The live release rate for 2013 does not change if animals who died in shelter care are counted with euthanasias.

Larimer County is counted in the Running Totals as an 80-90% community.