Williamson County, TX

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

The Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter (WCRAS), located in Texas just north of Austin, provides animal sheltering services for Williamson County (population 423,000) and all of the communities within the county except for Georgetown and Taylor. WCRAS has contracts with four of the communities: Round Rock (population 100,000), Cedar Park (population 54,000), Leander, (population 27,000), and Hutto (population 15,000). In addition to taking in strays picked up by animal control, the shelter accepts owner surrenders by appointment, with a small fee.

WCRAS provides links on its home page for its reports going back to 2008. WCRAS annual reports are some of the best I’ve seen. They clearly state what type of shelter WCRAS is and what it does, and the communities it serves. They go into detail about animal statistics, including statistics that are not usually reported such as length of stay. They have graphs comparing statistical categories going back several years, so you can see how the shelter has been doing over time. The reports also have lots of information about shelter finances.

WCRAS, like many No Kill organizations, has been struggling with an outdated shelter building. The county took steps in fiscal year 2013-2014 to determine the feasibility of remodeling and expanding the shelter.

For fiscal year 2013-2014, intake of all animals including wildlife was 6694. Dog and cat intake was 6478. The live release rate was 96% for dogs and cats. The modified live release rate, including animals who died or were lost in shelter care, was 93%. WCRAS did not report any owner-requested euthanasias. Foster care numbers were very high, with 1836 animals going into foster care during the fiscal year. Average length of stay at the shelter was 11.6 days for dogs and 14.6 days for cats.

The shelter’s yearly intake since 2007-2008 has ranged from a low of 6003 to a high of 7763. The shelter takes in about 19 animals per 1000 people per year. Donations to the shelter have gone up from $17,980.67 in 2007-2008 to $135,204.18 in 2013-2014. The live release rates for cats and dogs separately both went over 90% in fiscal year 2011-2012 and have remained there ever since. The modified live release rate for dogs has also been over 90% since 2011-2012. Fiscal year 2013-2014 was the first year that the modified live release rate for cats went over 90%.

Williamson County, Texas, was originally listed by this blog on April 15, 2013, based on its 2011-2012 statistics. This post is a revision and update with 2013-2014 statistics.

Notable Trends in 2014

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

There have been two very important trends in No Kill in 2014. First is the expansion of the movement to include a lot more leaders with a variety of approaches, and second is the creativity demonstrated by brand new techniques and programs for lifesaving. These new trends mean that the movement expanded both in breadth and depth in 2014.

The increase in the number of leaders has resulted in No Kill progressing beyond an earlier stage as a rather monolithic movement. As interest in the movement has grown, it has branched out in many different directions. We now have several different theories of how to approach No Kill, each one with its adherents. This has led to some splitting of the movement. I see this as healthy, because it means that ideas can be tested against each other and that No Kill can be adapted to different circumstances.

One of the differences in approach is a growing distinction between top-down and bottom-up reform. Top-down reform involves trying to get a city or county to do the heavy lifting of shelter reform, and uses pressure from citizens to force or persuade the local government to replace shelter management with No Kill management and commit whatever resources are needed. Bottom-up involves citizens improving the shelter themselves, by methods ranging from volunteer involvement to formation of one or more non-profits to take over specific tasks or even bid on the shelter contract.

The top down approach seems to work well in places where local government is disposed to be, or can be persuaded to be, engaged and sympathetic. Bottom up seems to work well where local government is disinterested or hostile, or where top down has been tried and failed for some reason. Bottom up can gradually bring about a change for the better in the attitude of the local government as citizens prove that No Kill ideas can work and be cost-effective.

2014 has been the year of the No Kill consultant. More and more, cities and counties are turning to consultants to help them with the many choices to make in finding No Kill techniques to fit their particular circumstances. This is a trend with a lot of potential, and it illustrates the fact that No Kill can be somewhat daunting for local governments. The steps a city or county needs to take depend on where the community is starting from and the local circumstances. Good consultants can help local governments sort all that out. Consultants are a new leadership class in No Kill. As time goes on their experience in many different communities can be invaluable for helping No Kill chart its future course. There is no substitute for recent, boots-on-the-ground experience in a wide variety of circumstances.

No Kill consultants can serve as a bridge or compromise between the top down and bottom up approaches. Consultants often seem to be brought in where local governments want to make some changes but they do not want to be on the hook for doing something radical, or they are simply uncertain who to listen to. Consultants might, depending on the circumstances, suggest leadership, operational, or program changes. Consultants can also uncover problems that no one realized were there, as with the recent Manatee County, Florida, report which found that very few shelter employees supported No Kill. Perhaps that was due to very poor previous implementation of No Kill, but whatever the cause it is a problem that must be addressed.

The demand for consultants is part of a growing recognition and acceptance of the fact that No Kill is not just a simple matter of plugging in modular programs. In the past, sometimes No Kill advocates seem to have felt like they had to present No Kill as a cheap, one-size-fits-all set of programs that gave immediate results when properly implemented. This simplistic approach was perhaps motivated by a fear that acknowledging that No Kill could be complicated might lead to resistance on the part of government officials. Today, as cultural ideas about the value of pets have continued to change and improve, citizens do not have to be so defensive in asking for shelters to do better.

Large national organizations like HSUS and the ASPCA have been assuming more and more of a leadership role in No Kill. Both HSUS and the ASPCA have signed on to some radical new ideas for how shelters should handle cats, and this has helped greatly with the acceptance and rapid spread of those new ideas. Large mainstream national organizations can serve a similar function to consultants in making it palatable for local officials to implement No Kill ideas. By giving No Kill ideas their imprimatur, the large national organizations can take the weight of decision-making off the shoulders of local officials who may know little about sheltering.

In the past there has been some degree of mistrust and separation between No Kill and the large national organizations, HSUS and the ASPCA. Some elements of No Kill have viewed HSUS and the ASPCA as enemies of No Kill, and in the past there have been some pretty hard words said on both sides. To the extent that this was ever appropriate, it no longer is. Unfortunately, there is one exception to this new era of cooperation and respect between the large national organizations and No Kill, and that is PETA. PETA appears to still be stuck in a mode of implacable opposition to No Kill.

Another trend in No Kill in 2014 is that it is now big business. When I first started documenting No Kill communities about four years ago, the great majority of the communities I researched were small, and many of them were tiny. Today I don’t even bother trying to keep track of all the new small communities that are popping up with No Kill efforts, because I’m too busy trying to keep up with the bigger cities.

Along with the increasing diversity of No Kill leadership, we have had broad acceptance of some groundbreaking new ideas in 2014. These are brand new No Kill programs for how to reduce intake and increase live releases. One really important thing about these new programs is that they are user-friendly because they make a shelter’s job easier, not harder. For example, a program of leaving community cats in place or offering shelter-neuter-return can be easier than picking up stray cats, holding them for several days, and then killing them. And a managed admissions program makes a shelter’s workload easier to handle than random drop-offs.

Marketing has been a linchpin of No Kill for some time, but it continues to grow and change. 2014 was the year the mega-adoption event went mainstream, with many communities having one or more giant adoption events in venues that get a lot of foot traffic. Mega-adoption events are becoming community festivals that go far beyond the traditional shelter adoption special. They fit in very well with the idea that the local shelter should be an integral part of the community. Shelter marketing is spreading into more and more venues. A couple of the more striking new marketing ideas in 2014 were cut-outs of available pets lounging on sofas and chairs at furniture stores, and shelter pets being integrated into a traditional production of the Nutcracker.

One way to look at this explosion of new leaders and new ideas in 2014 is that it represents No Kill getting back to its roots. When No Kill was developing in the 1980s and 1990s, it was very creative and new leaders and new ideas were welcomed. Then No Kill went through a period of regimentation where many advocates believed that there was only one right way to get to No Kill, and any deviation from that one right way had to be summarily rejected and fiercely criticized. In 2014 it has become unmistakable that we are now in an era where once again new leaders and ideas are welcomed. That may be the most important takeaway from 2014.

Notable People of 2014

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

A lot has happened in the No Kill world in 2014, and a lot of progress has been made. In fact, I think 2014 has been one of the most important years for No Kill since the 1990s. To celebrate the year I’m going to have a series of blog posts discussing some of the major events and accomplishments of 2014. Today I’d like to start out by listing some of No Kill’s notable people of the year. In coming days I’ll be looking at organizations and particular innovations in 2014.

1. Drs. Kate Hurley and Julie Levy are in the process of revolutionizing how shelters handle cats. They have developed recommendations that combine managed admission and “shelter-neuter-return” techniques for a roadmap to saving every healthy or treatable cat. This has been the huge news story in the shelter world in 2014, and the good news is that this story will be even bigger in 2015, with the recent rollout of the Million Cat Challenge. I will be discussing the Million Cat Challenge in more detail in a post later this month.

2. Bonney Brown and Diane Blankenburg are teaching a certificate course at the University of the Pacific in “lifesaving-centered” animal shelter management. This is the first university-level series of courses in lifesaving shelter management that has ever been taught by people who have actually succeeded at getting to 90% with a large urban shelter. This certificate is extremely important because it can help people get hired as shelter managers who do not have the traditional qualifications of long years in animal control or shelter operations.

3. Rebecca Guinn, founder of LifeLine Animal Project in Atlanta, has proven the “power of one” by forming a non-profit that took over the animal sheltering contract in 2013 for Fulton and DeKalb counties. LifeLine is not at a 90% save rate yet, but it looks like a lot of progress was made in 2014. Guinn is right in the center of two of the most important trends in No Kill. One is that No Kill advocates are forming non-profits and taking over city shelters rather than waiting for shelters to reform. The other is that big cities are going No Kill these days faster than smaller communities. It used to be thought that No Kill was harder to achieve in big cities, but people like Guinn are proving that idea wrong.

4. Rick DuCharme and Peter Marsh have started an effort — Target Zero — to take No Kill to some tough venues, including places where past No Kill efforts have failed. They have had some success already, but to me the most notable point about what they are doing is that they are not shrinking from any challenge. In fact, their “fellow city” list, which includes Waco, Pensacola, Indianapolis, and Baton Rouge, looks as though they deliberately picked the hardest cities they could find. In the past, people have often carefully selected their venues for No Kill efforts. DuCharme and Marsh have blown that approach out of the water.

5. Dr. Ellen Jefferson is another example of someone who picked a very tough city to reform when she expanded her successful Austin program to San Antonio. In its fiscal year ending in 2014, San Antonio had an 81.3% live release rate. This is an enormous accomplishment. Many people were involved in it, of course, but Dr. Jefferson’s formation of San Antonio Pets Alive! really lit the fire.

There are many other people who did notable things in 2014 to advance the cause of No Kill, and there have been a lot of incremental changes at the city and county level. It’s a positive sign for the movement when there are far too many people with significant accomplishments to fit into any one list.

Alpena County, MI

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

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

Alpena County is located in the far northern part of Michigan’s lower peninsula, bordering Lake Huron. It is a predominantly rural county with a population of 30,000. The county seat is the city of Alpena, which is a vacation spot with a permanent population of 10,000.

Alpena County has an animal control division that reports to the state of Michigan (scroll down in the link). The Huron Humane Society (HHS), located in the city of Alpena, also reports to the state of Michigan. I spoke to a representative of HHS who told me that they have a contract with the county to take in all the animals transferred by animal control and they take in strays directly from the public. The representative told me that HHS also takes in owner surrenders from the public, subject to a waiting list when the shelter is full. The representative did not know if any exceptions could be made to the waiting list for people who have to surrender an animal immediately. There is a small fee for owner surrenders who are up-to-date on vetting, with a higher fee if HHS will have to supply the vetting.

In 2012, Alpena County animal control reported that it impounded 115 cats and dogs, returned 53 of them to their owners, transferred 57, and euthanized 4. HHS reported an intake of 450 cats and dogs, with a live release rate of 90%. If we combine the statistics for both organizations, the live release rate for the county for 2012 was 91%.

Alpena County is listed as “90% Reported” because I have not been able to find publicly available statistics for it for 2013.

More Homes Than Ever

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

Pet ownership as a percentage of the human population of the United States has shot up since 1970. In 1970, the number of owned pets was about 30% of the number of people. By 2000, that percentage had gone up to about 46%. In the 2000’s the increase accelerated, and as of 2012 the number of owned pets was roughly 57% of the number of people.

The numbers are:


  • 60 million owned pets
  • 203 million people


  • 130 million owned pets
  • 281 million people


  • 179 million owned pets
  • 313 million people

Perhaps some of the success of shelters at increasing adoptions in recent years has to do with an ever-increasing actual and relative demand for pets. Or it could be that shelters have been a cause of the increase in pets, and adoption promotions have helped to drive demand.

Whatever the cause for the increasing percentage of people who own pets, it’s good news for shelter animals, as long as it keeps going. There has been a lot written about the reasons why pets are more popular these days, with most of the commentary centering on the idea that with modern life causing more social isolation, pets can provide companionship for the harried worker or parent who does not have time for a social life.

There is one possible cloud on the horizon, in my opinion, and that is veterinary costs. The fact that vets can do more for animals today than in the past is a blessing for those who can afford to pay the bills, but for those who cannot and have to say no, it can bring guilt and remorse.

Aquidneck Island, RI

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

Newport County in Rhode Island (population 83,000) lies along Narragansett Bay, and there are several islands in the bay that are part of Newport County. The largest of the islands is Aquidneck. There are three small cities on Aquidneck Island — the city of Newport (population 25,000), Middletown (16,000), and Portsmouth (17,000). Portsmouth’s territory includes several of the smaller islands along with part of Aquidneck.

The Potter League is a non-profit animal shelter located in Middletown that has contracts for stray intake and sheltering for Middletown, Portsmouth, and the city of Newport. It also accepts owner surrenders from all residents of Newport County without any conditions, although it asks owners to fill out a personality profile on surrendered animals. The League offers a wide range of services and programs. In 2014 the League celebrated its 85th year of taking in the strays of Newport County.

The League publishes its statistics in annual reports. In fiscal year 2014, the shelter took in 1669 animals and had a 91% live release rate, including owner-requested euthanasias. In fiscal year 2012-2013, the shelter took in 1772 animals, and had a 90% live release rate, including owner-requested euthanasias. They transferred in 369 animals, including cats from shelters that had been affected by Hurricane Sandy. According to the report for fiscal year 2011-2012, the League had a total intake of 1732 animals during the year, with a live release rate of 91% (89% if owner-requested euthanasias are included with euthanasias). The League transferred in 331 animals from “overcrowded shelters in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and the Virgin Islands.”

The reports are interesting in they show that the money the League receives for its sheltering contracts is a small fraction of its total intake. One advantage that a non-profit has over a tax-funded city shelter is that non-profits can and do raise money directly from the public, often very successfully.

Aquidneck Island, Rhode Island, was originally listed by this blog on August 29, 2013, based on its 2011-2012 statistics. This post is a revision and update with 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 statistics.

Worth Watching – Downriver, MI

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

[NOTE: The Worth Watching category lists communities whose animal shelter systems are doing substantially better than average, but have not reported a sustained (for one year or more) 90%+ live release rate. These communities are not counted in the running total in the blog’s subtitle. For more about the Worth Watching category, see the Worth Watching page link in the blog’s header.]

Wyandotte is a city of about 26,000 people in southern Michigan near Detroit. It is one of 18 cities and townships in an area informally known as “Downriver” south of Detroit. Last year Wyandotte become part of a group called Downriver Central Animal Control (DCAC, formerly the Southgate Animal Shelter). This cooperative animal control organization serves Southgate, Allen Park, and Lincoln Park as well as Wyandotte. The DCAC adoption facility is in Wyandotte.

In 2013, DCAC reported an 88% live release rate, with intake of 1451 animals. 716 of their live releases were transfers, presumably to Wyandotte. Wyandotte reported an intake of 782 cats and dogs in 2013, and their live release rate was 99.6% (scroll down to “city of Wyandotte” in the link). There is probably not a perfect overlap in statistical reporting for 2013, since Wyandotte operated its own animal control and shelter before the collaborative effort began in April 2013.

The Wyandotte shelter gets help from P.A.W.S. of Michigan, which coordinates volunteers who help with adoption and care of animals. The volunteers also offer pet retention counseling. An organization called Pound Pals does temperament evaluations and helps fund medical care. The shelter has a Facebook page and Petfinder profiles that provide a photo, history, and evaluation of each pet.

A private group called Shelter to Home opened a pet adoption center in Wyandotte in 2012 with the mission of featuring at-risk animals from the Detroit area. Shelter to Home was formed in 2007, and has a record of placing an average of 400 cats and kittens per year. The organization adopts out dogs but its primary emphasis is on cats.

Roscommon County, MI

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

Roscommon County is located in the northern part of Michigan’s lower peninsula, in the Au Sable State Forest area. There are no incorporated cities in the county, but there are a few rapidly growing unincorporated towns. The population of the county is over 25,000. Animal control and sheltering is done for the entire county, including the unincorporated towns, by the Roscommon County Animal Shelter, which is run by the county. The shelter has a waiting list for owner surrenders.

The Michigan animal shelter database report for the Roscommon County shelter for 2013 showed a 99.3% live release rate, which  dropped to 95% when owner-requested euthanasias were included. Total intake for the year was 1006 cats and dogs. The reported live release rate was 99% in 2012, but it dropped to 91% when owner-requested euthanaisa was included in the euthanasia total. The live release rates for the years 20092010, and 2011 were 95%, 98%, and 99% respectively. Roscommon was one of 10 counties in Michigan recognized by the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance for 2011.

A September 12 article about the shelter’s director offers insight into what has made this shelter so successful. The article describes how Terry MacKillop, the shelter director, was asked to help reform neighboring Saginaw County’s animal control system. In the article, MacKillop mentions the importance of several factors, including infection control policies, calling rescues to help place animals, and leadership. The article cites MacKillop as “saying that reducing the euthanasia rate to near zero in Roscommon County was the result of a lot of community outreach, education and building relationships with rescue groups and other organizations. ‘Mine didn’t happen overnight,’ he said.”

Roscommon County, Michigan, was originally listed by this blog on May 19, 2013, based on its 2012 statistics. This post is a revision and update with 2013 statistics.

Brother Wolf Goes All-Out For Pet Retention

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

Brother Wolf is a large, non-profit rescue organization in Asheville, North Carolina, that helps the city shelter and is working to make the city No Kill. I reported a few days ago in News Bits about an innovative idea to increase pet retention that has been put forward by Denise Bitz, the founder of Brother Wolf. The idea is for volunteers to go door-to-door and ask people how they are doing with their pets. If someone reports a problem, the volunteers can work with the person to keep the animal in the home.

A recent story from Asheville shows how well this idea can work in practice. Not long ago Asheville animal control cited an Asheville homeowner for keeping his eight dogs in poor conditions. In the great majority of jurisdictions in the United States this would probably have ended up with animal control confiscating the dogs and, since many of them are elderly, killing them. There might even have been a story in the local paper about hoarding or abuse, because the man’s home had an unkempt yard strewn with junk and overgrown with weeds.

But this story has a much happier ending, because Brother Wolf volunteers stepped in to save the day by cleaning up the property and building proper facilities for the dogs. (See the “neighbors helping neighbors” video in this link.) They recruited businesses to help, including trash, construction, and landscaping companies. These people contributed the equivalent of thousands of dollars worth of work and supplies to the effort. A veterinarian volunteered to check out the dogs, and found them to be well fed and in good health. The owner had been taking good care of his dogs, he had just not been able to keep up with the property. Once the property was fixed up it was a nice home for the dogs.

National No Kill organizations that have conferences — if you have not discovered Denise Bitz already, please take note and consider inviting her to your conferences (hint, hint). She seems to be one of those rare people who can not only apply the ideas that others have come up with, but also come up with some pretty good ideas herself. There are many innovative leaders in the No Kill movement who do not get as much recognition as they deserve, including Makena Yarbrough (Lynchburg), Rebecca Guinn (Atlanta), Robin Starr (Richmond), and Cheryl Schneider (Williamson County, TX).

Otsego County, MI

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

Otsego County is located in a rural area in the northern part of Michigan’s lower peninsula, and has a population of about 23,000 people. Otsego County Animal Control is the municipal agency that provides animal control and sheltering services for Otsego County. The shelter is supported by the Friends for Life organization, which provides a range of services including Petfinder listings and foster homes. A new shelter building was completed in January 2012 after funds were approved by local taxpayers.

I called the shelter to ask about the owner surrender policy, and was told that Otsego County residents do not have to make an appointment or pay a fee to surrender an animal. The shelter appreciates people calling ahead if they wish to surrender an animal, but does not require advance notice. The shelter takes in stray cats as well as dogs. I was told that the county does not have many feral cats, but if they get a call about feral cats they offer TNR. They also sometimes relocate cats through a barn cat program.

In 1999, the county adopted a resolution supporting the concept that no adoptable companion animal should be killed. The resolution “was also founded on the belief that ONLY those animals received in a condition of terminal illness or mortal injury that are beyond clinical redemption and/or animals that are deemed aggressive and/or dangerous and cannot be successfully rehabilitated with available resources should be humanely destroyed.”

Friends For Life reports that the shelter had a “reclaiming/adoption” rate of 99.5% in 1999 and 98.75% in 2000. I was not able to find statistics for the years from 2001 to 2006, although partial statistics from 2001 and 2002 indicate the shelter had a 90% or higher live release rate in those years. The Michigan state database shows that the shelter reported live release rates as follows from 2007 through 2013:

Intake for 2013 was 885 cats and dogs. All adopted animals were sterilized. There was one owner-requested euthanasia, but the live release rate does not change if that is counted with euthanasias.

(Note: The form that Otsego County Animal Control submitted to the state of Michigan for 2012 contains an error in that it states that 197 cats and dogs were sold for research. I spoke to a shelter official who verified that this was a mistake on the form, that no animals were sold for research, and that the 197 number was for returns-to-owner.)

Otsego County, MI, was originally listed by this blog on May 27, 2013, based on its 2012 statistics. This post is a revision and update with 2013 statistics.