Worth Watching – Alachua County, FL

[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 of 90%+ communities. For more about the Worth Watching category, see the Worth Watching page link in the blog’s header.]

Alachua County is located in north central Florida. The county contains the city of Gainesville, which has a population of about 124,000, and several small towns, including High Springs, Newberry, and the town of Alachua. The combined population of the city and county is about 247,000.

Animal control, stray intake, and intake of owner surrenders is performed for the county by a municipal agency, Alachua County Animal Services. I verified in a phonecall to the shelter that it serves the entire population of Alachua County, including Gainesville and the towns in the county. I was told that the shelter accepts owner surrenders from county residents with no conditions, except for a small fee for unlicensed and unvaccinated animals.

The shelter works with a coalition of five local non-profits — the Alachua County Humane Society (a member of the Million Cat Challenge), Helping Hands Pet Rescue, Gainesville Pet Rescue, Puppy Hill Farm, and Haile’s Angels Pet Rescue. Another important non-profit in Alachua County is No More Homeless Pets, which has a low-income spay-neuter program called Operation Petsnip. The University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine has a program, Operation Catnip, that does TNR for feral and unowned cats.

The shelter and its rescue partners have reported to the media that they achieved an 86% live release rate for 2014. (The media report did not contain full statistics.) Over 850 dogs and cats were adopted in a 2-day Maddie’s Fund adoption event in 2014, and almost 1500 were adopted out during the 3-month ASPCA Rachel Ray Challenge. Operation Petsnip sterilized over 4000 dogs and cats and Operation Catnip sterilized more than 2100 cats. The shelter is going to try for 90% in 2015. It is planning to hire a pet-retention specialist, and is mulling over some admission changes.

Maddie’s Fund sponsored a project in Alachua County from 2002 to 2009 to help the coalition bring up the county’s live release rate, which was only 29% in the year 2000. The Maddie’s Fund project formally ended in 2009, but the coalition members continued to work together and the project collected statistics through mid-2013. The most recent full statistics posted by Maddie’s Fund for the coalition were for calendar year 2011, where the live release rate was approximately 70% with an intake of about 9600 animals.

Alachua County, Florida, was originally listed by this blog on July 20, 2013. This post is a revision and update with 2014 statistics.

Worth Watching – Niagara County, NY

[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 of 90%+ communities. For more about the Worth Watching category, see the Worth Watching page link in the blog’s header.]

Niagara County (population 216,000) is in the far western part of New York state and includes the Niagara Falls area. The county is just north of Buffalo and has a border with Canada.

The Niagara County SPCA (NCSPCA) is a non-profit located in Niagara Falls that serves the county and has a contract with the city of Niagara Falls (population 50,000) for animal sheltering. The NCSPCA also has agreements with the city of Lockport (population 21,000), and the towns of Wheatfield, Pendleton, and Cambria. The NCSPCA may refuse to renew its contract with the city of Niagara Falls after 2015 due to shelter space and budgetary constraints. The mayor of Niagara Falls has proposed building a new shelter.

In January 2012, there was an uproar when a report alleged cruelty and high rates of euthanasia at NCSPCA, and a new board of directors took over in May 2012. The NCSPCA took steps to lower the kill rate, including changing its policy to no longer impound community cats and expanding its hours for adoption.

In 2014 the shelter reported a 93% live release rate with an intake of 2574 cats and dogs. I am not listing the shelter as 90% Documented for two reasons. First, it sounds like the owner surrender process, which uses a waiting list, does not have an exception for cases where an owner must surrender an animal immediately. Second, the shelter has an unusually high rate of deaths in shelter care, and when deaths are counted with euthanasias the modified live release rate is only 86%. The high rate of deaths in shelter care may be due to overcrowding in the inadequate shelter building, which would presumably be ameliorated if the NCSPCA no longer serves Niagara Falls after this year or if Niagara Falls builds a new shelter and contracts with the NCSPCA to run it.

Niagara County, New York, was originally listed by this blog on August 19, 2013. This post is a revision and update with 2014 statistics.

The Withering Away of the Animal Shelter?

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

Friedrich Engels, one of the original philosophers of communist political theory, once said that there would be no need to abolish the state by force because it would wither away once the principles of social and economic justice were broadly understood. Somewhat similarly, many people feel that once the “pet overpopulation” problem is solved, animal shelters will wither away, or at least shrink to very small agencies that deal only with emergency situations involving sick, injured, and dangerous animals. I believe this idea of the animal shelter withering away, which was originated by No Kill critics but is shared by many No Kill advocates, is actually an assault on the core values of No Kill.

Before we can have this discussion we need to define “pet overpopulation,” and right away we have an important philosophical divide. Many people (including me) think the proper definition of “pet overpopulation” for cats and dogs is when there are more cats and dogs needing homes in a given year than there are homes for them. The people who believe in the withering away of the animal shelter, however, define “pet overpopulation” somewhat differently, as anytime you have adoptable animals coming into an animal shelter. Since the year 2000, animal shelter intake has stayed roughly the same nationwide (as best we can tell from the limited statistics available) at about 7 million cats and dogs per year. People who define pet overpopulation as adoptable animals coming into animal shelters believe that we need to concentrate on reducing that 7 million number. People who look at it as a supply and demand issue disagree, and feel that what we need to do is balance intake with live dispositions. Further reduction of intake is only needed if the number of available homes is insufficient for the current intake.

Since the year 2000, supply and demand for healthy and treatable shelter dogs in the United States have been in rough balance. For cats, TNR has grown dramatically and we now also have the new breakthroughs of SNR and balancing cat intake with shelter capacity, which have obviated the need for killing healthy or treatable shelter cats. Since this is the case, I believe we need to change our efforts away from further increases in spay-neuter targeted at pet owners, and toward placing shelter animals in the available home or field situations, including emphasizing adoptions, return-to-owner, transports, TNR, and SNR. Note that I did not say we should “reduce” spay-neuter efforts aimed at owned pets. Those efforts are still important, but spay-neuter rates of owned pets are very high already, on the order of 80-95%, and we have just about squeezed all the juice out of that orange. We can probably get some additional benefit from micro-targeting by zip code and going door-to-door in neighborhoods where pit bulls are being bred, but otherwise, a maintenance effort for spay-neuter of owned pets is all we need. Obsessing over the idea that we need to make the animal shelter wither away by doubling down on spay-neuter will be a waste of time and resources.

But this issue goes far beyond the proper place of spay-neuter. It has broader implications that go to the heart of what No Kill stands for and what the future of No Kill will be.

We have replenishment of the dog population from sources that we cannot control. For dogs, we have commercial breeders who sell large numbers of dogs to individuals. Even with good pet retention programs, sometimes these owners will want to or have to give up their dogs. We will never get everyone to spay and neuter their dogs, so there will continue to be some surprise puppies. And sometimes dogs will get lost and their owners either won’t look for them or will look in the wrong places. Rather than keep knocking ourselves out trying to make the world of dog owners perfect, which is never going to happen, we might as well accept that we are going to have a certain number of dogs a year who need rehoming. Cats are a completely different story than dogs, but cats also are going to need continuing sheltering. There is a reservoir population of feral cats that replenishes the supply of cats. There are virtually no feral dogs in United States cities anymore, but there are lots of feral cats everywhere. Because cats can live in the wild we will never be able to reduce the feral cat population to zero, any more than we could reduce the raccoon or squirrel populations to zero.

Rather than thinking of this as a bad thing, we should welcome it. Rather than looking at 7 million animals a year going into shelters as a problem we need to fix (which may be futile since we haven’t figured out how to fix it in the last 15 years) we should look at it as an opportunity to maintain a safety net and a compassionate marketplace for pets. In a recent article I posited that the number of people adopting dogs will continue to rise, causing a shortage of adoptable dogs. If this happens, instead of celebrating it perhaps we should attempt to find dogs to meet that demand.

Some people who believe in the withering away of the animal shelter think that private organizations will take over specialized duties that used to belong to the animal shelter. For example, one organization might do TNR and SNR, while another organization serves as a clearinghouse for lost pets, another one rehabilitates dogs with behavior problems, etc. While the policies are good, I think the idea of completely separating these functions into different entities is a bad idea. Animal control and sheltering are a “natural monopoly” in the same way that utilities and cable service are natural monopolies. The reason that communities have historically had animal control and sheltering concentrated in one entity, or in a small number of entities that work closely together, is precisely because the efficiencies of that arrangement are so high. It is fine to have separate groups that do TNR, behavior rehabilitation, etc., but we also need a central clearinghouse so that each small group does not have to reinvent the wheel by doing all the associated tasks of animal impoundment, record keeping, evaluation, handling, etc. separately.

Dogs and cats would be hurt by fragmenting the animal care system, because it would fragment and weaken their safety net. The safety net for dogs and cats depends above all on people communicating and networking — on community engagement. The shelter is a natural place for that network to form. The behaviorist who wants to get routine health screening for dogs being rehabilitated knows the veterinarians. The people who do TNR have met city council members at the shelter’s yearly fundraiser, and they know who will be sympathetic to the cats when changes in ordinances are being discussed. The SNR people can coordinate much better with the Lost and Found people if they know them personally and work with them every day. Getting consensus on changes that are needed is much easier when everyone is in touch with the big picture.

Centralized shelters also serve as a magnet for media exposure and attracting new people and donations. People who would never think about donating to a pet retention group will donate to the shelter, which can then funnel money to pet retention. Fundraising, which is of course a critical aspect of the safety net, is much easier with one strong local presence that gets a lot of publicity, and publicity is much easier for the shelter to get than it would be for a bunch of small, specialized groups. Publicity is also key to attracting adopters and new volunteers and fosters.

Perhaps the most important reason that the withering away of the animal shelter would be a bad thing is that it would mean giving up the shelter’s place in the pet market. We need a marketplace for pets where the suppliers are concerned above all with the welfare of the pets they are supplying. As I discussed in the post about the coming shelter dog shortage, we as animal advocates have to start thinking about what we want the pet marketplace of the future to look like. If the shelter withers away, then where will people go when they want a pet? If there is no shelter where they can adopt, then they will go to commercial breeders, including backyard breeders and puppy mills. The withering away of the animal shelter, if it happens, will be a bonanza to people who want to breed cats and dogs for money.

In 2012, about 35% of dog and cat acquisitions were from animal shelters or rescues (which generally acquire their animals from shelters or as owner surrenders) or places like PetSmart and Petco that provide space for shelter and rescue animal adoptions. (Data courtesy of the American Pet Products Association.) That’s more than 1/3 of the pet market that is currently held by animal shelters, either directly or indirectly through rescues. If shelters wither away and give up this market to commercial breeders it will be a disaster for dogs and cats, because there will no longer be any suppliers in the pet market who actually care about the well-being of pets. Rather than continuing to obsess over cutting shelter admissions more and more we should be obsessing over increasing this market share as much as we can. Today there is something of a trend for people to adopt pets rather than buy. We need to spend our time trying to encourage the public’s desire to adopt, instead of spending our time trying (futilely) to further increase spaying and neutering of owned pets.

The No Kill movement in particular needs to think about where we want to go with animal sheltering, and we need to fight back against the idea that the most desirable state of affairs is for the animal shelter to wither away because it is no longer needed. The core idea of No Kill has always been to connect the person who wants to adopt with an animal that they can adopt. Continuing to do that in the future will require No Kill to start consciously thinking about the structure we want to see in the pet market and No Kill’s place in the pet market.

The Cost of No Kill

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

I periodically get questions about how much it costs a city to transition to No Kill. Based on what I’ve seen in individual cities and counties over the last 4 years of researching No Kill shelters, I do not think there is any one-size-fits-all answer. Here are a few thoughts on the issue, though. Your mileage may vary.

The reason there is no one-size-fits-all answer is that the cost depends on many things, including whether the entity running the shelter is public or private, how much the city or county is currently spending on animal control and sheltering, the amount of support in the community that already exists or can be harnessed (including donations and volunteers), the condition and location of the shelter, and the type and number of homeless animals in the community. An easy way to think of it is that communities want to end up at the same place (No Kill) but they are starting from very different places.

One way to start the analysis is to compare the cost of particular, individual No Kill initiatives to what the shelter is currently doing. For example, if the amount that the shelter currently spends per cat is more than what the shelter would spend per cat on a shelter-neuter-return program, then SNR will save money. And pet-retention initiatives that reduce intake have built-in cost savings. Help desks and managed admissions are especially attractive in that regard because they cost little to implement and can often be done with volunteer help, and the reduction in intake can be substantial. This approach has the added advantage that it can be easier to get city officials to agree to a piecemeal transition than doing everything at once.

One of the myths about No Kill is that it leads to shelter warehousing. Making it clear to city and county officials that reducing length-of-stay is a priority for No Kill can go a long way toward alleviating that concern. A foster program is one important way for No Kill shelters to reduce length-of-stay in the shelter. City officials should understand that it is far easier to have community engagement in the form of volunteer help and fosters when a shelter is No Kill. Few people would want to foster a litter of orphan kittens, for example, if they thought the shelter might kill the kittens later on.

A cost that may be higher with No Kill is veterinary services. After all, one of the primary things that separates No Kill shelters from ordinary shelters is that No Kill treats the treatables. Sometimes treatment is simple, but sometimes it is costly. Much or all of this expense can be offset with donations, though. There are lots of people willing to help save a parvo puppy or get a wheelchair for a paraplegic animal if the shelter lets them know of the need. Public-private partnerships where the private entity pulls sick animals from the shelter and fundraises to treat them is one effective way to deal with veterinary costs.

If a city or county has been underspending on animal sheltering, sometimes everyone involved will just have to face that fact. If the shelter building is in a bad location, or is old, poorly designed, or too small, then plans will need to be made to build a new shelter. Non-profits that have a contract to operate a municipal shelter seem to have an easier time with such projects. I have not run figures on this, but my impression is that non-profits that are actively working in the community are far better at fundraising than non-profits that are set up specifically to raise money for a municipal shelter.

In some places, voters have approved special millages or other permanent funding for shelters. Most households these days have pets, and anyone who has a pet is happy to know that there is a caring, safe system in place in case their animal ever gets lost or if for some reason they cannot care for it any longer. They are willing to contribute for that. It is something of a false equivalency to compare a No Kill shelter to a traditional, high-kill shelter solely in terms of cost, because the No Kill shelter provides more value to the community.

Even though a head-to-head comparison on costs does not give a true picture of the value of a No Kill shelter, No Kill can often win such a cost comparison. Greater efficiencies from No Kill programs, donations, volunteer work, fostering, and even voter-approved taxes can entirely offset any increased costs due to a transition to No Kill. And just because a shelter spends $500,000 more per year, say, after a transition to No Kill does not mean that the extra money is coming out of existing city funds. If the shelter receives $1,000,000 more in cash or in-kind support, then the jurisdiction will actually have a net savings from the switch to No Kill.

In fact, No Kill is something of a marker for smart city government that is able to leverage the private sector to provide an important amenity to its citizens. As a recent Mayors Leadership Survey demonstrated, 5 out of 10 of the most admired cities in the United States are No Kill, and the other 5 have shelter systems that are much better than average or are transitioning to No Kill. No Kill is a sign of good governance as much as it is a sign of good sheltering.

Worth Watching – Asheville, NC

[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 Totals. For more about the Worth Watching category, see the Worth Watching page link in the blog’s header.]

Asheville is a city of almost 90,000 people located in the mountains of western North Carolina. It is the county seat of Buncombe County, which has a population of 248,000. Asheville has become a mecca for retiring baby boomers and is growing rapidly.

The city, county, and a non-profit called the Asheville Humane Society (AHS) have a cooperative arrangement for caring for homeless animals. The city and county both have animal control units that enforce ordinances, pick up strays, and respond to complaints. The Buncombe County Animal Shelter (BCAS) in Asheville houses strays for their hold period, and if they are not reclaimed they go to the AHS Nancy Hiscoe Clark Adoption and Education Center for placement. AHS contracts with the city and county to run BCAS, and BCAS and the AHS adoption center are located side-by-side on a modern campus. The shelter accepts owner surrenders with no fee and no appointment required. AHS and the shelter offer many programs.

Brother Wolf Animal Rescue is a non-profit that has operated in Asheville since 2007. It has an adoption center that is open 365 days a year and houses up to 100 animals. Brother Wolf has a Help Desk and a pet pantry, and it takes in some owner surrenders.

The Humane Alliance of Western North Carolina has provided low-cost spay-neuter in the area since 1994, and reports that it has sterilized 350,000 animals. The Humane Alliance partners with BCAS, PetSmart Charities, and the Mimi Paige Foundation to provide trap-neuter-return for community cats. AHS and the shelter are part of the Million Cat Challenge.

A news report on January 13, 2015, stated that BCAS had taken in 6600 animals in 2014 and euthanized 630 of them, not counting 470 owner-requested, end-of-life euthanasias for pets whose quality of life had deteriorated. If those figure are accurate, the shelter was very close to 90% not counting owner-requested euthanasias. Asheville and Buncombe County might well be over 90% if intake and outcomes for the community as a whole, including Brother Wolf, were available. I’m listing the shelter as Worth Watching instead of a 90% shelter, though, because the BCAS statistics mentioned in the report came from a volunteer rather than the shelter director and I was not able to find full statistics on the website.

The Million Cat Challenge — 1 Month Anniversary

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

The Million Cat Challenge launched on December 10, 2014, and has proven to be wildly popular. I thought it would be fun to see a list of shelters that had signed on as of the 1-month anniversary, and here they are. Every shelter’s participation is valuable, but one thing that surprised me about this list is the number of large, traditional “open admission” shelters that have signed on already. Wow!

Alachua County Humane Society
Gainesville, Florida

Alaqua Animal Refuge
Freeport, Florida

All About Animals Rescue/Macomb County Animal Control
Warren, Michigan

Al-Van Humane Society
South Haven, Michigan

Animal Care and Control Team of Philadelphia
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Animal Friends, Inc.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Animal Humane Society
Golden Valley, Minnesota

Animal Refuge League
Westbrook, Maine

Animal Rescue League
Marshalltown, Iowa

Animal Rescue League of Southern RI
Peace Dale, Rhode Island

Animal Welfare Agency South Central Ontario
Kitchener, Ontario, Canada

Animal Welfare League of Alexandria
Alexandria, Virginia

Animal Welfare League of Arlington
Arlington, Virginia

Animalkind Inc
Hudson, New York

Arizona Humane Society
Phoenix, Arizona

Arlington Animal Services
Arlington, Texas

Asheville Humane Society/Buncombe County Animal Shelter
Asheville, North Carolina

Austin Pets Alive!
Austin, Texas

Barry County Animal Shelter
Hastings, Michigan

Boone County Animal Care
Columbia, Missouri

Cache Humane Society
Logan, Utah

Capital Area Humane Society
Lansing, Michigan

Carteret County Humane Society, Inc
Newport, North Carolina

Cat Adoption Team
Sherwood, Oregon

Cat Depot
Sarasota, Florida

Cedar Rapids Animal Care & Control
Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Charleston Animal Society
North Charleston, South Carolina

Chautauqua County Humane Society
Jamestown, New York

Chemung County Humane Society and SPCA
Elmira, New York

Cheyenne Animal Shelter
Cheyenne, Wyoming

Chico Animal Shelter
Chico, California

City of Chicago Commission on Animal Care and Control
Chicago, Illinois

City of Hamilton Animal Services
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

City of Sacramento Animal Care Services
Sacramento, California

City of San Antonio Animal Care Services
San Antonio, Texas

City of San Jose Animal Care and Services
San Jose, California

City of Stockton Animal Services
Stockton, California

City of Waco Animal Shelter
Waco, Texas

Clay County Animal Care and Control
Fleming Island, Florida

Cleveland Animal Protective League
Cleveland, Ohio

Clovis Animal Services
Clovis, California

Coastal Humane Society
Brunswick, Maine

Collier County Domestic Animal Services
Naples, Florida

Columbia Humane Society
St. Helens, Oregon

Companion Animal Alliance of Baton Rouge
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Contra Costa County Animal Services Department
Martinez, California

Coulee Region Humane Society
Onalaska, Wisconsin

Dakin Humane Society
Springfield & Leverett, Massachusetts

Denver Animal Shelter
Denver, Colorado

Dogs & Cats Forever, Inc.
Fort Pierce, Florida

Edmonton Humane Society
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Flagler Humane Society
Palm Coast, Florida

Flathead County Animal Shelter
Kalispell, Montana

Fond du Lac Humane Society
Fond du Lac, Wisconsin

Georgian Triangle Humane Society
Collingwood, Ontario, Canada

Gifford Cat Shelter
Brighton, Massachusetts

Great Plains SPCA
Merriam, Kansas

Habersham County Animal Care & Control
Clarkesville, Georgia

Halifax Humane Society
Daytona Beach, Florida

Happy Tails
Rock Falls, Illinois

Harbor Humane Society
West Olive, Michigan

Heart of the Valley Animal Shelter
Bozeman, Montana

Helping Paws Animal Sanctuary
Saint James City, Florida

Humane Society of Polk County
Winter Haven, Florida

Humane Society Calumet Area
Munster, Indiana

Humane Society for Greater Nashua
Nashua, New Hampshire

Humane Society for Southwest Washington
Vancouver, Washington

Humane Society of Carroll County
Westminster, Maryland

Humane Society of Huron Valley
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Humane Society of Kandiyohi & Meeker Counties
Willmar, Minnesota

Humane Society of Sarasota County
Sarasota, Florida

Humane Society of Tampa Bay
Tampa, Florida

Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region
Colorado Springs/Pueblo, Colorado

Humane Society of Washington County
Hagerstown, Maryland

Humane Society of West Michigan
Grand Rapids, Michigan

Humane Society Silicon Valley
Milpitas, California

Huntsville Animal Services
Huntsville, Alabama

Independent Cat Society
Westville, Texas

Jacksonville Animal Care and Protective Services
Jacksonville, Florida

Jacksonville Humane Society
Jacksonville, Florida

Kanawha-Charleston Humane Association
Charleston, West Virginia

Kenai Animal Shelter
Kenai, Alaska

Kern County Animal Services
Bakersfield, California

Kings County Animal Services
Hanford, California

Kokomo Humane Society
Kokomo, Indiana

Lawrence Humane Society
Lawrence, Oklahoma

Lee County Domestic Animal Services
Fort Meyers, Florida

Lexington Humane Society
Lexington, Kentucky

Long Beach Animal Care Services
Long Beach, California

Louisville Metro Animal Services
Louisville, Kentucky

Lynchburg Humane Society
Lynchburg, Virginia

Mat-Su Animal Care and Regulation Shelter
Palmer, Alaska

Miami-Dade Animal Services
Miami, Florida

Michigan Humane Society
Detroit, Michigan

Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Montreal SPCA
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Naples Cat Alliance
Collier County, Florida

Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue
Bradenton, Florida

Nevada Humane Society/Carson City
Carson City, Nevada

Norfolk SPCA
Norfolk, Virginia

OC Animal Care
Orange, California

Oktibbeha County Humane Society
Starkville, Mississippi

Oshkosh Area Humane Society
Oshkosh, Wisconsin

Pasco County Animal Services
Land O Lakes, Florida

PAWS of Bainbridge Island and North Kitsap
Bainbridge Island, Washington

Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League of the Palm Beaches, Inc.
Palm Beach County, Florida

PEI Humane Society
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada

Pet Resource Center
Tampa, Florida

Pets Alive
Middletown, North Carolina

Pets Alive WNY
Pendleton, New York

Placer SPCA
Roseville, California

Potter League for Animals
Newport, Rhode Island

Progressive Animal Welfare Society
Lynnwood, Washington

Providence Animal Rescue League
Providence, Rhode Island

Quincy Humane Society
Quincy, Illinois

Rancho Cucamonga Animal Care and Adoption Center
Rancho Cucamonga, California

Rochester Animal Services
Monroe County, New York

Sacramento SPCA
Sacramento, California

Saint Louis County Animal Care and Control Services
Olivette, Missouri

Salem Friends of Felines
Salem, Oregon

Salinas Animal Services
Salinas, California

San Diego Humane Society
Oceanside, California

San Francisco SPCA
San Francisco, California

Seattle Humane Society
Bellevue, Washington

Second Chance Animal Shelter
East Brookfield, Massachusetts

Second Chance Pet Network
Dryden, Ontario

Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority
Santa Clara, California

Sonoma County Animal Services
Santa Rosa, California

South Suburban Humane Society
Chicago Heights, Tennesse

Southern Pines Animal Shelter
Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Spartanburg Humane Society
Spartanburg, South Carolina

SPCA of Brevard
Titusville, Florida

SPCA of Wake County
Raleigh, North Carolina

St. Francis Animal Rescue of Venice, Inc
Venice, Florida

St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center
Madison, New Jersey

Tacoma-Pierce County Humane Society
Tacoma, Washington

The Animal Foundation
Las Vegas, Nevada

Town Cats
Morgan Hill, California

Tri County Humane Society
Saint Cloud, Minnesota

Trust Again Pet Shelter, Inc.
Zolfo Springs, Florida

Ventura County Animal Services
Camarillo, California

Virginia Beach Animal Care and Adoption Center
Virginia Beach, Virginia

Wake County Animal Center
Raleigh, North Carolina

Washington Humane Society
Washington, DC

Wayside Waifs
Kansas City, Missouri

Westerly Animal Shelter
Westerly, Rhode Island

Whidbey Animals’ Improvement Foundation (WAIF)
Coupeville, Washington

Wisconsin Humane Society
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Women’s Humane Society
Bensalem, Pennsylvania

Woods Humane Society
San Luis Obispo, California

Yavapai Humane Society
Prescott, Arizona

Yolo County Animal Services
Woodland, California

Worth Watching – Washington, DC

[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.]

Washington, DC, the nation’s capital, had a population of 602,000 at the 2010 census and is growing rapidly. The city is surrounded by densely populated urban areas in Maryland and Virginia, and the metropolitan area has a population of 5,700,000.

The Washington Humane Society (WHS) is an animal welfare agency chartered by Congress that has been in existence since 1870. WHS provides animal control and animal sheltering for the district. The shelter states on its website that “[t]he Animal Control Facility primarily houses dogs, cats, and pocket pets, but never turns any animal away.” It describes itself as “the open access shelter in the nation’s capital.”

WHS has a comprehensive set of programs, including a Behavior and Learning Center that provides training and play groups for shelter dogs and answers questions from the public, a community cat program that provides TNR, an affordable, high-volume spay-neuter center, a Safe Haven program for pets who are victims of domestic violence or abuse,  and a task force for lost and found animals. This 2013 report provides more information on WHS intake and programs.

Zenit Chughtai, a communications specialist with WHS, told the media that WHS had a live release rate of 87% in 2014. Intake was up slightly at 10,540 animals, as compared to 10,474 in 2013. Chughtai credited the shelter’s adoption promotions, including a “Petzilla: Adopt a Cuddle Monster” promotion last May, for the increase in their live release rate.

WHS reported a live release rate of 80%, including wildlife, in 2013, so the shelter’s step up to 87% is significant. In an article that appeared in January 2014, a shelter spokesman attributed the shelter’s improvement in recent years to several factors, including new adoption policies, off-site adoption events, discounted and free adoptions, an expanded foster program, the community cat program, and a program to work with landlords. He also credited a new perception on the part of the public about the shelter, noting that in the past the shelter had been seen as “a dark, dreary place where animals come to die.”

In addition to WHS, the District of Columbia is home to the Washington Animal Rescue League (WARL), which was founded in 1914. WARL has a full-service veterinary clinic that provides discounted care for the pets of income-qualified residents of the district and 14 surrounding counties. WARL also offers discounted spaying and neutering regardless of the owner’s income or residence. WARL reported an 89% live release rate for 2012 with an intake of 1973 dogs and cats and 89% for 2013 with intake of 2343.

Washington, D.C., was originally listed by this blog on February 21, 2014, based on its 2013 statistics. This post is a revision and update with 2014 statistics.

Worth Watching – Baltimore, MD

[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.]

Baltimore is an independent city in Maryland with 622,000 human residents. The Baltimore metro area has about 2.7 million people. Animal sheltering is provided for the city by the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS) (not to be confused with the Baltimore County animal shelter). BARCS takes in more than 11,000 animals per year.

BARCS is a non-profit that was formed in 2005 from the old municipal shelter for the purpose of working with the city’s animal control. Jennifer Brause was the founder of BARCS and has been its executive director since 2006. At the time of the takeover, the city shelter had a save rate of only 2% (not a typo).

The shelter accepts owner surrenders on a drop-off basis, with the only requirement being to provide identification and complete a questionnaire about the pet. BARCS accepts owner surrenders from outside its jurisdiction for a fee.

BARCS does not post its statistics on its website, but it reported a 78% live release rate in 2013 and stated in 2014 that it was running at 80% as of September. Baltimore was one of the cities that was featured at last year’s Best Friends national conference, and here is the playbook that the Baltimore shelter prepared for the conference. The playbook details the shelter’s plans for further improvement. (The playbooks for other cities that were featured at the 2014 conference are at this link.)

BARCS has teamed up with the Baltimore Humane Society and the Maryland SPCA, which is headquartered in Baltimore, to form the Baltimore Animal Welfare Alliance. The three shelters cooperate on adoption events, neighborhood-level targeting of spay-neuter efforts, and balancing shelter capacity.

The Coming Shelter Dog Shortage – Part II

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

In my last blog post I discussed the fact that some parts of the country already have a shortage of shelter dogs, and observed that if trends continue we will have a nationwide shortage of shelter dogs in the not-too-distant future. What are the numbers to back that up?

The HSUS estimates that we currently have an intake of about 7 million animals per year into shelters nationwide. Since the year 2000, shelter intake has been fairly stable in spite of a rapidly growing human population. Shelter outcomes include about 3.5 million adoptions and 2.7 million killings of healthy or treatable cats and dogs per year.  If we assume that half of the total 6.2 million adoption and euthanasia outcomes are dogs (in reality dogs are likely to be less than half, since the return-to-owner rate is much higher for dogs), that is about 3.1 million dogs per year who are in the shelter system and looking for homes. That means we would need a total of, at most, 3.1 million dog adoptions in 2015 to zero out shelter killing of healthy or treatable shelter dogs — i.e., to make demand meet supply.

In 2013, Colorado shelters were able to adopt out 10.5 dogs per 1000 people. The United States currently has a population of about 320 million people. If Colorado’s adoption rate could be replicated in the United States as a whole in 2015, shelters would adopt out 3.4 million dogs. That is more than the supply of about 3.1 million healthy or treatable shelter dogs that will be available for adoption in 2015.

Colorado had an overall live release rate of 89% in 2013. Right now Colorado is ahead of the pack with its live release rate, but the rest of the country is catching up at a very rapid clip. Big metro areas that are now over 80% include Seattle, Portsmouth, San Francisco, Washington DC, Atlanta, Richmond, Denver, Austin, Salt Lake City, Jacksonville, and Fairfax County in Virginia. New York City is close to 80%. Big cities that are making rapid strides include San Antonio and Tampa. Entire states in the northeast are at No Kill, including New Hampshire and (by estimate) Maine and Vermont. No Kill is happening much faster than most people think, and I would be surprised if the majority of the United States population is not living in a No Kill city within 5 years.

Given these statistics, it’s very reasonable to conclude that we will have a shelter dog shortage in the United States in 5 years or less.

A comment to my previous post suggested that demographic changes in the United States, specifically the aging of the population, might reduce the number of future adoptive homes for shelter dogs. That is possible, but it seems unlikely. According to surveys done by the American Pet Products Association, the number of owned dogs has been trending up since 1988, the number of households owning dogs has gone up in all but one measurement period since 1988, and 35% of people who acquire a dog obtain it from a shelter, rescue group, or by adoption (not purchase) at a pet store venue. The Pew Research Center has projected that population growth in the United States will continue to be strong between now and 2050, with most of the growth coming from immigration. Although the population over age 65 will continue to grow, that segment will be only 19% of total population by 2050. I think the combination of the continued growth of the human population, combined with the continued popularity of dog ownership and adoption as a means of pet acquisition, means that the outlook for growth in the number of adoptions is bright.

How bad will the shelter dog shortage be? The projected population of the United States for 2020 is 337 million. At a rate of 10.5 dog adoptions per 1000 people per year, that would mean 3,538,000 shelter dogs would be needed to supply the demand 5 years from now. While the demand for shelter dogs will be going up, though, supply will be going down. No Kill cities reduce intake with pet retention and spay-neuter programs, and further reduce the number of impounded animals needing adoption by increasing return-to-owner and return-to-field numbers dramatically. Effective pet retention programs can reduce owner surrenders by one-third, and effective return-to-owner programs can increase dog reclaims to 60% or more of strays. If No Kill continues to spread, it is not at all outside the bounds of possibility that the number of shelter dogs needing adoption will be less than 2 million in 2020. Indeed, the number could be even less if spay-neuter programs further decrease intake.

At that point we would be short at least 1.5 million shelter dogs each year to meet the demand for adoption. We don’t want those 1.5 million dogs in 2020 to be acquired from commercial breeders, which is why we need to start thinking now about how to supply that demand.

So what could go wrong? One way for this projection to fail would be if the No Kill momentum that is currently sweeping the country stalls. No Kill right now is a juggernaut, though, and I cannot imagine it stalling anytime soon. A more likely possible roadblock to continuing increases in pet ownership is the cost of pet maintenance. With incomes stagnant and veterinary costs seemingly increasing rapidly, it may be possible that some people who want to acquire pets in the future will decide not to due to costs. However, if costs do become a significant factor in the decision to acquire a pet it will hurt shelters less than commercial dog breeders. Adopting a dog from a shelter is much cheaper than buying one from a breeder, and No Kill shelters offer support systems for owners who are having trouble paying for pet food or veterinary care.

A nationwide shortage of adoptable dogs is not something that animal shelters in the United States have ever faced. When people have thought about No Kill for dogs, they have thought about getting to a 90% or better live release rate. Now we need to start thinking beyond that to the entire market for dogs. What place do animal shelters want to have in the dog market of the future?

The Coming Shelter Dog Shortage

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

It is becoming more and more obvious that supply and demand for shelter dogs in the United States is coming into balance. For example, the entire state of Colorado had a live release rate for dogs of 92% for 2013, and that was with over 17,000 dogs imported from kill shelters in other states. Dog transports have become big business, with dogs being moved from areas where they are not getting adopted to areas where they go out the door quickly. Generally speaking, New England and parts of the northeast, upper midwest, and Pacific northwest now have shortages of shelter dogs. With the spectacular progress that No Kill is making in places like Jacksonville, Atlanta, Baton Rouge, and other cities and counties in the southeast, the sending shelters may not be needing to send dogs for much longer.

If these trends continue – and it certainly seems like they will – we will have a shortage of shelter dogs for people wanting to adopt. What happens then? If the usual laws of supply and demand apply, commercial breeders will step up the number of dogs they breed to take advantage of the shelters who no longer have enough dogs to challenge them for market share. (Note: I’m talking about commercial, for-profit breeders here, not show breeders. Show dogs have their own set of problems, but most show breeders take reasonably good care of their breeder dogs and puppies and many of them do an outstanding job, including helping with rescue.)

So is there anything wrong with commercial breeders increasing their output? After all, the United States was built on commerce. I think commercial breeding is bad, though, for several reasons. First, dogs are not widgets. Commercial breeding has long been associated with puppy mills, where breeder dogs (who often have heritable health problems) are kept in terrible conditions and puppies are poorly socialized. The puppies are shipped, sometimes for long distances, to pet stores where they are kept in less than ideal conditions, which makes them more vulnerable to illness and trauma. They are then sold by people who may make little or no effort to match puppy temperament to the temperament of the purchaser. The puppies will likely be sold intact. Then, after the sale, there will be little or no follow-up to make sure the puppy is settling in with no problems.

No Kill shelters offer better veterinary care, more attention to housing and enrichment, spaying and neutering before placement, more care at placement, and better follow up than pet stores. They provide a lifetime safety net for the animals they place. So from the point of view of both the dog and the owner, a No Kill shelter is a far better place for acquisition of a dog than a pet store.

Another reason that shelters losing market share to breeders would be a bad thing is that No Kill shelters thrive on community engagement. The more people in the community who are involved with the shelter, the stronger the shelter will be. If people get their dogs from pet stores, they will be less likely to be familiar with and involved with the shelter, and community engagement will suffer.

And if commercial breeders increase their market share due to a shortage of dogs in shelters, then the breeder dogs who spend their lives producing puppies will continue to suffer. The negative publicity about puppy mills has hurt the industry badly, and cut their market. But there is probably a limit to how much can be accomplished by telling people about the horrors of puppy mills. After all, people have heard a lot about the horrors of factory farms, and yet they continue to eat meat. Not everyone is going to resist buying a puppy at a pet store, even if they know on some level that they are supporting a cruel business.

Although the puppy mill industry has been its own worst enemy in the past, recently some leaders of the industry have been indicating a desire to clean up their image. I wonder if they are planning to do so by simply taking what they are doing out of the public eye. The thing that has hurt the commercial dog breeding business in the past more than anything else is the photographs of miserable, matted, cherry-eyed, terrified dogs stuffed into cages. A simple way for the industry to fix this without having to actually change their ways would be to consolidate and move their operations into big warehouses like the ones currently used for laying hens. They could have a few model buildings to take the press through and simply not allow access to the rest. That way they could keep their operations completely out of the public view. No more photos made public of wretched, mistreated dogs living their lives in tiny cages. Keeping the dogs out of the public eye would not only make the public more willing to buy from pet stores, it would also help to ward off legislation to regulate puppy mills. There would be no ongoing proof of cruelty, and fewer people pushing for regulation.

The ideal thing would be for No Kill to find some way to co-opt the industry – to make sure there is a big enough supply of shelter dogs for community No Kill shelters to be able to maximize their market share. The most obvious way to do this would be to start importing homeless dogs from overseas. This would not be a permanent solution, because foreign countries are beginning to use TNR for street dogs, which will eventually drop their populations to sustainable levels. But until that happens, foreign countries would be a good source of supply for shelter dogs. We would be helping the shelter system in the United States while saving huge numbers of street dogs overseas.

Another way to tackle the problem would be for volunteers to breed litters which would then be donated to their local shelter for placement. This would have many advantages. The volunteers could provide great homes for the parents and intensive socialization of the puppies. The volunteers would have no incentive to inbreed, or to breed brachycephalic dogs. Only dogs with good health and good temperament would be bred. The volunteers could adjust the type and size of dogs bred to the local demand. The puppies would have all recommended veterinary care and be spayed or neutered before they were adopted. Shelter workers who have a lot of experience in matching dogs to adopters could make sure that every placement has a good chance for success, and could follow up to catch any problems early.

People who work in dog rescue and sheltering may think this is a completely crazy idea, because everyone has (rightly) always been concerned with decreasing breeding, not increasing it. But something similar is already being done in some contexts, such as service dogs. Dog breeding does not always have to stem from monetary or selfish reasons. And imagine how much it would help shelters with maintaining and increasing market share and community engagement if they always had healthy puppies available for adoption. People will get dogs from somewhere, and it might as well be shelters.

The usual objection to shelters bringing dogs in from outside, whether the dogs are adults or puppies, is that shelters should be placing all of the healthy and treatable dogs in the community before importing dogs. I have heard from shelter directors, though, who found that shelter traffic goes up when the shelter has a variety of dogs to choose from, which helps all the dogs get adopted. Other people think that shelters should not only place all the healthy and treatable dogs, but also all the sanctuary and hospice dogs before bringing in dogs from outside the community. For example, I have heard people object to transports of dogs into Colorado even though Colorado has a 92% live release rate for dogs. We can do transports at the same time we do hospice and sanctuary, though, because the two goals are not mutually exclusive. Dogs transported in are going to the regular market. Sanctuary and hospice dogs require special facilities that are not part of normal shelter marketing and must be separate programs.

For now, our current transport system is working well, and as far as I can tell we are not quite to the point where there is more demand than supply nationwide for shelter dogs. But that time is coming, and it would be a good thing for No Kill to begin to think about what we will do when that day arrives. My suggestion would be to start now with establishing lines of supply with foreign countries. Some rescues have been doing that and have been criticized for it, but perhaps we should be supporting those endeavors instead. It also might be a good idea for a shelter in an area of established dog shortage, such as New England, to try a pilot program of volunteer breeding just to test the feasibility of the approach.