News of the Week 07-26-15

The headline this week is that the Million Cat Challenge hit 250,000 cats saved under their program – 1/4th of the way to their goal of saving 1 million cats. Since it’s a five-year goal, they are looking very good to hit the goal early. The way it works is this. When a participating shelter signs up, their progress is measured against the baseline year (2012) by the greater of two numbers – reduction in cat euthanasia or increase in cat live releases. By having the alternatives, a shelter can get credit for for pet retention or diverting cats to TNR or RTF programs, as well as for increasing adoptions. The program has Five Key Initiatives, and a shelter can choose which ones it wants to implement. The Million Cat Challenge now has 263 participating shelters. That’s pretty good for only a little more than 6 months in existence. There is a lot more going on from this effort than can be gleaned from just looking at the website. Many large jurisdictions in the country (and in Canada) have started to implement the ideas behind the five initiatives. These concepts were considered revolutionary when some of them were endorsed in the California draft whitepaper less than two years ago, but they have rapidly been accepted and supported by the leadership of the shelter industry and are well on their way to becoming mainstream. It’s very possible, in my opinion, that in the 4+ years remaining in the Challenge, we will see not just 1 million, but all healthy and treatable shelter cats saved by these methods.

The cat cafe phenomenon hit a new high this past week with an article on Vox about the DC cafe, Crumbs & Whiskers. For DC residents and many people in other parts of the country Vox is a must-read, so this is great publicity.

A related idea to cat cafes is to get cats into workplaces, as with Seattle’s popular Kitty Hall program. The Humane Society of Broward County in Florida has rolled out a program called Office Cats that sends adoptable cats and their luggage to small businesses in the area.

Neighborhood Cats is offering a “see-through” rear release door for cat traps, for those wily ferals who say “no thank you” to regular traps.

The ASPCA Cornell Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Conference is being held from July 31 to August 2 at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Dr Stephanie Janeczko, one of the presenters, has tips for transporters, including the critically important health requirements you need to know before taking transport animals across state lines.

Baton Rouge has been struggling to go No Kill since 2011. The early efforts were not as successful as people had hoped, but the community kept at it and progress has been made. Now the Companion Animal Alliance (CAA), which runs the city shelter, has announced that a state-of-the-art new shelter building will have its groundbreaking next year. The new shelter will be located on land leased to CAA by Louisiana State University, near the LSU veterinary school. The architectural firm that was selected to design the shelter visited Portland, Oregon, to get ideas for the new building, and CAA officials have visited other shelters as well. The cost for the new building will not be known until the design is finished, but the fundraising campaign is scheduled to begin this fall.

The Waco, Texas, effort to go No Kill has been very successful so far (the city shelter is running at an 88% live release rate for 2015), and now the shelter building is getting a $2.5 million makeover. The city has supplied $1 million of the cost and the rest has been raised by private donations. Since this is a renovation and rebuilding on the site of the current shelter, officials will have to accommodate the animals currently in residence and coming in the door, in spite of temporarily reduced space. The shelter is asking for fosters to help tide it over during the renovation. The new building will be set up for better animal care and disease prevention and will also have a new adoption center, a veterinary clinic, and play areas.

Maddie’s Fund’s essential blog, Chew On This, has been relocated. The Maddie’s blog may be the single most useful blog going for people who are actually running shelters and want practical, professional guidance they can use.

Speaking of Maddie’s Fund, it has now made 2013 statistics available for the shelters that report to it under the Asilomar Accords format. The data is in the form of a comparative database.

Here is a nice feature about Colorado Animal Rescue and the Aspen Animal Shelter, two of Colorado’s many No Kill shelters.

Steve Dale raises the interesting question of whether the veterinarian who allegedly shot a defenseless cat in the head with an arrow in Texas would have been indicted for animal cruelty if it had been a puppy that was killed instead of a cat.

Delaware state and local officials are rallying and discussing how to handle animal control and sheltering after the First State Animal Center and SPCA dropped a bombshell last week with their announcement that they are getting out of their contracts in September. The contracts cover animal control and sheltering for all three of the state’s counties and the city of Wilmington. First State made the decision to end its contracts early because it was concerned that its employees, who have been looking for other jobs since the state announced its intention to take over animal control, would resign and leave it without enough staff to service the contracts.

Guest Post: My New Best Friends: Thoughts and Experiences from the Best Friends National Conference, July 2015

by Mark Penn

OK, I admit it; I’m kind of a conference junkie. A bit of an introvert, so I don’t like to make myself very conspicuous, but I enjoy, in fact I thrive, on being in a room, a stadium, or even a closet with people who have deep convictions that are similar to my own. I’ve found that in the past five years, my convictions are more and more focused on the work of the No Kill movement. And I haven’t found a better place to draw energy from fellow No Kill advocates than the various conferences that are offered by some of our leading organizations.

My perspective on all of this comes from my position as a longtime board member for the Sonoma Humane Society in Northern California. We are a medium-sized private shelter, and our Board is somewhat hands-on, although only in certain areas. I was president of the board through some difficult times, including a transition of Executive Directors, a longterm financial crisis (now resolved, thankfully), and a current LRR of 97%. Now my interests as a board member focus most keenly on Advocacy. With this viewpoint, you might find my experiences to be very different from those of someone in a different capacity with a different organization. But when invited to guest-blog on my own impressions and experiences of the Best Friends National Conference, I was happy to spend the flight back across the country working on this chronicle.

I’ve been to three national No Kill conferences now – the first two were produced by the No Kill Advocacy Center and were held in Washington, DC. To put it bluntly, I fell in love with the movement at these events. Unfortunately Nathan has at least temporarily suspended those yearly events, and I have been feeling the loss – until I became aware of this year’s Best Friends annual conference. It was held in Atlanta this past week (7/15-7/19) and drew just under 1500 folks from around the country.

This conference was divided into several tracks, and we attendees could choose among them, and/or “cross-track” into any sessions from any area that was of interest to us. The track choices included No-Kill Components (I’m paraphrasing the titles here): Rallying the Community (Advocacy), Increasing Adoptions, Resolving Behavior Issues (animals, not people…), Animal Wellness, Fundraising, Marketing, and Leadership. Of course like most conferences, there were exhibits, mixing/networking sessions, ad hoc get-togethers, etc. Technology was running rampant at the conference, like it is most everywhere. One of the most useful tools we had at our disposal was a conference app that was very powerful, including an individual’s session planning, an easy way to keep personal notes which were also shareable if one chose to do so, session evaluation opportunities, messaging to conferees from the organizers and amongst ourselves, maps, and even a listing of nearby “veg-friendly” restaurants. Oh, and perhaps the best piece of all of that was the opportunity to download all of the powerpoints and handouts from any session, whether I attended or not, for my own reference. That part really eased my concern about not being able to get to two or more contemporaneous sessions without possessing the talent of being in two or more places at once. With this app tool, all I had to carry around with me was my smartphone. Very cool.

The conference was well-organized and moved smoothly, at least from my perspective. I heard a few mutterings a couple of times from some others who wished that some of the meeting/breakout rooms were larger, but I’m not entirely sure how conference organizers plan for that, in trying to read 1500 minds and where those minds will want to go every couple of hours. The cadre of volunteers who kept us flowing and timely did a great job, and I had to give kudos, even to the woman who wouldn’t let me in to what was originally a men’s room but had been hijacked for the ladies (since we males were highly outnumbered at the conference). She was nice enough to help me find a “real” men’s room – or perhaps that should be a “real men’s” room – before things became emergent.

Although the conference appeared to kick off with the Thursday afternoon sessions, there was a “pre-conference” talk available in the morning. It seemed at first odd to me that the organizers chose to begin with a session that focused on burnout (“Hearts Larger Than Hands: Creating Balance in Your Life to Save More Animals”) but as it progressed, the light went on for me – it was almost like the Catholic requirement of making confession before taking communion (if you’ll pardon the religious reference) – and I found the session to be cleansing and a great preparation for what was to follow later that afternoon and through the weekend. Clearly, if we don’t take care of ourselves in this bloody battle to stop shelter killing, we will drain ourselves of the juices necessary to save as many animals as possible. It makes sense that we are often in a cyclone of “must-do’s,” but it makes even more sense that giving ourselves a break will, in the long run, lengthen our own worklife and by extension, the number of animal lives that we can save over that longer and more efficient period of time. As a quick shout out to the excellent presentation by the session leaders, I want to mention their latest book, “The Power of Joy in Giving to Animals.” I’m looking forward to reading it.

Thursday afternoon’s sessions allowed us to dive right in to the subjects at hand, and I chose to attend the sessions titled “Advocacy 101: Successful Lobbying for Community Cats,” followed by “Working the System: Understanding Good Policies and How to Get Them in Your Community.” My thirst for Advocacy was getting a good slaking right off the bat. I also have to tip my hat to the presenters. All of the sessions that I attended were well-prepared and the presenters knew their subjects while managing their audiences as well as they handled their material. I did not attend the after-hours social and networking events that were offered, as I needed an occasional recharge to absorb as much of the session information as possible, and as I said, I’m not exactly the type that bounces around the ballroom anyway.

Friday began with an all-conference and enthusiastic welcome session which might have been a bit too rah-rah (from my curmudgeonly perspective), but did include interesting commentaries from several Best Friends bigwigs and ended with an engaging talk by a woman named Asha Curran, director of the Center for Innovation and Social Impact for the 92Y institution in New York. We heard about the importance of innovation and keeping up with current trends – even keeping ahead of them. The late morning session allowed us to choose one of eight highlighted No Kill communities and learn about how they achieved their success, along with some of the lessons they learned along the way. Boy, it was hard to choose – and if I had any complaint at all about the conference, it would be that I would have loved to hear several of these presentations, rather than have them presented all at the same time. After lunch there were two more sessions with several options; I selected “The Data Dance: Your No Kill Best Friend” and “Rallying the Troops: How to Engage Your Community to Save More Lives.”

Saturday morning’s first event was basically a send-off and salute to Rich Avenzino, the retiring president of Maddie’s Fund, who will step down this summer. It was an informative and touching tribute to someone who clearly was behind the No Kill movement’s birth and development. The second morning session’s choice for me was “Engaged: Effective Community Messaging,” and after lunch I hit “Special Delivery: Transporting Pets to New Homes” (I’m an avid transporter; there’s nothing like having a pair of puppy eyes – or 20 pairs of them – staring at you while making a beeline down the freeway… oh yes, along with the smell of lots of poop). I confess that I missed the big “Save Them All Celebration” in the late afternoon, in favor of a little of that recharging I mentioned earlier.

Sunday was a half-day affair, as the conference was officially ending before lunchtime, although it was followed in the afternoon by a separate Animal Law Symposium. As an advocate I was sorry to miss the symposium, but my airline seat was beckoning me to get home to my own fur family. I did squeeze two final sessions in on Sunday morning though: “It’s a Win-Win: Friends of Animals Programs” and “Committed Partner Outreach: The Power of Best Friends Network Partners.” As I exited that final session, of course sorry to leave the fountain of information and inspiration, the mood around the conference center was definitely more quiet and unwinding, but understandably so, and it actually gave those of us who were there until lunchtime a little bit of reflection and perhaps the beginning of a gentle letdown for our journey back to the reality of home.

Now, the challenge is to take all of this terrific stuff and figure out how to use it locally. My shelter and my community would use it very differently than one somewhere else. But that, I think, is part of the beauty of all of this – the 1500 of us who descended on Atlanta leave that one single place, on 1500 different roads home, that will all hopefully bring us to one single destination: a No Kill nation. As Best Friends would say, we truly can “Save Them All.”

Along with all of this “serious” stuff, I noticed that No Kill conferences must be THE most fertile ground for the collection of fascinating T-shirts. The number of organizations represented at these conferences, combined with the innovation, creativity, and convictions/missions that they bring with them, have produced some great mottos, missions, and T-shirts!

Next years’ Best Friends Annual Conference will be held in Salt Lake City, July 14-17, 2016. If you are a No Kill enthusiast, or even questioning the meaning of it, and you enjoy the camaraderie of hundreds of other committed warriors, I highly recommend these endeavors. There’s nothing like a fully charged battery when it comes to this work that so often drains us of so much. Do it for yourself and for your community’s animals.

News of the Week 7-19-15

The mayor of Seattle proclaimed the second annual Seattle Kitty Hall on July 10th. The proclamation renames the City Hall for an afternoon of welcoming the kitties. One of the “whereas” clauses in the proclamation tells prospective cat owners to head to the Seattle Animal Shelter and adopt. This year city hall welcomed 11 kittens from the shelter, and people were wrapped around the building waiting to get in.

And what would the news be without more cat cafes? Brother Wolf has received unanimous approval from the city commission in Asheville, North Carolina, to build a cat cafe downtown. A vote by the city council is set for September. As Brother Wolf founder Denise Bitz said, “cat cafes are being built all over the country.” A college student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has raised $15,000 of her $138,000 goal to open Nebraska’s first-ever cat cafe. Both of the planned cat cafes will follow the model of having two rooms side-by-side, one for serving the coffee, the other for mingling with the cats.

In Million Cat Challenge news, the Challenge staff are having a celebration this Wednesday, July 22, at 3PM EST on their Facebook page, to mark a quarter million cats saved. The counter for cats saved by participating shelters can be seen here. Another big news item on the Million Cat Challenge front is that the shelter serving Edmonton, Canada – the Edmonton Humane Society – has joined the Challenge. It’s the first shelter in western Canada to join, and it’s big – they take in almost 13,000 cats every year.

This post on the Maddie’s blog has a great discussion of why managed admission is an important concept, and how to get started in implementing it.

The Delaware situation just got stranger. This article provides a good overview of the background of the situation – in a nutshell, a non-profit, First State Animal Center and SPCA, has been providing animal control and sheltering by contract for Delaware’s three counties and the city of Wilmington, but a state agency recently received authorization to hire its own animal control officers and take over animal control and related functions in the state as the contracts expire. On July 6, it was reported that First State had announced that after the transition it would not house any strays picked up by state officers and would only take in owner surrenders. Everyone thought that this transition would happen gradually over the period of 6 to 18 months that the existing contracts still had to run. Then on July 13th the First State board of directors voted to cancel its contracts effective September 15th, which leaves the state scrambling to get a system for animal control and sheltering in place in two months. The good news is that First State plans to become a No Kill agency. The question is what will happen to the state’s strays, confiscated animals, etc., in this unexpectedly abrupt transition.

The city of Austin recently hired Tawny Hammond, the former director of the Fairfax County Animal Shelter in northern Virginia, as its Chief Animal Services Officer. She started work in Austin on June 15th. Now Austin has announced the hiring of another Fairfax County Animal Shelter executive, Kristen Auerbach, as Austin’s Deputy Chief Animal Services Officer. Auerbach was previously the assistant shelter director in Fairfax, and has been serving as interim director there since Hammond accepted the job in Austin.

In other Austin news, Hammond wants to make sure that dogs at the shelter get enough walking time. Hammond says the shelter should be like summer camp for its canine residents, and to help create that atmosphere the shelter is holding information sessions to try to increase the number of dog walkers.

Two examples of shelters working to increase their return-to-owner rates are in the news. One shelter has added a new program, and the other has partially removed a barrier that never should have been there in the first place. The new program is from the Franklin County Dog Shelter and Adoption Center that serves Columbus, Ohio. Dog wardens who pick up stray dogs are now posting a letter-size bright yellow sign at the location where the dog was picked up. The sign identifies the dog and has information on how it can be reclaimed. The Franklin County shelter has a new director, Kaye Dickson, who has only been on the job a few months, and this is one of her initiatives. It will be interesting to see how it works. The other shelter is the Rio Rancho Animal Control Shelter in New Mexico, which noticed an increase in reclaims after it cut its reclaim fee in half. Most people were previously paying $250 to reclaim an animal, and everyone now pays $125. Hopefully the penny will drop for the city and they will realize that they will be even better off if they cut the fee to zero and get more animals out of the shelter quickly.

News from Big Cities

I thought it would be interesting to catch up on how big cities are doing. Of the 30 United States cities that Wiki lists as having the highest populations, 6 are well established as No Kill cities: Austin, Jacksonville, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver (although it still has that pit bull ban), and Portland.

And 7 cities are making credible efforts to get to No Kill, meaning they have strong programs in place and are making progress. Some of these are in the 80% range or have hit 90% and the only question is sustainability. The cities are New York, Los Angeles, San Antonio, San Diego, Washington DC, Boston, and Baltimore. I debated including Las Vegas on this list, but decided not to because its serious effort is pretty recent.

That’s a total of 13 of the most populous 30 cities — which is 43% — that are either No Kill or have credible efforts in place to get there. In addition to the cities, there are high-population counties that are No Kill or have credible efforts, including Fairfax in Virginia and Hillsborough in Florida.

The most amazing thing about this list of 30 cities is that only 5 years ago none of these cities were No Kill and only a few had credible efforts in place to get there. If we see as much progress in the next 5 years as we did in the last 5 years, the great majority of our largest cities will be No Kill by 2020.

It’s not all good news, and some of  the top 30 cities are notoriously bad places for homeless pets. Memphis is on the list of the 30 most populous cities, as are Houston and Detroit. It’s becoming clearer as time goes on that No Kill is easier to achieve in progressive cities, and Memphis, Houston, and Detroit are not known for being progressive. The job of shelters in non-progressive cities is harder both because they do not get as much community and government support and because they tend to have less progressive leadership within the shelter. Detroit seems to be making a comeback, though, and there are some really encouraging signs of progress in Houston. I haven’t heard a single positive thing about Memphis.

You can to a great extent gauge how desirable a city is as a place to live by how well it is doing at saving shelter pets. Certainly most people would choose New York, Washington DC, Austin, Seattle, Denver, or Portland over Memphis, Louisville, or Oklahoma City as a place to live. Cities that are not doing well at saving shelter pets are typically doing badly on many other metrics of what makes a city great.

Los Angeles, the second largest city in the United States after New York, has a particularly strong No Kill effort underway. That effort was the subject of an interesting article this past week from Best Friends, which is spearheading the effort there. Los Angeles has a large land area and a mild climate, which is a setting for huge kitten seasons. Best Friends reports that in 2014, 61% of the animals killed in the shelter system in Los Angeles were kittens. Kittens under 8 weeks, in particular, do not do well in shelters, and Best Friends plans to massively expand its kitten-nursery efforts as the key to further progress.

Some of the 13 cities that are doing well are part of formal metro coalitions. Portland and Denver fall into that category, and have very strong regional coalitions. The San Diego effort includes the entire county. Even if there is no formal coalition, No Kill seems to have an effect on nearby cities. Austin, Jacksonville, and San Francisco have all offered significant help to neighboring communities. Working together regionally really seems to help No Kill efforts.

Meet the Director: Jim Bouderau

Jim Bouderau always liked animals, and as a teenager he worked for a veterinarian and thought about becoming a vet himself. Ultimately, though, he found a career he loved in the hospitality industry. When he moved to Ithaca, New York, in 2005, it was for the purpose of opening and managing a hotel.

Jim Bouderau

Among the people Bouderau met in Ithaca were board members of the SPCA of Tompkins County. The SPCA is a private, open admission shelter that serves the county and the city of Ithaca, as well as most of the other municipalities in the county. Bouderau was impressed by the work the shelter was doing, and joined the SPCA’s board of directors. In early 2011 when former director Abigail Smith left to take over as director of the Austin Animal Center, Bouderau was on the search committee to find a new director.

The committee did some thinking about what they wanted in a new executive director, and decided that the one area where they had the most need going forward was connecting with major donors. The SPCA of Tompkins County had an illustrious history in No Kill dating back to 1999, when the board, impressed by the work that Rich Avanzino had done at the San Francisco SPCA, adopted a resolution to go No Kill. In 1999 and 2000 the shelter’s live release rate was 75%, which was one of the highest in the country at that time for an open admission shelter. When Nathan Winograd became director in 2001 he increased the live release rate to over 90%, and Abigail Smith continued that high save rate during her tenure.

No Kill had come at a cost, however, and the SPCA was spending about twice as much per county resident as it had spent in the days before No Kill. The good news about No Kill is that any increased costs can potentially be offset by increased donations, since residents are usually happy to support a No Kill shelter. By the late 2000s, the SPCA was doing well in fundraising in terms of its annual fund and its direct-mail program, but it was lagging in major gifts.

Once the search committee had identified major gifts as the biggest need for the new director to fill, they decided that they really needed to hire a local person who would have the contacts within the community for that effort. Bouderau ultimately stepped forward for the job, thinking that he would serve as director for a period of one to three years, just long enough to get the major donors program on a firm footing.

That was in May of 2011, and now, more than four years later, Bouderau is still the executive director. He has achieved the goal of putting the SPCA on a solid financial foundation, and the shelter’s income now matches its expenses. He decided to stay on, though, because he “absolutely loves” the job and finds it more fulfilling than anything else he has done.

Bouderau jokes that being a shelter director is similar to running a hotel because he’s still in the business of lodging. Joking aside, there is a great deal of similarity in what is needed for both jobs. Running an animal shelter, like running a business, requires skills in facility management, financial management, and human resources. Bouderau is an example of something that we frequently see in successful No Kill shelters, which is directors who have little or no experience in animal sheltering but are able to succeed because they are good managers. Bouderau’s background is in business, but we have also seen successful shelter directors with backgrounds in marketing and law.

Bouderau attributes a lot of the SPCA’s success to the community of Ithaca. He notes that it is a progressive community with residents who are very receptive to forward-thinking ideas like No Kill. As one example of the support the SPCA gets from the community he points to the SPCA’s relationship with the Cornell shelter medicine program, which was one of the first such programs in the country. In 2012 the shelter formalized a relationship with Cornell in which a team of four veterinarians, including Dr. Elizabeth Berliner, the head of the shelter medicine program, provide veterinary care at much less than market rates for the SPCA. Two of the four veterinarians are interns or residents – graduate veterinarians who want to learn more about shelter medicine – and the benefit for the Cornell program is that the interns and residents get hands-on experience in a working shelter. The program allows the SPCA to save animals who require very complex care. It also provides a 24-hour on-call service for animal control officers to help them triage injured and ill animals in the field and decide if the animals can be cared for at the shelter or need to go straight to the Cornell hospital.

The next big goal that Bouderau wants to tackle, now that he has the shelter on a sustainable financial basis, is to rebuild the old shelter on the SPCA’s 12-acre campus. The original shelter building is very old. In 2004 a new adoption center was completed, and that provides a bright, modern place to welcome people looking for pets. Most of the work of the shelter is still done in the old building, though, and it needs to be replaced.

Tompkins County is a microcosm of what makes for a great shelter system. It has a progressive community that supports the shelter, a private non-profit with a forward-thinking board that contracts for animal control and provides open-admission sheltering, access to the latest in shelter medicine, and last, but far from least, an executive director with the right skills for the job.

News of the Week 07-05-15

The San Diego Animal Welfare Coalition rolled out a big announcement this past week that they have reached zero euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals and that, starting with their new fiscal year on July 1st and going forward, they are committed to no healthy or treatable shelter animals in the county being killed. In the most recent fiscal year for which stats are available (2013 to 2014), the 11 shelters that make up the coalition had an 83% live release rate, with intake of over 40,000 animals. Much of what I’m reading about the coalition sounds really good – they work well together, they pool resources, they have a centralized unit for behavior rehabilitation for dogs, and they transfer animals among themselves so that the animals can get the most appropriate treatment. One thing bothers me though, and that is that owner-requested euthanasia has been much higher than I see with most No Kill shelters – in fiscal year 2013-2014, if owner-requested euthanasias are counted with other euthanasias, the live release rate drops from 83% to 72%. In some places (like northern Virginia) there is a tradition of local shelters offering euthanasia services to the public for old and sick pets. Perhaps that is what is going on here, but the problem is that we have no way to tell without detailed medical records on every ORE.

The Louisiana Transport Program saved 779 animals last year. This article about their program has some interesting comments from Dr. Elizabeth Berliner, the director of shelter medicine at Cornell. She says that transport programs are lifesavers, but that following best practices, including veterinary involvement at both the sending and receiving shelters, is very important. She refers readers to the best practices recommendations from the National Federation of Humane Societies.

Here’s another article about the Chester County SPCA in Pennsylvania and its recent turnaround.

Delaware’s First State Animal Center and SPCA (formerly the Kent County SPCA) has held animal control contracts for Delaware’s three counties and the city of Wilmington for a while now. If I am interpreting the shelter’s posted statistics correctly, they had a live release rate of about 75% in 2014, with an actual intake of over 6,000. Things may change in Delaware soon, as it appears that the state is moving to take over dog control duties.

Voice for the Animals has received some nice publicity for its Working Cats program, most recently with an article in the LA Times.

In a bizarre twist to the case of a Texas veterinarian who allegedly shot a cat in the head with a bow and arrow, it appears that the local DA may have misapplied the American Veterinary Medical Association’s euthanasia guidelines in finding that there was not sufficient evidence that the cat was killed by a cruel method. The DA appears to have interpreted the AVMA euthanasia guidelines as supporting the idea that an arrow to the head from a distance is equivalent to the controlled use of a captive bolt or gunshot at close range. The AVMA says that the DA reached this conclusion without asking their opinion on the issue. In related news, Alley Cat Allies had great turnout and support for their workshops and vigils in Texas in response to the case.

It’s not too soon to start thinking about what you will do for National Feral Cat Day, which is on October 16th this year.

Another great post from Christie Keith, who is a national treasure for the No Kill movement. This one discusses why adoption promotions should be upbeat – and the exceptions to that rule. One thing I like about Keith’s posts is that she not only explains what works, but why it works.

Tawny Hammond has hit the ground running in Austin in her new job as director of the city shelter. That’s by necessity, as Austin shelters have had increased intake due to the recent floods. Hammond wants to raise the shelter’s profile in the community, and she also wants to address concerns expressed by some volunteers that dogs are not getting enough exercise.

Mandating No Kill By Law

Is it a good idea for No Kill advocates to try to get states to pass laws mandating various aspects of No Kill programs? The devil is always in the details, and I think some of these efforts might be good, and others not so much. The subject is too big and complex for a single blog post to cover all the permutations, so I’m just going to talk about some general considerations with legal mandates.

– A legal mandate is only as good as its enforcement mechanism. If the law just makes broad general pronouncements, such as, for example, “shelters must make every reasonable effort to rehome adoptable animals,” it will be hard to enforce. If the law provides that regulations be drafted to enforce a more granular level of control, then we have to persuade the rule-making agency to do a good job. Even if those hurdles are cleared, we may have problems of unfunded mandates.

– One trend in regulation generally is to try to move away from “command and control” and toward incentives. An example of this is the cap and trade approach for industries that release carbon to the atmosphere. How can the No Kill movement encourage laws and regulations that set up incentives for good shelter performance rather than trying to create good outcomes by outside control? One example of a good incentive is laws that require shelters to report their statistics to the state. These laws do not set up any mandatory performance standards, but they encourage better performance simply by making information about performance available to the public. These laws are especially effective if the state collects the data and makes it available in an online database, allowing for easy comparisons of shelters.

– Another example of a good incentive would be a state level program where a governor selects an outstanding shelter in the state to be recognized with an official proclamation, perhaps also recognizing a couple of runner-ups. The winners could be selected by a group of respected No Kill leaders advising the governor, and the criteria would be how well a shelter is doing. Perhaps consideration could be given to the conditions under which the shelter is operating by making the award be on the basis of “most improved.” If the national organizations got together behind such a program and generated a lot of incentives for the winners, and a lot of publicity, this could potentially be a very effective motivator. Awards like this can also be a way to increase community engagement, as entire communities get together to compete for an award.

– Both of the examples cited above – reporting and proclamations – are the type of thing that can actually get through a legislature and be signed by the governor. One advantage of the incentive approach over the performance mandate is that it is much easier to get incentives enacted and carried out.

– Mandatory rules can generate unintended consequences. No Kill advocates are pretty much uniformly opposed to mandatory spay-neuter, because it has the unintended effect of motivating people to avoid licensing their pets and maybe avoid taking their pets in for health care. What unintended consequences could mandatory performance standards for shelters have? By taking away a shelter’s flexibility to deal with its individual circumstances, can we actually make their job harder without making their performance better? What data, if any, do we have that command and control laws work to improve shelter performance? I have seen many claims for number of lives saved by the few shelter-performance laws that are in place, but no data to back up those claims.

– As a practical matter, no state legislature is going to adopt a law at this point in time requiring shelters to meet really high performance standards. The danger with encoding the lower standards that legislatures are actually likely to pass is that once these lower standards have the imprimatur of law it may be hard to change them. One way to avoid this might be to ask states to approve very tough standards for shelters, but make them goals rather than mandates.

– Saving homeless animals has always, in our country, been a separate function from animal control. The purpose of animal control is to protect the public from nuisance and dangerous animals. The purpose of animal sheltering is to find new homes or other humane dispositions for impounded animals. The first municipal animal shelter that was ever created (way back in 1870) was run by a private organization, and the beauty of private organizations has always been that they can spend their own money to save animals. Since animals are property under our law, it is very hard for legislators to justify laws that would require the public to spend more on treating or rehoming a homeless animal than its economic value (which, in the case of shelter animals, is usually nil). So, when we think about requiring public shelters to meet performance standards for lifesaving (going beyond animal control), the question of how that can be funded by the government arises. If we decide that legislation to compel veterinary treatment and rehoming is a good idea, how can we fund enforcement? One way is to ask citizens to pass a special funding measure (bond or tax) specifically for the purpose of improving lifesaving.

As one final consideration, I think we have to ask if we need to go down the legislative route at all, given that No Kill momentum right now is so great that shelters are changing rapidly because they want to, not because they have to. We have a limited amount of money and person-power to spend promoting No Kill. Are those resources better spent in lobbying for laws that have not yet been proven to work and could have unintended consequences, or in helping and persuading more shelters to get on the bandwagon voluntarily? There are arguments on both sides. My own opinion is that some of the approaches I’ve outlined above would be no-brainers (state reporting laws and governmental proclamations), and special funding proposals are certainly worthy of consideration, while for other approaches it may be that our efforts would be better spent in other ways.

News of the Week 06-28-15

Top of the news this week is LifeLine Animal Project of Atlanta. Two years ago LifeLine, a non-profit formed by Rebecca Guinn in 2002, took over the contracts for the two county shelters that serve Atlanta. Currently the live release rates at both shelters are about 85%. LifeLine has just announced a new “I’m In” campaign to help carry the city to a 90% live release rate by 2016. If the goal is met for the entire year of 2016, then 6 months from now the two LifeLine shelters will be at 90% or above, and we will have another major city in the No Kill ranks. The centerpiece of the new campaign is to give Atlanta residents a way to participate in meeting the goal, by social networking as well as by direct support to the shelter through volunteering, fostering, adopting, etc. What a great way to involve the community and allow people who are not directly involved with the shelter to be part of this historic accomplishment!

Rebecca Guinn, founder of LifeLine, is one of the speakers at the upcoming Best Friends National Conference in Atlanta, July 16-19.

The amazing Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter in Texas has received the 2015 Paul Jolly Compassion Award from Petco Foundation.

When a shelter is successful at saving healthy and treatable animals, it is because of the efforts of lots of individuals who rarely seek or get any recognition. Without the great network of rescuers, volunteers, and fosters that exists in our country, even the most gifted shelter director would not be able to succeed. A woman named Carol Parks, who lived on Orcas Island in Washington, was a rescuer who took a great interest in the Wasco shelter in California. She helped to coordinate rescues, and saved hundreds if not thousands of animals from Wasco. A couple of weeks ago Parks died from cancer. Yesterday many of the volunteers, rescuers, and shelter employees who had worked with her participated in a massive rescue of animals from the Wasco shelter, in her memory. Over 50 at-risk cats and dogs were pulled from the badly overcrowded shelter. What a great tribute to a rescuer. Thanks to Mark Penn for letting me know about this event. The Wasco Facebook page has many of the happy stories.

The goal of the Million Cat Challenge is to save 1 million cats over a 5-year period. At the rate that results are pouring in, they may have to raise their goal. The Challenge was just launched a little more than 6 months ago, and the ticker is already up to over 240,000 cats saved. The map of participating organizations is getting really crowded.

Lost Dogs of Wisconsin is running an in-depth series of articles on microchips. Part 1 is on the “900” microchips. Part 2 is on searching the database.

A grand jury has found insufficient evidence to charge the Texas veterinarian who allegedly killed a cat with a bow and arrow. The ALDF has requested records on the case. After the decision was announced, Alley Cat Allies held workshops in Texas on humane cat care and anti-cruelty laws, followed by vigils.

In transport news, 26 dogs and cats were flown from Oklahoma to Colorado. Charleston Animal Society in South Carolina is flying 38 dogs to Everett, Washington. The numbers add up.

The Boston Globe reports that shelters in Massachusetts, including the Massachusetts SPCA and the Animal Rescue League of Boston, have seen substantial drops in cat intake since 2010. The shelters attribute the drop to spay and neuter efforts, and mention funding by PetSmart Charities and the state as supporting those efforts.

Cat Cafe news: In Philadelphia. In Washington, DC. In San Francisco. And Montreal is opening North America’s first vegan cat cafe.

The Best Friends Kitten Nursery in Salt Lake City, which is part of the organization’s No Kill Utah effort, has helped almost 600 kittens since its mid-March opening.

A Wall Street Journal article reports that some rescues are curtailing pulls from New York City’s Animal Care Centers (formerly Animal Care and Control). Since New York City has made progress toward No Kill largely though the efforts of its coalition of rescues, this is not good news. The rescues argue that they are receiving sick animals that they cannot afford to rehabilitate. The shelter argues that it has preventive medicine protocols in place but that it receives many animals who have not had regular veterinary care and who come into the shelter with disease burdens.

Getting the Word Out About Cats

Cats are not dogs. This seems obvious, and yet the correlative to that statement – that we cannot give equal treatment to cats by treating them the same way we treat dogs – seems to be lost on many people. In the last couple of years we have had proposals for innovative programs that seek to give homeless and lost cats the same chance for life that homeless and lost dogs have – not by treating cats and dogs exactly alike, but by recognizing and accommodating their differences.

Some people have reacted to these new programs by complaining that cats are being treated unfairly, and are being made second-class citizens to dogs. I’ve even heard the new cat paradigms referred to as the “war on cats.” While it’s a good thing for people to be cautious before adopting new ideas, we don’t want to be so cautious that we reject lifesaving ideas.

With that in mind, what are the new cat paradigms, and what is the evidence to back them up? I’m not an expert on the new paradigms – the experts would be Dr, Kate Hurley, Dr. Julia Levy, Scott Trebatoski, and all the other professionals who have been leaders in this field. But as I understand the new paradigms, one of the central ideas is that, in most circumstances, shelters should not take in healthy cats.


That certainly is a radical idea. But after looking at the evidence, it makes perfect sense. While an impounded cat is sitting in the shelter waiting for its owner to come looking for it, it may get sick, it is taking up space for cats who really need to be in the shelter (those who are sick, injured, or starving), and the likelihood of its owners finding it is far, far less than if it had been left alone.

That italicized clause is one of the keys to the new cat paradigms, and I think it is the most often misunderstood or overlooked part of the new message. So what is the scientific evidence to support the idea that a lost or straying cat is more likely to find its way home if it is just left alone? I asked Dr. Hurley this question, and she sent me two peer-reviewed studies that address the issue.

The first study was done in 2005 in Montgomery County, Ohio. It looked at cats lost by residents over a 4-month period and the success of methods that owners used to find the cats. The study included 138 cats. Just over half (53%) of the lost cats were recovered. Two-thirds – 66% – of the cats who were recovered returned home on their own. That is not a typo. All other methods, including neighborhood signs, identification, advertisements, and visiting the shelter, when added up, were only about 1/2 as successful as simply waiting for the cat to come home on its own. The second-most successful method for finding a lost cat was neighborhood signs, but only 11% of found cats were found by that method. Leaving cats alone was 6 times more effective than the second-best method at returning cats home. Only 7% of the cats were recovered from the animal shelter.

Now you might argue that perhaps only a few of the cats wound up in the shelter in the first place, and that explains why few were recovered from the shelter. The problem with that argument is that owners in the study took a median of 3 days, with a range of 0 to 21 days, to visit the shelter to look for their cat. And the median time between visits was 8 days. Half of owners did not visit the shelter within the typical 3-day hold time of the county, and when they did visit, their succeeding visits were not frequent enough to allow them to reliably reclaim their cats within the hold period. As the authors of the study said, it was possible that at least some of the cats in the study who were not recovered were killed by animal shelters. So, either cats did wind up in the shelter (in which case their owners did not reliably go to the shelter often enough to find them) or cats did not wind up in the shelter (in which case the shelter was irrelevant to whether they were found). Either way, impoundment is not a reliable way of returning lost cats to their homes.

This gets at one of the core differences between cats and dogs, which is that cats are more likely to hide when they get lost. A lost cat may hide for days or even weeks before it makes its presence known enough to come to the attention of animal control. People tend not to look in shelters for lost cats for a very good reason, which is that they know the likelihood of their cat being in a shelter on any given day is low. Unless they have the time to literally visit the shelter every couple of days for up to one or two months, their odds of finding their cat are not good even if it is impounded. And relying on shelter personnel or volunteers to recognize a lost cat from a photo or description is tricky because so many cats look alike. The shelter hold period was designed for dogs, plain and simple. The hold period does not fit cat behavior and it is ineffective to allow cat owners to recover their pets.

The second study was a national telephone survey that made contact with 2,587 households in 2010. A higher percentage of lost cats – 75% – were recovered than in the 2005 study. Of the 54 cats recovered, 48 were recovered either by searching within the neighborhood or the cat returning home on its own. The percentage of found cats who returned home on their own was 59% – not that far off from the 66% in the 2005 study, even though the two studies used different methodologies. Almost 9 out of 10 cats who were recovered either returned home on their own or were found by their owners right in their own neighborhood. Only 1 of the cats was recovered from the animal shelter (2% of the sample). Only 4 of the cat owners looked at the shelter for their lost pet. Once again, whether the low rate of recovery from the shelter was due to cats not winding up in the shelter or people not looking for them in the shelter, the result is the same – a very low likelihood of a cat being reunited with its family via the shelter.

Both of these studies are small. As with just about every issue involving animal sheltering, it would be nice to have more studies and have studies involving larger numbers of animals. I think the studies are meaningful in spite of the relatively small numbers of cats involved, however, because the percentage of cats who found their way home on their own was huge in both studies. This was not a subtle result – not the kind of thing where you need a cast of thousands to make sure that your result is statistically significant.

There are two possible ways for shelters to react to this data. One is to accept that impounding a cat is not a good way to reunite it with its family, and to change procedures so that healthy cats are not impounded and that people are advised about what does work – signs, searching the neighborhood, and waiting for the cat to come home. The other way would be to lecture cat owners about microchipping their cats and going to the shelter every day that their cat is lost. Which way do you think will be more successful?

Some people argue that even a 2% or a 7% rate of reuniting cats with owners makes it worthwhile to impound cats. That argument completely overlooks the fact that cats who are impounded cannot go home on their own, and their owners cannot find them by looking for them in the neighborhood. When cats are impounded, we cut off their best opportunity by far to get home – letting them get back on their own – and instead substitute a method, impoundment, that endangers their lives. Shelters are stressful for cats, and stress predisposes cats to disease. Not to mention that the percentage of communities that are saving all savable cats is currently in single digits, so even if the cat does not get sick it still has the hurdle of whether it will be adopted.

The two studies discussed above deal only with owned cats who are lost. There are a great many cats who go into animal shelters who do not have homes – they are either feral or they live in the community, possibly visiting many homes but not domiciled in any particular home. These “community cats” are not going to be reclaimed if they are impounded. Community cats who are healthy obviously are doing fine in their environment and do not need intervention by the shelter. Impoundment can only hurt them, unless the shelter can keep them healthy and find an adoptive home for them (or, in the case of a feral cat, a better situation than the one it was in). TNR and return-to-field are well established as the best solutions for most healthy community cats. Making return-to-field the default approach for healthy cats, whether they are community cats or lost pets, is the commonsense solution.

This gets at another of the important differences between cats and dogs, which is that today there are almost no truly feral dogs in the great majority of communities in the United States. The dogs in animal shelters are, almost uniformly, dogs who have been socialized to people and have lived in homes or kennel situations before coming to the shelter. Cats have retained much more of their wild nature than dogs, and many cats who come into animal shelters have either lived outdoors all their lives or they have transitioned in and out of homes and are very capable of “living off the land.” Once again, basing our ideas of what is best for cats on our ideas of what is best for dogs does a disservice to cats.

What about owner surrendered cats? When animal control stops taking in healthy cats, the shelter has more resources, and some of those resources can be used to expand pet retention programs. In cases where the owner has died or is unable to keep the cat any longer even with help, the shelter will be able to find a surrendered cat a home much more quickly because the number of incoming adult cats will be in better balance with demand by adopters.

Keeping healthy cats out of the shelter not only helps the healthy cats, it also helps the ones who are not healthy. When a shelter has fewer cats it can devote more resources to each cat. If 50 cats who all need rehabilitation come in from a hoarding bust, for example, the shelter will be much better able to help those cats if it is not already full. Kitten season won’t be so overwhelming if foster homes are not already full of healthy cats. We hear a lot about improving live release rates to 95% and even higher. Having the shelter take in only the cats who really need to be there is one way to get to those higher live release rates.

Although the idea of shelters not taking in healthy cats might sound radical to us today, it is not radical at all from a historical perspective. When animal shelters first started up in the 1800s before rabies vaccines had been developed, their primary purpose was to protect people from rabies by getting dogs off the streets. It was not known at that time that cats could transmit rabies too. Some animal shelters, like the ones in Boston and New York City, impounded cats starting around 1900, but it was very common throughout most of the 1900s for animal control units in the United States not to take in free-roaming cats. The idea that all shelters should routinely impound stray cats is of relatively recent origin, and it has not worked out well.

So, to sum up, even to a layperson like me it seems overwhelmingly clear from this data that shelters should not impound cats unless (1) the cat is ill, injured, or otherwise in need of help, or (2) the shelter has the ability to house the cat in a stress-free environment and quickly adopt it out once the hold period expires.

Makena Yarbrough, the innovative director of the Lynchburg Humane Society, the open-admission No Kill shelter serving Lynchburg, Virginia, wrote an article for her local newspaper that advises people what to do if they find a cat (although the title of the article refers to “feral” cats, it applies to all found cats). We have advice for people on what to do if they find a baby bird, and I’m sure that has saved many millions of birds from people’s well-intentioned mistakes. So I love this idea of telling people how best to help any free-roaming cats they come across. One important point is that since cats on average take longer than dogs to make their presence known after getting lost, lost and found services for cats need to emphasize that a cat that was just found today might have been lost a month or two ago, or even more.

We know how to help cats. Now we just need to get the word out. For more information, check out the Million Cat Challenge and the many helpful resources that Maddie’s Fund has made available about community cats.

Augusta, Georgia

The news is slow this week, so today’s post is on a subject I’ve been following for a while – the dysfunctional shelter situation in Augusta, Georgia.

The Augusta Animal Shelter was in the local news this week when it reported that its shelter killing rate so far in 2015 is down 15% from the same period in 2014. That sounds good, until you read the rest of the story and see that so far this year the shelter has killed 1,912 pets and adopted out only 572. Why is the Augusta shelter so bad? A grand jury report released last January found that the shelter is “understaffed and undersized” and has an inadequate building in a poor location. The report also found that the “staff is doing an incredible job with what they have to work with.” The report found that the shelter’s 70% kill rate was due, among other things, to its location being hard to find and its starting salary being $19,500, which led to a lot of staff turnover.

Median household income in Augusta is low – under $35,000 in 2013. Shelter intake appears to be very high. A page on the shelter’s website says the shelter takes in over 12,000 animals each year and returns only 550 to their owners. The website has a link to statistics, but it has been down when I’ve checked. The grand jury report said intake for the year was 10,000 in 2014. Augusta’s population is about 200,000, so if intake is 10,000 per year that is 50 pets per thousand people (PPTP), which is extremely high. The shelter accepts out-of-county surrenders for a small fee, which might be part of its intake problem.

Lisa Floyd, who operates an organization called CSRA Life Saver that helps the shelter, says that the problem is too many animals. There are still places, mostly in the southeast, where there is a pet overpopulation problem, and it looks like Augusta might be one of those places. In my researches it seems like shelters with PPTP of 50 or above usually have to transport animals elsewhere for adoption while trying to reduce intake, if they are to get to No Kill. A claim of “too many animals” is often just an excuse for poor performance, but in the case of the Augusta shelter it appears to be simply a factual statement.

The shelter lost its part-time veterinarian in 2014, and the city approved hiring a new veterinarian. No one applied for the job for months after the position was announced, and the shelter was without a veterinarian until a hire was announced a couple of months ago. The shelter’s advisory board has also had major upheavals in the last year.

Is the high kill rate and general dysfunction the fault of shelter leadership? A story last year indicated that there was a lack of trust between rescues and shelter director Sharon Broady, and that it was costing animal lives. To Broady’s credit, though, it appears that since then she has been attempting to make improvements. The Augusta shelter is not exactly an attractive venue for shelter directors, any more than it is for veterinarians. Low wages, high staff turnover, and an inadequate and isolated shelter building is not a good combination for a city that wants to support excellent leadership.

In looking at successful shelters over the years, there is usually one or more things that stick out that have made the community successful. It might be a great director who is so talented that he or she can overcome all obstacles. It might be a supportive and progressive community of people who spay and neuter their pets and who come to the shelter to get them when they stray. It might be city leaders who find enough money to support an attractive, modern, convenient shelter building that’s open on evenings and weekends. It might be a rescue group of volunteers who transport animals north. It might be a non-profit that takes over and does whatever the city shelter is failing to do. Augusta has some dedicated rescue groups, but that’s about it.

Augusta’s combination of a cash-starved shelter, inadequate physical plant, extremely high intake, and low-income community presents a real challenge for No Kill. The city’s advantages are that residents are concerned about the shelter, local media regularly report on the situation, and shelter staff appear open to receiving help. So what could be done? In the last few years some of the big national organizations have been able to make an impact in communities by coming in from outside with one or more of three interventions – targeted spay-neuter, transports, and community cat programs. Augusta needs all three.

The Augusta shelter has an adoption rate of about 6 or 7 per thousand people as far as I can tell from the fragmentary data. That is much less than No Kill communities achieve, but given the shelter’s circumstances I’m surprised it’s that high. It may be hard to increase that rate given the poor location of the shelter and the apparent lack of money to have adoption-friendly hours. I was not able to find any information on whether the city plans to take action on the grand jury report by building a new shelter in a better location or increasing funding to the shelter so that it can extend its hours. Short of that, the only way to get a high adoption rate would appear to be the private sector taking the animals out and marketing them locally in an effective way. The shelter has offsite adoptions, which may account for their recent increase in adoptions, but their main offsite venue appears to be the local pet store.

Augusta could also use some help from consultants – although it is doubtful any money for consulting would be forthcoming and there may be constraints on the director’s power to change procedures. Just looking at the shelter’s website shows some things that need to be done, from stopping out-of-jursidiction intake to making the shelter’s hours more convenient to asking for appointments for owner surrenders.

I think the Augusta situation is worth looking at because jurisdictions like Augusta are increasingly what the No Kill movement is facing. A lot of the low-hanging fruit in shelter improvement has already been picked. Today, communities where the live release rate is under 50% tend to have some serious systemic problems that may not be solvable simply by lobbying local government or firing the shelter director. Those communities may require people from outside to come in and provide resources, at least to get the shelter on its feet.