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.

Gulp.

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.

Book Review: Shelter Medicine Text

The specialty of shelter medicine, which has grown at a fast pace from its beginnings 16 years ago, is critical to No Kill. Shelter medicine has been key not just to medical treatment of the treatables, but also to reducing shelter stress through housing and enrichment, fixing behavior problems, preventing disease, designing shelter buildings, and developing programs for shelter flow-through and capacity control. It is no accident that No Kill and shelter medicine have grown in parallel over the last 16 years.

The field of shelter medicine is growing so fast that it’s hard to keep up. But one way to get a good grounding in the subject is to read “Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians and Staff,” Second Edition (2013), edited by Lila Miller and Stephen Zawistowski.

Dr. Miller, who is often referred to as the founder of shelter medicine, was the first African-American woman to graduate from Cornell’s veterinary college, at a time (1977) when the profession was beginning to diversify. She, along with Dr. Jan Scarlett, taught the first formal class in shelter medicine at Cornell in 1999. Dr. Miller was a co-founder of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians (ASV) in 2001. She co-wrote the textbook “Infectious Disease Management in Animal Shelters” with Dr. Kate Hurley. She has been with the ASPCA since 1977, and is its director of veterinary outreach. In 2008 she received the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Animal Welfare Award, and in 2014 she received the ASV Meritorious Achievement Award.

Dr. Zawistowski has a PhD in behavior and genetics from the University of Illinois. He has written, co-written, or edited several books in addition to the shelter medicine text, including a history of the ASPCA (“Heritage of Care”) and a textbook about companion animals (“Companion Animals in Society”). His research work has been published in several journals and he is a founder and co-editor of the “Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science.” He has served for many years as Science Advisor to the ASPCA, and is a well-known speaker on animal welfare subjects. He was a founder and officer of the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy.

Their textbook lists 51 contributors, including Dr. Kate Hurley, Dr. Julie Levy, and Dr. Jan Scarlett. It has an 80-page introductory section that includes articles on shelter statistics, design, management, and legal issues, among other topics. Following are sections on husbandry, infectious disease, animal cruelty, shelter programs, behavior, and sterilization. Individual articles cover everything from stress and quality of life for shelter animals to population management to wildlife and equine care to animal hoarding to foster care to behavior enrichment to community cat management to pediatric neutering, along with all the other topics you would expect in a shelter medicine text.

Although this text is written for shelter veterinarians and staff, it has lots of valuable information for anyone who is interested in shelter issues. People who are trying to reform shelters from the outside may not always realize the complexity of issues that shelters face in trying to save animals. The sections on proper care of the various species found in animal shelters covers almost 200 pages, for example. The spay-neuter section is over 100 pages. The chapter on foster care shows not only how valuable foster programs are but how many factors must be considered in setting up and running foster programs. The extensive section on disease control shows the planning and constant vigilance that is required to keep animals healthy in the shelter environment.

The cost for this textbook is modest given its size and the amount of information it contains. As a non-professional, I learned a lot about the intricacies of modern shelter management from it, and would recommend it for anyone who is interested in shelter issues. Animal shelter management is a field that is changing at dizzying speed, and this textbook provides a good way to get an overview of the issue.

News of the Week 06-14-15

First, a housekeeping note – if your organization does not already have my blog on your press release distribution list, please feel free to add it. My e-mail is administrator@outthefrontdoor.com. And now to the news.

Brother Wolf, the innovative non-profit that has worked with the county shelter in Asheville, North Carolina, to go No Kill, has announced a 5-year plan to build a large sanctuary that will eventually house 600 dogs and 600 cats on 82.5 acres. The purpose of the sanctuary is to rehabilitate animals who need more time and care than the existing shelters can easily provide. The $4.9 million sanctuary will have a veterinary clinic on site. The plans include a learning center and guest cabins for visitors. Brother Wolf’s founder and president, Denise Bitz, decided to leave her career as a nurse and open Brother Wolf after a visit to Best Friends in 2010, so she is familiar with the life-changing experiences that a sanctuary can provide. Paul Berry, a former CEO of Best Friends, is now the executive director of Brother Wolf.

There are several upcoming conferences. The SPARCS International Conference on Dog Behavior is being held in Phoenix on June 19-21. The presenters include Michael Hennessy, who will speak on reducing stress in shelter dogs. Best Friends National Conference is being held July 16-19 in Atlanta. The 12th annual ASPCA Cornell Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Conference is being held on July 31-August 2 in Ithaca.

Pets who are overdue on their rabies vaccines and come in contact with a rabid animal can safely receive booster vaccination rather than quarantine or euthanasia, according to a study published in JAVMA. This finding will be included in the upcoming edition of the definitive rabies public health guide later this year, which should result in it becoming standard practice.

A government office in New Mexico teamed up with a rescue to set up a cat library. The way it works is that an employee who needs a break during the day can “check out” a cat for a short period of fun and relaxation. The program has resulted in 100 adoptions in three years.

Speaking of libraries, reading to shy shelter animals helps them come out of their shells.

Big news from Houston this week. The city shelter, BARC, had a ribbon-cutting celebration for the opening of Phase I of its $6.1 million adoption center. The city has also brought Emancipet, an Austin based spay-neuter organization, to Houston. Emancipet has a 48′ mobile clinic that can provide 35 reduced-cost or free spay-neuter surgeries per day. Emancipet has started a fundraising effort to build three permanent clinics in Houston by 2017. The ASPCA has pledged $1 million to the effort.

A proposed bill in New York State would provide $200,000 in annual funding for TNR programs. The bill is being opposed by a coalition that includes conservation groups.

The Just One Day adoption event was held this past Thursday, and several shelters reported good results. The Muncie shelter held a very successful 24-hour event.

Here is an interesting blog from a veterinarian who thinks that veterinarians should refuse to participate in shelter killing of healthy or treatable animals. She makes an analogy to the moral stand that doctors have taken against participating in the execution of human prisoners. The discussion in the comments is also interesting, and remarkably civilized on this contentious topic.

If you are not keeping an eye on the Maddie’s Institute blog, you are missing out on some great free guidance for using social media. The most recent article discusses frequency of posting to Facebook.

Miami-Dade County Animal Services has a 28′ by 8′ van called the Hope Express dedicated to mobile adoptions. It is self-contained, requiring no electrical or water hookups, and is “easy” to set up and break down. it has 24 animal compartments that can be increased to 56 with dividers to accommodate various sizes of pets. Since its launch last summer it has been the centerpiece of events at many types of venues including parks, malls, and downtown Miami. The sides of the van lift up to provide shade and to allow people to view the animals in their compartments.

May 17-23 was Dog Bite Prevention Week. Julie Hecht has an interesting post on current thinking about dog aggression – that it is more often situational and learned rather than generalized and innate.

HSUS has a webinar on July 1 on how to change adoption policies to remove barriers to adoption and attract potential adopters.

Expert Opinion is Unified Against Gas Chambers

Right now several states still have gas chambers in active use in animal shelters. Reformers are working hard in those states to get gas chambers banned, but they are running into local resistance in many places. It is puzzling that there is still any opposition to getting rid of gas chambers, because all of the leading national organizations that have weighed in on the issue say that euthanasia by injection (EBI) is the preferred method of euthanasia for shelter dogs and cats.

The textbook “Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians and Staff” notes that the Association of Shelter Veterinarians, ASPCA, HSUS, and the American Humane Association (AHA) “all recommend EBI of sodium pentobarbital as the only acceptable method for euthanasia of dogs and cats in animal shelters.” The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), in its 2013 Euthanasia Guidelines, says that “the preferred method of euthanasia” in animal shelters is EBI. The Euthanasia Reference Manual published by HSUS states that EBI is the best of the available euthanasia methods for shelter animals, and lists gas chambers among the methods that “are not considered to be humane euthanasia, and should never be permitted in a shelter setting.” The National Animal Control Association states that EBI using sodium pentobarbital is the “only method of choice” for humane euthanasia of shelter dogs and cats, and it “condemns”  the use of gas chambers.

The people who want to continue using gas chambers in shelters generally rely on three arguments. None of those arguments stand up to scrutiny and none of them are accepted by experts in the field.

The first argument is that gas chambers are safer for the humans involved when they are dealing with aggressive or feral animals. This argument seems plausible at first glance because people tend to think of EBI as requiring handling of the animal, while the gas chamber just requires pushing a button. But what this argument ignores is that the technician has to handle the animal to get it into the gas chamber in the first place. EBI is actually safer than the gas chamber for the technicians because a press gate or squeeze cage can be used to restrain an animal for the few seconds required to give a pre-euthanasia sedative. The restraint technique is used in TNR to get feral cats ready for surgery, and it is both safe for the technicians and as humane as possible for the cats. Anyone who has seen experienced people preparing feral cats for surgery will realize how much more humane the restraint-sedation technique is than stuffing a fully conscious, struggling, terrified animal into a gas chamber.

And speaking of danger to the human technicians, gas chambers are dangerous things to have in any building. The “Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians and Staff” textbook notes that carbon monoxide exposure has been documented in the death of one shelter worker and the illness of another. Gas chambers that leak low levels of carbon monoxide can cause serious health problems in shelter personnel. There is no way to tell if a chamber is leaking without monitoring it, because the gas has no smell or taste. And handling the gas is dangerous because it is explosive.

The second argument made by those who want to keep using gas chambers is that EBI is more expensive. This argument is factually incorrect. AHA did a study of costs of EBI versus gas chambers and found that EBI is cheaper – far cheaper, in fact. The 2009 study found a cost of $4.66 per animal for the gas chamber versus $2.29 for EBI. Sodium pentobarbital is a controlled substance, but the majority of states allow direct registration for animal shelters to obtain the drug. Concern about the ability of shelters to get sodium pentobarbital without having to go through a veterinarian should never be a barrier to banning gas chambers, because if a state lacks direct registration it could be instituted at the same time as the ban on gas chambers.

The third argument made by people who want to keep the gas chamber is that a gas chamber is emotionally easier on shelter personnel because they do not have to look at and touch the animal as it dies. Again, the experts in the field do not agree with this reasoning. Many studies have found that performing euthanasia is stressful for shelter workers regardless of the method used. The key is how workers deal with the stress. If they distance themselves from their emotions by distancing themselves from the animal’s death, it is harder on them in the long run. Being able to feel the sadness and tragedy of an animal’s death is actually a sign that a shelter worker is coping with his or her emotions in a healthy way rather than ignoring them or shutting them off.

I suspect that what is really occurring with resistance to getting rid of gas chambers is just resistance to change, and a desire not to have to go through the learning curve of adopting a new method. Those concerns should not stand in the way of banning gas chambers. When every national organization with expertise on the issue, including the AVMA, has expressed the clear opinion that EBI is superior to the gas chamber in all respects, that should be the end of the debate.

News of the Week 06-07-15

The Cache Humane Society is located in the Cache Valley, an area of northern Utah and southeast Idaho that has over 100,000 residents. The shelter’s website states that it is open admission and is the only shelter serving Cache Valley. In 2014 Cache Humane Society became one of 50 (now 52) participants in the No Kill Utah program (NKUT). NKUT was launched by Best Friends in 2014. The shelter reports that it has been at a live release rate of over 90% in each of the last three months and is over 90% for the year so far. Director Roland Bringhurst says he has been pursuing the No Kill goal since he took over two years ago. The problem area has been cats, and the shelter has started TNR and barn cat programs to bring up their live release rate.

There were several more stories this week about new animal shelter buildings. This really seems to be a trend. Some of the venues for new shelters are Broward County, Florida; the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley (which says it is the first No Kill shelter in Idaho); The Tree House Humane Society in Chicago (their planned facility sounds wonderful); Denton, Texas (their new shelter helped them hit a 90% live release rate); Aiken County, South Carolina (they are now able to keep the animals healthy); Johnson City, Tennessee (their new shelter is more than four times bigger than the old one and has a donated electronic sign that will feature adoptable animals); and Haywood County, North Carolina (they had an 80% live release rate last year and hope to do even better).

Maddie’s Pet Adoption Days on May 30 and 31 were an enormous success, with almost 5300 dogs and cats adopted from over 100 locations by 89 participating organizations. Maddie’s reports that in many locations people were lined up before the doors opened.

The Sacramento County animal shelter has opened up a catfe.

It’s official – the town of Calistoga, California, has formalized a deal for animal sheltering services from the Petaluma Animal Services Foundation (PASF), which runs the No Kill shelter in Petaluma. Dubuque County, Iowa, has also approved its proposed deal with Whispurring Hope Rescue to take over most animal control duties in the county and adopt out animals.

Oftentimes companion animals who are used in research are not given much thought because the public never knows about them.  A new law was passed in Nevada that protects animals that survive the laboratory in good enough condition to be rehabbed and adopted out. Before the law was passed, such animals were often killed when their usefulness to the laboratory ended. The Nevada Humane Society will be taking in the animals and rehabbing them and finding them homes. NHS director Kevin Ryan says 96% of them are Beagles.

The Animal Foundation, a non-profit, recently won the contract to continue running the shelter for Clark County, Nevada, over a strong competing bid made by No Kill Las Vegas (NKLV). The Animal Foundation has now put forward their plan to go No Kill. The bad news is that it’s a five-year plan. The good news is that they are going to be working on a TNR program with Best Friends. NKLV leader Bryce Henderson said that the plan is a giant step in the right direction. NKLV has 1600 members and their ability to put forward a credible bid for such a large contact (the shelter took in about 34,000 dogs and cats in 2014) was impressive.

San Antonio Pets Alive! has taken in 700 animals since April, an unusually high volume due to the recent flooding in Texas. SAPA adopted out 6,000 pets last year.

History Quiz – Just for Fun

The organized humane movement in the United States began right after the Civil War. From 1866 when the first SPCA was founded until the end of the progressive era around 1920, the three cities that were the center of the humane movement in the United States were New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. Each of these cities had its great leader in humane work. In New York City it was Henry Bergh. In Philadelphia it was Caroline Earle White. In Boston it was George Angell. These three people were the most prominent champions of animal welfare in the United States in the post-Civil-War period.

Today these great leaders are not talked about much and many people are unfamiliar with them. Following is a quiz about them. I hope you find it interesting.

1. Which of the three humane leaders founded the first national humane organization in the United States?

A. Henry Bergh

B. Caroline Earle White

C. George Angell

Answer: A – Henry Bergh, who founded the ASPCA in 1866. Two years later in 1868 White founded the Pennsylvania SPCA and Angell founded the Massachusetts SPCA. In 1869, White founded another SPCA, the Women’s Branch of the Pennsylvania SPCA, after she was precluded from participating in the leadership of the Pennsylvania SPCA due to her gender.

2. Which of the three humane leaders was a vegetarian?

A. Henry Bergh

B. Caroline Earle White

C. George Angell

Answer: B – Caroline Earle White. White worked very hard on humane transport of cattle and other animals from the western plains to slaughterhouses in the midwest and east, but progress was slow. The cruel treatment of meat animals may have been what motivated her to become a vegetarian.

3. Which of the three humane leaders proposed an ordinance in 1880 to allow the mayor to appoint people to catch any cat found in a public area and kill it unless reclaimed by its owner within 3 hours?

A. Henry Bergh

B. Caroline Earle White

C. George Angell

Answer: A – Henry Bergh. Bergh’s proposed cat ordinance was criticized by people who feared that the three-hour holding period was not long enough to allow people to reclaim their pets. Bergh stated that the ordinance was “for the sake of suffering humanity as well as the wretched cats.” The ordinance was approved by the New York City aldermen but was never approved and put into effect by the mayor, possibly due to a lack of funds to implement it.

4. Which of the three humane leaders proposed a lecture series at a prominent university that would link the humane movement to other great reform movements of the post-Civil-War era such as women’s suffrage?

A. Henry Bergh

B. Caroline Earle White

C. George Angell

Answer: C – George Angell. He proposed the series of lectures to the president of Harvard.

5. Which of the three humane leaders was successful at persuading the city to allow his or her humane organization to take over the cruel city dog pound?

A. Henry Bergh

B. Caroline Earle White

C. George Angell

Answer: – Caroline Earle White, whose Women’s Branch SPCA took over the Philadelphia city pound in 1870 and replaced it with a shelter. The Philadelphia dog pound had been one of the cruelest in the country, where dogs were held without food and killed by a painful method after their hold period expired, and White took it over to stop the cruelty. Bergh proposed in 1873 to the mayor of New York that the city build a shelter like the one in Philadelphia and allow the ASPCA to run it, but the city declined. Angell believed that there were not enough homeless dogs in Boston to justify building a pound or a shelter.

6. Which of the three humane leaders said that animals had a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

A. Henry Bergh

B. Caroline Earle White

C. George Angell

Answer: B – Caroline Earle White. Although both White and Bergh made “rights” statements about animals, they do not appear to have believed in a literal right to life for animals. In the case of cats and dogs, all three of the humane leaders appear to have accepted the killing of homeless cats and dogs. They probably saw it as a necessity given the lack of any practical method to cut down on breeding (the capability to do mass spaying of dogs and cats would not mature until the 1960s or 1970s), and the public’s intense fear of stray dogs due to the threat of rabies (commercial rabies vaccines for dogs were not available in the 1800s and early 1900s, and post-exposure vaccination for humans was not available until late in the 1800s). The concern of the three humane leaders was not to abolish shelter killing, but to ensure that impoundment and killing be done in a way that was as humane as possible.

News of the Week 05-31-15

The state of Colorado will be releasing its shelter statistics for 2014 in the next week or two. The statistics are collected pursuant to the state’s PACFA reporting rule and include all intake shelters and rescues. The live release rate for Colorado as a whole for 2013 was 89%. We may find out when the statistics for 2014 come out that Colorado is the first state ever to go over the 90% LRR mark for an entire year. Summary statistics will be posted on the state’s PACFA website for those interested, and I will be reporting on the full statistics on the blog.

The Austin Pets Alive! facility was flooded in the recent torrential rains in Texas. A call to the public resulted in dozens of people lining up to provide temporary homes for the animals. Volunteers also cleaned up the water and unclogged drains, allowing the shelter to reopen in only two days. Due to all the help from the public, APA! was able to take in 67 dogs from another facility to keep them from being euthanized.

Maddie’s Fund has a helpful article on Twitter effectiveness for animal shelters and rescue groups, and another article with encouraging news on ringworm. Also a ton of information on saving orphaned kittens.

Saving Our Companion Animals, a group that started up last January in Fort Bend County, Texas, is doing pretty much everything they can think of to help the county animal services division. The list of stuff they are doing includes animal care and socialization, networking on social media, taking photographs, interfacing with rescues, running adoption events, and doing pet retention. They also have an emergency medical fund and they work on spay-neuter. Whew! They need financial support – sounds like possibly a great opportunity for a grant-giving organization.

From Arlington, Texas we have fresh statistical evidence that charging a surrender fee does not lead to pet abandonment. A pilot program instituting a $25 surrender fee correlated with a drop in stray intake, a drop in owner surrender intake, and fewer calls reporting loose animals. Win, win, win. The funds collected will be used to pay for an animal cruelty investigator. More win. Other shelters that have kept statistics after instituting managed admission policies, including Lynchburg, Virginia and Douglas County, Nevada, have also found that asking owners to be more responsible correlates with positive changes.

Animal Farm Foundation has a great article about how animal shelters can best approach the issue of breed identification.

The SPCA of Martinsville-Henry County just did its largest single transport ever with 122 animals going to North Shore. The transport was aided by  the American Humane Association. Since the 1990s shelters in West Virginia have relied on transports to the northeast to save their animals. West Virginia shelters tend to be extremely underfunded and often do not receive much support from local populations, either in reducing intake or increasing placements. Fortunately, the state has a convenient transportation corridor in freeways running across Pennsylvania. West Virginia also has many shelter workers and volunteers who work very hard networking the animals, getting them vetted for transports, and often driving the first legs of transports.

I’m seeing more and more stories like this one about cities and counties building good, modern shelters. Sometimes the stories are about a private SPCA or humane society that has the contract for animal sheltering and is fundraising for the new building. In many cases, though, the local government provides all or a good portion of the funds.

The Niagara Falls City Council has approved a 1-year contract with the Niagara County SPCA.

The Pet and Women Safety Act (PAWS Act) is pending federal legislation that addresses the common situation where a victim of domestic violence is reluctant to leave an abusive situation if it means leaving pets behind. The proposed law also addresses situations where an abuser stalks a victim’s pet. Not much is getting through Congress these days, but the numbers cited in the linked article indicate this is a much-needed measure. Another pending federal bill takes aim at animal cruelty. It’s encouraging to see these proposed bills at the federal level, since most animal issues are relegated to the state and local level.

The Huntsville, Alabama animal shelter has higher-than-average intake at close to 6,000 animals per year. It has recently been using reduced-fee adoption events and extended hours to increase its live release rate, which was 92% for May. The shelter faces ongoing challenges, though, including high recent intakes and an influx of dogs from hoarding cases.

No Kill — What Does It Mean?

“No Kill” is a loaded term. Some people love it, some people hate it, and a lot of people are just confused by it. How did this happen, and should we try to do anything about it?

The first organization to popularize the term “No Kill” in a big way was North Shore, back in the 1970s. North Shore was a limited-admission private shelter that used very innovative marketing techniques to place dogs and cats that it pulled from open-admission public shelters. Some people were upset over the term “No Kill” because they thought the implication was that open-admission shelters were “kill” shelters. So the term “No Kill” was controversial right from the start. It did not help that the term is made up of two negative words, “no” and “kill.”

As the years went by more and more private, limited-admission organizations began calling themselves No Kill. By 1990, “No Kill” was synonymous with “limited admission.” The general belief was that only organizations that could limit the number of animals they took in could avoid killing for time or space.

Meanwhile, shelter intake nationwide had been falling sharply since the 1970s, and by the 1990s shelter intake was down in some places to the point where the idea of a No Kill community could take shape. In 1994, the San Francisco SPCA and the city of San Francisco signed the historic Adoption Pact that guaranteed a home to all healthy animals who went into the city’s shelter system. Rich Avanzino, the head of the San Francisco SPCA, began to use the term “No Kill” in a new way to refer to an entire community, including the open-admission shelter for the city. Avanzino wanted to expand the Adoption Pact to include treatable animals, and he defined the term “No Kill” to mean that all healthy and treatable animals in the community would be saved. When the Adoption Pact was signed he hoped that San Francisco would be No Kill very shortly.

At the first No Kill conferences held by Lynda Foro in the mid-1990s one of the questions that came up was whether “No Kill meant no kill.” In other words, did “No Kill” mean never killing an animal? The answer was that the term “No Kill” was meant to distinguish between killing and true euthanasia. Putting to death an animal who was terminally ill and suffering, or vicious, was true euthanasia, but killing a healthy or treatable animal was simply killing. The idea that workers in traditional shelters were morally culpable for “killing” animals had always been an implication of the No Kill term, but now the implication was verging on an open declaration.

At the time that Avanzino was pursuing the goal of saving all the healthy and treatable animals in San Francisco, people in other parts of the country were working toward the same goal for their communities. Communities in the states of Colorado and New Hampshire were examples. Both of those states, like San Francisco, had populations with progressive, socially responsible views. By the year 2000 San Francisco, New Hampshire, and Colorado were all saving about 75% of their shelter animals. This was a great achievement at a time when the specialty of shelter medicine was in its infancy and most shelters did not have the capacity to prevent infectious diseases, care for orphan neonatal kittens, or routinely treat conditions like ringworm or heartworm.

Many of the most progressive communities, like the ones represented by the state federation in New Hampshire and many of the communities in Denver, refused to use the term “No Kill.” Those communities used a model of cooperation and coalition building, including working with traditional public shelters. They felt that, however much they might agree with the goal of saving shelter animals, the term “No Kill” was divisive and would hurt their efforts to work together.

In the 2000s shelters continued to get better at lifesaving, aided by the growth of the internet, the development of the specialty of shelter medicine, and the use of marketing and community-engagement techniques. In 2007 Nathan Winograd, in his book Redemption  (page xi of the 2nd edition), proposed the idea that about 90% of shelter animals were healthy or treatable. This idea was popular and many people found it easier to think in terms of “90%” rather than “healthy-treatable.”

So now we had three ways to define No Kill: (1) as limited admission shelters taking in only animals that can be placed in homes, (2) as communities saving all healthy and treatable shelter animals and euthanizing the unhealthy and untreatable ones, and (3) as communities saving 90% or more of shelter animals and euthanizing 10% or less. None of these definitions addressed the problem that many of the shelters and communities that qualified as “No Kill” rejected the term.

In recent years a fourth definition of No Kill, that No Kill should literally mean that no animal is ever killed, has been put forward by some people. In the view of these people, vicious animals should be given sanctuary care and terminally ill animals should have hospice care to make them comfortable until they die naturally. In other words, these people reject the premise of early No Kill advocates that No Kill did not mean no euthanasia. At the same time, some proponents of the idea of No Kill as a percentage have argued that the percentage of healthy-treatable animals is really 95% to 100%, not 90%. Other people have argued that shelter populations in different communities have different characteristics, and that 90% is too high to be realistic for some communities.

With the increasing use of social media in recent years by some No Kill advocates to reach members of the public who are unfamiliar with how animal shelters work, the rhetoric has sometimes taken on an overtly hostile tone. It is not unheard-of to see people on social media referring to people who do shelter euthanasia as “murderers.” Social media lends itself to hyperbole and much of this is just letting off steam, but it’s easy to understand why many people who are trying to build and maintain community coalitions have continued to distance themselves from the “No Kill” term.

And therein lies the fundamental problem with the “No Kill” term. Regardless of exactly how we define shelter success – as saving all healthy-treatables, as saving 90%, or in some other way, the “No Kill” term does not capture the universe of shelters or communities meeting that standard. Let’s say that we manage to agree on a definition of No Kill as referring to communities that save 90% or more of their animals. Our definition will fail at its purpose of defining those communities because a great many of them will refuse to identify themselves as “No Kill.” Is it any wonder that the public is confused when so many community shelters that meet the definition of No Kill deny that they are No Kill?

So what should we do about this? The ongoing controversy and confusion over “No Kill” that has now lasted for some 40 years is part of the growing pains of the shelter reform movement. Early No Kill advocates failed to recognize the fact that massive pet overpopulation in the 1970s and 1980s put open admission shelters in a no-win position. Conversely, when shelter intake fell by the 1990s to a point where high save rates became possible in many communities, the traditional shelter establishment was slow to realize that the world had changed. Leaders in many local communities were able to get past the misunderstandings and work together, but unfortunately we did not have any leadership at the national level that was able to realize what had happened and bring the two sides together. Instead, we had further polarization.

Fortunately, that is now changing. In the last year or two we have had some encouraging signs that the leaders of virtually all of the important national organizations that are interested in animal sheltering are moving forward with an emphasis on coalition building that (1) includes all stakeholders and (2) promotes new ideas that work. Look, for example, at the supporting organizations of the Million Cat Challenge. Perhaps it’s time to ditch not only the “No Kill” term, but the concept that the shelter world is divided into the savers and the killers.