On The Record

One factor that’s turning out to be very important for No Kill is the simple matter of whether shelters have to report their results to their state government. Sunlight is a disinfectant, and the mere fact of having to report data each year has a positive effect because it reminds shelters that they are accountable to the public. These days no shelter wants to report that it kills 60%, 70%, 80% or more of its intake. This post discusses state reporting requirements briefly and outlines how and why No Kill advocates should make use of this opportunity.

Some states have requirements that shelters must report data, usually by submitting it to the state. Right now we have the following states that have databases of shelter data that are available to the public, and that range from somewhat useful to very useful. Here they are, arranged in approximate order of usefulness:

  • Colorado (public access by request)
  • Virginia (posted online)
  • Michigan (posted online)
  • New Jersey (public access by request)
  • Florida (posted online, with no penalties for failure to comply)
  • North Carolina (posted online)
  • Illinois (public access by request)

There are a few other states that have some degree of reporting that falls short of being useful to the average person. For example, New Hampshire has a private consortium of shelters that will make aggregate data available to some people on request, and California posts data on rabies parameters.

State databases are proving crucial to the No Kill movement. Of the communities listed in the right sidebar, fully 114 of the 165 communities were identified through the state databases of Colorado, Michigan, New Jersey, and Virginia. No Kill advocates who live in reporting states use the databases to compare communities and identify local shelters that are doing well and ones that need to improve. No Kill advocates who do not live in reporting states can also use the lists to show their local officials that No Kill can work.

Davyd Smith, a spokesperson for No Kill Colorado,  explained the importance of Colorado’s list as follows:

“Individual stories allow us to understand how important it is to care about each individual animal. Broad statistics help us measure what is happening in communities and regions. Colorado is lucky to have mandatory reporting via PACFA (Pet Animal Control Facilities Act). The yearly statistics are extremely useful in trending the state in general, as well as individual organizations and communities. Without the Colorado statistics, we could not see if the state is doing well, nor could we have found individual shelters we needed to reach out to, and in some cases, track to see they were improving. These statewide statistics shown by individual organization, and community, are invaluable tools for No Kill advocates.”

State databases have an additional effect beyond helping No Kill advocates gather data. I don’t think it’s any accident that Colorado, which has the best and most comprehensive reporting requirement, is also the closest thing we have to a No Kill state. The entire state of Colorado had an 89% live release rate for 2013, just a hair’s breadth away from No Kill status. And that was with almost 20,000 cats and dogs transferred in from out of state in 2013, the great majority of whom would have been killed if they had remained in their sending states. Michigan also does very well overall, and Virginia has a higher number of No Kill shelters than one would expect for a southeastern state.

So what is the point of this post other than to give a shout-out to state databases? The point is that any state could do what Colorado, Virginia, Michigan and others are doing. One of the duties that states have (and partially delegate to local government along with police and fire protection), is to protect the public from health threats and nuisances caused by animals. That’s why states and municipalities have leash laws and requirements for rabies vaccinations. Since public animal shelters serve public health and safety purposes, it is completely valid for states to require public shelters, and private organizations that run public shelters, to report their statistics to the state.

This opens up a major opportunity in states that do not have reporting requirements for shelters. No Kill advocates can lobby the state to impose reporting requirements on animal shelters on public health and safety grounds, and point to Colorado’s PACFA as a very successful example of the benefits. PACFA had a sunset provision, and it recently passed the sunset effectiveness test with flying colors and was renewed. This provides advocates with a strong argument to support the value of reporting.

There are lots of initiatives that No Kill advocates try that do not have much chance of success. A state reporting requirement should be a much easier sell. The beauty of state reporting requirements is that they place very little burden on shelters (virtually all shelters have software that can generate the data needed for state reports at the end of the year literally in minutes) and they serve important public purposes of monitoring the workload of shelters and how they are handling that workload. It’s time for the No Kill movement to think strategically and work to get state reporting requirements in place in all 50 states.

Midland County, MI

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

Midland County, as you would expect from the name, is located near the center of Michigan. It is primarily rural, neither wealthy nor poor, and has a population of over 80,000 people. The county seat is the city of Midland, which has about 42,000 people. Up until January 1, 2011, the county government handled animal control and sheltering. The live release rate for the county animal control office in 2010 was only 52% (scroll down in the link to Midland County Sheriff’s Office Animal Control).

On January 1, 2011, the Humane Society of Midland County (HSOMC) took over the animal shelter and things quickly changed. The live release rate went up to 95% for the year 2011 (see “Humane Society of Midland County” in the link). The big difference was in adoptions. For example, under the county’s management in 2010 there were only 134 kittens adopted while 168 were killed. Under HMOSC in 2011, there were 605 kittens adopted and only 23 killed. The county adopted out 178 adult cats in 2010 and killed 530, whereas HSOMC in 2011 adopted out 611 and killed 67. In 2012 the live release rate improved slightly to 96%, with an intake of 2295 dogs and cats.

In 2013, HSOMC won the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance award for outstanding medium-size shelter in the open-admission category. The shelter’s intake for the year was 2675 dogs and cats. It sterilized all animals before adoption, and did not report any transfers. Its live release rate was 97%.

I called HSOMC and asked about their owner surrender policy. They accept surrenders from any county resident, if the resident has a valid driver’s license to prove residence. No appointment is required, but the shelter does charge a small fee ($25).

In preparation for taking over animal control, HSOMC hired a new director in December 2010 — Beth Wellman. Wellman was previously shelter coordinator for the Ionia County Animal Shelter, which had an 84% live release rate in 2010 during her tenure.

Midland County, MI, was originally listed by this blog on June 3, 2013, based on its 2012 statistics. This post is a revision and update with 2013 statistics.

90% Reported – Kitsap County, WA

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

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

Kitsap County is in the state of Washington, right across Puget Sound from Seattle. It’s a large county, with a population of over 250,000 people. The county contains four cities — Bremerton (population of about 40,000), Bainbridge Island (23,000), Port Orchard (11,000), and Poulsbo (9000).

Animal control and sheltering services are provided for Kitsap County by the Kitsap Humane Society (KHS), a non-profit. The shelter does animal control and sheltering for the county and the four cities. It has an animal control unit which handles stray intake, cruelty investigations, and responding to emergencies and disasters. The shelter takes in owner surrenders with a fee, which is reduced for low-income people, and it requires an appointment. If KHS decides during the surrender process that an animal is sick and medically untreatable, or dangerous, they ask the owner to request euthanasia.

The shelter issues annual reports that include its statistics. The shelter does not list its full statistics online. According to its Annual Report for 2013, it rehomed 4197 animals for the year and had a 93% save rate. Stray cat intake decreased 37%, which they attribute to their community cat spay-neuter program. The 2012 annual report states that intake was 4703 animals and the live release rate was 94%.  In 2011, reported intake was 4993 with a live release rate of 95%. In 2010, it reported an intake of 4285 animals and a live release rate of 94%.

Kitsap County, WA, was originally listed by this blog on June 26, 2013, based on its 2012 statistics. This post is a revision and update with 2013 statistics.

Marquette County, MI

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

Marquette County is located in the upper peninsula of Michigan and has about 67,000 residents. The city of Marquette, with about 21,000 people, is the county seat. The Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter (UPAWS) is a private non-profit organization located in Marquette County. I was told in an e-mail from a shelter representative that UPAWS provides animal sheltering for the entire county except for the town of Negaunee, which has a veterinary clinic that takes in strays. I was also told that UPAWS takes in owner surrenders. They encourage appointments for surrenders and ask for a small fee, but do not require either an appointment or a fee.

UPAWS reports to the Michigan Department of Agriculture shelter statistics database (scroll down in the link). In calendar year 2013 it had an intake of 1545 animals. The live release rate was 97%. The state does not collect information on owner-requested euthanasia. With animals who died or were lost in shelter care included with euthanasias, the live release rate was 96%. The 2013-2014 Annual Report shows a 97% live release rate for the fiscal year.

In 2011, UPAWS reported a 97% live release rate under its former name of Marquette County Humane Society. The 2011-2012 Annual Report posted on the UPAWS website recorded an intake of 1936, with 79% adopted, 16% returned to owner, 1% transferred, and 4% euthanized. The euthanasia statistic includes owner-requested euthanasias. The 2012-2013 Annual Report recorded a 98% live release rate.

Marquette County, MI, was originally listed by this blog on April 20, 2013, based on its 2011 and 2012 statistics. This post is a revision and update with 2013 statistics.

Worth Watching – St. Paul, MN

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

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

St. Paul, Minnesota (population 295,000) lies alongside the city of Minneapolis (population 400,000), and the two are known as the Twin Cities. The Twin Cities metro area has 3.8 million people.

St. Paul has a municipal department that operates the city’s Animal Control Center (ACC). Molly Lunaris took over as director of the ACC in the fall of 2013. I spoke to her yesterday about the ACC, and she sent me statistics from 2013 and 2014. She told me that the ACC accepts owner surrenders as well as strays, and the only requirement is that a person surrendering an animal must be a St. Paul resident.

In 2013 the ACC’s live release rate for the year was 61%. So far in 2014 it has improved substantially, with an 81% live release rate through September. The shelter offers owner-requested euthanasia, and with owner-requested euthanasia and deaths in shelter care counted as part of euthanasias, the live release rate is 74% so far in 2014. The ACC does very few adoptions, and returns most of its animals to their owners or transfers them to approved 501(c)(3) rescues. Their intake is quite small relative to the city’s population (1541 dogs and cats in 2013, which is 5 per 1000 people).

St. Paul is one of those situations where the city shelter’s performance is perhaps better than it looks on paper, for a couple of reasons. First, they may be receiving a higher proportion of the city’s hard-to-place animals, because they have a large non-profit in the city that also does intake. The private Animal Humane Society, which describes itself as “open admission,” has several locations including one in St. Paul. According to their website they take in owner surrenders and some strays. Often in a situation like this with a large private shelter doing intake, the city shelter winds up with a higher percentage of problem cases (such as seizures and hoarding cases) simply because they are the organization that gets the animal control calls.

The second reason that the ACC’s performance may be better than it looks on paper is that the shelter is doing several things to divert intake. For instance, animal control officers are following the latest recommendations of No Kill shelter experts by not picking up stray cats unless they need help. The ACC also makes efforts to return animals in the  field, which can reduce intake.

I do not have combined numbers for the ACC and the Animal Humane Society, but it look as though their combined live release rate would be about 85% so far in 2014. With kitten season finished, it’s possible that the combined live release rate could reach 90% for 2014 as a whole.

Do It Yourself No Kill

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

“We’ve been begging the city to go No Kill for years and nothing has happened!”

How often have you seen a statement like that? Trying to get a city shelter to reform itself can be a challenging experience. It often leads No Kill advocates down a frustrating road of seeking to force out the current leadership on the city council or in the shelter and replace it with No Kill leadership. That approach can work (Austin, Texas and Arlington, Virginia are examples), but I’ve also seen it fail (Tallahassee, Louisville, Macon, etc., etc.). Sometimes there aren’t enough local people to support the cause, sometimes the city leadership is too entrenched to be thrown out by a single-issue campaign, sometimes city leadership does appoint a new director and that director fails. Just a few days ago, local No Kill advocates were unsuccessful in unseating a county commissioner in favor of a No Kill candidate in Manatee County, Florida. In this article I’d like to talk about a different way that I’m seeing more and more in my researches, where local advocates do not have to take to the streets in protest or beg the city council or the municipal shelter to take action.

That different way is for No Kill advocates to form a non-profit that takes on the functions that the municipal shelter is not performing properly. There are a large number of non-profits that have been formed in the last several years for the purpose of making a community No Kill, and they are succeeding at an astounding rate. I would say that far more No Kill communities are being formed by this method today than by the older method of trying to force communities to change by protest and political action. It is worth noting that even in Austin there was a combination of methods. One group worked on political support while another group formed a large non-profit – Austin Pets Alive – to partner with the city shelter.

One of the functions that this type of non-profit can perform very well is adoptions. There are few municipal shelters that will refuse to allow a reputable non-profit to pull animals from the shelter for rehoming. And if a non-profit does run into resistance from the shelter in releasing animals, that would be a concrete issue that would garner a lot of attention and sympathy from the public. Another thing that non-profits can do very well is TNR. In some places this may require the non-profit to do some work to pave the way, including checking out state laws and local ordinances to see if any of them need revision. But again, revision of cat ordinances is a concrete issue that may be much easier to change than the entire city council or leadership structure of the shelter. There are many other tasks a non-profit could take on, such as pet retention, targeted spay-neuter, microchip clinics, and running volunteer and neonatal foster programs.

In addition to the practical effect of saving animal lives quickly and effectively, a non-profit working with the city shelter can build a strong relationship over time that will gradually bring city and shelter leadership on board with the idea of No Kill. In fact, it seems like a logical approach to try formation of a non-profit to work with the city before trying political action. Political action is a bruising process, and if the people seeking change do not prevail, they can poison the well for any future collaborative process. One could argue that the route of using political action to demand change should be used only as a last resort, given that the track record of cooperation has been so much better and given the serious consequences of failed political action.

One of the beauties of non-profits is that they can start off small. For example, a non-profit could take on as its first task saving orphan neonatal kittens during kitten season and finding them adoptive homes. Once the group had some experience at adoptions, they could branch out into doing offsite adoption events for the shelter. Then perhaps they could set up a Help Desk in the shelter lobby, staffed by volunteers. Then maybe a targeted spay-neuter effort to reduce the number of pit bulls coming into the shelter. As the group grew and gained community support, they would also be gaining practical knowledge about exactly what needed to be done in their city. Perhaps they would be able to get to No Kill by working with the existing shelter leadership, but if not, at some point they would have the experience and community support to successfully bid on and run the city shelter themselves.

Getting to No Kill by starting a non-profit does not have to be a slow process. In Kansas City, Missouri, for example, a non-profit was formed, bid on and won the city contract, and then got to No Kill within six months. That’s somewhat unusual in cities I’ve studied, though. But the non-profit process should not be rejected just because it might not fix all the problems immediately. If the city leaders are recalcitrant and shelter leadership is unresponsive and there is no large groundswell of support among the citizenry, then you have nowhere to start unless you do it yourself.

Here is a list just off the top of my head of large non-profits that are currently partnering successfully with city shelters or contracting to do sheltering themselves to raise live relief rates: Austin Pets Alive, the Richmond SPCA, Kansas City Pet Project, the Nevada Humane Society, Dane County Humane Society, Humane Society for Seattle/King County, First Coast No More Homeless Pets/Jacksonville Humane Society, Lifeline Animal Project (Atlanta), and the San Francisco SPCA. This method has also been used in a great many counties and small towns where animal sheltering is done by a non-profit. A variation on this theme is where you have a consortium of non-profits. This method seems to be especially effective in large cities. It is being used with great success in San Antonio, Denver (despite their regressive pit-bull ban), Gainesville, Buffalo, New York City, and Portland.

Based on the momentum and trends of the past several years, the future of No Kill certainly seems to be in building non-profits and collaborative groups of non-profits to work with municipalities. This should be an inspiring approach for No Kill advocates who have been trying the political approach for years and getting nowhere. Instead of waiting for the municipal shelter or the city council to change, they can turn their words into actions today and create the change themselves.

Copper Country, MI

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

Keweenaw, Houghton, and Baraga counties are located in a mostly rural area in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Together, they form a region known as Copper Country, named for the copper mines it used to have. The Copper Country Humane Society (CCHS) is a private non-profit that provides animal sheltering services for non-feral dogs and cats for the three counties and for the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.

The shelter describes its program as follows:

Our successful adoption program matches homeless animals with responsible people seeking pets.  The nominal adoption fee helps defray some of the costs of the initial vaccination, deworming and spaying/neutering of adopted dogs and cats.  CCHS helps over 900 animals annually and ninety percent of our dogs and cats are adopted or claimed every year.  There is NO time limit on our animals looking for homes, CCHS cares for them for as long as they need us.  CCHS cares for about 80 animals each day at our shelter.”

In 2010, the shelter reported to the Michigan Department of Agriculture that it had a 93% live release rate for its intake of almost 900 animals (scroll down to Copper Country in the link). The shelter relied mostly on adoptions and returning pets to their owners, with very few transfers. In 2011, with an intake of 939 animals, the shelter reported a substantially higher live release rate — a near-perfect 99%. In 2012 the CCHS report was not included in the state reports.

In 2013, the shelter had an intake of 769 cats and dogs. The live release rate was 99%. All animals who were placed by adoption were sterilized. CCHS did not euthanize any dogs, and euthanized 9 cats. CCHS won the Michigan Pet Fund alliance 2014 award in the “small shelter” category for “outstanding open admission shelter with the best save rate.” The award was based on CCHS’s performance in 2013.

Copper Country, MI, was originally listed by this blog on May 5, 2013. This post is a revision and update with 2013 statistics.

Grosse Ile, MI

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

Grosse Ile Township consists of a large island and several smaller islands adjacent to Detroit. The area has about 10,000 residents. The Animals’ Island League Shelter (T.A.I.L.S.) is a private non-profit that partners with the township for animal sheltering. The shelter’s website states: “Although the Animal Shelter is owned and operated by the Township, we, as stewards of the Grosse Ile Animal Shelter, are dedicated to providing the additional financial support needed to make our homeless animal friends happy, healthy, and adoptable.”

The shelter’s website describes its operations as follows: “The Grosse Ile Animal Shelter houses stray animals picked up by Animal Control and those turned in by Grosse Ile residents only. Stray animals must be picked up by Animal Control at your residence or the location where the stray animal was found. We are not able to house surrendered animals from other communities.” The website does not mention any restriction on owner surrenders other than community residency.

Michigan shelters report their statistics to the state. In 2010, the shelter reported a live release rate of 94%, and in 2011 it reported 91%. The reported live release rate improved to 95% in 2012.

I am moving this shelter listing from the right sidebar to “90% Reported” because the Michigan state animal shelter reports do not contain a submission this year from T.A.I.L.S. It happens occasionally that reports do not get submitted or get misplaced, and hopefully the shelter will report for 2014.

Grosse Ile, MI, was originally listed by this blog on May 13, 2013, based on its 2012 statistics. This post is a revision and update for 2013.

San Francisco, CA

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

San Francisco is a combined city and county located in northern California. It has a population of about 837,000 people. The city/county shelter is San Francisco Animal Care And Control (ACC). The ACC performs all the functions of a municipal shelter, including animal control and accepting owner surrenders, and it has an adoption center. It has had a partnership known as the “Adoption Pact” with the private San Francisco SPCA since 1994. The SPCA pulls animals from ACC under the agreement, and it also does some intake directly from the public.

The San Francisco SPCA has been recognized as a leader in the field of animal sheltering since back in the 1800s. And of course it is well-known for its origination of the No Kill communities concept in the 1990s. The SPCA today continues to be innovative, as with its shelter-neuter-return program for community cats. In addition to animals that the SPCA accepts from ACC under the Adoption Pact, it also takes in many animals from outside of San Francisco, including under an agreement with Stockton.

The ACC and the SPCA have reported their combined statistics for years. In the 1990s the Adoption Pact achieved live release rates of over 75%, which was the highest of any major city at that time. In more recent years the combined live release rates have generally been in the mid-80% range. In 2013, the coalition finally broke the 90% barrier, with a combined 92% live release rate (excluding transfers between ACC and the SPCA). The ACC offers owner-requested-euthanasia, and if that number plus animals who died in shelter care are counted as euthanasias the live release rate was 89%.

Consultants Redux

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

There’s an article about Target Zero (TZ) in the most recent issue of Animal Sheltering (the HSUS magazine). The article has a pretty good discussion of how TZ developed its program and how it has been implemented in Waco and Baton Rouge. It got me thinking about the different ways that No Kill programs can be implemented.

First of all, I should state at the outset of this discussion that I disagree with one of TZ’s basic premises, which is that reducing intake is more important than increasing live releases. I think they are both equally important. The article states that TZ has relied on Peter Marsh’s research for the conclusion that reducing intake matters more. I’ve read Peter Marsh’s research, and as far as I can see it relies entirely on data from traditional shelters — shelters that have low live release rates. With shelters like that, it’s true that the only thing that lowers shelter killing is lowering intake, but the reason for that is that those shelters do not have modern, marketing-based adoption programs. So of course their adoption rates aren’t going to be very high. Yet TZ has used Marsh’s research to justify putting adoptions low on its priority scale.

But it’s possible that Marsh’s approach will work well in some cities — cities like Waco and Baton Rouge. The methods for reducing intake (as opposed to increasing live releases) tend to be low tech — things like TNR, having appointments for surrender, charging a surrender fee, targeted spay-neuter programs, returning animals in the field, updating city ordinances, etc. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recruit veterinarians or manage any of those things. Methods for increasing live releases, on the other hand, tend to require creativity and marketing and people skills. Having a successful mega-adoption event is not easy (I know this from personal experience, it’s amazing all the different skills needed). Implementing an effective shelter marketing program takes just as much skill, in my opinion, as directing a political campaign or running a big disaster-relief program. Not a place for amateurs.

One of the sticking points for getting to No Kill in many, many places has been leadership. We see it happen over and over again that a city or county hires a new shelter director, hopeful that the director will take the local shelter to No Kill, but it doesn’t happen. To implement all the programs that will both decrease intake and increase live releases requires a lot of particular skills, and it may be that there just aren’t that many people who are in the market to be shelter directors who have that particular skill set.

So, getting back to TZ, I’m wondering if they have hit upon something, which is that if you are in a city with a high-intake, high-kill shelter and shelter leadership that is willing but does not fall into that small category of people who have the skill set to be No Kill rock stars, perhaps the best thing you can do is to pick the low-hanging fruit. Get intake down by the easy methods that anyone could do, start the city and the shelter on the road to success. As they get the intake under control they will be inspired to start working on the harder stuff such as a neonatal foster program and mega-adoption events. Yes it’s very tempting to say the city should just fire the current director and somehow find a No Kill rock star, but in a lot of cities that’s just not going to happen, and meanwhile time goes by and animals keep dying.

Another important point is that there may still be places in the country where there is a lot to be gained from increasing spay-neuter programs. The average spay-neuter rate for owned pets in the United States is 85% or more, which means there must be a lot of communities where we’ve pretty much maxed out the benefits to be had from low-cost spay neuter. There must be lots of communities where people have gotten the message and they are very responsibly spaying and neutering their pets. But in some places with high intake, there still might be a lot to be gained from spay-neuter. If that’s the case, then it makes sense to push spay-neuter as one of your initial programs, because it’s easy to implement and easy to fund in most instances.

TZ seems to be tailoring its program recommendations to the different situations in the different cities it works with. In Huntsville, for example, it helped the shelter put on a mega-adoption event that was very successful. Rick DuCharme, who is a senior consultant to TZ along with Marsh, has put on many successful mega-adoption events in Jacksonville, so it’s not like TZ doesn’t have the skills on board to advise about adoptions.

Finally, TZ seems to emphasize collaboration. This is a hot-button issue with some No Kill advocates, who believe that collaboration just slows things down. Again, though, perhaps there are are places where collaboration is the fastest way to get to the goal.

I’m still very much on the fence on the issue of whether TZ is on the right track or not. I still disagree with the conclusions Marsh draws from his research. But I believe the TZ approach is something that bears thinking about and discussion. Maybe the TZ program isn’t right for every city — certainly Kansas City Pet Project proved that it’s possible to implement intake reduction and live-release-increasing programs at the same time and do it very successfully. But it might be that one-size-fits-all isn’t a good approach, and that the TZ methods have a place in cities and counties that are starting with very little.