State of Virginia 2014 Statistics

The state of Virginia has posted a statistics summary for 2014 for the public shelters and intake rescues that report to it. With a little modification, these statistics can be used to calculate a live release rate for the state as a whole for the year and make some other conclusions as well.

First of all, net intake (intake with intra-state transfers subtracted out) was down for the third year in a row. It was 194,408 in 2014 versus 214,159 in 2013 and 224,145 in 2012. That’s an average shelter intake in 2014 of 23 pets per thousand people (PPTP) for the state, down from 27 PPTP in 2012. The 2014 PPTP number of 23 is right about average for the nation as a whole. Virginia has a large metro area near the District of Columbia with low PPTP, though, so that means that some shelters in more rural areas of the state still have high intake.

The live release rate for the year, again leaving intra-shelter transfers out of the calculation, was 71%. This is up from 65% in 2013 and 61% in 2012, so that’s good news. What is not so good is that all or almost all of the reduction can be accounted for by the lower number of animals coming in to the shelter. That means that the main reason the Virginia numbers are improving on average is that fewer animals are coming in, not that more animals are getting out alive.

Adoptions have increased only slightly at 88,897 in 2014, 87,836 in 2013, and 85,194 in 2012. Those are adoption-per-thousand-people (APTP) rates of about 11. While a rate of 10 or more APTP is considered high for traditional shelters, No Kill shelters often have substantially higher APTP. The entire state of Colorado, for example, had an APTP of 17 in 2013.

The return-to-owner (RTO) rate for Virginia shelters in 2014 was 30% of strays, although that number may be a little overstated because Virginia has a rather large “other” intake category that may include some strays. The breakdown by species is 49% RTO for dogs and 6% for cats. Those rates are better than for traditional shelters. Some No Kill shelters have even higher rates, but Virginia’s RTO numbers are not bad.

Why is Virginia lagging behind Colorado, which had an 89% live release rate in 2013 and may well have gone over 90% in 2014? (We won’t know Colorado’s numbers for 2014 until the PACFA reports come out, which usually happens in June.) I don’t know for sure, but I suspect the reasons are differences in climate, terrain, economics, and possibly public attitudes toward animals. Colorado’s climate and terrain are more hostile to free-roaming pets than Virginia’s, which would presumably lead to less reproductive success. Virginia is very much a have and have-not state when it comes to wealth and education levels. Virginia has a lot of wealthy people, but they are concentrated in the District of Columbia metro area. Shelters in rural areas of the state have less money and less access to talent. The same stratification between northern Virginia and the rest of the state exists in education levels, and may affect the value that people place on the lives of dogs and cats.

Given the lackluster current performance of many Virginia shelters, what can Virginia do to get to No Kill? First of all, they need to improve cat live releases. In 2014, Virginia shelters killed 43% of the cats they took in. In the old days of pet overpopulation back in the 1970s, spay-neuter for owned pets was an all-hands-on-deck effort, and rightly so. Today, our problems are different, because the great majority of people have already spayed and neutered their owned pets. Today what we need to work on most of all, and what should be the all-hands-on-deck effort for our generation, is TNR/SNR for community cats. Virginia is killing tens of thousands of cats each year – almost twice as many cats as dogs. If Virginia shelters were able to implement the 5 initiatives of the Million Cat Challenge, the number of cats killed could be dramatically slashed. Nothing is easy in animal sheltering, and there are legal and institutional barriers to the new cat paradigms in many places, but this is where the potential for a big payoff lies.

Virginia’s live release rate for dogs in 2014 was 81%. Virginia is right on the I-95 and I-81 transport corridors, so I was surprised to see that only 7.5% of dogs who were taken in by reporting shelters during 2014 were transported out of state. Of course it’s better to place animals in the community when possible, but it may be a long wait for change in some rural shelters and transports can save the dogs right now. The Virginia Federation of Humane Societies is working on a program to increase transports.

Differences in climate, terrain, wealth, and education occur all over the United States, and they make No Kill much harder to achieve in some areas than others. The great thing about transports and the Million Cat initiatives is that they can work anywhere, even in the have-not areas. You do not need a lot of money or local talent to start using managed admission, capacity control, or transports. SNR can be expensive, but there are more and more grant programs for SNR as the large national organizations see the spectacular results such programs have achieved.

News of the Week 04/12/15

Macomb County, which has a population of about 850,000 people, is immediately northeast of Detroit and is part of the Detroit metro area. In January 2013 Macomb County appointed Jeff Randazzo as manager of the county animal shelter. He reports that the shelter has gone from an 80% kill rate to an 80% save rate. He cites pet retention, SNR, modificiations to the physical environment of the shelter, and other changes as reasons for the improvement.

Francis Battista reports the final statistics from two community cat projects, in Albuquerque and San Antonio, that Best Friends did in collaboration with PetSmart Charities. The three-year programs led to a drop in cat intake in Albuquerque and a plummeting of cat euthanasia in both cities.

Here’s an article by Dawn Erwin on Texas bill SB 1911, which will be heard on Tuesday, and which could greatly complicate veterinary treatment for shelter animals in Texas.

The Koret shelter medicine program has provided links to presentation materials for several lectures at the recent HSUS Expo, including a talk by Dr. Kate Hurley on “Implementing the Cat Revolution.”

Lots of transports happened this weekend. Wings of Rescue alone transported 250 dogs and cats from southern California to the Pacific northwest. In Eau Clare County, Wisconsin, the shelter has run out of dogs and is taking in dogs from other counties.

Huffington Post has a wonderful article about the rescue of the Vick dogs – how several organizations pulled together and how the precedent they set has allowed former fighting dogs to have a chance for life.

KC Pet Project has another in their series of miracle reunions, brought about by staff who will not give up on returning pets to their owners. In this latest case, they found a microchip in a stray cat but the numbers for the owner had been disconnected. They contacted a friend whose number had been provided as an emergency contact and were finally able to connect with the owner. It had been 7 years since the cat was lost! Owner and cat were both delighted with the reunion.

Maddie’s has compiled a master list of Lost and Found pages.

A great tribute to Rich Avanzino from Gregory Castle of Best Friends.

Don’t miss the Maddie’s webcast this Tuesday on managed admissions.

The Northeast Animal Shelter, established in 1976, has had 120,000 adoptions.

A thoughtful post from John Sibley on New York City breaking the 90% barrier in February.

CNN Money did an investigation in 15 cities and counties across the United States and found that dogs are being killed for unpaid fines. The investigation also found thousands of warrants that are pending for minor infractions relating to pets.

Best Friends has marketing help available to its network partners for adoption specials each month throughout the year. The help includes “downloadable, customizable flyers and emails, Web banners, social media images, and much more.”

A new textbook, Animal Behavior for Shelter Veterinarians and Staff, is coming out soon and it has chapters on shelter enrichment for dogs and cats.

It’s appreciation week for both volunteers and animal control officers.

It seems as though the USDA and PIJAC are both supporting an effort to develop standards for dog breeders. What could possibly go wrong?

Here are links to the blog and Twitter feed of Dr. Jessica Hekman and the blog and Twitter feed of Dr. Julie Hecht. Lots of interesting reading on the Science of Dog.

Shelter Medicine

One of the big things that sets No Kill apart from traditional animal sheltering is that No Kill treats the treatables. The development of shelter medicine over the last 15 years has helped make it possible to give shelter animals the same chance at treatment as animals with homes. But that’s only the beginning of the advancements shelter medicine has made and is making. Shelter medicine is just now beginning to mature as a specialty, and its practitioners are going beyond simply treating shelter animals to developing protocols for all aspects of shelter care.

Fifteen years ago there was no shelter medicine specialty and most people thought that a shelter job was the bottom of the barrel for a veterinarian. The first formal class in shelter medicine did not take place until 1999. It was a cooperative effort between the ASPCA and Cornell University and was taught by Dr. Jan Scarlett and Lila Miller. Also in 1999 Maddie’s Fund awarded a grant for the first shelter medicine residency program, at the University of California at Davis. The resident was Dr. Kate Hurley, who is now head of the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program. Another big milestone was the formation of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians (ASV) in 2001. In 2002, UC Davis started its pioneer shelter medicine program. In 2004 a textbook of veterinary medicine was published.

Today many veterinary schools have shelter medicine programs or residencies or both, shelter medicine classes are offered as continuing education at conferences, and there are over 1500 members of the ASV. Just last April, the executive board of the American Veterinary Medical Association unanimously voted to recognize shelter medicine as a specialty.

Maddie’s Institute is the “academic division” of Maddie’s Fund, and it has produced and made available a series of informational videos and webcasts on shelter medicine and other topics. As Rich Avanzino says, shelter medicine is a hybrid between herd medicine and companion animal care. Infection control in an animal shelter requires looking at the shelter population as a whole, but shelter veterinarians may also go to great lengths to save individual animals. Shelter veterinarians must balance the cost considerations common to herd medicine with the focus on the life of each individual that governs companion animal medicine.

Shelter medicine specialists are involved today with so many aspects of sheltering that it’s hard to imagine how shelters ever got along without them. Shelter vets have developed protocols on infection control, including vaccinating on intake. They are making big changes in how temperament is evaluated in shelters. Housing for mental and physical health, shelter flow-through, length-of-stay, and capacity control are all issues that shelter medicine has influenced. TNR programs are dependent on help from the veterinary profession. One of the most exciting new directions in No Kill is the Million Cat Challenge, which is run by Dr. Hurley and Dr. Julie Levy of the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine program at the University of Florida.

Another phenomenon we are seeing is that academic shelter medicine programs can work in their local communities to raise live release rates. The University of Florida program is a good example, as it has worked with the Alachua County and Gainesville shelter system for years. The University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine has a program, Operation Catnip, that does TNR for feral and unowned cats. The involvement of shelter medicine programs has helped expand the scope of what shelters can do. Fifteen years ago it would have been highly unusual for a shelter to even attempt to treat a parvo pup, for example. Today such tough cases are much more likely to be treated and saved.

Shelter medicine specialists can also serve an important primary or supporting role in consulting. The Irvine, California, shelter has been the subject of a lot of criticism in the last several months, and the city brought in a shelter-medicine consultant who trained at the UC Davis program to weigh in on the issues of euthanasia and behavior evaluations.

There have been some bumps in the road. Because shelter medicine is so new and because it is a hybrid type of practice, it does not always fit neatly into existing rules and expectations. An example of this has been the controversy in Texas over the powers of shelter veterinarians. Hopefully problems like these can be worked out expeditiously now that the importance of shelter medicine in lifesaving is beyond question.

News of the Week 04-05-15

Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans on August 29, 2005. The epic destruction that followed resulted in a revamping of US disaster preparedness, including big changes in how pets are treated by disaster relief agencies. In this article, Becky Robinson, the head of Alley Cat Allies, looks back at the changes in cat protection protocols in the decade since Katrina.

Update on the Irvine Animal Care Center in California: The Irvine shelter had a great reputation until last year, when charges surfaced that the shelter had deviated from its No Kill mission. Two managers have since resigned. A report on the shelter made by a veterinarian who trained at the UC Davis shelter medicine program is now in, and it recommends team decisions on euthanasia and changes to dog behavior evaluations. Further reports on other aspects of the shelter’s performance will be forthcoming.

This article has a look at the dismal state of things in several Louisiana and Arkansas shelters. The article highlights the fact that animal sheltering is still today, as it always has been in the United States, a system of haves and have-nots. It would be interesting to know how the cities featured in the article compare to more successful communities on metrics such as shelter funding, intake per thousand people, household income, education level, spay-neuter rates of owned pets, number of cats who have received TNR, etc.

The Million Cat Challenge booth at HSUS Expo this past week was very popular, and the Challenge signed up a lot of new members.

A new textbook – Animal Behavior for Shelter Veterinarians and Staff – will be released in June. One of the most controversial issues in No Kill sheltering right now is how to evaluate temperament in shelter animals, so this book fills a need. It is authored by three experts with the ASPCA. The book is mentioned in this report on the National Council on Pet Population’s second research symposium last year.

Researchers in North Carolina and Connecticut have devised a program to track outdoor cats. Science on outdoor cats is fraught with controversy over the extent to which domestic cats affect wildlife. The early results from the Cat Tracker study suggest that the answer could turn out to be – not much. The study has data on 100 cats so far, and the results are that most cats “stay close to home.” Many times when cats do wander they are visiting another home nearby rather than massacring wildlife.

Robin Starr, the CEO of the Richmond SPCA, spoke out strongly this past week on the occasion of the Virginia governor signing a bill redefining “private animal shelter” to clarify that the purpose of shelters is to adopt animals out to new homes. Speaking of the extraordinarily high kill rate at PETA’s “shelter,” Starr said that PETA’s argument that most of the animals it receives are old, sick, or injured is no excuse, since the Richmond SPCA receives such animals too, and it treats and rehabilitates them and finds them homes.

In transport news, the ASPCA has a program called the Nancy Silverman Rescue Ride which will transport 9000 cats and dogs from the southeast to the northeast over the next three years. The inaugural trip was in January, moving 11 dogs from South Carolina to Washington, DC.

Huntsville, Alabama, had a successful adoption event last Thursday as part of the North Shore Tour for Life event. Local No Kill activists have been urging the shelter to hold low-cost adoption events for years, so this is a step in the right direction. The shelter had only a 74% save rate last year, however, so it has a long way to go.

A free mobile training program in Jacksonville by Pit Sisters offers basic manners classes for dogs living in zip codes identified as having the highest numbers of owner surrenders. This blog post by Animal Farm Foundation, which awarded a grant for the program, has an interview with the founder of Pit Sisters.

Progress is reported at the Rowan County Animal Shelter. Rowan County is in a rural area northeast of Charlotte, North Carolina. It has about 138,000 residents and the shelter has a high intake. Transports are part of the shelter’s improvement.

Stealing of pet dogs for food has become a big problem in Vietnam, and owners are fighting back. This NBC News article describes a growing phenomenon of people in villages targeted by dog thieves banding together to fight them. In one case in 2012, it ended with 10 villagers being convicted of the murder of two dog thieves who were caught in the act. Since then at least 20 more dog thieves have been killed by people defending their dogs. The villagers argue that they have been forced to defend their dogs because the police do not take dog stealing seriously.

Scholarships for students who foster and help adopt out pets for a No Kill shelter – what could be better?

Chester and Delaware Counties, Pennsylvania

The Chester County SPCA (CCSPCA) is an open admission shelter that serves two counties in Pennsylvania – Chester and Delaware. Chester and Delaware are contiguous counties lying just west of Philadelphia. Chester County has a high median income, whereas Delaware County is closer to average. Together, the two counties have a population of over 1 million people.

The CCSPCA got a new board in 2013 following allegations of mismanagement. The board hired two directors, neither of whom lasted very long, and since last September it has had another new director, Adam Lamb. The shelter says it has saved over 90% of its animals in each of the last four months. The shelter has started new programs, including a TNR program, pet retention, wellness programs for pets, kennel enrichment, follow up on adoptions, and revised adoption procedures. It has expanded its hours and is spending more on vet care. The shelter has received a grant of $305,000 from PetSmart Charities to start a community-cat program that can help 4700 cats over the next 26 months.

Intake for 2013 was reported as 5690, which is an intake of only 5 pets per thousand people. That is quite low, although it is similar to the intake for the open-admission shelter in Fairfax County, just outside of Washington, DC. The shelter has posted its full statistics for the past 5 months, but does not post statistics further back because it has transitioned to a new, more transparent method of reporting statistics.

In a phonecall to the shelter I was told that CCSPCA does animal control for some townships. Other townships have their own staff who bring animals to the shelter once picked up.

[edited 4-2-2015]

News of the Week 03-29-15

The big news this week is that Richard Avanzino is stepping down as president of Maddie’s Fund in June. Avanzino is often called the father of No Kill. Individual No Kill shelters have been around since 1884, but Avanzino started the No Kill communities movement back in the 1970s and 1980s with his innovations at the San Francisco SPCA, which led to the historic Adoption Pact in 1994. He went to Maddie’s Fund in 1999. His retirement will mark the end of an era.

The Beagle Freedom Project is getting publicity for its efforts to get dogs used in scientific experiments out of laboratories and into homes, including a bill in Nevada requiring laboratories to put dogs up for adoption instead of killing them. Although the number of dogs used in labs is far smaller today than it used to be, there are still a significant number. Beagles are the most common “purpose-bred” dog used in experiments. Purpose-bred dogs rescued from laboratories are similar to puppy mill dogs in their lack of experience living in a home environment.

In transport news, large black dogs are going from Miami, where they are hard to adopt, to Iowa, where large dogs are in great demand. And Front Street in Sacramento is sending dogs by private plane to Idaho.

HSUS has a new page on its website that collects the science proving that breed-specific legislation is misguided. The page makes note of the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendation that breed not be considered in formulating dog-bite prevention policy. The CDC has more expertise and credibility than any other organization in the United States on matters of epidemiology, so their conclusion that dog breed is not a relevant factor in dog bites deserves serious attention. The HSUS page also quotes the American Veterinary Medical Association for the proposition that dog bite statistics “do not give an accurate picture of dogs that bite,” citing factors such as the failure to correct those statistics for the relative population of each breed. In other BSL news, a bill has been introduced in the Michigan senate to ban BSL.

The Tree House Humane Society in Chicago will include a cat cafe with its new facility. It will be the first cat cafe in Chicago.

Madrid, the capital of Spain, has reportedly passed a bill making it illegal to kill stray animals in the city.

The Chester County SPCA, which serves Chester and Delaware counties in Pennsylvania, says it has saved over 90% of its animals in each of the last four months. The shelter has just received a grant of $305,000 from PetSmart Charities to start a community-cat program that can help 4700 cats over the next 26 months.

Maddie’s Fund is presenting a 5-part series of free webcasts, with Q&A sessions, on the Million Cat Challenge. It’s on five Tuesdays, starting April 7 at 9 PM EST. The presenters include Wally Stem from Waco, a city which has been making amazing strides lately. He is a city-management expert who will talk about alternatives to impoundment. Barbara Carr and Kathie Johnson will speak on the crucial topic of managed admission. Scott Trebatoski, who managed the city shelter in Jacksonville as it transitioned to No Kill and is now the shelter director in Tampa, will speak on one of the newest ideas, return-to-field. Kathleen Olsen and Ollie Davidson will speak about how to make big improvements in outcome by knowing your shelter’s capacity and how to manage it. Dr. Cynthia Delany and Kelly Lee will talk about removing barriers to adoption, including less-intrusive matchmaking.

The governor of Virginia has signed the bill modifying the state’s definition of “private animal shelter.” Supporters of the new law are hopeful that the change will force PETA to shut down its slaughterhouse “shelter.”

The voters in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, approved a measure last November to allow the county to borrow up to $3.79 million to build a new shelter. However, some county officials are now trying to derail the project, arguing that the proposed new shelter is too fancy. Lynchburg, Virginia’s new shelter is open. One of the features is an outdoor cat room which is “similar to a screened-in porch with pillowed benches.” Lynchburg is not far from Spotsylvania. Perhaps the Spotsylvania County officials could tour the new Lynchburg shelter and learn how proper housing is important for disease control and the mental health and ultimate successful placement of shelter animals.

We keep hearing that the state of Maine is No Kill, but the trouble is in finding stats. In this interview, the incoming director of a Maine shelter says that shelters in the state do not have to kill animals based on capacity. In fact, they import animals from out of state. He attributes the state’s success to its people, who take good care of their pets, and a tax on pet food that is used to provide low-cost spay-neuter services.

Meet the Director: Rebecca Guinn

Rebecca and dogIn 2001 Rebecca Guinn, like most people, was not aware of the issues facing homeless pets. She was a successful criminal-defense attorney in Atlanta with a caseload including high-profile white collar criminals, and that was more than enough to occupy her time and attention.

Then one day while she was at home she heard loud howling. She went out to investigate and found a stray dog on a neighbor’s property with his paw trapped in a fence. Guinn did what most people would have done – she called animal control and asked them to come help the dog. Animal control officers arrived and were able to free the dog. Then they loaded him on a truck to take him to the shelter. Guinn asked what would happen to him and was shocked when they told her that if no owner claimed him within his 5-day stray hold period he would be killed. She felt remorseful thinking that she had taken an action trying to help the dog, only to find that it might result in his death.

Guinn called the shelter and asked them to allow her to adopt the dog if his owners did not reclaim him. They told her if she wanted to adopt the dog she had to come to the shelter in person and write her name on his card. So she made time in her busy day to go to the shelter to do what easily could have been done over the phone. When she walked into the shelter she was overwhelmed to see hundreds of dogs, several to a cage. She found “her” dog, wrote her name on his kennel card, and arranged to come back to pick him up as soon as he was off stray hold. That was on a Friday and she was told she could pick him up on Monday.

When Guinn returned on Monday afternoon, she walked into a nearly empty shelter. They had just finished killing, and almost all the dogs she had seen on Friday were dead. As she stood there in the shelter looking around at the empty runs, she was devastated. In that moment, she decided that what she was seeing was wrong and that she wanted to change it. Her dog, one of the few left alive, was waiting, and she went through the adoption procedure with him. She left the shelter determined to do something to stop the slaughter.

Guinn began to educate herself about animal shelters, and one of the things she did was attend the 2002 Best Friends conference. She met the leaders of Best Friends there and was inspired by their ideas and encouragement. Soon after, she formed a non-profit, LifeLine Animal Project, to put some of the things she had learned into practice. One of the first LifeLine initiatives was Catlanta, a TNR program for feral cats. Best Friends continued to offer assistance and mentoring, and she even worked for Best Friends at one point. It wasn’t long before she quit her job, took a giant pay cut, and started working on LifeLine full time.

LifeLine started a private shelter that took in cruelty cases and special-needs animals needing rehabilitation. Their first spay-neuter clinic, founded in 2005, provided reduced-cost and free sterilizations. They offered vaccination clinics. Guinn’s philosophy was to work with the existing institutions in the community, and she tried to help the local shelters in any way that she could. In 2010, LifeLine opened its second spay-neuter clinic. That same year saw passage of a law Guinn had helped draft that banned gas chambers as a method of shelter killing in Georgia.

The Atlanta area has a county-based shelter system, with each county having its own shelter. Most of Atlanta is located in Fulton County, with a small part in DeKalb County. The combined population of the two counties is about 1.7 million people. In Fulton, various non-profits had contracted to run the shelter over the years, and in DeKalb the county ran the shelter. Guinn and LifeLine worked primarily with these two shelters. In 2012, Fulton had a live release rate of about 35%. As Guinn put it, she had been working to support the shelter for 10 years doing everything she could, and yet had seen it go the wrong way. DeKalb was better at about a 55-60% live release rate, due largely to LifeLine having partnered with the shelter to run a feral cat program.

Guinn decided to put in a bid to run the DeKalb shelter, not knowing if the bid would even be considered, much less granted. Shortly thereafter, the Fulton contract went up for bid, and LifeLine bid on that as well. Time went by and Guinn had not heard on either bid. Then, in January 2013, she was notified within the space of two days that LifeLine had won both bids. LifeLine took over in Fulton on March 15, 2013, and in DeKalb on July 1, 2013.

The last two years have been a whirlwind for Guinn and the LifeLine staff, but it has been time well spent. The live release rate for Fulton County in 2014, in their first full year of running the shelter, was 76%, an increase of over 40 points, and in DeKalb County it was 80%. Intake at the two shelters was over 15,500 animals in 2014. Right now, going into kitten season, both shelters are running at a rolling live release rate in the mid-to-upper 80s. They have accomplished this in spite of the fact that both shelter buildings are old and outdated.

LifeLine has made many improvements at the Fulton and DeKalb shelters in the last two years. These include a cat room and adoption area, pet retention programs,  and a streamlined adoption process, The Fulton County contract includes animal control, and the officers can now check for microchips and return animals in the field. The shelters treat the treatables, spending about $10,000 per month on animals who are sent to private veterinarians. LifeLine transports some animals to the north. It is continuing its anti-cruelty, pet health, and spay-neuter efforts in the community, and has sterilized over 80,000 animals.

Rebecca Guinn is an example of the “do it yourself” ethic that we are seeing more and more in No Kill sheltering today. In both Fulton and DeKalb counties, outside pressure had made officials aware of the problems with the shelters. It seems very unlikely that significant positive change would have happened in either county, though, without LifeLine stepping up and making proposals to run the shelters. The do-it-yourself approach allows people who do not have a background in traditional animal shelter management or animal control to take over leadership of large city and county shelter systems. If someone with a non-shelter background applied for a job as a shelter director through the usual municipal-government process, that person would probably not be seriously considered. As the head of a non-profit with a track record of actively assisting the shelter, though, such a person is in a good position to bid on a shelter contract.

The Atlanta community has been very appreciative of what Guinn and LifeLine have done. Guinn was selected as the recipient of the 2013 Leadership DeKalb’s Sue Ellen Owens Award “for creating a permanent and positive legacy of initiative and vision in the community.” Guinn defines No Kill as saving every savable animal, and she has a goal for both shelters to meet that standard in 2016.

This is the first in an occasional series of blog posts on successful shelter directors.

Should We Be Doing TNR for Community Dogs?

TNR for dogs? It may sound crazy, but hear me out.

We have a few cities, particularly in the southern part of the United States, where large numbers of stray dogs apparently continue to be a problem. I have heard this from credible people who support No Kill — it isn’t just the No Kill deniers who make this claim. In some of these cities live release rates are going up, but local people question whether there is really progress toward a No Kill community since large numbers of stray dogs are not being picked up.

We have other areas of the country where there are dog shortages, and dogs are brought in from outside for adoption. I believe that based on the numbers nationwide we are very close to an overall balance in dog population and that, if we had a great transport network combined with every jurisdiction maxing out its adoption rates, we could have No Kill this year for dogs. But we are not there yet.

One way to tackle the problem of isolated excesses of stray dogs in some of the large cities is classic spay-neuter programs aimed at owned dogs. If 30% or more of the owned females in a city are not sterilized and if the local human population is open to the spay-neuter message, then this approach can have great results. If sterilization rates of owned pets are up around the typical 85% average for the United States, though, or if sterilization rates are lower but people resist sterilizing their pets, then we cannot expect huge reductions in strays with this method.

Some cities resort to trying to catch and kill all the strays. This is a bad method not only because it is morally wrong, but because it is ineffective. Cities tried for 100 years before 1970 to control stray dog populations by means of catch and kill, and it was a complete failure. Stray dog populations continued to rise until the 1970s, when mass spay-neuter became possible.

So what to do? In many cases, stray dogs who live outdoors have a reasonably good life. Alan Beck’s 1970 study of stray dogs in Baltimore found that being hit by a car was the biggest danger for homeless dogs (other than shelter killing), but only a small minority of the total dog population was killed by cars each year. He concluded that, surprisingly, stray dogs were able to find adequate food, water, and shelter and they did not ordinarily suffer from hunger or exposure. Many of them were fed by people living in their neighborhood, and their presence was tolerated.

This sounds a lot like what we now know about community cats. And the preferred solution for community cats these days is TNR or SNR, not catch and kill.

What about simply finding homes for all the stray dogs? I recently spoke to a dedicated No Kill advocate in one southern city who estimated that there were 150,000 stray dogs in his city. That would be 88 dogs per 1000 people, which is an astronomical number and far beyond the ability of even the best No Kill shelter to place within the community. Even if the number of stray dogs was only 1/3 of what this advocate estimates, it would still require an adoption-per-thousand-people rate of 29 dogs, which is well beyond the best rates I know of. And that does not even count dogs who are already going into the shelter. Colorado, which has over a 90% live release rate for dogs, adopted out only 10.5 dogs per 1000 people in 2013.

Recently the leaders of the shelter establishment in the United States have come together behind a set of ideas that are embodied in the Million Cat Challenge. Those ideas include the concept that rather than kill a healthy community cat, the cat should be sterilized and returned to where it was found. Feral cats should be sterilized and returned to a supported colony. Why couldn’t we do the same thing for dogs?

TNR for dogs is not a completely unheard-of idea. India passed a law in 2001 forbidding the killing of street dogs. There are differences of opinion about what has happened since then in terms of nuisance factors and the growth of the dog population, with some people feeling that the dogs are a serious nuisance and a danger to human health (especially from rabies, which is a big problem in India, and dog bites) while others believe that the dogs serve useful functions. The government of India has reacted by instituting a TNR program for street dogs. Other countries are using or considering TNR for stray dogs as well.

Dogs are different from cats in that community cats are less intrusive than stray dogs, because they tend to be nocturnal and more cautious around people. Another difference is that there is a substantial feral population in cats whereas there are very few truly feral dogs, at least in urban and suburban areas. It does not appear as though either of those differences would be fatal to a TNR program for dogs. Beck theorized that the reason that street dogs lived more openly than cats was because people were more accepting of their presence.

I think one reason people don’t like the idea of TNR for dogs is that we see dogs as being more dependent on people for their happiness than cats. People hate the idea of a dog living in the street without a person of its own, and think such a dog must be miserable. Beck’s study indicated that is not the case. Certainly, if the choice was living without a human attachment or being killed, I think the great majority of dogs would choose to live.

Moreover, a TNR program for stray dogs could very quickly reduce the number of strays, probably far more quickly than TNR for cats. Dogs do not have the reproductive capacity that cats have, and something like 75% of puppies born to free-roaming mothers do not survive. And, dogs are easier to locate and capture.

Before a city considers a dog TNR program, it would need to make an effort to answer the following questions:

1. What is the sterilization rate for owned dogs? If it is not at least 70% of females, then an all-hands-on-deck traditional spay-neuter campaign for owned pets may be the best approach, unless the local human population is resistant to that message.

2. What is the number of stray dogs that are not being impounded? If the number of stray dogs that are not being impounded plus the number of unreclaimed stray dogs that are impounded plus the number of owner surrendered dogs substantially exceeds 10 or more per 1000 people, then the shelter may have difficulty adopting its way out of killing with local adoptions.

3. How many dogs could be responsibly transported to other areas of the country where there is a dog shortage and transports would not take homes away from local dogs? Are there sufficient resources to make those transports safely?

If spay-neuter of owned pets is already high or the human population is resistant to pet sterilization, if the number of stray dogs is high, and if responsible transport cannot bring the number of dogs needing adoption down under 10 per 1000 people, then TNR is about the only thing left. A dog TNR project would be a novel and innovative idea for one of the big national organizations to take on. If the program succeeded, it could, in combination with the Million Cat Challenge initiatives, be a quick way to make even the most intransigent southern cities truly No Kill.

News of the Week 03-22-15

There is a lot of news this week, so let’s get to it:

Miami-Dade County Animal Services has announced that it achieved an 81.5% live release rate for dogs and cats in 2014! The shelter had an intake of 27,000 animals. A $4 million budget increase has allowed the shelter to implement a raft of new programs that are having an effect. In other news from Miami, the shelter is now using the Finding Rover face recognition app for lost dogs.

Hillsborough County Pet Resources Center, the open admission shelter for Hillsborough County, Florida, is running at an 85% live release rate so far for its 2014-2015 fiscal year (counting animals who died or were lost in shelter care with euthanasias). This covers the 5 colder months, so we can’t guess what the rate for the entire year will be, but things are looking good. Two years ago the live release rate for Hillsborough County, which has a population of 2 million and includes the city of Tampa, was only 46%. When current director Scott Trebatoski started a year ago, he made a lot of changes to adoption procedures, all designed to make the process as smooth and attractive to adopters as possible. He has also repaired relationships with local rescues. Tampa has proven to be a very tough venue for No Kill in the past, so it is encouraging to see this progress.

The Clermont To The Rescue Humane Society just started running the Clermont County Animal Shelter in Ohio on January 1st this year. Clermont County has about 200,000 people and is part of the Cincinnati metro area. Manager Eva Devaughn reports that in the first two months under new operation, the shelter has euthanized only 7 cats and dogs, all based on a veterinarian’s recommendation.

West Virginia has certainly not been known as a promising venue for No Kill, so every ray of hope in that state is important. The Huntington-Cabell-Wayne Animal Shelter is reporting that it has saved 85% of its dogs this year and has just started a TNR program for feral and community cats.

In more West Virginia news, the Mercer County Animal Shelter reports that it has not killed any animals for space in the last 2 months. The shelter is transporting at-risk pets out of the area. Actually, a group of volunteers is doing transports for the shelter, including networking to find receiving rescues and, twice a month, driving 12 to 20 hours round trip. In 2014 the volunteers saved over 1300 animals. Mercer County’s population is 62,000 and its median household income is $26,600, about half the national average. One in five people in the county live in poverty.

In more transport news, PetSmart Rescue Waggin’ is helping the Vincennes Animal Shelter in Indiana. PetSmart has picked up animals for transport four times since the arrangement was made in January, and the shelter now has empty cages. Vincennes is a small town in the southwestern part of the state. The town’s population has been declining, and it has no significant population centers near enough to be an easy drive for potential adopters.

North Shore Animal League’s Tour for Life rolling adoption event to assist shelters across the United States is celebrating its 15th year.

The Brown County, Indiana, shelter is reporting a 98% live release rate for 2014, which is a repeat of its great performance in 2013.

A flashback: Seattle’s mayor noted in a recent proclamation honoring the city’s spay-neuter clinic that the Seattle shelter took in 18,401 animals in 1982 and killed 45% of them. Last year, intake was 3,344, and Seattle euthanized only 7% of them.

The HSUS Expo is almost here – starting March 30th in New Orleans. In recent years the Expo has become an important event for No Kill leaders, and a lot of them will be there. The only conference that seems to draw more No Kill leaders is the Best Friends National Conference, which will be held this year in Atlanta, Georgia, July 16-19.

Austin, Texas, is facing possible changes in the rules that govern shelter vets.

The city of Waco, which has been running at a live release rate of over 90% in 2015, is entering the home stretch in its effort to raise $2.5 million for a new shelter. The campaign has raised $2.3 million so far.

ACCT Philly took in about 28,000 animals in 2014 and had a 74% live release rate. Adoptions and fosters both showed increases. A 74% live release rate is nothing to cheer about, but Philadelphia has been a very hard case for No Kill for a very long time, and it’s nice to see things at least moving in the right direction.

New List of No Kill Communities

As you may have heard, there is a new list of No Kill communities in town, maintained by an organization called Saving 90. In a quick inspection of the site I did not see a list of founders or directors of Saving 90, but this new organization appears to be linked to the No Kill Advocacy Center, since the two sites link to each other and Nathan Winograd has been promoting Saving 90.

I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to get other people interested in doing shelter stats for years now, so I am thrilled to see this new site. The listings do not entirely agree with my listings, and Saving 90 says there are only 9 million people living in No Kill communities compared to the 15.6 million in my list, but the general message is the same — No Kill is possible pretty much anywhere. One advantage that Saving 90 has is that Winograd has a much bigger audience than I do, so hopefully his list will reach more people.

I’m also happy about the debut of the Saving 90 site because having someone else do “the list” will mean that I can spend more time on No Kill news. So here’s the plan going forward. I will leave my existing list up for now, at least until I make sure that Saving 90 is going to stick around. But instead of doing statistical analyses of existing No Kill communities, I’m going to switch my focus to day-to-day news about No Kill. This news will still include a lot of reporting on No Kill communities, but the emphasis of the blog will shift from reporting statistics to reporting on what communities are doing – new programs they are trying, new coalitions, problems and how they are addressed, what the national organizations are up to, etc.

There appears to be a real need for this type of reporting, as I’ve seen based on the response to the News Bits page over the last few months. News Bits has been more popular than any other page on this blog except for my post on the coming shelter dog shortage. And e-mail subscriptions to the blog have been on a sharp upward trend since I started News Bits.

So now that someone else is handling the statistics and “the list,” I’m looking forward to integrating the news into blog posts. That way it will go out directly to e-mail subscribers and be directly sharable. If you have any opinions on how you would like to see this done — daily blog posts, “news summaries” once or twice a week, or some other format, let me know, either by commenting or sending an e-mail to the blog.