A New Statewide No Kill Effort Launches in Washington

I recently had the opportunity to interview Jeanine Foucher, executive director of Pet Net Washington (PNW). PNW is a grant-making organization, founded by Hans and Cindy Koch, that is launching a No Kill effort in the state of Washington (Foucher is center in the photo, with the Kochs). Several states are No Kill or making rapid progress toward No Kill based on statewide efforts, including Utah, South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Delaware.  It’s exciting to welcome Washington to this group.

An interesting thing about these statewide efforts is that each of them uses a somewhat different methodology. PNW’s plan for Washington is based on two important operating principles. First is to gather and analyze data in the state to determine the strengths and weaknesses of each area’s safety net for pets. Second is to use that data to facilitate programs and networks within the state to bring up live release rates in the areas that are not saving all their healthy and treatable animals.

An example of how this works is shown by one of their grants. There are areas of Washington that are doing very well in helping homeless companion animals, and other areas that do not even have animal control officers or shelters. In one of the areas with no shelter and minimal animal control, a man and his wife were trying to help homeless dogs by taking them in, giving them vaccinations, and transporting them to No Kill shelters. PNW’s data study had identified their area as one of the ones most in need of help, and the Kochs and Foucher contacted the couple and learned how they were preparing dogs for transport. PNW was then able to help the couple in two ways – one by purchasing a transport van and donating it to their organization, and the other by making contacts for them with some of the larger No Kill shelters in the state that, after hearing from PNW about the couple’s careful preparation of dogs for transport, were eager to help them by taking in their dogs.

Although PNW was just recently founded as an organization, its statewide No Kill vision dates back several years, when the Kochs were inspired by the example of Best Friends and Maddie’s Fund. In 2014 Foucher completed a “landscape analysis” for the Kochs of services for homeless pets in Washington. The analysis broke the state into ten regions, eight of which were visited and analyzed. It illustrated the wide variations in the state in resources and services for homeless pets.

The 2014 study made it clear that a sustainable statewide No Kill effort would need to find a way to provide help to the underserved areas. One way to do that would be recruiting help from the high-performing parts of the state to assist areas that have few resources. More granular data was needed for this project, though, so Foucher spent 2016 collecting and analyzing 2015 data from over 120 organizations in the state. Almost 70 of these were animal-welfare organizations and the rest were low-cost spay-neuter providers. She used the Basic Data Matrix for shelter statistics, the same form used by Shelter Animals Count.

Foucher, with assistance from Best Friends, produced infographics based on the 2016 analysis. The infographics included maps of live release rates for cats and dogs in 2015 for the entire state. Three things were immediately apparent from these maps – the state is doing far better with dogs than with cats (the statewide live release rate for dogs was 89% in 2015 but only 77% for cats), there are surprisingly large areas of the state with too few services to quantify, and the configuration of high-performing areas of the state is such that most low-performing areas are reasonably close to a high-performing area. (The northeastern part of the state is geographically isolated, and travel may be over mountain passes.)

PNW is using Foucher’s 2016 in-depth data analysis to plans its initiatives. One emphasis will be community cat programs. PNW recently funded a TNR program that they hope will grow to include a return-to-field program, and they want to facilitate more such programs. PNW’s data analysis could also be used to help create high-tech resources for making sure that dogs and cats can be transported effectively and efficiently.

PNW is a grant-making organization, not a shelter, so they are reaching out to shelters and to other funders in the hope that they can create cooperative networks. These networks might function something like the “hub” concept used by No Kill South Carolina. That could be an effective way to deliver help to areas that need it the most.

Rescues are important to hub-type networks and to cooperative efforts between a public shelter and its community. Larger rescues can also “stand in” to a certain extent for shelters in parts of the state that lack them. One of Foucher’s maps shows the location of high-volume rescues in the state:

The hub concept can also lend itself to mentoring. Many times, shelter directors are interested in new concepts or new ways of operating but do not feel that they can take the risk of making major changes. Shelters cannot just shut down to re-tool, and directors may want evidence that a change will improve their shelter before proceeding. Mentoring by the director of a nearby No Kill shelter can make all the difference in helping a traditional director decide to make the jump.

Cooperative networks can be invaluable in the dreaded situation where a shelter gets inundated with animals from a hoarding or puppy mill or dog-fighting situation. In those cases, the problem is not only the numbers, but also the fact that the animals may need extensive rehabilitation. A network of shelters and rescues that have each other’s backs can help manage such emergencies.

Another priority for PNW is spay-neuter services. The in-depth 2016 data analysis allowed them to calculate shelter intake per 1000 people in each county where data is available (see infographic below). By matching this information with the data PNW has on existing spay-neuter programs, they can target the areas of the state most in need of additional spay-neuter services. This information will also be helpful in setting up transport networks.

The Washington state No Kill effort is just beginning, but its data collection and analysis is impressive. Foucher will soon be making a presentation to the Washington Federation of Animal Care and Control Agencies, and hopes that this will lead to opportunities for building cooperative networks and launching programs to bridge the gap between the resource-rich parts of the state and the resource-poor areas. Foucher is willing to advise others who may want to do a similar data analysis in their own state, and she can be contacted through PNW. Those of you who want to keep up with PNW and their efforts to make Washington into a No Kill state can follow the organization’s Facebook page.

Anderson County’s No Kill Transition

Anderson County, South Carolina, is in the western part of the state, bordering Greenville County. It is located on the I-85 corridor between Charlotte and Atlanta – a corridor that is expected to see major growth in the future and is already seeing progressive change. The county has about 200,000 people. Anderson County P.A.W.S. (Pets Are Worth Saving) is a government-run shelter that serves the entire county.

Last fall some important changes were made in the operation of the shelter. Target Zero did a consultation. The county shelter was moved to the Public Works department following pressure from citizens about the quality of oversight. And veterinarian Kim Sanders was hired as interim director (later made permanent) in October. At that time, the live release rate at the shelter was 42%. I recently had the opportunity to interview Sanders, and she told me about some of the changes she has made to the shelter’s operations. The changes have been dramatically successful and the shelter’s live release rate is running at 92% so far in 2017.

Sanders, before becoming director of the shelter, worked at the Anderson County Humane Society’s high-quality, high-volume, spay-neuter (HQHVSN) clinic. About seven years ago when the HQHVSN clinic was opened, intake at the county shelter was around 14,000 animals per year. By 2016, intake had plummeted to 7,311 animals. Sanders was therefore aware of the importance of spay-neuter when she started her new job as shelter director, and one of her first initiatives was to start sterilizing all cats and dogs before they left the shelter.

That included community cats. With Target Zero’s help (including revision of a county ordinance), Anderson County P.A.W.S. started a Return-to-Field (RTF) program that sharply reduced the number of cats held at the shelter for adoption. Usually when a shelter starts an RTF program it must find a veterinarian or clinic that can sterilize all the cats. The Anderson County shelter did not have money appropriated for that, so Sanders does the surgeries herself. She did almost 300 such surgeries last month.

The program is for healthy, apparently unowned cats found outdoors, and most of the cats they get go into the program. The shelter has a part-time person who picks the cats up in the afternoon after their surgeries and returns them to their territory. They have had a good deal of success in asking people who drop off cats if they will come back and get the cats themselves, and close to 60% agree. Owner surrenders, declawed cats, kittens, and highly adoptable cats are held for adoption. Sick and injured cats are treated.

When I asked Sanders what one program had made the most difference in their turnaround, she named managed admission. The shelter requires an appointment for owner surrenders. Exceptions are made for injured animals, who are taken in immediately, and strays brought in by residents are also taken without appointment. The shelter accepts surrender of owned animals two days a week. Although there were a few complaints about the program at first, people in the county adjusted quickly to the idea that the shelter was no longer a place to casually drop off a pet.

The concept of managed admission is sometimes criticized on the ground that it will result in increased pet abandonment, but the experience in Anderson County shows that managed admission has the opposite effect. When officials expect people to take responsibility for their animals, people will live up to that responsibility. No Kill advocate Craig Brestrup argued in his 1997 book Disposable Animals that when shelters take in animals on demand with no questions asked it actually encourages people to regard their pets as having little value. By contrast, when shelters ask people to help them help their pet, most are happy to make an appointment.

The managed admission program allows shelter personnel to communicate with an owner before a pet is surrendered, and that can help the shelter keep pets in their homes when possible. If someone wants to surrender an animal because it needs veterinary treatment that the owner cannot afford, or if there is a behavior problem, the shelter can often help the owner fix the problem and head off surrender. A local non-profit called Freedom Fences can work with people to get their dogs off chains.

One part of Anderson County’s managed admission program is to ask people who want to surrender litters of puppies and kittens to keep them and care for them until they are old enough to be adopted. Sanders reports that most people readily agree to this, and that it has been a “complete game changer” for the shelter. The shelter provides supplies and support for the caregivers. This program not only reduces length of stay and demands on shelter staff, it also keeps puppies and kittens out of the shelter during the time they are most vulnerable to infections.

Pet retention, sterilizing animals before adoption, treating sick and injured animals, and providing supplies for fosters are all programs that cost money. The shelter has not received additional funds yet, but Sanders is hoping to see an increase in its budget next year. She has been able to make ends meet so far, due to a decrease in the number of animals in the shelter and reduced length of stay.

An important change that occurred around the time Sanders became director was moving the shelter to the Public Works division under the management of Holt Hopkins. Animal shelters are a unique government service, and sometimes the method of management of a particular county department might not mesh well with the needs of the shelter. Directors who want to make big changes in shelter operations need to have authority to act on their own, and to act on short notice. A change from one department to another can have a good effect if it allows the director more flexibility in operations.

Another important change in operations at the shelter has been an emphasis on working with rescues. Locally, the shelter works with Day Before the Rainbow, Lucky Pup Rescue, Low Country Lab Rescue, and Carolina Poodle Rescue, among others. Two large organizations from the northeast, All Breed Rescue and St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center, send vans to the shelter once or twice a month to pick up dogs and cats for transport.

South Carolina has an ambitious statewide No Kill effort called No Kill South Carolina (NKSC) that is spearheaded by the Charleston Animal Society. The operating plan for the effort is to establish several “hubs” in the state that can offer advice and resources to nearby shelters. NKSC wants every shelter animal to be no more than one hour away from help. Anderson County P.A.W.S. joined NKSC in December 2016 and very quickly became a provider of help. The shelter has been called in to assist Abbeyville County, and took in animals from a hoarding case.

Sanders projects confidence and competence, but she admitted that even she was surprised by how quickly the shelter improved. She credits the successful turnaround to a great staff, the pride and interest that the community took in the shelter, and support from the county council. As she says, it was a whole group of people coming together to do the right thing for the animals. Sanders believes that Anderson County P.A.W.S. is proof that any community can become No Kill if they have the commitment to do it.

Catching Up with Humane Network

In the last few years we’ve seen a welcome and much-needed increase in the number of shelter consultants. We now have a wide variety of consultants — everything from individuals who do consulting on an ad hoc basis, to organizations with several people who provide a range of services, to firms that can do large-scale projects. We have specialists such as shelter-medicine and shelter-building consultants, and generalists who offer a complete shelter makeover. Some consultants do a one-time appraisal, while others may offer formal or informal arrangements with shelters to help shepherd them through making changes. There is enough variety in consultants to fit every situation.

Humane Network is a mid-size consulting group that provides a wide range of services. Not long ago I had a chance to chat with Bonney Brown, president and principal consultant of Humane Network, and catch up with her on the organization’s latest activities. One exciting project they recently completed, funded by Maddie’s Fund, was a study for shelter lifesaving in an entire state.

Statewide shelter reform is a noteworthy recent trend. We have such efforts underway today in Utah (led by Best Friends), South Carolina (led by the Charleston Animal Society), and Delaware (led by the state Office of Animal Welfare and Brandywine Valley SPCA).

One of the first steps for Humane Network in their evaluation of the statewide lifesaving project was a feasibility study. Humane Network consultants identified the relevant organizations in the state, including non-profit shelters and animal-control agencies, and did 71 interviews. According to available statistics, the state’s shelters are currently saving over 80% of dogs and 60% of cats. There are some gaps in services. Some parts of the state have no private-practice veterinary clinics that handle small animals. A few counties have no animal shelter, and several have no rescues with an online presence.

Uneven distribution of services is an issue for shelter reform in many states. Often the most urbanized parts of a state have a good level of services for shelter animals. In rural counties, though, the lack of basic institutions such as shelters, small-animal veterinarians, and rescues presents a major challenge to lifesaving. Part of Humane Network’s evaluation was to develop ideas to help counties that currently have little to build on. Bonney believes that MASH-style clinics and mobile units could be part of the answer for the lack of veterinary services in under-served counties. Additionally, they are recommending the creation of a robust statewide network of volunteers with the goal of developing a shelter-less safety net for animals in rural areas.

Humane Network has been working on a dizzying array of other projects in addition to the statewide feasibility analysis. A common complaint among animal-shelter administrators is that it is hard for shelters to recruit top talent for leadership positions. Bonney and Diane Blankenburg, CEO and principal consultant of Humane Network, are addressing that situation by teaching a certificate program in Animal Shelter Management at the University of the Pacific. The program, which was launched in 2013, currently has several animal shelter directors (nonprofit and animal services) enrolled, along with shelter staff, rescue group leaders, and people seeking to break into the field. This will be their largest graduating class yet, with over 50 people enrolled. The certificate course recently received help from Maddie’s Fund to expand to year-round, so that students can start the course series in either the spring or the fall. Maddie’s is providing scholarships for current students and internships/externships for graduates.

Humane Network also works with individual shelters to increase their live release rates. Humane Network was called in for ongoing consulting on El Paso’s ambitious shelter-reform program, for example. Sometimes individual shelters can obtain grants to defer the cost of consulting. Petco Foundation, Alley Cat Allies, Maddie’s Fund, and the Banfield Foundation have supported recent consulting projects for shelters.

Shelters may retain Humane Network for specific purposes short of a full consultation. Bonney says that shelter assessments and training are probably the most common issues for which shelters seek consulting. Executive recruitment is another common issue. Humane Network is sometimes called on to help ensure that reform efforts are sustainable. And last year Humane Network worked with multiple humane organizations, including Alley Cat Allies, when Louisiana was devastated by flooding. The photo is of Wendy Guidry of Feral Cat Consortium of Louisiana, Clay Myers of Alley Cat Allies, and Diane Blankenburg helping out in Louisiana.

In addition to Bonney and Diane, Humane Network offers the services of several people who have expertise on particular issues. Those people include Mitch Schneider, former manager of Washoe County Regional Animal Services, and Kelley Bollen, who is an animal behaviorist. Other key people are Laurie Daily-Johnston, who assists with research and is the teaching assistant for the online shelter management course; Don Jennings, who assists organizations with fundraising and program development; Dr. Linda Harper, who provides training on compassion fatigue; and Julie Snyder, who manages research and logistics. Denise Stevens (at Nevada Humane Society), Abigail Smith, and Tiffany Barrow work with Humane Network on an ad-hoc basis.

Bonney has been involved in shelter lifesaving and reform since the early 1990s, and I asked her how she sees the historical arc of progress. She answered that she believes the principles behind the movement to save all healthy and treatable animals have now been widely adopted, and that most animal-protection professionals believe in the goal and believe it is achievable. She characterized this as a “dramatic” change since the early 1990s, and says that today everyone is “so busy working that we don’t always stop to take a look at that and appreciate how really far things have come and the great progress that’s been made.”

One perennial challenge to improving shelter lifesaving is the large dog with behavior issues. Bonney likes a concept suggested by Aimee Sadler for regional rehabilitation organizations that could pull such dogs from shelters. Hyper-energetic, hard-to-train, or fearful dogs who might deteriorate or not get the consistent attention they need in a busy shelter environment could be handled and prepared for adoption much more effectively in training centers devoted solely to their needs. The often-chaotic conditions in a busy municipal shelter can undo any progress made in a training session as soon as it is done, because the environment cannot be controlled. In a well-designed facility dedicated to rehabilitation this would not be an issue. An added benefit would be that staff at a specialized rehabilitation center would have more time to interact with potential adopters, instruct them in how to keep up a successful training regimen, and serve as a support system for the new owner.

In winding up our conversation, Bonney observed that one of the reasons consulting is important is that the situation of each shelter is different. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. One shelter manager may be dealing with high intake, whereas the major problem for another shelter might be lack of a good marketing program. The manager of a county shelter might be coping with reluctance on the part of county management to consider alternative ways to deal with feral cats. A consultant can look at the entire situation and tailor a plan that allows the shelter to find additional resources and to use its existing resources more efficiently. Humane Network also emphasizes the importance of providing tool kits and templates to their client organizations to make change easier and more sustainable.

Humane Network is staying very busy these days, and that is a good sign. The popularity of consultants is evidence that the shelter industry is embracing change. Consultants can help animal-protection organizations and individual shelters see the big picture and stay in the forefront of progress.

Target Zero’s Kentucky Initiative

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Sara Pizano and Cameron Moore, the principal consultants for Target Zero (TZ). A lot has happened since I last spoke with them a year ago, including a very exciting new project in Kentucky that is already showing encouraging results.

TZ’s business plan is to help open-admission shelters adopt best practices that will allow them to save all of their healthy and treatable animals. TZ is donor-supported, which allows it to offer shelter consulting at no charge. TZ received a grant not long ago from Maddie’s Fund for $750,000 over three years, and they also receive additional funding from other organizations. Consultations are designed to increase live release rates for both dogs and cats, but in many cases Pizano and Moore find that shelters need more help initially with cats.

TZ is a strong supporter of the “community cat” method of dealing with healthy cats. In this method, healthy cats found outdoors who have no identification are spayed or neutered, given a rabies vaccination, and returned to where they were found. This type of program has become very popular. Scientific studies have shown that lost cats are 13 times more likely to be reunited with their owners if they are left alone than if they are taken to a shelter. And many unowned outdoor cats, both feral and tame, have adequate sources of food and shelter and are doing very well on their own. The last thing they need is to be impounded.

There is quite a demand for TZ’s services. In fact, so many shelters want to consult with TZ that Pizano and Moore are currently booked until August. They are hoping to bring an additional consultant onboard soon to avoid an extended backlog. In order to help the maximum possible number of animals with the resources they have, Pizano and Moore ask managers of smaller shelters who are interested in consulting to recruit neighboring shelters to participate in a regional effort. Their work in Kentucky is an example of this approach. It has shown not only better efficiency, but also tremendous synergy arising from cooperation among stakeholders in the communities.

Kentucky has been slow in making progress with shelter lifesaving. The state has a shelter-standards law setting minimum levels of care, but a recent study showed widespread violations of the law. Shelters in the state commonly have problems placing all the animals they receive, and many shelters rely on transports to other states. The new TZ effort is possibly the most ambitious attempt yet to change that picture and bring best practices to Kentucky shelters.

Two years ago TZ did a spay-neuter assessment for northern Kentucky. The study was for both cats and dogs, but when they analyzed the results they realized that one of the fastest ways to improve outcomes in the region would be a community cat program. The Joanie Bernard Foundation, which makes grants to feline-welfare organizations within 100 miles of Cincinnati, Ohio, was a potential source of funds for a community cat program, but  there was no obvious way to disperse a grant to the entire area that needed to be served.

Kentucky has county-based regional development districts that range from 8 to 15 counties each and are run by county representatives. One of them is the Northern Kentucky Area Development District (NKADD). Until recently, NKADD was solely devoted to providing services for helping humans in its eight counties. Animal shelters were not on its radar screen. That all changed when Target Zero got involved.

Pizano and Moore knew that the NKADD had a non-profit arm. They came up with the innovative idea of having the NKADD be the recipient of the grant money and then make the money available in the counties for the community cat program. The parties readily agreed, and the Joanie Bernard Foundation granted $500,000 dollars to the NKADD’s non-profit arm.

Of the eight counties in the NKADD, four — Kenton, Boone, Grant, and Campbell — have open-admission county shelters that take in both cats and dogs. The other four — Carroll, Gallatin, Owen, and Pendleton — have county shelters that take in only dogs. Grant County has had a live release rate of over 90% for some time, but the other county shelters had a wide range of live release rates, some of them quite low. The new community cat program had to be designed to deal with the situation in each of these counties.

One of the first challenges was making sure that legal barriers to the community cat program were removed. Boone, Kenton, and Campbell had ordinances that prohibited some aspects of the community cat program. Local ordinances are unfortunately a barrier to modern cat programs in many places. Pizano and Moore often face this situation and are accustomed to dealing with it. Within a month after starting the Kentucky project, they had succeeded in getting the three counties to update their ordinances.

Pizano and Moore have been successful so far in all 12 of the communities where they have tried to update ordinances, and they are now working on their 13th ordinance, in Lafayette, Louisiana. Their approach is to demonstrate to local leaders that the new community cat paradigm has been widely accepted by major animal-welfare organizations like ASPCA and HSUS, and represents current best practice. They provide local governments with data to show that community cat programs are not only good for cats, they are the most fiscally responsible way to deal with outdoor cats.

In Kentucky, once local governments were on board, ordinances were updated, and funding was in place, the last piece of the puzzle was to recruit clinics and veterinarians who could carry out the NKADD community cat program. The United Coalition for Animals (UCAN), headquartered in Cincinnati, has a spay-neuter clinic for dogs and cats. Another Cincinnati organization, Ohio Alleycat Resource & Spay-Neuter Clinic (OAR), provides many services for cats, including a spay-neuter clinic for cats only. Both UCAN and OAR agreed to participate, as did several private veterinarians. The plan went into effect on October 1, 2016, and if you go to the NKADD site you will see a page on its new cat program.

The three categories of cats eligible for the program are community cats, cats owned by low-income people, and indoor cats whose owners do not qualify as low-income. Community cats are diverted from the shelter in the four counties where the shelter takes in cats. In the counties with dog-only shelters, cats are brought to the service providers by people in the community. Services are free for community cats and low-income pet owners. For owners of indoor cats who do not qualify for the free service, a provider is allowed (although not required) to charge $20. So far, in its first five months, the program has met its target number of surgeries every month. In the first four months the program did 2,262 surgeries.

The effect of the program can be seen in the live release rates for cats at the three county shelters that take in cats (the fourth shelter that takes in cats was already at a 90%+ live release rate when the program started). Comparing the live release rates for cats in those shelters for the first nine months of 2016, before the program started, to the first four months of the program from October 2016 through January 2017, live release rates for cats increased from 82% to 88% in Boone, from 42% to 71% in Kenton, and from 49% to 83% in Campbell.

We will not know the full effect of the program on the Boone, Kenton, and Campbell shelters until we have statistics that include kitten season, but the program is certainly off to a good start. An indication that the program may be strong enough to withstand kitten season is that two of the counties were able to deal with large cat-hoarding cases between October and January while still reducing cat deaths. In addition to increasing live release rates at the shelters that take in cats, the community cat program will hopefully lead to a gradual decrease in the number of unsterilized outdoor cats in all 8 counties.

Success breeds success, and the success of the NKADD program has caught the notice of officials in other districts in Kentucky. Pizano was recently invited to make a presentation about the program in Frankfort, the state capitol, to the directors of all 15 state districts. Seven of the districts are interested, including the district that contains Louisville, which is one of TZ’s newest Fellows.

Pizano and Moore have other projects that involve regional and state level work. A project in Georgia covers three counties. TZ has four Fellowship shelters in South Carolina, and they network with a statewide No Kill effort that is under the aegis of No Kill South Carolina. Pizano feels that regional projects can set up a dynamic where there is good-natured competition among jurisdictions. People see a neighbor’s success and want to have the same level of success or even more at their own shelter.

One thing I admire about TZ is that they have shown a willingness to go into places like Kentucky, Louisiana, and South Carolina that have traditionally been seen as tough venues for shelter lifesaving. Pizano and Moore seem to be very good at finding sparks in those areas that can be fanned into flames. We all know what needs to be done to enable a shelter to save its healthy and treatable animals. The trick is to put the programs into practice. Every community is different, and can present challenges like ordinances that need to be changed, funding that must be found, non-profits that must be recruited to help, and local leaders who must be educated. Consultants like TZ can identify the hurdles and find ways to get over, under, or around them.

2016 — A Banner Year for No Kill

Many of the general retrospectives on 2016 that have appeared in the media in the last few days have branded the year as a disaster. It’s easy to see why, given the political uproar of our recent election season and the uncertain future we face. But for No Kill, 2016 had few flaws. In fact, 2016 may go down in history as the best year yet for No Kill, a year when landmark progress was made.

Here is a short list of some trends and events that made 2016 such a noteworthy year for No Kill:

  • Citizen complaints about large numbers of stray dogs in Dallas, Texas, have been frequent for the last several years, and the media has carried on a steady drumbeat about the problem. In May 2016 a tragedy occurred when a woman was attacked and killed in South Dallas by a pack of dogs. City leaders decided they had to act, and hired the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to analyze animal control and sheltering in the city. In August BCG released a report analyzing the shelter system and recommending changes. BCG is a highly prestigious, mainstream consulting firm, and No Kill advocates feared that the BCG recommendation would be to simply round up and kill all the stray dogs. Instead, the report provided a beautiful summary of how cities get to No Kill today while not shirking public safety and not busting the budget. The BCG report was proof that No Kill is now the new industry standard, as it placed shelter lifesaving on a par with public safety in a truly stunning statement of modern priorities. In the future it will no longer be possible for any city or town or county to plan a state-of-the-art overhaul of its shelter system without taking lifesaving into account. Links to the BCG report are here and here.
  • The Pets for Life concept came into its own in 2016. Pets for Life does not just provide services to underserved neighborhoods — it moves in to zip codes where people are having trouble caring for their pets. Distrust between residents and animal control has been a major problem in poor communities dating back to the 1800s, and that distrust is the underlying reason why many pets wind up in the shelter today. Residents who may not have the resources to vaccinate, license, sterilize, and confine their pets have had good reason in the past to fear punitive enforcement and high fines from animal control. This has led them to avoid any contact with pet services, including services designed to help pets. Pets for Life staff members get at this problem by going door-to-door to build relationships with residents in neighborhoods that have the highest numbers of strays and owner surrenders. They provide whatever people need, including driving a person’s dog or cat to the vet when the owner does not have a car and the nearest vet is miles away. Or free dog training. Or free collars and tags, including licenses. When they do a big vaccination or spay-neuter event in the neighborhood people line up to participate because they trust Pets for Life. The result is that people and pets are happier and shelter intake is lower.
  • Neighbors helping neighbors broke out all over in 2016. We’ve had No Kill communities that reached out to neighbors before 2016, of course, but 2016 saw an explosion in this trend. An especially exciting example is happening in South Carolina, where No Kill proponents have divided the state into five regions, each of which will have a “key resource center” for No Kill. The resource centers are shelters that can help smaller shelters around them with things like grant-writing, adoption events, acquiring donors, and best practices. The Charleston Animal Society, which achieved No Kill in 2015, is heading up the South Carolina initiative with help from the Petco Foundation, which provided $200,000 to get the effort started. Petco also made a grant to Greenville, SC, one of the regional hubs. It wasn’t long ago that “South Carolina” and “No Kill” were hardly mentioned in the same sentence. Now, the entire state may soon be No Kill.
  • If South Carolina does get to No Kill in 2017 it will join a growing number of states that have that distinction. Colorado has been running at or near 90% for a couple of years now. And this year, when the final numbers are in, Colorado will probably be joined by Delaware. Delaware started an innovative program on January 1, 2016, when a new state agency took over animal control, anti-cruelty enforcement, and lost-and-found. The agency, Delaware Animal Services, is part of the Office of Animal Welfare within Delaware’s public health division. The state contracted out animal sheltering to the Brandywine Valley SPCA, where statistics through September showed a 92% live release rate. This structure for animal control and sheltering may be a viable approach for other small states. It’s inspiring to see how well it has worked so far in Delaware.
  • And speaking of No Kill states, Arizona has become a surprise No Kill leader in the southwest. The southwest has been a problem area for No Kill, and in my January 2016 “State of No Kill: Western U.S.” post I rated the lower southwest (Arizona and New Mexico) as the worst area in the U.S. for No Kill, with a D-minus grade. Not anymore! Arizona has 15 counties, including 5 large counties — Coconino, Yavapai, Maricopa, Pinal, and Pima — that run down the middle of the state and contain the large population areas. Coconino and Yavapai are reporting over 90% live release rates, and No Kill efforts are underway in the other three counties as well. Is it too much to hope that Arizona will be a No Kill state in 2017? We will see.
  • In 2016 the idea that it is ethically and morally wrong to deliberately breed dogs that have the genetic defect of brachycephalism really took hold, as evidenced by an August Washington Post article on the problem. Brachycephalism is a defining characteristic of several dog breeds, including English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. The genetic defect produces flat faces and protruding eyes, which many people think is cute, but which causes a lifetime of suffering and disability to the affected dogs. Dog breeding is not usually thought of as a No Kill issue, but it becomes a No Kill issue when it implicates the right of dogs to live a normal, happy life free of pain. It’s hard to believe that people would deliberately breed dogs with the goal of carrying on a horrible genetic defect, but the practice is very entrenched. This shocking form of animal cruelty has gone on far too long, but as 2016 draws to an end we have hope that dog breeders (and cat breeders) will finally be shamed into stopping the breeding of brachycephalic animals. If not, then the new public awareness about this issue may help advocates pass laws that will compel them to stop by identifying what they are doing as a crime.
  • Last but very far from least is the Million Cat Challenge (MCC), which had another fabulous year in 2016. Shelters that have signed up to participate in the MCC are using the MCC’s five key initiatives to save the lives of 1,000,000 shelter cats in the five-year period from the beginning of 2014 to the end of 2018. When that goal was announced it sounded incredibly ambitious. Now, at the end of 2016, the effort is on track to succeed — we are 60% through the time period and 66% of the way to the goal, with participating shelters reporting 657,000 cats saved so far even before the year-end update. The MCC is particularly noteworthy because so many traditional shelters have chosen to participate. If you are looking for a New Year’s resolution, a great one would be to make sure your local shelter is signed up with the MCC.

There were so many other areas of progress in No Kill in 2016 that this list could be twice as long if I wrote them all up. They include the increasing success of turnkey events like Clear the Shelters and Strut Your Mutt that draw in traditional shelters, the rapid spread of Open Adoptions, the increasing importance of shelter consultants, tremendous progress in Michigan (particularly in reducing shelter intake through spay-neuter programs), the growing expectation that every shelter will have one or more veterinarians on staff trained in shelter medicine, and the creation of No Kill campuses that show how far we’ve come from the days of the concrete-block shelter building next to the town dump.

Each year in No Kill brings surprises, and awe at how fast progress is being made. I can’t wait to see what 2017 will bring.

The Controversy Over Shelters Spaying Pregnant Animals

A perennial issue for No Kill has been whether it is ethical for No Kill shelters to spay dogs and cats who are known to be pregnant. Some No Kill advocates argue that a community cannot truly be No Kill if community shelters are spaying pregnant dogs and cats rather than allowing the litters to be born, raising the puppies and kittens, and adopting them out. I’d like to propose a structure for looking at this question in the ideal circumstance of an existing No Kill community with adequate resources, and then look at whether and how this proposed structure might need to be modified in the triaging that often accompanies No Kill transitions.

First, the proposed structure. I think the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), offers a framework for dealing with this issue in the shelter context. The Court in Roe v. Wade balanced the interest that a woman has in controlling her own body against the interest that a fetus has in being born, and concluded that in early pregnancy the balance favors the woman’s choice, but the closer a pregnancy is to term the greater the weight given to the interest of the fetus. That’s an oversimplified description of the Roe v. Wade decision, but it will suffice for this discussion.

The parallel between choices made by humans and choices made for shelter animals is not exact, of course, because we cannot consult a dog or cat and ask her if she would prefer to carry her pregnancy to term. But since a shelter is in the position of making decisions for dogs and cats in their care, it is reasonable to delegate this choice to the shelter.

When a shelter animal is in early pregnancy, is it in her best interest to be spayed? I think it would be reasonable for a shelter to conclude that the answer to that question is “yes,” for two reasons. First, it means the animal can be immediately adopted rather than going through some 4-6 months of gestation and care of her and her litter in a foster home before the litter is raised and she has been rehabilitated and readied for adoption. Second, an early spay is probably safer for an animal’s health than going through gestation and birth of a litter under the stressful circumstances of living in a shelter or a foster home.

With an animal who is close to delivery, the calculus is different. By that point, the spay surgery is riskier for the mother and the recovery period is longer. The time to adoption for an animal who is spayed late in pregnancy may not be that much longer than if she delivers and raises the litter. And the lives of puppies and kittens who are nearly full term are entitled to more weight than when they were early fetuses. I think it would be reasonable for a No Kill shelter to conclude that late-term spays are unethical and not in line with the principles of No Kill.

However, that conclusion might need to be modified when a shelter has not achieved No Kill and is instead in transition to No Kill. The transition to No Kill is a heartbreaking time, because a commitment has been made to save every savable animal, but the shelter does not yet have the capacity to accomplish that. There are some No Kill advocates who argue that No Kill can be achieved overnight in every shelter. No Kill overnight may be possible in some shelters, particularly those that are small, located in wealthy and progressive communities such as resorts or college towns (where the live release rate is likely to already be over 70%), and where the shelter director has the power to run the shelter the way he or she wishes. I’ve seen no evidence that No Kill is achievable overnight in more typical conditions of cash-strapped municipal shelters with high intake, outdated facilities, multiple layers of city management, and a population that includes many people who are indifferent or even hostile to No Kill. Oddly enough, the people who argue that No Kill can be achieved overnight anywhere never seem to be the people who actually take jobs as shelter directors in cities like Memphis, Dallas, Sacramento, and El Paso.

So, accepting the reality that the No Kill transition in most cities involves triage, how does that impact the decision on weighing the interest of a pregnant dog or cat versus the interests of the fetuses she is carrying? Successfully managing a pregnant dog or cat through birth and delivery and then helping her raise the puppies or kittens to an age when they can be adopted is a labor-intensive endeavor, as anyone who has ever done it knows. If the job is going to be done well and the puppies or kittens given the best chance to survive and thrive, it requires that the pregnant animal go into a foster home. And not just any foster home, but one that has facilities for raising a litter and a foster who has both the knowledge and the time for the task.

Raising a litter of puppies or kittens is not merely a matter of letting mom do all the work. The birth of the puppies or kittens must be monitored, and the foster caregiver must know how to recognize if a problem has developed, and what to do. A puppy or kitten may need help to start breathing. The mom, especially if she is a first-time mom, may need help in figuring out how to take care of the litter. The biggest task of all is socialization. From the age of 3 to 8 weeks, the foster caregiver must provide intensive exposure of the puppies or kittens to human contact. The foster must also ensure that mom and the puppies or kittens receive veterinary care, including vaccinations. And finally, when the work is all done and the puppies or kittens are old enough for adoption, the foster has to give them up to their new homes. Then mom must be rehabilitated from the stresses of pregnancy and readied for adoption.

Finding fosters is one of the challenging tasks that face shelters that are in the process of No Kill transitions. It is much easier on people to foster for an established No Kill shelter, because fosters know that when they return their charges to the shelter they will be adopted out and not killed. It’s much harder to recruit fosters for shelters that are in transition. Finding fosters that are willing and able to care for litters, and setting up a system within the shelter to provide the support they need in terms of veterinary care, is even more challenging than finding ordinary fosters.

A shelter that is in transition to No Kill may not have sufficient fosters to care for pregnant animals and raise their litters. In that case, a shelter might reasonably consider a spay late in pregnancy to be in the best interest of the mother and outweigh the limited prospects for life that the puppies or kittens would have if born in the shelter.

One additional factor may need to be considered in a transitional shelter’s decision whether to do a spay on a pregnant animal, and that is the effect on the lives of other animals in the shelter. The Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade balanced only the mother’s interests against the interests of the fetus. That was reasonable because it is hard to think of any situation in our modern world where a woman carrying a pregnancy to term in the United States might threaten the lives of other people besides the mother and fetus. With animals in a transitional shelter, it’s different. The lives of other animals in the shelter might be compromised by the space, supplies, and staff time that would be taken up by housing a mother and litter in the shelter until the puppies or kittens are old enough to be adopted.

Even though the Court did not consider the circumstance of additional lives being threatened by a pregnancy, the balancing test of Roe v. Wade can still be applied to that issue in the shelter context. A shelter that is in transition to No Kill may find that it would be reasonable to establish a policy that all female cats and dogs should be spayed, regardless of pregnancy status, because to do otherwise would lead to a significant loss of life among other shelter animals. Such a policy is obviously not ideal, and should be made only after careful consideration and weighing of the interests of all the animals involved. It should also be clearly designated as an interim policy, to be modified as soon as circumstances permit.

When a shelter is in transition to No Kill, rather than criticizing the shelter for doing spays on pregnant animals, No Kill advocates could offer to foster the mothers and raise the litters. This would solve the problem at its root, by giving the shelter the help it needs. Criticism of shelters in transition, without such offers of help, risks being destructive of the No Kill effort by making it harder for the shelter to raise money and recruit volunteers and fosters.

The No Kill Movement’s Place in History — And Why It Matters

We do not have any good method of collecting data on animal shelters, either today or historically. Understandably this has led to a great deal of confusion about what has happened in sheltering over the years. We don’t know where we were 50 years ago, or where we are today, much less how we got from there to here.

We do have enough information to identify trends, though, and there is one trend in animal sheltering that overshadows everything else. That is the trend of decreased shelter intake that started around 1970. The reason we can have confidence that this trend happened is because the plunge in intake was so great and so consistent that it is obvious even from the fragmentary data we have.

Dr. Andrew Rowan is perhaps the most prominent expert today on shelter statistics, and he believes that shelter killing nationwide fell from over 60 pets per thousand people in the early 1970s to less than 10 pets per thousand people today. About 70% of the nationwide fall in shelter killing took place from 1970 to 2000. Other people have come up with estimates that show an even higher intake total in 1970 than implied by Dr. Rowan’s numbers, with an even steeper fall. Rowan believes that the decade of the 1970s was the time of the most rapid decline in intake. At the same time, surveys of free-roaming dogs and cats in Baltimore and New York provided some evidence that their numbers were rapidly declining from 1970 to 2000.

The huge decline in shelter intake in the time period from 1970 to 2000 had little or nothing to do with No Kill. No Kill as a movement was just getting underway in the 1990s. Lynda Foro, who deserves perhaps more credit than anyone else for organizing the grassroots No Kill movement in the 1990s, had 75 attendees at her first No Kill conference in 1995. By the time she held the last of her No Kill conferences in 2001, attendance was up to 1,000 people, and No Kill was on the map.

So if the No Kill movement was not responsible for the fall in shelter intake from 1970 to 2000, what did cause it? It appears to have been mainly a combination of two things. One was that spaying and neutering techniques, particularly anesthesia, finally became safe enough for private-practice veterinarians to make sterilization a recommended part of health care for pets. The other thing was that animal-protection advocates who were upset about the number of homeless animals in the environment and about shelter killing started large spay-neuter campaigns. These campaigns, which were very active throughout the period from 1970 to 2000, offered subsidies for spay-neuter and publicized the importance of owners getting pets sterilized. These combined factors sharply increased the percentage of pets who were sterilized.

As shelter intake plunged, shelter killing plunged in lockstep with it. In New York City the number of animals killed dropped from about 15 per thousand people in 1970 to about 5 per thousand people by the year 2000. In San Mateo County, California, shelter killing went from about 70 per thousand people in 1970 to less than 10 per thousand people in the year 2000. These enormous drops in killing dwarf what has happened in shelters since the year 2000. The fact is that the great majority of the decline in shelter killing that has occurred in the last 50 years — perhaps as much as 90% of it nationwide — was due to the spay-neuter movement supported by the traditional shelter industry, not due to the No Kill movement.

Does that mean that No Kill is not important? Far from it. Getting shelter intake under control and reducing the number of homeless animals in the environment was a necessary first step in making communities safe for pets, but it was only a first step. We still have some 7 million animals who enter shelters each year, and with the number of pet owners increasing, we have more and more animals who are in need of help to stay in their homes.

The No Kill movement really got rolling in the late 1990s. City government and shelter boards in Austin, Otsego County (MI), Tompkins County (NY), and several other places all adopted No Kill resolutions in the late 1990s and started improving their live release rates. Robin Starr and Jane Hoffman both met Richard Avanzino, were impressed with the No Kill program he had created in San Francisco, and put his ideas into practice in their home cities of Richmond (VA) and New York City. A Mayor’s Task Force in Jacksonville in 2001 set the ball rolling for No Kill in that city. No Kill was breaking out all over.

The effect of all this was that for the first time we started to see the absolute number of shelter live releases per thousand people increasing. The simple way to visualize what happened is that the spay-neuter movement of the period from 1970 to 2000 decreased the number of animals killed in shelters by decreasing the number of animals who came in the door in the first place. The No Kill movement decreased the number of animals killed by getting more animals out the door alive. The spay-neuter movement worked by decreasing “noses in.” The No Kill movement worked by increasing live “noses out.”

The year 2000 was where we first began to see this trend of more live “noses out,” but it was not at all like a light bulb going on and the switch being made overnight. Spay-neuter has continued to be a highly important factor in further reducing shelter intake, especially in cities and counties that did not get the memo in the period from 1970 to 2000. There are still some cities today, like Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, and perhaps Detroit, that have large numbers of free-roaming animals, and those cities desperately need large-scale spay-neuter programs to help them catch up to where most cities are today.

How did No Kill work to increase the number of live “noses out”? Traditional shelters were set up to kill the great majority of animals who came in the door. No Kill advocates of today often assume that traditional shelter workers in the high-kill era were unfeeling and just didn’t try to save more animals, but the fact is that they were in a situation that had no good solutions. In 1970 there were very few shelters that had the capability to spay and neuter animals before adoption — remember that sterilization surgeries were just becoming safe and practical by 1970. Also, shelters had many times the number of animals coming in as we have today, and there were far more animals in the environment. A shelter adoption under those circumstances just took a home from another animal. And there was enormous public pressure in the early 1970s to increase animal control enforcement, because the large number of free-roaming animals was viewed as a nuisance. It would not have been an option to just shut shelters down.

Once this crushing pet overpopulation problem was brought under control, people began to use No Kill techniques to re-focus shelters on live releases rather than catch-and-kill. There are choke points that occur in a traditional shelter in trying to get more animals out the door alive. Even the most basic No Kill techniques require a lot of changes to implement. Getting an animal adopted requires that the shelter have people who can handle adoption introductions, and a space for meet-and-greets. There must be a protocol for medical care such as vaccinations, worming, and sterilization before the animal goes home. Staff has to be trained, a tracking system created, and protocols developed.

All this began to happen around the year 2000. In both Colorado and Michigan, for example, the number of shelter adoptions per thousand people has increased since the year 2000, even as intake per thousand people has continued to decline. Much of this was due to No Kill, but some of it was due to the traditional shelter industry reforming itself. The highly influential “Open Adoption” initiative that started in the late 1990s, for example, was a combined effort that included many people from traditional shelters.

The practical lesson that I draw from all this is that it is a mistake for No Kill advocates to see the traditional shelter industry as the enemy, and it is an inaccurate view of history to see No Kill advocates as white knights who had to fight and defeat an industry full of lazy, incompetent people who liked to kill animals. The true picture is of a terrible situation in 1970 that was made better through determined spay-neuter efforts by people associated with the traditional shelter industry before No Kill even developed. No Kill, when it happened, was the frosting on the cake. No Kill has transformed sheltering and raised the status of companion animals, but it did that by “standing on the shoulders of giants,” not by slaying the giants. The historical picture is not of two competing ideologies for running animal shelters, where one must be defeated by the other. Rather, it is a picture of different techniques that made sense at different times, based on changing circumstances.

There is a saying that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. By knowing animal shelter history, we can start out with two important guidelines for how to approach shelter advocacy. First, in starting a program to decrease shelter killing in any given city we need to know where that city is in terms of pet sterilization. If large numbers of unsterilized animals are roaming the streets, then one of the first priorities has to be a massive spay-neuter effort, preferably along the lines of the Pets for Life program, to get that problem under control. A large population of strays in the environment is not compatible with No Kill. Strays who have been “living rough” for a while will require more time and rehabilitation to be made adoptable than owner surrenders. And strays in the environment try the patience of citizens and lead them to support and even demand punitive animal-control measures.

Second, by knowing shelter history, we can make effective decisions as to the fastest way to No Kill in any given city. That usually will involve a variety of things, but one thing to be wary of is hard-line advocacy. Put yourself in the shoes of a typical city council member who is more worried about educating children and bringing jobs into the city than raising live releases at the animal shelter. A group of No Kill “advocates” who come in with accusations and demands and shouts of “stop the killing” and “fire the murderers” may just be ignored. A group that comes in with statistics, proof of what works, and an individualized blueprint of how to improve the shelter —  without blowing it up and disrespecting its employees — may have a much better chance of being successful. A great way for local advocacy groups to sort through this is to bring in a shelter consultant. Most of the consultants working today seem to have a good grasp of shelter history and are very competent to lead effective reform efforts.

Poor People Should Be Able to Have Dogs Too

The United States used to have a nationwide dog overpopulation problem. In the early 1970s humane advocates started mass spay-neuter campaigns, which by the year 2000 had greatly decreased the population of free-roaming dogs.  In most cities today we do not see large numbers of dogs wandering the streets. There are some places, though, where the spay-neuter campaigns were not effective, including parts of Dallas, Houston, Detroit, and San Antonio. A consulting group recently estimated that there were about 8700 free-roaming dogs in South Dallas, for example.

The problem of large numbers of stray dogs in the streets is linked to poverty. In poor communities and communities that have few veterinary services available, pets are much less likely to be sterilized. And poor people don’t have the money to build and maintain fences, so their dogs are much more likely to be allowed to roam. Poor people love pets as much as anyone else, and if their free-roaming dogs are captured and killed by the city, they get more dogs and the cycle is perpetuated.

The key to solving this problem is not to try to sanction poor people with fines they cannot pay – it’s to help them take better care of their pets. There are several approaches that have been growing in popularity in recent years that do exactly that. These are programs that can help communities everywhere that have a problem with free-roaming dogs, particularly large cities that have extensive areas of poverty.

One of the programs is Pets for Life, a project of the Humane Society of the United States that receives support from PetSmart Charities. The idea of Pets for Life is, as they put it, to not only reach out to underserved communities, but to move in. Pets for Life staff members go door-to-door and build relationships with people who have reason to be wary of animal control. They gain the trust of neighborhoods by starting with individual contacts. They might drive a person’s dog or cat to the vet when the owner does not have a car and the nearest vet is miles away. They may provide free pet food. For behavior problems they offer free dog-training classes. They give away new collars, complete with ID tags. The individuals they help in those ways then talk to their neighbors. The result is that when Pets for Life does a big neighborhood event like free spay/neuter or vaccinations, they have people lining up to participate. Pets for Life is now in 34 cities, including Atlanta, Detroit, San Antonio, and Dallas. The program offers a practical way to help reduce the free-roaming dog problem in those cities, which will immeasurably help with No Kill efforts.

Another program that works with poor people rather than penalizing them is the Coalition to Unchain Dogs. This organization grew out of the realization by a woman named Amanda Arrington that many people who chain their dogs don’t do it out of negligence or cruelty, but because it’s the only way they have of keeping their dogs safe and at home. In 2006 Arrington and a group of like-minded people met in Durham, North Carolina, to discuss how they could get anti-tethering legislation passed. They realized that the legislation would be accepted much more easily if it was paired with a positive effort to help people fence their yards. In March of 2007 they built their first fence. Now the Coalition is building fences for poor people in North Carolina and Atlanta, and they help similar programs in other parts of the country. Fences for Fido, which built its first fence in 2009, is another group carrying out this important mission.

One important benefit of programs like Pets for Life, the Coalition to Unchain Dogs, and Fences for Fido is that they are alternatives to the strong-arm enforcement tactics that cities have historically used for animal control. Studies have shown that mandatory spay/neuter laws and heavy fines for non-compliance with dog ordinances don’t work.  They just make the problem of free-roaming, unvaccinated, and unregistered dogs worse because they penalize people for being poor and drive them and their pets underground.

Breed-specific legislation (BSL) is another heavy-handed enforcement tactic. As Bronwen Dickey discusses in her recent book Pit Bull (Knopf, 2016), society has a long tradition of labeling dogs commonly kept by poor people and racial minorities as dangerous. In our society today the breed that is the victim of this stereotyping is the pit bull. We can see the results in shelters that are overflowing with pit bulls who have been forced away from their families by BSL. Even in cities that don’t have BSL, anti-pit-bull rental and insurance policies can force people to give up their dogs. Progress is being made as more and more scientific studies show that there is no basis for the idea that some breeds are inherently dangerous. City leaders are increasingly realizing that all dogs should be judged as individuals, and hopefully landlords and insurance companies will follow.

If we understand the problems faced by low income dog owners, we can make progress toward No Kill even in poor neighborhoods. Poor people love their pets just as much as financially secure people, and a good pet safety net can help poor people keep their families together.

The Devil Is In The Details

It has been more than 20 years now since the concept of a No Kill community was created by Rich Avanzino in San Francisco. Today many cities and counties are No Kill. We know how to do No Kill – that is, we know what processes and models we need to use – but in most communities the implementation of those processes and models confronts us with problems. As with most great endeavors, the devil is in the details.

For example, we know that return-to-owner rates can be increased if animal control officers are provided with the time and equipment needed to try to find a stray animal’s home in the field at the time the animal is picked up. It is a much better outcome for everyone if the officer can take the animal home rather than to the shelter. But in many cases there are barriers in the way. The local jurisdiction may have non-waivable fees for allowing an animal to run loose, or for allowing an animal to be at large without proof of identification or rabies vaccination. If the city or county runs animal control they may be reluctant to accept the extra expense of providing animal control officers with the gear needed for effectively returning animals in the field, or the time to do so. Shelter procedures may need to be re-written and approved by city officials.

There are many other types of state and local laws and ordinances that can make No Kill difficult. Pit bull bans are more often abrogated than created these days, but they still exist, as do landlord and insurance rules that discriminate against certain breeds. Mandatory spay-neuter rules tied to pet licensing can result in people not licensing their pets. Many communities have rules or policies that make trap-neuter-return and return-to-field programs for cats difficult or impossible. Getting to No Kill in a particular place may be substantially impeded by such rules and practices.

A related issue is whether the shelter director has the flexibility needed to create No Kill. Does the director have the power to make decisions on policy and operations for animal control and sheltering? For example, many times a No Kill transition means that some workers will not be able to adapt to the new regime and will have to be replaced. Or the shelter, since its goal is to save a higher percentage of animals, may need to develop a more nuanced approach to temperament evaluation. If the shelter is run under contract by a non-profit, the director probably will have considerable leeway. If the director is a city or county employee, then personnel decisions, budgetary choices, and setting policy may happen at a higher level of city government, where the ultimate decision-maker is not solely focused on No Kill.  If personnel and policy decisions are controlled by the government hierarchy, above the level of the shelter director, it can greatly hinder getting to No Kill.

Talent is a huge issue for No Kill. One of the reasons why we have seen such a spate of large cities going No Kill in recent years is that large cities tend to be where the talent is. Great marketers, fundraisers, and managers are less likely to be found in a remote rural county than in cities like New York, Austin, or Atlanta. A rural county may be hard-pressed to find a really competent person to run the shelter. It may be even harder to find people who are competent to develop operational, budget, fundraising, and marketing plans.

Implementing effective volunteer and foster programs, and getting the best performance from shelter employees, requires many different skills. It’s easy to say “start a volunteer program.” It’s a lot harder to actually do it. The director has to figure out how to recruit and train the volunteers, how to motivate them to keep coming back, what they will and won’t be allowed to do, how to keep them safe from bites and zoonoses, what the considerations are for legal liability, what tracking of volunteers will be done, how to evaluate volunteers to make sure they are being used most effectively and prevented from doing any harm, what accommodations can be set aside for them in the shelter, and so on.

Shelter intake is another issue that can stand in the way of No Kill. In most cases, the lower a shelter’s intake is in relation to the number of people in the community, the easier it is to get to No Kill. This is partly because more people equals more potential homes, but intake per capita is also a measure of how much capacity the community has to care for its pets. Wealthier, more educated communities tend to have a better track record of looking after their pets. People in those communities have fenced yards for their pets, and if they have to move they can find another home where they can keep their pets. In Boulder, Colorado, which is a wealthy, progressive, city, some 90% of stray dogs are reclaimed by their owners. There is a world of difference between that and the 10% to 20% return-to-owner rate that is more typical. When you see high shelter intake relative to the human population and a low reclaim rate, you are probably in a place where the residents don’t have the resources to keep their pets off the street and safely at home, or the resources to look for them when they disappear.

Money is tremendously important to every facet of No Kill. We tend to think of money as most needed in paying veterinary costs to treat the treatables, but money is also crucial for pet retention programs and for hiring employees to run volunteer, foster, social media, and rescue-placement programs. Money can also make the difference in whether a shelter can afford an offsite adoption center or a low-cost spay-neuter clinic. Governments rarely pay the full cost of No Kill, which means that the private sector must make up the difference. In order for private fundraising to be effective, people in the community must have money to donate. If a high percentage of the local population is struggling to make the rent payment each month or buy food, the No Kill effort will probably struggle too.

The shelter building is another thing that makes No Kill harder or easier. If the shelter is one of the old-style, ugly, concrete-block buildings located near the landfill or the railroad tracks, in a bad part of town, with no thought given to disease control, then it will be harder to attract adopters and volunteers and harder to keep the animals healthy.

Finally, one of the most important factors in implementing No Kill is whether there are other humane organizations in town that have the shelter’s back. Is there a large humane society that pulls lots of animals from the shelter, including the toughest cases, or is the shelter going it alone? In some places the local humane society actually makes things harder for the public shelter by vacuuming up donation money, taking in all the small, cute, healthy owner surrenders, and bringing in lots of highly adoptable dogs and cats from other areas without at the same time committing to making sure that all the healthy and treatable dogs and cats in the city are safe.

Setting out a list of programs that will help a community get to No Kill is easy. Actually getting there, though, is hard work in most places. In quite a few places it is very hard work. We need to educate people who are new to No Kill and who want to help make it happen about what it really requires. Sometimes people new to No Kill have an over-simplified idea of what it entails. I know I did at one time. If people understand what is required they will be much better prepared to help the effort.

As we go forward we need to have training resources for shelter directors that get down to a very granular level of detail of implementation. The good news is that more and more such resources are becoming available through conferences and professional consulting services. The HSUS and Best Friends conferences both offer great opportunities for aspiring No Kill shelter directors to learn from the presenters and to network with each other. The American Pets Alive! conference is devoted to providing nuts-and-bolts instruction on getting to No Kill. We have several excellent people who offer No Kill consulting services. With all these resources, even shelter directors who are not superstars can be effective and can lead their organizations to No Kill.

Michigan’s Progress in Reducing Shelter Killing

Michigan is one of the handful of states that (1) require shelters in the state to report their statistics and (2) make the reports available online. The Michigan Pet Fund Alliance has kept track of these statistics for years, and recently they’ve released a summary covering the nine years from 2007 to 2015.

The statistics show a big decline in shelter euthanasia, from 118,369 in 2007 to 27,250 in 2015. That’s a drop of 77%. A survey of most-improved shelters that the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance did recently showed that the shelters attributed their success to a change to a “compassionate director.” While a change to a new director may well have been a factor in some shelters in the state, the statistics show a quite different story for the state as a whole.

According to the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance report, about 88% of the drop in the number of animals killed from 2007 to 2015 was due to fewer animals coming into Michigan shelters. Only 12% of the drop in shelter killing was due to more animals going out the door alive. Thus, the reason that Michigan shelters improved so much since 2007 was largely because shelters had fewer animals to start with, not because of any big increases in adoptions and return-to-owner.

I reached out to Deborah Schutt, head of the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance, and asked her if she had any ideas about why shelter intake had dropped so much between 2007 and 2015. The first thing she mentioned in response was low-cost, high-volume spay/neuter programs. She pointed out that All About Animals Rescue (AAAR), which was founded in 2005, has been doing almost 25,000 surgeries per year, including TNR and return-to-field. Shelter intake in the county where AAAR is headquartered has dropped from 8,023 to 2,400 since 2009. Michigan’s shelter intake in 2015 was about 14 animals per 1000 people, which puts it on the low end of the average range of intake. In 2007, intake was about 23 animals per 1000 people, which is considered to be average.

Some people have the misconception (no pun intended) that spay/neuter programs were an invention of No Kill. That’s incorrect. Although No Kill embraces spay/neuter programs, the big campaign to get people to spay and neuter their pets was started by humane advocates and the traditional shelter industry circa 1970, before the No Kill movement existed. At about the same time, shelter intake in the United States began to plummet. Shelter intake is thought to have been static in the U.S. as a whole since around the year 2000, but Michigan demonstrates that there is still more to be gained, at least in some places, by low-cost, high-volume spay/neuter programs.

Pet retention programs can also reduce intake. Roughly half of shelter intake on average is owner surrenders, and some pet retention programs have claimed high rates of success. Managed admission can also reduce intake, as experience has shown that many owners are able to find a new home for their pets themselves, especially when the shelter helps them arrange a social media campaign or referral to a rescue. It is unclear whether such programs have been widespread enough in Michigan in the years from 2007 to 2015 to have contributed much to the fall in intake.

It’s interesting that shelter intake in Colorado increased a small amount — about 3% — from 2007 to 2015, during the same period when shelter intake in Michigan was dropping by 37%. Yet Colorado today has a higher average live release rate than Michigan. This reinforces the idea that No Kill progress can be made in a variety of different ways. It may be that one of the reasons that shelter consultants have such a good success rate in improving community live releases is that they know how to look at the whole picture and see what needs to be changed. For a small shelter run by a non-profit in a resort or college town, a director with good marketing and management skills may be all that’s needed, and the transition to No Kill may be quick. In a city like San Antonio or Dallas with a serious stray problem, low spay/neuter rates, and low return-to-owner rates, one or more large, non-profit partners and an aggressive spay/neuter program may be needed. No Kill may take years to achieve in those tougher circumstances.

The Michigan Pet Fund Alliance is having their annual conference next week. They deserve kudos not only for collating shelter statistics all these years, but also for telling Michigan shelters how they are doing and giving awards to high-performing shelters. Their work has no doubt been part of the progress in Michigan.