Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Sky is Falling, the Sky is Falling! Or is it?

Yesterday a story circulated via Channel 3000 on the internet.  It solicited quite a few comments, then was deleted and reposted again later. I'm not sure what changes they made to the story for the "updated" version  but I had concerns with both versions.

The story singled out one shelter director,  from one Wisconsin shelter who was forecasting doom and gloom for animal shelters.  There wasn't any mention of the dozens and dozens of shelters that are saving upwards of 90% of the animals in their care around the nation. There wasn't any mention of life-saving methods that are working elsewhere.

I just got back from the No More Homeless Pets Conference in Las Vegas. As always, it was educational and inspiring. I loved  the printed conference schedule that featured seven case studies from open-admission communities that are already at or are close to achieving No Kill status.

So to all the naysayers out there - here's a quick wrap up. I have addressed each of your reasons why No Kill won't work where you are.

No Kill can't happen in a large metropolitan city: Austin, Texas (population 790, 390) 2011 live release to date: 91% for cats, 90% for dogs.

No Kill can't happen in a poor, rural county:  Brown County, Indiana with a median household income of only $47,763;  2011 live release to date: 95.6%.

No Kill can't be maintained long term:  Albermarle County, Virginia 2010 live release rate: 92% for cats, 92% for dogs. This community has maintained it's No Kill status for the past five years.

No Kill can't be achieved in a cold climate:  Calgary, Alberta, Canada has a population of 1,070,295 and covers a vast amount of land. 2010 live release rate 82% for cats, 95.5% for dogs.

No Kill can't happen in a bad economy because people are giving up their pets:  Washoe County,  Nevada has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country. 2011 live release rate to date 92%.

No Kill can't happen because animal issues need liberal political support:  Salt Lake County, Utah (a mostly conservative state); has started to implement No Kill programs and is achieving great success. 2011 live release rate: 77% for cats, 89% for dogs. This is up from 83% for dogs and 37% for cats since 2008.

No Kill can't be maintained for an entire state:  New Hampshire killed 1.9 pets per 1000 people in 2009, down from 10 pets per 1000 pre-1993.

Still not convinced? Here is a website chock full of even more examples and  information on No Kill communities.

So, in conclusion, maybe the Chicken Little naysayers are wrong. Maybe the sky isn't falling.  Maybe the lame excuses they churn out day after day:   the irresponsible public, the economy, demographics, location, geography, weather, education, politics and/or the "mentality of the folks around here" just doesn't cut it any more. Maybe they're just that - lame excuses. It's time to give them up and get on with saving lives.

Those who say it can't be done are usually interrupted by others who are doing it. - James Baldwin


  1. I'm curious as to what the comparison is between communities have gone No Kill and the amount of puppy mills they have.

    Quebec - puppy mill capital of North America - what would your suggestions be to help them, specifically Montreal, become No Kill? The not for profit shelters work their butts off to save as many animals as possible, but it's a losing battle because of the way things stand right now. It takes a lot more than proactive adoption processes.

  2. Wonderful quote at the end, Kathy! My intention is not to nitpick, but the 92% live release rate for cats quoted by Charlottesville SPCA is incorrect. It was actually 86.8% for cats in 2010, which does not really qualify as no kill. While this shelter's live release rate is very impressive and there are many lifesaving programs in place, the shelter is still killing healthy feral cats, almost six years after going "no kill." We are hoping that will change now, thanks to the recent TNR endorsement by the city of Charlottesville, which was accomplished despite attempts by the CASPCA director to sink it.

  3. I'm not sure if there are any comparisons like you mentioned, Mel. I think you are talking about two different subjects. The number of puppy mill dogs that are killed in shelters is probably pretty low compared to the number of pit bulls and pit bull mixes.

    You are right. A lot more needs to be done than proactive adoption processes. All eleven elements of the No Kill Equation should be implemented. Those that reduce shelter intake are often the most overlooked. They are: returning lost pets to their owners (estimated to be 70% of shelter animals); Trap Neuter Return programs for feral cats; free or low cost spay and neuter clinics in the community; and pet retention programs (animal help desks).

    Puppy mills exist because there is a market for the dogs they produce. Until many more animal welfare advocates embrace the idea that responsible breeders are our allies, not our enemies - puppy mills will continue to exist.

  4. @ Anonymous regarding the statistics in Charlottesville, thank you for your clarification. Now I am curious. I double checked my conference handout and I copied the number correctly. So perhaps it was a misprint? Or is it fuzzy math? Do you have any insight on this? I am glad that Charlottesville has now endorsed TNR because healthy feral cats should not be being killed in a No Kill shelter.

  5. Kathy, to answer your question I think it's very fuzzy math. Or maybe that 92% figure is for a different year. After I read your blog, I went and looked again at the statistics CASPCA submitted to the state of Virginia and also those published on their own web site for 2010. Using the calculations recommended by Maddie's Fund (which CASPCA uses to compile its statistics), I came up with an 86.8% LRR for cats in 2010. They do still kill a percentage of feral cats and have been doing so all along, even though they claim no kill status. This has actually made the job of local TNR advocates much harder, because the public is under the false impression that trapping and taking feral cats to the "no kill" SPCA is a good idea. Hopefully, this recent move by city council will lead to a more progressive approach toward feral cats by CASPCA and the whole community. I completely agree with you that healthy feral cats should not be being killed in a No Kill shelter. Thank you for saying so!

  6. Maybe you can check out Devore Shelter in San Bernardino California. High kill, abusive employees, unethical treatment of animals, corrupt board of county supervisors that don't care. It is truly the shelter from hell. Dogs put down when the place is half empty. Sick dogs not treated. Disgusting. There is a protest going on there on December 12th-a must for all who care.

  7. Puppy mills exist because there is a market for the dogs they produce. Until many more animal welfare advocates embrace the idea that responsible breeders are our allies, not our enemies - puppy mills will continue to exist.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    I would add that this is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition of success in putting the puppymills out of business. Another topic entirely.

    Our tiny national breed rescue got hit with a tsunami in 2009 -- 227 dogs from one puppymiller and felony animal abuser, most of them effectively feral, and all our sole responsibility. A typical year prior would see us placing 20-40 dogs nationwide.

    The breed community and some unexpected new friends stepped up to the plate and made it happen. 227 dogs placed in homes. Not one dog killed and declared "euthanized." Specialist foster homes for the dogs who needed the most behavioral and medical help. All while the economy was tanking. Our breed community is mostly hard-working people of modest means.

    Two points about that:

    A bad economy is a challenge, not an excuse.

    This outcome would have been literally impossible without the hard work of breeders. Those who fostered and fundraised and adopted. Those who held off on breeding a litter that summer and suggested that puppy seekers, when appropriate, consider adopting.

    A rescue organization that demonized breeders and was alienated from the rest of the breed community would have been SOL -- cut off from support and expertise and good will that was absolutely necessary to the outcome we got.

    Oh, not every breeder joined the team. Some grumbled about how all those rescue puppies were going to cut into the sales that were rightfully theirs, and blamed their inability to sell indifferently-bred and overpriced pups in a down economy on those damned rescues. Some just continued business as usual and did not help. Some whispered to potential adopters about the terrible problems that all the rescue dogs would have. (Imaginary ones, not the butt-obvious issues that we discussed openly.)

    I am often in the position of recommending a puppy or older dog from a breeder rather than a rescue, when the home and the dogs available in rescue do not match up. Believe me, it's not hard to remember who was who in 2009.

  8. Great post and great blog. I live in North Dakota, but my parents live in Wisconsin. I will be returning to your blog because it is inspiring and a good resource. My community (Fargo, N.D.) is doing well with saving 96 percent of the dogs from the pounds. However with cats, that number is only about 44 percent.