Question For My Readers

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

I’m working on a post about how communities get to No Kill. I went into the research for this post thinking that there were 4 main ways to get to No Kill — (1) a volunteer group or non-profit works with the existing city or county shelter to increase live releases, (2) a non-profit takes over the city or county shelter by contract with the purpose of increasing live release rates, (3) shelter management or city or county officials decide on their own or as a result of education by local advocates to take steps to reduce killing, or (4) grassroots political action creates enough votes or negative publicity to either force unwilling city or county officials to reform their shelter or elect new officials who are willing to reform the shelter.

What I’ve found so far is that lots of the communities I’ve listed got to No Kill by one of the first three methods, but as to the 4th method I’m aware of only one community – Austin – that could be classified as having gotten to No Kill by a political fight. And Austin had one of the best non-profits in the nation, Austin Pets Alive, helping the shelter, so it does not appear to be a case of pure political action making the difference.

You might be wondering why I don’t simply call up all the shelters I have listed where I don’t know the “backstory” and ask them how No Kill was accomplished in their community. The reason is that I have well over 100 shelters on my list and, with a surprising number of them, their 90%+ live release rates go way back. For example, in Colorado in 2000 there were 9 municipal shelters that reported a live release rate of 90% or more, and there were a couple dozen more in the United States by 2005. Cold calling all those shelters and trying to find people who could accurately tell me what was going on 10 or 15 years ago would be a challenge. Not to mention that in the case of a political fight, people at the shelter might not be anxious to talk about it. But my readers have a lot of collective knowledge and I’m hoping you can furnish me with some leads.

So, readers, help me out here. I would like to identify more communities where local activists fought and won a political battle for No Kill that resulted in No Kill happening. I’m looking for cities or counties where officials were not interested in No Kill and rebuffed attempts to educate them, and local activists forced the officials to change their tune and successfully implement No Kill. Even if a political fight was only part of the solution (as in Austin) I’d still like to hear about it. Any suggestions?

Introducing the “News Bit” Page

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

There’s so much news these days about 90%+ and Worth Watching communities and shelters that I can’t even stay close to keeping up with it by blog posts. So – I’ve added a new feature to the blog, the News Bit page. There will be a News Bit each day, and to make it even easier to find, I’ll put a link to it in a heading in each post.

The running total in the blog’s subtitle has been expanded and moved to the News Bit page. In addition to the total of communities reporting 90% plus, I’ve added a total of the human population in those communities. Enjoy!

Crawford County, MI

Crawford County in northern Michigan has a population of about 14,000, including the county seat of Grayling. The AuSable Valley Animal Shelter (AVAS) is a non-profit corporation located in Grayling that does animal sheltering for Crawford County. I could not find an owner surrender policy on the AVAS website, so I inquired about the policy in a call to the shelter. I was told that AVAS accepts owner surrenders from Crawford County residents, with no conditions other than a fee.

In 2013, the shelter took in 170 cats and dogs (scroll down in the link to Animal Shelter of Crawford County). It had a live release rate of 99.4%. All of its live releases were reclaims or adoptions, except for one dog who was transferred.

The form listed online by the state for 2012 had errors in it, so I obtained the 2012 statistics directly from the shelter. The shelter had an intake of 173 cats and dogs, and adopted out 113, returned 63 to their owners, transferred 1, and euthanized 1, for a live release rate of 99%. There were no owner-requested euthanasias and no animals died or were lost in shelter care in 2012. AVAS reported a 99% live release rate for 2011 to the state of Michigan, with an intake of 187 animals (scroll down in the link to the report for “Crawford County Animal Shelter”).

This Facebook page describes how a volunteer named Dixie Lobsinger ran the county animal shelter from 1992 until retiring in 2005, and instituted many programs such as low income spay-neuter and offsite adoptions. In 2012, the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance recognized Crawford County for its success. An article about the award reported:

“Although the AuSable Valley Animal Shelter serves Crawford County, the award was given to include broader efforts to care for animals in the community such as the Leaning Oaks Cat Haven, a cat shelter in Beaver Creek Township, Crawford County Animal Control Officer Gail Foguth, individuals who rescue homeless animals and people who make donations to the shelter.”

Crawford County, MI, was originally listed by this blog on May 31, 2013, based on its 2012 statistics. This post is a revision and update with 2013 statistics.

90% Reported – Georgetown, TX

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

Georgetown, Texas, is a city of 47,000 people in Williamson County just north of Austin. The Georgetown Animal Shelter is run by the city and provides animal control and sheltering services for people who reside within the city limits. The shelter’s website describes the shelter as “an open door shelter that accepts all dogs and cats found within the city limits or surrendered by owners that live within the city limits.” It does not mention any conditions for owner surrenders.

The city of Georgetown has announced that it achieved a 90% live release rate for its most recent fiscal year, from October 1, 2013, to September 30, 2014. The city noted that intake was 12% higher than in the previous fiscal year, at 1863 impounded animals. (That intake is high, at a rate of 40 per 1000 people.) Adoptions and returns-to-owner were also higher. The shelter manager said the shelter has been making increased efforts to find owners of strays and to work with owners to return pets to their homes.

In the three preceding fiscal years, the shelter reported live release rates of 81%, 85%, and 90%. In a 2012 interview, the shelter manager attributed the shelter’s live release rate to volunteers, a barn cat program, an initiative to have shelter staff train dogs as they are cared for each day, and adoption outreach.

Chippewa County, MI

Chippewa County, Michigan, is on the eastern edge of the Upper Peninsula. It has about 40,000 residents, including the county seat of Sault Ste. Marie. The Chippewa County Animal Shelter used to be high kill, but after local citizens got involved and asked for change the county hired a new shelter director, Holly Henderson.

In answer to an e-mail inquiry I sent to Henderson, I was told that the shelter takes in strays from both the county and the city of Sault Ste. Marie. The shelter takes in owner surrenders, although in situations where the animal is not at risk, the shelter may ask the owner to first place a listing on the shelter’s Facebook page and attempt to re-home the animal. Henderson told me that the owner surrender policy is flexible, and if the staff get the feeling that the animal is better off at the shelter, they will accept it even when they are full. They also immediately take in the ones who are not spayed or neutered, so the shelter can be sure they are altered before going to a new home.

The shelter reported a live release rate of 99% in 2013 with an intake of 1238 animals (scroll down in the link to the Chippewa County page). With owner-requested euthanasia counted as part of total euthanasia, the live release rate was 98%. The 2012 live release rate was 98%, with intake of 1076. If owner-requested euthanasia was counted with euthanasias in 2012, the live release rate was 97%. For 2011, the shelter reported a live release rate of 97%, with an intake of 959. In 2010, the shelter reported a 97% live release rate from an intake of 1,000 animals.

Henderson credits volunteers for much of the shelter’s success. She said that Friends of Caring Animal Shelters (FOCAS) and Guardian Angels for Animals had provided support to the shelter’s mission, and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians had made a $10,000 grant for a spay-neuter program.

Chippewa County, MI, was originally listed by this blog on April 16, 2013, based on its 2012 statistics. This post is a revision and update with 2013 statistics.

Important New Study Published

Boston University has just published the results from its 21st-Century Mayor’s Leadership Survey. The purpose of this survey is to improve how cities function, and the methodology included interviewing over 70 mayors from representative cities both large and small.

One of the questions asked during the interviews was: “Which three cities (either domestic or foreign) do you most often look to for policy and/or management ideas?” The report lists the 18 cities most commonly mentioned by the mayors (see page 29 of the report) and the percentage of mayors who mentioned each city. The results are stunning. Of the top 10 cities cited for policy and management ideas, five of them are No Kill (#3 Austin, #4 Denver, #5 Portland, #7 Salt Lake City, and #9 Seattle), one is in the 80-90% live release range (#10 San Francisco), three have active efforts in place to get to No Kill (#1 New York City, #6 Philadelphia, and #8 Los Angeles), and the remaining one, (#2 Boston), is probably doing better or much better than average but we do not have numbers to verify it.

On page 34 of the study is a list of the mayors’ responses to the question: “What is the most recent idea you have learned about from another city (domestic or foreign) and then brought to your own?” Of the 48 ideas listed, one is “No Kill animal shelter.”

This study shows pretty conclusively that the most admired cities in the United States, the ones that other cities look to for leadership, have a commitment to No Kill. It seems obvious from this survey that the best mayors in the United States are keenly interested in No Kill sheltering, realize that it is an innovative and progressive idea, and look at it as a strong positive for their cities.

One encouraging fact is that the No Kill movement is already doing many things to help mayors achieve their No Kill goals. In numerous cities advocates have formed large non-profits that are assisting the cities with fundraising for medical treatments, fostering neonatal kittens, TNR, shelter-neuter-return programs, adoption events, volunteer management, publicity, and more. In some cities, like Austin, Reno, Atlanta, Kansas City, and New York, the non-profits partner with the city shelter or have contracted to run the shelter.

In addition to the proliferation of No Kill non-profits, the No Kill movement has stepped up to provide resources for city leaders who want to create a No Kill shelter. Bonney Brown and Diane Blankenburg teach a certificate program at the University of the Pacific for lifesaving shelter management. Maddie’s Fund has created a free online library getting into the nuts and bolts of management of a successful No Kill shelter. We have “how to” workshops taught each year by American Pets Alive in Austin. There are several national conferences, including those put on by Best Friends, the No Kill Advocacy Center, the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance, and New Mexico Pets Alive, among others.

This is an exciting new era for No Kill.  With mayors on board, the only obstacle left is the actual implementation. That’s a daunting challenge, but there are lots of knowledegable No Kill advocates and leaders who are willing to partner with cities to make No Kill a reality.

Animal Stories

In the course of research for my book on animal shelter history, I’ve been checking out how children learn their attitudes toward animals. For well over 100 years now, children’s books have included a genre where animals are presented as thinking and feeling like humans. After movies and television were invented, children started seeing these stories on the screen as well.

One of the first of these stories to be widely read was the novel Black Beauty, which told the life story of a horse in the style of an autobiography. Over 2 million copies of Black Beauty were distributed back in the late 1800s by humane educators in the United States who hoped that reading the story would create empathy for animals in children. (Today, the total number of distributed copies of Black Beauty is over 50 million.) Since 1900 there has been a steady stream of kindred stories, including Rin Tin Tin, the Terhune collies, Lassie, Old Yeller, various Disney characters, Stuart Little the mouse, and Charlotte the spider.

Many people criticize these stories as anthropomorphizing animals — attributing human characteristics to them that they don’t have. Is this a fair criticism? Have generations of parents been leading their children astray by encouraging them to read and watch stories about animals who think and talk like people?

Scientists point out that we do not know if any domestic animal has a “theory of mind” – an ability to recognize that others besides itself have minds like its own. One could argue in rebuttal that theory of mind is not needed to form emotional attachments, and that animals, including people, form social attachments based on emotion, not on reason. Even if your dog were to think of you as a giant robot, it would still love you. And I doubt if dogs and cats go beyond the feeling of love to examine the mental nature of the people in their lives. I doubt if, when they are looking inscrutable, they are wondering if you have a mind like theirs.

Several people I’ve interviewed who were involved with animal sheltering back in the 1970s and 1980s noticed a change in the attitude of the public toward their pets during that time. People became more reluctant to bring their pets to a shelter. At the same time, shelter intake began to drop sharply. There may have been several reasons why people changed their attitudes about pets, but one factor could have been children’s stories and movies that created a sense of empathy with animals. The generation that matured in the 1970s was exposed to more “anthropomorphic” stories, in more types of media, than any generation before it. Stuart Little was published in 1945, Charlotte’s Web in 1952, and Old Yeller in 1956. Some of the most popular Disney movies about animals were from that period as well, including Bambi (1942), Lady and the Tramp (1955), the movie version of Old Yeller (1957), and 101 Dalmatians (1961). There were seven Lassie movies between 1943 and 1951, and the Lassie television series started in 1954.

So do anthropomorphic stories and movies help children learn to be kind? We don’t know for sure, but it’s very possible. And since children (and adults) love such stories, hopefully the tradition will continue. It may be a very good thing for shelter animals if it does.

Benzie County, MI

Benzie County is in western Michigan, along the shore of Lake Michigan. It is a rural county with lots of parks and trails, and has a population of about 16,000 people. The county has the distinction of being the smallest in Michigan in land area, and it has a correspondingly small animal shelter.

Benzie County Animal Control provides both animal control and sheltering services for the county. It accepts owner surrenders for a small fee. A non-profit, the Animal Welfare League of Benzie County, has spay-neuter and education programs and provides medical care for injured animals.

In 2013 the county took in 419 animals. The great majority of them were returned to owner or adopted. The live release rate for the year was 98% (scroll down to “Benzie County” in the link).

Benzie County has done well for several years, but 2013 showed an improvement. In 2009, the shelter took in 538 animals and had an 80% live release rate. In 2010, it took in 381 animals and improved to a live release rate of 93%.  In 2011, the live release rate was 92% with an intake of 428 cats and dogs. Intake was 359 in 2012, with a live release rate of 92%.

Benzie County, MI, was originally listed by this blog on June 1, 2013, based on its 2012 statistics. This post is a revision and update with 2013 statistics.

Worth Watching – Atlanta, GA

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

Atlanta, Georgia, was known for years as a city with a very low live release rate. Rebecca Guinn decided to reform it. She gave up her lucrative career as an attorney and formed a non-profit called LifeLine Animal Project, which she built up until it was able to take over the animal sheltering contracts in Fulton and DeKalb counties in 2013. Together, the population of the two counties, which contain the city of Atlanta, is over 1.5 million.

Fulton and DeKalb have seen considerable progress since then. LifeLine reported that the save rate in Fulton County in February of this year was over 75%, whereas DeKalb was at 86%. The shelters struggled with high intake as kitten season approached, so we do not yet know what the yearly performance will be. There certainly appears to have been substantial improvement, though, given that the city’s save rate in years past has been as low as 15%.

This case is interesting because an outside non-profit stepped in to take over the job. A similar thing happened in Kansas City, Missouri. Both cases show that people who want to increase shelter lifesaving have the power to take matters into their own hands and make it happen.

Alger County, MI

Alger County is a small rural county located on the northern border of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Its population is 9600 people, including the county seat of Munising. Animal sheltering is provided for the county by the Alger County Animal Shelter (ACAS), which is a non-profit organization registered as the Humane Society of Alger County. The shelter stated its primary purpose in a newsletter as: “to receive lost or unwanted animals brought to the shelter, to return them to their owners or place them in a good home, and to educate the public about intelligent and humane treatment of animals.

I spoke to the shelter manager, who told me that the county sheriff answers calls for stray pickup and those animals are brought to the shelter. ACAS accepts owner surrenders (including surrenders from outside the county) except for animals who are vicious or obviously sick. The shelter manager told me that ACAS turns away only about 3 or 4 animals each year under those criteria. ACAS employees or volunteers will drive to meet local owners who want to surrender an animal but cannot come to the shelter during regular business hours. The shelter asks for a $25-$50 contribution for owner surrenders, but does not require it. ACAS leases a building from the county and the county provides utilities, and the city of Munising makes a small payment to the shelter each month, but the shelter is primarily supported by donations and volunteers.

Like other Michigan shelters, ACAS reports its statistics to the state of Michigan each year. The shelter has had a high save rate for several years. For 2013, ACAS reported an intake of 254 cats and dogs, with 58 returned to owner, 208 adopted, and no transfers (scroll down in the link to the ACAS page). The live release rate was 99%. The 2013 reporting form for Michigan shelters does not include the categories of owner-requested euthanasia or died/lost in shelter care, so I’m unable to provide a modified live release rate.

In 2012, the shelter reported an intake of 308 animals, with 243 adoptions, 57 returned to owner, and 3 euthanasias. This gave the shelter a 99% live release rate for the year . If the 5 animals who died in shelter care are counted in with euthanasias, the live release rate was 97%. ACAS takes in at-risk animals from other shelters when it has room. In 2012, 63 animals from other shelters were assisted by ACAS. (In a 2013 newsletter, ACAS listed somewhat different numbers for 2012 than those reported to the state. I asked the shelter manager about the discrepancy, and she said the statistics in the newsletter were estimates, prepared before the year-end totals were available.)

In 2011, the shelter report to the state showed a 94% live release rate with an intake of 240 animals. The Michigan Pet Fund Alliance recognized ACAS with an award for its 2011 live release rate. In 2010, the shelter reported a 94% live release rate with an intake of 190 animals. ACAS also reported high live release rates in previous years.

Alger County, MI, was originally listed by this blog on July 31, 2013, based on its 2012 statistics. This post is a revision and update with 2013 statistics.