News of the Week 04-26-15

Several public shelters reported progress on live releases this week. The Southern Pines Animal Shelter in Mississippi takes in almost 5000 animals per year and provides animal sheltering for a county of 75,000 people as well as for surrounding counties. They had a live release rate of over 75% for 2014, but in the last 5 months they have been over 90% each month. Shelter manager Ginny Sims attributes the improvement to new programs, fosters, volunteers, and new partnerships.

Sacramento’s city shelter, the Front Street Animal Shelter, has made great strides since director Gina Knepp took over in 2011. Now comes word that the Sacramento County shelter has also improved by using adoption specials. Director David Dickenson says the live release rate at the county shelter so far this year is 75%.

The Los Angeles Animal Shelter reports a 73% save rate currently, with 85% for dogs and 57% for cats. Best Friends, through its No Kill Los Angeles initiative, is trying to reduce the kill rate for cats with a neonatal kitten program and support for TNR and return-to-field.

The City of Calistoga, California, has decided to grant a contract to the Petaluma Animal Services Foundation (PASF) for animal control and sheltering. This article about the process describes how a social media campaign helped to persuade city officials to select PASF over a rival bidder based on PASF’s history of higher live release rates, even though the PASF bid will cost the city slightly more.

In transport news, shelter dogs are being flown as carry-on passengers on commercial flights from the Big Island of Hawaii to the Portland, Oregon, area. About 60 dogs have been placed through this program so far.

Brent Toellner has two blog posts on length of stay – the importance of managing it, and how to decrease it. And Peter Wolf’s Vox Felina blog is celebrating its five-year anniversary.

The fourth in the Maddie’s Fund series of free webcasts on the five initiatives of the Million Cat Challenge is set for Tuesday, April 28, at 9 PM EST. The presenters are Ollie Davidson, program director at the Tree House Animal Shelter in Chicago, and Kathleen Olson, director of a Washington state shelter with intake of over 12,000 animals per year. Both shelters improved the shelter environment and saved more animals after instituting capacity for care programs. Register here.

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer is criticizing NYC Animal Care & Control. The AC&C has a five-year contract with the city.

The Humane Society of Silicon Valley won the Shorty Award in the Best Social Good category for its “Eddie the Terrible” marketing campaign.

PetSmart Charities has an interactive page showing its impact by state.

The Center for Shelter Dogs has many webinars covering a variety of topics.

The Humane Society of Utah has a cat room with remote-controlled toys that people can operate online through the iPet Companion website. In addition to amusing the cats, the shelter hopes that the promotion will call attention to available cats and help change the perception of the shelter as a sad place.

The “Per Thousand People” Metrics

The most common measure of shelter performance is the live release rate, which measures the live outcomes of an individual shelter against its euthanasias. There is another measure of shelter performance in common use, and that is Pets Per Thousand People (PPTP). Although it says “pets,” what it really measures is shelter intake per thousand people. Additional “per thousand people” measures include euthanasia (EPTP) and adoption (APTP). Proponents of the “PTP” metric (which was invented by Merritt Clifton) argue that we must standardize shelter statistics against human population to be able to compare communities to each other in a meaningful way.

I think that the PPTP and its associated measurements suffer from a serious flaw in that they assume that human population is a limiting factor on a shelter’s ability to save lives. In fact, there seems to be little correlation between PPTP and shelter success. In my research on shelter stats, I have seen many successful No Kill shelters with higher than average PPTP, and some less-than-successful shelters with low PPTP. In spite of this, I think that two of the PTP measures – PPTP and APTP – can provide very useful information in some circumstances. Shelter directors may want to be familiar enough with PPTP and APTP to derive those numbers for their own shelters and to know what the numbers mean for their shelter’s performance. Explaining why is going to take a few paragraphs.

Let’s start by setting out the limitations of the PTP numbers. Standardizing numbers is a good thing to do if you have a relevant variable that is not accounted for by the numbers coming out of the shelter itself. For example, if community A and community B both have 5,000 homeless animals each year, but community A has 900,000 people while community B has 100,000 people, then the task of finding homes for all the animals seems as though it would be considerably easier for community A. Thus it seems unfair to judge community A’s shelter performance as “better” than community B’s performance if the shelter in community A rehomes 4800 of its 5,000 homeless animals and the shelter in community B rehomes 4200.

In the real world, though, it doesn’t seem to be true that having higher intake per person is a handicap. I have a spreadsheet where I’ve entered data on the 100 shelters that were listed on this blog at the end of 2013 as having live release rates of 90% or more (serving over 200 communities). The PPTP for the communities served by 82 of those shelters for which I had 2012 intake data ranged from 3 to 139. I don’t think there is anything significantly wrong with the data going in, because the average intake for the shelters I list was 33 per thousand people, and that is near the estimated average for the United States of 15 to 30 pets per thousand people. The communities I list on my blog are a homogeneous group in that they are all very good at successfully placing the great majority of the animals their shelters take in. I verified this not by the live release rate alone, but by my research on each community. If PPTP is a relevant variable for a shelter’s performance, then one would think that these shelters, which are all performing at a similar high level, would all have a similar PPTP, but instead the variation in PPTP is huge.

Why is human population not a fully relevant variable for shelter performance? One reason is that the relationship of total human population to potential pet-owning population varies a lot from one community to another. Let’s look at an example. The community in the United States that has the lowest or near-lowest PPTP number is New York City. New York City is far from the best in terms of the live release rate, though, since the live release rate was at only 77% in 2013 and 81% in 2014. So which is it? Is the New York City community the best in the nation at saving homeless animals, or is it only somewhat above average? The problem with trying to standardize shelter killing against population for New York City is that, as a big city, it has lots of small apartments and a very high cost of living. In other words, New York City probably has a higher percentage of people who are not pet owners and are not prospective pet owners than any other city in the United States. These people are not going to affect shelter performance. They are not going to affect the intake rate because they are not going to give up a pet, fail to have a pet sterilized, or allow a pet to stray. The low PPTP is simply an artifact of the type of housing in New York. So using PPTP to compare New York City – or any other large, highly urbanized, expensive city – to a surburban or rural community is not very meaningful for shelter performance.

Another reason that human population in a community is not a limiting factor on shelter performance is that today we are living in the age of transports. Transports, by taking animals from an area of low demand for shelter pets to an area of high demand, can level the playing field between communities. Going back to our example of Community A and Community B, if community B transports 4000 of its 5000 animals to Community A each year, then each shelter will have to place 10 animals per thousand people. Yet Community B will still have a much higher PPTP than Community A, because PPTP is calculated on intake without subtracting out transfers. In theory, the PPTP could be modified to account for transports, but I have not seen this suggested by any of its proponents.

Proponents of the PTP metrics argue that the live release rate is unfair to the shelters that are doing the best job, because the best shelters are those that are diverting healthy and treatable animals and only taking in vicious dogs and hopelessly ill animals. This idea makes some sense in theory, but in all my researches I have yet to see an example of a public shelter that has a low live release rate because it is taking in only tough cases and diverting the easy cases. Instead, it appears that a central shelter that impounds animals before diverting them to rescues, treats most of the treatable ones in-house, and centralizes return-to-owner and lost-and-found, is the more efficient arrangement. And for that type of shelter the live release rate is an accurate measure. Even if shelters do begin to divert large numbers of animals, such as cats who go to a return-to-field program, it would be an easy matter to calculate a live release rate that reflects the diversions.

Having said all that, I nevertheless think that two of the three PTP measures, PPTP and APTP, are useful in limited circumstances. The average Pets Per Thousand People (remember this is really “shelter intake” not “pets”) in the United States is estimated at 15 to 30. There are many examples of successful No Kill shelters with PPTP higher than 30. As the PPTP number gets higher though, more and more of those shelters are achieving their high live release rates by transports. Although human population is not a limiting factor for No Kill success, at some point it is a limiting factor for being able to place animals within the community. Exactly where that limiting factor is no doubt depends on the individual community, but I think a shelter with PPTP of over 40 that is struggling to maintain a high live release rate may need to think about transports. (They also need to figure out why intake is so high and see if there is anything that can be done to address it, but that is likely to be a longer-term solution.)

Of the three PTP metrics, APTP is the one that has the best argument for statistical validity, because it makes intuitive sense that the number of adoptions will depend on the number of people in the community. Yet this is not entirely true, because the real limiting factor on adoptions is market share, not the number of people in a community. In all but a handful of communities in the United States, the total market for pets far exceeds the total number of pets needing homes. There are currently some 180 million pets in the United States, and only about 5 million healthy or treatable shelter animals needing homes each year. With sufficient market share, replacement alone would provide more than enough homes for shelter pets. Furthermore, about half of the animals needing homes are cats, and many of them can be returned to field, further reducing the gap between the market for pets and the supply of shelter animals. Because market share, not human population, is the real limiting factor for adoptions, shelters can control their own destiny in terms of adoptions.

Some people argue that there is a ceiling to APTP and that adoption rates cannot exceed 4 to 10 APTP on a sustained basis. In fact, statistics show that No Kill shelters regularly exceed 10 APTP, which demonstrates that 10 APTP is not a ceiling but a floor. The reporting shelters for the state of Colorado, for example, averaged 17 APTP in 2014. The Nevada Humane Society has historically averaged over 20 APTP. The value of the APTP is that if a shelter is under 10, you know it has a lot of room for improvement in adoption marketing. In fact, if a shelter has an APTP below the mid-teens, it very probably can do better and it should be able to raise its live release rate without resorting to transports.

I have never been able to discover a use for the EPTP, which relates the number of animals killed in a community to the number of human residents. The idea behind EPTP is that we need it to accurately evaluate public shelters that take in only vicious and terminally ill animals because they are diverting all the healthy and treatable animals. This is ill-considered since, as mentioned above, today we do not have any such public shelters. In addition, EPTP is flawed because it fails to take into account all the ways animals can be live releases without going into a home within the community. Those ways include transports, TNR, and return to field.

The way I think of PPTP and APTP is not as measures of shelter performance, but as information for shelters that are struggling. Shelters that have PPTP of 30 or less and APTP of over 10 probably do not need to be concerned with the PTP metrics. But for those that do not meet those standards and are having trouble achieving a high live release rate, PPTP and APTP may provide some useful information.

So how do you calculate the PPTP and APTP? The easiest way is simply to divide the intake number or adoption number by the human population of the jurisdiction served by the shelter minus three zeros. For example, if you have intake of 15,000 animals per year in a city of 1 million people, you divide 15,000 by 1,000 for a result if 15 PPTP. The APTP for a city of 40,000 people where the shelter adopted out 400 animals in a year would be 400 divided by 40, for a result of 10.

News of the Week 04-19-15

This Tuesday, April 21, at 9PM EST, Scott Trebatoski is giving a free webinar on Return to Field (RTF) for community cats. The webcast, presented by Maddie’s Fund, will have a 20 minute presentation and a 40-45 minute Q&A session, and did I say it’s free? Go ahead and sign up even if you cannot participate live, and Maddie’s will send you an e-mail with a link to watch it on demand as soon as it’s available.

There has been quite a bit of controversy over RTF programs, with some people believing that such programs discriminate against cats or make it less likely that owned cats will be reunited with their owners. I’ve even seen comments from some people who believe that RTF is just a way for shelters to artificially jack up their live release rates. Trebatoski’s webinar is a chance for people who have reservations about RTF to talk to an expert and find out what RTF is really about and why it works so much better for cats than the traditional shelter approach.

By the way, Hillsborough County, Florida, where Trebatoski is now director, is replicating the success of his previous city, Jacksonville. Since Trebatoski became director in Hillsborough a year ago, the live release rate has rapidly increased and in the last few months has been pushing 90%. In March 2015 the live release rate was 89% using the traditional calculation and 87% including animals who died or were lost in shelter care. Intake in March was 1,137 dogs and cats, and average length of stay was under 7 days. Hillsborough County includes the city of Tampa, and has an estimated population of about 1.3 million people.

In more RTF news, the state of Arizona has passed a law that exempts cats from the state’s mandatory 3-day hold period on the condition that they are sterilized and returned to field. Francis Battista of Best Friends has posted a blog on this new law and its importance to the Best Friends-PetSmart Charities community cat initiative in Pima County, Arizona. The blog has a nice summary of why RTF programs lead to better outcomes for cats (including a much higher chance of being reunited with their families) than traditional hold times.

HSUS’s Animal Sheltering magazine has an article in the March/April 2015 issue about the Chico, California, city shelter’s adaptation of the new cat paradigms to their local circumstances. The shelter first got buy-in for the program by consulting with the city government and the community. Owner surrendered cats now go to a local non-profit. The city shelter takes in sick or injured stray cats and orphaned kittens, and refers healthy community cats for TNR. Cat euthanasia dropped from 1,273 in 2011 to 88 in 2013, while cat intake dropped from 2,839 to 442. This program allows the shelter to concentrate on the sick, injured, and orphan stray cats who really need their help, while the healthy stray cats who are doing well remain in the field where many of them have homes.

The Charleston (South Carolina) Animal Society’s new kitten intensive care unit is now open. The society takes in 2500 kittens each year.

The news about dogs this week was mostly scientific and medical. Scientific American and Science magazine are reporting on research showing that when dogs and people gaze into each others’ eyes, both species have an increase in neurochemicals that are important in bonding. In other words, your dog really is feeling love for you when he or she looks into your eyes.

The canine flu outbreak in the Chicago area has been identified as caused by an H3N2 subtype. This is the first identification of an H3N2 subtype outside of Asia. Currently available canine vaccines are for the H3N8 subtype, and it is not known if there is any cross-immunity. The H3N2 virus can also infect cats. The Koret Shelter Medicine Program has made this list of resources available.

Maddie’s Fund has a new article on treatment of parvovirus in a shelter setting.

In other shelter and rescue news, Salt Lake County, Utah, is reporting that it had a 93% live release rate in 2014. The Jacksonville Humane Society has started a campaign for funds to build a new permanent shelter to replace the one that burned down in 2007, killing 86 animals. The HSUS is making an initial investment of $600,000 in programs to improve the situation for street dogs in Puerto Rico. And Dogster has a nice interview with a caring ACO officer in Atlanta to celebrate ACO Appreciation Week.

State of Virginia 2014 Statistics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News of the Week 04/12/15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shelter Medicine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News of the Week 04-05-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chester and Delaware Counties, Pennsylvania

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

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

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

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

[edited 4-2-2015]

News of the Week 03-29-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet the Director: Rebecca Guinn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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