No Kill Success is Contagious

Recently Merritt Clifton argued Reno, Nevada’s no kill success came at the expense of surrounding communities. According to Mr. Clifton, the region’s open admission shelter stole adoptions from nearby areas resulting in little net life saving. Clifton used Nevada’s mediocre adoption rate outside the Reno area as the basis for his argument. Is Clifton correct or is this yet another one of Clifton’s meritless arguments? Alternatively, can successful no kill open admission shelters cause other nearby communities to save more lives?

Nevada’s Population Distribution Refutes Clifton’s Claims

Nevada’s primary population centers outside the service area of the Reno, Nevada shelter are very far away. Approximately 86% of Nevada’s population outside the Reno, Nevada shelter’s service area in Washoe County reside in the county where Las Vegas is located. Las Vegas is approximately 450 miles away and around a 7 hour drive from Reno. This is as about as far as Elizabeth City, North Carolina and Ottawa, Canada are from New York City. Do people believe adopters in New York City are regularly visiting shelters in North Carolina and Ottawa, Canada? As a result, Clifton’s argument is completely wrong.

The Las Vegas area’s primary shelter has a history of poor performance and depresses statewide adoption numbers. Recent statistics show roughly half of the shelter’s 40,000 impounded animals were killed. This high kill rate is even more astonishing given Washoe County, Nevada’s open admission shelter takes in nearly 80% more animals per capita and saves 90% of its animals. Thus, Nevada’s other primary shelter performs poorly and that is the reason for the state’s mediocre adoption rate.

Shelters Near the Highly Successful Reno, Nevada Shelter Are Doing Well

Several large shelters within reasonable driving distance of Reno, Nevada are succeeding. The Out the Front Door blog reports Carson City, Nevada’s open admission shelter is doing very well and is in the nearest large population center to Reno. Additionally, Douglas County, Nevada is another reasonably close population center and its open admission shelter saved 98% of its animals. Furthermore, Nevada County, California, which is one of the closest large communities west of Reno, saved 99% of its impounded animals over the last three years. Therefore, open admission shelters reasonably close to Washoe County, Nevada’s highly successful shelter are saving and not taking lives.

Austin, Texas’s Success Leads to More Nearby No Kill Communities

Austin, Texas is the largest no kill community in the country and several nearby cities are also saving lives. Austin, Texas has been a no kill community since 2011 and saved from 91%-95% of its animals each year since then. Shortly after Austin, Texas became a no kill community, Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter, which serves Williamson County, Texas and is located just north of Austin, achieved no kill status. Despite taking in nearly 7,500 animals a year, dogs and cats only stay 11 and 15 days at the shelter. Taylor, Texas, which is just northeast of Austin, saved 93% of its animals in 2012. Pflugerville, Texas, which is also located in the Austin metro area, saved 98% of its animals in 2012 despite the city prohibiting trap, neuter, release. Georgetown, Texas, which is also just north of Austin, saved 85-90% of its animals in recent years. San Antonio, Texas, which is about a 1 hour and 20 minute drive from Austin, recently reported an 81% save rate, which is up from 32% in 2011, and a 90% live release for cats in March and April 2014. This shelter services an area of 1.3 million people and took in over 32,000 animals during fiscal year 2013. Kirby, Texas, which is also in the San Antonio metro area, saved 94% of its animals in 2013. Thus, the success of Austin’s no kill effort led to high save rates in many other nearby communities.

Animal Ark Inspires Positive Change in Minnesota

Animal Ark’s high level of success led to significant improvements in nearby large cities. Animal Ark, which is located in Hastings, Minnesota, has an adoption guarantee arrangement with a local impound facility where Animal Ark takes animals not reclaimed by owners. Also, Animal Ark accepts owner surrenders subject to a waiting list. Animal Ark saved 99% of its 700 impounded dogs and cats in 2013 and takes in about 16 dogs and cats per 1000 people. Additionally, the shelter reports a length of stay of just over a month. Animal Ark’s short average length of stay is impressive given virtually all animals were adopted and no animals were reclaimed by their owners, which tend to have very short lengths of stay, due to the local impound facility holding animals during the stray/hold period. Also, Animal Ark gets its animals quickly out of the shelter despite it likely needing to rehabilitate relatively more animals due to the organization’s very high 99% save rate. The shelter’s director, Mike Fry, is a vocal no kill advocate and argues for positive change in Minnesota and beyond. Recently, Brooklyn Park, Minnesota’s Pets Under Police Security (“PUPS”) shelter reported a 98% save rate. Similarly, St. Paul, Minnesota’s animal control facility reported a 90% + save rate recently as well. Additionally, Minneapolis’s animal control shelter, which has a sordid history, recently hired new management and pledged to change its ways. As a result, Animal Ark’s success adopting out animals has not hurt, but helped nearby shelters.

San Francisco Area Success

San Francisco has a long history of no kill initiatives. In the 1990’s, Richard Avanzino, who now leads Maddie’s Fund, and Nathan Winograd nearly made San Francisco the nation’s first no kill community. During this time, innovative programs, such as an adoption guarantee agreement with the city’s animal control shelter and frequent off-site adoption events, were developed. Unfortunately, the city regressed after both men left the San Francisco SPCA.

The no kill spirit lives on in the San Francisco area and success is being achieved. Based on 2013 reported statistics, San Francisco Animal Care and Control and the San Francisco SPCA collectively reported an 85% save rate for local animals assuming all negative outcomes were for San Francisco animals. Berkeley, California, which is located on the other side of San Francisco Bay, saved 90% of its animals in 2013. Alameida, California, which also is on San Francisco Bay, reported a save rate of 91% in 2013. Thus, communities in the San Francisco Bay area are saving animals at a high rate despite their close proximity to each other.

Boulder, Colorado Region Shelters Save Lives

Open admission shelters in the Boulder, Colorado area are saving their animals at a high rate. Longmont Humane Society, which serves several communities in the Boulder area, saved 93% of the 3,536 dogs and cats impounded in 2013. The nearby Humane Society of Boulder County, which took in 7,669 animals in 2013, reported a save rate of 89% in 2013 (91% if owner requested euthanasia are excluded). The Humane Society of Platte Valley, which is also located in the same metropolitan area, saved 94% of its 1,475 dogs and cats impounded in 2012. Thus, large open admission shelters in close proximity to each other in Colorado are saving animals at a high rate.

Successful No Kill Communities Can Drive Significant Positive Change Elsewhere

No kill communities drive positive change elsewhere directly and indirectly. Successful no kill open admission shelters can directly help nearby communities by rescuing animals. However, these no kill communities help much more by inspiring and/or pressuring poorly performing shelters to improve. The following quote sums it up perfectly:

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

By changing another shelter’s policies, you can save far more animals than you could rescue directly. The animals you can rescue is limited to your shelter’s excess physical space and foster homes. However, by improving other shelters’ policies you can help far more animals. For example, consider a shelter with a 100 animals and 10% excess capacity due to efficient life saving programs. This shelter would be able to directly pull 10 animals. However, what happens if that successful shelter’s efforts were replicated by two other similar sized shelters and the euthanasia rate dropped from 50% to 10%? The successful shelter would save 80 or 8 times as many animals by getting other shelters to do the right thing verses pulling animals directly. Thus, no kill communities can dramatically increase life saving by getting other communities to do the same.

Creating no kill communities, promoting your success, offering help to other communities, and challenging those shelters who refuse to do the right thing are key to saving the most lives. Austin Pets Alive is a great example of an organization leading its community to no kill and helping others do the same. In early 2012, Austin Pets Alive formed a new organization, San Antonio Pets Alive, to help San Antonio achieve no kill status. Subsequently, San Antonio’s live release rate increased from 31% to 81%. In most cases, poorly performing shelters are reluctant to change their ways. In these cases, more vocal advocacy, such as what Animal Ark has done in Minnesota, is needed. Such advocacy does the following:

  1. Puts direct pressure on government run shelters (and private organizations who operate government owned shelters through short term contracts) to improve through political pressure on elected officials
  2. Puts financial pressure on private shelters as donors become more informed and demand their money be efficiently used to save lives

Unfortunately, the animal welfare community generally prefers unity even when many shelters are clearly doing the wrong thing. At the very least, successful shelters should publicize their statistics and success. This puts subtle pressure on the under performing facilities to do the same. However, vocal advocacy and comparing and contrasting their shelter’s performance with poorly performing facilities who refuse to change is needed. While private citizens can advocate for change, the credibility of advocates is much greater when a reputable animal welfare organization is leading the effort. Thus, we need successful no kill communities and their animal welfare organizations to inspire, assist, advocate and pressure other communities to save lives.

Sometimes you need to fight for what you believe in. Saving lives is certainly one of those fights you should take one.

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