Last week, the Humane Society of the United States launched a very detailed white paper with an overview of progress (and lack thereof) of sheltering under California law, with recommendations on needed legal and shelter activity improvements.
This is a study that HSUS seems to have gotten right in terms of research and perspective and you can read the report here in its entirety. Below is a quick overview, a few of the key "hits" and a a very key miss. While the focus of this paper was on sheltering and California Law, my plan is (with a couple of exceptions) to pull out things that I think are most relevant to the entire population.
The study is essentially an overview of 15 years worth of shelter data to evaluate the successes, and failures, of Hayden's law -- the governing law for shelters in California. The report analyzed data from reporting public agencies -- for an area that covered 87% of the population of California. It's definitely a large statistical area.
According to the report, the following is the disposition of the 459,000 dogs that come into California Shelters in 2010:
- 38% euthanized
- 33% adopted
- 19% Reclaimed
- 7% transferred to other shelter or rescue organizations
- 4% "other"
The total number of dogs that entered into the shelter system, according to their reports, dropped 15% since 1998. Euthanasia of those dogs decreased 47%. A pretty substantial improvement.
Things weren't quite so rosey for cats:
For cats, the total number that entered shelters actually increased 7% -- and euthanasia remained essentially the same.
Cats were much less likely to to make it out of the shelter alive. For the 393,000 cats that entered California Shelters, the following was their disposition:
- 71% euthanized
- 24% adopted
- 2% reclaimed
- 5% transferred
- 3% other
The report goes on to detail four key points that it felt needed to be addressed: Intake reduction, improving animal welfare for animals in shelter care, decreasing costs, and increasing revenue.
1) One key area of the report involves the recommendation for animal shelters to move toward taking appointments for owner-relinquished animals (which makes up roughly 1/3 of their shelter population). According to the report:
"Some shelters require an appointment to surrender pets, which has prompted a good number of owners to decide to keep their animals. Owners are responding to information they get about available resources and support, such as spay/neuter services, low cost medical care, training, food bank, etc to issues they are experiencing. Although most California communities have these types of resources available, many pet owners simply do no know that they exist. Owners may also be more inclined to keep a pet, in spite of any issues, when they find out how likely it is that the animal will not be released alive. Owners may also be in a better position than a crowded shelter to rehome their pet, as they know their pet's positive qualities and can exhibit the pet in a comfortable habitat."
Appointments have other benefits for the shelter too:
"Appointments enable agencies to control the flow of animals into their shelters based on their capacity to care for and place the animals.....if people can drop off pets at any time, a shelter may receive 30 animals in one day and only 2 the next. This creates staffing inefficiencies and can raise operational costs. Even within a given day, too many animals could come in at once, creating a hurried proces to manage them that stresses both pets and staff. If the agencies used appointments to spread surrenders over a reasaonable period, they can do more to work with owenrs to avoid the surrender and handle intake more smoothly."
2) A second key hit is that the report mentions the values of TNR. While HSUS used to denouce TNR, it has come around recently and this is another good sign. It also notes that feral cat colony managers should be aware of environmental impacts of the cat colony.
3) Hold times -- Based on their report, increasing the average hold time has had a minimal impact on the number of dogs reclaimed. The report notes that 80% of all dogs returned to their owners happen within four days (for our shelter, it's 3) and thus, there is not much net gain in increasing hold times beyond 4 days in terms of RTOs -- especially if a dog does not have identification. Holding the animals beyond the four days only increases sheltering costs and takes up space in the shelter because the dogs are unlikely to be reclaimed, yet unavailable for transfer or adoption, and increases the likelihood of disease exposure.
The report goes on to suggest limiting hold times to 4 days unless an animal is wearing identification, and to eliminate hold times for litters of puppies coming into the shelter (people almost never lose an entire litter of puppies).
It also notes that cats without identification should be made available for adoption immediately (mostly for space reasons and so cats don't stay in the shelter long enough to get sick) unless a cat has identification given that only 2% of cats are ever reclaimed, and almost never without identification present.
My note: We've had a similar situation here in Kansas City and 80% of our RTOs happen within the first 3 days, yet Missouri Law is to hold for 5. For a shelter with very minimal space, it would make the transition faster if we could put animals up for adoption after 3 days instead of waiting for 5. While many fear that this would result in earlier killing for high kill shelters, the solution would be relatively easy. Allow animals to be adopted or transferred after the 3 day hold, but note that they cannot be euthanized (unless for severe medical reasons) until after 5 days.
4) The report also pushed for shelters to have transparency in their numbers -- which is important.
5) In the final section, the study notes ideas that it considered, but did NOT recommend. In this, it issues a statement AGAINST mandatory spay/neuter. Over the years, I've dedicated a LOT of space on this blog to the adverse impact of mandatory spay/neuter. And over the past several years, most national animal welfare organizations have denounced mandatory spay/neuter, including Maddies Fund, the ASPCA, No Kill Advocacy Center, and the AVMA. However, HSUS has never really taken a stance against it....until now.
According to the report, it did NOT recommend increasing penalties for failure to spay or neuter, and goes on to describe:
"While finding people to adopt dogs and cats is crucial, reducing the supply of incoming animals is the only way to end the pet overpopulation problem. The stakeholder group discusses the pros and cons of changing state laws to increase fines and penalties for not altering pets. However, compelling evidence exists to show demand for affordable spay/neuter services is high, particularly in underserved areas. Failure to spay or neuter is more correlated with limited access to affordable and proximate services than i is with resisance to sterilizing pets. Efforts to increase resources and outreach in communities where spay/neuter rates are low should be the focus."
This is outstanding news that finally HSUS is on board with a proven, targeted outreach approach vs trying to mandate sterilization on those who cannot afford it.
Overall, I thought the report was really solid and hit on a lot of key points and shelter best practices. However, while there was a huge amount of space spent to keeping animals out of the shelter (which is important), and proper care for animals in the shelter (also important), outside of one section on working with rescue groups, there was little information on how to get them back OUT safely.
Through the course of their study, intake for dogs dropped 15%. However, euthanasia for dogs dropped 48%. So some shelters, somewhere are saving more lives of animals that do make it into the shelters.
How are they doing it? Increased adoptions? Increased transfers? Increased RTOs? There isn't much in here about programs that are doing that (and nothing, at all on adoptions). I would have loved for them to have dived into the shelters that were increasing adoptions to see which programs had the biggest impact. Off-site adoptions? Adoption special events? Open adoption policies? Satellite adoption centers?
I feel that while keeping animals out of the shelter is important (and would have been a greater influence on the legal angle, which was their key focus), a small section on SAVING those who came in would have been warranted. It's the biggest miss in what was overall a very solid report, that is worth checking out.