Reshaping the expected outcome for animals in shelters in this country includes rethinking "conventional wisdom". We're not going to reshape a nation that has spent decades killing animals in shelters by thinking about things exactly the same way.
And Kim Wolf's presentation at the Best Friends No More Homeless Pets Conference created a different perspective for which to view "at risk" animals for shelters. For anyone not familiar with some of Kim's work, you can see many of her thoughts on her website/blog: Beyond Breed.
In Kim's presentation, she took a look at animals that are "at risk" in our shelters, and the societal factors that are leading to them being at risk. Many of these thoughts are Kim's, with a few of my thoughts sprinkled in. I'm going to do my best to differentiate between to the two as to not try to put words in Kim's mouth (or to take credit for her thoughts).
Kim's presentation started by noting that the single most dangerous place for a pet in this country is sadly, in an animal shelter. And what is it that drives shelter euthanasia? Shelter intake. In order to save animal lives, you need help in not only keeping animals from coming into the shelter, but also in not doing things to prevent them from getting out.
So Kim highlighted 7 key factors that in her opinion was a risk for pets in today's society:
#1) Prevelence in the community. One of the key reasons pit bull terriers are at risk in shelters is in part because of their prevelence. According to Banfield Pet Hospitals, the popularity of pit bull terriers increased by 47% from 2000-2010 based on breed information collected in their nationwide veterinary clinics. According to Vet Street, Pit Bull Terriers are among the top 5 most popular dogs in 33 of the 50 states, and in the top 10 in 46 of them. Pit bulls are at risk in shelters in part because there are so many of them. This is the same factor that puts cats and big black dogs at risk also.
#2) The second factor highlighted by Kim is poverty. In the US today, 1 in 6 people live in poverty. This isn't "struggling to get by" or "living paycheck to paycheck" -- it's pure poverty as in, I'm not sure where my next meal is coming from. To give you a gauge of this, if you are a single person in the continental US, to be considered living in poverty you must make less than $11,490. If you're a part of a family of 4, it's $23,550. That's $23,550, for an entire family of four. For a year. I have no idea how someone lives on that. Let alone, 1 in 6 people in the US.
Those most at risk of living in poverty in this country are minorities, women and children, and those in very urban and very rural environments. Not coincidentally, states with the highest poverty rates tend to coincide with states that are still killing the most animals in their shelter systems.
#3) Factor #3 is lack of housing. First of all, living in poverty can make housing difficult to find. Secondly, 1 in 3 people in the US rents. And the availability of pet-friendly rentals is very limited -- particularly if you own a large dog, or one of a targeted breed. Renters are also likely to be lower income, minorities, young adults, and singles. Many shelter workers will tell you that people who rent tend to make up a high number of people surrender pets to shelters, often because a change in living situation causes them to not be able to find a place to live where they can keep their pet. For the most part, I don't think people don't seem to realize just how hard it is to find pet-friendly, affordable rentals.
Interestingly, last week Bad Rap had an example of someone that they began helping that was about to become homeless and begin living in their car because of the challenge of not being able to find a place to rent with their dogs, and an unwillingness to part with their pets. I know a lot of people say they would live in their car to keep from giving up their pets -- but would you really? Being homeless is a tough pill to swallow.
#4) Resource Deserts -- The USDA started using the term "Food Deserts" several years ago to describe areas where people had little access to fresh foods. Resource Deserts for pets are areas where people lack access to affordable veterinary care (or any veterinary care for that matter). This is most common in urban and rural areas.
Interestingly, awhile back a Kansas City city council member noted that there were very few veternary clinics in some of the neighborhoods he represented that were selling city licenses -- and was shocked to find out that the reason why was that there weren't any vets in those areas. Recently Kansas City received a grant to help with the spay/neuter of pit bulls in two specific zip codes. Interestingly, these two zip codes combined have only one veterinary clinic.
When people of low incomes don't have cars, and cannot take pets on the bus system, and there are no veterinarians around, this lack of resources and animal care education takes its toll (it's also a primary reason why mandating spay/neuter always fails because the resources just simply aren't readily available for the people who are in most of need of help to get the services they need).
#5) Lack of adoption diversification -- According to data gathered by HSUS's Pets for Life program, in the underserved neighborhood they reach out to, 2 out of 3 pet owners got their pet from an acquaintance, as a stray, or pets from their own litter. Only 1 in 3 got their pet from a breeder, pet store or online.
In talking with people I know and respect in Kansas City, many of the people they see in their inner-city outreach programs got their pets through informal networks -- ie, they adopted a stray, or took in a pet from a family member or friend who could no longer keep them, or when a neighbor left a pet behind.
One place they didn't tend to get pets was through adoptions. Many people in low-income communities were unable to make it to a shelter to adopt (and couldn't get the pet home on a bus even if they wanted to). Many wouldn't be able to adopt because they would be denied due to race, income, neighborhood or living arrangement that would be seen as "undesireable" by a rescue group. Thus, many rescues don't seek out these neighborhoods as a place to do off-site adoptions.
I understand why rescues or shelters may have concerns about adopting to people with very low incomes, but I believe they need to overcome those fears.
Kim would say that whether or not you think low-income people should own pets is irrelevant -- because the fact is they ARE owning pets. So your decision is whether or not you want the pets to come from you or not.
I'll take it a step further. In most communities in the US, literally hundreds, or thousands, or sometimes 10s of thousands of lives are being lost in area animal shelters. If pets are dying in your local shelter while you cling to a moral high ground by not allowing people who live below a certain income threshold the opportunity to adopt (most of whom will end up with a pet anyway), then it's time to reconsider what problem you think you're solving. And yes, these adopters may not have the resources for the worst case scenario when it comes to a pet's health -- but why not be a resource for them IF this situation arises instead of denying a pet a chance for a loving home because of what MIGHT happen? Not only can you find a pet a home, but you can also become a resource to help overcome the "resource dessert" problem they face. You can be that resource.
#6) Barriers to Length of Stay -- far too may shelters are still denying the ability of pit bull terriers to leave the shelter, or are putting more challenging requirements on those that seek to save them. This is getting better, but it is still far too prevelent. If your shelter is making it harder for pets of certain types to get out, they need to re-look at that policy. Yesterday.
#7) Ineffective Messaging -- I'm not going to get into a lot of this for the purpose of this post, but suffice it to say, many of our messaging tactics regarding bullies pit bull terriers is not helping. Marketing dogs in a way such as "pit bulls are harder to adopt because no one wants them" are not only inaccurate (see point #1), but actually help create the situation where people think they shouldn't adopt them.
According to Kim, the biggest issue facing pit bull terriers in this country is not breed-descriminatory laws, it's poverty. And lack of resources. It is a driving factor for how the dogs end up in shelters in the first place, and keeping them out is certainly easier than trying to save them once they're there. But even then, we have a lot more outlets for them as shelters/rescues than we allow ourselves to access.
I really enjoyed this presentation and it was a different perspective than is usually provided at animal welfare conferences. And it's a story that badly needs to be told.
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.
Yesterday, the television news crews came out to our shelter after word was received of a dog named Ace that was found with severe trauma on his head and thrown into a dumpster behind a school.
I think when the news crews arrived, they got more than they expected.
On the floor in our vet's office was a beautiful Husky that had been hit by a car and had a wounded leg.
Waking up from surgery was a chow chow -- that had also been hit by a car and had a bandaged leg.
Then there was Ace, who had a severe wound on his head.
KMBC News covered them all in this short clip:
This is the life of an open-admission shelter: animals hit by cars, animals with bullets in them, and those that have been abused. We see these things all the time (although, not usually three in one day). These are the ones we're here for: to get them well, and find them homes. We have a very talented staff and veterinary team that is helping make sure they get the good medical treatment they need.
When we formed the KC Pet Project we wanted to be a place to help Kansas City's homeless pets and it's animals like this that we want to be there to help.
I'd still like us to get out of the business of being forced to help animals that already have homes because our laws are taking them out of homes and bringing them to our shelter. That just takes resources away from dogs like Ace that really do need us to be there.
Our facilities are modest. The shelter was never really designed to save animals -- most built in the early 70s weren't. Our vet clinic is incredibly small for a shelter that takes in more than7,000 animals a year. And yet our team does some pretty amazing things.
I hope Ace pulls through OK. There are never guarantees in cases like this -- but we owe it to him to try.
Thanks to our area news stations for covering Ace's story. I sometimes don't think our organization takes enough credit for some of the lives we save and so I'm glad the larger public gets to see it. And some of these cases really are miracles.
A couple of weeks ago, the ASPCA released a video about the "Length of Stay Game".
While I'll be among the first to admit that the video itself is kind of corny, the point behind the video (which it does a great job of doing), is made very clearly: Length of stay is important for open-admission shelters.
You can watch the video above -- it's only 4 minutes long and worth the time.
The video essentially takes you through two scenerios where two 'shelters' take in the same number of animals at the same pace. However, one shelter has a shorter length of stay than the other shelter. So while one shelter takes in animals at faster pace than they get them out (causing their shelter to become overcrowded very quickly), the other gets animals out at the same rate they get them in, causing animals to always comfortably fit within the limitations of the shelter.
I think the vide does a great job of highlighting the importance of understanding length of stay at an open-admission shelter. While a closed admission shelter can stop animals from coming in when they aren't moving out, an open-admission shelter cannot. So to prevent the animals from stacking up on each other, they have to find more ways to get them out quicker.
This means not unnecessarily turning away adopters.
This means getting sick animals healthy faster. And keeping animals from becoming sick in the shelter.
It means adopting out quickly, in multiple locations. And transferring to rescue groups.
It means increasing Return-to-owners -- which is the fastest way to get animals back out of the shelter.
I like the video because I think it makes us look at running a shelter differently. While often the emphasis is on "not euthanizing" animals -- this puts the emphasis on getting animals back out. Quickly.
The goal of KC Pet Project is to take the city's 40 year old, open admisstion animal shelter and make it into a no kill shelter. Where as recently as 4 years ago the shelter only saved 40% of the roughly 8,000 animals that enter the shelter -- in 2012, KCPP's first in operation, the shelter saved 86%.
Part of our marketing plan was to open a secondary adoption location. The location not only gives us slightly more room for animal housing, but also gives us a second permanent presence for people to find our adoptable pets. When we opened the secondary location on November 13, our goal was to adopt out 200 pets over the next 2 months. Well, we bested that, adopting out about 240 pets during that timeframe.
Not only has the retail adoption facility given us more opportunities for adoptions, it has also allowed us to do a lot of "friendmaking" in an area of the city that is 30 minutes (more than 20 miles) from our main shelter location, in an area of the city that is naturally divided by the Missouri River.
It's been a huge opportunity for KC Pet Project, and we're thrilled to have signed a 12 month lease with them recently to continue the success. And thanks for tomorrow's feature in the Kansas City Star on the location that will help let even more people know that we're there. Be sure to click on the link as it has a very good slide show of the location so you can get a feel for how it looks.
And on a personal note, there is a picture that includes a lot of our retail items that has a picture of one of our adopted dogs above it with her tongue hanging out. That pictured dog is Zola, a dog we fostered for about a week so she could overcome kennel cough and be ready for adoption up there and she may have been the smartest dog ever -- learning sit, shake, down, "hops", and rollover within about 5 days. She was pretty awesome and got adopted within an hour of us delivering her to the Zona Rosa location on Black Friday.
If you caught yesterday's post, you saw a little positive pit bull press that was run by our local media. If you watched the two news stories you probably noted the adoption special that was mentioned in the story.
I usually don't post stuff like this here, but, well, the picture on this flyer is so clever I can't help but post it.
We're so lucky at our organization to have 3 outstanding professional photographers that donate their time and talents to our organization.
Last year, we made the decision to be open 6 days a week, and be closed on Mondays. We were a new organization. Money was tight. And we had to cut something, somewhere. So we decided to remained closed on Mondays to save some money, be sure we got ourselves established, and then move forward.
Starting today, we are going to be open Mondays. And it's a really big deal in our mission to maintain a high save rate for a couple of reasons.
#1) We're an open admission shelter. We take in animals every day. So if animals are coming in every day, then they need to be going out every day as well. We take in an average of about 20 dogs and cats every single day. Some days we move more out than that, some days we don't, but taking in that number, and moving almost none out, was a challenge to overcome.
#2) In Missouri, state law requires we hold stray animals for a 5-day stray hold for owners to reclaim. And it mandates that it's 5 BUSINESS days. With one day being closed each week, we essentially had to hold every stray animal (except those that came in on Mondays) for one additional day before they could become eligible for adoption -- which means we were self-imposing a 6th day of hold time. Our average length of stay for dogs is less than 15 days. 1 day is a LOT when you're rotating out dogs that quickly, especially given that nearly 80% of our owner returns happen within the first 3 days of the hold period. The extra day of hold time was accounting for about 450 animal days in the shelter each month. It was a lot. And now, that will be gone.
I'm always amazed when I hear of shelters that are closed a lot - often open only 5 days each week, or closed on even a single weekend day. It makes a huge difference in life-saving to be open. And so we will be. 362 days a year.
Yesterday, the folks over at Maddies Fund posted the video below. The presentation is given by Brian DiGangi, DVM and professor at the University of Florida school of veterinary medicine.
The presentation is about 50 minutes long, but well worth watching for anyone who is involved in sheltering because he spends a lot of time discussing the first 60 minutes of an animal's life in a shelter and the importance of that first 60 minutes in the likelihood of the animal leaving the shelter safely.
The presentation, while not terribly dynamic in nature, does cover a lot of ground and gives a lot of good information. It covers how to properly scan for microchips (it's a bit more complex than you think), quickly taking intake photos, providing a physical and behavioral evaluation (including the importance of gathering any history you can get on the animal -- even someone who picked up a stray in their neighborhood 2 hours ago knows more abou that animal than you do), vaccination protocols (and the importance of doing this every time, and quickly), and on planned movement of people and animals through the shelter (this section, at about minute 21, is very interesting as well).
While I want you to watch the whole video, there are three things I want to talk about a little bit more.
#1) Determining a pathway for an animal early on -- This is something we've talked quite a bit about at our shelter is determining an animal's pathway out of the shelter early on after intake. It doesn't take a lot of effort to do a quick evaluation effort on an animal and envision how that animal is going to eventually leave the shelter. Well-fed, well-cared for elderly animals are the most likely to be reclaimed by owners. Animals with identification are likely to be returned home.
Are certain types of dogs more likely to go to rescue groups in your community (for instance, we know that certain breed-specific rescues in town are always willing to take dogs of certain breeds)? Are certain animals likely to be adopted quickly at the shelter? Are some likely to need foster care in order to come behavioral or health challenges? While you may change which "track" out of the shelter an animal is on over time, determining one early on can save a lot of headaches vs waiting for an animal to come off of stray hold and then wonder "now what do we do with it?". The speaker covers this idea early on -- about 3 minutes into the video.
#2) According to the statistics in the video, about 22% of dogs without microchips are reunited with owners. About 52% of dogs with chips are returned. For cats, a terrible 2% are reunited with owners without chips, but about 39% with chips are returned. Having a higher percentage of microchipped animals in a community is very important for owner reclaims and proper chip scanning is essential. This is all at about the 7 minute mark of the video.
#3) Vaccinations -- The speaker also gives some statistics on vaccinations. According to his numbers, more than 1/2 of the dogs that enter a shelter are not vaccinated against distemper, and about 30% aren't vaccinated against Parvo -- and there is really no way to tell if ones are vaccinated or not. So vaccinate them all -- not just for that animal's benefit, but to ensure the entire shelter population is kept safe.
The center will house about 25-35 dogs and cats available for adoption (and possibly any other small mammels that we get into the shelter) and will also have a variety of pet-related merchandise for sale.
For those of you not familiar with the geography of Kansas City, let me take a minute to describe. There are essentially 3 main geography dividers in the Kansas City metropolitan area: the state line, that divides Missouri from Kansas, and the Missouri River, that divides Kansas City, MO North/South.
Currently, the three largest shelters in the metro all operate South of the river, two on the Missouri side, and one in Kansas. The Zona Rosa location will give KC Pet Project a significant footprint in Kansas City, MO, North of the River. And Zona Rosa is the highest-trafficked retail shopping district North of the River -- so we should have a TON of foot-traffic in and out of the store (and hopefully a lot of adoptions to match). The location will give us a 7-day-a-week retail adoption area, that will be open 12-ish hours a day in one of the fastest-growing areas of the city.
We're very excited.
We were able to obtain the space because like many retail destinations in this economy, there are a handful of openings spaces that they were looking to fill for the holidays and they were very gracious to provide the space to us as a not-for-profit for a below-market rate.
As we continue to move toward our no-kill goal, we continue to look for opportunities to increase adoptions in order to keep up with our daily supply. This is another great opportunity for us to do so.
Like always, I will update this blog with some adoption results (and more pictures of the inside of the space) as we get the store open and begin adoptions.