How did Lake County Animal Shelter do in 2021? Did all the reasons shelter industry leaders cite for increased killing in 2021 cause Lake County Animal Shelter to become a kill shelter?
To evaluate Lake County Animal Shelter’s performance, I obtained two key sources of data. First, I analyzed the shelter’s detailed intake and disposition records for each individual animal. You can view PDF and excel versions of this data source here and here. Additionally, I obtained a report detailing the shelter’s average length of stay for animals. You can view that information here.
High Live Release Rates
Lake County Animal Shelter saved virtually every dog that arrived in 2021. Overall, only 1.8% of all dogs, 2.4% of pit bull like dogs, 1.0% of small dogs and 1.7% of other medium to large size dogs lost their lives at the shelter. In other words, Lake County Animal Shelter saved approximately 98% of all dogs, 98% of pit bull like dogs, 99% of small dogs and 98% of other medium to large size dogs. Even if we only look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners, only 2.8% of all dogs, 4.0% of pit bulls, 1.6% of small dogs and 1.7% of other medium to large size breeds lost their lives in 2021. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter saved almost every dog it took in last year.
While the 2021 death rates are slightly higher than the 2019 rates (all dogs: 0.7%, pit bulls: 0.3%, small dogs: 0.5%, other medium to large size dogs: 1.0%), these are not significant. Additionally, the overall dog death rate of 1.8% was actually a bit lower than the 2020 dog death rate of 1.9%. Given shelters nationally killed dogs at a greater rate in 2021 compared to 2020 (animal intake was artificially low due to the pandemic and shelter policies), Lake County Animal Shelter’s 2021 dog death rates are impressive.
Lake County Animal Shelter also had excellent cat numbers. Overall, only 5.7% of all cats, 4.9% of adult cats and 6.5% of kittens lost their lives at Lake County Animal Shelter in 2021. Even if we exclude cats who were reclaimed by owners and placed through the return to field program, only 7.8% of all cats, 9.9% of adult cats and 6.7% of kittens their lives in 2021. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter saved almost all their cats of various ages.
Due to the difficulty of separating cat ages in its report and the immaterial difference I found in 2019, I used the shelter’s adult cat and kitten classification rather than my more precise age breakdowns (1 year old plus cats = adult cats; under 1 year old cats = kittens).
My analysis did not differentiate between older (6 weeks to just under 1 year) and younger (under 6 weeks) kittens due to Lake County Animal Shelter’s innovative “Wait-til-8” program. Under this program, the shelter asks the public to care for kittens until they reach 8 weeks of age. Since young kittens are highly vulnerable to disease in a shelter, this makes sense. The shelter provides wellness services every two to three weeks where the shelter weighs the kittens, deworms them and gives vaccinations. Additionally, Lake County Animal Shelter gives the people supplies, such as food, litter and kitten milk replacements. When the kittens reach 8 weeks, the shelter takes them in. Since Lake County Animal Shelter does not impound these animals until they are older than 6 weeks, these under 6 weeks old kittens are not counted in its statistics. Therefore, the shelter only takes a small number of under 6 weeks old kittens that are typically much more difficult animals. As a result, breaking out under 6 weeks old kittens would not provide useful information and would create a misleading picture when comparing to other shelters.
One can view the shelter’s cat sterilization program in different ways when calculating the cat death rates. Under the “Operation Caturday” program, Lake County Animal Shelter neuters and vaccinates “unowned” and “free-roaming” cats and frequently returns the animals to caregivers or the locations where the cats were found without identified caregivers. Per my discussion with shelter director, Whitney Boylston, the shelter impounds these cats and can place some animals through other programs, such as return to owner or adoptions. Therefore, one can make the argument the shelter should include these animals in its statistics based on the Shelter Animals Count data reporting guidelines that state such cats are included if the animals are “admitted for sheltering” and not “only for a service or services (sterilization and/or vaccination).” On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of Operation Caturday cats are brought in by a caregiver and returned to that caregiver (i.e. shelter operates like a clinic assisting TNR efforts and should not count these cats in its statistics).
To provide full transparency, I calculated alternative death rates using two methods to exclude these animals. Under the first method, I reduced returned to field and total outcomes by the 829 cats brought to the shelter by the public under Operation Caturday. The second death rate calculation decreased returned to field and total outcomes by the 870 cats returned to caregivers. This calculation is more punitive and likely overstates the cat death rate since stray cats may be returned to caregivers (i.e. these should always count in the statistics). Even with the more conservative cat death rate calculations, the shelter still had no kill level cat statistics.
Overall, Lake County Animal Shelter’s 2021 cats statistics are better than its 2019 ones. The shelter’s cat death rate (Adjustment #1) was 7.4% in 2021 compared to 9.0% in 2019. Similarly, the adult cat death rate and adult nonreclaimed cat death rate were about 1%-3% lower in 2021 verses 2019. Additionally, both kitten death rates were about 2% lower in 2021 verses 2019.
While the overall cat death rate in 2021 was higher than in 2020 (7.4% verses 6.5%), 2020 was an unusually low intake year. Regardless, the 2021 cat death rate was quite low especially when one considers the 2021 cat intake figure exceeded both 2020 and 2019 ones.
Animals Quickly Leave Shelter Alive
Lake County Animal Shelter’s dogs and cats quickly left the shelter alive. Overall, dogs and cats left the shelter in 9.95 days and 6.39 days. Dogs and cats were returned to owners on average after 2.57 days and 5.51 days. The shelter returned cats to field in 2.05 days on average. Most impressively, Lake County Animal Shelter adopted out its dogs and cats in 12.92 and 8.69 days on average. Finally, dogs and cats were transferred after 18.75 days and 3.56 days on average. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter quickly placed substantially all of its animals back in their existing or into new homes.
Lake County Animal Shelter’s length of stay data also reveals the shelter makes strong efforts to save dogs and cats. Overall, the shelter euthanized dogs and cats after 44.40 and 10.75 days. Since cats tend to come into shelters more frequently with severe injuries (4 dogs and 27 cats euthanized for this reason), such as from cars hitting them, and severe illnesses (3 dogs and 43 cats euthanized for this reason), the shorter average length of stay for euthanized cats is expected. As a comparison, Humane Rescue Alliance killed dogs and cats after 7.2 days and 4.1 days on average in 2020 and 2019. Clearly, Lake County Animal Shelter makes significant efforts to save the small number of dogs and cats it euthanizes instead of just quickly killing such animals.
Lake County Animal Shelter Only Euthanizes Dogs for Legitimate Reasons
Lake County Animal Shelter limits behavioral euthanasia to truly aggressive dogs. As you can see in the following table listing the reasons Lake County Animal Shelter used to euthanize dogs in 2021, the shelter only euthanized 0.62% of all dogs for behavioral related reasons (i.e. severe behavior issue, court order and dangerous). Remarkably, Lake County Animal Shelter meets the No Kill Advocacy Center behavioral euthanasia target (i.e. under 1%) that even many no kill shelters claim is too lofty. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter limited behavioral euthanasia to truly aggressive dogs.
Similarly, Lake County Animal Shelter only euthanized hopelessly suffering dogs for medical reasons. As the table below shows, the shelter euthanized just 0.53% of dogs for medical issues (i.e. severe illness, severe injury and owner requested).
Overall, these numbers were only slightly higher than the figures from 2019 (0.40% of all dogs euthanized for behavioral related reasons and 0.41% of all dogs euthanized for medical issues). The shelter’s increase in dog behavior euthanasia is due solely to “court order” and “dangerous” dogs cases where the shelter is legally forced to take the lives of these animals. In fact, the shelter euthanized a slightly smaller percentage of dogs for “severe behavior issues” in 2021 than in 2019 (0.22% verses 0.34%).
The shelter also limited behavioral euthanasia for pit bull like dogs to truly aggressive animals. Lake County Animal Shelter only euthanized 1.50% of all pit bulls for aggression, behavior and court order reasons. As with all dogs, Lake County Animal Shelter only euthanized a very small number of all pit bulls for medical reasons (0.75%).
While Lake County Animal Shelter euthanized more dogs for aggression related related reasons in 2021 compared to 2019 (1.50 % verses 0.86%), this increase is due solely to “court order” and “dangerous” dogs cases where the shelter is legally forced to take the lives of these animals. In fact, the shelter euthanized a slightly smaller percentage of dogs for “severe behavior issues” than in 2019 (0.60% verses 0.62%). Lake County Animal Shelter only euthanized a slightly greater percentage of pit bulls for medical reasons in 2021 compared to 2019 (0.75% verses 0.49%).
Lake County Animal Shelter’s reasons for euthanizing small dogs showed it only euthanized one hopelessly suffering animal. The shelter euthanized no small dogs for aggression and other behavioral reasons. Given small dogs do not pose a serious danger to adult people who are dog savvy, this is exactly what we should see at every shelter. As the table below shows, the shelter only euthanized 0.19% of small dogs for severe medical reasons.
The shelter also only euthanized other medium to large size dogs for legitimate reasons. Lake County Animal Shelter euthanized 0.36% of other medium to large size dogs for behavioral related reasons. The rest of the other medium to large size dogs were euthanized for severe medical problems (0.54% of other medium to large size dogs).
Overall, these figures were similar to 2019 (0.36% and 0.37% of other medium to large size dogs euthanized for behavioral related reasons in 2021 verses 2019 and 0.54% and 0.36% of other medium to large size dogs euthanized for severe medical problems in 2021 and 2019). As with pit bulls, Lake County Animal Shelter euthanized a smaller percentage of dogs for behavior when excluding legal cases, “dangerous” and “court order” (.09% in 2021 and 0.37% in 2019).
Finally, Lake County Animal Shelter gave the dogs it euthanized for aggression related reasons significant amounts of time to improve. The shelter euthanized dogs for “severe behavior issues”, “court orders” and “dangerous dog” cases after 78.6 days, 86.5 days and 46.7 days, respectively.
Lake County Animal Shelter Limits Cat Euthanasia to Severe Medical Issues
The table below lists the reasons Lake County Animal Shelter used to euthanize cats in 2021. As you can see, the shelter only euthanized cats for severe medical reasons (i.e. severe illness and severe injury ). Most impressively, Lake County Animal Shelter did not kill a single cat for behavior or aggression. Given shelters should never kill cats for aggression or behavioral reasons, this is an incredible achievement since 3,704 cats had outcomes (2,875 cats excluding the 829 Operation Caturday animals) at Lake County Animal Shelter in 2021.
Lake County Animal Shelter also euthanized no cats for rabies testing. As Hound Manor mentioned in its blog, few animals killed for rabies testing end up having the disease. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter did not needlessly kill cats to test for rabies.
Finally, Lake County Animal Shelter’s small number of cats euthanized for medical reasons indicates the shelter limited this to hopelessly suffering animals. The shelter only euthanized 1.97% of all cats for medical reasons. Even if we exclude the 829 cats the public brought to the shelter under Operation Caturday, this figure only rises to 2.54%. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center euthanized 2.75% of all cats for medical reasons in 2018 even with Austin Pets Alive pulling significant numbers of cats with serious medical issues (some of these probably were euthanized by Austin Pets Alive or died). Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter’s data indicates it limited cat euthanasia to hopelessly suffering animals.
Lake County Animal Shelter is a Role Model Shelter
Clearly, Lake County Animal Shelter is an elite organization. The shelter effectively limited euthanasia to hopelessly suffering animals and dogs that are truly aggressive. Additionally, it accomplished this by quickly finding live outcomes for its animals. Simply put, Lake County Animal Shelter steps up and does what it takes to save its animals.
Lake County Animal Shelter’s 2021 data proved no kill is sustainable in the deep south. The shelter has maintained its no kill status for five years. Furthermore, partial 2022 data I received shows the organization is still performing excellent as a no kill shelter for a sixth straight year. While national organizations blame external factors, such as “veterinarian shortages”, “worker shortages” and ” the eviction crisis” for shelter killing, Lake County Animal Shelter’s results disprove this. As has always been the case, shelter killing is due to poor shelter management and not other factors. The sooner people realize that, the sooner we can end the killing everywhere.
In 2013, the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s announced the opening of a “Behavioral Rehabilitation Center” at the St. Hubert’s-Madison shelter to rehabilitate abused dogs from cruelty cases. At the time, the ASPCA stated:
Dogs admitted to the Center will undergo an intensive rehabilitation regimen, with the goal of improving their well-being and helping them become suitable for adoption.
St. Hubert’s stated the following at the same time:
“St. Hubert’s is proud and thrilled to work with the ASPCA on this groundbreaking initiative to help the neediest victims of animal cruelty and the untold numbers of animals in the future who will benefit from the lessons learned through this program”
The ASPCA announced it would publish a research study about its work at this “Behavioral Center” at the time. On June 30, 2022, the ASPCA published its study.
What did the ASPCA study show? Did the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s do right by these victims of animal cruelty?
Scared and Abused Dogs Slaughtered
The ASPCA and St. Hubert’s program severely restricted the types of dogs it took in. The dogs were victims of animal cruelty or neglect who were fearful or exhibited such behavior. The program would not accept the following types of dogs:
Physically unhealthy dogs
Dogs with other behavior problems, such as resource guarding, dog aggression and separation anxiety
Dogs with offensive aggression
From 2013 to 2016, the study took place at the St. Hubert’s-Madison shelter. In 2018, the Behavioral Rehabilitation Center moved to Weaverville, North Carolina. However, the results did not significantly differ between the two facilities and the authors pooled both locations for their study.
Despite the ASPCA taking in physically healthy dogs and those who didn’t display serious aggression (i.e. offensive as opposed to defensive aggression) and other behavior issues, the organization still killed 61 out of 441 or 14% of these scared and abused dogs (two additional dogs were killed by organizations receiving them from the ASPCA).
Death Panel Kills Traumatized Dogs
The Behavioral Rehabilitation Center’s protocol was limited. For five days each week, the organizations provided a mere 15 minutes of “treatment” a day. In fact, dogs on average only spent 93 days (St. Hubert’s) and 108 days (North Carolina) in the program. Therefore, dogs only received on average 4 hours and 39 minutes and 5 hours and 24 minutes of total “treatment” at the St. Hubert’s and North Carolina facilities. During the the other two days a week, dogs received unspecified in-kennel enrichment. The dogs also received a combination of medicines (selected dogs at St. Hubert’s and all dogs at the North Carolina facility). Specifically, a veterinarian prescribed the anti-depressant, Prozac, and the ant-seizure and sedating pain control medicine, Gabapentin. Thus, the dogs received very little rehabilitation.
Each week, the “Outcome Decisions Panel” decided whether dogs lived or died. Specifically, the study stated the following:
If a dog did not show positive behavior change in response to treatment to meet Adoptability Guidelines and/or continued to suffer from a poor quality of life for behavioral reasons, medical problems that arose while the dog was in treatment, or both, the Panel made the decision to humanely euthanize the dog.
In other words, the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s consistently made killing a viable solution.
Killing Sad and Depressed Dogs
The ASPCA and St. Hubert’s death panel used a “Quality of Life Assessment Scale” as one of the two primary criteria for deciding the fates of dogs. Shockingly, the organizations’ instructions explicitly state this life or death tool determines if the dogs are currently experiencing mental anguish and not for predicting whether such mental issues would persist outside of the facility. In other words, the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s could kill a dog who is mentally distressed at their “Behavioral Rehabilitation Center”, but would be fine in a home.
At the BRC, this tool is used to help determine if a dog is experiencing a good quality of life based on actual observations in the dog’s current environments. It is not to be used to predict quality of life in another time or context.
The “Quality of Life Assessment Scale” is a tool designed to kill dogs by claiming the animals are “mentally suffering.” If a dog doesn’t play on their own, with other dogs, toys or people, the dog has a “poor quality” of life. If the dog doesn’t socialize with other living beings, the animal must be “mentally suffering.” Dogs that don’t urine mark, chew, dig or roll around must have a poor quality of life that makes killing the only “humane” option. If a dog makes the wrong decision about a fear inducing stimuli, we must kill the dog to put him or her out of their misery. Dogs that exhibit repetitive behavior or are scared and anxious must be killed due to their “poor quality” of life. As a result, the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s created a pseudo scientific tool to justify killing dogs for absurd reasons.
“Adoptability Guidelines” Designed to Kill Scared Dogs
The ASPCA and St. Hubert’s provided “guidelines” to its death panel to help them determine the fates of dogs. While the organizations state these are “flexible guidelines”, the instructions explicitly state “dogs should exhibit interest/excitement at best and mild to moderate fear at worst in each category” to “graduate from the program.”
The following serve as flexible guidelines, not criteria, to help the Outcome Decisions Panel determine each dog’s outcome. In general, in order to graduate from the program, dogs should exhibit interest/excitement at best and mild to moderate fear at worst in each category.
The “Kennel Presence” standards doom scared dogs who are experiencing kennel stress. The general guidelines require dogs to act nice in their kennels when a person walks by and approaches their kennels:
The dog can tolerate unfamiliar people walking past his or her kennel.
The dog can tolerate an unfamiliar person approaching the front of his or her kennel and pausing for up to 30 seconds to look at the dog.
Additionally, dogs who show barrier reactivity fail the test and presumably are destined for killing:
Lunging and barking, charging the front of the kennel, growling, and showing teeth in the kennel are not acceptable.
In reality, barrier or kennel aggression has no relationship to aggression in the real world. It is shelter specific behavior relating to the stress dogs, especially abused and traumatized ones, experience in an unnatural environment. During my times volunteering at shelters, I knew countless dogs with kennel aggression that were perfectly fine in a normal setting. In fact, Dogs Playing for Life, which is an expert at providing enrichment to shelter dogs, states barrier aggression should not be used to assess a dog’s aggression:
Staff will learn that a dog’s behavior on-leash or in their kennel (such as leash reactivity and barrier reactivity) is not an accurate indicator of a dog’s social skills. A dog that may be labeled aggressive because of kennel behavior may exhibit healthy social skills in play group.
The ASPCA’s and St. Hubert’s “Social Behavior/Interaction with People” guidelines require abused dogs to be social butterflies. Dogs should eat out of a familiar person’s hand and follow them around or greet them. One has to to ask, how many people, let alone those experiencing several emotional trauma, could pass such tests?
The dog can eat from a familiar person’s hand.
The dog can eat in the presence of an unfamiliar person. The unfamiliar person can toss treats on the ground/floor.
The dog exhibits behavior indicating that he or she has developed a social relationship with at least one person. Behavior may be subtle: positioning the body near the familiar person, following the familiar person around a room or pen, wagging at or approaching the person to sniff/greet when he or she enters a room, etc. Demonstrative social behavior is not required (e.g., jumping up on the person, play bowing, licking the person’s face).
In fact, the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s explicitly state dogs who move away from their owner more than 50% of the time or urinate or try to escape exhibit “unacceptable” behavior (i.e. code word for deserve to die).
Mild fear when interacting with a familiar person in other ways is acceptable. However, moving away 50% of the time or more when a familiar person attempts to come into close proximity (within arm’s reach) of the dog is not acceptable unless the dog immediately returns to the person after the initial move away.
Extreme fear is not acceptable (e.g., loss of bladder or bowel control, escape behavior).
The guidance for putting on a dog’s leash sentences many abused animals to death. Dogs have to let both familiar and unfamiliar people put a leash on. If it takes more than 5 seconds to put the dog’s leash on, the dog is doomed.
The dog allows a familiar person to leash and unleash him or her using a slip lead and clip lead in a variety of environments, including the dog’s kennel, a “Real Life Room”, and an outdoor play yard. The use of a drag line to facilitate leashing is acceptable if the dog is in a larger room or outdoor space.
The dog also allows an unfamiliar person to leash and unleash him or her using a slip lead and a clip lead in a variety of environments without the presence of a familiar person or a helper dog.
A person shouldn’t need to use “stealthy,” skillful handling techniques to apply the leash. The dog doesn’t have to stay in one place during the leashing process, but it doesn’t take more than 5 seconds to apply the leash.
If the dog pees, shakes, tries to get away or bites the leash, the dog fails these tests and is destined for killing:
Moderate fear and extreme fear are not acceptable (e.g., loss of bladder or bowel control, escape behavior, violent trembling, catatonia).
Aggression directed toward a person or the leash (snapping or biting at the slip lead during leashing) is unacceptable
The ASPCA’s and St. Hubert’s “Leash Walking” guidance is designed to kill traumatized dogs. If a dog is even the slightest bit reactive, the dog fails. Specifically, the guidance states a “dog can tolerate both a familiar person and an unfamiliar person walking him or her on-leash in the following contexts”:
The dog can walk on-leash past at least one unfamiliar person without a helper dog present.
The dog can walk on-leash in an unfamiliar area without a helper dog present.
The dog can walk up and down stairs, both indoors and outdoors.
The dog can walk through thresholds without balking, panicking, or fleeing.
The dog can walk on-leash in a park-like setting and in a neighborhood with moderate distractions, like occasional passing cars and foot traffic.
In fact, a dog fails and is likely sentenced to death if he or she gets scared for more than a minute by a car or a sudden sound. If the dog panics, chews on the leash or stops walking, the dog fails and the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s will likely kill them.
Mild fear throughout is acceptable. Moderate fear (e.g., startling or stopping when hearing a sudden sound or when a car drives past) is acceptable if the dog recovers, showing a decrease in fearful body language/behavior, within one minute.
Extreme fear is not acceptable (e.g., panic, escape behavior, “gator rolling,” chewing on the leash, becoming completely immobile, and refusing to continue walking).
The “Handling” guidance dooms even dogs who don’t come from abuse cases. Abused dogs must allow strangers to touch them. Furthermore, traumatized dogs have to allow “familiar” people to grab their paws, ears and muzzles and allow those people to give them a bear hug for 10 seconds. If the person has to work to do these things, the dog fails.
The dog tolerates both a familiar person and an unfamiliar person gently handling non-sensitive areas of the dog’s body (chest, shoulders, back, etc.). The dog does not have to appear to actively enjoy or solicit petting.
The dog tolerates a familiar person gently handling sensitive parts of the dog’s body (e.g., paws, ears, muzzle).
Touching the dog shouldn’t require the use of “stealthy,” skilled handling techniques or forced proximity (confining the dog to a small space in order to corner him or her).
The dog tolerates a familiar person gently restraining him or her (picking up the dog or performing a vet hold) for 10 seconds.
The dog doesn’t need to stay completely still when the person attempts to pick up or restrain him or her. However, the handler shouldn’t need to reposition the dog more than one time to accomplish the task.
If the animal shakes, tries to get away or urinates during these trauma-inducing actions, the dog fails and likely faces a death sentence.
Moderate and extreme fear are not acceptable (e.g., loss of bladder or bowel control, escape behavior, violent trembling, catatonia).
If the dog growls or muzzle punches when someone touches a sensitive area, the dog fails and is likely slated for death.
Growling, snapping, muzzle punching, attempting to bite, or biting during gentle, pain-free handling of non-sensitive or sensitive areas is not acceptable.
If a dog resists in anyway when putting on a muzzle for a veterinary appointment or won’t wear the muzzle for more than three minutes, the dog fails and likely faces being poisoned to death by the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s.
If restraint or handling sensitive areas in a veterinary context provoke an aggressive response, the dog can tolerate wearing a muzzle for a minimum of 3 minutes. A familiar person can easily apply the muzzle, and the dog does not panic, paw at the muzzle, or thrash around after it is secured.
The ASPCA and St. Hubert’s even slate dogs who don’t like being in crates for potential death. According to these organizations’ “guidelines”, dogs must go into a crate within 10 seconds or resist being put into a crate for three seconds or less. If a dog barks or whines in their crate for more than a minute during their first 30 minutes in a crate, the animal doesn’t meet these ridiculous guidelines.
The dog can go into an airline or wire crate within 10 seconds. He or she may do so by following a tossed treat, responding to a cue (verbal cue or hand signal), or moving into the crate when gently guided by the collar. If guided by the collar, the dog does not balk or attempt to back up for more than 3 seconds.
The dog can be left alone inside a crate for at least 30 minutes without barking or whining for more than a total of 1 minute at a time. The dog does not paw at the crate, bite at the crate, or attempt to escape from the crate.
The guidance dooms dogs who shake, pant heavily, “excessively” drool” or attempt to escape from their crates. If a dog barks for more than five seconds while in their crate after a person startles them, the animal fails the test. In other words, the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s view these as capital offenses worthy of the death penalty.
Moderate and extreme fear are not acceptable (e.g., trembling, panting heavily, excessively drooling, attempting to escape).
If a person suddenly enters the room and startles the dog, alarm barking alone is acceptable if the dog stops barking within 5 seconds.
The guidelines for how the dogs respond to getting into and riding in cars is deeply disturbing. The ASPCA and St. Hubert’s expect traumatized dogs to allow people to boost them or pick them up to put the animals in cars. Also, dogs must be able to ride in a car restrained by a seat belt, inside a crate or behind a barrier. Apparently, dogs who don’t like to ride in cars are worthy of the death penalty in the ASPCA’s and St. Hubert’s eyes.
The dog can get into a car by jumping up into it, by jumping up partway and then allowing a handler to “boost” him or her into it, or by allowing a handler to pick him or her up.
The dog can ride in a car, restrained by a dog seatbelt, inside a crate or behind a barrier.
Dogs who are scared in cars get no empathy from these kill first organizations. If a dog becomes startled for more than 30 seconds when a loud truck passes or when the car makes a sudden movement, the animal fails the test. If the dog shakes, attempts to escape or bites the leash when getting near or into a car, the dog is deemed unfit. Similarly, if a dog barks for more than five seconds after someone suddenly appears and startles the dog in a car, the dog fails. If a scared dog lunges, barks, growls and shows teeth while being scared in the car, the dog fails. Thus, the ASPCA’s and St. Hubert’s guidance sentences dogs to potential death for the mere crime of being scared to ride in cars.
Moderate fear (e.g., startling when a loud truck passes by or when the car makes sudden movements) is acceptable if the dog recovers (shows an obvious decrease in fearful body language/behavior) within 30 seconds.
Showing extreme fear (trembling, attempting to escape, biting at the leash, etc.) when approaching a car, getting into a car, or riding in a car is not acceptable.
If a person suddenly appears and startles the dog while he or she is in the car, alarm barking alone is acceptable if the dog stops barking within 5 seconds.
Lunging and barking, growling, and showing teeth at any time are not acceptable.
Dogs who are scared of other dogs get no reprieve from the behavior Nazis at the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s. If a dog shakes a lot, urinates, tries to escape or becomes frozen in fear when seeing another dog, the dog fails the test and likely faces a death sentence. Dogs that bark for more than 10 seconds when seeing a dog off-leash fail the test. If the dog is on leash, the dog fails if the handler can’t lead the barking dog away in five seconds or less. Upon greeting another dog, the dog fails the test if the dog growls, barks and shows teeth for more than five seconds. If the scared dog lunges forward and barks and growls at another dog, the dog fails and is slated for death. Even if another dog attacks the scared dog, the dog fails if it defends itself and continues after the aggressor dog backs down. Thus, the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s expect traumatized and abused dogs to be perfect with other dogs or face a death sentence.
Extreme fear is not acceptable (e.g., loss of bladder or bowel control, escape behavior, violent trembling, complete immobility).
Alarm barking alone may be acceptable when the dog sees another dog from a distance (8 feet away or more) or when another dog comes into view, as long as he or she stops vocalizing in under 10 seconds, and, if the dog is on-leash, an average handler can lead him or her in another direction within 5 seconds or less.
Lunging or charging forward toward another dog, along with barking, growling, and/or showing teeth, are not acceptable in any context.
When greeting another dog, growling, barking, showing teeth, and snapping are acceptable as long as these behaviors are brief (under 5 seconds) and inhibited: the dog stays in place or moves away from the other dog. Appropriate “corrections,” such as loudly barking and snapping at another dog that jumps on the dog or persistently solicits play, are acceptable. Biting (causing one or more puncture wounds) is not acceptable.
All aggressive behavior is acceptable if the dog is responding to aggressive behavior initiated by another dog—unless the dog continues to aggress after the aggressor stops (lies down, tries to move or run away, rolls over, yelps, and shows fearful body language, etc.).
Most disturbing, the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s killed dogs with “moderate” fear who improved. According to the ASPCA guidance, these dogs were not “extremely fearful” during the majority of their evaluations, showed brief social behaviors with a familiar person and did not bite or attempt to bite. Specifically, the dogs the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s killed on average improved from having “severe” to “moderate” fear. Thus, the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s killed dogs who progressed and clearly were capable of living their lives without harming anyone.
Program Utilizes Scientifically Invalid Temperament Tests
The ASPCA’s and St. Hubert’s “rehabilitation” program is based off flawed temperament testing. While the tests were more expansive than those in the ASPCA’s SAFER program, many of them are still based on behavior in an unnatural shelter setting. Scientific studies show these tests are inaccurate. In fact, the authors of a 2019 study in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior concluded:
This argues against use of any behavior evaluation to make important decisions for shelter dogs, especially if the behavior(s) of concern were only observed during provocative testing.
In fact, the ASPCA itself wrote a “Position Statement” in 2018 arguing against using its SAFER test in most circumstances:
For these reasons, the ASPCA recommends that, unless aggressive behavior during an assessment is egregious*, shelters should consider it valid only if corroborated in another environment.
*”Egregious” aggression should be defined by the individual shelter, but some defining characteristics could be (a) a bite that requires medical treatment, (b) an injurious bite that the dog could have avoided inflicting but opted to bite rather than retreat, (c) an injurious bite delivered without obvious warning, or (d) an attack in which repeated injurious bites are delivered.
The authors of the Journal of Veterinary Behavior study criticized the ASPCA’s limited use of temperament tests:
However we would argue that even if used in such a fashion, it must still be recognized that the clinical importance of the behavior(s) remains subjective and should not be interpreted as a scientifically validated indicator of future behavior.
Despite this, the ASPCA continued using scientifically invalid temperament tests at its Behavioral Rehabilitation Center even after it wrote its position statement arguing against using such tests. Specifically, the ASPCA published it position opposing temperament tests in 2018 and continued to enroll dogs into its study using such tests through 2020.
ASPCA and St. Hubert’s Hypocrisy
The ASPCA’s killing of more than 60 abused and traumatized dogs contradicts its TV ads about the organization saving abused animals. When one considers the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s deliberately did not accept dogs who displayed serious aggression (i.e. offensive) and those animals with concerning medical issues, these killings become even more disgusting. Simply put, the ASPCA dupes its donors into thinking it is saving abused dogs when it is in fact killing significant numbers of these creatures.
The ASPCA’s killing becomes more abhorrent when we consider the immense wealth this organization has. According to the ASPCA’s most recent year Form 990, it took in $325 million of revenue. At the end of its most recent fiscal year, the ASPCA had $407 million of net assets. The ASPCA’s CEO received $966,004 of total compensation in its most recent reported year. As a result, the ASPCA killed scared and abused dogs after short periods of time while it had massive amounts of money available and paid its CEO exorbitantly.
The ASPCA’s corruption is consistent with a CBS News expose last summer. The news organization found the ASPCA only spent 40% of its money on the animals despite its TV ads portraying that is where the money goes. Additionally, the organization took advantage of the public belief that the ASPCA and local SPCA shelters are the same organization, when they are not, to garner fundraising dollars for itself.
Unfortunately, the ASPCA seeks to kill more dogs who are “mentally suffering” under proposed New York legislation. While vaguely worded, the bill would essentially force shelters to kill mentally or emotionally ill dogs they couldn’t treat. When we couple this with the ASPCA’s and St. Hubert’s pet seizing cost of care bill, we can see shelters seizing innocent pet owners dogs, fundraising off them and then killing them because they couldn’t “treat” them. In other words, these bills would codify the ASPCA’s and St. Hubert’s abhorrent practice of killing scared dogs.
The ASPCA authors of this study stated the following:
This program represents a significant investment of time and expertise; we acknowledge that only well-resourced animal welfare agencies can provide a comparable program for moderately to extremely fearful dogs.
Although the treatment time required was not insubstantial, we hope this report will encourage well-resourced organizations to invest in the recovery of homeless animals who fit this population’s behavioral profile.
Frankly, no organization, wealthy or poor, should implement a “program” that kills more than five dozen scared and abused dogs. Imagine if you were an abused dog in a facility with people looking for ways to kill you? How much fear would you experience when behavior Nazis were provoking you to become more fearful and lash out? People who sought to make you so scared you urinated or defecated on the ground, trembled and became catatonic. Simply put, these are sociopathic actions and no organization who cares about animals should ever replicate them.
The dramatic decrease in shelter killing is primarily due to widespread spay/neuter and adoption campaigns. Spay/neuter reduces the number of animals coming into shelters. Adoption campaigns increase the number of animals leaving shelters alive.
Earlier this year, I wrote a blog about a group advocating for shelters to breed animals. The Functional Dog Collaborative is a coalition of breeders, anti-pit bull dog trainers, mass transporters and high kill shelters. What do all these individuals have in common? They have no respect for life and put their personal interests ahead of the needs of animals.
While there is a small fluctuation each year in federal and state licensees, the overall trend is showing that more commercial dog and cat breeders are not only going out of business, but many of the worst puppy mills have either been shut down or downsized greatly.
Nebraska Department of Agriculture records show that half of the state’s commercial dog and cat breeders have left the business over the past seven years. The decline was particularly sharp between June 30, 2018, when there were 216 state-licensed breeders, and the same date this year, when the number was down to 138.
Bailing Out Benji quotes two Nebraska commercial breeders stating anti-puppy mill laws and competition from shelters and rescues are major reasons behind the closing of puppy mills:
Rising overhead costs, laws limiting pet store sales and competition from animal rescue organizations.
Midwest breeders were hurt by a California law that banned pet stores from selling commercially bred puppies, kittens and rabbits.
In fact, Bailing Out Benji quotes the IBIS World Dog and Pet Breeders Industry’s explanation for the decline in puppy mills (i.e. anti-puppy mills laws):
The Dog and Pet Breeders industry has been subject to a moderate level of revenue volatility over the past five years. Recent efforts to regulate the industry and fight against puppy mills have contributed to strong revenue declines.
Furthermore, the IBIS World Dog and Pet Breeders Industry stated “Adopt, Don’t Shop” campaigns have caused pet stores to stop selling puppy mill sourced animals and to instead offer rescue animals:
Clearly, shelters do not need to breed animals to stop puppy mills. Instead, laws banning pet stores from selling puppy mill sourced animals and “Adopt, Don’t Shop” public campaigns kill the cruel puppy mill industry.
Breed Animals Even When Your Shelter is Full and Killing Pets
The Functional Dog Collaborative’s “Shelter Messaging and Policies” and “Overpopulation, or too many challenging dogs” documents tell many shelters to breed animals. The organization states shelters should breed animals, via helping others do so, when “true overpopulation doesn’t exist.” In fact, The Functional Dog Collaborative says shelters should breed animals even if they “are still working really hard to save animals.” In order to convince shelters to breed animals, The Functional Dog Collaborative tells shelters to do so in the following circumstances:
When the shelter is still killing large numbers of other species, such as cats
When the shelter is still killing all animals in the summer time only
When the shelter is struggling to “save more difficult animals”
When the shelter has lots of puppies, but they are adopted quickly
The Functional Dog Collaborative narrowly defines the circumstances when shelters should not breed. For example, it says shelters shouldn’t breed if the community has “a wide variety of dogs available for adoption nearly all the time” and gives the following indicators:
A wide variety, of all sizes, breeds, and ages, including lots of small & fluffy dogs, and puppies of many different sizes/breeds.
A wide variety of purebred dogs of many breeds and sizes, including a significant percentage of dogs in the AKC top 30 most popular breeds. They are the most common in your community, whether you are seeing those dogs in your shelter or not
Easy, family friendly dogs that are great for first time pet owners, who have other pets & kids.
Furthermore, The Functional Dog Collaborative tells shelters to breed animals in the following circumstances:
When those facilities are killing healthy, friendly dogs/puppies for time and space as long as these organizations aren’t doing so for most of the year
When those shelters transport out certain types of dogs (specific breeds, sizes, ages, health or behaviors) for most of the year
In fact, The Functional Dog Collaborative’s guidance only tells shelters not to breed animals when:
They are killing healthy, friendly dogs/puppies for time and space during most of the year
They can’t find homes for “small & fluffy dogs, and easy family friendly dogs”
They rely on “unrestricted transport” to save “all dogs and puppies”, including “healthy, friendly family dogs”
The Functional Dog Collaborative instructs shelters to breed animals when they are full in the following situations:
Kennels may be full, but it’s nearly all the same type of dog. In most areas, it’s pittie types. In some areas there may be just too many of something else, such as chihuahuas or large hounds
Many or most dogs have significant medical or behavioral issues, such as needs to be the only dog, needs experienced owner, or no kids.
Many or most dogs have restrictions on who can adopt them, which volunteers or fosters are allowed to care for them, and/or behavior plans needed. Appropriate adopters and fosters who are successful with the pets are hard to find.
To illustrate its complete disdain for rescue animals, The Functional Dog Collaborative states some shelters are full with dogs having “significant medical or behavior challenges” that “aren’t matches for the general public looking for an easy/normal family dog.” In other words, the pro-breeding group denigrates treatable dogs by stating they are not “normal” and are unsuitable for most people.
To summarize, The Functional Dog Collaborative wants shelters to breed when people “find it difficult to adopt” the following dogs:
Small & fluffy dogs, puppies of various sizes & breeds
Starter dogs/family friendly dogs – easy pets who can live with first time dog owners, families with kids, people with other pets, people who don’t have experience managing dogs with issues
If someone can’t buy one of these dogs at “an affordable cost” or “with financing” or has to wait for the time a “responsible breeder” requires today, shelters should breed according to The Functional Dog Collaborative.
As you see from the above, The Functional Dog Collaborative wants nearly all shelters, including those that kill and transport out many dogs, to breed animals by helping others in their communities do so.
Massive Breeding Operations Wanted
The Functional Dog Collaborative’s “Determining your community’s dog replacement needs” document illustrates how many dogs this organization seeks to breed. This document uses a formula to estimate how may dogs people acquire each year in a state. Below are the number of dogs several states should produce annually according to this guidance compared to the number of unclaimed dogs those state’s shelters take in a year:
While The Functional Dog Collaborative’s guidance states shelters should reduce these figures by the number of puppies produced from “ethical sources” in the area, I’m skeptical whether many shelters would do so. First, history shows us most shelters, especially those that have little respect for life, rarely do extra work. Second, shelters would have a financial interest to breed and sell more popular animals. Third, many breeders would be reluctant to share confidential data about their business even if shelters sought it. Thus, I’d expect shelters who want to produce puppies inside their shelters or with their breeder partners would create as many as possible to maximize their profits.
In reality, The Functional Dog Collaborative guidance could urge shelters to produce more puppies than the numbers above. Since the organization deems many shelter dogs unworthy of a home with most families, large numbers of the dogs shelters take in wouldn’t count in these calculations of how many dogs shelters and communities should produce.
Destroying the System That Decreased Shelter Killing
The Functional Dog Collaborative’s “Shelter Messaging and Policies” guide tells shelters to favor breeding over adoption. Animal shelters successfully used “Adopt, Don’t Shop” campaigns to persuade the public to save lives. However, The Functional Dog Collaborative’s guide tries to convince shelters to end “Adopt, Don’t Shop” campaigns:
Stop using language that implies -or explicitly states- that adoption is the only acceptable option for acquiring pets, such as “Adopt, don’t shop”.
Ensure that your organization is not using generalized language such as “when you buy, shelter pets die”.
In fact, The Functional Dog Collaborative wants to change the “Adopt, Don’t Shop” campaign to “breed local/buy local” in an apparent attack on competition from domestic and international transported rescue dogs:
Reinforce the importance of providing local dogs, locally. Change messaging to actively encourage and support “breed local/buy local”.
To make matters worse, The Functional Dog Collaborative tells the public to breed dogs so their “friends and family can find good dogs.”:
Actively message your community that “good family dogs having some puppies” is how we ensure that people can have dogs from an ethical source
Shift your messaging from “your dog having babies is irresponsible and kills other dogs” to “your successful family dog having babies is a neighborly service to ensure that your friends and family can find good dogs”.
Instead of using veterinarians to increase adoptions, the Functional Dog Collaborative wants shelters use those veterinarians to promote breeding.
Include specific outreach to private practice veterinarians in your community in your messaging
The Functional Dog Collaborative also wants to tear down the country’s spay/neuter infrastructure. Specifically, the organization states the following:
Stop advocating for universal spay/neuter for every animal, without exception.
Ensure that you have eliminated all messaging and storytelling that says or implies that intact animals and/or accidental litters are inherently irresponsible.
Furthermore, the pro-breeding organization tells shelters to do the following:
Focus spay/neuter on animals that are being killed in shelters (i.e. pit bulls, feral cats)
Stop advocating for spay/neuter on most young animals
If that was not bad enough, The Functional Dog Collaborative instructs shelters to convince the public to breed their animals and not sterilize them immediately:
Encourage people with healthy, behaviorally sound dogs to have a litter or two before bringing the dog in for spay/neuter.
Actively counsel people asking about scheduling a spay or neuter with your organization about whether their dog should be passing on their great genes and having a litter or two before surgery! Where’s the bar for who should be reproducing? At a minimum, animals who have been successfully living with a family, are demonstrating good behavior as a family pet, and are not experiencing known health issues. Preference is a pre-breeding exam to better evaluate.
Shelters Increase Breeding
The Functional Dog Collaborative tells shelters to do the following:
“Provide resources to people who are already breeding locally”
“Provide resources to people who are seeking puppies and dogs” to help them buy those animals from breeders
When we look at this organization’s specific recommendations, it becomes apparent it is trying to recreate a world where people don’t adopt many animals and instead buy pets from breeders. First, The Functional Dog Collaborative wants shelters to “Help your community understand the ideal pet that should have a litter before being spayed or neutered.” Second, The Functional Dog Collaborative wants shelters to actively help not just “breeders”, but even the worst of the backyard breeders, by providing the following:
Routine vaccinations & parasite control for breeding animals & litters
Classes on best practices for breeding and raising litters
Socialization opportunities: they don’t have kids at home, people in wheelchairs, men with beards: you might provide this under the expertise of your behavior department
If you find that an owner cannot manage the care and raising of a litter, can your organization offer temporary foster care until the puppies are weaned, then mom goes back to her family?
In other words, The Functional Dog Collaborative wants shelters to use their own veterinary, employee and volunteer resources to support breeders, including those who treat animals poorly to make a buck.
Most disturbing, “The Functional Dog Collaborative” wants shelters to sell these breeders’ animals and “coach” the breeders on finding customers:
Offer for the shelter to place the puppies in homes or consider coaching on best practices to the mom’s owner in making placements.
HSUS Makes Lame Excuses for Shelter Breeding Session
After facing severe backlash about its shelter breeding “Learning Lab”, HSUS wrote a “position” document defending its conference presentation on shelter breeding. HSUS claimed it just wanted to have “thoughtful conversations about industry best practices and about current and future challenges – some controversial – faced by local organizations and pet owners.” In response to the public outrage, HSUS also stated none of the speakers worked for HSUS and HSUS didn’t create the presentations. While that is true, that is the case for almost all presentations at conferences. The fact of the matter is HSUS provided shelter breeding zealots a “daylong session” at its conference to sell this pet killing idea.
HSUS attempted to deceive the public into thinking the conference presenters didn’t call for shelter breeding. While the conference presentation didn’t explicitly state shelters should breed animals within their physical facilities, it did say shelters should do everything possible to help breeders, including abusive ones, produce more animals. This includes the following:
Using the shelter’s behavior department to make bred puppies more adoptable
Using shelter resources to teach people about breeding animals
Providing foster homes for breeder puppies
Teaching breeders on how to find buyers for their puppies
The HSUS “position” document used politically deceptive language to help shelter breeders make their case. Specifically, HSUS parroted the arguments from the high kill shelters, such as the high kill Dakin Humane Society and Massachusetts SPCA, who want to breed animals (via third party sources):
they also left space for local shelters to express their concerns that even with robust transport programs, they feel they are not able to meet the demand for adoption and are watching as community members seek out other ways to obtain dogs, including through Internet sites that are keeping puppy mills in business.
whether animal welfare organizations should play a role in ensuring every person who wants a dog can find one from a humane source
while also identifying communities where, due to a lack of dogs at local shelters and rescues, people may be opting to purchase puppies from pet stores or Internet sales that are actually supporting puppy mills.
While HSUS didn’t say the shelters wanted to breed animals, it used the presenters coded language that advocates for shelter breeding. For example, statements, such as shelters that are “not able to meet the demand for adoption”, “ensuring every person who wants a dog can find one from a humane source” and “while also identifying communities where, due to a lack of dogs at local shelters and rescues, people may be opting to purchase puppies from pet stores or Internet sales” are code language for shelters to breed animals.
HSUS stated it opposes shelters breeding animals and supports large scale spay/neuter, but its specific positions are more ambiguous. For example, HSUS supports providing “wellness care” to breeder animals. Additionally, HSUS left the door open for shelter breeding in the future by stating we should be “talking about hard issues” (i.e. shelter breeding) and “support safe and open dialogue that welcomes all viewpoints as a means to reach our collective goal to help pets and stop puppy mills” (i.e. shelter breeders claimed goal). Thus, HSUS opposition to shelter breeding is a weak response to public outrage and appears temporary (i.e. could reverse if it becomes politically palatable).
Shelter Breeding is a Catastrophic Threat to Companion Animals
The Functional Dog Collaborative’s anti-spay/neuter ideas will lead to a massive increase in unwanted dogs. Given dogs can reproduce twice a year and have large litters, these animals can quickly grow their populations exponentially. For example, one spay/neuter group estimates a single female dog can produce 508 puppies over a seven year period. Similarly, The Functional Dog Collaborative believes breeding just 4% of female dogs can create millions of puppies for Americans. In reality, once the social stigma against having intact dogs and breeding ends, many more dogs will be intact and breed intentionally and unintentionally. Thus, we will end up in a 1970s world where animal shelters are overwhelmed with dogs.
The promotion of bred verses adopted dogs will decrease demand for this increased number of homeless dogs. Once the social stigma of “buying” dogs ends, people will be less inclined to adopt a dog in need of a home. As Nathan Winograd recently wrote about, The Functional Dog Collaborative’s attempts to normalize breeding and buying bred animals will return us to the 1970s world where shelters were filled with homeless animals and the public did not adopt most of them. Thus, the Functional Dog Collaborative would return us to an era where shelters kill massive numbers of dogs and people buy most of their animals from breeders.
Nathan Winograd eloquently explained how shelter breeding programs will increase rather than decrease the puppy mill business. First, shelter breeding programs (through their third party partner breeders) will incentivize puppy mills to incorporate as not for profits and breed their own “functional” mixed breed dogs. Second, shelter breeding will cause lawmakers to question pet store bans on the sale of bred animals, which have been highly effective at actually closing cruel puppy mills. For example, if shelters are selling bred animals, why couldn’t pet stores? Third, high kill and regressive shelters will hardly do a better job at getting backyard breeders to treat their animals well given these organizations’ horrific track records with their own animals. As a result, The Functional Dog Collaborative’s shelter breeding idea will increase rather than decrease cruel puppy mill operations.
The Functional Dog Collaborative breeding scheme would destroy animal shelters from within. Shelters and breeders have long competed for pet acquisition market share. However, The Functional Dog Collaborative would have shelters help their competitors and in turn destroy the shelters’ own homeless pets. This is akin to a vegan restaurant encouraging its customers to go to a place selling veal, foie gras and shark fin soup. Similarly, this would be like an anti-smoking organization telling people to buy cigarettes or an environmental group to tell its supporters to give money to polluters. Frankly, The Functional Dog Collaborative’s efforts look like a deliberate attempt to destroy animal shelters and rescues to enrich breeders.
At the end of the day, shelter breeding represents the most severe threat shelter animals have faced in 50 years. As advocates, we must fight this idea tooth and nail. If we don’t prevail, we will return to the 1970s’ world where shelters will kill many millions of healthy and treatable pets. Our society has come too far to allow that to happen again.
Proponents argue shelters need to breed pets or outsource the practice to 1) meet demand for dogs, 2) prevent expansion of puppy mills and 3) avoid shelter overcrowding and killing resulting from unscrupulous breeders. Ms. Briggs and her allies claim parts of the country have a severe dog shortage and the rest of the nation will soon experience it. Additionally, the proponents claim we have a cat shortage in parts of the country and we may need to breed more cats.
Are the advocates for shelter breeding and outsourcing the practice correct? Do shelters really need to breed animals to stop puppy mills? Will shelters become overcrowded and kill more pets if we don’t have shelters breed animals?
But for example, there were over 3200 shelters reporting to it in 2019. And in that year, there was an average percentage of about 7% of dogs coming into shelters were euthanized. So you know, and by most cases, they’re talking about “no kill” – a “no kill” being under 10% knowing that there will be some dogs that come into shelters that are either too dangerous to be rehomed or too sick. But, so 7% is pretty good. And actually the trends through that same Shelter Animals Count for 2020. There are… it’s dramatic decrease in intake, but it’s about 5% euthanasia. So it’s even gotten better.
The Shelter Animals Count data I reviewed does not match up with these claims. When we look at all organizations, both animal control shelters and rescues, 13.3% and 11.3% of all dogs lost their lives in 2019 and 2020 based on net outcomes (i.e. not double counting live outcomes, such as when a shelter transfers an animal to another shelter and that shelter adopts the pet out). From what I could tell, Ms. Briggs did not count owner-requested euthanasia or dogs that died in shelters (i.e. no kill benchmarks must include this data) and used gross intake (i.e. double counting animals impounded by one shelter and transferred to another shelter or rescue). Given no kill level death rates are based on animal control shelters, we should only look at shelters that governments run or private shelters operate under contracts with municipalities. Using this metric 16.5% and 14.1% of dogs lost their lives at animal control shelters in 2019 and 2020. Thus, Joyce Briggs used manipulated and misleading data to claim shelters had a dog death rate less than half of what it really was.
Joyce Briggs used a similar dishonest approach when talking about lower and higher kill regions of the country. She stated New England and the Pacific Northwest had 96% dog “save rates” and Louisiana and Mississippi had an 87% dog live release rate in 2019. Once again, Ms. Briggs appeared to 1) lump rescues and shelters together, 2) not count owner-requested euthanasia and dogs who died in shelters and 3) double count animals who came into shelters or had outcomes. When I look at the real data for animal control shelters, Louisiana and Mississippi animal control shelters had 28.1% and 25.6% dog death rates in 2019 and 2020. New England animal control shelters had dog death rates of 6.6% and 11.1% in 2019 and 2020 compared to the 4% death rate Ms. Briggs claimed. Similarly, The Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland, which Joyce Briggs co-founded, had a 9.7% dog death rate, which far exceeded the phony 4% rate excluding owner-requested euthanasia, and a 13.1% non-reclaimed dog death rate in 2019. Furthermore, these metrics understate the local animals’ death rates as they include easier to adopt transported animals and not just local pets. For example, if we assumed The Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland shelters saved all dogs transported in, the local dogs’ and local dogs’ non-reclaimed death rates would equal 15.3% and 26.3% in 2019. Thus, Joyce Briggs used deceptive data to hide the killing of shelter dogs in New England, the Pacific Northwest and Louisiana and Mississippi.
Ms. Briggs’ use of a 90% live release rate/10% death rate standard itself is a false notion of no kill. As Nathan Winograd, who created the 90% benchmark, repeatedly stated, that benchmark is outdated, obsolete and fails to mean a shelter is no kill. In fact, numerous animal control shelters across the country save around 98% to 99% of dogs, such as Florida’s Lake County Animal Shelter and Williamson County Animal Shelter in Texas. Thus, Joyce Briggs would be wrong to claim communities were no kill for dogs even if she didn’t manipulate her live release/death rates above.
Shelters Animals Count data, which Joyce Briggs relies on to claim many shelters aren’t killing, overstates shelters live release rates. Bad shelters are more likely to not voluntarily report data. Therefore, many high kill shelters won’t submit such information to Shelter Animals Count. For example, only 24 out of 87 or 28% of New Jersey animal shelters who reported statistics to the New Jersey Department of Health in 2019 also reported such data to Shelter Animals Count. Similarly, only 15 out of 71 or 21% of the New Jersey animal control shelters that reported data to the state health department sent that information to Shelter Animals Count. In fact, 6 or 50% of the 12 New Jersey animal shelters that killed the most dogs in 2019 reported data to the state health department and not Shelter Animals Count. As such, it is no surprise that New Jersey animal control shelters had a 7.1% death rate per Shelter Animals Count in 2019 while the more comprehensive state statistics showed a 7.6% dog death rate in 2019. Additionally, Shelter Animals Count data includes rescues without facilities that have much higher live release rates. When we include all reporting facilities in 2019, Shelter Animals Count showed New Jersey organizations had a 5.2% dog death rate while the state health department’s sheltering statistics reflected a 7.0% dog death rate. Thus, Shelter Animals Count data likely makes shelters look better than they really are due to self-reporting bias.
Advocates for shelters breeding animals have no good data on the supply of dogs to meet this demand. Specifically, the total number of dogs purchased from commercial and hobby breeders is unknown as complete data does not exist. Furthermore, no one has any information about the number of dogs rehomed between pet owners.
So why do people like Joyce Briggs claim a pet shortage exists? She points to the fact that a minority of people obtain their dogs from shelters and rescues (36% in the 2019-2020 American Pets Products Survey). However, rescue animals have long comprised a minority of the total dog acquisition market. That does not mean a dog shortage exists. In an attempt to stretch the truth, Ms. Briggs asserts we can only count shelter and rescue puppies as part of the supply to meet dog owner demand since only these dogs are “new” supply. Given we are measuring demand for dogs as the number of dogs people want to obtain in a year, we absolutely should count almost all shelter dogs in the supply figure. Why? When people surrender a dog or lose a dog, most do not immediately obtain another dog. Thus, Joyce Briggs has no data to support her pet shortage assertion and deliberately tries to overstate this “problem.”
Basic economics prove no dog shortage exists in the United States. If a dog shortage existed, we would see the following:
Price of dogs purchased and adopted skyrocket
Shelter and rescue share of the pet acquisition market dramatically decrease
Vast expansion of commercial and backyard breeders to take advantage of those price increases
Shelter intake increasing dramatically as intact animals breed
While we all have heard of stories of people paying large sums of money for specialized breeds, no data I can find suggests a massive rise in the price of dogs. In fact, the price of pets and pet related products has barely exceeded the rate of inflation from 1997 to 2021. While this figure includes things other than the cost of acquiring a pet, one would except a significant rise if a dog shortage existed.
American Pet Products Survey data shows no decrease in shelter and rescue share of the pet acquisition market. As you can see in the following chart using American Pets Product Survey data, animal shelters’ and rescues’ dog market share has largely been the same over the last decade. In fact, shelters and rescues had a greater share of the dog market in 2019-2020 (36%) than in 2012-2013 (35%).
The cat market share data shows a similar picture. As you can see, shelters and rescues had the same percentage of the cat market in 2019-2020 as these organizations did in 2012-2013. Given cats are far more plentiful in shelters and rescues than dogs, we’d expect a far better trend than we see with dogs if a canine shortage really existed.
Puppy mills and backyard breeders have not expanded in areas of the country with low animal intake at shelters. If the alarmist claims of Joyce Briggs and others were true, we’d see puppy mills and backyard breeders spring up in the northeast to take advantage of the supposed pet shortage. Furthermore, we’d expect to see a surge in the numbers of animals coming into shelters in the northeast due to unscrupulous breeders not sterilizing their puppies and kittens. What does the data show?
As you can see in the following chart, New Jersey animal shelters took in around 30,000 to 35,000 dogs each year from 2013 to 2019 (2020 had an unusual decline in shelter intake due to the pandemic).
When we look at just dogs New Jersey animal shelters impounded within the state, we see a steady decline in dog intake from 2013 to 2019.
At the same time, New Jersey animal shelters total and local dog death rates declined.
New Jersey cat data shows a similar picture with total cat intake dropping approximately 7% from 2013 to 2019 and the cat kill rate decreasing from 40.8% to 16.6% over the same period.
Connecticut animal shelters also have a similar trend of declining dog and cat intake and decreasing numbers of animals killed.
Clearly, a “pet shortage” is not driving up shelter intake and killing. Instead, the opposite occurred with shelters taking in fewer dogs and cats and killing a smaller percentage of them.
Even if the proponents of the pet shortage alarm calls claimed transports temporarily delayed the pet shortage “problems”, the experience with small dogs proves that wrong. Few small dogs have been transported to northeastern states for many years even though these animals are popular. If the pet shortage pushers were correct, we’d see local shelters overwhelmed with small dogs. Instead, local shelters have few small dogs. Thus, the “pet shortage” panic is unwarranted.
In reality, people can always claim a “pet shortage” exists. The American Kennel Club and Fédération Cynologique Internationale currently have 199 and 354 dog breeds. Even when shelters took in and killed the most dogs in the 1970s, people couldn’t walk into shelters and find every, if not most, dog breeds. Similarly, shelters have a very small percentage of the 43 to 71 recognized cat breeds despite these facilities impounding and killing many cats. Thus, the argument we have a dangerous pet shortage is simply absurd.
Similarities to Transport
Regular readers of this blog and my Facebook page know I’m no fan of transports. While transports can serve as a temporary lifesaving measure for the very small number of shelters where high intake may be difficult to handle locally, in practice it is a money-making shell game. On the source shelter side, lazy directors can just ship animals out instead of developing the 11 No Kill Equation programs to responsibly reduce intake, provide elite level care to animals and increase live outcomes. On the destination shelter side, shelters can artificially increase their live release rates by bringing in easy to adopt animals. Additionally, destination shelters make significant amounts of money fundraising off transports and adopting out the animals for high fees.
Most disturbingly, transports harm local animals. When I volunteered at a local animal control shelter, the facility housed lots of large dogs (many of which came from the community) for years in tiny cages and crates. At the same time, the shelter transported in hundreds of easy to adopt puppies each year. When people came to the shelter, the individuals flocked to the puppies and ignored the adult dogs rotting away in tiny cages and crates. Similarly, when we went to adoption events, people ignored the adult dogs and adopted the puppies from our organization and other shelters and rescues. In one memorable instance, a young couple, who volunteered and loved the many suffering adult dogs, “fell in love” with a puppy the shelter just took in on a transport at an adoption event we held primarily for the adult dogs. This couple would have definitely adopted an adult dog. However, this cute puppy was too difficult to resist. Thus, transport harms local animals.
The Shelter Report blog performed an analysis that supports this hypothesis. In the blog, the author found, both in the winter and during kitten season, that having more kittens available reduced adult cat adoptions. This conclusion makes intuitive sense. When stores hold “Black Friday” or other sales with highly sought after items, they only offer a small number of the desirable products to increase foot traffic that enables these stores to sell other items. In contrast, most destination shelters flood their facilities with easy to adopt transported animals that displace the local pets who need more help.
Dakin Humane Society, which is located in Springfield, Massachusetts, proves transports harm local animals. In 2010, the shelter killed 40.6% of all adult dogs and 52.2% of local adult dogs if we assume it did not kill any transported adult dogs. In 2019, those figures were 44.6% and 51.9%. Those death rates further increased to 61.5% and 62.7% in 2020. On the cat side, Dakin Humane Society killed 32.6% of all adult cats in 2010, when it did not transport in cats, and killed 21.0% (23.3% of local adult cats assuming the shelter did not kill transported adult cats) and 29.4% (33.3% of local cats using the same assumption) of adult cats in 2019 and 2020. However, when we compare this data to the New Jersey Animal Shelters and Connecticut shelters above (which transported in a much smaller percentage of animals), we clearly see how the New Jersey and Connecticut shelters significantly decreased their kill rates over this time period while the mass transporting Dakin Humane Society increased their dog kill rate and had their cat kill rate stay flat/decrease much less. Thus, Dakin Humane Society’s mass transport program hurt local animals in need.
Most importantly, transports devalue the lives of local animals. If an organization is willing to bring in dogs and cats from hundreds or even thousands of miles away, what does that say about how much value the organization places on animals in its own community or even its shelter? Clearly, those animals lives don’t matter as much. Given the data above shows local animals’ live release rates increase when animal intake decreases, which is likely due to shelters being able to divert more time, resources and focus on these pets, transport harms these animals. Furthermore, shelter breeding programs would offer more desirable animals than transports and would hurt local pets even more.
Mass Transporters and Pro Killing Zealots Push Shelter Breeding
Joyce Briggs, who is the most vocal proponent of shelter breeding, started her animal welfare career working in a high level marketing and public relations position at American Humane Association during the mid to late 1990s. Nathan Winograd wrote many articles highlighting American Humane Association’s decades long pattern of supporting animal killing and abuse. For example, the organization frequently held “training” sessions at regressive shelters where American Humane Association killed animals. Additionally, American Humane Association had conference sessions “teaching” people not to feel bad about needlessly killing these animals. Furthermore, American Humane Association gets paid to certify “no animals were harmed” in various films. However, Nathan Winograd asserted animals were in fact harmed in cases, such as 27 animals dying in one film. In another instance, an animal nearly drowned and the American Humane Association inspector said “I think this goes without saying but DON’T MENTION IT TO ANYONE, ESPECIALLY THE OFFICE! I have downplayed the f— out of it.” Furthermore, American Humane Association gets paid by factory farms and slaughterhouses to receive their humane seal of approval. No wonder a prosecutor Nathan Winograd conversed with stated “From being the protectors of animals they’ve become complicit to animal cruelty.” Thus, Joyce Briggs started her animal welfare career off in a key position at an organization that harmed animals and allowed the infliction of violence towards animals in exchange for money.
Ms. Briggs went on to become the Executive Director of another animal exploiting operation called PetSmart Charities. While PetSmart Charities is technically separate from PetSmart, PetSmart Charities is nothing more than a public relations arm and money making vehicle for PetSmart. In 2021 and 2020, 32% and 34% of PetSmart Charities’ revenues came from PetSmart. Why would PetSmart give $26 to $27 million a year to a “charity?” To provide PetSmart customers the illusion PetSmart is doing right by animals. In reality, PetSmart profits off the sale and suffering of many small animals. Furthermore, PetSmart does not allow pit bulls to go to its “Day Camps” or “Play Groups” despite the widespread belief that people and organizations should treat all dogs as individuals. Thus, Joyce Briggs led an organization that enabled PetSmart to profit off the harming of animals and spreading of anti-pit bull bias.
The Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs board has many former and current large and traditional animal welfare organization people. Of the 10 board members, seven, including Joyce Briggs, work or previously worked at large national or international animal welfare organizations. One of these members worked at Colorado’s Animal Assistance Foundation that refuses to give money to organizations calling themselves no kill. Thus, the Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs board is filled with people who appear comfortable with shelters killing animals.
Many traditional national animal welfare organizations also provide funding and “key strategic and networking support” to the Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs. According to the organization’s notes to its 2018 audited financial statements, its “Council of Stakeholders” include Alley Cat Allies, the ASPCA, Best Friends, HSUS, International Cat Care, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Maddie’s Fund, Petco Foundation and PetSmart Charities. As a result, these organizations are funding and helping Joyce Briggs spend time to push for shelter breeding programs.
Joyce Briggs recently joined the Functional Dog Collaborative Board of Directors as its Treasurer. The organization’s web site states it was “founded to support the breeding and raising of purebred, outcrossed, and mixed-breed dogs while prioritizing the goals below.” Those goals generally attempt to reduce the physical health problems associated with breeding and to minimize behavior problems. While the Functional Dog Collaborative’s goals are admirable, the organization admits they conflict with what many breeders want to achieve (i.e. limited genetic diversity to breed for specific physical traits). In other words, the Functional Dog Collaborative appears to want to continue selective breeding and make it less damaging to dogs. However, the very nature of selective breeding (i.e. limiting genetic diversity to breed for specific traits) often harms the health of dogs. Unsurprisingly, several of the Functional Dog Collaborative board members and advisors are breeders or have close ties to breeding. Thus, Joyce Briggs serves on the board of an organization that is trying to encourage breeding.
Ms. McMillan’s philosophy about killing dogs is so extreme that she admits to being down with Sue Sternberg’s views. Sue Sternberg created the infamous “Assess-A-Pet” temperament test that killed and continues to kill huge numbers of dogs across the country. Even worse, Ms. Sternberg gives lectures advocating for shelters to kill many dogs, and pit bulls in particular. In an article Trish McMillan wrote and referenced during the Animal Farm Foundation video, she clearly stated her alignment with Sue Sternberg:
I’ve come a lot more in line with Sue Sternberg’s philosophy that shelters should be where people come to get the best dogs, not to become expert trainers or to have their bank accounts drained.
In a recent podcast, the Functional Dog Collaborative founder, Jessica Hekman, showed her cards in stating she was down with Trish McMillan’s killing many more shelter dogs idea:
I also have been talking with and watching the work of Trish McMillan, who has a lot of interesting things to say about the state of behavior issues in dogs coming out of shelters in the U.S. Obviously when I say that, I do not by any means mean 100 percent of the dogs coming out of shelters, but that she’s seeing an increase in the number of really severe behavior cases. So she does a lot of work around behavioral euthanasia, particularly with dogs coming out of shelters and rescues. All of that started coming together in my head into one thing: the problems with finding a good dog, basically.
This is really what Trish McMillan is grappling with. This is a lot of the work that she’s doing right now, just talking about … she calls it “outsourcing behavioral euthanasia” that she feels that a lot of rescues are not willing to do the hard work of saying, “These animals are not appropriate to place into pet homes and actually there isn’t a place for them.” That euthanasia part is so hard, and I hate talking about it because it sounds like I’m saying we need to kill more dogs.
In reality, a University of Denver study found that severe dog bites did not increase in Austin during the time its dog live release rate skyrocketed to a very high number. Thus, the implication that saving all treatable dogs and public safety are not compatible is simply not true.
If the pro-killing culture of the Functional Dog Collaborative wasn’t bad enough, the organization had no other than Sue Sternberg herself on its Advisory Board until recently. Ms. Sternberg has stated she is down with shelter breeding. In a frightening video, Ms. Sternberg said shelters should not adopt out pit bulls to families with small children by asserting their tails could knock someone’s teeth out.
While I cannot confirm these allegations, I have heard people claim Sue Sternberg publicly calling for shelters to kill many more dogs in the northeast. Specifically, I’ve seen allegations here and here stating Ms. Sternberg wants shelters to kill 75% or more of dogs in the northeast. Most disturbing, many people, including someone I know, pointed to Sue Sternberg seminars where she quickly concluded people should could kill dogs that didn’t seem to have any significant problems.
Sue Sternberg still has these sociopathic and psychopathic views. The rabid anti-pit bull organization, dogbites.org, gleefully shared and analyzed Ms. Sternberg’s Fall 2020 “seminar” at Long Island’s Oyster Bay Animal Shelter. During this “seminar”, Sue Sternberg quickly agreed with the killing of dogs for absurd reasons. For example, Sue Sternberg applauded the killing of a dog named Precious, which caused public outrage, for fence fighting. And how did Sue Sternberg come to that conclusion? Precious showed too much “arousal” and “frustration” as a “fighting stock guarding breed” and she was too “game bred” due to her playing too aggressively with a stuffed animal dog:
Savocchi asks if it is valid for animal “advocates” to say, “Any dog will fight through a fence.” And that Savocchi should not negatively score a dog for fence fighting(1:04)
“No,” Sternberg said. “This is what happens when people only see fighting stock guarding breeds and mixes in the shelters, who have such dog aggression and such arousal and frustration problems, that this becomes normal,” she said. “This is not normal. This is not what dogs do … a normal dog will fence fight and there is no contact. It’s all display” (posturing and noises). Referring to Ruby and Precious, due to their genetics, “there is no place where they are able to be with access to their instincts because they’re not bred as dogs. There is no way to fulfill them. It’s a cruelty to keep them alive. There is no way to provide the enrichment that they would really need in a safe way.”
(1:11) There was a protest after Precious was euthanized. Protesters said, “She’s a good dog. She just needs to go to a house without other animals.” After watching the Dog-to-Dog test, Sternberg goes into the concept of “game” and being “game bred.” Precious was not playing with the stuffed dog — play is reciprocal. “What she is showing, her motor patterns, all of her behaviors are to kill. She’s not doing it out of anger.” She added, “These dogs do not belong in our communities. When shelters place these dogs or send them to rescue and they get loose and hurt somebody else’s dog or a person? The emotional and financial liability? It’s so irresponsible. It’s got to stop. This is all in the name of a complete lack of knowledge of normal dog behavior, and a complete lack of knowledge of the limitations of behavior modification and of dog training.”
Sue Sternberg also stated the following about pit bulls:
You should be afraid of these dogs. These dogs are predators. These dogs are dangerous, the highest level of aggression and risk.
Ms. Sternberg also cheered on the killing of a small intact male pit bull seized from a squatter house. Using Sue Sternberg’s infamous, and scientifically invalid, food guarding test, the dog lightly nipped at the hand after being harassed. In response, Sue Sternberg stated the following in response to the shelter’s trainer asking if she should have rehabilitated the dog:
“No,” Sternberg answers. “You can’t change these aggression thresholds. This isn’t a food bowl issue. This is a resource guarding, a guarding issue. This is a guard dog. Here’s the thing, you neuter him, his appetite goes up. Now, he is worse, if that is even possible. No, this level of resource guarding is so serious. That dog, no sociability to humans. These are really dangerous combinations. These are not pet dogs. So dangerous.”
In reality, scientific studies prove food guarding in a shelter often doesn’t even happen in a home and most people can manage it (i.e. leave dog alone when eating) when it does occur. Of course, that would interfere with Sue Sternberg’s psychotic god complex to kill the many dogs she hates. Therefore, she ignores it. Simply put, the animal welfare community must ostracize the Functional Dog Collaborative for having anything to do with this maniac.
We never thought we would be here,” Haston said, adding that he believes breeders and shelters will have to work together to figure out where dogs will come from to meet the demand, and how to produce them humanely.
I think we are, on both sides of the equation, ill-prepared,” Haston said. “It’s going to force us to have to have a lot of conversations that maybe weren’t traditionally in our realm that will be uncomfortable for all of us.
The wealthy and high kill Massachusetts SPCA also is down with shelters breeding animals. In a recent Facebook post by Austin Pets Alive Director, Kristen Hassen, Mike Keiley, Massachusetts SPCA Director of Adoption Centers and Programs, stated New England shelters discussed the issue for “30+ years” and “we cannot possibly import dogs fast enough and with enough diversity to satisfy the adoption market” to argue for shelter breeding. What Mr. Keiley failed to mention were his very “adoption centers” catastrophic death rates of 37% to 74% for all dogs, 39% to 76% for adult dogs, 6% to 27% for cats and 8% to 33% for adult cats.
At the same time, Massachusetts SPCA is extremely wealthy. The organization took in $89 million of revenue, with a $12 million profit, in 2020 and and had $142 million of net assets per its 2020 Form 990. When we look at the organization’s 2020 audited financial statements, nearly 80% of that revenue comes from its health and hospital services. These hospital services don’t just include caring for poor folks’ animals, but also offer state of art treatment for people who could easily afford to go to other high end animal hospitals. Where does a lot of Massachusetts SPCA’s revenues go? To its highly compensated executives. In 2020, the two people serving as CEO during the year received $867,033 from the organization (the person serving as the only CEO in 2019 made $777,830). Thus, Massachusetts SPCA is money making scam for its high end executives and a death trap for homeless animals unlucky to find themselves entering Mike Keiley’s “adoption centers.”
Austin Pets Alive and Best Friends Community Sheltering Programs Will Transform Shelters into Pet Stores
Austin Pets Alive and Best Friends are strongly advocating for their Human Animal Support Services (HASS) and community sheltering programs. Under these programs, shelters only take animals in on an emergency basis, such as serious bite cases and severely injured animals, and do not bring in stray and owner surrendered animals. Instead, the public is forced to do the work shelters previously did. While Austin Pets Alive and Best Friends argue shelters will assist people in these efforts, experience shows many shelters simply dump the problem on the public. In fact, El Paso, Texas terminated its HASS program after public outrage resulting from abandoned animals dying on the streets.
While HASS promotional pieces argue shelters can use this empty animal holding space for good uses, such as more expansive kennels and larger adoption counseling areas, this is hopelessly naive. If governments have no animals to house, they will simply stop funding shelters. Therefore, animal control shelters will close or become significantly smaller unless these organizations find new revenue sources.
Shelters will become pet stores if HASS/community sheltering becomes the norm and the pet shortage/breeding idea wins out. While the idea may seem farfetched, it has happened with transport. A decade ago, Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter contracted with numerous municipalities and killed scores of them. At the same time, the shelter transported tons of easy to adopt pets from the south. Why did the borough of Helmetta do this? To bring in revenue to lower taxes. Similarly, private shelters, such as Dakin Humane Society and St. Hubert’s, do similar things albeit without the animal cruelty charges that Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter had. Even though empty shelters could have more than enough pets to adopt out for decades by transporting animals in from other countries, this would cost more due to longer traveling distances and more stringent disease control policies for international dogs. Additionally, breeding will provide the public even more “desirable” dogs than any transport could yield. Furthermore, for people like Trish McMillan and Sue Sternberg, who want to kill any dog that doesn’t fit their submissive and supplicant ideal, breeding dogs in this way will be preferable. Thus, the combination of HASS/community sheltering and the pet shortage ideas winning out will transform shelters into pet stores.
Respect for Life Must Be the Future of Animal Welfare
Nathan Winograd also articulated a broader respect for life approach shelters can take in his recent podcast. Using his work at the San Francisco SPCA in the 1990s as an example, Mr. Winograd envisions a world where shelters proactively attend government meetings and address issues in real time. For example, Nathan Winograd cited an example where the San Francisco SPCA stopped a plan to use glue traps in government buildings and instead rodent proofed the facilities to solve a pest problem. Similarly, I could see shelters working to resolve wildlife conflicts without resorting to killing the animals. Also, shelters can proactively work with pet owners in the community to solve behavior, medical and other problems long before the issues could result in the owners surrendering their animals. Finally, shelters can continue to support retail pet store bans and additional legislation to curb cruel breeding operations. As a result, shelters can spread the respect for life culture far beyond their walls.
On the other hand, the pet shortage pushers disrespect life. Instead of viewing shelters as places to save the lives of homeless animals, the pet shortage proponents want to use these facilities to sell puppies to meet their view of market demand. Of course, good shelters have long altered this market demand by appealing to the public’s deep desire to save lives. Unfortunately, that doesn’t matter to the pet shortage pushers who have long profited off the killing (or enabling) of animals in need. Even worse, folks like Trish McMillan and Sue Sternberg, are on some perverse quest to kill animals and even huge swaths of the dog population. Thus, the pet shortage pushers show a complete and utter disrespect for life.
The pet shortage idea is just another example of the animals welfare industry harming animals. In Nathan Winograd’s recent podcast series “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: Animal Sheltering in the United States”, Mr. Winograd outlined how shelters abandoned the movement’s initial goal of animal protection in favor of profit. After ASPCA founder, Henry Bergh, died in 1888, the ASPCA and other animal protection organizations took over pound contracts and killed animals for money (albeit in a less cruel manner). Subsequently, the animal welfare industry created myths, such as blaming the public, to justify it killing animals for money. Even when lifesaving alternatives existed, such as subsidized high volume spay/neuter, TNR and high powered adoption programs, the animal welfare industry opposed them for long periods of time. Is it any wonder that people who accumulated wealth and notoriety in this system would not respect the lives of animals?
Austin Pets Alive Director, Kristen Hassen, seems to want to have a “conversation” with the pet shortage pushers even if she appears to oppose shelters breeding animals. I disagree. You don’t have a “conversation” with people who have no respect for the lives of animals. You do not talk with people who profit off the killing of animals. Certainly, you do not have a “discussion” with psychopaths like Sue Sternberg, Trish McMillan and the people elevating those two individuals. Instead, you destroy their arguments and crush this idiotic idea before it takes hold.
Joyce Briggs describes herself as a “game-changer” and “serial collaborator” in her Linkedin profile. Animals and their lives are not a “game” and even if they were I wouldn’t want Ms. Briggs to “change” it based on her track record. Collaborating with people like Sue Sternberg and Trish McMillan should disqualify Joyce Briggs from being part of any serious “conversation” in animal welfare. Instead, Joyce Briggs should retire and her shelter breeding idea should never see the light of day.
Years ago I thought Humane Rescue Alliance was a progressive no kill shelter. At that time, the organization was called Washington Humane Society and was the animal control shelter in Washington DC. Based on a blog from a former no kill advocate and Washington Humane Society’s claims of having around a 90% live release rate in news stories, I thought the organization might be on the cusp of becoming a no kill leader.
When I examined the shelter more closely, I found Washington Humane Society’s claims were completely untrue. In 2016, I visited the organization’s New York Avenue shelter in Washington DC and noticed something was off. Despite it being a weekend, the shelter had virtually no one visiting. When one coupled the lack of foot traffic and the small size of the shelter, it was impossible to believe Washington Humane Society saved around 90% of their animals. After obtaining the organization’s 2016 animal shelter statistics, I found the shelter only had 69% dog and 81% cat live release rates. Thus, Washington Humane Society completely lied about their live release rates.
Humane Rescue Alliance significantly increased their executives’ compensation after the mergers. In 2014, Lisa LaFontaine received $229,618 in total compensation. Ms. LaFontaine’s compensation increased to $254,192 in 2015, which was the year before the organization took over Washington Animal Rescue League, and its possible the 11% bump in compensation reflected the expectation that a merger would happen. By 2018, which was the year before the St. Hubert’s merger, Lisa LaFontaine’s compensation jumped to $364,494. In 2019, Ms. LaFontaine’s compensation rose to $382,010. From 2014 to 2019, the Chief Operating Officer, Stephanie Swain, had her compensation nearly double from $106,627 to $209,403. In total, the “highly compensated employees” in the Form 990 received $559,128 in 2014 and $1,214,726 in 2019. This 217% bump in executive compensation likely understates the true increase as 2014, but not 2019, included the organization’s head veterinarian, and Humane Rescue Alliance has many other executives not included in the Form 990s. As a result, Humane Rescue Alliance’s leadership profited from the mergers.
Have Humane Rescue Alliance’s mergers and resulting increases in executive compensation helped Washington DC’s animals? What kind of job is Humane Rescue Alliance doing in Washington DC?
In order to get a better understanding of the job Humane Rescue Alliance did recently, I obtained the intake and disposition records for each individual dog and cat the shelter took in during both 2020 and 2019 from Washington DC. Since I obtained records for animals that came in during these years, some outcomes occurred in a subsequent year. You can find those records here. Additionally, I obtained supporting records for a selection of dogs and cats the shelter killed during the two years. You can find those here and here.
Deadly Dog Data
Humane Rescue Alliance had large percentages of dogs lose their lives in 2020 and 2019. Overall, 29% of all dogs, 33% of pit bull like dogs, 27% of small dogs (under 30 pounds) and 27% of other medium to large dogs who had known outcomes lost their lives. If we just look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners, 38% of all dogs, 41% of pit bull like dogs, 37% of small dogs and 35% of other medium to large dogs lost their lives. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance killed large percentages of the dogs it took in during 2020 and 2019.
Humane Rescue Alliance performed similarly with dogs in 2019. Overall, 28% of all dogs, 34% of pit bull like dogs, 23% of small dogs and 27% of other medium to large dogs who had known outcomes lost their lives. If we just look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners, 37% of all dogs, 42% of pit bull like dogs, 32% of small dogs and 34% of other medium to large dogs lost their lives.
Despite taking in significantly fewer dogs during 2020, Humane Rescue Alliance’s 2020 statistics were actually slightly worse than its 2019 ones. In 2020, animal shelters took less dogs in due to the pandemic. Humane Rescue Alliance took in 860 or 28% fewer dogs in during 2020 compared to 2019. Overall, 30% of all dogs, 31% of pit bull like dogs, 32% of small dogs and 27% of other medium to large dogs who had known outcomes lost their lives. If we just look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners, 39% of all dogs, 39% of pit bull like dogs, 42% of small dogs and 37% of other medium to large dogs lost their lives. While Shelter Animals Count reported government run shelters and private shelters with municipal contracts decreased their dog death rates from 14.1% and 13.3% in 2019 to 12.0% and 13.0%, Humane Rescue Alliance’s dog death rate increased from an already high 28% to 30% over these same periods.
Small dogs were not safe at Humane Rescue Alliance. The shelter had 23% of all small dogs and 32% of nonreclaimed small dogs lose their lives in 2019. In 2020, those metrics further increased to 32% and 42%. Frankly, shelters should be able to save nearly all small dogs due to the fact such animals cannot seriously injure dog savvy adult owners. Even the Elizabeth Animal Shelter, which is far from a progressive facility, only euthanized 1% of small dogs and 1% of nonreclaimed small dogs in 2017.
Humane Rescue Alliance killed a much greater percentage of dogs than other large kill shelters. New York ACC, which I found was extremely regressive and ACCT Philly, which made major headlines as a terrible shelter, are not good organizations. As you can see in the following table, Humane Rescue Alliance’s dog death rates were around 1.4 to 1.5 times and 2.2 to 2.7 times higher than New York ACC’s and ACCT Philly’s dog death rates for all three periods examined. Even worse, Humane Rescue Alliance’s nonreclaimed dog death rates were 1.5 to 1.7 times and 2.5-3.0 times higher than New York ACC’s and ACCT Philly’s corresponding metrics for all three periods. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance did far worse than other large high kill shelters in the region.
Humane Rescue Alliance’s data is even worse when we compare it to large progressive animal control shelters. As the table below shows, Humane Rescue Alliance had dog death rates ranging from 3 to 47 times higher than the progressive animal control shelters’ death rates. Similarly, Humane Rescue Alliance’s nonreclaimed dog death rates were 3 to 40 times higher than the corresponding metrics from the progressive animal control organizations. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance performed shockingly bad.
The 2020 dog data painted a similar picture. Overall, Humane Rescue Alliance had dog death rates and nonreclaimed dog death rates that were 4.2 to 15.9 times and 4.3 to 13.6 times higher than the progressive animal control shelters.
Senior Dog Slaughter
Older dogs lost their lives in massive numbers at Humane Rescue Alliance in 2020 and 2019. Overall, Humane Rescue Alliance had 63% of all dogs, 77% of pit bull like dogs, 57% of small dogs and 67% of other medium and large dogs that were 10 years and older lose their lives in 2020 and 2019. If we just look at nonreclaimed dogs, an astonishing 76% of all dogs, 88% of pit bull like dogs, 70% of small dogs and 84% of other medium and large dogs that were 10 years and older lost their lives in 2020 and 2019. While senior dogs are more likely to be hopelessly suffering, its simply inconceivable that around 70% to 90% of these nonreclaimed dogs were in this state of health.
Middle aged dogs also fared poorly at Humane Rescue Alliance. Overall, Humane Rescue Alliance had 28% of all dogs, 39% of pit bull like dogs, 18% of small dogs and 32% of other medium and large dogs that were 5-9 years old lose their lives in 2020 and 2019. If we just look at nonreclaimed dogs, an incredible 40% of all dogs, 50% of pit bull like dogs, 27% of small dogs and 48% of other medium and large dogs that were 5-9 years old lost their lives in 2020. Thus, around half of middle aged pit bulls and other medium and large dogs that were 5-9 years old and needed a new home lost their lives at Humane Rescue Alliance in 2020 and 2019.
Excessive Dog Killing
Humane Rescue Alliance killed large numbers of dogs for several reasons in 2020 and 2019. As the table below shows, the shelter killed 19.6% of all dogs for “owner-requested euthanasia”, 7.1% for behavior and 1.7% for medical reasons. For pit bill like dogs, Humane Rescue Alliance killed 18.0% for “owner-requested euthanasia”, 12.6% for behavior and 1.1% for medical reasons. The shelter killed 22.1% of small dogs for “owner-requested euthanasia”, 1.1% for behavior and 2.8% for medical reasons. Humane Rescue Alliance killed 19.2% of other dogs for “owner-requested euthanasia”, 5.6% for behavior and 1.4% for medical reasons. When looking at 2020 and 2019 separately, “owner requested euthanasia” was even higher in 2020 (21.8% of all dogs, 18.7% of pit bulls, 26.8% of small dogs and 20.6% of other medium to large dogs) and killing for behavior was greater in 2019 (7.9% of all dogs, 14.5% of pit bulls, 2.8% of small dogs and 6.1% of other medium to large dogs).
Humane Rescue Alliance killed an even greater percentage of senior dogs for owner requested euthanasia. Overall, the shelter killed an astonishing 57.5%, 71.6%, 51.8% and 61.5% of 10 years old and older dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large dogs for “owner-requested euthanasia.”
The shelter also killed a much greater percentage of dogs brought in for owner-requested euthanasia than Pima Animal Care Center. Specifically, Humane Rescue Alliance killed 1,028 out of 1,062 dogs or 97% of such dogs in 2020 and 2019. When we add 20 of these dogs who died, the shelter had an astounding 99% of dogs brought in for owner requested euthanasia lose their lives in 2020 and 2019. In fact, the shelter only adopted out and transferred six or 0.6% and four or 0.4% of these 1,062 dogs. As a comparison, the former Pima Animal Care Center Executive Director stated at the 2020 American Pets Alive Conference that her shelter only had 15% of their dogs brought in for owner requested euthanasia lose their lives. Since Humane Rescue Alliance uses the “Asilomar Accords” that exclude owner requested euthanasia from its live release rate calculations, the organization may have even encouraged or required owners to sign off on their surrenders as owner-requested euthanasia. As a result, Humane Rescue Alliance made virtually no effort to save dogs brought in for owner requested euthanasia and may have even encouraged or required some owners to sign off on it.
Excessive Killing for Behavior and Medical Reasons
Humane Rescue Alliance killed a greater percentage of dogs for behavior than two other regressive New Jersey kill shelters I previously examined. As you can see in the table below, Humane Rescue Alliance killed 7.9% of its dogs for behavior compared to 3.9% and 6.2% of dogs at Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility (other dog and pit bull data from prior blog adjusted to include American bulldogs in pit bulls to make an apples to apples comparison). While Humane Rescue Alliance’s pit bull and small dog behavior killing percentage was lower than Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility, this is likely due to Humane Rescue Alliance classifying many behavior killings as “owner-requested euthanasia.” Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance killed a greater percentage of dogs with treatable behaviors than these two regressive New Jersey shelters.
When we compare Humane Rescue Alliance’s behavior killing to progressive animal control shelters, we can see the true extent of this organization’s kill first attitude. Overall, Humane Rescue Alliance killed dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other dogs at 3-20 times, 4-16 times, 2-11 times and 3-15 times the rates of the progressive animal control shelters. Additionally, three of the progressive animal control shelters did not kill a single small dog for behavior while Humane Rescue Alliance killed 1.1% of such dogs for behavior. In my view, no shelter should ever kill a small dog for behavior given such animals can be safely managed in the right home. As mentioned above, these differences would be far greater if Humane Rescue Alliance broke out the behavior killings included in its owner-requested euthanasia numbers. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance killed way too many dogs for bogus behavior reasons.
Humane Rescue Alliance’s percentage of dogs killed for medical reasons technically fell between the two regressive New Jersey shelters percentages, but Humane Rescue Alliance likely killed a higher proportion of dogs for health reasons in practice. As the table below shows, Humane Rescue Alliance killed a smaller percentage of dogs for medical reasons than Franklin Township Animal Shelter and a greater proportion than Ocean County Animal Facility (except for pit bulls). However, when we take into account the massive numbers of owner-requested euthanasia, a good portion of which would be for medical reasons, its highly likely Humane Rescue Alliance killed a greater percentage of dogs for medical reasons than both shelters.
The best no kill animal control shelters also killed far fewer dogs for medical reasons than Humane Rescue Alliance. While the two progressive shelters that had less respect for life did technically kill more dogs for medical reasons, this is likely due to Humane Rescue Alliance classifying many dogs killed for health reasons as owner-requested euthanasia. Therefore, Humane Rescue likely killed more dogs for medical reasons when you count those animals. Humane Rescue Alliance killed 1.8 to 4.5 times as many dogs, 1.8 times as many pit bulls, 2.3-7.0 times as many small dogs and 2.1 times to 4.8 times as many other medium to large dogs as the best shelters in the table below. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance killed way too many dogs for treatable medical reasons.
Quick and Immediate Dog Killing
Humane Rescue Alliance’s dog length of stay data revealed the shelter quickly killed dogs. Specifically, the shelter killed all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large dogs after 7.2 days, 10.4 days, 3.2 days and 5.8 days on average in 2020 and 2019 (each of the two years were similar). Clearly, this is not nearly enough time to determine if the shelter can save these animals.
When we look at the average length of stay of killed dogs for various reasons, we see Humane Rescue Alliance quickly killed dogs. Overall, Humane Rescue Alliance killed dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large dogs for “owner-requested euthanasia” after just 2.1 days, 3.5 days, 1.1 days and 1.6 days. The shelter killed dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large dogs for behavior after 21.0 days, 19.3 days, 37.9 days and 19.4 days. Finally, Humane Rescue Alliance killed dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large dogs for medical reasons after 7.8 days, 8.7 days, 7.1 days and 8.3 days. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance hardly made any effort to save the dogs it killed.
The shelter’s detailed reasons for killing also show it quickly killed dogs for silly reasons. As the table below shows, the shelter killed 72 dogs, 55 pit bulls, 1 small dog and 16 other medium to large dogs for animal aggression in 2020 and 2019. Humane Rescue Alliance killed these dogs after just 21.1 days, 19.8 days, 37.7 days and 24.4 days. Given rescues saved 47 out of the 51 Michael Vick fighting dogs, shelters can save almost all dogs with animal aggression issues. Therefore, this amount of killing and the quickness of it is terrible. The shelter also killed dogs for dubious reasons, such as dog reactivity (after 5.7 days), being scared (after an average of 19.9 days), resource guarding (after an average of 11.5 days) and separation anxiety (after an average of 1.0 to 13.4 days). Notably only three or 0.06% of 5,197 dogs and three or 0.1% out of 2,128 pit bulls were deemed by courts as dangerous (i.e. shelter is required to kill these animals). Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance quickly killed dogs for frivolous reasons.
Humane Rescue Alliance killed senior dogs even more quickly. Overall, the shelter killed 10 years and older dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large dogs after just 1.6 days, 1.2 days, 1.9 days and 1.4 days on average in 2020 and 2019. When we couple this with the shelter killing 76%-88% of nonreclaimed 10 years and older dogs, we can see the shelter almost immediately killed nearly all its senior dogs.
The shelter’s quick killing of senior dogs for “owner-requested euthanasia” and pit bulls for behavior was astonishing. Overall, Overall, Humane Rescue Alliance killed 10 years and older dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large dogs for “owner-requested euthanasia” after just 0.8 days, 0.7 days, 0.7 days and 1.0 days on average in 2020 and 2019. Also, the shelter killed 10 years and older pit bulls for behavior after just 12.7 days on average during this time period. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance gave these senior dogs virtually no chance to get adopted.
While the average length of stay data is revealing, the distribution of the lengths of stay of the dogs killed is eye opening. Remarkably, Humane Rescue Alliance killed 51% of the dogs it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. 66% of the dogs Humane Rescue Alliance killed occurred within three days or less. Humane Rescue Alliance killed 80%, 90% and 95% of the dogs it killed within 8, 17 and 35 days. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance gave the dogs it killed virtually no chance to become adoptable.
The distribution of the lengths of stay of dogs killed for “owner requested euthanasia” at Humane Rescue Alliance in 2020 and 2019 is even worse. Humane Rescue Alliance killed 71% of these owner surrendered dogs it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. Humane Rescue Alliance killed 85%, 90%, 95% and 98% of the dogs it killed for owner requested euthanasia within 2, 5, 9 and 15 days. Therefore, Humane Rescue Alliance killed virtually every “owner-requested euthanasia” dog it killed within around two weeks.
When we look at the distribution of the lengths of stay of the senior dogs Humane Rescue Alliance killed, we can clearly see how this shelter gave these animals no chance. Humane Rescue Alliance killed 83% of the 10 years and older dogs it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. Humane Rescue Alliance killed 88%, 90%, 95% and 98% of the senior dogs it killed within 1 day, 2 days, 7 days and 13 days. In fact, Humane Rescue Alliance only killed 7 dogs or 1% of its 10 years and older dogs it killed after 18 days. Given Humane Rescue Alliance killed the vast majority of senior dogs, senior dogs arriving at the shelter faced an almost immediate death sentence.
Dogs Killed for Absurd Reasons
Taz was a 10 month old pit bull mixed surrendered to Humane Rescue Alliance on April 21, 2020 due to the owner not being able to care for Taz and another dog. Despite the owner not surrendering him for killing, Taz living with a 10 year old child and the dog having no bite history, the shelter had the owner sign Taz over as an owner-requested euthanasia “because Taz was unable to be evaluated by behavior and has a home history of growling at strangers.” As he was being surrendered, Taz was frightened as evidenced by him sitting by his owner’s legs with “his body and tail tucked”, “not wanting to leave his owner” and only doing so when the owner “helped encourage him.”
Despite Taz’s obvious fear, Humane Rescue Alliance used a catchpole to give him vaccines three days later.
Over the next couple of weeks, Humane Rescue Alliance’s behavior observations indicated this dog was not a threat to people and was a typical older puppy.
Shortly after these behavior observations, Taz went to a foster home and was returned due to a minor altercation with a dog. Specifically, Taz was on a walk and bit another dog, but did not cause any puncture wounds or draw any blood. In fact, the other dog only had some fur pulled out. After the foster apparently got upset, they returned Taz to the shelter. Upon returning to the shelter, Taz was scared.
Humane Rescue Alliance justified Taz’s fear by killing him and citing “behavior-multiple” as their reason. After the foster returned Taz, the shelter indicated Taz was still an adoption candidate and should not go to a home with another dog or kids. However, the shelter cherry picked and exaggerated Taz’s “concerning behaviors in his history” to justify killing him. Five days later the shelter cited “multiple concerning behaviors, including aggression to people and animals” despite the dog never biting people or causing any real harm to a dog.
Rumble was an 11 month old pit bull mix surrendered to Humane Rescue Alliance on January 14, 2019 due to the owner moving to a place not allowing dogs. Rumble lived with kids under and over 10 years of age, including a six year old. The owner stated he had never bitten a person or an animal. Additionally, the owner stated Rumble didn’t chase animals, people or vehicles and had no medical issues. In fact, the owner stated Rumble “acts slightly human.” Other than some minor nuisance issues, which are typical of a puppy, Rumble’s owner gave no indication Rumble had any serious problems.
Humane Rescue Alliance confirmed the owner’s assessment of Rumble 45 minutes later by stating he was “Easy to handle. Friendly, but seems stressed.”
Despite the shelter behavioral evaluations being scientific invalid and Rumble being “stressed”, Humane Rescue Alliance conducted the deeply flawed SAFER temperament test on him as soon as the dog arrived at the shelter. Even though the shelter put Rumble into a horrible situation, his evaluation wasn’t bad. The evaluator stated Rumble could “do well in a home with a dog-savvy dog that will let him settle in and build confidence” and said they should “Try in a playgroup off muzzle.”
Remarkably, Humane Rescue Alliance put the following “Urgent Note” it listed as “concerning” in his file on the same day after his evaluation. This “note”, which merely stated a person had to carry him back to the kennel after his dog introduction, contradicted the temperament test and frankly didn’t seem very “concerning.”
Humane Rescue Alliance put Rumble on “Behavior Review” after a staff member manhandled Rumble. The employee “easily leashed” Rumble to meet a potential adopter and showed no concerning behaviors. When the employee returned Rumble to his kennel, Rumble didn’t want to go back and then escaped as the staff member tried to put him in the kennel. The employee “easily leashed him” when he went after Rumble. However, this time the staff member held Rumble’s collar as the person tried to leave and the employee claimed the dog “head whipped towards my hand” and “growled” as Rumble tried to escape. Finally, the employee realized they could use a slip leash to leave without letting the dog out. The staff member said Rumble “snarled and lunged” at the kennel bars after the person was outside the kennel.
Clearly, this employee did everything wrong. First, no one should force a scared dog to do anything. Second, grabbing a dog by his collar could choke the dog and is obviously traumatic and abusive. Third, anyone who has brought large and strong dogs into kennels knows to use a slip leash from the start. Fourth, the dog’s reactions were clearly a response to stress. Fifth, the dog snarling and lunging at the bars, otherwise known as barrier aggression, has no relationship whatsoever to real aggression outside of a kennel. Sixth, Rumble was neutered just four days earlier and apparently didn’t have his e-collar on as instructed by the veterinarian. Therefore, he may still have had pain from his surgery. Finally, the employee’s account suggests they lacked experience with Rumble as they stated they “heard he was sometimes difficult to get back in his kennel.”
Humane Rescue Alliance decided to kill Rumble just two days after the incident and eight days after he arrived at the shelter. Specifically, the shelter used this incidenct to conclude that it must kill Rumble, which by all accounts was a good, young dog, for “acute/escalating arousal.” At 10:02 am on the next day, the shelter noted the owner was on their way to reclaim Rumble after calling daily about his status. While I don’t know if the owner actually came or not, the shelter killed Rumble less than three hours later. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance needlessly killed Rumble and also put him through the unnecessary stress of a neuter surgery.
Cyrus was a 2 year old pit bull mix surrendered to Humane Rescue Alliance for “owner-requested euthanasia” on March 23, 2020. According to the owner, Cyrus lived with children under 2 years old and over 10 years old, adults and other dogs. Until recently, Cyrus didn’t have any serious behavior issues. Most related to things like humping other dogs, chasing other animals and cars. However, the owner surrendered Cyrus due to him biting her daughter.
When we examine the details of the bite, we see extenuating circumstances existed. Prior to having an ear infection, Cyrus was “okay” and only then became “aggressive.” The owner noted she had to tie him to a tree on March 22, 2020 to give him medicine. On the very next day, Cyrus bit the daughter after she got up, “stood in front” of him and reached to pet him on the head. Given the great pain ear infections can cause and its normal for dogs in pain to bite, this action is no surprise. Despite Cyrus biting the victim in places that injure easily (i.e. lips, chin nose), the wounds were not serious enough to warrant medical treatment. The daughter simply cleaned the wounds after.
However, this was all that Humane Rescue Alliance needed to conclude Cyrus was not an adoption candidate just one day after arriving at the shelter. The shelter did not review the circumstances of the bite, assess his behavior, treat his ear infection and attempt to rehabilitate his behavior issues. Simply put, Humane Rescue Alliance got their coveted “owner-requested euthanasia” form signed and the shelter could exclude this killing from their phony Asilomar Live Release Rate.
After Humane Rescue Alliance informed the owner it was going to kill Cyrus, the owner was upset and requested they be with Cyrus at that time. However, the shelter would not “guarantee she would be able to be present” since the Cyrus wasn’t an immediate walk in owner-requested euthanasia and that it might conflict with the facility’s COVID protocol. I guess one of the benefits of allowing Humane Rescue Alliance to kill your pet immediately and have it excluded from their fake Asiolomar Asilomar Live Release Rate is you get to be with you dog or cat at the end of their life.
Despite being at the shelter for 11 days, Cyrus still had not received proper treatment for his ear infection. Specifically, Cyrus “continuously shook head due to ear infection.” Later that day, Humane Rescue Alliance killed Cyrus. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance made no effort to save Cyrus, did not alleviate his pain from an ear infection and didn’t even guarantee the owner that she could be there when they killed him.
Santo was a stray two year old 110 pound Cane Corso Mix that Humane Rescue Alliance impounded on August 15, 2020. Despite having a chain around his neck when found by an individual, the shelter described Santo as “super friendly and easy to handle” and “appears healthy.” Later the shelter described the dog as “leash reactive, barking and pulling”, but then said Santo was “friendly – just very energetic, appears unaware of his size and does not walk well on his leash.”
The shelter’s behavioral summary on August 21 indicated Santo was a relatively healthy and adoptable dog. Specifically he “did NOT show aggression on his dog-dog intro” and was “eager to play” with a helper dog. Similarly, the note states he was a “big, strong dog who pulls toward other dogs he sees in order to solicit play.” Additionally, the shelter was able to muzzle Santo and insert a microchip in him.
Humane Rescue Alliance’s adoption profile on August 25 similarly described Santo as “strong, sociable, and sweet.”
The shelter’s veterinary department examined Santo the next day on August 26 and noted he “walks with an odd gait” and suspected he had hip dysplasia. To treat the condition, the veterinarian prescribed the anti-inflammatory drug carprofen and recommended an adopter use this or a similar medicine.
On September 8, Humane Rescue Alliance neutered Santo and took pelvic radiographs after he received an adoption appliction. The shelter stated Santo had “severe hip dysplasia bilaterally” and total hip replacement is the gold standard treatment. However, the shelter would not perform it due to “cost constraints.” While the shelter noted it could do a cheaper femoral head ostectomy (FHO) surgery, it noted the procedure could fail.
After the neutering surgery and giving Santo pelvic radiographs, Humane Rescue Alliance scared off the adopter by stating his hips are in poor shape and he’ll need a $5,000 to $6,000 surgery and pain medicine and management can’t work for him.
Despite this setback, Humane Rescue Alliance veterinary staff recommended Santo be adopted out “as-is”. The shelter also found a foster home soon after. However, someone told shelter staff to stand down and wait for a “conversation” at the “VP level” to determine next steps.
So what did the exorbitantly compensated Humane Rescue Alliance executives decide? Despite Santo’s hips being well enough to strongly pull people holding his leash and veterinary staff recommending he be adopted out “as-is” and him being found “friendly” and adoptable, Humane Rescue Alliance’s executives decided to kill him due to “concerning behaviors along with the high cost and complex medical.” After all, if Lisa LaFontaine decided to save Santo she may have had to give up a little bit of her $382,000 compensation package.
What was Santo’s “concerning behavior?” That Santo growled at two staff members and “they were afraid” of him. However, the behavior staff evaluated Santo again the next day and concluded he was adoptable. One has to wonder if the Humane Rescue Alliance executives deciding Santo’s fate even met him. Thus, Santo’s “concerning behavior” reasoning for killing was simply cover for the exorbitantly compensated executives’ decision to kill Santo to make more money available to themselves.
On September 23, 2020 Humane Rescue Alliance gave Santo a lethal injection of Fatal Plus and killed him citing “Medical-Other.” Once again, Humane Rescue Alliance killed a dog they recently put through the stress of a neutering surgery.
Many Cats Killed
Humane Rescue Alliance’s statistics reveal the shelter killed too many cats in 2020 and 2019. Overall, 15% of all cats, 19% of adult (1 year and older) cats, 3% of older kittens (6 weeks to just under 1 year year), 11% of neonatal kittens (under 6 weeks) and 41% of no age cats who had known outcomes (i.e. excluding those sent to a veterinarian with no outcome listed) lost their lives. If we just look at cats who were not reclaimed by owners and shelter-neutered-returned, 18% of all cats, 22% of adult cats, 4% of older kittens, 11% of neonatal kittens and 100% of no age cats lost their lives in 2020 and 2019. Due to many cats having no age listed and the high death rates of those animals, the adult, older kittens and neonatal kittens death rates are higher in reality. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance had large percentages of their cats lose their lives in 2020 and 2019.
Humane Rescue Alliance performed similarly with cats in both 2019 and 2020. Overall, the 2020 cat death rates were around 1%-3% lower than those in 2019 except for the nonreclaimed older kitten death rate and both death rates for no age cats. Given Humane Rescue Alliance had 628 fewer cat outcomes in 2020 due to lower cat intake, this result is deeply disappointing.
Humane Rescue Alliance killed a similar percentage of cats as other large regressive shelters. As you can see in the following table, Humane Rescue Alliance’s cat death rates fell between New York ACC and ACCT Philly in 2020 and 2019, but were not far apart. In 2020, Humane Rescue Alliance’s death rate was slightly lower than New York ACC’s and four percentage points lower than ACCT Philly’s. However, in 2019, which was a more normal year, Humane Rescue Alliance’s cat death rate was four points higher than New York ACC’s and almost as high as ACCT Philly’s. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance cat death rates were higher than New York ACC’s and nearly as high as ACCT Philly’s over the two year period.
Humane Rescue Alliance’s data is even worse when we compare it to large progressive animal control shelters. As you see in the table below, Humane Rescue Alliance had cat death rates ranging from 1.3 to 2.0 times higher than the progressive animal control shelters’ death rates. When we look at adult cats, the death rate was 1.7 to 4.9 times greater. Similarly, Humane Rescue Alliance’s nonreclaimed cat death rates, which exclude cats reclaimed by their owners and shelter-neutered-returned, were similarly larger than the progressive animal control shelters. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance performed poorly with cats compared to progressive shelters.
Humane Rescue Alliance killed an even greater percentage of cats compared to the progressive animal control shelters in 2020. Specifically, Humane Rescue Alliance’s cat and nonreclaimed cat death rates were 1.3 to 2.7 times and 1.4 to 3.1 times higher in 2020 compared to the progressive facilities.
Older Cats Obliterated
Humane Rescue Alliance killed massive numbers of senior cats. Overall, the shelter had 61% of its 10 years and older cats and 67% of its 10 years and older nonreclaimed cats and cats that were not shelter-neutered-returned lose their lives in 2020 and 2019. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center’s publicly reported 2018 intake and disposition records showed only 10% of this shelter’s 10 years and older cats lost their lives. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance had its 10 years and older cats lost their lives at six times Austin Animal Center’s rate.
Humane Rescue Alliance also killed a very large percentage of middle age cats in 2020 and 2019. Specifically, the shelter had 20% of all 5-9 year old cats and 25% of those 5-9 year old cats that were not reclaimed by an owner or shelter-neutered-returned lose their lives in 2020 and 2019. In other words, 1 out 5 and 1 out of 4 of these cats lost their lives in 2020 and 2019.
Too Many Cats Killed
Humane Rescue Alliance killed large numbers of cats for several reasons in 2020 and 2019. As the table below shows, the shelter killed 6.6% of all cats for medical reasons, 6.2% for “owner-requested euthanasia” and 0.5% for behavior. For adult cats, Humane Rescue Alliance killed 11.3% for “owner-requested euthanasia”, 0.7% for behavior and 5.9% for medical reasons. The shelter killed 2.0% of older kittens for medical reasons, 0.8% for “owner-requested euthanasia” and 0.5% for behavior. Humane Rescue Alliance killed 5.2% of neonatal kittens for medical reasons, 0.7% for “owner-requested euthanasia” and 0.1% for behavior. The organization killed 28.7% of no age cats for medical reasons, 5.0% for “owner-requested euthanasia” and 0.6% for behavior. When looking at 2020 and 2019 separately, “owner requested euthanasia” was higher in 2019 (6.8% of all cats, 11.9% of adult cats, 1.2% of older kittens, 0.9% of neonatal kittens and 6.0% of no age cats) and killing for behavior was greater in 2019 (0.9% of all cats, 0.2% of older kittens, 0.1% of neonatal kittens and 0.7% of no age cats).
Humane Rescue Alliance killed a much greater percentage of senior cats for “owner-requested euthanasia”, medical and behavior reasons. Overall, the shelter killed an astonishing 48.7%, 10.6% and 0.4% of 10 years and older cats for “owner-requested euthanasia”, medical and behavior reasons.
The shelter also killed virtually every cat brought in for owner-requested euthanasia. Specifically, Humane Rescue Alliance killed 417 out of 445 cats or 94% of such animals in 2020 and 2019. When we add 17 of these cats who died, the shelter had an astounding 98% of cats brought in for owner requested euthanasia lose their lives in 2020 and 2019. In fact, the shelter only adopted out and transferred 4 or 0.8% and 2 or 0.4% of these 445 cats.
Humane Rescue Alliance made no effort to save cats brought in for “owner-requested euthanasia.” In addition to the shelters above, I’ve reviewed extensive data sets of cats coming into New Jersey urban shelters in Newark, Elizabeth, Paterson, Passaic and Perth Amboy and have not seen cat owner requested euthanasia numbers like these. Since the shelter uses the “Asilomar Accords” that exclude owner requested euthanasia from its live release rate calculation and many of the dog records indicate the shelter encouraging/requiring owners to sign off on owner-requested euthanasia, the organization likely encouraged or even required owners to sign off on their owner surrenders as owner-requested euthanasia. As a result, Humane Rescue Alliance made virtually no effort to save cats brought in for owner requested euthanasia and likely encouraged or even required owners some owners to sign off on it.
Too Many Cats Killed for Behavior and Medical Reasons
Humane Rescue Alliance killed cats for behavior while the progressive shelters I previously examined did not kill a single cat for behavior. As you can see in the table below, the five progressive shelters didn’t kill any cat regardless of age for behavior in 2019. Given cats do not present a serious danger to people, this is what we should expect from every shelter. However, Humane Rescue Alliance killed cats from all the age classes for behavior, including neonatal and older kittens. As mentioned above, these differences would probably be greater if Humane Rescue Alliance broke out the behavior killings included in its owner-requested euthanasia numbers. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance failed miserably in showing respect for life for cats with so called behavior issues.
The progressive animal control shelters also killed far fewer cats for medical reasons in 2019 than Humane Rescue Alliance. As with Humane Rescue Alliance’s behavior killings, its medical killings are understated due to many medical killing being classified as “owner-requested euthanasia.” Therefore, Humane Rescue Alliance likely killed more cats for medical reasons when you count those animals. Even with its understated medical killing numbers, Humane Rescue Alliance killed 1.3 to 1.9 times as many cats for health reasons. While Humane Rescue Alliance killed a smaller percentage of adult cats, older kittens and neonatal kittens for medical reasons than Pima Animal Care Center, this is likely due to Humane Rescue Alliance classifying many medical killing as “owner-requested euthanasia” (Pima Animal Care Center does not use the “owner-requested euthanasia” classification as a reason for killing) and having many no age cats with a very high medical killing percentage. In addition to these reasons, Lake County Animal Shelter’s higher neonatal kittens’ medical euthanasia rate is due to the shelter’s “Wait-til-8” program where most very young kittens are not counted in the records until they are older as explained here. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance killed way too many cats for treatable medical reasons.
Instant Cat Killing
Humane Rescue Alliance’s cat length of stay data revealed the shelter quickly killed cats. Specifically, the shelter killed all cats, adult cats, older kittens, neonatal kittens and no age cats after just 4.1 days, 4.6 days, 6.9 days, 6.2 days and 109.3 days on average in 2020 and 2019 (each of the two years were similar). Clearly, this is not nearly enough time to determine if the shelter can save these cats.
When we look at the average length of stay of killed cats, we see Humane Rescue Alliance quickly killed cats in 2020 and 2019. Overall, Humane Rescue Alliance killed all cats, adult cats, older kittens, neonatal kittens and no age cats for “owner-requested euthanasia” after just 1.7 days, 1.8 days, 1.1 days, 0.6 days and 0.2 days. The shelter killed all cats, adult cats, older kittens, neonatal kittens and no age cats for behavior after just 19.1 days, 22.5 days, 18.6 days, 0.3 days and 0.3 days. Finally, Humane Rescue Alliance killed all cats, adult cats, older kittens, neonatal kittens and no age cats for medical reasons after just 5.2 days, 7.8 days, 6.4 days, 7.1 days and 0.7 days.. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance made virtually no effort to save cats it decided to kill.
Humane Rescue Alliance’s quick killing of senior cats for various reasons was quite apparent from the data. Overall, the shelter killed 10 years and older cats for “owner-requested euthanasia”, medical and behavior reasons after just 1.3 days, 11.2 days and 18.3 days in 2020 and 2019. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance gave these senior cats virtually no chance to get adopted.
The shelter’s detailed reasons for killing also show it quickly killed cats for silly reasons. As the table below shows, the shelter killed 11 cats, 10 adult cats and 1 older kitten for “Aggression-Humans.” Humane Rescue Alliance killed these cats after just 26.1 days, 27.3 days, 13.7 days. Humane Rescue Alliance killed another 11 cats, 8 adult cats and 3 older kittens for being “Fractious-Non-feral.” The organization killed these cats after just 14.0 days, 12.1 days and 19.3 days. The shelter also killed 6 cats, 2 adult cats, 1 older kitten and 3 no age cats for “Urinary Issues” (i.e. not using a litter box). Humane Rescue Alliance killed a number of other cats for other ridiculous reasons, such as “Behavior-Multiple” (3 cats), “Behavior-Other” (1 cat) and “Fearful-Severe” (1 cat). Given no cat is a serious danger to humans, all these reasons for killing are absurd.
While the average length of stay data is revealing, the distribution of the lengths of stay of the cats killed is horrible. Remarkably, Humane Rescue Alliance killed 57% of the cats it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. 76% of the cats Humane Rescue Alliance killed occurred within three days or less. Humane Rescue Alliance killed 81%, 90% and 95% of the cats it killed within 4, 9 and 23 days. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance gave the cats it killed virtually no chance to become adoptable.
The distribution of the lengths of stay of killed “owner requested euthanasia” cats at Humane Rescue Alliance in 2020 and 2019 is even worse. Humane Rescue Alliance killed 74% of the cats it killed for “owner-requested euthanasia” on the very day they arrived at the shelter. Humane Rescue Alliance killed 84%, 90%, 95% and 98% of the cats it killed for owner requested euthanasia within 1, 3, 6 and 19 days. Therefore, Humane Rescue Alliance killed virtually every “owner-requested euthanasia” cat within around one week to two and half weeks.
When we examine the distribution of the lengths of stay of the senior cats Humane Rescue Alliance killed, we can clearly see how this shelter gave these animals no chance. Humane Rescue Alliance killed 72% of the 10 years and older cats it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. Humane Rescue Alliance killed 84%, 90%, 94% and 96% of the senior cats it killed within 2 days, 6 days, 10 days and 14 days. In fact, Humane Rescue Alliance only killed 11 cats or 3% of its 10+ years and older cats it killed after 19 days. Given Humane Rescue Alliance killed the vast majority of senior cats, senior cats arriving at the shelter faced an almost immediate death sentence.
Cats Killed for Crazy Reasons
Oriole was a friendly stray cat that was adopted from Humane Rescue Alliance during the 2017 “Clear the Shelters” adoption event. At the time, the adopter was upset the shelter didn’t accommodate their schedule, but it appears it ended up working out. However, nine months later the adopter contacted the shelter about Oriole scratching and biting at nighttime.
On the next day, Humane Rescue Alliance stated the adopter “had a bit of an attitude” and then provided guidance to the adopter. Specifically, the shelter recommending committing at least 15 minutes per day to play sessions that would simulate hunting and utilize food puzzle games.
Ten months later the adopter returned Oriole to Humane Rescue Alliance due to aggression.
After Humane Rescue Alliance received Oriole back, its behavior staff indicated the cat was not treated well in his home. An employee stated the adopter declined to have a virtual training to correct the behavior issues. Instead, the adopter used a pheromone product called Felliway and an anti-depressant Fluoxetine, which is sold under the brand name Prozac in humans. Furthermore, the adopter used a spray bottle to punish the cat, which obviously can cause a cat to become scared and act aggressively.
Despite this, the shelter noted Oriole had no serious behavior issues during his evaluation and observations. The behavior staff noted he “made eye contact, approached, head bunted and cheek rubbed the assessor’s outstretched hand” and “stayed near by for petting head to tail, leaning in, rubbing, bunting, then laying on the floor doing social rolls.” Furthermore, Oriole “was relaxed and comfortable being picked up by the assessor, remaining calm and purring.” Three days later the behavior staff noted Oriole again “head bunted, cheek rubbed my hand” and “leaned into petting from head to tail.” Finally, shelter notes on the next two days stated Oriole “appeared healthy and friendly” and “leaned into head scratches.”
Oriole had an incident with a potential adopter’s child a few days later. A mother and her two sons played with Oriole. The 11 year old boy picked Oriole up and played with the cat and had no issues. However, the seven year old boy was scratched, but the scratches were “superficial.” The shelter put Oriole on “behavior review.”
Humane Rescue Alliance didn’t waste much time in killing Oriole. Less than a day later, the behavior team stated the 20 month old cat was not an adoption candidate. At no time do the records indicate Oriole receiving the anti-depressant Fluoxetine or indicate whether he was still on it before coming to the shelter. Certainly, withdrawal symptoms from an anti-depressant could trigger aggressive behavior. Even worse, the shelter didn’t even use any of its own advice it gave to the previous adopter and commit to playing with Oriole for at least 15 minutes per day or even attempt any behavioral rehabilitation.
What about Oriole’s social behavior? The shelter used that against him. Specifically, the behavior team said “due to his social behavior, solicitous nature and low threshold for arousal, he is not a candidate for the BCC program” otherwise known as Blue Collar Cats (i.e. warehouse/barn cats). Instead, Humane Rescue Alliance killed Oriole around an hour after making the decision to take his life and used “owner-requested euthanasia” as the excuse. In other words, Humane Rescue Alliance got to kill Oriole and not count him in their phony Asilomar Live Release Rate.
Bing Bing was a one year old Siamese mix cat brought to Humane Rescue Alliance due to the owner not being able to afford medical treatment. Specifically, Bing Bing couldn’t go to the bathroom and the local animal hospital wanted $2,500 to treat him. Of course, Humane Rescue Alliance had the owner sign Bing Bing over as an owner-requested euthanasia, but the owner wanted to reclaim Bing Bing if the shelter “medically cleared him.”
Less than four hours later Humane Rescue Alliance killed Bing Bing based on it stating “there was nothing we can do for this kitty.” Specifically, the shelter stated Bing Bing had severe constipation or obstipation due to a deformed pelvis. However, veterinary web sites do not cite this as a common reason for obstipation. Instead, reasons such as decreased water intake, lack of exercise, nerve issues and even tumors are cited, and treatment depends on addressing the underlying cause. Humane Rescue Alliance made no attempt to try any treatment, or even consult with an outside animal hospital, and killed a young cat from a sought after breed that the owner wanted back. Then again, why spend money on treating this young cat when you can cite her as an “owner-requested euthanasia” and exclude the animal from your fake Asilomar Live Release Rate?
Big Grey was a stray cat trapped and brought into Humane Rescue Alliance for shelter-neuter-return on July 10, 2019. Later that day, the shelter weighed Big Grey, noted he weighed 8.7 lbs.(i.e. healthy enough to be neutered and released) and neutered him. After his neuter surgery, Humane Rescue Alliance did a FIV/FeLV test and stated he tested positive. While still on the table, the shelter killed Big Grey for the crime of testing positive for FIV.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus or FIV is a disease similar to HIV that weakens a cat’s immune system. Generally speaking, FIV is difficult to spread as it is only passed to other cats through deep bite wounds. While the disease can compromise a cat’s immune system, some cats can live many years pretty much like a normal cat. Practically speaking, FIV cats should be altered and live either alone or with other cats that are compatible with them. However, an outdoor cat that goes through SNR or warehouse/barn cat programs doesn’t live in confined spaces and is neutered, which reduces aggression, and therefore poses little threat to spread the disease. While FIV cats may need extra care, progressive shelters save these animals and also adopt them out.
Due to the needless killing of healthy cats with FIV, shelter medicine experts advise shelter not to test cats who are not experiencing symptoms like Blue Grey. Subsequently, Humane Rescue Alliance stated it will stop testing cats it adopts out for FIV and FeLV, but its unclear if that applies to cats it neuters and releases. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance should never have killed Big Grey simply for testing positive for FIV.
Salsa was an eleven month old stray cat brought to Humane Rescue Alliance on February 6, 2020. Upon arrival, the staff noted she was not happy and possibly pregnant, but they were able to vaccinate her after “burrito wrapping” her. Additionally, the shelter noted Salsa was happy and healthy outside.
Around a week later, Humane Rescue Alliance failed Salsa in a “behavior assessment” and stated she was “not a candidate for adoption.” How did the shelter determine this? Humane Rescue Alliance noted she growled and hissed inside her kennel and acted out (growled, hissed, swatted) while in the assessment room. Given this cat was not happy when she arrived at the shelter, it shouldn’t be a surprise the cat acted out after receiving zero socialization and other efforts to make her adoptable. Instead, the shelter stated it would consider TNR and its warehouse/barn cats program for Salsa.
On the very next day, the shelter spayed Salsa. Unfortunately, there is no mention of whether she was actually pregnant. If she was, the shelter would have performed a forced abortion and killed her kittens.
Humane Rescue Alliance killed Salsa five days later claiming she was aggressive. How did the shelter make this determination? Based on a staff member stating Salsa “charge me, growling, hissing and vocalizing” and she “knock over her litter box” when they tried to clean her cage. First, one has to wonder why the shelter didn’t spot clean the cage as HSUS and the Koret School of Shelter Medicine recommend. This is especially so for a cat deemed feral. Second, Salsa’s actions were no different than during her behavior assessment that apparently led to her being spayed for the shelter’s warehouse cat program. Instead, the organization marched her off to the kill room later that day and ended her life. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance needlessly killed a healthy cat and unnecessarily put her through the stress of spay surgery and possibly killed her kittens.
Awful Adoption Numbers
Humane Rescue Alliance adopted out few dogs compared to the progressive shelters in 2019. As the table below shows, the other shelters had per capita adoption rates that were 2.3 to 3.7 times, 1.9 to 3.3 times, 1.8 to 2.7 times and 3.7 to 6.3 times higher for dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other dogs in 2019.
The shelter performed similarly in 2020 compared to the progressive shelters. Overall, the other shelters had per capita adoption rates that were 1.9 to 4.6 times higher for dogs.
Humane Rescue Alliance did a poor job adopting out cats compared to the progressive shelters in 2019. The progressive shelters per capita cat adoption rates were 1.2 to 2.1 higher than Humane Rescue Alliance’s rate. While Humane Rescue Alliance did not have the lowest per capita adoption rates for some age groups, other shelters had per capita adoptions that were 1.6 to 2.0 times, 1.9 to 3.4 times and 2.0 to 2.7 times higher for adult cats, older kittens and neonatal kittens.
The shelter also had much lower per capita adoption rates compared to progressive shelters that didn’t drastically reduce cat intake in 2020. As mentioned in my prior blog, Austin Animal Center and Pima Animal Care Center significantly reduced cat intake after the pandemic in 2020 and that explains these shelters low per capita adoption rates. When we look at the other shelters, these progressive organizations had per capita cat adoption rates that were 1.5 to 2.8 times higher than Humane Rescue Alliance’s per capita cat adoption rate in 2020.
Humane Rescue Alliance Took Few Animals In
Humane Rescue Alliance took significantly fewer dogs and cats in during 2019 (the last normal year of sheltering) than the progressive facilities. As the following table shows, the progressive facilities took in 1.7 to 2.6 times as many dogs and 1.3 to 1.6 times as many cats on a per capita basis than Humane Rescue Alliance
Even when we look at pit bulls and adult cats, all the shelters, except for the two Texas organizations, received more of these animals. Specifically, Pima Animal Care Center, Lake County Animal Shelter and KC Pet Project took 1.6 to 2.2 times as many pit bulls in during 2019 on a per capita basis. KC Pet Project and Lake County Animal Shelter took in 1.3 to 1.4 times as many adult cats during 2019 on a per capita basis. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance can’t use high intake as an excuse for its killing.
Massive FundingDoesn’t Save the Animals
Humane Rescue Alliance’s abysmal performance becomes clear when we do a detailed financial comparison with other shelters that also do animal control or have animal control organization revenue data available. Overall, Humane Rescue Alliance received 2.7 to 7.2 times more revenue per dog and cat impounded despite having higher death rates. In fact, Humane Rescue Alliance’s $2,849 of revenue per dog and cat ($2,742 per dog and cat excluding St. Hubert’s) is one of the highest amounts of revenue per dog and cat I ever saw. Additionally, the shelter’s animal control contract revenue from Washington DC, which was $676 per dog and cat, vastly exceeded all revenue per dog and cat from ACCT Philly and Lake County Animal Shelter.
When we look at the shelter’s additional reserves, we can see the shelter’s funding advantage is far larger. Specifically, Humane Rescue Alliance had $3,711 of net assets, not counting those received from the St. Hubert’s acquisition, per dog and cat in 2019 and this was 30.2 to 41.7 times the amount of the other non-profit shelters.
Even after Humane Rescue Alliance took over St. Hubert’s and had more animals to care for, its revenue per dog and cat in 2020 (based on its year ending 9/30/20 income statement) was still $2,231 per dog and cat and its net assets per dog and cat (based on 9/30/20 net assets) was an astounding $4,709 per dog and cat after subtracting out estimates of dogs and cats the shelter quickly transfers in and out through its WayStation program. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance is swimming with money after taking over St. Hubert’s.
When we examine management compensation, we can see Humane Rescue Alliances executive team is benefiting from all this money. Based on the nonprofit shelters’ Form 990 Part VII Section A, which lists out these organizations highly compensated employees, Humane Rescue Alliance paid its executives $180 per each dog and cat the shelter took in. As a comparison, the other non-profit shelters highly compensated employees only received between $7 to $31 per dog and cat. In other words, Humane Rescue Alliance paid its highly compensated executives 5.8 to 25.7 times as much money per dog and cat impounded. To put it another way, Humane Rescue Alliance’s high ranking executive team diverted around $149-$173 per every dog and cat the shelter took in. Imagine how this could have helped these animals and their owners? Instead, Humane Rescue Alliances greedy leadership team took that money from the animals, killed many of them and kept those funds for itself.
Humane Rescue Alliance’s greed becomes more apparent when we examine the shelter directors’ compensation at the non-profit organizations. Specifically, Lisa LaFontaine alone received $57 per dog and cat Humane Rescue Alliance impounded. As a comparison, the other shelter directors only received $7-$10 per dog and cat received. In other words, Ms. LaFontaine received 5.7 to 8.1 times more compensation than the other shelter directors. Simply put, Lisa LaFontaine alone diverted around $47-$50 per dog and cat. No wonder she and her team killed so many treatable dogs and cats. She cashed in on not spending money on those creatures.
Racism and Other Serious Allegations
Earlier this year, I made a post on my Facebook page about Humane Rescue Alliance’s terrible employee reviews on job web sites. Many employee reviews focused on how the 11 member executive team had no people of color in a city where around half the population is African American. Additionally, the following review mentioned how people of color are “largely ignored” and “paid poverty level wages”:
There are zero people of color on the board or senior executive team. White woman continue to be promoted from within, or brought in from the CEO’s hometown in wealthy white New England. Front line staff, primarily people of color born and raised in Washington, DC are largely ignored in the area of ideas and vision, paid poverty level wages, and “acknowledged” with pizza.
Other reviews raised serious allegations about the staff’s working conditions and that the shelter wasn’t doing right by local residents (half of which are African American).
Represent organization as national leader in animal/people welfare, but actual work doesn’t match up. Reports on expenditures for some programs misrepresent actual expenditures. Hostile to employees who speak up.
Concerns raised by staff regarding current work environment and commitment to the community in DC has been treated as unimportant and hidden from the public and donors. Actual expenditures don’t seem to match with promised program goals.
Another review alleged Lisa LaFontaine uses the organization a “personal resume builder” and ignores Washington DC residents, but uses those residents as fundraising props.
“CEO has taken an agency that was established to serve the residents of DC, and turned it into her personal resume builder, sinking millions of dollars into buying up shelter in New Jersey, assisting animals in other states, and flying in cats from Dubai. All the while thousands of District residents are unable to afford care for their pets. HRA uses these residents’ plights to highlight their false sense of community, cherry picking specific incidents, rather than dedicating their budget and resources to all of DC.”
Humane Rescue Alliance’s racism also extends to legislations it is pushing in New Jersey. Recently, the organization enthusiastically testified in support of New Jersey bill S4058, which is a “cost of care” bill, that allows shelters to take ownership and kill pet owners’ animals if they are accused, but not convicted, of animal cruelty due to to their inability to pay extortion fees charged by shelters. Given many people are falsely accused of animal cruelty and such laws are disproportionately enforced against people of color, this bill will steal innocent people of color’s pets and kill many of them.
Later on in 2021, I made a post on my Facebook page about St. Hubert’s employee reviews on job sites describing the toxic culture at the organization. Specifically, many reviews allege the shelter bullied people, abused staff and had a high turnover. While some of the reviews were from before Humane Rescue Alliance took over, reviews after the merger indicate the toxic environment continued.
“The organization is run by bullying and intimidation; the organization has no structure and minimal SOP’s; senior management screams and berates people while pointing in their faces and whacking them with paper.”
In the comments to both of these Facebook posts, former Humane Rescue Alliance and St. Hubert’s employees confirmed these allegations and provided additional details. Also, a number of former St. Hubert’s employees alleged in the comments and in private conversations with me that the shelter went significantly downhill after Humane Rescue Alliance took over.
Austin Pets Alive and Maddie’s Fund Promote Humane Rescue Allianceas a Role Model Organization
Austin Pets Alive’s and Maddie’s Fund’s Human Animal Support Services (HASS) initiative placed Lisa LaFontaine on its Executive Committee until recently and heavily promotes her and Humane Rescue Alliance. The HASS initiative, which has been very controversial and is designed to “transform animal sheltering” into a “community sheltering” model, is staffed with Austin Pets Alive and Maddie’s Fund employees. Additionally, the HASS model aims to end the racist actions the sheltering industry has been taking for decades. As you can see here, HASS frequently portrays Ms. LaFontaine and Humane Rescue Alliance as role models. In addition, Humane Rescue Alliance also is on the HASS Government Body and Communications Policy working group whose goal is to “provide local-level guidance, messaging and data to elected officials on the benefits of HASS and innovative animal sheltering services.” Thus, Austin Pets Alive and Maddie’s Fund send the message that Humane Rescue Alliance is a role model shelter and allows it to have a strong voice about the “future” of animal sheltering.
Humane Rescue Alliance Is a Money Making Scam That Betrays Washington DC’s Animals and People
At the beginning of this blog I asked the following questions:
Have Humane Rescue Alliance’s mergers and resulting increases in executive compensation helped Washington DC’s animals? What kind of job is Humane Rescue Alliance doing in Washington DC?
Clearly, Humane Rescue Alliance’s mergers and increased executive compensation only benefitted the organization’s leadership team. Overall, the high death rates in 2016, which was the year of the first merger, barely improved and lag behind the death rate decreases nationally over that time. In fact, Humane Rescue Alliance killed a much larger percentage of dogs than both the high kill New York ACC and ACCT Philly despite receiving significantly more funding. Similarly, Humane Rescue Alliance’s cat death rates were higher than New York ACC’s and barely lower than ACCT Philly’s. When compared to progressive animal control shelters with significantly less money, Humane Rescue Alliance’s death rates were much higher for both dogs and cats. When we looked at the detailed reasons for killing, we see outrageous abuse of using “owner-requested euthanasia” labels to exclude the killing of healthy and treatable animals from the shelter’s “Asilomar Live Release Rate” and excessive killing of dogs and cats for treatable behaviors and medical conditions. Furthermore, Humane Rescue Alliance’s executive compensation was many times greater than the other non-profit shelters I examined and all that personal enrichment diverted significant amounts of money from local animals in need and the people who care for them.
Animal advocates, employees and ex-employees at Humane Rescue Alliance and St. Hubert’s must start a campaign to reform the organization. Specifically, they must pressure elected officials to demand wholesale change, which includes removing the entire Humane Rescue Alliance and St. Hubert’s leadership team. Additionally, they should push for the Companion Animal Protection Act and better yet New Jersey shelter reform bill S1834 and A3632 that would require the shelter to take common sense lifesaving actions.
Legislators and other elected officials must not take Humane Rescue Alliance’s lobbying efforts seriously. Simply put, the organization is not an advocate for companion animals or the communities it serves. Instead, Humane Rescue Alliance is simply focused on personally enriching its leadership.
Austin Pets Alive and Maddie’s Fund must completely separate from Humane Rescue Alliance. While its obvious their leadership teams developed close personal relationships with Humane Rescue Alliance, particularly Lisa LaFontaine, this relationship is discrediting Austin Pets Alive and Maddie’s Fund own work. Humane Rescue Alliance has no respect for life and its actions are completely opposed to no kill. Austin Pets Alive and Maddie’s Fund should have realized this earlier based on Humane Rescue Alliance hosting and promoting Roger Haston, who was calling for shelter killing and pushing negative pit bull stereotypes. More and more, animal advocates, and the public at large, see Austin Pets Alive and Maddie’s Fund as inauthentic and an actual opponent of no kill. In fact, Nathan Winograd, who is the leading voice of the no kill movement, recently came out and stated this. Thus, Austin Pets Alive and Maddie’s Fund must separate itself from organizations like Humane Rescue Alliance that kill and mislead the public.
At the end of the day, Humane Rescue Alliance is a money making scam and not a friend to the animals, its own employees and the communities it serves. The sooner everyone realizes this, the sooner we can change things for the better.
Since 2013 I’ve posted dog and cat report card blogs on all New Jersey animal shelters reporting data to the New Jersey Department of Health. In these blogs, I set targets for the number of dogs and cats shelters should euthanize, send to rescues/other shelters, adopt out and rescue from other facilities. The live release targets assume the shelters uses all of its animal enclosures to find homes for the most animals unless that shelter reaches a specific adoption number cap (based on the human population in the area). These blogs consistently found the state’s shelter system as a whole 1) killed too many animals 2) failed to use its available space and 3) did not come close generating as many live outcomes as it could.
As I wrote in in an earlier blog, 2020 was the most unusual year in the history of animal sheltering. The COVID-19 pandemic caused many shelters to restrict animal intake and the public, who were home more, lost fewer pets and fostered more animals. As a result, shelters took significantly fewer animals in and had more open animal enclosures than in the past.
Based on New Jersey animal shelters being forced to scale back operations for at least part of 2020, it is unfair to grade those facilities’ live release performances based on my targets requiring shelters to use all of their animal holding capacity. Thus, I could not evaluate these shelters 2020 live release performance in 2020.
While I could not grade shelters on the number of live outcomes, I did determine which shelters killed more and fewer animals than I target. You can see these results in my last blog here.
January 21, 2022 Update: Subsequent to my original analysis, St. Hubert’s-Madison submitted its statistics to the New Jersey Department of Health and the state health department revised its summary report on the state animals shelters‘ statistics.As a result, I updated this blog for the St. Hubert’s-Madison data.
Recently, I wrote a blog discussing decreased killing at New Jersey animal shelters in 2020. This blog will explore the 2020 statistics in more detail and assess the current status of the state’s animal shelters.
Most New Jersey animal shelters voluntarily report detailed data to state authorities. Earlier this year, I shared the 2020 summary statistics for New Jersey animal shelters on my Facebook page. Each year, the New Jersey Department of Health requests each licensed animal shelter in the state to submit animal shelter data for the previous year. Animal shelters voluntarily submit this data in the “Shelter/Pound Annual Report.” The New Jersey Department of Health takes these Shelter/Pound Annual Reports and compiles the number of dogs, cats and other animals impounded, redeemed, adopted and euthanized to prepare its Animal Intake and Disposition report. However, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include additional information on how animals were impounded (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, rescued from in-state facilities, rescued from out of state shelters, and cruelty/bite cases/other) and disposed of (i.e. returned to owner, adopted, sent to rescue/another shelter, and died/missing/other outcome). Additionally, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include the number of animals in shelters at the beginning and end of the year as well as the maximum number of animals facilities can hold. Thus, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include very important data not found in the New Jersey Department of Health’s summary report.
I compiled the data from these reports and analyze the results in this blog. 2020 statistics for each New Jersey animal shelter are listed at this link. You can also view each “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” at this link.
Garbage Data Raises Serious Questions About New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Statistics
Most New Jersey animal shelters do not properly account for their animals. Simple math dictates the number of animals at a facility at the beginning of the year, plus all animals coming in during the year, less all animals leaving for the period, should equal the number of animals a shelter has at the end of the year. Stunningly, 36 out of 66 shelters reporting these dog statistics and 42 out of 65 facilities submitting this cat data failed to get this right. This raises serious questions about the accuracy of these shelters’ reported statistics. 24 of the 36 shelters with flawed dog statistics and 23 of the 42 facilities with incorrect cat statistics should have had more animals at the end of the year than reported. While these errors could have been due to incorrect counts of the number of animals at facilities, these shelters may have not recorded outcomes, such as animals who were killed, died, or went missing. To put it another way, 1,302 cats and dogs should have had outcomes reported and did not. Thus, there is the potential that as many as 1,302 additional dogs and cats were killed, died or went missing from New Jersey animal shelters than were reported in 2020.
Even worse, a number of animal shelters reported having a different number of animals at the end of 2019 and at the beginning of 2020. Obviously, shelters should report the same number of animals at the end of the prior year and the start of the current year. However, 33 of 65 shelters reported different numbers of dogs at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020. Similarly, 29 of 63 shelters reported different numbers of cats at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020. The worst offenders are listed in the tables below:
Shelters may have failed to classify animals adopted out and sent to rescues properly. Both Paterson Animal Control and Elizabeth Animal Shelter reported no animals were sent to rescues and all dogs and cats leaving their facilities alive were owner reclaims or adoptions. However, intake and disposition records I reviewed at both of these shelters in recent years revealed almost all “adopted” animals are actually rescued. One has to wonder how many other facilities failed to properly classify adoptions and rescues properly. This data is very important as it provides details on the burden rescues and other shelters are taking on from these facilities.
We need better oversight of New Jersey animal shelters’ data reporting. Currently, these statistics are voluntarily reported and most shelters are not taking this seriously. For example, I noticed a large number of reports were submitted many months after the end of the year. This data should be easy to compile since facilities can utilize animal shelter software programs, some of which are free, to do this task. Furthermore, New Jersey animal shelter laws mandate facilities maintain much of the raw data found in the Shelter/Pound Annual Report. Unfortunately, New Jersey Department of Health inspections routinely find shelters do not properly keep records on animals. We need to make the data reporting mandatory for animal shelters as the shelter reform bill, S636, does along with serious penalties for significant errors (especially if deliberate). In order for animal shelters to take data reporting seriously, we may also need to require audits of these reports. Thus, these results show we need stronger laws and the New Jersey Department of Health to play a greater role in ensuring reported animal shelter statistics are in fact accurate.
Despite the errors in these reports, the data provided still reveals important information.
More Animals Losing Their Lives in New Jersey Animal Shelters Than Disclosed in Summary Report
The more detailed data in the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports allows one to more critically examine the percentage of locally impounded animals dying in New Jersey’s animal shelters. The following table summarizes my analysis of the kill rates calculated from the New Jersey Department of Health’s summary report and the data reported in the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports.
The statistics include an estimate to remove animals St. Hubert’s transfers in and quickly transfers out through its Sister Shelter WayStation program. Since St. Hubert’s is effectively acting as a middle man and not holding these animals very long, it makes sense to exclude these dogs and cats from the various kill rate statistics. If I did not exclude these animals, I would understate the dog and cat kill rates due to inflated intakes and outcomes numbers. Therefore, I removed all of St. Hubert’s dogs transferred out from the intake and outcomes figures in the metrics. Since St. Hubert’s primarily uses the Sister Shelter Waystation program to quickly transfer in cats and send them to out of state facilities, I only backed out the cats St. Hubert’s transferred to out of state organizations in the various kill rates. The dog kill rate (intake) increased from 3.6% to 4.1% and the cat kill rate (intake) remained at 9.8%.
The Animal Intake and Disposition report prepared by the New Jersey Department of Health only allows one to calculate the number of animals killed as a percentage of total animals impounded (i.e. intake). I prefer calculating the kill rate as a percentage of outcomes rather than intake as this metric directly compares positive and negative outcomes. Using intake may depress the kill rate since shelters can simply hold animals for a long time to the point of overcrowding. Calculating the kill rate based on outcomes rather than intake caused the dog kill rate to decrease from 4.1 to 4.0% and the cat kill rate to decrease from 9.8% to 9.7%. This decrease was due to outcomes exceeding intakes.
To calculate the statewide kill rate, we must also back out transfers from one New Jersey animal shelter to another state facility to avoid counting animals still in the state’s shelter system or registering two outcomes for the same animal (i.e. one New Jersey animal shelter transfers a dog or cat to another state facility which then adopts out the animal). This adjustment increased the dog kill rate from 4.0% to 4.3% and the cat kill rate from 9.7% to 10.7%.
In addition, we should increase the kill rate for animals who died or went missing in shelters. In the past, I’ve labeled this metric the death rate as these animals are likely dead or in a very bad situation. Unfortunately, the Shelter/Pound Annual Report includes animals who died or went missing in the “Other” outcome category. The “Other” category contains positive live releases, such as TNR for cats, at a few shelters. While including the “Other” category in the death rate for most shelters is appropriate (i.e. those facilities that don’t do TNR or don’t include cats released through TNR programs in “Other” outcomes), I’m no longer doing this due to an increasing number of shelters implementing TNR. Instead, I calculated the kill rate by subtracting out “Other” outcomes from total outcomes. If a shelter specifies the number of animals included in “Other” that left the shelter alive, I count this as “Other Live Release” and do not back these amounts out of total outcomes. After making this adjustment, the dog kill rate remained at 4.3% and the cat kill rate increased from 10.7% to 11.4%. For those interested in seeing the estimated death rates, you can find them in the supporting spreadsheet.
Also, many shelters transport easy to adopt animals from out of state which artificially increases live release rates. To properly calculate the percentage of New Jersey animals losing their lives, we need to adjust for transports. Unfortunately, shelters don’t break out their kill rates by local and out of state animals. However, most likely nearly all of the out of state animals (primarily puppies and easy to adopt dogs and cats) make it out of shelters alive. Therefore, I back out the number of out of state transports from total outcomes to estimate the local kill rate. This adjustment increases the New Jersey dog kill rate from 4.3% to 5.7% and the state’s cat kill rate from 11.4% to 11.6%.
Also, I estimate a maximum local kill rate by including the number of unaccounted for animals described in the section above. Making this adjustment increases the New Jersey dog kill rate from 5.7% to 10.3% and the state cat kill rate from 11.6% to 14.3%.
Some animal shelters quickly return large percentages of their animals to owners. At these shelters, the populations served are typically well-off and animals are licensed and have microchips. To account for the animals facilities actually have to shelter, I calculated a kill rate for non-reclaimed animals and a maximum potential kill rate for non-reclaimed local animals. The non-reclaimed kill rate and maximum potential kill rate for dogs is 6.2% and 18.0%. Non-reclaimed cats had a 12.2% kill rate and a 15.3% maximum potential kill rate. Thus, the percentage of New Jersey animals losing their lives in our state’s animal shelters may be much higher than the state summary report suggests.
Many Animals Killed Despite Low Statewide Death Rates
The goal of any properly managed animal shelter is to save all of its healthy and treatable animals. In some cases, such as selective admission rescue oriented shelters, it is pretty easy to not kill animals. In addition, other animal shelters with easy to service animal control contracts (i.e. few animals impounded, most strays quickly returned to owners) can avoid unnecessary killing due to having lots of extra space. As a result, some shelters may have an easier time than others in preventing killing at their shelters.
The tables below detail how many dogs should lose their lives at each state animal shelter per my model and the actual numbers of dogs that did. The model’s targets have shelters euthanizing 5% of community dogs (strays, owner surrenders, cruelty/bite cases, etc.) and 1% of dogs rescued from other shelters. All missing or lost dogs are assumed “dead” based on the assumption they died or went to a very bad place. Based on my review of a number of shelters’ underlying documents, virtually all of the dogs in the “Other” outcome category died or went missing. Shelters having the number of dogs losing their lives at or below my targets and above my targets are highlighted in green and red in the tables below.
The largest number of dogs unnecessarily dying occurred at a relatively small number of shelters. Overall, 301 dogs needlessly lost their lives at New Jersey animal shelters in 2020 (i.e. the sum of all shelters killing too many dogs). 10 out of 67 or 15% of the shelters accounted for 81% of the dogs unnecessarily losing their lives under the model’s assumptions. Thus, the bulk of the dogs unnecessarily dying at New Jersey animals shelters occurs at a small number of facilities.
If I use a stricter standard of shelters only having 2% of local dogs losing their lives (which a number of higher volume no kill animal control shelters in other places have achieved), the state’s shelters needlessly killed 555 dogs in 2020.
The tables below detail how many cats should lose their lives at each state animal shelter per my model (8% of strays, owner surrenders and other local cats and 5% of cats rescued from other shelters) and the actual numbers of cats that did. All missing or lost cats are assumed “dead” based on the assumption they died or went to a very bad place. Based on my review of a number of shelters’ underlying documents, virtually all of the cats in the “Other” outcome category died or went missing. While a small numbers of shelters could have included some live releases in the “Other” outcome category, it would be misleading to not count these deaths for the overwhelming majority of shelters. Shelters having the number of cats losing their lives at or below my targets and above my targets are highlighted in green and red in the tables below.
The largest number of cats unnecessarily dying occurred at a relatively small number of shelters. Overall, 3,105 cats needlessly lost their lives at New Jersey animal shelters in 2020 (i.e. the sum of all shelters killing too many cats). 10 out of 65 or 15% of the shelters accounted for 86% of the cats unnecessarily losing their lives under the model’s assumptions. Thus, almost all of the cats unnecessarily dying at New Jersey animals shelters happens at a small number of facilities.
Kill Rates Extremely High at a Number of New Jersey Animal Shelters
Dogs and cats are likely to lose their lives at a number of New Jersey animal shelters. Shelters with the highest kill rates for dogs and cats (excluding very low intake facilities) are listed in the following tables:
Thus, both dogs and cats have a very good chance of leaving many New Jersey animal shelters dead rather than alive.
In terms of raw numbers, the following shelters killed the most animals:
Many shelters fail to account for large numbers of their animals. As discussed above, a shelter’s number of animals at the end of the year should be calculated as follows:
Beginning number of animals + animals impounded – animals leaving the shelter
Unfortunately, a large number of shelters take in far more animals than they can explain where they went. Shelters having the highest numbers of unaccounted for dogs and cats are listed in the following tables:
Dog and cat kill rates at many shelters may be even higher if these unaccounted for animals are counted as killed. If we only consider animal shelters which reported transporting few or no animals in 2020, facilities with the highest dog and cat kill rates considering the unaccounted for animals described above are as follows:
Thus, the plight of dogs and cats may be far worse in New Jersey animal shelters when we consider the unaccounted for animals.
Shelters Turn Their Backs on New Jersey’s Animals
New Jersey animal shelters rescue far more dogs from out of state than from other New Jersey animal shelters. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters transferred in 3,041 dogs from out of state animal shelters and only rescued 870 dogs from other New Jersey animal shelters. While fewer dogs were available for rescue in 2020, the pattern is consistent with past years.
While perhaps some shelters take animals from nearby New York or Pennsylvania animal control shelters, the overwhelming majority of these dogs most certainly came from down south. In fact, New Jersey animal shelters transported more dogs from out of state than dogs who were killed in New Jersey animal shelters. This number does not include additional out of state dogs transported into New Jersey by rescues operating without a physical facility. Shelters transporting the most dogs from out of state were as follows:
In 2020, several New Jersey animal shelters transported many cats from out of state. Its not clear if or how many of the cats EASEL took in from out of state were from nearby Pennsylvania or other places further away.
Shelters Do Far Worse with Animals Requiring New Homes
Since dogs reclaimed by their owners typically have licenses and/or microchips and quickly leave the shelter, its informative to look at dogs shelters have to find new homes for. To get a better idea of how organizations are doing with animals they actually have to shelter, I also examined what percentage of non-reclaimed dogs lose their lives at each facility. Shelters with the highest non-reclaimed dogs kill rates are as follows (excluding shelters taking few unclaimed dogs in):
Shelters with the highest maximum non-reclaimed dog kill rates are as follows (excluding facilities that reported transporting many dogs in and taking very few unclaimed animals in):
Shelters Leave Animal Enclosures Empty While Dogs and Cats Die
New Jersey animal shelters fail to use their space to save animals. Based on the average number of animals at all of New Jersey’s animal shelters at the beginning and the end of 2020, only 52% of dog and 74% of cat capacity was used. Given December is a low intake month, I also increased these populations to an average intake month. This adjustment only raised the dog capacity utilization to 54%. While this adjustment did increase the cat capacity utilization to 92%, it is highly unlikely this happened in reality. Shelter inspection reports I’ve reviewed often did not reveal significantly larger dog and cat populations in the summer and winter months. This is likely due to the influx of highly adoptable kittens having short lengths of stay and shelters killing cats with empty cages.
Many animal shelters with low kill rates failed to rescue animals with their excess space. Additionally, other shelters used little of their available space and still killed a large percentage of their animals. Some examples after increasing the population (and therefore capacity utilization) based on the adjustment discussed above are as follows:
Thus, many New Jersey animal shelters are killing dogs and cats despite having ample space to house these animals.
Shelters Show No Respect for Life for Animals Outside of Those Facilities
As I wrote in my last blog, 2020 was the most unusual year in the history of animal sheltering. The COVID-19 pandemic caused many shelters to restrict animal intake and the public, who were home more, lost fewer pets and fostered more animals. As a result, shelters took significantly fewer animals in and had more open animal enclosures than in the past.
On the other hand, many shelters across the country took it a step further and refused to help animals in need. Therefore, we must differentiate between shelters whose intake decreased due to pandemic related reasons and those who exploited COVID-19 to do less work and put animals at risk outside those facilities’ walls.
The following tables detail the shelters whose dog and cat intake decreased the most in 2020. As you can see, these shelters animal intake decreased significantly more than both the decrease for shelters across the country using PetPoint software (24% and 21% decrease for dogs and cats) and for New Jersey animal shelters as a whole (22% and 13% decrease for dogs and cats).
New Jersey’s animal shelters continue to fail the state’s animals. The state’s animal shelters only impounded 5.9 dogs and cats per 1,000 New Jersey residents in 2020. If we just count animals originating from New Jersey, the state’s animal shelters only impounded 5.2 dogs and cats per 1,000 people in 2020. As a comparison, Florida’s Lake County Animal Shelter took in 10.9 dogs and cats in 2020 and saved 98% of its dogs and 94% of its cats due to it fully implementing the No Kill Equation. Despite New Jersey shelters impounding a fraction of the animals many no kill communities take in on a per capita basis, the state’s animal control facilities continue to kill and allow animals to die under their care and outside their walls. Even worse, many of these shelters can’t even properly keep track of how many animals leave their facilities dead or alive. Our state’s animals deserve far better treatment than this. Contact your local city council members and mayor and demand better from the animal shelter serving your community. We can do so much better and it is time our shelters operate this way.
January 21, 2022 Update: Subsequent to the analysis I conducted below, St. Hubert’s-Madison submitted its statistics to the New Jersey Department of Health and the state health department revised its summary report on the state animals shelters‘ statistics. While I updated the state’s shelter statistics in the link below, the analysis in this blog was not revised.
In 2019, New Jersey animal shelter statistics improved modestly. This decrease in killing was driven by shelters taking fewer dogs and cats in.
2020 was the most unusual year in the history of animal sheltering. The COVID-19 pandemic caused many shelters to restrict animal intake and the public, who were home more, lost fewer pets and fostered more animals. As a result, shelters took significantly fewer animals in and had more open animal enclosures than in the past.
How did New Jersey animal shelters perform in 2020 compared to 2019? What caused these changes? What shelters had positive and negative impacts on the state’s kill rates in 2020?
Killing Decreased Significantly in 2020
The tables below summarize the statewide dog and cat statistics in 2020 and 2019. To see how I calculate the various metrics, please review the footnotes in this link and my blog analyzing the 2015 statistics. You can view the full 2020 statistics here and the statistics 2019 here.
Unfortunately, many shelters did not report 2020 data. In 2019, 92 and 90 shelters reported dog and cat statistics. However, only 66 and 65 shelters did so for dogs and cats in 2020. In fact, I’ve never seen nearly as many shelters fail to report data in the seven years I’ve been analyzing the state’s animal shelters. Furthermore, large shelters, such as St. Hubert’s, Burlington County Animal Shelter, Montclair Township Animal Shelter, Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter, Clifton Animal Shelter and SAVE – Friends to Homeless Animals did not report numbers. As such, I compared the 2020 New Jersey animal shelter statistics to both the full 2019 statistics and the 2019 statistics with only the same shelters that shared data in 2020 in the state summary tables below. Also, the tables detailing the outcomes and individual shelters below only reflect shelters reporting data in both years.
The dog statistics improved in 2020 with the metrics improving at a much faster rate than in the prior year. Most dog kill rates decreased at two to three times the rate those kill rates decreased in 2019 verses 2018. However, the non-reclaimed kill rate decreased at four times the rate that metric decreased in 2019 verses 2018. On the other hand, the maximum kill rate metrics, which assume unaccounted for animals lost their lives, decreased at a far slower rate compared to the prior year.
When we only look at shelters that reported data in both years, the changes were a bit greater. Most dog kill rates decreased at three times the rate those kill rates decreased in 2019 verses 2018. However, the non-reclaimed kill rate decreased at 11 times the rate that metric decreased in 2019 verses 2018. On the other hand, the maximum non-reclaimed kill rate metric slightly increased in 2020 verses 2019.
The cat statistics improved in 2020 at even a faster rate than dogs compared to the prior year. Overall, the 2020 verses 2019 kill rates decreases were around four to eight times the decreases in 2019 verses 2018. If we just look at shelters that reported data in both years, the kill rates decreased at around 5-12 times as much as those rates did in the prior year.
While the state’s kill rates suggest the state may be close to achieving no kill, many individual shelters have high kill rates and still kill healthy and treatable animals. My next blog will highlight those facilities.
Decreased Intake Results in Fewer Killed Dogs
The statewide dog kill rate decreased due to New Jersey animal shelters taking fewer dogs in. New Jersey animal shelters reported killing 600 fewer dogs (710 dogs if we assume the animals in “Other” outcomes died). However, New Jersey shelters’ live outcomes all decreased. Interestingly, the number of dogs transferred to rescues and other shelters only decreased slightly. Given New Jersey animal shelters fell far short of my dog adoption targets I set for 2019, these results are deeply disappointing. Therefore, New Jersey animal shelters killed fewer dogs due to these facilities taking fewer dogs in rather than saving more dogs.
The following shelters contributed most to the decrease in the statewide dog kill rate.
The table below provides insight as to why these shelters decreased the statewide dog kill rate the most. As you can see, all the shelters except for Vorhees Animal Orphanage, which are relatively large, had kill rates much greater than the state average in 2019 and those kill rates decreased significantly in 2020. All the shelters except for Vorhees Animal Orphanage had fewer outcomes primarily due to decreased dog intake, but the decrease for most of these facilities was not much different than the statewide decrease in intake. On the other hand, Vorhees Animal Orphanage had a lower than average dog kill rate and increased the number of animal outcomes in 2020. Therefore, this shelter had a greater impact on the state’s dog kill rate in 2020.
The following table explains why these shelters’ kill rates decreased. Overall, the number of dogs transferred increased or only decreased slightly at a number of these shelters despite taking significantly fewer dogs in. In particular, Associated Humane Societies-Newark, Bergen County Animal Shelter and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility significantly increased the number of dogs transferred. Several shelters also had slight increases and slight decreases in owner reclaims despite significant decreases in dog intake, but this had a negligible effect on the state’s dog kill rate. Unfortunately, all the shelters except Vorhees Animal Orphanage and Passaic Animal Shelter, had adoptions decrease at a greater rate than the decrease in their dog intake. Overall, live outcomes went down in 2020 at these shelters, but the decrease was small enough relative to the decrease in total outcomes to reduce the statewide dog kill rate.
Other Shelters Increased the Statewide Dog Kill Rate
While the statewide dog kill rate dropped in 2020, several shelters partially offset this decrease. Specifically, the following shelters increased the dog kill rate, but this was more than offset by the facilities above.
The following table provides more details on these shelters. All three shelters’ kill rates increased in 2020 from levels that were under 10% in 2019. However, in 2020 all three shelters had kill rates well above the state average. Since Associated Humane Societies-Newark transferred many dogs and its kill rate decreased, its possible its sister shelters, Associated Humane Societies-Popcorn Park and Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls, killed some of these dogs. Finally, Plainfield Area Humane Society had more outcomes in 2020 while the state as a whole had a significant decrease. Therefore, this shelter, which had an above average kill rate, had a greater impact on the state kill rate in 2020 than in 2019.
The table below explains why several of these shelters’ dog kill rates increased. Associated Humane Societies-Popcorn Park transferred significantly fewer dogs to rescues and other shelters. Plainfield Area Humane Society adopted out and transferred fewer dogs despite taking more dogs in. Finally, Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls adopted out significantly fewer dogs.
Cat Killing Drops Due to Lower Intake
New Jersey animal shelters killed fewer cats in 2020 than in 2019 primarily due to taking fewer cats in. Total cat outcomes decreased by 9%, but cat adoptions and cats transferred only dropped by 0% and 2%. While the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports shelters fill out do not include a separate category for animals who died or went missing, shelters include these animals in the “Other” outcomes line. If we take out the cats from “Other” outcomes that certain shelters separately disclosed as TNR, “Other” outcomes (which should mostly represent cats who died or went missing) decreased by 248 cats. Thus, shelters killed fewer cats in 2020 primarily due to lower cat intake.
The following shelters decreased the statewide cat kill rate the most.
The following table provides insight as to why these shelters decreased the statewide cat kill rate the most. As you can see, all the shelters except for Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center and Monmouth SPCA had high kill rates, which were 17% to 48%, in 2019, and all reported decreases in those kill rates during 2020. Most of the shelters also had fewer outcomes, which was greater on a percentage basis than the decrease statewide, primarily due to decreased cat intake. Therefore, these higher kill shelters made up a smaller portion of cat outcomes in the state and that partially decreased the statewide cat kill rate in 2020.
The table below explains why these shelters’ kill rates decreased. Overall, all the shelters either increased their live outcomes (i.e. Atlantic County Animal Shelter, Associated Humane Societies-Newark, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter and Monmouth SPCA) or reported fewer live outcomes. The shelters with greater live outcomes had higher increases in transfers than adoptions. However, the shelters that had fewer live outcomes had their cats killed decrease at a greater rate. Therefore, these shelters’ kill rates decreased due to taking fewer cats in.
Other Shelters Increased the Statewide Cat Kill Rate
While the statewide cat kill rate decreased in 2019, several shelters partially offset this decrease. Specifically, the following facilities increased the cat kill rate, but this was more than offset by the shelters above.
The following table provides more details on these shelters. All the shelters except Associated Humane Societies-Popcorn Park had higher cat kill rates in 2020 compared to 2019. In the case of Associated Humane Societies-Popcorn Park, it had significantly more outcomes in 2020 verses 2019 and made up a larger portion of the state’s cat kill rate in 2020 than in 2019.
The table below explains why these shelters’ kill rates increased. Edison Animal Shelter’s and Toms River Animal Facility’s kill rates increased largely due due to a decrease in other outcomes, which could mean fewer cats died or were neutered and released. Pennsville Township Pound’s cat kill rate increased primarily due to live outcomes not increasing enough relative to the increase in total outcomes. Cat kill rates at Perth Amboy Animal Shelter Hodes Veterinary Group, Father John’s Animal House, Liberty Humane Society and Glen Manor Veterinary Group increased due to these shelters adopting out fewer cats. Tabby’s Place’s increased cat kill rate was due to fewer cats returned to owners. Animal Hospital of Roxbury’s cat kill rate increased due to it sending fewer cats to rescues and reduced owner reclaims.
Shelters Impound Less Dogs and More Cats
The tables below detail the change in dog and cat intake at New Jersey shelters in 2020 verses 2019.
Overall, New Jersey animal shelters took in 5,180 less dogs during 2020 than in 2019. New Jersey animal shelters took in 2,881 and 1,102 fewer stray and owner surrendered dogs during 2020 than in 2019. The state’s shelters took 26% fewer dogs in as owner surrenders and 27% fewer stray dogs. While managed intake programs can decrease owner surrenders, they do not affect stray numbers. Therefore, the decrease in stray dog intake may be related to decreased animal control efforts, animal control officers returning dogs to owners in the field (not counted as shelter intake) or simply fewer stray dogs. If ACOs really are not impounding dogs that need help or ones that are a public safety threat, that does not help people or animals. Given the 26% and 27% decreases in owner surrendered and stray dogs was around the same as the 24% decrease among shelters nationally using PetPoint software, it does not seem if New Jersey animal shelters as a whole restricted intake more than shelters from elsewhere. However, we should monitor this number in the future and determine why stray dog intake is decreasing.
New Jersey animal shelters rescued far fewer dogs from New Jersey in 2020. Overall, the number of dogs rescued from other New Jersey animal shelters decreased by 758 dogs or 47%. On the other hand, dogs rescued from out of state only decreased by 209 dogs or 6%. While this decrease may be partially due to lower dog intake, the fact that some shelters still killed dogs (see my next blog) and the much greater percentage decrease in dogs rescued from New Jersey animal shelters compared to the decreases in total dog intake and dogs rescued from out of state suggests New Jersey animal shelters could have saved more local dogs.
New Jersey animal shelters impounded fewer cats in 2020 than in 2019. The decrease in cat intake was driven by a 5,165 decrease in stray cat intake due to the pandemic. However, this 19% decrease in stray cat intake was similar to the 21% decrease in stray cat intake by shelters using PetPoint software. On the other hand, owner surrenders and cats rescued from New Jersey increased. However, the number of cats rescued from out of state skyrocketed and was not much lower than the number of cats rescued from New Jersey animal shelters.
Clearly, growing animal advocacy efforts are pressuring shelters to improve. Individuals contacting their elected representatives puts pressure on shelters to do better. Similarly, donors communicating their concerns to privately run facilities also makes it difficult for these organizations to not make positive changes. Most importantly, this pressure provides strong incentives to these shelters to work with boots on the ground animal advocates, such as TNR groups, rescues and shelter volunteers. Thus, the synergistic efforts of no kill advocates and people working directly with animals helped drive the state’s improved animal sheltering statistics.
That being said, the reduced positive outcomes for dogs and cats is a troubling sign. Shelters can’t permanently rely on fewer animals coming in and heavily rely on rescues to reduce killing. In fact, shelters may have had a false sense of security with the reduced animal intake as many shelters in New Jersey and elsewhere are complaining about having too many animals now as the nation opens up. Unfortunately, many New Jersey animal shelters used pandemic restrictions as an excuse to not be open to the public or limit their operating hours. Instead, these facilities must enact the 11 No Kill Equation programs to generate more live outcomes. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters must invest in behavioral programs to treat dogs who need help and do a much better job adopting out dogs. Additionally, these shelters must enact better medical protocols for cats and implement large scale TNR and Return to Field programs. Otherwise, shelters will reach a plateau and not increase their live release rates anymore.
Finally, after many complaints, the New Jersey Department of Health and Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness performed a joint inspection of AHS-Newark on September 10, 2021. While the inspection report is less detailed than prior ones and the handwriting is hard to read, it provides important information. You can read the full inspection report here. How did AHS-Newark do? After four years, has the shelter solved its major issues?
Facility is a Disease Breeding Ground
AHS-Newark had numerous areas where concrete was broken creating both a physical safety hazard and and an area impossible to disinfect. Specifically, the inspectors noted concrete outside boarding on the kennel side, on the inside corner of the last outdoor kennel and on the floors of two large dog kennels required repairs.
Furthermore, the inspectors noted the interior of the main kennels had peeling paint. Dogs can ingest such peeling paint.
As a result, the inspectors stated areas with broken concrete and peeling paint can’t be properly cleaned and disinfected.
The inspectors also found water buckets and receptacles were not secured and could tip over (i.e. making the dogs and their enclosures wet). Additionally, AHS-Newark did not properly disinfect the food and water receptacles.
In one of the most disgusting findings, the report said there was “pooling of urine” in the outdoor enclosure area.
Even when the shelter cleaned the floor in the medical room, it used a product that had no label to indicate it was an effective disinfectant.
Illegal and Potentially Inhumane Killing and Euthanasia
AHS-Newark only weighed animals at intake, but did not weigh them again prior to killing/euthanizing. Therefore, animals may not have received proper doses of sedatives and killing agents. If an animal gained significant amounts of weight while at the shelter, such as a dog or cat who came in malnourished or very young, the animal would not receive enough poison to kill them and its possible he or she could have been dumped or incinerated while still alive. Similarly, these animals may not have received enough sedatives and could experience emotional distress. Thus, the shelter could have inhumanely killed/euthanized some animals.
The shelter broke state law by not listing what method it used to kill/euthanize animals. Specifically, the records do not state whether the shelter killed/euthanized each animal by an intravenous (preferred method), intraperitoneal or intracardiac (i.e. heart sticking) injection. Per New Jersey law, shelters can only use intraperitoneal injections on comatose animals and neonatal kittens. Under this method, animals are injected in the abdominal cavity and can take up to 30 minutes to die. Heart sticking, as the name implies, involves stabbing an animal in the heart with a poison filled needle and New Jersey shelters can only use this method on heavily sedated, anesthetized or comatose animals. As a result, we don’t know if AHS-Newark used an inhumane way of killing/euthanizing animals.
AHS-Newark violated the state’s ban on killing owner-surrendered animals for seven days. Specifically, the shelter illegally killed animals supposedly brought in for owner-requested euthanasia before seven days went by.
Improper Record Keeping
Finally, the shelter did not include the name of the people who received cats under its TNR program as required by state law.
Poorest Quality State Inspection in Years
When reading this inspection report compared to prior ones at AHS-Newark, its clear this was not nearly as thorough as past reports. This inspection was just over two hours long compared to the initial 2017 AHS-Newark inspection taking six hours and the third inspection taking nearly three hours. Also, the prior reports were typed up and provided detailed explanations about the violations while this report only mentioned the violations. Finally, the current report has hard to read handwriting while the past ones were neatly typed out.
The new State Public Health Veterinarian wrote the most recent report and an experienced inspector wrote the prior reports. Linda Frese has inspected state shelters for decades. While Ms. Frese is listed as one of the inspectors, the report was written by the recently hired Dr. Darcy McDermott. Frankly, its deeply disappointing that Dr. McDermott did not have Linda Frese write up a high quality report that the public and the shelter’s animals deserve.
AHS-Newark Problems Remain from Prior Inspection Reports
Despite the poor quality inspection, the report found numerous problems. In total, AHS-Newark had 13 violations of state law, but that number could be higher. Specifically, each owner requested euthanasia that occurred before seven days would be a violation (I only counted as one violation in the 13 total violations) and there are likely many of these.
AHS-Newark’s violations were identical to many outlined in the August 22, 2017 inspection report. Like the August 22, 2017 inspection report, AHS-Newark had cracked concrete floors and peeling paint. Similarly, AHS-Newark had a concrete wall that needed repairs as it had in the August, 22, 2017 inspection report. As in the August 22, 2017 inspection report, AHS-Newark did not properly clean and disinfect food and water receptacles and did not use the proper solution to clean and disinfect parts of the facility. Finally, just like the August 22, 2017 inspection report, AHS-Newark illegally killed animals brought in for “elective euthanasia” before seven days, did not weigh animals prior to killing/euthanizing and did not record the method it killed/euthanized animals. Finally, as in the August 22, 2017 inspection report, AHS-Newark still did not fully comply with animal record keeping requirements. Thus, AHS-Newark’s problems are ones they should have solved over the last four years.
Authorities Must Act
The New Jersey Department of Health must take bold action rather than doing the same thing its done for decades and expecting a different result. In the past, the state health department has largely asked AHS-Newark and other shelters to do better. Unfortunately, this seems like the case now as the New Jersey Department of Health told AHS-Newark to provide a plan of correction within two weeks. Why should we expect AHS-Newark will permanently fix its issues when it didn’t fulfill its promises in the past? Instead, the state health department should move to shut AHS-Newark down unless AHS replaces its entire board of directors and its executive leadership with independent and competent individuals.
Given the massive problems at AHS-Newark, one has to also wonder how AHS-Tinton Falls and AHS-Popcorn Park operate. The New Jersey Department of Health has not inspected these other facilities in recent years. As a result, we need to know if AHS-Newark’s problems also occur at its sister shelters.
Newark’s Humane Law Enforcement Officer should charge the AHS board and executive leadership with Title 4 animal cruelty violations for each animal, which was not hopelessly suffering, the shelter killed before seven days.
Spaying visibly pregnant is a highly controversial practice for good reason. This procedure kills the mother’s kittens and is in many respects as disturbing, or even more so, than typical shelter killing. No kill leader Nathan Winograd wrote about this in his seminal blog called “The Great Abortion Non-Debate”:
If the kittens or puppies are viable, they must be individually killed, usually through an injection of sodium pentobarbital. Even when they are not, however, when a mother is spayed, the kittens or puppies die from anoxia (oxygen deprivation) due to lack of blood supply from the uterus once the vessels are clamped. They suffocate.
While Mr. Winograd acknowledged those performing the procedures hope the the anesthesia would work on the kittens, he also noted kittens are more resistant to the anesthesia and it might not be effective.
Spaying visibly pregnant cats is the functional equivalent of late stage abortions in humans. Cats show the first visible physical signs pregnancy after 21 days to 28 days. At around 21 days, the mother’s nipples become enlarged. Trained veterinarians and technicians can feel the kittens about a week later. Around this time, the first trimester ends and the kittens become viable (i.e. could survive with care out of the womb). In humans, abortions after this time are highly controversial and uncommon. In 2015, just 1.3% of all human abortions occurred after the first trimester and it is highly likely a much smaller percentage of very late stage abortions (i.e. in the third trimester) occur for ethical reasons. However, proponents of spaying pregnant cats make no qualms about spaying cats up to the time just before birth. Thus, spaying visibly pregnant cats almost always involves killing kittens who could survive with care.
Unlike humans, proponents of spaying pregnant cats force the mothers to abort their kittens against their wills. Cats have natural motherly instincts and its hard to argue they want someone to kill their viable kittens. Therefore, proponents of spaying pregnant cats are making the animals undergo forced abortions.
South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter’s Killing is Kindness Defense of Forced Abortions
South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter, which formally was Cumberland County SPCA, recently wrote a newspaper article about why the shelter spays pregnant cats. The shelter wrote a similar article in 2018 that I critiqued in a Facebook post. In the new article, the author, who is the shelter’s “Outreach Coordinator”, complained about the increased number of kittens coming into the shelter during the spring and summer months. Without providing any evidence, the author implied the shelter could take 200 more kittens in if they spayed pregnant cats or 800 more kittens if they gave these kittens a chance to live. To South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter’s credit, the author did acknowledge others oppose the practice.
The shelter used a kitten named Tito as an example of why the shelter spays pregnant community cats and kills the kittens in its Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Release (TNVR) program. Specifically, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter stated Tito’s “feral” mother suffered being confined while caring for him and Tito suffered a “slow death” in a foster home:
Tito was born to a feral mom who was brought into the shelter. She gave birth in a cage and was extremely stressed through the entire process. Because she’s feral, she has to remain confined to a cage until her kittens are weaned. She takes no comfort from a loving foster mom and never being able to have space away from her kittens will wear on her.
If she had been spayed, she would have been spared all this stress and would be outside enjoying the spring weather, having the time of her life, while not adding to the massive kitten overpopulation problem.
If she had been spayed, Tito would have been spared a slow death, even though we did everything we could to make him comfortable. His foster mom would have been spared the trauma of him dying in her hands.
Even if Tito’s mother was really feral, the shelter’s poor practices led to her being stressed. Despite the shelter’s assertion that a pregnant feral cat “takes no comfort from a loving foster mom” and will be terribly stressed in such an environment, this is proven wrong again by Tiny Kittens. Tiny Kittens successfully treated 100% of their injured adult feral cats in foster homes and provides examples of how it cares for pregnant feral cats in foster homes, significantly reduces their stress and helps them give birth to healthy kittens. Thus, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter is completely wrong in claiming pregnant feral cats can’t be happy and give birth to healthy kittens in foster homes.
South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter’s claims that performing a forced abortion would “spare all this stress” in the mother cat and eliminate the foster mom’s “trauma of him dying in her hands” is absurd. As mentioned above, proven practices reduce feral cat stress in foster homes. Additionally, injecting a needle into a scared cat and having her wake up with her kittens being killed is severely traumatic. As for the foster mother, most people who foster many young kittens sadly experience kitten deaths. I know this pain firsthand. However, I’ve never met a single kitten foster parent who advocated killing kittens to spare themselves the potential emotional pain of a kitten dying in their care. Simply put, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter is rationalizing its forcing mother cats to have late term abortions and the killing of kittens.
South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter Refuses to Let Cat Advocates Foster Pregnant Mothers and Considers These People Foolish
The shelter argues cat overpopulation is a reason for its policy of performing forced late term abortions. Specifically, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter stated:
If we allowed all the pregnant cats we TNVR to give birth, there is no way that the shelter, the TNVR program, or the community would be able to keep up while saving lives.
South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter’s “cat overpopulation” argument on why people can’t foster pregnant community cats is completely wrong. First, data has existed for years showing more than enough homes exist to place every animal shelters take in. In a blog I wrote on South Jersey Regional Animal a few years back, I presented data from Nathan Winograd showing shelters had many more potential homes available than the number of animals those facilities have to place. Additionally, the blog provided evidence that even the traditional sheltering industry agreed with Mr. Winograd’s data and conclusions.
The shelter could adopt out all the kittens it claims it would receive if it didn’t spay pregnant feral cats. As mentioned above, the shelter claimed it could take up to 600 more kittens a year if it didn’t spay pregnant cats (i.e. it would take in 800 more kittens during kitten seasons if it did not spay pregnant cats and 200 more kittens if it did spay pregnant cats) My prior blog provided a tailored estimate for South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter showing it could have adopted out 759 more cats in 2017 based on its share of the Cumberland County cat adoption market and the market shares of high performing no kill animal control shelters. Based on the shelter’s 2019 data, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter could have adopted out 590 more cats (the 10 kitten difference between this and 600 additional kittens taken in each year would be covered by unavoidable kitten deaths in foster homes). Since kittens are one of the most highly sought after animals, the shelter should have no problem reaching this goal. Thus, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter could have adopted out virtually every kitten from a pregnant cat into a Cumberland County home.
In reality, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter could find many more cats homes. During the pandemic, animal intake significantly dropped as fewer people lost animals and brought strays or surrendered animals to shelters. According to PetPoint’s data, cat intake at shelters using the company’s software decreased 17% in February 2021 compared to February 2020. In fact, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter has not accepted owner surrendered animals since July 2020. Therefore, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter is also likely taking fewer cats in and has a greater capacity to adopt out cats into Cumberland County homes. Furthermore, the shelter could easily transfer many more cats to rescues outside the area since demand for pets has skyrocketed due to more people being home and the availability of fewer animals at shelters. As a result, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter’s cat overpopulation excuse for killing kittens from pregnant mothers makes no sense.
South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter provides a false choice when it comes to the pregnant community cats it spays and the kittens it kills:
The cats that we TNVR are not shelter cats, if we chose not to spay pregnant females, we would have two choices.
The female can be left outside to give birth, leaving the survival of the kittens up to fate. If the kittens survive, they can start reproducing at a few months old, continuing the cycle. However, survival is not guaranteed. They will be at risk from exposure, predators and disease. And that’s assuming that the mom is able to successfully nurse the kittens and doesn’t abandon them.
Alternatively, some of our caregivers have suggested that they will care for the kittens and raise them so they can be placed. While this may be the “feel good” solution, it’s also not productive. The caregiver must be prepared to confine the mother for weeks, which is extremely stressful and increases the chance that she will not be able to properly care for her kittens.
First, the shelter’s statement that the cats it places through its TNVR programs “are not shelter cats” is not true. While some may not be, the organization is almost certainly falsely labeling cats “feral” as most shelters do. The data above showed the vast majority of community cats initially displaying fearful/aggressive behavior become adoptable after structured socialization protocols. In other words, most of these cats would become adoptable if provided the proper care. Furthermore, the kittens born from these mothers would be adoptable with human interaction after birth. Thus, the shelter is providing a false choice for most of these community cats.
South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter falsely claims the only real alternative to spaying pregnant community cats is leaving the cats on the streets to give birth. Specifically, the shelter dismisses its caregiver partners’ pleas to let them foster pregnant mothers as a “feel good” solution that is “not productive” stating the mother must be confined for weeks and the “stress” could cause her to not properly care for her kittens. First, many groups already successfully foster pregnant cats, such as Tiny Kittens mentioned above and Companion Animal Trust here in New Jersey. Even if the mother was truly stressed and not properly caring for the kittens, the shelter could spay and release the mother after giving birth and have the foster bottle feed the kittens.
The shelter goes on to lecture and castigate cat caregivers about the difficulties of fostering pregnant cats:
At the shelter, we have seen stressed out mothers kill their kittens, it’s one of the most horrible things we experience. If the mother neglects the kittens, the caregiver should be prepared to bottle feed around the clock, every two to three hours. The caregiver should also be prepared to pay for vet visits for vaccines and if they kittens need medication. And if they truly care about the welfare of cats, they should also ensure that each kitten is sterilized before they are placed in a home. Anything else is irresponsible, as it would cause suffering for the kittens and contribute to the overpopulation problem.
South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter clearly is fear mongering and trying to scare caregivers. First, if the shelter really let mother cats get so stressed that they killed their kittens, authorities should have charged the facility’s director and/or board of directors with animal cruelty. If these incidents happened when the organization still held animal cruelty law enforcement powers, it should have filed these Title 4 animal cruelty charges. Second, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter’s condescending tone jumps out here in that it tells caregivers they should be aware that they must pay to vet the kittens and sterilize the animals. Frankly, the shelter should pay for these kittens care and not the volunteers who are giving up their time, sleep and space in their home to help the organization. Furthermore, the volunteer caregivers know how to care for and treat kittens far better than the shelter (which let mothers kill their kittens). Thus, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter should not throw out the authority card when it has no business doing so.
The shelter’s article concludes with the same falsehoods about fostering pregnant community cats and not enough homes existing for the kittens:
Ideally, we would be able to spay and neuter every community cat out there before pregnancy happened. In reality, there’s not a chance of that. Ideally, a pregnant cat would be able to safely deliver her kittens and we could guarantee that her quality of life will be maintained and the kittens will stay healthy.
In reality, that’s basically impossible.
Ideally, there would be a home for every kitten.
In reality, there simply is not.
So until reality catches up with the ideal, we must continue to work hard and make decisions to reduce the population. In the end, the more cats we fix, pregnant or not, the more lives we save.
As the information and data I presented above showed, we can safely and humanely foster pregnant community cats (most of which are not truly feral) using proven practices and more than enough homes exist for the kittens. Rescues already successfully foster pregnant community cats, both friendly and truly feral, and raise their kittens. Furthermore, more than than enough homes exist for the additional kittens South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter claims it would take in from these pregnant cats. Thus, the shelter should stop lecturing cat advocates about a false “reality” and start working with them to save lives.
South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter can easily force Cumberland County and the municipalities it contracts with elsewhere to implement TNVR and end the killing of community cats. Since the organization owns its physical shelter, it has complete leverage over the contracting municipalities. In other words, if South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter stated it would not contract with these towns unless they legalized and fully embraced TNVR, the municipalities would have to do so since they’d have no other place to send their stray animals. In fact, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter sent letters to its contracting municipalities in 2017 stating it was going to close at the end of the year and needed more money citing changing health codes (which had not changed) and costs to comply with the Open Public Records Act (which were exaggerated). Ultimately, the municipalities caved and agreed to pay more. Also, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter began contracting with additional towns after Ron’s Animal Shelter closed at the end of 2017 (i.e. this undercuts the shelter’s argument that it takes too many animals in). Subsequently, the shelter’s revenues from municipal contracts nearly doubled in 2018 as compared to 2017. In 2019, the organization’s municipal contract revenue increased more and were over 230% of the 2017 amounts. Despite the shelter’s strong arm tactics, it did not require the municipalities to implement TNVR. Thus, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter sold out cats to take in more money from the municipalities to practice catch and kill.
Ultimately, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter lacks the necessary respect for life and the ability to work with its community to end the killing at its facility. As the shelter’s article clearly demonstrates, the organization rationalizes killing using arguments, such as “too many animals and not enough homes”, “fates worse than death” and “not enough resources”, that shelters across the nation have proved wrong. Even worse, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter denigrates the very people (i.e. cat advocates willing to foster pregnant community cats) who could help the shelter end the killing. For these reasons, I’m not surprised to see many Cumberland County cat advocates criticize the shelter. At the end of the day, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter must replace its leadership if it ever hopes to end the killing and create a no kill Cumberland County.