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.
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.
Supposedly progressive animal welfare organizations have praised Animal Care Centers of NYC, which most people better know as New York ACC, as a no kill and role model shelter. At the 2017 Best Friends National Conference kick off session, Best Friends claimed New York ACC reached a 90% live release rate and was no kill. At this same conference presentation, Best Friends interviewed Mayor’s Alliance of NYC President, Jane Hoffman, and held her organization, which coordinates a number of New York ACC’s programs, and New York ACC as a role model for no kill advocates. Ms. Hoffman also claimed New York ACC exceeded 90% live release rates for both dogs and cats. In fact, Ms. Hoffman explicitly stated New York ACC was no kill earlier this year:
Having accomplished its mission to make NYC a no-kill city,” Hoffman told 1010 WINS, “the Alliance has reevaluated its programming to adapt to the changing needs of animal welfare in NYC.
Maddie’s Fund gave New York ACC CEO, Risa Weinstock, a $10,000 grant as a “no kill leader” for her “efforts in furthering the no-kill mission” in 2018. This grant provided money to “support community lifesaving, shelter medicine education and pet adoption.” In a Maddie’s Fund press release, the organization stated this “Hero Grant” “recognizes and honors the ‘top dogs’ in communities that are not only advancing the welfare of companion animals in the United States, but are leading the way with their innovative ideas, progressive thinking and lifesaving actions.” Thus, Maddie’s Fund not only viewed New York ACC as a no kill shelter, it also called the New York ACC CEO a “hero” and “no kill leader.”
Is New York ACC “no kill?” Is New York ACC a “top dog”, “hero” and “no kill leader?”
In order to get a better understanding of the job New York ACC did in 2018, I obtained the intake and disposition records for each individual dog and cat the shelter took in during the year. You can find those records here. Additionally, I obtained supporting records for a selection of dogs the shelter killed during the year. You can see those records here. Finally, I obtained New York ACC’s Controlled Dangerous Substance logs, which lists the euthanasia drugs given to each animal the shelter killed in 2018. You can review those records in the following links:
While assessing the adequacy of the Controlled Dangerous Substance logs was beyond the scope of my analysis, I generally found them a mess. For example, the logs were handwritten and illegible in many cases. Therefore, it was difficult to even determine if the shelter prepared and kept these logs properly. Amazingly, New York ACC has not implemented a computerized system for maintaining its Controlled Dangerous Substance logs despite the New York City Comptroller noting this in an audit report from three years earlier. In fact, the New York City Comptroller noted in their 2015 audit report that New York ACC was not in compliance with its contract with New York City since it “does not maintain a computerized inventory system of controlled substances.”
Unfortunately, New York ACC was extremely difficult to get information from. In my last six years doing public records requests from animal shelters, I found New York ACC one of the worst organizations to deal with. Frequently, I would not get responses for long periods of time. Additionally, I often needed to follow-up several times to get requested records. Furthermore, New York ACC only provided me animal records generated from their shelter software system. For example, the shelter did not give me original records, such as owner surrender forms, shelter behavioral evaluations and other firsthand records. As such, New York ACC mainly gave me its summary of these records and I could not verify if the shelter’s version of these facts were accurate.
Due to New York ACC’s stonewalling, I obtained fewer supporting documents than I typically do. For example, I reviewed records for 31 dogs killed and did not obtain supporting records for cats killed. However, I reviewed enough records to get a good idea about how New York ACC operates.
Deadly Dog Data
New York ACC had large percentages of their dogs lose their lives in 2018. Overall, 21% of all dogs taken in during 2018 who had known outcomes lost their lives. If we just look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners, 24% of all these dogs lost their lives. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only had 1% of its dogs and 2% of its nonreclaimed dogs lose their lives in 2018. Thus, New York ACC had dogs lose their lives at 21 times and 12 times Austin Animal Center’s rates for all dogs and nonreclaimed dogs.
New York ACC had a bigger percentage of large dogs lose their lives in 2018. Overall, 25% of large dogs taken in during 2018 who had known outcomes lost their lives. If we just look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners, 30% of these large dogs lost their lives. On the other hand, 16% and 19% of medium dogs and nonreclaimed medium dogs lost their lives in 2018. Collectively, New York ACC had 22% of all large and medium dogs and 26% of nonreclaimed large and medium dogs lose their lives last year. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only had 1% of its large and medium dogs and 1% of its nonreclaimed large and medium nonreclaimed dogs lose their lives in 2018. Thus, New York ACC had large and medium dogs lose their lives at 22 times and 26 times Austin Animal Center’s rates for all large and medium dogs and large and medium nonreclaimed dogs.
Older dogs lost their lives in massive numbers at New York ACC in 2018. Overall, New York ACC had 58% of all dogs, 73% of large dogs, 59% of medium dogs and 52% of small dogs that were 10 years and older lose their lives in 2018. If we just look at nonreclaimed dogs, an astonishing 64% of all dogs, 78% of large dogs, 69% of medium dogs and 57% of small dogs that were 10 years and older lost their lives in 2018. While senior dogs are more likely to be hopelessly suffering, its simply inconceivable that around half to three quarters of these dogs were in this state of health.
New York ACC’s senior dog slaughter becomes apparent when we compare its performance to Austin Animal Center. Based on Austin Animal Center’s publicly reported 2018 intake and disposition records, this shelter only had 4% and 8% of all 10 year old plus dogs and nonreclaimed 10 years old plus dogs lose their lives in 2018. As a result, New York ACC had senior dogs and nonreclaimed senior dogs lose their lives at 15 times and eight times Austin Animal Center’s rate.
Owner Surrendered Dogs Die in Droves
As bad as New York ACC’s overall dog data was, the owner surrendered dog statistics were far worse. Overall, 33% of all owner surrendered dogs, 36% of large owner surrendered dogs, 26% of medium owner surrendered dogs and 34% of small owner surrendered dogs lost their lives in 2018. If we just look at nonreclaimed owner surrendered dogs, an astonishing 36% of all owner surrendered dogs, 40% of large owner surrendered dogs, 28% of medium owner surrendered dogs and 36% of of small owner surrendered dogs lost their lives. Thus, around 1 in 4 to more than 1 in 3 owner surrendered dogs lost their lives at New York ACC in 2018.
New York ACC killed huge numbers of dogs for “owner requested euthanasia.” Overall, New York ACC killed 1,025 dogs, 298 large dogs, 160 medium dogs and 567 small dogs for “owner requested euthanasia.” Remarkably, owner requested euthanasia made up 12%, 10% of, 8% and 16% of all outcomes for all dogs, large dogs, medium dogs and small dogs. Even worse, owner requested euthanasia made up 26%, 22%, 20% and 33% of all outcomes for owner surrendered all dogs, large dogs, medium dogs and small dogs. In fact, 80% of killed owner surrendered dogs, 62% of killed owner surrendered large dogs, 75% of killed owner surrendered medium dogs and 97% of killed owner surrendered small dogs were classified as “owner requested euthanasia.”
Frankly, I’ve never seen any shelter report such a high percentage of owner requested euthanasia. For example, I’ve reviewed detailed records at inner city shelters in Newark, Paterson, Passaic, Elizabeth and Perth Amboy and did not see anywhere near these types of owner requested euthanasia numbers. Given New York ACC uses the Asilomar Accords, which require shelters to exclude owner requested euthanasia from their live release rates, New York ACC has a strong incentive count killed animals as “owner requested euthanasia.”
Quick and Immediate Dog Killing
New York ACC’s dog length of stay data revealed the shelter quickly killed dogs. Specifically, the shelter killed all dogs, large dogs, medium dogs and small dogs after 3.6 days, 6.0 days, 3.9 days and 0.9 days on average in 2018. Clearly, this is not nearly enough time to determine if the shelter can save these animals.
While the average length of stay data is revealing, the distribution of the lengths of stay of the dogs killed is eye opening. Remarkably, New York ACC killed 62% of the dogs it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. 76% of the dogs New York ACC killed occurred within five days or less. New York ACC killed 81%, 90% and 95% of the dogs it killed within seven, 12 and 15 days. In fact, almost every dog New York ACC killed happened within 30 days or less. Thus, New York ACC gave the dogs it killed virtually no chance to become adoptable.
New York ACC killed owner surrendered dogs even faster. The shelter killed all owner surrendered dogs, large owner surrendered dogs, medium owner surrendered dogs and small owner surrendered dogs after 1.9 days, 3.5 days, 2.0 days and 0.5 days on average in 2018.
The distribution of the lengths of stay of killed owner surrendered dogs at New York ACC in 2018 is quite telling. New York ACC killed 78% of the owner surrendered dogs it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. New York ACC killed 83%, 89% and 96% of the dogs it killed within three, six and 13 days. In fact, New York ACC killed virtually every owner surrendered dog it killed within 23 days.
New York ACC’s length of stay data showed it gave no mercy to senior dogs. The shelter killed all dogs, large dogs, medium dogs and small dogs that were 10 years and older after jut 0.4 days, 0.8 days, 0.2 days and 0.3 days on average in 2018.
When we look at the distribution of the lengths of stay of the senior dogs New York ACC killed, we can clearly see how this shelter gave these animals no chance. New York ACC killed 92% of the 10 years and older dogs it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. New York ACC killed 95%, 97% and 98% of the senior dogs it killed within one day, three days and six days. In fact, New York ACC killed virtually every 10 years and older dog it killed within 13 days.
Dogs Killed for Highly Questionable Reasons
The killed dogs records I selected indicated New York ACC killed unusually large percentages of dogs for aggression. Overall, New York ACC killed 6.5% of all the dogs it took in during 2018 for aggression if you extrapolate my sample to all of the shelter’s dog intake last year. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.1% of the dogs it took in during 2018 for aggression and behavior related reasons. In other words, New York ACC killed dogs for aggression related reasons at 65 times Austin Animal Center’s rate. Thus, New York ACC erroneously labeled dogs aggressive and did not do enough to rehabilitate those that had some issues.
The shelter also killed too many dogs for medical reasons. During 2018, New York ACC killed 13.4% of all dogs for medical reasons if you extrapolate my sample to the shelter’s entire dog intake for the year. However, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.6% of all dogs for medical reasons. Therefore, New York ACC killed dogs for medical related reasons at 22 times Austin Animal Center’s rate. Thus, New York ACC killed treatable dogs.
Savannah or Dog ID# 17943 was a 1 year and 11 month old large mixed breed dog surrendered to New York ACC on January 12, 2018. Initially, the owner contacted New York ACC on January 9, 2018 about surrendering Savannah for aggression related problems. According to New York ACC’s version of the owner’s conversation, Savannah bit several family members in a few incidents that involved food and touching the dog.
New York ACC’s summary of the dog owner’s assessment of Savannah provided more details on this dog. In the “behavior note” below, Savannah was “friendly, playful, gentle and tolerant” of children that were 3-10 years old who visited. Savannah also was “friendly and playful” with other dogs and “friendly and relaxed” around cats in her home. In the home, Savannah took about 20 minutes to warm up to strangers, where she would allow petting, and growled when people tried to take food or bones away.
Savannah’s past bites per New York ACC’s summary of the dog owner’s assessment of Savannah indicated she may have been treatable. One bite related to the owner “cleaning a hot spot on her leg.” In another case, an owner’s relative approached and told Savannah to get away from a plate of food Savannah started eating. In another instance, Savannah bit the owner and their mother after the owner was petting the dog’s tail after a walk. Finally, Savannah bit the owner’s cousin when he brought her chicken after a bath to induce her to go for a walk. None of the bites required stitches at a medical facility.
Despite Savannah’s bites having apparent triggers, which may possibly have responded to behavioral rehabilitation, and New York ACC never even seeing the dog, New York ACC persuaded the “emotional” owner to do an owner requested euthanasia (“E&R”) instead of a regular owner surrender. New York ACC then immediately killed Savannah when she was surrendered on January 12, 2018.
While Savannah may or may not have been hopelessly aggressive, New York ACC made no effort to really find out. Instead, it used its power to influence an “emotional” owner to let the shelter immediately kill her as an owner requested euthanasia. As a result, New York ACC did not count this killing in its Asilimar Live Release Rate to help it falsely claim its no kill.
Smokey or Dog ID# 32081 was a five year old large mixed breed dog surrendered to New York ACC on June 23, 2018. According to New York ACC’s summary of Smokey, the shelter claimed Smokey was a “guard dog” and “dog reactive” and had a recent fight with another dog. New York ACC’s quote from the dog owner stated he was concerned about his godchild since Smokey was fighting with another dog in the home. The shelter claimed the owner also said the dog can become reactive when the owner is not around and sometimes can be unpredictable. Shockingly, New York ACC advised the owner to do an owner requested euthanasia. Why did New York ACC tell the owner this? New York ACC had an internal “discussion over the population call and its best to have Mr. request for E/R at the time of appointment.” In other words, New York ACC was going to kill dogs for space and wanted to exclude killing Smokey from its Asilomar live release rate.
As with Savannah, New York ACC did not even attempt to determine if it could treat Smokey. The shelter made no medical notes, did no veterinary treatments and never even attempted to provide any behavioral enrichment or rehabilitation. Instead, New York ACC immediately killed Smokey as an owner requested euthanasia in order to make its statistics look better.
Bella or Dog ID# 23675 was a large mixed breed dog that was surrendered to New York ACC on March 25, 2018. According to New York ACC’s summary of discussions with the owner, the owner got Bella from someone who left her tied to a tree. The shelter’s summary also noted Bella had an unknown skin allergy. In New York ACC’s summary below, Bella had a few minor bites on dogs who approached her. However, the notes did not indicate any bite was very serious. On the other hand, the owner noted Bella was “friendly and affectionate” with two other dogs in the home. The owner also noted Bella’s hackles stood up and she would get tense and growl when someone came from behind when walking at night. Additionally, the owner stated Bella would bark, growl and lunge when people “with a bad aura” came over. However, the shelter’s notes indicate Bella never bit any person. Finally, the owner noted Bella had separation anxiety when the owner was out for more than three hours.
Bella’s behaviors are things many dog owners experience. For example, many dogs have a sixth sense around threatening people and act defensively or standoffish. Similarly, separation anxiety is not an uncommon problem pet owners deal with.
New York ACC’s summary of its interactions with the owner are disturbing. The owner wanted to surrender both dogs due to Bella having separation anxiety. Thankfully, the shelter convinced the owner that she should not surrender the other dog. New York ACC also rightfully provided advice on easing Bella’s separation anxiety. However, when the owner refused to do these things, New York ACC advised her to do an owner requested euthanasia citing the shelter likely killing Bella for behavior. When the owner refused New York ACC’s advice to call Bella’s killing an owner requested euthanasia, the owner’s girlfriend, who also owned Bella, “yelled at her and explained that she will never be good with other dogs and that she should just put her to sleep.” Furthermore, the owner’s girlfriend stated the shelter most likely would put Bella to sleep. While New York ACC did dispute the girlfriend’s claims, the shelter did state the following:
I explained to them both that even though I feel she has a higher chance at being humanely euthanized, she could still be rescued or adopted and nothing is a guarantee. I explained her anxiety and destructive tendencies will factor in however. I explained in a shelter she has to interact with strangers and will be around other dogs and stay in a kennel most of the time. I explained that even if she is well behaved she might get sick because of stress. I explained we do have partners that pull from us and a high placement rate and that if she did not feel comfortable making the decision to humanely euthanize she doesn’t have to.
After the owner, who was getting screamed at by her girlfriend to kill Bella, heard this advice that effectively backed up the girlfriend’s claims, the owner agreed to do an owner requested euthanasia. In other words, New York ACC basically told the owner the shelter would likely kill Bella since she is not “well behaved” and “might get sick.” After just a single day at the shelter, New York ACC killed Bella and excluded her killing from its Asilomar live release rate as an owner requested euthanasia.
Zina or Dog ID# 19276 was a six year old large mixed breed dog surrendered to New York ACC on January 27, 2018. According to New York ACC’s summary of its conversation with the owner, the dog had hyperglycemia (i.e. low blood sugar) and “very bad seizures.” Instead of treating Zina, New York ACC did an owner requested euthanasia and immediately killed Zina.
Even though I recognize owning a dog with a serious case of epilepsy is a major challenge, it does not rise to the standard of hopelessly suffering. For example, the No Kill Advocacy Center considers epilepsy a treatable condition. At a minimum, New York ACC should have done a full veterinary evaluation and reached out to the public for help. Instead, New York ACC killed Zina on the spot and did not count her in its Asilomar live release rate.
Many Cats Killed
New York ACC’s statistics reveal the shelter killed too many cats in 2018. Since New York ACC did not list specific ages of a good number of cats (i.e. 1 year and older cats, kittens from 6 weeks to just under 1 year and kittens under 6 weeks) and such cats had a higher death rates, the statistics for each known cat age group are likely a little worse than the ones in the table below. Overall, 11% of cats lost their lives at New York ACC in 2018 or about three times the percentage at Austin Animal Center last year. 12% of nonreclaimed cats lost their lives at New York ACC in 2018. As a comparison, only 5% of nonreclaimed cats lost their lives at Austin Animal Center in 2018. Therefore, cats and nonreclaimed cats were three and two times as likely to lose their lives at New York ACC than at Austin Animal Center in 2018.
The shelter’s statistics also revealed adult cats lost their lives at a higher rate. New York ACC’s kitten statistics (5% and 8% death rates for 6 weeks to just under one year kittens and kittens under 6 weeks) were good. Almost all the neonatal kittens were saved by the rescue community and the ASPCA’s kitten nursery program as evidenced by transfers making up 83% of neonatal kitten positive outcomes. However, 15% of all adult cats lost their lives. As a comparison, only 6% of adult cats lost their lives at Austin Animal Center in 2018. Thus, adult cats lost their lives at three times Austin Animal Center’s rate in 2018.
Older Cats Obliterated
New York ACC killed many senior cats. Overall, the shelter had 46% of its 10 years and older cats lose their lives. 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, New York ACC had its 10 years and older cats lost their lives at five times Austin Animal Center’s rate.
Unusually Large Number of Cat Owner Requested Euthanasia
New York ACC’s cat owner requested euthanasia data is quite telling. Overall, New York ACC killed 4% and 7% of all cats and 1 year and older cats as owner requested euthanasia. Off the bat, this is a huge red flag since that number is far in excess of what I’ve seen at nearby New Jersey animal shelters. When we look at killed cats, we see New York ACC classified 38% of all killed cats and 52% of all killed adult cats as owner requested euthanasia. Finally, when we look at just killed owner surrendered cats, New York ACC classified 91% of all killed cats, 93% of adult killed cats, 67% of killed older kittens, 11% of killed neonatal kittens and 75% of killed cats with no ages as owner requested euthanasia.
While its possible New York City may have more hopelessly suffering cats, such as cats hit by cars with severe injuries, that does not really seem to explain this data. As mentioned before, 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. Due to New York ACC’s slow responses to my other records requests, I was unable to request and obtain individual cat records. New York City animal advocates should obtain records of killed cats classified as owner requested euthanasia to determine the specific reasons why New York ACC killed these animals.
Instant Cat Killing
New York ACC’s cat length of stay data revealed the shelter quickly killed cats. While the shelter adopted out and transferred cats in just 14 days and eight days, the shelter killed cats on average after just one day. In fact, the shelter killed cats in all the age classes below after just 1-2 days on average. Thus, New York ACC almost immediately killed all the cats it decided to kill.
While the average length of stay data is revealing, the distribution of the length of stay of the cats killed is eye opening. Remarkably, New York ACC killed 74% of the cats it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. New York ACC killed 86%, 91%, 94% and 99% of the cats it killed within 1 day, 2 days, 4 days and 15 days. In fact, almost every cat New York ACC killed happened within 35 days or less. Thus, New York ACC gave the cats it killed virtually no chance to become adoptable.
If this data for all cats wasn’t bad enough, New York ACC’s distribution of killed adult cats was even worse. Amazingly, New York ACC killed 78% of the adult cats it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. New York ACC killed 88%, 93%, 96% and 99% of the adult cats it killed within 1 day, 3 days, 6 days and 13 days. Almost every adult cat New York ACC killed happened within 22 days or less.
New York ACC’s distribution of the lengths of stay of the 10 years and older cats it killed show the shelter gave these animals virtually no chance. Shockingly, New York ACC killed 86% of the 10 years and older cats it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. New York ACC killed 93%, 95%, 97%, 98% and 99% of the 10 years and older cats it killed within 1 day, 2 days, 4 days, 9 days and 13 days. Virtually every 10 years and older cat New York ACC killed happened within 18 days or less.
The rescue community provides more support to New York ACC than Austin Animal Center as well. Overall, New York ACC transferred 33% of its dogs to rescues and other shelters while Austin Animal Center only transferred 21% of its dogs. Similarly, New York ACC transferred 55% of its cats to rescues and other shelters while Austin Animal Center only transferred 27% of its cats. Since transferring animals significantly reduces the cost of caring for animals, New York ACC should require less funds than Austin Animal Center all else being equal.
Despite having these financial advantages, New York ACC’s death rates are vastly higher than Austin Animal Center. As the table below shows, New York ACC has its animals lose their lives at around 3 to 15 times Austin Animal Center’s rates. Thus, New York ACC is failing its animals.
New York ACC also has many available homes for its animals. According to a New York Economic Development Corporation analysis from several years ago, 600,000 dogs and 500,000 cats live in New York City. If we assume cats live in someone’s home for 10 years and are then replaced when they die, New York City residents acquire 50,000 cats each year. If New York ACC were to achieve a 95% cat live release rate in 2018 and not use any rescue support, it would only need to adopt out 13,648 cats. In other words, the shelter would only have to convince 27% of New York City residents acquiring cats to adopt one. Similarly, if New York City residents own dogs for seven years on average and then replace the dogs when they die, New York City residents would acquire 85,714 dogs each year. If New York ACC were to achieve a 95% dog live release rate in 2018 and not use any rescue support, it would only need to adopt out 6,699 dogs. This is just 8% of the estimated number of dogs New York City residents acquire each year.
Results Require Action at New York ACC and its Enabling National Organizations
So why doesn’t New York ACC say it kills for lack of space? Despite New York ACC’s nonprofit status, it is controlled by the New York City government and is considered a government agency. If the city were to admit it doesn’t have enough shelter space, the city would be put under immense pressure to spend large sums of money to immediately build the new animal shelters in Queens and the Bronx (this may happen in several years). As anyone familiar with government knows, large and expensive financial projects do not happen unless powerful people get behind them.
The other reason is New York ACC and the city health department do not want scrutiny. If New York ACC can convince the public it only euthanizes hopelessly suffering animals, people won’t question the senior leadership who earn large sums of money. For example, New York ACC CEO, Risa Weinstock, earned $202,834 of total compensation last year despite these horrific death rates. Its in her financial interest to maintain the status quo. Similarly, its in the interest of the New York City Department of Health, which oversees the shelter, to maintain the current status quo. Simply put, admitting the shelter can do better would cause the public to pressure those running and overseeing the shelter to change things. Thus, New York ACC and the New York City Department of Health do not want to admit a problem exists.
So why would supposedly progressive animal welfare organizations engage in such destructive behavior? First, I believe these organizations genuinely believe that playing nice can get bad shelters to put lifesaving programs into place. While this works well with organizations whose leaderships are fully on board with no kill, it does not make regressive organizations no kill. When an organization’s leadership is perfectly fine with killing pets for convenience, it will kill animals requiring more work. For example, what good is a free or discounted adoption promotion if the shelter kills treatable animals before the animals are put up for adoption? Thus, I believe the collaboration at all costs mindset is naive.
Secondly, I believe the progressive sounding organizations find this behavior lucrative. If a national organization can make the public think their organization helped make the largest city in the country no kill, it can increase donations. Similarly, if these organizations can persuade their large financial benefactors that they made the largest city no kill, their highly paid leadership’s jobs will become more secure. Additionally, I think the resulting acclaim from the media and other parties is also a motivating factor. Certainly, Best Friends and Maddie’s Fund employ people I not only respect, but admire as well. However, I do think these factors do influence the behavior of these organizations’ most senior leadership.
Finally, I think the relationships these progressive organizations make with regressive shelter leaders cloud their thinking. When one works closely with people, its only natural to develop friendships. Given these relationships occur over many years, its only human for someone to want their friends to succeed. As a result, I think these progressive national organizations lose sight of what is happening and make the mistake of propping up their friends rather than standing up for the homeless animals their friends are killing.
Ultimately, progressive national organizations face the same risks of pursuing inauthentic policies like propping up New York ACC. Eventually, the larger public will become aware of the disconnect between great sounding messages and enabling high kill shelters to keep doing business as usual. As such, I hope Best Friend’s and Maddie’s Fund rediscover their no kill mission and join grass roots animal advocates to make New York ACC a real no kill shelter.
In my last blog, I analyzed how New Jersey shelters can save the cats coming into their facilities. How would these results change if all New Jersey animal control shelters implemented large scale shelter-neuter-return (“SNR”) programs? Could these programs save municipalities money? What would be the potential lifesaving impact in New Jersey and beyond?
California Shelter-Neuter-Return Program Significantly Reduces Cat Intake and Killing
San Jose, California has offered a low cost spay-neuter program for owned and feral cats since 1994. Under the program, people use a voucher to get any owned or feral cat spayed/neutered, vaccinated, and microchipped for $25. In other words, the city practiced a traditional subsidized trap-neuter-return (“TNR”) program. The public trapped cats, brought them to clinics for spay/neuter surgery, and subsequently released the cats back to their habitats. Despite this program, the local animal control shelter, San Jose Animal Care and Services, still killed over 70% of its adult cats.
San Jose Animal Care and Services implemented a SNR program several years ago. Based on a 2005 survey, 93% of owned cats were altered while just 5.5% of fed community cats were spayed/neutered. As a result of these findings, the city implemented a SNR program to better target the community cat population that continued to breed. Healthy feral and some fearful cats were impounded by the shelter, altered, vaccinated, microchipped, ear tipped for identification purposes and returned to the location where these cats were found. Shelter personnel impounded the cats, performed the veterinary work, and volunteers returned the cats to their habitats. Friendly, shy and some fearful cats did not enter the SNR program (i.e. shy and and fearful cats were sent to rescue or rehabilitated by the shelter).
San Jose Animal Care and Services’ SNR program drastically reduced the facility’s cat intake and killing after starting this initiative. The scientific journal, PeerJ, published a study that documented a decrease in San Jose Animal Care and Services’ cat intake of 29% over the four year study. Additionally, the shelter’s cat kill rate dropped from over 70% to 23% in four years. Furthermore, dead cats found on the streets decreased by 20% over the period presumably due to a smaller cat population resulting from the SNR program. Additionally, the number of cats euthanized for Upper Respiratory Infections (“URI”) at the shelter decreased by 99% over the four year study. Thus, the SNR program significantly reduced cat intake, cat killing and the outdoor cat population.
SNR Program Would Dramatically Increase Life Saving in New Jersey
In order estimate the impacts from implementing similar SNR programs in New Jersey, I used my cat Life Saving Model. As discussed in more detail in my prior blog on how New Jersey animal shelters are performing with their cats, the Life Saving Model computes each shelter’s targeted number of animal outcomes, such as euthanasia, animals sent to rescue, adoptions, and animals rescued from other shelters, based on each facility’s reported capacity and past cat intake. To estimate the impact of a well-run SNR program, I reduced each animal control shelter’s cat intake and owner reclaims by 29% (i.e. the decrease in San Jose Animal Care and Services cat intake). Cat intake and owner reclaims were not reduced at facilities without animal control contracts. The 29% decrease in cat intake assumption is reasonable given San Jose’s preexisting TNR program was likely as or more effective than most New Jersey programs (i.e. San Jose’s $25 low cost spay/neuter fee is lower than the amount New Jersey TNR caretakers typically pay for spay/neuter).
The table below compares the Life Saving Model’s targeted outcomes for the entire New Jersey shelter system based on the most recent number of cat impounds and projected cat intake after implementing a well-run SNR program. The targeted community or New Jersey cat intake decreased by 13,456 cats or 27%. Notably, the targeted number of New Jersey cats euthanized also decreased by 27% due to fewer cats coming into shelters. Additionally, the reduction in cat intake also significantly reduced the targeted number of cats sent to rescue by 6,594 cats or 54%. The extra capacity freed up from reduced New Jersey cat intake would allow shelters to rescue and adopt out at least another 13,777 more cats from out of state shelters or New Jersey’s streets. As a result, well-run SNR programs could significantly increase lifesaving in New Jersey.
SNR Significantly Reduces the Number of Cats Needing Rescue from Animal Control Shelters
SNR would allow many space constrained animal control shelters to rely much less on rescues to save their cats. The table below compares the targeted number of cats needing to go to rescues with and without a large scale SNR program at the state’s animal control shelters. Shelters having the largest decreases in cats needing rescue as a result of implementing a large scale SNR program along with their most recently reported cat kill rates (counting cats who died, went missing and were unaccounted for as killed) are as follows:
Camden County Animal Shelter – 1,223 fewer cats needing rescue; current kill rate: 67%
Gloucester County Animal Shelter – 998 fewer cats needing rescue; current kill rate: 82%
Atlantic County Animal Shelter – 882 fewer cats needing rescue; current kill rate: 83%
Cumberland County SPCA – 681 fewer cats needing rescue; current kill rate: 72%
Thus, SNR significantly reduces the need for animal control shelters to rely on rescues and rescue oriented shelters.
SNR Greatly Expands the Ability of New Jersey Animal Shelters to Rescue Cats
SNR would significantly increase the ability of New Jersey animal shelters to save more cats from other facilities and the streets. The table below compares the targeted number of cats shelters should rescue with and without a large scale SNR program at the state’s animal control shelters. The following shelters would be able to increase their targeted number of rescued cats the most:
Associated Humane Societies – Newark – 630 additional cats could be rescued
Bergen County Animal Shelter – 442 additional cats could be rescued
Cumberland County SPCA – 441 additional cats could be rescued
Monmouth SPCA – 437 additional cats could be rescued
Liberty Humane Society – 397 additional cats could be rescued
Associated Humane Societies – Tinton Falls – 346 additional cats could be rescued
Thus, many animal control shelters could not only save their feral cats, but rescue many additional friendly cats as well.
Large Scale and Targeted SNR or TNR Programs Could Reduce Cat Intake Even More in Some Urban Areas
The Veterinary Journal published a study recently detailing the results of a large scale and targeted TNR program. The Alachua County, Florida animal control shelter increased the scale of its existing TNR program in one urban zip code where many of the shelter’s cats came from. Specifically, sterilizations increased from 4-10 cats/1,000 people to 57-64 cats/1,000 people in the target area while an adjacent area (i.e. the non-target area) maintained its sterilization rate of 8-12 cats/1,000 people. This high sterilization rate is important given altering a large percentage of the overall community cat population is critical to reducing the number of outdoor cats. Significant community outreach efforts were conducted, such as mailing information about the program to residents and businesses 5 times over the two year study, volunteers going door to door explaining the program, and TNR program administrators helping solve community cat nuisance problems. After 2 years, shelter intake decreased by 66% in the target area and only 12% in the adjacent non-target region. As a result, we can attribute the 54% (66%-12%) excess decrease in shelter intake as the net impact of this program.
Urban New Jersey animal shelters may be able to reduce their cat intake even further based on the experience in Alachua County, Florida. While some of the decreased shelter cat intake in this one zip code relative to San Jose may have been due to Alachua County spaying/neutering and releasing friendly cats in addition to feral cats, the significantly higher sterilization rate of community cats (57-64 cats/1,000 people in Alachua County verses ~2.5 cats/1,000 residents in San Jose) no doubt played a significant role. In addition to not breeding, sterilized cats tend to roam and fight each other less resulting in fewer nuisance complaints. Fewer nuisance complaints leads to shelters impounding less cats. Certainly, a TNR program at this large of a scale is expensive, but running such a program in a small area, such as single zip code with a large intact cat population, is realistic. Thus, urban New Jersey animal shelters may be able to reduce their cat intake by even more than the tables above suggest.
Large scale SNR and TNR programs are significantly more effective than traditional TNR programs. In the case of many TNR programs, a few volunteers capture cats for the program. Often, animal control shelters still impound feral cats outside of official colonies or just leave unaltered feral cats in the community. The SNR program in San Jose is more effective as ACOs capture feral cats who subsequently are spayed/neutered, vaccinated and returned to their outdoor homes. Similarly, the Alachua County TNR program used massive community outreach to sterilize and vaccinate more of the community’s cats. As a result, large scale SNR and TNR programs alter a greater percentage of the community cat population which ultimately results in reduced outdoor cat populations that are easier for people to live with.
Large Scale SNR/TNR Makes Complete Sense for Municipalities
Municipalities will save significant amounts of money over the long term from implementing large scale SNR programs. Assuming 20% of the cats impounded at New Jersey shelters are feral, that works out to 1.1 cats per 1,000 New Jersey residents. Multiplying 1.1 feral cats by the estimated cost of $72 to perform SNR on a feral cat gives us a cost of $79.20 per 1,000 resident or 7.9 cents per person. Now, let’s assume the average New Jersey community pays $3 per capita for animal control and sheltering. If we assume 50% of these costs are for animal control services and cats make up 2/3 of of these animal control calls (cats make up 66% of stray animals taken in by New Jersey shelters), then a 29% reduction in cat intake would result in a 28.7 cent per resident reduction in animal control costs. The animal control savings of 28.7 cents per residents is nearly four times greater than the 7.9 cent cost to run a SNR program. Furthermore, Maddie’s Fund’s Financial Management Tool estimates it costs around $40 to provide care to adult feral cats/kittens and kill them after the 7 day hold period. Based on New Jersey animal shelters taking in roughly 5.5 cats per 1,000 residents on average, the 29% reduction in cat intake would result in cat sheltering cost savings of 6.4 cents/resident. In other words, taxpayers would save a net 27.2 cents per resident as a result of implementing San Jose’s SNR program. These cost savings exclude likely lower sheltering costs relating to less disease from lower cat intake and increased donations/volunteer services due to lower kill rates. Thus, implementing SNR is a no-brainer from a taxpayer perspective.
SNR also reduces nuisance complaints in the community. Smaller community cat populations are less likely to cause problems. Additionally, altered cats are far less likely to roam long distances in search of mates, and don’t get into loud fights over mating or territory which bother people. Furthermore, the reduction in shelter intake will allow ACOs to respond more quickly to animal control calls for nuisance complaints. Thus, SNR would result in fewer complaints about community cats to local officials over the long-term.
SNR programs are growing in popularity. Unsurprisingly, several other animal control shelters near San Jose also implemented similar SNR programs and experienced similar reductions in cat intake. Clearly, nearby communities are incentivized or pressured to do better when their neighbors do great things. Furthermore, similar successful programs were implemented in Los Angeles, California, Albuquerque, New Mexico, San Antonio, Texas, and the Atlanta, Georgia area. In Albuquerque, cat intake and killing decreased by 39% and 86% after just two years. Thus, large scale and targeted SNR and TNR programs are a major innovation in animal welfare.
Shelters and municipalities need to get behind SNR. SNR will clearly save the lives of countless feral cats, but will also indirectly save many more cats through increased space opening up at shelters and a reduction in disease outbreaks. It is time shelter leaders, the Animal Welfare Federation of New Jersey, and of course the public come together and demand these programs be put into place. We have the evidence and the argument behind us. Now is the time to fight for what is right.
In my last blog, I disclosed New Jersey’s depressing animal shelter statistics. This blog explains why so many dogs are losing their lives in the state’s animal shelters and whether these facilities can end the killing.
Successful organizations set measurable goals and regularly monitor their performance. Examples include financial budgets, customer and employee satisfaction surveys, and product reliability metrics. Unfortunately, many animal shelters for far too long have failed to set lifesaving goals and standards. Municipalities, donors and volunteers need to know where their resources will be best utilized. Time and money are scarce resources and people should allocate these assets to organizations who will best utilize them. As a result, animal shelters need to set goals and hold their leadership and staff accountable for achieving these objectives.
Model Assesses New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Life Saving Performance
In order to assess how good of a job New Jersey animal shelters are doing, I’ve developed an analysis I call the “Life Saving Model.” While shelter performance is dependent on many variables, such as finances, facility design, local laws, etc., the most critical factor impacting potential life saving is physical space. Without having enough physical space, a shelter might not have enough time to find loving homes for its animals. Shelters can overcome financial limitations through creative fundraising or recruiting more volunteers. Similarly, organizations can save their dogs despite having run down facilities if these groups enthusiastically implement policies to get animals into loving homes quickly. As a result, my analysis focuses on making the best use of space to save the maximum number of New Jersey dogs.
The Life Saving Model measures the number of local animals a shelter should adopt out, rescue from other facilities, send to rescues or other shelters, and euthanize. The targeted outcomes take into account each facility’s physical capacity and the number and types of dogs the organization receives from its community (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, cruelty/bite cases). I assume a target euthanasia rate, take the number of dogs actually returned to owners and then estimate how many community dogs a shelter should adopt out. To the extent space runs out, I then calculate how many dogs must be sent to rescue. If the shelter has excess space after properly serving its local community, the facility uses that room to rescue and adopt out dogs from nearby areas. The targeted results calculated from this model are compared to the actual or estimated actual results from each shelter below.
To read specific details and assumptions used in the model, please see the Appendix at the end of this blog.
New Jersey Animal Shelters Contain Enough Space to Save All of New Jersey’s Dogs and Many More from Other States
New Jersey’s animals shelter system has enough space to save all of the state’s healthy and treatable dogs. The table below details the targeted numbers of dog outcomes the New Jersey animal shelter system should achieve. Out of the 27,929 New Jersey dogs coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2013, 13,714 and 3,317 dogs should have been adopted out and sent to other shelters/rescues by the facilities originally taking the dogs in. However, other New Jersey animal shelters had more than enough capacity to rescue the 3,317 dogs from space constrained facilities. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters should be able to able to adopt out every single healthy and treatable dog taken in from the state and not require any support from rescue organizations without physical facilities.
New Jersey animal shelters have enough excess space to save many dogs from out of state as well. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters had enough physical capacity to rescue and adopt out 12,352 dogs from out of state after achieving a 95% live release rate for New Jersey dogs. To put this number into perspective, New Jersey animal shelters could make both New York City and Philadelphia no kill cities for dogs and increase those cities’ dog live release rates to 95% as follows:
New York City – 1,771 additional dogs need saving
Philadelphia – 2,937 additional dogs need saving
Additionally, New Jersey animal shelters could save another 7,644 dogs from other locations outside of the state. Of course, some New Jersey animal shelters do pull some dogs from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. However, most of these dogs are likely easy to adopt and therefore have short lengths of stay. As a result, the additional number of dogs New Jersey animal shelters could save from New York City, Philadelphia and elsewhere is probably not much lower than the figure above. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters could make New Jersey a no kill state for dogs as well as many other places.
These adoption goals are quite achievable when comparing the performance of well-run animal control shelters across the country. New Jersey animal shelters would only need to adopt out 3.30 dogs per 1,000 people in the state (1.91 dogs if no dogs rescued from out of state). As a comparison, recent per capita dog adoption numbers from several high performing no kill open admission shelters are as follows:
Nevada Humane Society (Reno, Nevada area) – 8.5 dogs per 1,000 people
Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA (Charlottesville, Virginia area) – 9.0 dogs per 1,000 people
Longmont Humane Society (Longmont, Colorado area) – 9.1 dogs per 1,000 people
Thus, many communities are already adopting out nearly three times as many dogs as the goal set for New Jersey animal shelters.
Some naysayers may claim New Jersey would have a more difficult time due to the state’s shelters taking in many pit bulls. However, this is a myth. My model estimates New Jersey animal shelters would need to adopt out roughly 0.70 pit bulls per 1,000 people to save 95% of New Jersey’s dogs. Our shelters would only need to adopt out 1.81 pit bulls per 1,000 people if New Jersey shelters also rescued and adopted out the targeted number of pit bulls from other states. As a comparison, I estimate Longmont Humane Society adopts out 2.14 pit bulls per 1,000 people based on its per capita pit bull intake and the percentage dog adoptions are of total outcomes at the shelter. Furthermore, the pit bull adoption targets are even more reasonable given the model assumes there are roughly 2/3 less dogs to compete with in the adoption market in New Jersey than these other locations.
Animal Deaths Vary Widely at New Jersey Animal Shelters
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 table below compares the targeted number of community dogs (strays, owner surrenders, cruelty/bite cases) euthanized and the estimated actual local dogs euthanized/killed, and who died or went missing. Consistent with the Life Saving Model’s assumptions, the estimated actual dogs euthanized/killed/died/missing figure assumes these dogs came from the local community. All dogs missing are assumed “dead” based on the assumption they died or went to a very bad place. Shelters having less and more than the targeted amount of dog deaths are highlighted in green and red in the table below.
Surprisingly, several rescue oriented shelters’ death totals exceeded the targeted numbers. While this number may be higher if some rescued dogs are euthanized/killed (i.e. targeted number assumes no rescued dogs are), this may possibly point to overly strict temperament testing at these facilities. In the case of St. Huberts – Madison, which has a total dog death rate of 4% (i.e. percentage of all dogs taken in and not just community dogs), the total death rate may be artificially depressed by easy to adopt transported dogs. For Humane Society of Atlantic County, which has no animal control contracts, the total dog death rate of 24% is shockingly high for a rescue oriented shelter and raises serious questions about how life and death decisions are made by this organization. Other rescue oriented shelters, such as Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge and Common Sense for Animals, have significantly fewer deaths than targeted. The aforementioned shelters take a similar percentage of their dog intake from other shelters:
Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge – 67%
Common Sense for Animals – 63%
Humane Society of Atlantic County – 67%
St. Huberts – Madison – 69%
Thus, I find it difficult to believe St. Huberts – Madison’s and Humane Society of Atlantic County’s larger than expected number of dogs dying or gone missing is due to them rescuing a large percentage of their dogs from other shelters.
The largest number of dogs unnecessarily dying occurred at a relatively small number of shelters. Specifically, 12 out of 98 or 12% of the shelters accounted for 83% of the 3,603 unnecessary dog deaths. Shelters with the greatest number unnecessary dog deaths are as follows:
Associated Humane Societies – Newark (553)
Camden County Animal Shelter (386)
Cumberland County SPCA (346)
Gloucester County Animal Shelter (310)
Paterson Animal Control (276)
Trenton Animal Shelter (220)
Furthermore, if additional unaccounted for dogs discussed in my previous blog are counted in the death totals, the number of unnecessary dogs deaths rises from 3,603 to 4,731 statewide. Associated Humane Societies – Newark’s number of unnecessary deaths jumps from 553 to 805 dogs assuming these additional unaccounted for dogs died.
Space Constrained Facilities Not Receiving Enough Support from Rescues and Other Animal Shelters
Some animal shelters will require more support from rescues and animal shelters with excess space than others. If a shelter has relatively high intake, very limited space, and few stray dogs returned to owners, it will need more help than other shelters. The table below compares the number of dogs a shelter should transfer to other organizations per the model and the number of dogs actually sent to other animal welfare groups. Shelters marked in green are receiving less than the expected rescue support while facilities marked in red are receiving too much rescue help.
Overall, New Jersey shelters are not receiving enough help from other animal welfare organizations. While the overall number of dogs rescued was only about 11%-12% lower than needed, the actual number was higher since many dogs were rescued from facilities who did not need any rescue assistance. Only 16 out of the 102 facilities require any rescue support. In other words, 86 of the 102 animal shelters in the state should not need rescues or other shelters to pull any dogs. As a result, 1,756 dogs were not rescued from shelters who truly need that support and instead were pulled from shelters not requiring this help.
Shelters hogging up the most rescue resources were as follows:
Associated Humane Societies – Newark – 276 more dogs transferred than necessary
Burlington County Animal Shelter – 112 more dogs transferred than necessary
Humane Society of Atlantic County – 112 more dogs transferred than necessary
Cumberland County SPCA – 111 more dogs transferred than necessary
On the other hand, many space constrained shelters received far less rescue help than needed. Facilities who received the lowest amount of rescue support in relation to their needs were as follows:
Liberty Humane Society – 377 fewer dogs transferred than necessary
Trenton Animal Shelter – 252 fewer dogs transferred than necessary
Camden County Animal Shelter – 220 fewer dogs transferred than necessary
Elizabeth Animal Shelter – 209 fewer dogs transferred than necessary
Paterson Animal Control – 194 fewer dogs transferred than necessary
Unsurprisingly, these shelters had some of the highest dog death rates during the year.
Rescue groups and shelters with extra space should pull dogs from kill shelters with the highest rescue “target” numbers and deficits in the table below. If shelters not needing rescue support get that extra help, these shelters will not take the steps necessary to properly run their facilities. As a result of enabling poorly performing shelters and not pulling dogs from truly space constrained facilities, rescuing dogs from shelters with enough space leads to less lifesaving.
Shelters receiving less than needed rescue support should also examine their own policies and performance. Are the shelter’s operating processes allowing too many animals to get sick and therefore discouraging organizations to rescue their animals due to subsequent medical costs? Does the shelter actively reach out to rescues/other shelters and treat them with respect? Does the shelter make it convenient for other organizations to pull their animals?
Given killing animals for space is intolerable, the space-constrained shelters need to expand their effective dog capacity. These facilities could use extra space in their buildings to house dogs on a short-term basis. These shelters can enter into arrangements with local veterinarians to house and adopt out some dogs. Furthermore, shelters can create or expand foster programs to increase the number of dogs cared for. Additionally, creating a pet owner surrender prevention program and making serious efforts to return lost dogs to owners could free up space in these shelters. Finally, space-constrained shelters with multiple animal control contracts should terminate some of these arrangements to bring their capacity for care in line with the number of dogs they take in. As a result, space constrained shelters still need to take active steps to reduce killing rather than simply solely relying on rescue support.
Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Fail to Come Close to Reaching Their Local Dog Adoption Potential
We can assess each shelter’s contribution to making New Jersey and nearby areas no kill. While a shelter may be able to avoid killing healthy and treatable animals, it still may not live up to its potential for adopting out local dogs. On the other hand, a space constrained shelter may kill healthy and treatable dogs, but still do a good job adopting animals out.
The table below compares the number of dogs from New Jersey and nearby states each animal shelter should adopt out with the estimated number of local dogs actually adopted out.
Shelters with very limited space and high kill rates as well as rescue oriented organizations may look better than they actually are. For example, the model assumes the mix of dogs facilities are adopting out are the same as the types of dogs these groups take in. However, if these shelters only adopt out a very small number of dogs due to limited physical capacity, the dogs adopted out may be highly adoptable ones with much shorter lengths of stay compared to the majority of dogs these facilities impound. Similarly, many rescue oriented shelters likely pull much easier to adopt dogs than the bulk of dogs needing to get rescued from local facilities. Thus, the results from shelters with very limited capacity and rescue oriented organizations may look better than they actually are.
Few organizations reached or exceeded their adoption targets. Specifically, only 7 out of 102 shelters met the adoptions goals computed by the Life Saving Model. 2 of the 7 facilities reaching the adoption targets (Denville Township Animal Shelter and Warren Animal Hospital) had very few animals to place. Thus, the overwhelming number of New Jersey animal shelters need to step up their adoption efforts.
Several shelters exceeded their adoption targets. Old Bridge Animal Shelter had the most impressive results by far. This facility adopted out nearly 4 times the number of dogs targeted by the Life Saving Model and only euthanized 1% of all their dogs who had outcomes. Surprisingly, Livingston Animal Shelter adopted out the targeted number of dogs despite having a run down facility with limited adoption hours. The facility may have accomplished this by having a caring animal control officer who could place a relatively small number of dogs. Beacon Animal Rescue also exceeded its adoption target. While this organization is a rescue oriented group, the shelter appears to help more than easy to adopt dogs as pit bull type dogs currently make up about half of their dogs up for adoption. Perth Amboy Animal Shelter also deserves credit for nearly reaching its adoption target while only 3% of its dogs were euthanized. Only a few years before, 25% of Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s dogs were killed by the prior shelter management.
Liberty Humane Society and Trenton Animal Shelter also exceeded their targeted number of local dog adoptions. These two facilities are space constrained shelters with high kill rates and the dogs they adopted out potentially may have been more adoptable than the bulk of their dogs. In the case of Liberty Humane Society, I’ve anecdotally observed them adopting out a large percentage of pit bulls and believe they are doing a good job on dog adoptions. Either way, both Liberty Humane Society and Trenton Animal Shelter are performing better than many other similar facilities and rescues/other shelters should support these organizations by pulling more dogs from Liberty Humane Society and Trenton Animal Shelter.
Many shelters with the ability to help other local shelters fail to do so. New Jersey animal shelters have the potential to rescue and adopt out nearly 5 times as many dogs as the number of dogs unnecessarily dying in the state’s animal shelters. Approximately 40% of the adoption shortfall is due to shelters not using their existing capacity to adopt out their own dogs or rescue dogs from space constrained nearby facilities. The other 60% of the adoption shortfall is due to shelters not adopting out animals as quickly as these organizations should. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters fail to even come close to their adoption potential.
Associated Humane Societies performance is particularly disappointing. Specifically, Associated Humane Societies has the physical capacity to end the killing of all healthy and treatable dogs in New Jersey. Associated Humane Societies adoption shortfall of 5,453 dogs significantly exceeds the 3,603 dogs unnecessarily losing their lives in New Jersey animal shelters. Even if all three Associated Humane Societies’ shelters used just 50% of their reported dog capacity, the organization could reduce the number of dogs unnecessarily dying in New Jersey animal shelters by nearly half per my model. Furthermore, Associated Humane Societies may put an additional strain on New Jersey’s animal welfare system by sending dogs to other facilities and rescues in the state when Associated Humane Societies has more than enough capacity to handle its dogs. Associated Humane Societies has the funding to reach these adoption targets as the organization took in nearly $9 million of revenue last year. This works out to over $450 of revenue per dog and cat I project the shelter should take in per my Life Saving Model. As a comparison, Nevada Humane Society, KC Pet Project, and Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Society, which are no kill open admission shelters, took in only $225-$415 of revenue per dog and cat. Activists wanting to increase life saving in New Jersey should focus on changing Associated Humane Societies’ policies given the lifesaving potential of this organization.
Shelters transporting dogs from out of state also significantly failed to achieve their adoption targets for New Jersey dogs. In fact, shelters rescuing dogs from out of state facilities have a New Jersey dog adoption shortfall exceeding the number of New Jersey dogs unnecessarily dying in our state’s shelters. Not surprisingly many of these facilities’ total adoptions including transported dogs exceeded the local dog adoption targets as most transported dogs are easier to adopt. These transporting shelters’ local adoption performance is even worse considering most of these organizations likely take in much more adoptable local dogs than my model targets. In addition, the revenues these transporting shelters bring in from adoption fees and dramatic fundraising stories likely divert funding from New Jersey animal control shelters. Thus, it is quite clear most transporting shelters are not doing their part in helping New Jersey’s homeless dogs.
Shelters Fail to Use Excess Space to Save Local Dogs
To further examine New Jersey animal shelters’ performance in saving the state’s homeless dogs, I compared the targeted number of dogs each shelter should pull from nearby shelters and compared it to the number actually rescued from local facilities. I assume all reported out of state rescued dogs came from southern or other far away states. While some of the out of state rescued dogs may have comes from nearby areas, I believe this is a small number and does not significantly impact the results.
Virtually all New Jersey animal shelters are failing to rescue the number of local dogs they should. 89 of the 102 shelters should rescue some dogs from other local shelters. In fact, 55 of the 89 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single dog from a New Jersey animal shelter. Of the 89 shelters with the space to rescue dogs from nearby shelters, only Beacon Animal Rescue met or exceeded its local dog rescue target. While Animal Alliance and Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge appear to come close to their targeted local rescues, this is most likely due to these organizations pulling relatively few pit bulls. 80% of the targeted rescues are pit bulls while Animal Alliance and Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge only appear to have pit bulls representing around 20% of their dogs currently up for adoption. Thus, nearly all New Jersey animal shelters with targeted excess capacity are failing to do their share in ending the killing of local healthy and treatable dogs.
Shelters can overcome challenges in rescuing dogs from outside their service area. In some cases, municipalities may frown on government run shelters using taxpayer funds to rescue dogs from elsewhere. However, shelter directors at these facilities can encourage individuals to form a non-profit or raise money on their own to pay for these rescued dogs. Additionally, shelters with limited capacity or even some of the well-off private shelters could contribute funding for each dog rescued. For example, Maddie’s Fund paid an approximate $160 subsidy to rescues pulling dogs from New York Animal Care & Control. Similarly, private shelters with excess space, but limited financial resources, could expand their fundraising efforts to save more local dogs. Thus, perceived obstacles to rescuing local dogs can and should be overcome.
New Jersey Animal Shelters Need to Form Life-Saving Coalitions
The improper allocation of space within the state’s animal shelter system requires organizations to form coalitions. While putting a competent and compassionate director in every shelter would likely be even more effective, that will likely take time to do. No kill coalitions between animal control facilities and selective admission shelters have been used in places, such as Portland, Oregon, Reno, Nevada, Jacksonville, Florida and Austin, Texas to radically increase life saving. Maddie’s Fund, which has supported using coalitions for over a decade, has many resources for organizations seeking to collaborate with each other. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters need to formally work together, develop quantifiable and measurable goals (such as the targeted outcomes in this blog), and hold each organization accountable for meeting these goals.
Sobering Results Require Shelter Leaders to Critically Examine Themselves
New Jersey animal shelters’ dismal performance is even worse considering I used conservative assumptions. Organizations were not expected to return additional lost dogs to owners despite room for significant improvement. The targeted adoption lengths of stay ranged from 34-40 days for dogs taken in from the local community and 44 days for dogs rescued from other local shelters. However, some no kill open admission shelters adopt dogs out much more quickly. For example, I estimate dogs only take about 15 days to get adopted at Williamson County Animal Shelter in Texas based on their operating data and total average length of stay. Similarly, some no kill open admission shelters, such as Greenhill Humane Society and KC Pet Project, adopt out their pit bulls in much less time than the benchmark shelters used in this analysis. 50 days was used in my model, but Greenhill Humane Society’s and KC Pet Project’s (estimated) corresponding figures are around 40 days and 19 days. Additionally, creating successful pet retention and targeted spay/neuter programs could reduce local intake and allow shelters to rescue more dogs from elsewhere. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters could save significantly more animals than the targeted numbers I computed.
Shelters should examine the reasons why their adoption numbers fall far short of these benchmarks. In some cases, shelters, such as Woodbridge Animal Shelter, need to expand the hours they are open for adoptions. Many shelters should switch from an overly judgmental adoption process based on black and white rules to a conversational one focused on educating the adopter. Organizations will need to radically increase their off-site events and do same day adoptions. Similarly, many shelters must reduce adoption fees and run frequent promotions. Executive Directors should monitor the latest life-saving programs on Maddie’s Fund’s, ASPCA Pro’s, and the Best Friends National Conference’s web sites and put some of these policies into place. Shelter management teams will need to ensure their facilities are clean and customers are treated with respect (this can be measured by encouraging the public to complete surveys). Thus, poorly performing shelters need to stop making excuses and do what it takes to reach their adoption potential.
Shelters truly wishing to save lives should be ecstatic with the results from this analysis. The organizations have the potential to save far more lives than they ever thought were possible. Will the leaders of these facilities take the initiative to improve their performance as anyone with a job outside of animal sheltering would do? Thousands of lives depend on the answer to this question.
We should support shelters financially and with our precious free time who answer this question correctly. Ralph Marston said:
“Don’t lower your expectations to meet your performance. Raise your performance to meet your expectations. Expect the best of yourself, and then do what is necessary to make it a reality.”
We can turn New Jersey, New York City and Philadelphia into no kill communities. It is time we give our money and volunteer efforts to organizations who raise their performance to help us reach that goal. To do otherwise, would betray all the animals whose lives are on the line.
Daily capacity or population = Daily animal intake x average length of stay
Average length of stay = Daily capacity or population/daily intake
Each shelter’s community dog intake (i.e. owner surrenders, strays, cruelty bite cases), number of dogs returned to owners, and maximum dog capacity were taken from its 2013 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the Office of Animal Welfare. Unfortunately, 2014 data will not be available until Fall 2015.
This data was then used as follows:
Community dog intake and dogs returned to owners were initially estimated for each month by dividing the annual figures by 12. In order to take into account the extra space in low intake months and reduced space in high intake months, we multiply that number by each month’s percentage of the average month. For example, assume 240 dogs were taken in during the year and the average month equals 20 dogs (240/12). In July, the dog intake is 120% higher than the average month and we therefore multiply 20 dogs by 1.2 to equal 24 dogs. If 120 dogs were returned to owners during the year, the estimated number of dogs returned to owners in July would equal 12 dogs (120/12 = 10; 10*1.2). The monthly intake percentages were based off 2013 dog intake data on the New York Animal Care & Control web site.
The estimated number of community dogs returned to owners each month are then assumed to stay 5 days on average at shelters based on data from other shelters across the country. If anything, this estimate is conservative (i.e. average length of stay for dogs returned to owners may be less than 5 days and therefore frees up more shelter space for adoptions) based on some shelters returning the bulk of their dogs to owners within 3 days.
The number of community dogs euthanized (including animals who died or are missing) is set to equal 5% of intake. 5% is a reasonable standard euthanasia rate for shelters in New Jersey to meet given few vulnerable stray puppies (i.e. who could die or require euthanasia) arrive in the state’s animal shelters. The average length of stay for euthanized dogs is assumed to equal 14.5 days. Half of dogs are assumed euthanized for untreatable aggression towards people and 21 days is the time estimated to make that determination. The other half of dogs are assumed euthanized for severe and untreatable health issues and I estimate these dogs are euthanized after 8 days (subsequent to the end of the stray and owner surrender hold periods).
Adopted dogs are assumed to stay at shelters for varying lengths of time. Adoption length of stay was based on data from a study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare and the figures used are located in a prior blog on pit bull adoption. The data primarily comes from Tompkins County SPCA during a time it saved over 90% of its dogs. This was a fairly conservative data set to use as other no kill open admission shelters’ average length of stay are substantially shorter. Specifically, the following assumptions were made:
80% and 20% of each communities dogs (including pit bulls) were adults 1 year and older and under 1 year.
Pit bulls were assumed to comprise 50%, 35% and 25% of community dog intake at poor, middle/upper middle class, and wealthy area animal control shelters. While some shelters may have pit bulls comprising more than 50% of their shelter dog population at a given time, this is due to pit bulls longer average length of stay. For example, a shelter with pit bulls making up 50% of their dog intake and pit bulls having an average length of stay three times longer than other dogs will have pit bulls constituting 75% of the dog population. Shelters without animal control contracts were assumed to only have pit bulls make up 10% of their community dogs (i.e. strays and owner surrenders) based on most of these shelters’ highly selective admission practices.
Pit bull length of stay was taken directly from the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare study. The average lengths of stay for other breeds from this study were averaged and used for dogs other than pit bulls in the analysis
Dogs transferred to rescue or other facilities are assumed to stay at shelters 8 days on average based on the assumption strays can’t be released until the 7 day hold period elapses.
Community dogs not returned to owners or euthanized are initially assumed as adopted for each month. However, if the calculated length of stay exceeds the shelter’s required length of stay, dogs are moved from adoption (i.e. with a longer length of stay) to rescue (i.e. shorter length of stay) until the calculated length of stay each month approximately equals the required length of stay.
Required length of stay = Shelter’s reported capacity/adjusted daily intake for the month. Adjusted daily intake for month = Adjusted monthly intake per first bullet above/the number of days in the month.
Shelters with excess capacity are assumed to use the extra space to rescue and adopt out dogs from other New Jersey animal shelters. To the extent all healthy and treatable New Jersey animal shelter dogs are saved, I assume additional dogs are pulled from nearby states with similar types of dogs. I assume all rescued dogs will not be killed since the transferring and receiving shelters should evaluate these dogs’ behavior. Based on pit bull type dogs having longer lengths of stay at shelters, I assume 80% of dogs rescued from local animal shelters are pit bulls and 20% are non-pit bulls. 80% and 20% of pit bull and non-pit bull type dogs are considered 1 year and older and under 1 year. The average length of stay for rescued pit bulls and other dogs are the same as above.
Each month’s targeted outcomes are added to determine how many local dogs New Jersey animal shelters should adopt out, send to rescue, rescue from other nearby animal shelters and euthanize.
On May 31 and June 1, Maddie’s Fund sponsored a free pet adoptions event in various parts of the country. Research studies show animal welfare groups can increase adoption numbers without compromising the quality of the homes by waiving fees. People can use the money instead to pay for other substantial costs, such as vet care and pet supplies. In order to save lives now and encourage animal welfare groups to offer such promotions in the future, Maddie’s Fund pays these organizations a substantial per adoption subsidy. Specifically, shelters and rescues receive $500 for healthy younger animals, $1,000 for older animals or ones with certain medical conditions, and $2,000 for older pets with certain medical issues.
Three northern and central New Jersey animal shelter organizations participated in the event. St. Huberts, Liberty Humane Society and Associated Humane Societies’ Newark and Tinton Falls shelters ran the promotion. All three organizations should be commended for participating and choosing to save lives. However, we should also look at the experience and see what areas these shelters can improve upon to save more lives in the future.
Too Many New Jersey Shelters Did Not Participate
Unfortunately, the vast majority of the state’s animal shelters failed to take advantage of this opportunity. Frankly, people who donate to these shelters should question their leadership on why they chose to not take on this opportunity to save lives and receive significant grant money from Maddie’s Fund. Whether the low participation rate was due to not knowing about the event or ideological reasons (i.e. “free adoptions are bad”), the end result is less life saving. The low participation rate shows we need to promote this event better to shelters and hold shelter leaders accountable who choose not to sign up.
Adoption Numbers Increase Significantly
The following table summarizes the participating shelters performance during the Maddie’s Fund event. In order to provide some perspective, I compared each facility’s adoption rate during the two days to these shelters’ most recently available adoption rates. Additionally, I also estimated the percentage of each shelter’s animal population adopted during the promotion by using each shelter’s adoption numbers and the most recently available shelter population numbers. The actual adoption numbers may differ if the shelters revised their totals or did not report some adoptions on their Facebook pages, but the general trend should not be different.
Each shelter significantly exceeded their typical adoption rate during the event. St. Huberts and Liberty Humane Society adopted out animals at over 20 times their typical two day adoption rate. The two AHS facilities, which reported far fewer adoptions, also adopted out significantly more animals than normal.
AHS-Newark’s improvement may be better than these results indicate. Based on my experience with the shelter, I suspect transfers to rescues might be included in their 2012 adoption numbers. Also, the shelter’s reported 12/31/12 shelter population number seemed extraordinarily high. The shelter reported having 300 dogs and 225 cats (maximum claimed capacity), but a July 30, 2009 Office of Animal Welfare inspection report stated the facility was at full capacity with 325 animals. If we assume half of AHS’s 2012 adoptions were really transfers to rescues and the facility only had 325 animals, AHS-Newark would have adopted out 160% more animals than normal and 4% of its shelter population. Thus, AHS-Newark may have done a bit better than the table above suggests.
Types of Animals Impacts Adoption Numbers
St. Huberts large number of adoptions may be in part due to the types of animals it takes in. St. Huberts has largely shifted from being an animal control to a rescue shelter. Additionally, St Huberts remaining animal control contracts are in wealthier areas which tend to have easier to adopt dogs (i.e. fewer pit bulls). As a result, St. Huberts probably has more highly adoptable animals than the other three shelters.
Additionally, St. Huberts may have potentially rescued a larger than normal number of animals in preparation for the event. Shelters have a strong incentive to bring more dogs and cats in with the $500-$2,000 subsidy for adopted animals sourced from the local area.
Nonetheless, St. Huberts still did an excellent job during the event. Specifically, I noticed St Huberts adopted a good number of adult pit bull type dogs in photos posted to the St. Huberts Facebook page.
More Adoption Locations Results in More Adoptions
St. Huberts adopted out animals at numerous locations and provided more people the chance to adopt. St. Huberts adopted dogs out at its two shelters and cats were made available at the two facilities and eight off-site adoption locations. Six of the eight off-site locations were at pet stores in retail centers. These retail centers are in high traffic areas and therefore attract large numbers of potential adopters. Thus, St. Huberts made it convenient for people to go and adopt an animal.
Open Adoptions Process Verses Overzealous Screening Leads to More Adoptions
Open adoptions are even more important during a busy event with large numbers of people. Long and cumbersome adoption procedures can create long wait times for people to adopt which may make them leave. Additionally, shelters with a reputation for difficult adoption processes may attract fewer people to these events due to fear of a long wait time and/or an unpleasant experience. Thus, open adoption processes likely lead to more people coming to the event and more of those folks leaving with a new family member.
How AHS Can Do Better Next Time
While AHS adopted more animals than they typically do, AHS can adopt more animals at future events. Liberty Humane Society, which is an open admission shelter servicing an urban area in Hudson County, adopted out more than 3 times as many animals as both AHS shelters combined per the table above. Liberty Humane Society’s performance relative to its typical adoption rate was over 4 times and nearly 700 times as great as AHS-Tinton Falls’ and AHS-Newark’s results. Additionally, Liberty Humane Society has far fewer financial resource than AHS. For example, Liberty Humane Society’s and AHS’s net assets per their most recently available financial statements were approximately $197 thousand and $10.7 million (including $7.8 million of cash and investments). Thus, AHS performed far worse than another nearby inner city shelter with less financial resources.
AHS can promote this event better. Liberty Humane Society’s volunteers actively promoted the event, which included plastering the local area with flyers. Strangely, the very popular Associated Humane Popcorn Park Facebook page, which has nearly 50,000 likes, did not promote the event or participate for that matter. The Associated Humane Popcorn Park Facebook page often posts stories about the Newark and Tinton Falls shelters, but did not do so this time. This critical mistake likely resulted in much less foot traffic at AHS facilities during the event. Thus, AHS should promote the event heavily in the communities it serves and on the Associated Humane Popcorn Park Facebook page in the future.
AHS’s adoption process focused on vigorous screening and paperwork may reduce the organization’s ability to process large numbers of adoptions. AHS’s web site describes a pretty long adoption process, which includes not adopting puppies or small dogs to families with children under 5 years old. Additionally, the process involves significant paperwork and “screening” which suggests a cumbersome procedure. Adoption processes such as these often makes an adopter feel disrespected and may decrease their satisfaction with the shelter and adopting in general. Cumbersome adoption processes in an event like the Maddie’s free pet adoption weekend where adoptions must occur during the two days can create a significant bottleneck. For example, people may have to wait at the shelter a long time while veterinarians are called and paperwork is reviewed. Additionally in my past experience with AHS-Newark, the shelter did not alter most dogs until an adoption was approved. People typically would bring the dogs home at a later date after the shelter spayed/neutered the animal. If people met unaltered dogs or cats at AHS during the Maddie’s free pet adoptions weekend, the animals may not have been able to get altered until after the event. As a result of AHS’s adoption policies and procedures, the organization may not have been able to process adoptions fast enough to adopt as many animals as St. Huberts or Liberty Humane Society.
Thus, AHS has lots of available information to implement a more efficient and effective adoption process.
AHS-Newark needs more volunteers to better promote its animals. Until recently, AHS-Newark had virtually no volunteer program. Currently, the shelter has a small group of hard-working volunteers doing great things. For example, the volunteers run an excellent Facebook page, do offsite meet and greet events, pack walks with a few select dogs, dog behavioral evaluations and post animals to Petfinder. AHS-Newark needs additional volunteers or staff to post dogs onto Petfinder. As of today, AHS-Newark only had 60 dogs and cats on Petfinder which likely represents a small portion of the animals at the facility. For example, this would only be 11% of the shelter’s total population if the shelter currently has as many animals it reported having at December 31, 2012 per AHS-Newark’s 2012 Shelter/Pound Annual Report. Additional animals need to get onto Petfinder in order to properly promote all of the animals and not just a select few.
AHS-Newark needs to expand its volunteer program to make animals more adoptable and to facilitate adoptions. Currently, the shelter’s volunteer program is fairly limited. AHS-Newark should seek to emulate Nevada Humane Society whose volunteers contribute over 2,500 hours per month to the organization and conduct a variety of activities. AHS-Newark could greatly benefit by expanding its volunteer base to socialize more animals. Better socialized animals and volunteers knowing more animals well would facilitate adoptions at the Maddie’s event by properly matching families and animals. Furthermore, additional volunteers allows adopters to meet more dogs outside the kennels where the dogs show better.
While the shelter’s space is limited, the organization could find a way to create a playgroup program. Playgroups are a common theme for large shelters who save pit bull type dogs at a high rate. Specifically, these programs make the large dogs, which AHS has lots of, more adoptable and show better in kennels. During the Maddie’s free adoption weekend event, dogs regularly participating in playgroups would seem more attractive to adopters.
Finally, AHS should adopt animals out at multiple locations in future Maddie’s Fund events. Both the Tinton Falls and Newark shelters could increase cat adoptions by holding the event at multiple high traffic locations, such at various Petco, Petsmart, and Pet Valu retail stores. Additionally, AHS-Newark should adopt dogs and cats out at the Union Square adoption center location in New York City. AHS-Newark’s large amount of animals may overwhelm adopters based on recent research and some adopters may not want to visit an inner city shelter. Thus, AHS would likely increase adoptions by adopting animals out at multiple high traffic locations.
Animals Depend On Us Always Improving
Overall, all three organizations adopted more animals than normal during the Maddie’s Pet Adoption Days event. Each organization should evaluate their performance and see how they can better their performance at future events. At the end of the day, animal welfare groups should always strive to improve. Lives are at stake and the animals are counting on you doing the best you can.