How Lake County Animal Shelter Became an Elite No Kill Facility

In my last blog, I detailed how Lake County Animal Shelter performed exceptionally well in 2019. Despite meager funding, having an inadequate physical facility and receiving little rescue support, Lake County Animal Shelter attained sky high live release rates, adopted out many dogs and cats and placed its animals quickly. So how did Lake County Animal Shelter accomplish this?

No Kill Learning provided excellent analyses in an August 2017 blog and in a January 2019 documentary film. After a five year shelter reform effort led by advocate Steve Shank, voters elected certain Board of County Commissioners in 2016 that supported no kill. Around this time, Lake County decided to take over the shelter from Lake County Sheriff’s Office. Lake County Sheriff’s Office operated the facility as a traditional kill shelter. During this time and for a period after taking the shelter over, Lake County used Mike Fry from No Kill Learning to help the county make the facility no kill. On January 15, 2017, Lake County took over the shelter and began to operate it as a no kill facility.

While other no kill consultants do good work, No Kill Learning stands out due to his comprehensive approach. No Kill Learning focuses on shelters fully implementing the No Kill Equation. The No Kill Equation, which was created by Nathan Winograd, consists of 11 programs to responsibly reduce the number of animals coming into shelters and increase the number of pets leaving those facilities alive. Additionally, these programs improve animal care while the pets are in shelters. In other words, this approach makes sure shelters run as proper no kill facilities.

Lake County Animal Shelter hired Whitney Boylston as the shelter director in the middle of 2017. Whitney formerly was a teacher and a counselor for pregnant teens. Additionally, she worked in a high volume spay/neuter clinic and assisted in Hurricane Katrina animal rescue efforts during her college years. Also, Whitney previously volunteered with Lake County Animal Shelter when it was a kill shelter and co-founded LEASH Inc in 2015. LEASH Inc focuses on helping Lake County Animal Shelter and other local facilities save lives and provide quality care to their animals. Like many successful no kill shelter directors, Whitney did not work in an animal shelter prior to her hiring.

Whitney clearly fullfills the No Kill Equation’s “Hard-Working, Compassionate Shelter Director” program. As Nathan Winograd states, this “is the most important” No Kill Equation program since the shelter director implements the other ten programs. Based on my conversations with Whitney, I was struck by her commitment to not killing. Specifically, Whitney, who makes all euthanasia decisions and personally euthanizes almost every animal, will only make that call if she would do the same for her personal pet. Additionally, Whitney is very sharp and understands the importance of targeting programs for vulnerable animals, such as the “Wait-til-8” program that keeps vulnerable young kittens out of the shelter until they are older. Similarly, Whitney uses a very data driven approach to make decisions that I rarely see in animal sheltering. Finally, Whitney is very personable, which may be due to her background working with people, that clearly is beneficial to implementing the other No Kill Equation programs that require great people skills. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter has the right person at the top to operate as an elite no kill facility.

Data Reviewed

To understand how Lake County Animal Shelter became so successful, I obtained the shelter’s “Kennel Statistics Report” for 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. These reports list the total numbers of animals coming into the shelter and their outcomes. Additionally, these reports break out not just major intake and outcome categories, such as owner surrenders and adoptions, but also list key subcategories. Therefore, its easy to understand a lot about the shelter from just looking at these reports.

In the tables below, I compared the shelter’s outcome results for 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. I labeled 2015 and 2016 “Pre-No Kill” and 2017, 2018 and 2019 “No Kill” (technically the facility was a kill shelter for the first 14 days of 2017, but I labeled the year as “No Kill” since the shelter was no kill for the other 351 days). Over the years, the shelter refined and improved its subcategories of intakes and outcomes. Therefore, some changes over the years resulted from data categorization revisions rather than substantive events. As a result, I focused on the real movements in the data and also talked with Whitney Boylston to get a better understanding of the shelter’s performance during these years.

No Kill Culture Ceases Dog Killing

Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog death rate data clearly shows the shelter’s no kill culture. While the shelter had modest decreases in the dog and nonreclaimed dog death rates from 2015 to 2016, these death rates dropped like a rock when the shelter went no kill in 2017 and significantly decreased in 2018 and 2019. Given dogs are far more challenging to save when a shelter has a very low death rate, the shelter’s improvements in 2018 and 2019 are extremely impressive.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s rationales for euthanizing animals over the years illustrate this culture change. Once the shelter went no kill in 2017, behavioral euthanasia dropped by 55%. In 2019, behavioral euthanasia dropped significantly more and was 93% lower than in 2016. Similarly, Lake County Animal Shelter’s medical related euthanasia (not counting owner requested euthanasia) significantly dropped after the shelter went no kill and continued to decrease in both 2018 and 2019. Most telling, the shelter euthanized 7.63% of all dogs for owner requested euthanasia in 2016, 0.45% in 2017, 0.00% in 2018 and 0.07% in 2019. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter stopped killing for convenience after the shelter went no kill and continued to raise the lifesaving bar afterwards.

The shelter uses a unique enrichment method to prevent dogs from developing behavior problems at the shelter. Whitney Boylston applied her teaching background to treat the shelter like “pre-school.” Dogs get “story time”, where they listen to an audio book, “music time”,  the “scent of the day”, where different scents are sprayed for the animals to sniff, “snack time”, where they get special treats, “nap time”, where no one enters the kennels during the lunch hour, and most importantly, “playtime.” Playtime consists of dog playgroups, which the shelter got around 75% of the dog population into each day during 2019. The dog playgroup program alleviates stress, particularly for large dogs like pit bulls, and also helps volunteers and shelter staff understand the animals to make good matches with adopters. Therefore, Lake County Animal Shelter put in place the No Kill Equation’s behavior prevention and rehabilitation programs.

The shelter’s no kill culture allows it to save dogs that many other facilities would quickly kill. Lake County Animal Shelter treats every dog as an individual and considers past problems in context. For example, a dog that had bitten once before before due to a specific trigger or an extraordinary circumstance that wouldn’t exist in a different home. The shelter fully discloses the animal’s past history both in a conversation and in writing and counsels the adopter to ensure the adopter can handle the animal. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter works with its community to save lives instead of just automatically killing animals with manageable issues.

Lake County Animal Shelter also made numerous improvements to its veterinary care after it went no kill. The shelter director reallocated her budget to increase veterinary spending by around 50%. Also, the shelter does as much veterinary work in-house as possible to save funds. The shelter also created a parvo ward in a barn on the grounds of the shelter that eliminated parvo deaths. In addition, the shelter’s managed intake program for owner surrenders requires such animals receive vaccinations 2 weeks prior to admission. Finally, the “Wait-til-8” program, which keeps young vulnerable kittens out of the shelter, reduces kitten deaths and the risk of more widespread disease outbreaks. As a result, the shelter fully implemented the No Kill Equation’s medical prevention and rehabilitation programs.

Despite the shelter ending the killing of healthy and treatable dogs, the shelter did not limit dog intake after it went no kill. In the pre-no kill years, Lake County Animal Shelter took in an average of 2,947 dogs each year compared to an average of 3,044 dogs in the no kill years.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s managed intake and pet retention programs ensure the shelter only takes in owned animals requiring re-homing. Under the shelter’s managed intake program, the shelter counsels adopters to help see if the owner can keep the animal or safely re-home the animal on their own. However, the program has proper guardrails around it where the shelter immediately takes in emergency cases and admits animals typically within two to three weeks (i.e. not an endless wait-list that some shelters have). The shelter also provides a list of low cost veterinarians, free food and dog training classes to owners wanting to surrender their animals (adopters also get free dog training classes). Finally, the shelter gives pet food to a human food pantry to ensure pet owners in need are able to feed their animals. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter implemented the No Kill Equation’s pet retention program.

Owner Reclaims and Adoptions Drive Dog Live Release Up

The following table details what outcomes increased Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog live release rate from 2016 to 2019 (note the “Transfer % number in the “Change” column does not compute exactly due to rounding). As the table shows, the shelter sent more dogs to their owners and to new adopters after the facility went no kill. In fact, these live outcomes increased so much they more than made up for rescues pulling significantly fewer dogs.

Innovative Programs Send More Lost Dogs Back to Their Families

Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog return to owner improvement is among the best I’ve ever seen. Typically, I see socioeconomic factors drive differences in return to owner rates between shelters. In other words, wealthier people tend to microchip and/or license their dogs and also can afford steep reclaim fees. Since almost all shelters make little effort to find the owners of lost pets, the socioeconomic status of the people in a shelter’s service area generally explain differences in owner reclaim rates. In fact, I only know of two shelters that have had significant success in increasing the percentage of dogs returned to owners. The first, Sacramento, California’s Front Street Animal Shelter, had its dog return to owner percentage of outcomes increase 8% from 2016 to 2019. However, this was less than Lake County Animal Shelter’s 10% improvement over the same period. Additionally, much of Front Street Animal Shelter’s efforts, such as low cost microchips, free license tags and giving pet owners resources to find their pets after the owner text messages the shelter, puts the onus on the pet owner rather than the shelter. Finally, Front Street Animal Shelter’s return to owner rate increased significantly after it received $250,000 from the Petco Foundation in 2018 to fund its text message based lost pets program. While Dallas Animal Services has had an impressive increase in its dog return to owner rate, much of this was due to its animal control officers returning dogs to owners in the field (i.e. without going to the shelter). Since Lake County Animal Shelter does not do field services, returning dogs to owners in the field is not something it can do. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter’s performance with lost dogs is among the best I’ve ever seen.

Lake County Animal Shelter makes great efforts to return dogs to their owners rather than taking the passive approach most shelters use. First, the shelter does thorough investigations when there is any potential lead on an owner. For example, the shelter may 1) contact microchip companies to find an owner of an animal with an unregistered chip and 2) look on social media for the owner or their relatives when the shelter doesn’t have current owner contact information. Similarly, if someone thinks the dog might belong to someone they only know the first name of, the shelter will search property records in the neighborhood. Additionally, the shelter has volunteer “pet detectives” that look at the shelter’s dog intake records and stray dog photos and match those with lost dog reports in the community (such as on lost pet Facebook pages). Finally, the shelter waives/reduces reclaim fees when the owner has a financial hardship, drives pets to owners homes if needed and allows owners to reclaim their animal before or after normal operating hours. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter actively tries to find pet owners under its “proactive reunification” program.

The shelter also uses several technological solutions to help owners find their animals at the shelter. First, the shelter offers $10 microchips to owners who reclaim their pets. Second, the shelter lists all stray dogs, cats and other animals, including photos, on the stray animals section of its web site. This web site section also contains a link to Finding Rover, which takes a photo of the pet that the owner uploads and matches it against a photo of that animal if its on the shelter’s web site. Third, the stray animals section of the shelter’s web site has a link to pawboost.com, which allows owner of lost pets and finders of lost pets to have the animals automatically posted to the lost and found pet Facebook page in the area. Fourth, people can directly schedule an appointment to reclaim their pet on this part of the web site. Finally, this web site section has a link to the ASPCA’s guide for helping owners find their lost pets. As a result, the shelter gives owners of lost pets great resources to help find their animals.

The following tables show how these programs collectively increased the number of dogs returned to owners and the percentage of dogs returned to owners after the shelter went no kill.

The potential impact of specific return to owner programs are detailed in the following table. The “Microchip” category likely reflects aggressive efforts to find hard to locate owners of pets with microchips as well as the $10 microchips the shelter offers to owners of reclaimed pets. The “Web” category includes people reclaiming their pets through the shelter web site, social media and an app, such as Finding Rover. Therefore, the stray animals web site section as well as the pet detective program likely impact these numbers. The “Adoption” category has return to owners where the shelter reduces the reclaim fee to the shelter’s much lower adoption fee and vets the animal as if it were adopted (i.e. spay/neuter, vaccinations, microchip, ID tag). Finally, the “Field” category reflects dogs that Lake County Sheriff’s animal control officers drove back to their owners. While its difficult to pinpoint the precise impact of every return to owner initiative, its clear these programs collectively increase owner redemptions.

High Powered Dog Adoption Program Drives Lifesaving

Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog adoptions skyrocketed after the shelter went no kill. In the no kill initiative’s first year, dog adoptions increased by 46%. By 2018 and 2019, dog adoptions increased 77% and 61% from the 2016 levels. While total dog adoptions decreased from 2018 to 2019, this was primarily due to the shelter taking fewer dogs in during 2019. On a percentage of outcomes basis, dog adoptions increased the dog live release rate by 15%, 20% and 19% in 2017, 2018 and 2019 from the 2016 metric. Thus, dog adoptions played a huge role in making Lake County Animal Shelter no kill.

The shelter does several things to increase adoptions. First, the shelter became much more welcoming to the public and has a “much more positive atmosphere.” Second, the adoption fees are low ($20 for dogs, $10 for cats and those adopting a second cat pay no fee). Additionally, the shelter places great efforts in offering an excellent adoption counseling experience. As part of that experience, the shelter and its volunteers get to know the animals well and make great matches between pets and people. Even with the shelter adopting out far more challenging animals than most facilities, Lake County Animal Shelter had a normal dog adoption return rate of 9% and an extremely low cat adoption return rate of 3%. Additionally, the shelter takes very engaging photos of their pets, and shares them on active and creative Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages as well as Petfinder and Adopt a Pet. Finally, the shelter gives adopters a chance to adopt animals for 24 hours before a rescue can take the pet. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter aggressively markets their pets and offers great customer services to adopters when they visit the shelter.

Lake County Animal Shelter also does not include breed labels on its cage cards. A peer reviewed study, which you can find here, found breed labels, particularly for pit bull like dogs, prolonged length of stay and reduced the adoption chances of these animals. While the shelter does include breed labels in the adoption paperwork an adopter receives, leaving the breed label off the cage card allows an adopter to fall in love with a dog without being negatively biased by breed. Thus, removing breed labels from cage cards helps the shelter adopt out dogs, particularly its pit bulls.

No Kill Equation programs that get animals out of the facility also assist Lake County Animal Shelter’s adoption efforts. The shelter’s very large foster program, which I discussed in my last blog, 1) allows potential adopters too see if animals are a good fit (i.e. trial adoptions), 2) gives animals, particularly longer stay dogs, a break from shelter stress and 3) gets young kittens that are vulnerable to disease out of the shelter. Lake County Animal Shelter makes it easy to foster by allowing people to apply online and also notifying individuals when animals are available for fostering. The “Wait-til-8” program has a similar effect of keeping young vulnerable kittens out of the shelter until they are older and highly adoptable. Thus, the shelter is able to help many vulnerable animals, whether its due to behavioral issues or susceptibility to disease, get/stay out of the facility or become placeable until people can adopt these animals.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s volunteer, managed intake and medical and behavior rehabilitation programs also help the shelter adopt out animals many other facilities would kill. As described above, these programs make the animals healthier and more adoptable.

The shelter’s excellent public relations and community involvement engages the public to adopt and help save lives. The shelter routinely appears on media, such as radio shows. In one great example, Whitney Boylston did a short video for a local newspaper talking about the shelter’s success and asking the public to adopt after the facility received an influx of animals. Another example is where the shelter talked with a local newspaper to ask the public to watch movies and eat popcorn with shelter cats (i.e. reduces stress to make cats less susceptible to disease and helps the cats become more socialized to make the animals more adoptable). In another example, the shelter teamed up with local firefighters on a local news channel to promote an adoption event. Similarly, the shelter’s Facebook page used creative videos to engage the community to foster, adopt pets that get delivered on Christmas under the Santa Paws program and adopt dogs from play groups. Additionally, Whitney Boylston reached out to the fire department for them to help build cat portals, which reduce shelter stress and risk of illness and help shelters adopt cats out quicker. Thus, the shelter’s strong outreach to the community significantly aids its adoption efforts.

The following table details the dog adoption subcategories from 2015 to 2019. While some of the groupings changed over the years, we can glean some interesting information. Over the years, the Pend HW TX adoptions, which is where the shelter adopts out a heartworm positive dog and the adopter must schedule a heartworm visit (the shelter tracks to see if treated or not), increased. The Pre program, which is where up to three people sign up to adopt a dog during the stray/hold period if the owner does not reclaim the animal, resulted in many adoptions after the shelter started the initiative in the last couple of years. Also, dogs adopted out of foster homes increased a lot in recent years likely due to the shelter’s large foster program. Finally, offsite adoptions, which take place at a local PetSmart, increased after the the shelter started the initiative in 2017.

Rescue Efforts Focused on Most Vulnerable Animals

While “rescue partnerships” are a key No Kill Equation program, shelters need to put parameters around them. Certainly, high kill shelters should allow rescues to pull any animal. On the other hand, no kill shelters only need rescues to pull the most vulnerable animals that the shelters cannot save or would have great difficulty doing so. Therefore, no kill shelters should institute policies to encourage rescues to save the most vulnerable pets, whether those animals are at the facility or at other shelters.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s policies and performance encourage rescues to save the most vulnerable pets. As mentioned above, Lake County Animal Shelter gives adopters a chance to adopt animals for 24 hours before a rescue can take the pet and also lets adopters reserve animals during the stray/hold period. These policies ensure rescues only pull animals that wouldn’t otherwise be quickly adopted out. Finally, Lake County Animal Shelter’s high live release rates encourages rescues to pull from other shelters that kill many animals.

The tables below show rescues pulling fewer dogs in total and on a percentage of outcomes basis after the shelter went no kill. In other words, Lake County Animal Shelter significantly increased its dog live release rate despite receiving less rescue assistance.

The dog transfers subcategories show rescues primarily pull vulnerable animals. Specifically, rescues mostly pulled dogs for medical and behavior reasons and nursing puppies and their mothers.

No Kill Cat Culture 

As I mentioned in my last blog, one can calculate the cat live release by including or excluding cats brought to the shelter and returned to caregivers under the Operation Caturday program. Under the “Operation Caturday” program, Lake County Animal Shelter neuters and vaccinates “unowned” and “free-roaming” cats and frequently returns the animals to caregivers or the locations where the cats were found without identified caregivers. In order to make an apples to apples comparison to prior years and present conservative figures, I excluded 226 cats (211 adults and 15 kittens) in 2018 and 636 cats (587 adults and 49 kittens) in 2019 from the outcomes in the tables below.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat death rates massively decreased after the shelter went no kill. As the tables below show, the shelter’s cat death rate dropped from 44% just before the facility went no kill to just 9% in 2019. When we look at just adult cats, 51% of cats lost their lives in 2016 and under 10% lost their lives in 2019. Similarly, the kitten death rate decreased from 35% to 9% from 2016 to 2019.

The shelter’s decision to stop killing cats for behavior, such as being feral, significantly helped cats. Just prior to the shelter going no kill in 2016, Lake County Animal Shelter killed 25% of cats, 37% of adult cats and even 10% of kittens for behavior. In both 2018 and 2019, the shelter did not kill a single cat for behavioral reasons.

Lake County Animal Shelter also significantly decreased its killing/euthanasia of cats for medical related reasons. Overall, the shelter killed/euthanized 10-12% of cats for health reasons before it went no kill and only euthanized 4% of cats for medical reasons in 2018 and 2019. While the shelter euthanized significantly fewer adult cats for medical reasons after it went no kill, the drop in kitten killing/euthanasia from 13%-14% before the shelter went no kill to just 3% in 2018 and 2019 is notable. Most impressively, the shelter stopped taking in healthy strays after it went no kill. Therefore, the shelter took in a greater percentage of more challenging cats after it implemented the no kill policies. Clearly, the shelter’s veterinary care improved and the shelter’s commitment to not killing treatable animals became strong. Additionally, the “Wait-til-8” program that keeps vulnerable young kittens out of the shelter until they are older also likely contributed to the decreased kitten euthanasia for medical reasons in 2018 and 2019.

The shelter’s data on cats who died or went missing also shows the no kill effort’s success. Often, shelters going no kill will have a somewhat high number of cats dying due to the shelter making efforts to save animals that traditional shelters kill. Despite Lake County Animal Shelter going no kill, cats who died or went missing did not increase. In fact, the percentage kittens that died or went missing substantially decreased from 2016 to 2019. The “Wait-til-8” program almost certainly contributed to this.

As with dogs, the shelter stopped killing cats under the guise of “owner requested euthanasia” after it went no kill.

Despite Lake County Animal Shelter saving so many more cats, it did not reduce the number of cats going through its doors. While actual cat intake (which excludes 226 cats in 2018 and 636 cats in 2019 brought to the shelter and returned to caregivers) slightly decreased after Lake County Animal Shelter went no kill, the total number of cats the shelter impounded or helped through Operation Caturday was similar before and after Lake County Animal Shelter went no kill.

When we look at the cat intake numbers more closely, we see Lake County Animal Shelter took in more cats that needed sheltering. As the table below shows, Lake County Animal Shelter impounded significantly more owner surrendered cats after the shelter went no kill. When the public views a shelter as a safe place, those individuals are more likely to be willing to surrender their animals when they can’t care for them. On the other hand, stray cat intake, and especially feral cat and over the counter cat intake, significantly decreased. Shelters should not take in healthy stray cats who are not in danger since such cats 1) clearly are receiving good care in the community, 2) are far more likely to find their way home and 3) often experience stress and disease risk in even the best shelters. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter took in more cats that needed sheltering after it went no kill.

The cat intake data also shows how the Operation Caturday program saves lives. Based on my discussions with Whitney Boylston, the shelter often is able to redirect stray cats brought to the shelter by the public (i.e. “Stray OTC”) to Operation Caturday where the shelter sterilizes, vaccinates and returns the cats to their outdoor homes. When we examine the stray OTC data over the years, the decrease is almost entirely offset by the increase in the number of cats neutered, vaccinated and returned under the Operation Caturday program. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter is redirecting its resources to save cats now and in the future by investing in its community cat sterilization program.

Adoption and Return to Field Programs Save Cats 

The following table details what outcomes increased Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat live release rate from 2016 to 2019 (note some numbers in the “Change” column do not compute exactly due to rounding). As the table shows, the shelter adopted out many more cats and also released more cats to outdoor homes after the facility went no kill. While cats returned to owners did not increase, adult cats, which are likely harder for owners to find, did get returned to owners more often possibly due to the shelter’s lost pet reunification efforts discussed above. As with dogs, these live outcomes increased so much they more than made up for rescues pulling significantly fewer cats.

Cat Sterilization Program Saves Cats at and Outside of the Shelter

Lake County Animal Shelter’s return to field data shows this program saved significant numbers of cats. After the shelter went no kill, it started sterilizing, vaccinating and returning cats to their outdoor homes. In 2018, Lake County Animal Shelter created Operation Caturday and significantly increased the scale of this program. Under Operation Caturday, the public pays just $10 for the spay/neuter and vaccination services. As the tables below show, Operation Caturday had a significant impact on the adult cat live release rate.

The shelter also sterilized many additional cats through the Operation Caturday program. As mentioned above, I excluded cats brought by the public to the shelter for spay/neuter and vaccination services under this program. While these cats do not impact the shelter’s live release rate, these services do the following:

  1. Help limit future cat intake by reducing kitten births
  2. Significantly reduce outdoor kitten deaths, due to large percentages of newborn kittens typically dying outdoors, as a major study showed

If we counted these cats in the shelter’s outcomes, 19% of all cats and 32% of adult cats served by the shelter went through this program. When we add the cats returned to field counted in the statistics above, 22% of all cats and 38% of adult cats served by the shelter went back to their outdoor home spayed/neutered and vaccinated. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter implemented the No Kill Equation’s “High Volume, Low Cost Sterilization” and “Community Cat/Dog Sterilization” programs to help control cat intake at the shelter and reduce kitten deaths on the streets.

Cat Adoptions Dramatically Increase After Shelter Goes No Kill

Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat adoption data shows the shelter’s transformation after it went no kill. After going no kill, the shelter doubled its cat adoptions in total and more than doubled them on a percentage of outcomes basis. In fact, Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat adoptions have steadily increased on a percentage of outcomes basis in the years after the facility went no kill. As described above in the dog adoptions section, many initiatives increased cat adoptions.

The shelter’s adoption subcategories reveal the success of certain No Kill Equation programs. After Lake County Animal Shelter went no kill, the shelter reported many cats adopted from foster homes. While the shelter previously didn’t have this subcategory, the significant growth in the foster program certain contributed to these numbers. Additionally, the Pre program, which is where up to three people sign up to adopt a cat during the stray/hold period if the owner does not reclaim the animal, resulted in many adoptions after the shelter started the initiative. Also, the shelter adopted out working or barn cats after it went no kill. While these adoptions did decrease after 2017, this may be due to the shelter returning more sterilized cats to the community through the Operation Caturday program. Finally, offsite adoptions, which take place at a local PetSmart, increased after the the shelter started the initiative in 2017.

Rescues Take Cats Most Needing Help

Lake County Animal Shelter’s transfers data in the following tables show the shelter relying far less on rescues after it went no kill. While the adult cats transferred decreased significantly, the number of kittens transferred decreased much more. This is due to Lake County Animal Shelter adopting out more kittens as well as the shelter’s “Wait-til-8” program keeping vulnerable kittens out of the shelter.

As the tables below show, rescues primarily pulled cats with medical issues, cats who stayed at the shelter a long time and kittens that are typically vulnerable to disease in a shelter. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter allowed rescues to focus on the cats most needing help.

Comprehensive Implementation of the No Kill Equation Makes Lake County Animal Shelter an Elite Facility

At the end of the day, Lake County Animal Shelter succeeds since it comprehensively implements the No Kill Equation. As the following table shows, Lake County Animal Shelter fully implemented the No Kill Equation. These programs responsibly reduce animal intake, improve animal care, increase live animal outcomes and generate community support to do so in a fiscally responsible manner. Simply put, Lake County Animal Shelter does what it takes to save lives and is a role model for all shelters to follow.

New York ACC and PetSmart Charities Think Killing is “The Future of Animal Welfare”

A few weeks ago, I came across an invitation from the New York ACC to attend a presentation by Dr. Roger Haston from PetSmart Charities. After seeing Dr. Haston’s impressive educational background, a PhD in Geophysics and an MBA, an apparently successful professional career, and his analytical approach, I was eager to attend. In fact, I was so interested in the topics I watched two of his presentations from elsewhere. Subsequently, I went to his speech in New York City. Based on the New York ACC hosting this event and also having Dr. Haston separately teach the organization’s staff, its safe to assume the New York ACC holds similar views to Dr. Haston.

Does Dr. Haston have the right vision for “the future of animal welfare”?

Overview of Animal Welfare History

Dr. Haston’s presentation was nearly identical to ones he’s given across the country. You can view one he recently gave here. In person, Dr. Haston was articulate and presented his material in a clear and concise manner.

First, Dr. Haston provided a short history of animal welfare in the United States. As others, such as Nathan Winograd, have stated, Henry Bergh launched the humane movement with his focus on animal cruelty in New York City in the 1800’s. Dr. Haston then talked about how poor treatment of livestock in the United Kingdom in the 1960s led to the creation of the “Five Freedoms” as a humane standard for treating these creatures.

Dr. Haston then discussed the growth of the humane movement starting around 1970. These things included the creation of high volume spay/neuter clinics, eliminating cruel euthanasia methods, increased veterinarian involvement with shelters and more adoptions. He then talked about developments in the 1990s, such as the no kill movement starting, large well funded shelters, reduced intake from high volume/low cost spay/neuter efforts and increased public interest in adopting. Finally, he talked about the Asilomar Accords, which is a method of tabulating animal shelter statistics and computing live release rates that have been criticized by many animal advocates as a way to excuse shelter killing, and the growth of rescues and transports after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Dr. Haston also made some other good points. He talked about the growth of transports and how the financial incentives can lead to fake rescues selling animals. Dr. Haston also talked about the failure of the animal welfare community to reach pet owners in need in poor areas. In particular, he provided a nice example of why “free” spay/neuter is often costly to people in these areas and explains why many people don’t take advantage of these services. Finally, he made a point, which I have also long made, that we need more animal welfare organizations to merge to reduce costs and improve efficiencies.

If this is all Dr. Haston discussed, I would have had a very positive review. Unfortunately, much of the rest of his presentation was repackaged excuses for shelter killing. Dr. Haston stated “conflicts and confusion” developed in the 2010s and called out no kill groups, such as Nathan Winograd’s No Kill Advocacy Center, for being divisive. Unfortunately, this set the tone for Dr. Haston’s views.

Myths of Pet Overpopulation, No Kill Shelters Severely Limiting Intake and No Kill Advocates Instigating Threats of Violence

As I’ve discussed in the past, the live release rate cannot be the only way we view shelters. Specifically, we must also ensure shelters have relatively short average lengths of stay and use large percentages of their appropriate animal enclosures to maximize life saving. In addition, we must also evaluate if and how effectively shelters implement the eleven no kill equation programs, which include humane care.

Dr. Haston provided a graph with absurd data to make the point that we shouldn’t focus on live release rates at animal control shelters. On the graph, he showed how transported dogs were generally easy to adopt. However, on the other side of the graph, Dr. Haston showed about 25% of local community intake at animal control shelters in his data set from the Pacific Northwest were “unhealthy/untreatable.” Based on the many no kill animal control shelters across the nation taking in predominantly local dogs, we know no where near 25% of dogs are hopelessly suffering or a serious threat to people without the possibility of rehabilitation. Thus, Dr. Haston seemed to just accept seemingly bad shelters words that they had all these unadoptable animals despite numerous no kill animal control shelters proving the opposite with their very high live release rates.

In another presentation he gave several years ago, Dr. Haston implied no kill leads to selective admission and shelters turning their backs on animals in need. Furthermore, Dr. Haston’s past presentation argued limited admission shelters in communities lead to the animal control shelters filling up with unadoptable animals. How do we know this is not always true? We have plenty of examples of animal control shelters achieving dog live release rates of around 95% to 99%, taking large numbers of challenging dogs and having selective admission shelters in their communities.

If that was not bad enough, Dr. Haston’s seemed to imply we should kill less adoptable dogs and transport in easier to adopt ones. He used data from an undisclosed sample of shelters, most of which I would bet are not elite no kill animal control shelters, showing intakes of certain types of dogs, such as pit bulls and Chihuahuas, exceeding their positive outcomes to insinuate we can’t save these types of dogs. In fact, he said “we can’t adopt our way out of” the so-called pit bull problem. As regular readers of this blog know, I’ve posted extensive data of high volume animal control shelters saving over 90% and up to 99% of pit bulls. You can view these blogs here, here and here. In fact when asked about saving pit bulls in shelters, Dr. Haston could only provide a nebulous and incoherent answer about solving a community problem. In other words, Dr. Haston implied until society somehow magically transforms, we would have to keep on killing pit bulls despite numerous animal control shelters proving we can save these dogs.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Dr. Haston later talked about a person who was “brutally killed by a pack of stray pit bulls.” As far as I can tell, he was simply quoting a news article that stated four pit bulls killed the victim. However, a later article stated only two of the dogs were pit bulls with the other two dogs being a boxer mix and a Queensland heeler mix. In fact, DNA tests from two forensic labs found no evidence that these dogs even killed the victim. Given many dogs are mislabeled as pit bulls, it is irresponsible for any animal welfare leader to assert “a pack of stray pit bulls” killed someone without DNA evidence supporting that claim. Even if the dogs truly were pit bulls, Dr. Haston shouldn’t be using “pit bulls” to single out these types of dogs given many breeds of dogs can and have killed people. Sadly, it seems Dr. Haston has an anti-pit bull bias.

Dr. Haston also stated shelters were underfunded and seemed to suggest we couldn’t expect great shelters without that funding. In particular, Dr. Haston had a graph showing per capita funding of shelters in various cities with New York City near the low end. In reality, the New York ACC takes very few animals in and is in fact well-funded on a per animal basis, which is the appropriate funding metric. The New York ACC received $647 per dog and cat from the City of New York based on recent data compared to Kansas City’s no kill animal control shelter receiving just $136 per dog and cat from its city contract. Even if we doubled the Kansas City shelter’s funding to account for animal control services it doesn’t currently provide, Kansas City’s no kill animal control shelter still would just receive $272 per dog and cat impounded or just 42% of the New York ACC’s government funding per dog and cat. How do these shelters succeed with such little government funding? They limit costs by moving animals quickly out to live outcomes and gain donations and volunteer support due to the public supporting their great work. Thus, Dr. Haston’s implication that we must wait until the day when money falls from trees to get shelters we deserve is patently false.

Dr. Haston also implied that the focus on live release rates and no kill led to threats against shelter personnel. In reality, no kill leaders, such as Nathan Winograd and Ryan Clinton, also tell advocates to act professionally and avoid personal attacks. To imply no kill advocates are responsible for the bad behavior of others is a cheap shot designed to discredit a movement.

Perhaps, most misleading, Dr. Haston talked about Italy’s no kill law leading to overcrowded shelters and the mafia running those facilities. While I have no idea whether the mafia runs all Italian shelters, no serious people advocate for Italy’s ban on all shelter killing. Instead, advocates argue for the Companion Animal Protection Act which requires shelters to take common sense steps to get animals out of shelters alive, responsibly reduce intake and provide elite care to animals in those facilities.

Finally, Dr. Haston points to Calgary as a solution to the “pit bull problem” and increasing public safety, but this is simply a mirage. Under the Calgary model, high dog licensing rates and severe penalties are credited with increasing live release rates (via increased numbers of dogs returned to owners) and reducing dog bites. However, as I wrote about several years ago, Calgary’s high licensing rate is due to the city’s relatively wealthy and educated population and not the so-called Calgary model. Many wealthy and educated communities also achieve high dog licensing rates and 90% plus dog live release rates.

Backwards Looking Future

Dr. Haston’s concludes his presentation by going anti-no kill. On a slide about successful messages “starting to get in our way”, Dr. Haston cites “No kill”, “Save them all” (which Best Friends has used as a call to action), “Animals should only be adopted” and “People want to kill adoptable pets” among other things. If you read between the lines, Dr. Haston seems to say “stop with no kill and saving lives” and focus on other things.

In fact, Dr. Haston states we’ve begun to reach the “limit” of lifesaving, “the anti-euthanasia movement has become unhitched from animal welfare as defined by the Five Freedoms” and “animals are starting to suffer because of it.” The Five Freedoms are as follows:

  1. Freedom from hunger or thirst
  2. Freedom from discomfort
  3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease
  4. Freedom to express normal behavior
  5. Freedom from fear and distress

Most notably, the Five Freedoms do not include to most important freedom, the freedom to live. If you don’t have the freedom to live, you can’t have any of the other freedoms since you won’t be alive to experience those freedoms.

Frankly, it is impossible for shelters to give animals the “Freedom from fear and distress” if those facilities kill animals, particularly those that routinely do so. Animals sense death and to claim a kill shelter can prevent animals from fearing the ultimate abuse, which is a very real possibility, is completely “unhinged” from reality.

Sadly, Dr. Haston is just repackaging the long disproven claim that no kill equals hoarding and poor care. Numerous no kill animal control shelters, such as Williamson County Animal Shelter in Texas, Kansas City’s KC Pet Project and Virginia’s Lynchburg Humane Society, achieve average lengths of stay for dogs of just one to three weeks. Clearly, these shelters are not warehousing animals. Will these shelters sometimes during an emergency, due to say a hoarding case, double up kennels or even place a dog in a temporary enclosure for a very short period of time? Yes. Apparently, according to people like Dr. Haston, we should just immediately kill a dog instead of doubling him or her up in a kennel or putting the animal in a temporary enclosure for a day or two. This is akin to saying we should kill children in refugee camps since they aren’t experiencing all their “Five Freedoms.” If no one in their right mind would assert that for people, why would a so called animal lover demand animals be killed when obvious lifesaving alternatives exist?

In reality, shelters fully and comprehensively implementing the No Kill Equation not only provide these freedoms, which frankly are the bare minimum, but provide elite care and the most innovative programs to keep animals happy and healthy. For example, the full version of the Companion Animal Protection Act requires shelters provide high levels of veterinary care, socialization to animals, rigorous cleaning protocols and the most humane ways of euthanizing animals. In fact, traditional shelters, the ones Dr. Haston likes to lionize, are the very organizations opposing the Companion Animal Protection Act and its high standards of humane care.

Dr Haston provides nebulous goals that mirror what poorly performing kill shelters have stated for years. Specifically, Dr. Haston says we should have the following goals:

  • Preserving and building the relationship between all pets and people
  • Eliminating, cruelty, suffering and abuse
  • Maintaining public trust and safety

The goal of “Preserving and building the relationship between all pets and people” is vague and conflicts with shelter killing. What exactly does Dr. Haston mean? How does he measure this? What are the metrics he uses to show success? In the presentation, he provided none rendering this goal meaningless. In contrast, when shelters needlessly kill healthy and treatable animals they destroy the relationship between pets and people by directly killing their pets (i.e. when shelters kill animals before an owner reclaims the pet or kill animals families had to surrender). Furthermore, kill shelters send the message to people that their pet lives do not have value. If the “professionals” kill a pet for cost or convenience, why shouldn’t a regular pet owner who is having some problem?

The goal of eliminating cruelty, suffering and abuse is laudable, but the greatest amount of companion animal cruelty, abuse and suffering occurs in regressive shelters. Virtually everyone supports ending animal cruelty. In fact, this is why I spent a large amount of time and money helping pass a new law to professionalize animal cruelty law enforcement in New Jersey. However, routine, systemic and institutional abuse occurs in many of the nation’s kill shelters. After all, if you ultimately will kill an animal, what difference does it make if the animal is in discomfort shortly before you take its life? Sadly, time and time again, we see high kill shelters abuse animals before committing the ultimate abuse, killing. Remarkably, Dr. Haston not only fails to demand shelters to stop killing, he seems to want us to increase that killing by telling us to not criticize shelters needlessly killing animals.

The “Maintaining the public trust and safety” goal is also a hidden attack on no kill. This goal, when you view it in context with the entire presentation, implies shelters must kill a good number of pets to protect the public from animals. The No Kill Movement has long supported shelters euthanizing dogs that truly are a serious threat to people with no reasonable hope of improving when reputable sanctuary options don’t exist. In fact, No Kill Learning talked about this recently. However, successful animal control shelters’ data show at most, a few percent, or as little as 0.2% at Austin Animal Center, of all dogs coming into such shelters are truly dangerous to people and can’t be fixed. In fact a University of Denver study found that severe dog bites did not increase in Austin during the time its dog live release rate skyrocketed to a very high number. Thus, the implication that proper implementation of no kill and public safety are not compatible is simply not true.

While Dr. Haston clearly is an intelligent, successful and articulate person, I think his own involvement with traditional animal welfare organizations has clouded his thinking. Dr. Haston served on the board, and ultimately was the chairman, of the Humane Society of Boulder Valley. Over the years, this organization opposed no kill just as Dr. Haston apparently does. Ultimately, he started a full time career as the Executive Director of the Animal Assistance Foundation before moving onto PetSmart Charities. The Animal Assistance Foundation muzzles organizations which use “divisive language” by making them ineligible for grants. So if an organization calls out a high kill shelter for needlessly killing animals, the Animal Assistance Foundation will apparently not give them grant money. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Animal Assistance Foundation Statement of Position on Community Responsibility provides many excuses for killing animals yet does not demand those organizations not kill animals. Thus, Dr. Haston clearly has his own biases and we should take that into consideration.

At the end of the day, Dr. Haston mars his valid points with his support for shelter killing. How can one credibly talk about preserving the bond between pets and people when this very same person condones shelter killing? How can a person talk with authenticity about ending animal cruelty when that same individual enables the ultimate abuse, which is killing? Simply put, you cannot talk coherently about helping animals if you support needlessly killing those same creatures.

Dr. Haston’s anti-no kill message is dangerous for animals due to his influence. Given he speaks around the country, has an impressive background, is articulate and represents a large animal welfare organization, many people could be swayed by his pro-killing message. Furthermore, PetSmart Charities holds the purse strings on large amounts of animal welfare grants. If PetSmart Charities incorporates Dr. Haston’s anti-no kill views into awarding grants, this could disadvantage no kill organizations and enable pro-killing groups in the future. Thus, its imperative that no kill advocates challenge Dr. Haston’s anti-no kill message.

Given the New York ACC’s continued failure to end the killing at its shelters, is it any wonder why they brought Dr. Haston in to “educate” the public and teach its own staff? Despite what the New York ACC hoped to achieve, the public will see through an impressive resume and a slick presentation to see the New York ACC for the poorly perfoming and high kill sheltering organization that it is.

East Orange Animal Control Kills a Dog Adopted from Another Animal Shelter

One year ago, East Orange Animal Control made news for all the wrong reasons. At the time, the city’s recently hired Animal Control Officer, Amanda Ham, dramatically increased the animal shelter’s live release rate. However, East Orange Health Officer, Rochelle Evans, fired the ACO after Ms. Ham complained to the NJ SPCA about dreadful conditions the city refused to fix. Shortly after Ms. Evans fired Amanda Ham, the New Jersey Department of Health inspected the shelter and documented horrific conditions. Specifically, the New Jersey Department of Health reported animals inundated with a toxic feces and chemical filled soup, a fly infestation so severe that animals with open wounds and skin lesions were in danger of having maggots grow inside them, cats not provided with enough water and water they did have was contaminated with cat litter, and improper isolation of sick animals. Thus, East Orange Animal Control’s shelter was a complete mess last year.

East Orange Animal Control Kills a Friendly Dog Adopted from Liberty Humane Society

East Orange Animal Control killed a friendly dog recently adopted from Liberty Humane Society. Roxy was adopted from Liberty Humane Society in late April and was a sweet dog according to the shelter’s volunteers. For some reason, the adopter decided not to keep Roxy and turned her into East Orange Animal Control in late May. On Tuesday, June 2, Liberty Humane Society heard East Orange Animal Control might have Roxy and attempted to contact East Orange Animal Control, but East Orange Animal Control did not respond to Liberty Humane Society that day. On Wednesday, June 3, East Orange Animal Control killed Roxy and two other dogs while the facility had empty kennels.

 

Roxy Killed by East Orange 2

While some people may blame the owner for this event, this criticism is unfair. The owner did a noble thing and adopted the dog from Liberty Humane Society, a shelter with very little space, and surely saved a life. Certainly, the owner should have returned the dog to Liberty Humane Society. However, we don’t know if there were extenuating circumstances. For example, perhaps the owner could not travel to Liberty Humane Society due to lack of transportation. Alternatively, perhaps East Orange Animal Control was close to her home and she thought the shelter would do its job and get Roxy back to Liberty Humane Society. Either way, East Orange Animal Control decided to kill the dog and must shoulder 100% of the blame.

East Orange Animal Control’s actions raises serious questions. If Roxy was surrendered to East Orange Animal Control on May 28 or after, East Orange Animal Control would have violated N.J.S.A. 4:19-15.16 e. requiring shelters to offer an animal for adoption for at least 7 days before killing that animal. While East Orange Animal Control is not legally required to scan animals surrendered by their owners for a microchip, one would think a shelter would do so. If East Orange Animal Control did scan Roxy for a microchip, East Orange Animal Control would have known Roxy was recently adopted from Liberty Humane Society. If East Orange Animal Control knew Roxy was recently adopted from Liberty Humane Society, the killing of her would be even more heinous. Tragically, Liberty Humane Society had plenty of empty kennels to house Roxy after the shelter adopted out 37 animals a few days earlier during a fee-waived adoption promotion.

Liberty Humane Society Empty Kennels May 2015

East Orange Animal Control’s Questionable Veterinarian

The New Jersey State Board of Veterinary Examiners concluded Dr. Kimani Griffith was grossly negligent in the care he provided a patient’s dog. In September 2004, Dr. Griffith spayed a female dog and performed a mastectomy after noticing a lump on the dogs’s teats. After the owner’s dog experienced complications from the surgery, Dr. Griffith failed to properly diagnose the problem and delayed appropriate treatment that resulted in the dog’s death. The New Jersey State Board of Veterinary Examiners ordered Dr. Griffith to pay nearly $2,500 in fines and complete 20 hours of continuing education in the area of General Surgery.

South Orange Takes Animals to East Orange Animal Control and to Dr. Griffith

South Orange has taken at least one animal this year to East Orange’s animal shelter. After Jersey Animal Coalition left South Orange in 2014 due to conflicts related to a failed New Jersey Department of Health inspection, South Orange brought animals to the high kill Associated Humane Societies – Newark shelter. In 2015, after AHS-Newark required South Orange to also purchase animal control services, South Orange ended its relationship with AHS-Newark. Earlier this year, South Orange ACO, Melanie Troncone stated South Orange currently was taking stray animals to Puppy Love, a pet groomer in Maplewood, and South Orange Animal Hospital. Ms. Trancone stated the animals would be held for 7-10 days at these locations and then released to an unnamed rescue or a shelter. Around the same time as the ACO made this statement, she wrote the following comment on a Facebook post saying she brought a large stray dog to East Orange’s animal shelter:

South Orange Taking Dogs to East Orange

One has to question why South Orange would choose to take a lost dog to one of the state’s worst pounds? Does South Orange have a contract with East Orange Animal Control or Dr. Giffith’s Country Lakes Animal Clinic in Mine Hill? Either alternative is not good and to not notify residents is despicable while the town drags its feet on re-opening the old JAC shelter with new management.

Companion Animal Protection Act Desperately Needed

The Companion Animal Protection Act (“CAPA”) requires several things that would have prevented the tragic killing of Roxy. First, CAPA requires all, not just stray, animals be scanned for microchips and possible owners or caretakers be contacted. In the case of Roxy, a micochip scan would have identified Liberty Humane Society as the faciity she came from and East Orange Animal Control would have had to contact Liberty Humane Society. Second, under CAPA animal shelters cannot kill animals when

(1) there are empty cages, kennels, or other living environments in the shelter; and,

(2) a foster home is available; and,

(3) a rescue groups is willing to accept the animal; and,

(4) the animal can be transferred to another shelter with room to house the animal; and

(5) the director of the agency does not certify that he or she has no other alternative.

Under CAPA, East Orange Animal Control would have been prohibited from killing Roxy since the shelter had empty kennels at that time. Additionally, the shelter would have had to contact rescues, fosters and other shelters before killing Roxy which likely would have caused people to identify her earlier. Certainly, if East Orange Animal Control contacted Liberty Humane Society, which had room, Liberty Humane Society would have taken Roxy back. Thus, CAPA would likely have prevented Roxy’s killing assuming the law was properly enforced.

Mayor Lester Taylor Must Do the Right Thing for His Community and the Animals

East Orange Animal Control is currently spending much more money than other municipal shelters who save their animals. In 2013, the city spent $345 per dog and cat and likely killed most of their animals (the facility did not report outcome data). On the other hand, Perth Amboy only spent $281 per dog and cat in 2013 and saved 97% of its dogs and 93% of its cats. In 2014 East Orange budgeted $2.63 per person on its animal control and sheltering operations while Perth Amboy only spent $2.34 per person in 2014. Thus, East Orange is wasting taxpayers money and embarrassing the city in the process.

East Orange Animal Control currently bans volunteers from its shelter. Basically, the only exposure animals got until recently were pictures a couple of select people were allowed to take through the kennels. Clearly, such pictures are depressing and don’t do nearly enough to promote the adoption of these animals.

East Orange Shelter Photo 1 East Orange Shelter Photo 2 East Orange Shelter Photo 3 East Orange Shelter Photo 4

Sadly, East Orange Animal Control has now illegally banned people from even taking these photos. Furthermore, East Orange Animal Control bars the public from taking photos of the animal shelter as well.

East orange Photo ban

Nathan Winograd, who is a no kill leader and an accomplished attorney, provided the following summary of why it is illegal for animal control shelters to ban photos and videos:

Banning photography and video in public areas of the shelter limits free speech. See Animal Legal Defense Fund vs. Otter, 2014 WL 4388158*10 (D. Idaho 2014). The taking of a photograph or video is “included with the First Amendment’s guarantee of speech and press rights as a corollary of the right to disseminate the resulting recording.” ACLU vs. Alvarez, 679 F.3d 583, 597 (7th Cir. 2012). As the ACLU has correctly argued, “Videotaping and capturing images of poor shelter conditions or neglected animals are indistinguishable from ‘commenting’ or ‘speaking out’ on such conditions.” Volunteers, rescuers, and members of the public have a right to document things they believe are improper. They also can take photographs and videotape to assist in finding animals homes.

Not only is East Orange Animal Control needlessly killing animals, it now is violating our First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of the press. As a result, East Orange Animal Control has added violating the First Amendment to the United States Constitution to its breaking of state animal shelter laws.

Volunteering at an animal shelter does as much good for the people giving their time as the animals themselves. People need to have meaning to their life. Rehabilitating an animal and being part of its metamorphosis is incredibly moving. Animals open up the most hardened hearts as evidenced by the many successful animal shelter programs at prisons. Senior citizens, young people who need direction, and families looking to spend time together can join up, save lives, and be part of something that builds up their self-esteem and their community. Thus, animal shelter volunteer programs help the people volunteering just as much as the animals those folks help.

East Orange must stop depriving its own citizens from experiencing the opportunity to volunteer and better themselves. Countless communities, such as ones with high poverty rates like Perth Amboy, have come together and made their animal shelter a source of pride. Mayor Taylor touts his community support programs yet his animal shelter refuses to let those citizens help. It is time Mayor Taylor clean house in his Animal Control department, hire caring and compassionate people, and let his community help its animals. If Perth Amboy, which has a higher poverty rate than East Orange, can do this then why can’t East Orange?

East Orange’s residents must come together and demand more from their city government. Illegal activities, unethical actions, and depriving the city’s own citizens the opportunity to better themselves have made the city’s animal shelter an urgent issue. If the elected officials refuse to fix the animal shelter, then East Orange’s citizens should make sure those officials are shown the door.

Cat Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

Cats are losing their lives at an alarming rate in New Jersey animal shelters. Approximately 23,000-24,000 cats or nearly half of the cats coming into New Jersey animal shelters in 2013 were killed, died or went missing. This blog explores the reasons why this tragedy is occurring and whether we can end the massacre. Additionally, I’ll try and answer the question whether shelters need to resort to neutering and releasing healthy friendly cats or not impounding these cats at all to avoid killing cats in shelters.

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. As a result, my analysis focuses on making the best use of space to save the maximum number of New Jersey cats.

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 to achieve no kill level save rates. The targeted outcomes take into account each facility’s physical capacity and the number of cats the organization receives from its community (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, cruelty cases). I assume a target euthanasia rate, take the number of cats actually returned to owners and then estimate how many community cats a shelter should adopt out. To the extent space runs out, I then calculate how many cats 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 cats from nearby areas. The targeted results calculated from this model are compared to the actual results from each shelter below.

The Life Saving Model requires a more complex analysis for cats than dogs in New Jersey. Generally speaking, New Jersey animal shelters receive few litters of young puppies who are vulnerable to disease. On the other hand, local shelters receive lots of young kittens, particularly during the April to October kitten season. These young kittens are highly vulnerable to disease and those without mothers require bottle feeding every 1-2 hours. Therefore, these kittens should not be held in a traditional shelter setting and instead need to go to foster homes or a kitten nursery at or outside of the shelter. During the months outside of kitten season (i.e. November – March), my model assumes shelters with enough physical space will be able to place young kittens into their volunteers’ foster homes and/or in a kitten nursery run by the animal shelter. In kitten season with many young animals coming in, I assume a certain percentage of the cat intake will need to go to rescues or other shelters. For shelters who rescue cats, I assume a small percentage of the cats are young kittens who are hopelessly suffering and will require humane euthanasia. Thus, my Life Saving Model is a bit more complicated than the analysis I did for dogs.

To read specific details and assumptions used in the model, please see the Appendix at the end of this blog.

Another complexity in this analysis are feral cats. In an ideal world, shelters would practice trap-neuter-return (TNR) or shelter-neuter-return (SNR) for feral cats only. In TNR, the public or a third party typically does the work and the shelter doesn’t take in feral cats. In the variant of SNR I support, the shelter would take in feral cats, neuter them and release them back to where they were found. Unfortunately, many municipalities prohibit these programs and shelters in these places generally catch and kill feral cats.

Ideally, I would perform two analyses as follows:

  1. Modeling a large scale and targeted TNR program by reducing cat intake at shelters needing to implement TNR or improve their existing TNR programs
  2. Estimating the number of truly feral cats taken in and counting these cats as killed

The first analysis assumes TNR could be implemented and would result in fewer New Jersey cats for shelters to place. In my next blog, I will estimate the impact of a high volume targeted spay/neuter program. Generally speaking, this analysis requires many animal control shelters to adopt out more cats, send fewer cats to rescue, and rescue more cats from other shelters due to the extra shelter space resulting from lower local cat intake. In other words, this analysis would require shelters to achieve higher performance targets.

The second analysis assumes local laws cannot be changed and shelters are stuck receiving unadoptable feral cats. Unfortunately, I do not have the data to calculate the percentage of truly feral cats received at each New Jersey animal shelter. Based on an analysis of Michigan animal shelter data, Nathan Winograd estimated at least 6% of cat intake at Michigan animal shelters are truly feral cats. Similarly, Wisconsin’s Clark County Humane Society 2014 cat statistics show feral cats who were trapped, vaccinated and returned to the community made up 7% of cat outcomes. Based on these numbers and the success of barn cat programs in Pflugerville, Texas and the Maryville, Tennessee area, barn cat programs should be able to save most feral cats in similar communities. On the other hand, California’s Orange County Animal Care reported approximately 24% of the cats it took in during 2012, which was before it practiced TNR, were feral and euthanized. However, I suspect at least some of these cats were fearful rather than truly feral and could have been socialized and eventually adopted out.

My model assumes shelters are doing the proper thing and practicing TNR and placing the reasonable number of feral cats received as barn cats. Obviously, many shelters do take in a good number of feral cats due to poor laws or misguided policies. As a result, the number of New Jersey cats killed may be higher than my model predicts for some shelters.

My model’s results using total cat intake rather than assuming a larger percentage of feral cats will not be too much different for the targeted adoption and euthanasia rate metrics. The Life Saving Model assumes euthanized cats stay at shelters for 8 days (i.e. euthanized immediately after the 7 day hold period). Many shelters will have a lot of extra space free up if more cats are feral and killed since the net impact will be moving local cats from adopted (assumed length of stay of 42 days) to killed (assumed length of stay of only 8 days). This creates extra space that my model assumes shelters use to rescue and adopt out cats from other places. For example, if I assume New Jersey animal shelters have a local cat kill rate of 30% as opposed to 8% due to more feral cats, total cat adoptions (New Jersey plus other states) will only be 2% lower and the kill rate would only rise from 7% to 16% for the New Jersey shelter system. A few space constrained shelters with high feral cat intake would have a significant increase in the targeted number of cats euthanized and a decrease in cats needing rescue due to cats moving from sent to rescue (assumed length of stay of 8 days) to euthanized (assumed length of stay of 8 days). However, on a statewide basis, shelters with excess capacity would partially offset this increase in the kill rate by rescuing and adopting out cats from shelters outside of New Jersey. Thus, the difference between my model’s assumed and actual feral cat intake will not have too much of an impact on the targeted cat adoption number and kill rate.

The following analysis assumes shelters receive a reasonable number of truly feral cats. As a result, shelters can adopt out these cats through a barn cat program. While I realize some shelters do receive greater numbers of truly feral cats, the purpose of this analysis is to examine whether New Jersey animal shelters can handle the number of cats received.

New Jersey Animal Shelters Contain Enough Space to Save Most of New Jersey’s Healthy and Treatable Cats and Many More from Other States

New Jersey’s animal shelter system has enough space to save most of the state’s healthy and treatable cats. The table below details the targeted numbers of cat outcomes the New Jersey animal shelter system should achieve. Out of the 49,163 New Jersey cats coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2013, 31,641 and 12,195 cats should have been adopted out and sent to other shelters/rescues by the facilities originally taking the cats in. However, other New Jersey animal shelters had enough capacity to rescue 37,736 cats or three times the number of cats needing rescue from space constrained facilities. Unfortunately, some of the cats needing rescue, such as very young kittens, should not go to a shelter and still must go to either a kitten nursery or foster homes. That being said, many adult cats are in fact killed in New Jersey animal shelters and many facilities with excess space could save these cats.

New Jersey animal shelters have enough excess space to save many cats from out of state as well. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters had enough physical capacity to rescue and adopt out at least 25,541 cats from out of state shelters or New Jersey’s streets after achieving a greater than 90% live release rate for cats coming into the state’s animal shelters. In reality, the New Jersey shelter system could rescue more than 25,541 cats from out of state shelters or from New Jersey’s streets given the 25,541 figure assumes all cats needing rescue from space constrained New Jersey shelters are sent to other New Jersey shelters as opposed to rescue groups. As explained above, some of the cats needing rescue from New Jersey shelters with a shortage of space are young kittens which should not go into most animal shelters. To put this number into perspective, New Jersey animal shelters contain enough space to make both New York City and Philadelphia no kill cities for cats and increase those cities’ cat live release rates to 92% as follows (per 2014 data):

  • New York City – 2,366 additional cats need saving
  • Philadelphia – 6,171 additional cats need saving

Certainly, some New Jersey animal shelters do pull some cats from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. Even if I assumed all of the out of state cats rescued by New Jersey animal shelters came from New York City and Philadelphia, that number is only 8% of the number that New Jersey shelters could rescue from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. While some of these cats from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters are young kittens which should not go into a normal animal shelter, many other cats could go to New Jersey animal shelters and be adopted out. As a result, the additional number of cats New Jersey animal shelters could save from New York City and Philadelphia is not much lower than the figures above. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters could make New Jersey a no kill state for cats and help other states reach that goal as well.

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 7.6 cats per 1,000 people in the state (4.9 cats per 1,000 people if no cats rescued from out of state and all rescued cats were rescued by other New Jersey animal shelters and adopted out). As a comparison, recent per capita cat adoption numbers from several high performing no kill open admission shelters are as follows:

  • Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA (Charlottesville, Virginia area) – 14.2 cats per 1,000 people
  • Nevada Humane Society (Reno, Nevada area) – 9.9 cats per 1,000 people
  • Williamson County Animal Shelter (Williamson County, Texas area): 9.5 cats per 1,000 people
  • Longmont Humane Society (Longmont, Colorado area) – 8.2 cats per 1,000 people

Thus, many communities are already adopting out significantly more cats than the number I target for New Jersey animal shelters.

Additionally, the adoption target, 7.6 cats per 1,000 people, I set out for New Jersey animal shelters is only slightly higher than the state of Colorado’s per capita cat adoption rate of 6.5 cats per 1,000 people. Given Colorado still has some regressive animal shelters and only a 79% live release rate for cats, Colorado’s per capita cat adoption rate can increase. Thus, the cat adoption targets I laid out for New Jersey animal shelters are quite achievable.

Summary

Cat 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) 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 and actual number of cats euthanized/killed, and who died or went missing. In order to better compare the targeted and actual numbers, I only calculated the target number (8% euthanasia/death rate) based on the number of cat outcomes at each shelter. The Life Saving Model also targets a 5% euthanasia rate for additional cats rescued, but this would overstate the total targeted number of cats euthanized in this comparison. In other words, the targeted number of euthanized cats would be higher due to more cats being rescued as opposed to having a high kill rate. All cats 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 cat deaths are highlighted in green and red in the table below.

The overall results show too many cats are unnecessarily losing their lives at New Jersey animal shelters. Based on the assumptions above, 18,877 savable cats lost their lives or went missing at New Jersey animal shelters in 2013. If I only count shelters where actual deaths exceeded the targeted deaths, the number of savable cats who lost their lives rises to 19,078. Obviously, some of these cats are truly feral who require TNR or placement as barn cats, but surely many others could be adopted out. Thus, New Jersey’s shelter system is failing its cats.

Several animal shelters in South Jersey and elsewhere account for a large percentage of the savable cats unnecessarily losing their lives. Specifically, Atlantic County Animal Shelter, Burlington County Animal Shelter, Camden County Animal Shelter, Cumberland County Animal Shelter and Gloucester County Animal Shelter account for 9,707 of the or 51% of the 19,078 cats needlessly losing their lives. Associated Humane Societies three shelters had 2,059 cats unnecessarily lose their lives. Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean Animal Facility had 1,594 cats lose their lives needlessly in 2013. Bergen County Animal Shelter, which happens to serve many towns in one of the country’s wealthiest counties, had 649 cats unnecessarily lose their lives in 2013. Collectively, these 11 shelters are 11% of the state’s shelters and account for 14,009 or 73% of the cats needlessly losing their lives.

Rescue oriented shelters generally had fewer cats lose their lives than targeted. While saving large numbers of cats is what we all want, some of these shelters may have achieved this result by taking in easier cats. Austin Pets Alive, which is a rescue oriented shelter in Texas, has developed some of the most innovative cat programs and only had a cat live release rate of 93% in 2013. This was due to Austin Pets Alive taking in many cats requiring significant treatment, such as neonatal kittens, from the city animal control shelter. As a result, some of the rescue oriented shelters with significantly fewer cats euthanized than targeted may have avoided taking in many of the more difficult cases.

Several animal control shelters euthanized fewer cats than the number targeted. Denville Animal Shelter, Ewing Animal Shelter, Byram Township Animal Shelter and Wayne Animal Shelter prove municipal animal shelters can avoid killing healthy and treatable cats. Furthermore, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter shows even a poorly funded shelter serving an area with a high poverty rate can avoid killing healthy and treatable cats. Mercerville Animal Hospital, which only reported data from 2012, also euthanized far fewer cats than targeted at its shelter. This shelter had an animal control contract for the first seven months of the year. While St. Huberts – Madison outperformed its targeted euthanasia number, St. Huberts – North Branch underperformed by a greater amount. Humane Society of Ocean County also euthanized far fewer cats than targeted. While Jersey Animal Coalition and John Bukowski Animal Shelter (Bloomfield) reported fewer than targeted cats losing their lives, I do not trust these organizations numbers due to the turmoil at these shelters during this time.

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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 and very limited space, it will need more help than other shelters. While sending animals to rescues is a good thing, we do want shelters most needing rescue support to receive that help given rescues have limited resources. The table below compares the number of cats a shelter should transfer to other organizations per the model and the number of cats 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 cats rescued was about 37% of the amount needed for the state as a whole, the actual number was 28% since many cats were rescued from facilities which did not require so much rescue assistance. Only 18 out of the 84 facilities received the required rescue support. In other words, only 21% of the animal shelters needing rescue support received the amount these facilities require.

We truly need to understand the reasons for this rescue shortfall. While poor data collection (i.e. shelters classifying rescues as adoptions) may explain part of this rescue deficit, the large size of this number points to other causes as well. For example, New Jersey shelters received 89% of their dog rescue needs, but only 37% of their cat rescue requirements. Certainly, some of these cats are feral and not candidates for most rescues. However, many other cats surely are home-able. Many high kill facilities may not reach out to rescues for cats, such as during kitten season, as much as they do for dogs. This data supports the need for the Companion Animal Protection Act (“CAPA”), which requires shelters to contact rescues and other facilities at least two business days before killing animals. On the other hand, shelters with excess capacity may not be doing their part to save cats from space constrained facilities.

Several shelters received too much rescue help. Rescues may want to help these organizations due to rescue friendly policies. Alternatively, these shelters may be relying too heavily on rescues to save their animals. Shelters receiving the most extra rescue help were as follows:

  • Toms River Animal Facility – 327 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Cape May County Animal Shelter – 201 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Passaic Animal Shelter – 106 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Paterson Animal Control – 88 more cats transferred than necessary (estimated due to the shelter’s incorrect reporting of rescues as adoptions)

While Cape May County Animal Shelter is known as a progressive shelter, the other facilities are not good in my opinion. Local activists have campaigned to remove Toms River Animal Facility’s Shelter Director, Jim Bowen. Passaic Animal Shelter has no volunteer program or even a social media page. Paterson Animal Control also has no volunteer program, no social media page or even a website with animals for adoption. Thus, many shelters receiving greater than expected rescue support seem to do little more than allow rescues to save the day.

On the other hand, many space constrained shelters received far less rescue help than needed. Facilities receiving the lowest amount of rescue support in relation to their needs were as follows:

  • Camden County Animal Shelter – 1,875 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter – 1,499 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Atlantic County Animal Shelter – 1,437 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Vorhees Animal Orphanage – 470 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Northern Ocean Animal Facility – 427 fewer cats transferred than necessary

The million dollar question is why do these shelters receive very little rescue help? As you will see below, Vorhees Animal Orphanage adopts out many cats and is doing a good job. On the other hand, Gloucester County Animal Shelter pursues an aggressive catch and kill policy for feral cats and allegedly killed kittens within 3 days of arriving at the shelter per this letter to a local newspaper. Northern Ocean Animal Facility failed to send even a single cat to a rescue which indicates either poor rescue outreach or an error in its reported numbers. As a result, shelters receiving too little rescue help may or may not be doing their part to get that assistance.

Rescue groups and shelters with extra space should pull cats from kill shelters with the highest rescue “target” numbers and deficits in the table below. One exception is Associated Humane Societies – Newark given Associated Humane Societies two other facilities have more than enough room to help the Newark location. 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 cats from truly space constrained facilities, rescuing cats 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 cat capacity. These facilities could use extra space in their buildings to house cats on a short-term basis. These shelters can enter into arrangements with local veterinarians and local pet stores to house and adopt out some cats. Furthermore, shelters can create or expand foster programs to increase the number of cats cared for. Additionally, creating a pet owner surrender prevention program and an appointment system for owners willing to delay surrendering their cats 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 cats 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.

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Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Fail to Come Close to Reaching Their Cat 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 cats. On the other hand, a space constrained shelter may kill healthy and treatable cats, but still do a good job adopting animals out.

The table below compares the number of cats from New Jersey and nearby states each animal shelter should adopt out with the estimated number of cats actually adopted out.

High kill shelters with very limited space as well as rescue oriented organizations may look better than they actually are. For example, the model assumes the mix of cats facilities are adopting out are the same as the types of cats these groups take in. However, if these shelters only adopt out a very small number of cats due to limited physical capacity, the cats adopted out may be highly adoptable ones with much shorter lengths of stay compared to the majority of cats these facilities impound. Similarly, many rescue oriented shelters likely pull much easier to adopt cats than the bulk of cats 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 6 out of 101 shelters met the cat adoption goals computed by the Life Saving Model. Thus, the overwhelming number of New Jersey animal shelters need to step up their adoption efforts.

Two rescue oriented shelters exceeded their adoption targets. Animal Welfare Association had the most impressive results by far. This facility adopted out nearly 3 times the number of cats targeted by the Life Saving Model. Based on the the types of cats currently available for adoption and the cat death rate of 11%, Animal Welfare Association does not seem to just take in highly sought after cats. Animal Welfare Association has reasonable normal adoption fees of $95 for kittens and $65 for adult cats, but runs reduced and no adoption fee promotions as well. Animal Welfare Association also waives fees for certain cats who may take longer to adopt out, such as cats who are older or have behavioral or health issues. Furthermore, the shelter’s “Best Friends” program allows people who adopt a cat to pay just $25 for a second cat who is 1 year or older. Additionally, Animal Welfare Association uses an open adoption process focused on properly matching animals and people rather than an overly judgmental procedure based on black and white rules. To aid its open adoptions process, Animal Welfare Association uses the ASPCA’s Feline-ality program. Animal Welfare Association’s adoption rate increased by 20% and its cat length of stay decreased by 23 days after the shelter implemented the Feline-ality program. Finally, Animal Welfare Association installed perches in their cat enclosures to provide cats more vertical space which keeps the cats happier and more adoptable. Animal Rescue Force also exceeded its adoption targets and a key part of its success is using three different adoption sites, two of which are not in a traditional setting. Thus, Animal Welfare Association and Animal Rescue Force used a variety of strategies to exceed their cat adoption targets.

Several animal control shelters also exceeded their adoption targets. Camden County Animal Shelter adopted out more animals than expected. This shelter’s normal cat adoption fees are reasonable and the organization also uses four different Petsmart locations and one Petco store to adopt out cats. However, the shelter can likely further increase its cat adoptions if it abandons its cumbersome adoption process and uses an open adoptions process like Animal Welfare Association’s Feline-ality program. Vorhees Animal Orphanage also exceeded its adoption goal. Vorhees Animal Orphanage’s operating hours include weekday evenings and weekends which allows working people to adopt. This shelter’s normal adoption fees are quite reasonable. For example, cats at the shelter for 6 months or longer are $30, senior cats are $50, adult cats are $65, kittens are $100 and both senior citizens and military personnel receive a 25% discount on adoption fees. Additionally, Vorhees Animal Orphanage adopts cats out at one Petco store and two PetValu locations. Mercerville Animal Hospital also exceeded its adoption target in 2012 (no statistics reported in 2013) and had an animal control contract for the first seven months of the year. A rescue group, Animals in Distress, runs the adoption program. The shelter has a reasonable $75 adoption fee, which includes testing for Feline leukemia and immunodeficiency virus (“FIV”). Additionally, the shelter adopts animals out during weekday evenings which is convenient for working people and the cats are kept in an environment which provides lots of stimulation. Harmony Animal Hospital also exceeded its adoption target and charges no adoption fee. Thus, several animal control shelters exceeded their cat adoption goals and therefore prove these adoption targets are achievable.

Rescues should focus on pulling animals from Camden County Animal Shelter and Vorhees Animal Orphanage. Both these shelters have high cat death rates and their need for rescues greatly exceeds the amount of animals actually pulled from these organizations. While some of these cats may be feral and therefore not adoptable, many other cats surely could be rescued from the two shelters. Given these shelters are adopting animals out at a good rate, rescues and other other shelters should help these facilities out by pulling more cats from Camden County Animal Shelter and Vorhees Animal Orphanage.

Some municipal animal control shelters may be doing a better job with cats than the numbers below indicate. In some cases, municipalities may frown on government run shelters using taxpayer funds to rescue cats from elsewhere. For example, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter had a significant adoption shortfall, but only used a small percentage of its cat capacity. In other words, it is quite likely this shelter adopted out its cats quite quickly, but failed to meet its adoption target due to not using enough of its space. This shelter saved 93% of its cats compared to the previous shelter management’s reported live release rate of just 42%. Similarly, this shelter adopted out more than 10 times as many cats in 2013 than the previous management did a few years before. My suggestion to shelters like Perth Amboy Animal Shelter is to find ways to use more of your facility’s capacity to expand your lifesaving work to other areas. For example, these shelters should consider taking in animals from other shelters for a fee or even contracting with other municipalities.

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 more than 3.5 times as many cats as the number of cats unnecessarily dying in the state’s animal shelters. Approximately 20-50% (depending on how capacity used for the year is estimated) of the adoption shortfall is due to shelters not using their existing capacity to adopt out their own cats or rescue cats from space constrained nearby facilities. The other 50-80% 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 significantly reduce the killing of healthy and treatable cats. Associated Humane Societies adoption shortfall of 6,555 cats is 34% of the 19,078 cats unnecessarily losing their lives in New Jersey animal shelters. Associated Humane Societies has the funding to reach these adoption targets as the organization took in over $8 million of revenue last year. This works out to nearly $500 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 $254-$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.

Several other shelters had significant adoption shortfalls. Bergen County Animal Shelter’s adoption shortfall of 1,929 cats is quite disappointing. Bergen County is among the top 1% of the nation’s wealthiest counties and received $430 of funding per dog and cat I project the shelter should take in based on direct support from Bergen County. If the revenue from the local charity that helps the shelter is counted, the funding increases to $483 per dog and cat the shelter should take in. Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter’s and Montclair Township Animal Shelter’s adoption shortfalls of 2,084 and 1,323 cats are not surprising given the widely documented problems at these facilities during this time. Cumberland County SPCA’s adoption shortfall of 2,045 cats is consistent with its overly restrictive adoption process. Thus, many shelters with the ability to adopt out many cats are failing to do so.

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Shelters Fail to Use Excess Space to Save Cats

To further examine New Jersey animal shelters’ performance in saving homeless cats, I compared the targeted number of cats each shelter should pull from nearby shelters to the number actually rescued from local facilities. I assume all cats rescued from out of state came from nearby areas, such as Philadelphia and New York City. While some of the out of state rescued cats may have comes from far away 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 cats they should. 98 of the 102 shelters should rescue some cats from other local shelters. In fact, 64 of the 98 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single cat from other animal shelters. Of the 98 shelters with the space to rescue cats from nearby shelters, only Animal Welfare Association met or exceeded its cat rescue target. Thus, nearly all New Jersey animal shelters with targeted excess capacity are failing to do their share in ending the killing of healthy and treatable cats.

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TNR Is Essential, But Should Not Be An Excuse to Do Nothing

TNR must be instituted to end the killing of healthy and treatable cats. While many shelters may potentially come close to or reach a 90% live release rate, feral cats may still be killed. Simply put, New Jersey cannot become a no kill state without TNR becoming the law of the land. The Companion Animal Protection Act (“CAPA”) prevents shelters and municipalities from taking actions to hinder TNR, such as banning feral cat colony caretakers from feeding cats and lending traps out to the public for catching and killing feral cats. Even without an explicit law allowing TNR, the New Jersey Department of Health should encourage municipalities to implement TNR by changing its neutral stance on TNR to an endorsement of the practice. Furthermore, shelters, especially private facilities with animal control contracts, should refuse to take feral cats from places where TNR is prohibited and the shelter cannot place these feral cats as barn cats or send these animals to reputable sanctuaries per recommendations of many national animal welfare groups.

Shelters should not use anti-feral cat laws as an excuse for failing to institute innovative programs. Too many times shelters blame anti-feral cat ordinances for their outrageously high cat kill rates. However, my analysis proves cats are not dying in New Jersey’s shelter system due to too many cats coming into the state’s shelter system. While TNR certainly would reduce cat intake and make saving lives easier, our state’s shelter system has more than enough space to handle the number of cats that come in. Shelters need to implement key programs, such as foster care, high volume adoptions, and vaccination upon intake. Additionally, shelters need to stay open weeknights and weekends when working people can adopt. Similarly, shelters should use innovative marketing, customer friendly open adoption processes, multiple off-site adoption locations, and frequent discounted adoption promotions to quickly move cats into good homes. Thus, anti-TNR ordinances do not prevent shelters from implementing other life saving policies.

Shelters Do Not Need to Leave Friendly Cats on the Street

Shelters do not need to neuter and release friendly cats or refuse to take these cats in given enough capacity exists within the New Jersey shelter system. In 2013, a group of animal welfare leaders, which included the Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”) and the ASPCA, prepared a white paper stating a shelter should not impound cats if those cats or other cats in the shelter would subsequently be killed. The evidence supporting this policy, such as cats being more likely to find homes on the street than in traditional shelters, is quite strong. However, my analysis shows the entire New Jersey shelter system does have enough space to handle friendly cats. While certain shelters are space constrained and could benefit from refusing to admit healthy and friendly cats, other shelters in the state have more than enough capacity to step in and find these cats homes. Thus, New Jersey shelters do not need to resort to refusing to take in friendly cats or neutering and releasing friendly cats to avoid killing cats provided these shelters work together and follow best practices.

Kitten Nurseries and Ringworm Wards Key to Saving Vulnerable Cats

Orphaned kittens are typically automatically killed in traditional animal shelters due to the time commitment required to care for these animals. Unweaned kittens require bottle feeding as frequently as every 1-2 hours. As a result, kittens not placed into foster care are typically killed in most animal shelters.

Kitten nurseries or bottle baby wards radically increase the save rate for orphaned kittens still requiring milk. While foster care and rescue programs can save unweaned kittens, kitten nurseries are more efficient and make the job easier. Austin Animal Services, which is the animal control shelter in Austin, Texas, killed 1,200 plus kittens a year before Austin Pets Alive created a bottle baby program. Volunteers work in two hour shifts to feed and care for the kittens. Additionally, nursing mothers are pulled from the city shelter and used to help nurse highly vulnerable young kittens who are orphaned. Kittens are put on antibiotics and treated for fleas and worms immediately to help prevent complications from transitioning from breast milk to formula. Austin Pets Alive has pulled as many as 2,000 kittens a year from the city shelter and saved nearly 90% of these kittens in recent years through this bottle baby program. Best Friends created a kitten nursery in South Salt Lake City, Utah and saved 1,372 kittens from Salt Lake City area shelters. Similarly, several Jacksonville, Florida animal welfare groups created a nursery program called “Kitten University” which was “on track” to saving 1,400 kittens last year. Thus, kitten nursery programs can save young and vulnerable kittens.

Ringworm ward programs easily save cats with this skin fungus. In traditional animal shelters, cats with ringworm are killed due to the risk that other animals and humans will catch this skin fungus. Austin Pets Alive created a specific “Ringworm Ward” program to treat and adopt out these cats. These cats are treated both topically and orally in an isolated area. After the cats are no longer contagious, the cats are sent to foster homes to complete their treatment and regrow their hair. Austin Pets Alive uses steeply discounted adoption fees of only $15 along with catchy slogans like “Adopt a Fun Guy (Fungi)”, “Lord of the Ringworm”, and “Hairy(less) Potter” to quickly place these cats and open up space for additional cats with ringworm. 100% of cats entering this program are saved. Thus, shelters can save cats with ringworm.

Regional kitten nurseries and ringworm wards are the practical solution to saving these vulnerable cats. Given the New Jersey shelter systems has significant excess capacity to care for cats, certain shelters should convert some of that excess space for use as kitten nurseries and ringworm wards. Creating regional centers to care for unweaned kittens and cats with ringworm would allow the programs to run at a large enough scale to work efficiently. Shelters, such as Associated Humane Societies -Popcorn Park, Monmouth SPCA, and St. Huberts – Madison appear to have the space and financial resources to implement these programs. Furthermore, the Animal Welfare Federation of New Jersey (“AWFNJ”) should take the steps needed to create kitten nurseries and ringworm wards in regional centers throughout the state. Surely, the AWFNJ has the connections to convince key decision makers to implement these programs and obtain any necessary funding. Thus, New Jersey shelter leaders must immediately take the steps needed to save the large numbers of treatable kittens and cats with ringworm in our state’s shelters.

Results Require New Jersey Animal Shelters to Take Action

The findings from this analysis mandate New Jersey animal shelters change their ways. While TNR remains a significant issue, most shelters are clearly not taking steps to save large numbers of healthy and treatable cats. Many shelters are not vaccinating upon intake, charging excessive adoption fees, making it too difficult to adopt, not being open when working people can go to shelters, leaving cat enclosures empty, and not using barn cat, foster care, kitten nursery and ringworm ward programs. Simply put, too many shelters are not doing what it takes to save lives. With nearly half of all cats entering New Jersey’s shelters dying or going missing, our state’s shelters are failing their cats.

New Jersey shelters have a cat crisis and it is time for the killing to stop. We have the information and even the blueprints from numerous communities which stopped killing and started saving their cats. It is time the excuses ended and action begins. The public is fed up with the killing and demands shelters save their animals. Our state’s animal welfare organizations need to get on board the lifesaving wagon or risk getting run over by it. Which will they choose?

Appendix Life Saving Model Assumptions

The Life Saving Model utilizes the following basic animal shelter population equations to calculate the targeted cat outcomes for each facility:

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 cat intake (i.e. owner surrenders, strays, cruelty cases), number of cats returned to owners, and maximum cat capacity were taken from its 2013 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health. 2012 “Shelter/Pound Annual Reports” were used for shelters failing to submit reports in 2013. East Orange Animal Shelter’s 2013 data was obtained from a local news article due to the shelter failing to submit any “Shelter/Pound Annual Reports.” Unfortunately, 2014 data will not be available until Fall 2015.

This data was then used as follows:

  • Community cat intake and cats 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 cats were taken in during the year and the average month equals 20 cats (240/12). In July, the cat intake is 120% higher than the average month and we therefore multiply 20 cats by 1.2 to equal 24 cats. If 120 cats were returned to owners during the year, the estimated number of cats returned to owners in July would equal 12 cats (120/12 = 10; 10*1.2). The monthly intake percentages were based off 2013 cat intake data on the New York Animal Care & Control web site.
  • The estimated number of community cats 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.
  • The number of community cats euthanized (including animals who died or are missing) is set to equal 8% of intake. 8% is a reasonable standard euthanasia rate to use given other open admission animal shelters, such as Austin Animal Services, equal or exceed this target and New Jersey’s much lower per capita cat intake makes it easier to save lives. The average length of stay for euthanized cats is assumed to equal 8 days. I assume these cats have severe and untreatable health issues and are euthanized immediately after their required 7 day hold period.
  • The average length of stay used for adopted community cats was 42 days. This estimate was roughly halfway between the average cat length of stay figures for a number of no kill animal control shelters. For example, the average length of stay for cats in recent years was 14.6 days at Texas’s Williamson County Animal Shelter, less than 18 days at Nevada Humane Society, 21 days at Colorado’s Longmont Humane Society, 33 days (32 for cats and 34 for kittens) at New Hampshire SPCA, 35 days at Montana’s Flathead County Animal Shelter, 41 days at Colorado’s Ark Valley Humane Society, and 61 days for adopted cats only at New York’s Tompkins County SPCA. While the average length of stay of adopted cats at these shelters other than Tompkins County SPCA may have been slightly higher since this data is for all cats and not just those adopted, the difference is not likely significant given adoptions represent most of the outcomes at these shelters. Unfortunately, I was not able to break down the adoption length of stay figures by age or breed for New Jersey’s shelters like I did in my analysis on dogs due to a lack of detailed cat intake data at New Jersey animal shelters. Upon reviewing cats up for adoption at several New Jersey animal control shelters and a few of the high performing facilities above, I did not see any significant differences in types of cats taken in. In the future, I hope to refine this analysis further.
  • The average length of stay used for community cats adopted out from rescue oriented shelters was 30 days. Rescue oriented animal shelters typically carefully select animals taken into their shelters. Based on the San Francisco’s SPCA’s 21 day and Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation’s 23 day average length of stay figures reported a number of years ago, I used a shorter length of stay for community cats adopted from New Jersey animal shelters without animal control contracts. I chose 30 days as a conservative estimate.
  • Cats 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 cats not returned to owners or euthanized are initially assumed as adopted for each month outside of kitten season (i.e. November-March). However, if the calculated length of stay exceeds the shelter’s required length of stay, cats 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.
  • During kitten season (April-October), animal control shelters are assumed to send a certain percentage of cats to rescue even if they have excess space. Due to the large numbers of kittens coming into shelters during these months, I assume shelters will not be able to place all of them into foster homes or a kitten nursery at this time. As a result, I assume animal control shelters will send 10% of their annual community cat intake to rescues based on the shelters’ estimated relative cat intake each month. For example, if a shelter took 100 cats in during the year and August made up 50% of the total cat intake from April to November, 5 cats would go to rescue in August (i.e. 100*10% = 10 cats; 10*50% = 5 cats). I used 10% based off the rescue percentage of cat intake in 2014 at Kansas City’s KC Pet Project. KC Pet Project is a no kill open admission shelter with an inadequate facility and is a good comparison for some of our state’s run down shelters. Shelters requiring rescue support due to space constraints are assumed to send these additional cats to rescues during kittens season.
  • Shelters are not expected to use the excess space created by fosters taking kittens to rescue and adopt out additional cats. This is based on the assumption that the kittens will return to shelters once old enough to safely stay at the facilities.
  • 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 cats from other New Jersey animal shelters. Given some of these cats will be young and highly vulnerable kittens, I assume 5% of these rescues will be euthanized for humane reasons. I used 5% based off Austin Pets Alive’s and Austin Humane Society’s weighted average cat euthanasia rate in 2013. These two shelters pull many cats from Austin Animal Services, which is the city’s animal control shelter, and their cat euthanasia rate is a reasonable proxy for the percentage of hopelessly suffering cats rescued from animal control shelters. To the extent all healthy and treatable New Jersey animal shelter cats are saved, I assume additional cats are pulled from nearby states. The average length of stay for rescued and adopted cats is the same as the cats taken in by animal control shelters (i.e. 42 days). Similarly, I used 8 days as the average length of stay for rescued and euthanized cats from other shelters.
  • Each month’s targeted outcomes are added to determine how many cats New Jersey animal shelters should adopt out, send to rescue and rescue from other nearby animal shelters.
  • The Life Saving Model assumes shelters can adopt out animals outside their service territory. New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation and shelters can easily adopt out cats to people outside their service area. For example, people from outside the service territory of New Jersey shelters adopt animals from these facilities and at off-site adoption locations. Based on this assumption, shelters with a lot of capacity relative to the population in their service area have higher targeted per capita adoption rates (i.e. based on the population in their service area). However, these shelters can easily adopt out animals to people outside the area they take animals from.

Shelter Reform Roundtable Set Up to Fail

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As a response to the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter debacle, State Senator Linda Greenstein took up the issue of shelter reform. State Senator Greenstein’s district contains several municipalities which contracted with Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter. Ms. Greenstein found out firsthand what the true nature of many New Jersey’s shelters are like when she was denied access to the facility.

State Senator Greenstein convened a roundtable recently on reforming New Jersey’s animal shelter system. Understandably, Ms. Greenstein attempted to bring together a variety of people who could provide valuable input into the eventual drafting of shelter reform legislation. Unfortunately, many of these individuals represent obstacles to meaningful shelter reform legislation.

Humane Society of the United States and Animal Welfare Federation of New Jersey Dominate Roundtable

Despite its name, the Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”) has been one of the biggest opponents to real shelter reform in the nation. In the 1990’s, HSUS told shelters to kill rather than send animals to rescues due to moving the animals being potentially “stressful.” In 2003, HSUS argued a shelter should not give a euthanasia list to a rescue group dedicated to saving animals from a local kill shelter. HSUS advised the shelter not to work with this rescue group arguing the rescue group was holding the shelter “hostage.” Ironically, regressive shelters often hold animals hostage in exchange for rescues not speaking the truth about these organizations. In 1998, HSUS opposed Hayden’s Act in California which prevented shelters from killing animals that rescues were willing to save. Luckily, California enacted this legislation which resulted in rescues saving large numbers of animals. During the 1990s, feral cat activists in North Carolina requested HSUS help them persuade their local shelter to allow TNR in their area. Not only did HSUS refuse to help the TNR advocates, HSUS wrote a letter to the local prosecutor stating feral cat colony caretakers should be charged with abandonment. Around 2007, HSUS raised funds from the public to “care for the dogs” seized during the Michael Vick dog fighting case, but did not care for the dogs and actually lobbied authorities to kill these dogs. Last year, HSUS stopped a Minnesota bill which would prevent shelters from killing animals rescues were willing to take, ban the gas chamber and heart sticking, and killing owner surrenders immediately. Thus, HSUS has long opposed progressive shelter reform efforts.

HSUS actions are consistent with an industry lobbying group focused on protecting the organizations it represents and not the animals. Most industries have a lobbying group to advocate for its companies’ interests. For example, the American Bankers Association works to undermine financial regulations. The American Petroleum Institute spends large sums of money to open up lands to exploit natural resources at the cost of the the environment. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which is the major lobbyist for the food industry, has fought to kill legislation requiring food companies to label products with genetically modified (“GMO”) ingredients. Similarly, HSUS tries to block efforts designed to make shelters do more work and face more scrutiny. Thus, HSUS is nothing more than an industry lobbyist group with a kind name when it comes to shelter reform legislation.

The Animal Welfare Federation of New Jersey (“AWFNJ”) also has a poor track record. This group’s mission statement includes “uniting all New Jersey animal protection organizations”, but makes no mention of reducing the death toll at New Jersey animal shelters. Based on the most recently reported data to the Office of Animal Welfare, 27,936 dogs and cats were killed, died or went missing at New Jersey Animal shelters in a single year. This number rises to 30,048 if dogs and cats shelters failed to account for are included in the totals. Despite the severe problems at numerous New Jersey shelters in the last year, the AWFNJ was shockingly silent. In fact, the AWFNJ’s web site currently lists the former manager of one of these problem shelters as a member of its Board of Directors. The Montclair Township Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, whose Vice Chair is a local respected veterinarian, long advocated the Shelter Manager, Melissa Neiss, be replaced due to the shelter’s alleged neglect of its animals. Why should we trust an organization which allows this sort of person to serve on their Board of Directors? Even worse, the AWFNJ wrote a letter to Governor Christie in 2011 opposing new legislation preventing shelters from killing owner surrenders during a 7 day hold period. Luckily, the 7 day hold period for owner surrendered animals became law and killing owner surrendered animals within minutes of arriving at shelters is now illegal. Thus, the AWFNJ has done little to nothing to stop recent shelter abuses and tried to block essential shelter reform.

HSUS and AWFNJ have too much influence over the shelter reform roundtable. New Jersey State Director of HSUS and AWFNJ board member, Kathleen Schatzmann, serves on the roundtable. Niki Dawson, who worked at HSUS in 2012, and recently served as AWFNJ President is also a member of the roundtable. Similarly, St. Huberts Executive Director, Heather Cammissa, held several positions at HSUS, including Kathleen Schatzmann’s current job, and and is on the Advisory Board of AWFNJ. Additionally, the current AWFNJ President and Director of Animal Alliance, Anne Trinkle, also serves on the shelter reform roundtable. Thus, the shelter establishment industry has too much of a voice in actually reforming and regulating New Jersey’s animal shelters.

Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter’s Failed Regulator Serves on Shelter Reform Roundtable

The Director of Middlesex County Department of Health, Lester Jones, is also a roundtable member. Mr. Jones’ agency allowed the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter to go on its merry way for years despite large numbers of complaints and poor inspection reports. Even worse, Lester Jones actually defended the shelter last August saying the problems were no big deal and again in September. Additionally, the Middlesex County Department of Health opposes TNR and Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter fulfilled Lester’s department’s wish with the facility’s catch and kill policy for feral cats. While Lester Jones did make some meaningful suggestions at the roundtable, the past history of his organization is worrisome.

Shelter Establishment Shows its True Colors at Shelter Reform Roundtable

State Senator Greenstein made some key points about New Jersey’s shelters. Specifically, State Senator Greenstein said existing shelter law and its enforcement allows many shelters to do bad things. Ms. Greenstein cited Helmetta as an example of a shelter which took too many animals in to properly care for them.

State Senator Greenstein correctly pointed out the distinction between kill and no kill shelters as follows:

“My take on this whole thing standing back on it and looking at it is that it comes down to these competing philosophies,” she said. “There’s the old-fashion philosophy which we call a kill shelter. I realize that you are pretty much taking the animals in like you would any other trash and you have to keep them for a week then you probably much expect to get rid of them and that leads to the idea of that it’s ok for them to get sick and it’s ok for the conditions not to be too clean and the state standards don’t require too much.”

She said then there the whole new philosophy that you shelters that are doing a good job are into this “no kill philosophy.”

“Try to get them adopted and do whatever you can to keep them healthy,” she said.

Despite this correct and common sense summary of the situation, the shelter industry hacks jumped in and said don’t use the words “kill” and “no kill” as it apparently hurts the feelings of people killing their animals:

New Jersey State Director of the Humane Society of the United States Kathleen Schatzmann warned that the term “no kill shelter” could be “very polarizing to certain groups.” “If perhaps we cannot use that terminology I think all of the good groups have the same end goal in mind to lessen the euthanasia rates and have as much adoption and volunteer participation as possible,” said Ms. Schatzmann.

No kill is mainstream now as major national groups, such as Maddies Fund and Best Friends use the term. In fact, Best Friends argues we should start being honest and drop the word “euthanasia” altogether and use “kill” when shelters take the lives of healthy and treatable animals. Both these groups directly are working on making large communities no kill while HSUS contributes hardly any of its funds to saving companion animals. Additionally, the more we avoid being honest about what is at stake (i.e. whether we kill animals or not), the less likely we will take action to stop it. Thus, HSUS employee and AWFNJ board member, Kathleen Schatzmann, once again shows these groups are more focused on protecting the shelter industry than the animals who are being slaughtered by the people running these so called shelters.

Former HSUS employee and ex-AWNJ President, Niki Dawson, showed where her allegiances lie with this doozy of a remark:

Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter Interim Director Niki Dawson agreed that the phrase should be “avoided.” “It is polarizing for those animal facilities that are doing the best that they can but may not have the resources to have an on-site behavioral trainer to work with some of the more difficult dogs,” said Ms. Dawson.

So shelters are killing animals because they can’t afford a behaviorist? This is a joke as shelters across the nation with few financial resources manage to save their dogs. Perth Amboy Animal Shelter, which serves a community with a higher poverty rate than Jersey City, saved 97% of its dogs in 2013 and only euthanized 5 dogs in 2014. Additionally, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter only spent $281 per cat and dog in 2013. As a comparison, East Orange Animal Shelter, which had horrific problems last year, spent $345 per dog and cat in 2013. Associated Humane Societies, which has its largest kill shelter in Newark, took in revenue of around $1,000 per dog and cat based on its most recently reported data. Similarly, Old Bridge Animal Shelter, which serves a middle class area, saved 99% of its dogs despite only having a budget of $152 per dog and cat in 2013. If Perth Amboy Animal Shelter and Old Bridge Animal Shelter can achieve this success with their meager funding, then other shelters can do so as well.

Shelters do not require an on-site behavioral trainer to save their dogs. Approximately 80-90% of dogs coming into shelters do not have severe behavior issues. Therefore, shelters can achieve no kill or come close to doing so without needing serious behavior rehabilitation. Shelters can hire a trainer on a part time basis or even get a trainer to volunteer their services to help the few dogs with serious behavior issues. Finally, shelters can run large scale dog play groups, such as Amy Sadler’s Playing for Life program, which significantly reduces behavior problems in shelter dogs. Most importantly, these types of playgroups do not require a trainer or behaviorist.

Niki Dawson’s comments are very disappointing, but not surprising. While I held out hope Ms. Dawson changed her ways, her past experience working at HSUS and at high kill shelters likely still impacts her mindset. While serving as Executive Director at Camden County Animal Shelter, the dog kill rate increased from approximately 20% in 2007 and 19% in 2008, the two years before Ms. Dawson’s tenure as Executive Director began near the end of 2008, to 28% in her last calender year at the shelter in 2010. In 2013, Camden County Animal Shelter’s kill rate was back down to 19%. In 2010 while Niki Dawson was assisting Liberty Humane Society, many people in the community criticized her shelter for killing dogs. In a roughly one month span, Liberty Humane Society killed 25 dogs along with 47 cats and some people questioned how the shelter used temperament testing to make life and death decisions for dogs. No kill leader, Nathan Winograd, told Ms. Dawson she was not doing enough positive outreach and she had alternatives to killing dogs. Thus, Ms. Dawson’s defense of high kill shelters is not surprising based on her fairly recent experience running these types of facilities.

St. Huberts Executive Director, Heather Cammisa, who used to work at HSUS and is on the AWFNJ Advisory Board, said New Jersey’s animal shelters are just dandy:

Executive Director of St. Hubert’s Heather Cammisa said that they have made tremendous progress in New Jersey in not euthanizing animals.”We’ve come a really far way so now that we can share how we got there with our states they look up to us as a leader,” said Ms. Cammisa. She attributes it to responsive, effective animal control in every municipality, low-cost spay and neutering accessibility and the law in 1983.

Call me crazy, but I don’t consider the loss of as many as 30,000 or more dog and cat lives in New Jersey shelters during 2013 a success. Furthermore, would you consider Ron’s Animal Shelter an example of “tremendous progress?” Ron’s Animal Shelter killed 65% and 86% of its dogs and cats in 2013 and reported virtually identical kill rates in 2006. Any state that allows a shelter to keep on operating a slaughterhouse like that is no “leader.” Additionally, New Jersey animal shelters had a combined dog and cat kill rate of 28% in 2013 while only 11% of dogs and cats were euthanized in Colorado’s animal shelters during that same year. New Jersey’s kill rate was nearly 3 times higher than Colorado’s euthanasia rate despite Colorado shelters taking in nearly 3.5 times as many dogs and cats per capita. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters are not “leaders”, they are an embarrassment.

Like Niki Dawson, Heather Cammissa’s past history working for a kill shelter likely influences her views. Ms. Cammissa served as Executive Director of the Jersey Shore Animal Center for 5 years. During her last year as Executive Director in 2006, the shelter killed 45% of its cats. Furthermore, she worked for HSUS during a tumultuous time when HSUS vehemently opposed the no kill movement. Not surprisingly, her current shelter refuses to use the term “no kill” and says its “divisive among animal welfare professionals.”

That being said, Ms. Cammissa did say New Jersey shelters need to “clean up” their data reporting. Unfortunately, many more things need fixing as well.

Animal Alliance Director and AWFNJ President Anne Trinkle claimed our laws are fine and we just need better enforcement:

“The law, as it is written, is pretty comprehensive it is just a matter of enforcement,” said Annie Trinkle, director of Animal Alliance and Welfare Federation of New Jersey.

I do agree that New Jersey animal shelter laws are reasonably good relating to humane care. Certainly, effective enforcement would help. However, the penalties for noncompliance are too weak and municipalities hold too much power when things go wrong. Additionally, more specificity on how humane care is provided, such as requiring animal enclosures be cleaned twice a day, is needed. As a result, a horrific shelter like Helmetta can continue on its merry way for far too long.

Enforcing shelter laws mandating humane care may lead to increased killing if lifesaving requirements are not put into law. Simply put, shelters can comply with existing laws cheaply and easily by killing animals right after their 7 day hold period. That is why I recommend that New Jersey enact the Companion Animal Protection Act.

Shelter Reform Roundtable Members from Outside the Animal Shelter Lobby Must Stand Up and Fight for What is Right

The shelters invited to the roundtable are not role model shelters in my opinion. While these shelters do have relatively low euthanasia rates and I’m sure provide humane care, these organizations’ contribution to making New Jersey a no kill state falls far below their potential. Specifically, these shelters are blessed with excess space relative to the number of local animals they need to adopt out and some serve very affluent areas. Unfortunately, based on my recent analysis of these shelters’ performance on dogs and an upcoming one on cats, these organizations do not save nearly as many animals from New Jersey as they should. Thus, these groups are not rock star shelters and their low euthanasia rates are due more to favorable circumstances than highly successful operations.

State Senator Greenstein said certain members of the roundtable were not interested in fundamental change. Unfortunately, this is not surprising given the number of the establishment shelter industry insiders on the roundtable.

As I’ve previously stated, our state’s shelter system needs monumental changes if we are going to become a no kill state. Specifically, we need to do the following things to end the killing of healthy and treatable animals in New Jersey:

  1. Require the Office of Animal Welfare to do quarterly inspections for every shelter in the state
  2. Institute the Companion Animal Protection Act (“CAPA”)
  3. Enact a no kill resolution instructing all shelters to develop a plan to reach at least a 90% save rate as the Austin, Texas City Council did
  4. Mandatory data reporting in the Companion Animal Protection Act should require an audit or at least a thorough independent review for accuracy

CAPA and a no kill resolution are essential as regressive shelters will simply kill more animals after the 7 day hold period if we raise humane care standards. Furthermore, too many shelters, such as Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter, will bully volunteers and rescues from speaking up about poor treatment of animals without explicit laws making this illegal. CAPA requires shelters to follow many parts of the no kill equation, which is a series of programs proven to reduce or actually end the killing of savable animals. Specifically, CAPA requires animal shelters/municipalities do the following common sense things:

  1. Implement TNR and prohibit anti-feral cat policies
  2. Develop detailed animal care protocols for all animals, which includes nursing mothers, unweaned kittens and puppies, and animals which are old, sick, injured or needing therapeutic exercise
  3. Clean animal enclosures at least two times per day to maintain proper hygiene and be welcoming to prospective adopters
  4. Not kill any animal a rescue is willing to take
  5. Prohibit banning of rescues unless the rescue is currently charged with or convicted of animal cruelty/neglect
  6. Contact all rescues at least two business days before an animal is killed
  7. Match lost pet reports with animals in shelter and post stray animals on the internet immediately to help find lost pets owners
  8. Promote animals for adoption using local media and the internet
  9. Adopt animals out seven days a week for at least six hours each day, which includes evenings and weekends when potential adopters are likely to visit
  10. Not have discriminatory adoption policies based on breed/age/species/appearance (i.e. can’t prohibit pit bull, elderly pet, etc. adoptions)
  11. Offer low cost spay/neuter services, substantive volunteer opportunities to the public, and pet owner surrender prevention services
  12. Not kill any animals when empty cages exist, enclosures can be shared with other animals, or foster homes are available
  13. Shelter Executive Director must certify they have no other alternative when killing/euthanizing an animal
  14. Publicly display animal shelter intake and disposition statistics (i.e. numbers of animals taken in, adopted, returned to owner, killed, etc) for the prior year
  15. Provide the local government and the public access to the intake and disposition statistics each month
  16. Pet licensing revenues must be used to fund low cost spay/neuter and medical care for shelter animals rather than go to other government uses

My advice to the other roundtable members, such as the two former Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter volunteers and State Senator Greenstein, is to stand up for what is right. Do not let people with imposing sounding job titles intimidate you. The public is behind you and wants you to enact the above things. As in Austin, Texas, activists fought the Austin Animal Services shelter director and the ASPCA and made their city the largest no kill community in the country. Like the HSUS and former HSUS members on the roundtable, the ASPCA told activists not to criticize the high kill city shelter. After 1 year of implementing the ASPCA plan, killing actually increased by 11%. No kill activists subsequently convinced the City Council to implement the no kill resolution despite the ASPCA’s opposition and Austin has been a no kill city for the last four years.

To those not on the shelter reform roundtable, please contact State Senator Greenstein at this link and tell her you want fundamental change like the recommendations above.

Our shelter system is in crisis and we need to call out the defenders and enablers of the status quo. If we truly want to save our state’s homeless animals, we need to say enough is enough. Only then will we put the policies into place to make New Jersey the no kill state it should be.