New York ACC Quickly Kills Large Numbers of Animals

Supposedly progressive animal welfare organizations have praised Animal Care Centers of NYC, which most people better know as New York ACC, as a no kill and role model shelter. At the 2017 Best Friends National Conference kick off session, Best Friends claimed New York ACC reached a 90% live release rate and was no kill. At this same conference presentation, Best Friends interviewed Mayor’s Alliance of NYC President, Jane Hoffman, and held her organization, which coordinates a number of New York ACC’s programs, and New York ACC as a role model for no kill advocates. Ms. Hoffman also claimed New York ACC exceeded 90% live release rates for both dogs and cats. In fact, Ms. Hoffman explicitly stated New York ACC was no kill earlier this year:

Having accomplished its mission to make NYC a no-kill city,” Hoffman told 1010 WINS, “the Alliance has reevaluated its programming to adapt to the changing needs of animal welfare in NYC.

Maddie’s Fund gave New York ACC CEO, Risa Weinstock, a $10,000 grant as a “no kill leader” for her “efforts in furthering the no-kill mission” in 2018. This grant provided money to “support community lifesaving, shelter medicine education and pet adoption.” In a Maddie’s Fund press release, the organization stated this “Hero Grant” “recognizes and honors the ‘top dogs’ in communities that are not only advancing the welfare of companion animals in the United States, but are leading the way with their innovative ideas, progressive thinking and lifesaving actions.” Thus, Maddie’s Fund not only viewed New York ACC as a no kill shelter, it also called the New York ACC CEO a “hero” and “no kill leader.”

Is New York ACC “no kill?” Is New York ACC a “top dog”, “hero” and “no kill leader?”

Data Reviewed

In order to get a better understanding of the job New York ACC did in 2018, I obtained the intake and disposition records for each individual dog and cat the shelter took in during the year. You can find those records here. Additionally, I obtained supporting records for a selection of dogs the shelter killed during the year. You can see those records here. Finally, I obtained New York ACC’s Controlled Dangerous Substance logs, which lists the euthanasia drugs given to each animal the shelter killed in 2018. You can review those records in the following links:

While assessing the adequacy of the Controlled Dangerous Substance logs was beyond the scope of my analysis, I generally found them a mess. For example, the logs were handwritten and illegible in many cases. Therefore, it was difficult to even determine if the shelter prepared and kept these logs properly. Amazingly, New York ACC has not implemented a computerized system for maintaining its Controlled Dangerous Substance logs despite the New York City Comptroller noting this in an audit report from three years earlier. In fact, the New York City Comptroller noted in their 2015 audit report that New York ACC was not in compliance with its contract with New York City since it “does not maintain a computerized inventory system of controlled substances.”

Unfortunately, New York ACC was extremely difficult to get information from. In my last six years doing public records requests from animal shelters, I found New York ACC one of the worst organizations to deal with. Frequently, I would not get responses for long periods of time. Additionally, I often needed to follow-up several times to get requested records. Furthermore, New York ACC only provided me animal records generated from their shelter software system. For example, the shelter did not give me original records, such as owner surrender forms, shelter behavioral evaluations and other firsthand records. As such, New York ACC mainly gave me its summary of these records and I could not verify if the shelter’s version of these facts were accurate.

Due to New York ACC’s stonewalling, I obtained fewer supporting documents than I typically do. For example, I reviewed records for 31 dogs killed and did not obtain supporting records for cats killed. However, I reviewed enough records to get a good idea about how New York ACC operates.

Deadly Dog Data

New York ACC had large percentages of their dogs lose their lives in 2018. Overall, 21% of all dogs taken in during 2018 who had known outcomes lost their lives. If we just look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners, 24% of all these dogs lost their lives. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only had 1% of its dogs and 2% of its nonreclaimed dogs lose their lives in 2018. Thus, New York ACC had dogs lose their lives at 21 times and 12 times Austin Animal Center’s rates for all dogs and nonreclaimed dogs.

Unfortunately, New York ACC did not break out breed in many of its intake and disposition records. Instead, it uses large, medium and small dog descriptions for most dogs. While I fully support not listing breeds in adoption marketing materials since breed descriptions are often inaccurate and frequently lead to less pit bull adoptions, the shelter should include breed in its shelter software reports. Even though a scientific study found removing pit bull labels decreased the times these dogs spent in a shelter, pit bulls with no breed label in this study still stayed longer in the shelter than other types of dogs with or without a breed label. Therefore, the public likely still identifies some dogs as pit bulls who don’t have a breed description. If shelters do not track pit bull like dogs, or dogs who the public may perceive as pit bulls, as a separate group, the shelter will not be able to assess whether more of these dogs are losing their lives. As a result, New York ACC likely has much higher death rates for its pit bull like dogs than the broader dog descriptions below indicate.

New York ACC had a bigger percentage of large dogs lose their lives in 2018. Overall, 25% of large dogs taken in during 2018 who had known outcomes lost their lives. If we just look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners, 30% of these large dogs lost their lives. On the other hand, 16% and 19% of medium dogs and nonreclaimed medium dogs lost their lives in 2018. Collectively, New York ACC had 22% of all large and medium dogs and 26% of nonreclaimed large and medium dogs lose their lives last year. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only had 1% of its large and medium dogs and 1% of its nonreclaimed large and medium nonreclaimed dogs lose their lives in 2018. Thus, New York ACC had large and medium dogs lose their lives at 22 times and 26 times Austin Animal Center’s rates for all large and medium dogs and large and medium nonreclaimed dogs.

Small dogs were not safe at New York ACC in 2018. The shelter had 19% of all small dogs and 22% of nonreclaimed small dogs lose their lives in 2018. Frankly, shelters should be able to save nearly all small dogs due to the fact such animals cannot seriously injure dog savvy adult owners. Even the Elizabeth Animal Shelter, which is far from a progressive facility, only euthanized 1% of small dogs and 1% of nonreclaimed small dogs in 2017Austin Animal Center only had 1% of small dogs and 2% of nonreclaimed small dogs lose their lives last year. Thus, New York ACC had small dogs and nonreclaimed small dogs lose their lives at 19 times and 11 times Austin Animal Center’s rates.

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Senior Dog Slaughter

Older dogs lost their lives in massive numbers at New York ACC in 2018. Overall, New York ACC had 58% of all dogs, 73% of large dogs, 59% of medium dogs and 52% of small dogs that were 10 years and older lose their lives in 2018. If we just look at nonreclaimed dogs, an astonishing 64% of all dogs, 78% of large dogs, 69% of medium dogs and 57% of small dogs that were 10 years and older lost their lives in 2018. While senior dogs are more likely to be hopelessly suffering, its simply inconceivable that around half to three quarters of these dogs were in this state of health.

New York ACC’s senior dog slaughter becomes apparent when we compare its performance to Austin Animal Center. Based on Austin Animal Center’s publicly reported 2018 intake and disposition records, this shelter only had 4% and 8% of all 10 year old plus dogs and nonreclaimed 10 years old plus dogs lose their lives in 2018. As a result, New York ACC had senior dogs and nonreclaimed senior dogs lose their lives at 15 times and eight times Austin Animal Center’s rate.

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Owner Surrendered Dogs Die in Droves

As bad as New York ACC’s overall dog data was, the owner surrendered dog statistics were far worse. Overall, 33% of all owner surrendered dogs, 36% of large owner surrendered dogs, 26% of medium owner surrendered dogs and 34% of small owner surrendered dogs lost their lives in 2018. If we just look at nonreclaimed owner surrendered dogs, an astonishing 36% of all owner surrendered dogs, 40% of large owner surrendered dogs, 28% of medium owner surrendered dogs and 36% of of small owner surrendered dogs lost their lives. Thus, around 1 in 4 to more than 1 in 3 owner surrendered dogs lost their lives at New York ACC in 2018.

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New York ACC killed huge numbers of dogs for “owner requested euthanasia.” Overall, New York ACC killed 1,025 dogs, 298 large dogs, 160 medium dogs and 567 small dogs for “owner requested euthanasia.” Remarkably, owner requested euthanasia made up 12%, 10% of, 8% and 16% of all outcomes for all dogs, large dogs, medium dogs and small dogs. Even worse, owner requested euthanasia made up 26%, 22%, 20% and 33% of all outcomes for owner surrendered all dogs, large dogs, medium dogs and small dogs. In fact, 80% of killed owner surrendered dogs, 62% of killed owner surrendered large dogs, 75% of killed owner surrendered medium dogs and 97% of killed owner surrendered small dogs were classified as “owner requested euthanasia.”

Frankly, I’ve never seen any shelter report such a high percentage of owner requested euthanasia. For example, I’ve reviewed detailed records at inner city shelters in Newark, Paterson, Passaic, Elizabeth and Perth Amboy and did not see anywhere near these types of owner requested euthanasia numbers. Given New York ACC uses the Asilomar Accords, which require shelters to exclude owner requested euthanasia from their live release rates, New York ACC has a strong incentive count killed animals as “owner requested euthanasia.”

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Quick and Immediate Dog Killing

New York ACC’s dog length of stay data revealed the shelter quickly killed dogs. Specifically, the shelter killed all dogs, large dogs, medium dogs and small dogs after 3.6 days, 6.0 days, 3.9 days and 0.9 days on average in 2018. Clearly, this is not nearly enough time to determine if the shelter can save these animals.

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While the average length of stay data is revealing, the distribution of the lengths of stay of the dogs killed is eye opening. Remarkably, New York ACC killed 62% of the dogs it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. 76% of the dogs New York ACC killed occurred within five days or less. New York ACC killed 81%, 90% and 95% of the dogs it killed within seven, 12 and 15 days. In fact, almost every dog New York ACC killed happened within 30 days or less. Thus, New York ACC gave the dogs it killed virtually no chance to become adoptable.

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New York ACC killed owner surrendered dogs even faster. The shelter killed all owner surrendered dogs, large owner surrendered dogs, medium owner surrendered dogs and small owner surrendered dogs after 1.9 days, 3.5 days, 2.0 days and 0.5 days on average in 2018.

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The distribution of the lengths of stay of killed owner surrendered dogs at New York ACC in 2018 is quite telling. New York ACC killed 78% of the owner surrendered dogs it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. New York ACC killed 83%, 89% and 96% of the dogs it killed within three, six and 13 days. In fact, New York ACC killed virtually every owner surrendered dog it killed within 23 days.

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New York ACC’s length of stay data showed it gave no mercy to senior dogs. The shelter killed all dogs, large dogs, medium dogs and small dogs that were 10 years and older after jut 0.4 days, 0.8 days, 0.2 days and 0.3 days on average in 2018.

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When we look at the distribution of the lengths of stay of the senior dogs New York ACC killed, we can clearly see how this shelter gave these animals no chance. New York ACC killed 92% of the 10 years and older dogs it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. New York ACC killed 95%, 97% and 98% of the senior dogs it killed within one day, three days and six days. In fact, New York ACC killed virtually every 10 years and older dog it killed within 13 days.

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Dogs Killed for Highly Questionable Reasons

The killed dogs records I selected indicated New York ACC killed unusually large percentages of dogs for aggression. Overall, New York ACC killed 6.5% of all the dogs it took in during 2018 for aggression if you extrapolate my sample to all of the shelter’s dog intake last year. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.1% of the dogs it took in during 2018 for aggression and behavior related reasons. In other words, New York ACC killed dogs for aggression related reasons at 65 times Austin Animal Center’s rate. Thus, New York ACC erroneously labeled dogs aggressive and did not do enough to rehabilitate those that had some issues.

The shelter also killed too many dogs for medical reasons. During 2018, New York ACC killed 13.4% of all dogs for medical reasons if you extrapolate my sample to the shelter’s entire dog intake for the year. However, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.6% of all dogs for medical reasons. Therefore, New York ACC killed dogs for medical related reasons at 22 times Austin Animal Center’s rate. Thus, New York ACC killed treatable dogs.

New York ACC Killed Dog Sample Reasons

Savannah or Dog ID# 17943 was a 1 year and 11 month old large mixed breed dog surrendered to New York ACC on January 12, 2018. Initially, the owner contacted New York ACC on January 9, 2018 about surrendering Savannah for aggression related problems. According to New York ACC’s version of the owner’s conversation, Savannah bit several family members in a few incidents that involved food and touching the dog.

New York ACC’s summary of the dog owner’s assessment of Savannah provided more details on this dog. In the “behavior note” below, Savannah was “friendly, playful, gentle and tolerant” of children that were 3-10 years old who visited. Savannah also was “friendly and playful” with other dogs and “friendly and relaxed” around cats in her home. In the home, Savannah took about 20 minutes to warm up to strangers, where she would allow petting, and growled when people tried to take food or bones away.

Savannah’s past bites per New York ACC’s summary of the dog owner’s assessment of Savannah indicated she may have been treatable. One bite related to the owner “cleaning a hot spot on her leg.” In another case, an owner’s relative approached and told Savannah to get away from a plate of food Savannah started eating. In another instance, Savannah bit the owner and their mother after the owner was petting the dog’s tail after a walk. Finally, Savannah bit the owner’s cousin when he brought her chicken after a bath to induce her to go for a walk. None of the bites required stitches at a medical facility.

Despite Savannah’s bites having apparent triggers, which may possibly have responded to behavioral rehabilitation, and New York ACC never even seeing the dog, New York ACC persuaded the “emotional” owner to do an owner requested euthanasia (“E&R”) instead of a regular owner surrender. New York ACC then immediately killed Savannah when she was surrendered on January 12, 2018.

While Savannah may or may not have been hopelessly aggressive, New York ACC made no effort to really find out. Instead, it used its power to influence an “emotional” owner to let the shelter immediately kill her as an owner requested euthanasia. As a result, New York ACC did not count this killing in its Asilimar Live Release Rate to help it falsely claim its no kill.

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Smokey or Dog ID# 32081 was a five year old large mixed breed dog surrendered to New York ACC on June 23, 2018. According to New York ACC’s summary of Smokey, the shelter claimed Smokey was a “guard dog” and “dog reactive” and had a recent fight with another dog. New York ACC’s quote from the dog owner stated he was concerned about his godchild since Smokey was fighting with another dog in the home. The shelter claimed the owner also said the dog can become reactive when the owner is not around and sometimes can be unpredictable. Shockingly, New York ACC advised the owner to do an owner requested euthanasia. Why did New York ACC tell the owner this? New York ACC had an internal “discussion over the population call and its best to have Mr. request for E/R at the time of appointment.” In other words, New York ACC was going to kill dogs for space and wanted to exclude killing Smokey from its Asilomar live release rate.

As with Savannah, New York ACC did not even attempt to determine if it could treat Smokey. The shelter made no medical notes, did no veterinary treatments and never even attempted to provide any behavioral enrichment or rehabilitation. Instead, New York ACC immediately killed Smokey as an owner requested euthanasia in order to make its statistics look better.

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Bella or Dog ID# 23675 was a large mixed breed dog that was surrendered to New York ACC on March 25, 2018. According to New York ACC’s summary of discussions with the owner, the owner got Bella from someone who left her tied to a tree. The shelter’s summary also noted Bella had an unknown skin allergy. In New York ACC’s summary below, Bella had a few minor bites on dogs who approached her. However, the notes did not indicate any bite was very serious. On the other hand, the owner noted Bella was “friendly and affectionate” with two other dogs in the home. The owner also noted Bella’s hackles stood up and she would get tense and growl when someone came from behind when walking at night. Additionally, the owner stated Bella would bark, growl and lunge when people “with a bad aura” came over. However, the shelter’s notes indicate Bella never bit any person. Finally, the owner noted Bella had separation anxiety when the owner was out for more than three hours.

Bella’s behaviors are things many dog owners experience. For example, many dogs have a sixth sense around threatening people and act defensively or standoffish. Similarly, separation anxiety is not an uncommon problem pet owners deal with.

New York ACC’s summary of its interactions with the owner are disturbing. The owner wanted to surrender both dogs due to Bella having separation anxiety. Thankfully, the shelter convinced the owner that she should not surrender the other dog. New York ACC also rightfully provided advice on easing Bella’s separation anxiety. However, when the owner refused to do these things, New York ACC advised her to do an owner requested euthanasia citing the shelter likely killing Bella for behavior. When the owner refused New York ACC’s advice to call Bella’s killing an owner requested euthanasia, the owner’s girlfriend, who also owned Bella, “yelled at her and explained that she will never be good with other dogs and that she should just put her to sleep.” Furthermore, the owner’s girlfriend stated the shelter most likely would put Bella to sleep. While New York ACC did dispute the girlfriend’s claims, the shelter did state the following:

I explained to them both that even though I feel she has a higher chance at being humanely euthanized, she could still be rescued or adopted and nothing is a guarantee. I explained her anxiety and destructive tendencies will factor in however. I explained in a shelter she has to interact with strangers and will be around other dogs and stay in a kennel most of the time. I explained that even if she is well behaved she might get sick because of stress. I explained we do have partners that pull from us and a high placement rate and that if she did not feel comfortable making the decision to humanely euthanize she doesn’t have to.

After the owner, who was getting screamed at by her girlfriend to kill Bella, heard this advice that effectively backed up the girlfriend’s claims, the owner agreed to do an owner requested euthanasia. In other words, New York ACC basically told the owner the shelter would likely kill Bella since she is not “well behaved” and “might get sick.” After just a single day at the shelter, New York ACC killed Bella and excluded her killing from its Asilomar live release rate as an owner requested euthanasia.

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Zina or Dog ID# 19276 was a six year old large mixed breed dog surrendered to New York ACC on January 27, 2018. According to New York ACC’s summary of its conversation with the owner, the dog had hyperglycemia (i.e. low blood sugar) and “very bad seizures.” Instead of treating Zina, New York ACC did an owner requested euthanasia and immediately killed Zina.

Even though I recognize owning a dog with a serious case of epilepsy is a major challenge, it does not rise to the standard of hopelessly suffering. For example, the No Kill Advocacy Center considers epilepsy a treatable condition. At a minimum, New York ACC should have done a full veterinary evaluation and reached out to the public for help. Instead, New York ACC killed Zina on the spot and did not count her in its Asilomar live release rate.

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Many Cats Killed

New York ACC’s statistics reveal the shelter killed too many cats in 2018. Since New York ACC did not list specific ages of a good number of cats (i.e. 1 year and older cats, kittens from 6 weeks to just under 1 year and kittens under 6 weeks) and such cats had a higher death rates, the statistics for each known cat age group are likely a little worse than the ones in the table below. Overall, 11% of cats lost their lives at New York ACC in 2018 or about three times the percentage at Austin Animal Center last year. 12% of nonreclaimed cats lost their lives at New York ACC in 2018. As a comparison, only 5% of nonreclaimed cats lost their lives at Austin Animal Center in 2018. Therefore, cats and nonreclaimed cats were three and two times as likely to lose their lives at New York ACC than at Austin Animal Center in 2018.

The shelter’s statistics also revealed adult cats lost their lives at a higher rate. New York ACC’s kitten statistics (5% and 8% death rates for 6 weeks to just under one year kittens and kittens under 6 weeks) were good. Almost all the neonatal kittens were saved by the rescue community and the ASPCA’s kitten nursery program as evidenced by transfers making up 83% of neonatal kitten positive outcomes. However, 15% of all adult cats lost their lives. As a comparison, only 6% of adult cats lost their lives at Austin Animal Center in 2018. Thus, adult cats lost their lives at three times Austin Animal Center’s rate in 2018.

2018 NY ACC Cat Statistics

Older Cats Obliterated

New York ACC killed many senior cats. Overall, the shelter had 46% of its 10 years and older cats lose their lives. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center’s publicly reported 2018 intake and disposition records showed only 10% of this shelter’s 10 years and older cats lost their lives. Thus, New York ACC had its 10 years and older cats lost their lives at five times Austin Animal Center’s rate.

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Unusually Large Number of Cat Owner Requested Euthanasia

New York ACC’s cat owner requested euthanasia data is quite telling. Overall, New York ACC killed 4% and 7% of all cats and 1 year and older cats as owner requested euthanasia. Off the bat, this is a huge red flag since that number is far in excess of what I’ve seen at nearby New Jersey animal shelters. When we look at killed cats, we see New York ACC classified 38% of all killed cats and 52% of all killed adult cats as owner requested euthanasia. Finally, when we look at just killed owner surrendered cats, New York ACC classified 91% of all killed cats, 93% of adult killed cats, 67% of killed older kittens, 11% of killed neonatal kittens and 75% of killed cats with no ages as owner requested euthanasia.

While its possible New York City may have more hopelessly suffering cats, such as cats hit by cars with severe injuries, that does not really seem to explain this data. As mentioned before, I’ve reviewed extensive data sets of cats coming into New Jersey urban shelters in Newark, Elizabeth, Paterson, Passaic and Perth Amboy and have not seen cat owner requested euthanasia numbers like these. Due to New York ACC’s slow responses to my other records requests, I was unable to request and obtain individual cat records. New York City animal advocates should obtain records of killed cats classified as owner requested euthanasia to determine the specific reasons why New York ACC killed these animals.

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Instant Cat Killing

New York ACC’s cat length of stay data revealed the shelter quickly killed cats. While the shelter adopted out and transferred cats in just 14 days and eight days, the shelter killed cats on average after just one day. In fact, the shelter killed cats in all the age classes below after just 1-2 days on average. Thus, New York ACC almost immediately killed all the cats it decided to kill.

2018 NY ACC Cats LOS

While the average length of stay data is revealing, the distribution of the length of stay of the cats killed is eye opening. Remarkably, New York ACC killed 74% of the cats it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. New York ACC killed 86%, 91%, 94% and 99% of the cats it killed within 1 day, 2 days, 4 days and 15 days. In fact, almost every cat New York ACC killed happened within 35 days or less. Thus, New York ACC gave the cats it killed virtually no chance to become adoptable.

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If this data for all cats wasn’t bad enough, New York ACC’s distribution of killed adult cats was even worse. Amazingly, New York ACC killed 78% of the adult cats it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. New York ACC killed 88%, 93%, 96% and 99% of the adult cats it killed within 1 day, 3 days, 6 days and 13 days. Almost every adult cat New York ACC killed happened within 22 days or less. 2018 NY ACC Adult Killed Cat LOS Distribution.jpg

New York ACC’s distribution of the lengths of stay of the 10 years and older cats it killed show the shelter gave these animals virtually no chance. Shockingly, New York ACC killed 86% of the 10 years and older cats it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. New York ACC killed 93%, 95%, 97%, 98% and 99% of the 10 years and older cats it killed within 1 day, 2 days, 4 days, 9 days and 13 days. Virtually every 10 years and older cat New York ACC killed happened within 18 days or less.

2018 NY ACC Senior Killed Cat LOS Distribution

New York ACC Receives Massive Funding

New York ACC’s abysmal performance becomes clear when we do a detailed financial comparison with Austin Animal Center. Using New York ACC’s total revenue from its Form 990 for fiscal year ending June 30, 2018 and the total dogs and cats it impounded in calendar year 2018, we can estimate the shelter received $853 per each dog and cat impounded. As a comparison, we can estimate Austin Animal Center received $811 per dog and cat according to the Austin Comprehensive Financial Report for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2018 and the total dogs and cats Austin Animal Center impounded in calendar year 2018. Thus, New York ACC may actually have received more funding than Austin Animal Center in 2018.

The rescue community provides more support to New York ACC than Austin Animal Center as well. Overall, New York ACC transferred 33% of its dogs to rescues and other shelters while Austin Animal Center only transferred 21% of its dogs. Similarly, New York ACC transferred 55% of its cats to rescues and other shelters while Austin Animal Center only transferred 27% of its cats. Since transferring animals significantly reduces the cost of caring for animals, New York ACC should require less funds than Austin Animal Center all else being equal.

Despite having these financial advantages, New York ACC’s death rates are vastly higher than Austin Animal Center. As the table below shows, New York ACC has its animals lose their lives at around 3 to 15 times Austin Animal Center’s rates. Thus, New York ACC is failing its animals.

2018 Austin Animal Center Verses NY ACC

New York ACC also has many available homes for its animals. According to a New York Economic Development Corporation analysis from several years ago, 600,000 dogs and 500,000 cats live in New York City. If we assume cats live in someone’s home for 10 years and are then replaced when they die, New York City residents acquire 50,000 cats each year. If New York ACC were to achieve a 95% cat live release rate in 2018 and not use any rescue support, it would only need to adopt out 13,648 cats. In other words, the shelter would only have to convince 27% of New York City residents acquiring cats to adopt one. Similarly, if New York City residents own dogs for seven years on average and then replace the dogs when they die, New York City residents would acquire 85,714 dogs each year. If New York ACC were to achieve a 95% dog live release rate in 2018 and not use any rescue support, it would only need to adopt out 6,699 dogs. This is just 8% of the estimated number of dogs New York City residents acquire each year.

Results Require Action at New York ACC and its Enabling National Organizations

How can an organization with vast financial resources and rescue support kill so many animals? Honestly, the only reasonable answer would be a lack of shelter capacity. Animal advocates have long argued for building full service animal shelters in Queens and the Bronx. Based on my experience with the Manhattan shelter, I was struck by the extremely small number of animals, particularly large dogs, in the adoption area. While I do not think this justifies New York ACC’s killing due to the fact large scale foster programs could substantially expand New York ACC’s dog and cat capacity, lack of space could be a reasonable argument for those not familiar with large scale fostering operations.

So why doesn’t New York ACC say it kills for lack of space? Despite New York ACC’s nonprofit status, it is controlled by the New York City government and is considered a government agency. If the city were to admit it doesn’t have enough shelter space, the city would be put under immense pressure to spend large sums of money to immediately build the new animal shelters in Queens and the Bronx (this may happen in several years). As anyone familiar with government knows, large and expensive financial projects do not happen unless powerful people get behind them.

The other reason is New York ACC and the city health department do not want scrutiny. If New York ACC can convince the public it only euthanizes hopelessly suffering animals, people won’t question the senior leadership who earn large sums of money. For example, New York ACC CEO, Risa Weinstock, earned $202,834 of total compensation last year despite these horrific death rates. Its in her financial interest to maintain the status quo. Similarly, its in the interest of the New York City Department of Health, which oversees the shelter, to maintain the current status quo. Simply put, admitting the shelter can do better would cause the public to pressure those running and overseeing the shelter to change things. Thus, New York ACC and the New York City Department of Health do not want to admit a problem exists.

For these reasons, supposedly progressive organizations celebrating New York ACC as a success is so dangerous. Even though New York ACC does have a higher live release rate than it did many years ago, the shelter’s live release rate has not increased in recent years. More importantly, this blog shows New York ACC kills healthy and treatable pets and doesn’t even give many of these animals a chance to live. In fact, this blog’s findings are remarkably consistent with recent news stories of New York ACC immediately killing dogs whose owners were looking for their pets. When well-known organizations declare New York ACC or any regressive shelter a success, they encourage those shelters to maintain the status quo (i.e. quick killing at New York ACC). After all, if Best Friends states you are “no kill” and Maddie’s Fund gives you an award for being a “hero” and a “no kill leader”, why would you change what you are doing? Sadly, the damage may already be done based on New York City entering into a contract with New York ACC in early 2019 for an unheard of 34 year period.

So why would supposedly progressive animal welfare organizations engage in such destructive behavior? First, I believe these organizations genuinely believe that playing nice can get bad shelters to put lifesaving programs into place. While this works well with organizations whose leaderships are fully on board with no kill, it does not make regressive organizations no kill. When an organization’s leadership is perfectly fine with killing pets for convenience, it will kill animals requiring more work. For example, what good is a free or discounted adoption promotion if the shelter kills treatable animals before the animals are put up for adoption? Thus, I believe the collaboration at all costs mindset is naive.

Secondly, I believe the progressive sounding organizations find this behavior lucrative. If a national organization can make the public think their organization helped make the largest city in the country no kill, it can increase donations. Similarly, if these organizations can persuade their large financial benefactors that they made the largest city no kill, their highly paid leadership’s jobs will become more secure. Additionally, I think the resulting acclaim from the media and other parties is also a motivating factor. Certainly, Best Friends and Maddie’s Fund employ people I not only respect, but admire as well. However, I do think these factors do influence the behavior of these organizations’ most senior leadership.

Finally, I think the relationships these progressive organizations make with regressive shelter leaders cloud their thinking. When one works closely with people, its only natural to develop friendships. Given these relationships occur over many years, its only human for someone to want their friends to succeed. As a result, I think these progressive national organizations lose sight of what is happening and make the mistake of propping up their friends rather than standing up for the homeless animals their friends are killing.

These progressive organizations may do long term damage to themselves. In New York City and surrounding areas, grass roots animal advocates know the truth about New York ACC. Within this group of people, these organizations are seen as not only inauthentic, but part of the problem with New York ACC. In fact, the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals recently announced it was transferring many of its programs to other organizations. While the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals stated it “accomplished its mission to make NYC a no-kill city”, the organization’s audited financial statements indicate significant decreases in funding. For example, the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals reported $2,308,816 of individual and other contributions in 2014 and $1,506,401 of such donations in 2018. In other words, these donations dropped by $802,415 or 35%. Similarly, donations from foundations, such as Maddie’s Fund, decreased from $6,133,439 to $302,500 over this time period.

Ultimately, progressive national organizations face the same risks of pursuing inauthentic policies like propping up New York ACC. Eventually, the larger public will become aware of the disconnect between great sounding messages and enabling high kill shelters to keep doing business as usual. As such, I hope Best Friend’s and Maddie’s Fund rediscover their no kill mission and join grass roots animal advocates to make New York ACC a real no kill shelter.

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.

2017 Dog Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

In a blog from earlier this year, I disclosed New Jersey’s depressing animal shelter statistics. This blog explains why so many dogs are losing their lives in the state’s animal shelters and whether these facilities can end the killing.

Successful organizations set measurable goals and regularly monitor their performance. Examples include financial budgets, customer and employee satisfaction surveys, and product reliability metrics. Unfortunately, many animal shelters for far too long have failed to set lifesaving goals and standards. Municipalities, donors and volunteers need to know where their resources will be best utilized. Time and money are scarce resources and people should allocate these assets to organizations who will best utilize them. As a result, animal shelters need to set goals and hold their leadership and staff accountable for achieving these objectives.

Model Assesses New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Life Saving Performance

In order to assess how good of a job New Jersey animal shelters are doing, I’ve developed an analysis I call the “Life Saving Model.” While shelter performance is dependent on many variables, such as finances, facility design, local laws, etc., the most critical factor impacting potential life saving is physical space. Without having enough physical space, a shelter might not have enough time to find loving homes for its animals. Shelters can overcome financial limitations through creative fundraising or recruiting more volunteers. Similarly, organizations can save their dogs despite having run down facilities if these groups enthusiastically implement policies to get animals into loving homes quickly. As a result, my analysis focuses on making the best use of space to save the maximum number of New Jersey and nearby states dogs.

The Life Saving Model measures the number of local animals a shelter should adopt out, rescue from other facilities, send to rescues or other shelters, and euthanize. The targeted outcomes take into account each facility’s physical capacity and the number and types of dogs the organization receives from its community (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, cruelty/bite cases). I assume a target euthanasia rate, take the number of dogs actually returned to owners and then estimate how many community dogs a shelter should adopt out. To the extent space runs out, I then calculate how many dogs the shelter must send to rescues. If the shelter has excess space after properly serving its local community, the facility uses that room to rescue and adopt out dogs from nearby areas. The targeted results calculated from this model are compared to the actual or estimated actual results from each shelter below.

For shelters with animal control contracts, I place 10% of all dogs that are not reclaimed by owners into the targeted sent to rescue category. Austin Pets Alive used data from Austin Animal Center, which is the local municipal shelter, to determine large dogs with behavioral challenges are part of the last 10% of animals losing their lives. While shelters can save most of these dogs through behavioral rehabilitation and/or foster programs, I decided to put an estimate of these dogs into the sent to rescue category since that is another good outcome for these dogs.

My analysis puts a cap on the targeted numbers of dogs rescued from other shelters and adoptions. While my unmodified targeted numbers of rescued and adopted animals are quite achievable, I want to provide very conservative goals for New Jersey animals shelters. For example, the unmodified model resulted in a statewide per capita dog adoption rate of around 30% to 70% of the level found at some of the nation’s best animal control shelters. Similarly, the unmodified model yielded a statewide pit bull per capita adoption rate (2.0 pit bulls per 1,000 people) that is less than the pit bull per capita adoption rate at one of the best animal control shelters in the country. In my opinion, New Jersey shelters could more easily achieve that per capita pit bull adoption rate given my model includes far fewer dogs from competing breeds than those in this role model animal control shelter.

My modified analysis capped pit bull adoptions at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people within each New Jersey county. In other words, the targeted numbers of dogs rescued from other shelters and adopted below are the lesser of

  1. Number predicted by model
  2. Number determined by capping pit bull adoptions at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people in the county

In simple terms, a shelter is expected to achieve this per capita adoption rate unless the facility lacks enough space. If a shelter does not have sufficient room, it won’t have the time to reach all the potential adopters and requires assistance from rescues and/or other facilities. Given my model assumes 80% of rescued dogs are pit bull like dogs, my targeted numbers of dogs rescued and adopted are quite low as detailed in the section below. For example, shelters in counties where dog adoptions are capped have extra space that they do not use to adopt out other dog breeds.

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

New Jersey Animal Shelters Contain Enough Space to Save All of New Jersey’s Dogs and Many More from Other States

New Jersey’s animal shelter system has enough space to save all of the state’s healthy and treatable dogs. The table below details the targeted numbers of dog outcomes the New Jersey animal shelter system should achieve. Out of the 22,391 New Jersey dogs coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2017, 10,928 and 1,590 dogs should have been adopted out and sent to other shelters/rescues by the facilities originally taking the dogs in. However, other New Jersey animal shelters had more than enough capacity to rescue the 1,590 dogs from space constrained facilities. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters should be able to able to adopt out every single healthy and treatable dog taken in from the state and not require any support from rescue organizations without physical facilities from a space perspective.

New Jersey animal shelters have enough excess space to save many dogs from out of state as well. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters had enough physical capacity to rescue and adopt out 10,070 dogs from out of state after achieving a 95% live release rate for New Jersey dogs. To put this number into perspective, New Jersey animal shelters could make both New York City and Philadelphia no kill cities for dogs and increase those cities’ dog live release rates to 95% in 2017 as follows:

  • New York City – 1,304 additional dogs need saving
  • Philadelphia – 935 additional dogs need saving

Additionally, New Jersey animal shelters could save another 7,831 dogs from other locations outside of the state. Of course, some New Jersey animal shelters do pull some dogs from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. However, most of these dogs are likely easy to adopt and therefore have short lengths of stay. As a result, the additional number of dogs New Jersey animal shelters could save from New York City, Philadelphia and elsewhere is probably not much lower than the figures above. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters could make New Jersey a no kill state for dogs as well as many other places.

These adoption goals are quite achievable when comparing the performance of well-run animal control shelters across the country. New Jersey animal shelters would only need to adopt out 2.5 dogs per 1,000 people in the state (1.4 dogs if no dogs rescued from out of state). As a comparison, recent per capita dog adoption numbers from several high performing no kill open admission shelters are as follows:

  • Lynchburg Humane Society (Lynchburg, Virginia) – 10.7 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Longmont Humane Society (Longmont, Colorado area) – 10.5 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Nevada Humane Society (Reno, Nevada and Carson City, Nevada areas) – 8.5 dogs per 1,000 people
  • KC Pet Project (Kansas City, Missouri) – 6.5 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Humane Society of Fremont County (Fremont County, Colorado) – 5.8 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Williamson County Animal Shelter (Williamson County, Texas) – 5.5 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Lake County Animal Shelter (Lake County, Florida) – 4.6 dogs per 1,000 people

Thus, many communities are already adopting out around two to four times as many dogs as the goal set for New Jersey animal shelters.

Some naysayers may claim New Jersey would have a more difficult time due to the state’s shelters taking in many pit bulls. However, this is a myth. My model estimates New Jersey animal shelters would need to adopt out roughly 0.5 pit bulls per 1,000 people to save 95% of New Jersey’s dogs. Our shelters would only need to adopt out around 1.4 pit bulls per 1,000 people if New Jersey shelters also rescued and adopted out the targeted number of pit bulls from other states. As a comparison, I estimate Longmont Humane Society adopts out 2.2 pit bulls per 1,000 people based on the number of pit bulls impounded in 2014 as a percentage of total dogs impounded in 2014 and multiplying that number by the 10.5 dogs per 1,000 people adoption rate in 2017. Furthermore, the pit bull adoption targets are even more reasonable given the model assumes there are roughly 1/8 of the number of dogs from other breeds to compete with in the New Jersey adoption market compared to the Longmont, Colorado area.

2017 New Jersey Dog Targeted Outcomes

Animal Deaths Vary Widely at New Jersey Animal Shelters

The goal of any properly managed animal shelter is to save all of its healthy and treatable animals. In some cases, such as selective admission rescue oriented shelters, it is pretty easy to not kill animals. In addition, other animal shelters with easy to service animal control contracts (i.e. few animals impounded, most strays quickly returned to owners) can avoid unnecessary killing due to having lots of extra space. As a result, some shelters may have an easier time than others in preventing killing at their shelters.

The tables below detail the estimated dog death rates. All dogs missing are assumed “dead” based on the assumption they died or went to a very bad place. As discussed in a prior blog, the estimated death rate includes “Other” outcomes as animals who died or went missing along with dogs reported as killed. Based on my review of a number of shelters’ underlying documents, virtually all of the dogs in the “Other” outcome category died or went missing. Shelters having estimated dog death rates equal to or less than and greater than 5% are highlighted in green and red in the table below.

The Humane Society of Atlantic County and St. Hubert’s-Noah’s Ark had unusually high estimated dog death rates of 11% and 8% (St. Hubert’s estimated death rates reflect an adjustment for the organization’s Sister Shelter Waystation program discussed in this blog). These facilities’ estimated death rates are very high for rescue oriented shelters with no animal control contracts and raise serious questions about how life and death decisions are made by these organizations. The estimated death rates at other rescue oriented shelters, such as Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge and Animal Welfare Association (both had estimated dog death rates of 1%) are much lower than the Humane Society of Atlantic County and St. Hubert’s-Noah’s Ark. Thus, the Humane Society of Atlantic County’s and St. Hubert’s-Noah’s Ark’s estimated dog deaths rate are extremely high for rescue oriented shelters.

Certain shelters may kill a larger percentage of local animals. Since a number of both rescue oriented and shelters with animal control contracts transport large numbers of highly adoptable dogs from out of state, its helpful to look at their estimated death rates for just local animals. Unfortunately, shelters do not provide data to precisely compute this local dog death rate. If we assume these shelters only killed the generally less adoptable local dogs, we can estimate the local dog death rate as follows:

Total Dogs Killed and in Other Outcomes (died, missing)/(Total Dogs Impounded-Total Dogs Transported In from Other States)

When we calculate this estimated local death rate, a number of shelters stand out. The Humane Society of Atlantic County’s estimated dog death rate rises from 11% to 21% under this calculation. Additionally, St. Hubert’s-Madison’s estimated dog death rate increases from 10% to 48% under this calculation. While these facilities may not be only killing local dogs and therefore may have lower local dog death rates, I think its very possible these shelters’ local dog death rates are significantly higher than their total estimated dog death rates in the tables below.

The largest number of dogs unnecessarily dying occurred at a relatively small number of shelters. Specifically, 12 out of 93 or 13% of the shelters accounted for 80% of the estimated 1,507 dogs unnecessarily losing their lives under the model’s assumptions. In fact, Associated Humane Societies-Newark, which broke state shelter law left and right in 2017 per New Jersey Department of Health inspection reports, and Trenton Animal Shelter, which also violated state shelter law last year per a state health department inspection report, accounted for 31% of the dogs needlessly losing their lives at New Jersey animal shelters. Shelters with the greatest number of unnecessary dog deaths (assuming all dogs killed were local animals) are as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies – Newark (338)
  • St. Hubert’s – Madison (138)
  • Trenton Animal Shelter (134)
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter (128)
  • Camden County Animal Shelter (83)
  • Hamilton Township Animal Shelter (76)
  • Associated Humane Societies – Tinton Falls (66)

Thus, the bulk of the dogs unnecessarily dying at New Jersey animals shelters occurs at a small number of facilities.

2017 NJ Shelters Estimated Dog Death Rates 1.jpg

2017 NJ Shelters Estimated Dog Death Rates 2

2017 NJ Shelters Estimated Dog Death Rates 3.jpg

2017 NJ Shelters Estimated Dog Death Rates 4.jpg

2017 NJ Shelters Estimated Dog Death Rates 5.jpg

Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Require Little Rescue Assistance

Some animal shelters will require more support from rescues and animal shelters with excess space than others. If a shelter has relatively high intake, very limited space, and few stray dogs returned to owners, it will need more help than other shelters. In an ideal world, rescues would take all shelter animals. However, due to limited numbers of foster homes, lesser ability to find foster homes due to many rescue organizations’ small sizes, and most rescues’ restrictive adoption policies, all shelters cannot heavily rely on rescues. The tables below compare the number of dogs a shelter should transfer to other organizations per the model and the number of dogs actually sent to other animal welfare groups. Shelters marked in green are receiving less than the expected rescue support while facilities marked in red are receiving too much rescue help.

Overall, most New Jersey animal shelters require little rescue support if space-constrained facilities fast-track their most highly adoptable dogs. Shelter medicine experts advocate prioritizing the processing of highly adoptable animals to make the best use of space and reduce disease. For example, making sure these animals are the first to get spayed/neutered and vaccinated and receive microchips to ensure they can leave as soon as the shelter finds a good home.

54 shelters received too much help, 17 facilities received just enough assistance and 22 shelters received too little help from other animal welfare organizations. However, the excess dogs rescued (1,743 dogs) at shelters receiving too much assistance was far higher than the rescue deficits at other shelters (232 dogs) resulting in the state’s shelters sending 1,511 more dogs than needed to rescues and other animal welfare organizations. Northern Ocean Animal Facility and Southern Ocean Animal Facility received less rescue support than needed. However, neither of the shelters reported rescues taking any animals, which raises questions as to whether these shelters correctly reported their data (i.e. counting animals sent to rescues as adoptions). Nonetheless, the New Jersey shelter system as a whole is receiving enough rescue assistance, but some shelters are hurt by rescues pulling animals from less needy facilities.

Rescue groups and shelters with extra space should pull dogs from kill shelters with the highest rescue “target” numbers and deficits in the tables below. If shelters not needing rescue support get that extra help, these shelters will not take the steps necessary to properly run their facilities. As a result of enabling poorly performing shelters and not pulling dogs from truly space constrained facilities, rescuing dogs from shelters with enough space leads to less lifesaving.

Shelters receiving less than needed rescue support should also examine their own policies and performance. Are the shelter’s operating processes allowing too many animals to get sick and therefore discouraging organizations to rescue their animals due to subsequent medical costs? Does the shelter actively reach out to rescues/other shelters and treat them with respect? Does the shelter make it convenient for other organizations to pull their animals?

Given killing animals for space is intolerable, the space-constrained shelters need to expand their effective dog capacity. These facilities could use extra space in their buildings to house dogs on a short-term basis. These shelters can enter into arrangements with local veterinarians to house and adopt out some dogs. Furthermore, shelters can create or expand foster programs to increase the number of dogs cared for. Additionally, creating a pet owner surrender prevention program, implementing a proper managed intake policy (i.e. where animals are impounded when in danger and waiting periods for owner surrenders are relatively short) and making serious efforts to return lost dogs to owners could free up space in these shelters. Finally, space-constrained shelters with multiple animal control contracts should terminate some of these arrangements to bring their capacity for care in line with the number of dogs they take in. As a result, space constrained shelters still need to take active steps to reduce killing rather than simply solely relying on rescue support.

In certain circumstances, it may make sense for shelters with excess space to send dogs to rescues. For example, a unique breed or a dog needing very specialized behavioral or medical rehabilitation. However, these cases are accounted for in my targeted sent to rescue figures for animal control shelters.

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Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Fail to Come Close to Reaching Their Local Dog Adoption Potential

We can assess each shelter’s contribution to making New Jersey and nearby areas no kill. While a shelter may be able to avoid killing healthy and treatable animals, it still may not live up to its potential for adopting out local dogs. On the other hand, a space constrained shelter may kill healthy and treatable dogs, but still do a good job adopting animals out.

The tables below compare the number of dogs from New Jersey and nearby states each animal shelter should adopt out with the estimated number of local dogs actually adopted out.

Many rescue oriented shelters likely pull much easier to adopt dogs than the bulk of dogs needing to get rescued from local facilities. Thus, the results from rescue oriented shelters may look better than they actually are.

Few organizations reached or exceeded their adoption targets. Specifically, only 10 out of 93 shelters met the adoptions goals computed by the Life Saving Model. Thus, the overwhelming number of New Jersey animal shelters need to step up their adoption efforts.

A number of other rescue oriented shelters exceeded their adoption targets, but this may at least partially be due to the types of dogs they impounded.  Common Sense for Animals operates more like a rescue oriented than an animal control shelter. While this organization exceeded its adoption targets, the shelter’s figures were off by 128 dogs using the methodology outlined in another blog. This makes me wonder if their adoption numbers were accurate. Somerset Regional Animal Shelter, which also operates more like a rescue oriented shelter than an animal control facility, exceeded its adoption target. However, this shelter appears to mostly rescue easier to adopt dogs from New Jersey animal shelters. Other rescue oriented shelters, such as Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter and Animal Welfare Association also exceeded their adoption targets, but this is likely due to these organizations rescuing easier to adopt dogs from New Jersey shelters. Thus, I believe most of these rescue oriented shelters’ high local dog adoption numbers were due to these organizations selecting easier to adopt dogs.

Pequannock Animal Shelter’s higher than targeted local dog adoption result is a bit misleading. This facility benefited from the method I used to cap adoptions in the county and reduce the adoption targets for these two shelters. For example, the shelter only reached 61% of its adoption target using my unadjusted model only taking the shelter’s physical space into account. Since Morris County has many shelters that collectively have a very large capacity (i.e. very high adoption potential), my model reduces all Morris County animal shelters’ target adoptions to my county adoption cap. Therefore, Pequannock Animal Shelter has a relatively low dog adoption target. Thus, this shelter really didn’t do an excellent job adopting out dogs.

Three animal control shelters deserve mentioning. Camden County Animal Shelter exceeded its adoption target by 40 dogs. As a large county shelter that includes a poor urban area, this is an impressive result. Similarly, Burlington County Animal Shelter, which also takes in many dogs, exceeded its dog adoption target by 82 dogs. Ewing Animal Shelter, which is operated by EASEL Animal Rescue League, adopted out 19 more dogs than its adoption target. Unsurprisingly, all three shelters had dog live release rates exceeding 90% in 2017 (Camden County Animal Shelter: 92%, Burlington County Animal Shelter: 96%, EASEL Animal Rescue League: 98%) and all three facilities provide either condensed or full statistics on their web sites.

Shelters adopting out the fewest animals in total relative to their targets were as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies-Newark – 1,412 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Monmouth SPCA – 629 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Associated Humane Societies-Popcorn Park – 593 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Plainfield Area Humane Society – 486 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Bergen County Animal Shelter – 458 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Tyco Animal Control – Paramus – 388 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Trenton Animal Shelter – 383 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • St. Hubert’s – Madison – 338 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Shake a Paw-Union – 334 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Paterson Animal Shelter – 313 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Jersey Shore Animal Center – 310 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Cumberland County SPCA – 302 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls – 300 fewer dogs adopted than targeted

Unsurprisingly, Associated Humane Societies has archaic adoption policies that make it more difficult to adopt than the procedures recommended from national animal welfare organizations. Furthermore, Associated Humane Societies-Newark, Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls, Trenton Animal Shelter, Paterson Animal Shelter, Monmouth SPCA, Paterson Animal Shelter and Bergen County Animal Shelter had troublesome stories involving the shelters and/or prominent people affiliated with these organizations over the last several years. Shake a Paw-Union’s low local adoption numbers are not surprising since it also operates a for profit pet store and transports almost all of its dogs it rescues from out of state. Finally, Plainfield Area Humane Society’s local dog adoption deficit is quite disturbing since this organization could easily take on Plainfield’s dogs who currently go to the horrific and high kill Associated Humane Societies-Newark.

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Shelters Fail to Use Excess Space to Save Local Dogs

To further examine New Jersey animal shelters’ performance in saving the state’s homeless dogs, I compared the targeted number of dogs each shelter should pull from nearby shelters and compared it to the number actually rescued from local facilities. I assume all reported out of state rescued dogs came from southern or other far away states (except for Animal Alliance due to the shelter stating it primarily pulls out of state dogs from Pennsylvania). While some of the out of state rescued dogs may have comes from nearby areas, I believe this is a small number and does not significantly impact the results.

Virtually all New Jersey animal shelters are failing to rescue the number of local dogs they should. 90 of the 93 shelters should rescue some dogs from other local shelters. In fact, 41 of the 90 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single dog from a New Jersey animal shelter. Of the 90 shelters that should have rescued dogs, the following shelters were the only facilities that met or exceeded their local dog rescue targets:

  1. Animal Adoption Center – 179 more dogs rescued than targeted
  2. Animal Welfare Association – 77 more dogs rescued than targeted
  3. Burlington County Animal Shelter – 76 more dogs rescued than targeted
  4. Somerset Regional Animal Shelter – 73 more dogs rescued than targeted
  5. Humane Society of Atlantic County – 32 more dogs rescued than targeted
  6. Ewing Animal Shelter (EASEL) – 21 more dogs rescued than targeted
  7. Beacon Animal Rescue – 19 more dogs rescued than targeted
  8. Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter – 12 more dogs rescued than targeted
  9. Harmony Animal Hospital – 10 more dogs rescued than targeted
  10. Gloucester County Animal Shelter – 5 more dogs rescued than targeted
  11. Trenton Animal Shelter – 4 more dogs rescued than targeted

As mentioned above, many of these shelters local rescue numbers are inflated due to these organizations cherry picking highly adoptable animals to rescue. Thus, nearly all New Jersey animal shelters with targeted excess capacity are failing to do their share in ending the killing of local healthy and treatable dogs.

Camden County Animal Shelter also deserves mentioning. This facility rescued 380 dogs from other New Jersey shelters last year. While this is an obviously good thing, this may have artificially decreased this shelter’s estimated local death rate by as much as 2% if it only pulled highly adoptable dogs.

Shelters can overcome challenges in rescuing dogs from outside their service area. In some cases, municipalities may frown on government run shelters using taxpayer funds to rescue dogs from elsewhere. However, shelter directors at these facilities can encourage individuals to form a non-profit or raise money on their own to pay for these rescued dogs. Additionally, shelters with limited capacity or even some of the well-off private shelters could contribute funding for each dog rescued. For example, Maddie’s Fund paid an approximate $160 subsidy to rescues pulling dogs from New York Animal Care & Control. Similarly, private shelters with excess space, but limited financial resources, could expand their fundraising efforts to save more local dogs. Thus, perceived obstacles to rescuing local dogs can and should be overcome.

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New Jersey Animal Shelters Need to Form Life-Saving Coalitions

The improper allocation of space within the state’s animal shelter system requires organizations to form coalitions. While putting a competent and compassionate director in every shelter would likely be even more effective, that will likely take time to do. No kill coalitions between animal control facilities and selective admission shelters have been used in places, such as Portland, Oregon, Reno, Nevada, Jacksonville, Florida and Austin, Texas to radically increase life saving. Maddie’s Fund, which has supported using coalitions for over a decade, has many resources for organizations seeking to collaborate with each other. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters need to formally work together, develop quantifiable and measurable goals (such as the targeted outcomes in this blog), and hold each organization accountable for meeting these benchmarks.

Sobering Results Require Shelter Leaders to Critically Examine Themselves

Shelters should examine the reasons why their adoption numbers fall far short of these benchmarks. In some cases, shelters need to expand the hours they are open for adoptions. Many shelters should switch from an overly judgmental adoption process based on black and white rules to a conversational one focused on educating the adopter. Organizations will need to radically increase their off-site events and do same day adoptions. Similarly, many shelters must reduce adoption fees and run frequent promotions. Executive Directors should monitor the latest life-saving programs on Maddie’s Fund’s, ASPCA Pro’s, American Pets Alive Conference’s, and the Best Friends National Conference’s web sites and put some of these policies into place. Shelter management teams will need to ensure their facilities are clean and customers are treated with respect (this can be measured by encouraging the public to complete surveys). Thus, poorly performing shelters need to stop making excuses and do what it takes to reach their adoption potential.

We can turn New Jersey, New York City and Philadelphia into no kill communities. It is time we give our money and volunteer efforts to organizations who raise their performance to help us reach that goal. To do otherwise, would betray all the animals whose lives are on the line.

Appendix – Life Saving Model Assumptions

The Life Saving Model utilizes the following basic animal shelter population equations to calculate the targeted dog 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 dog intake (i.e. owner surrenders, strays, cruelty bite cases), number of dogs returned to owners, and maximum dog capacity were taken from its 2017 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health.

This data was then used as follows:

  • Community dog intake and dogs returned to owners were initially estimated for each month by dividing the annual figures by 12. In order to take into account the extra space in low intake months and reduced space in high intake months, we multiply that number by each month’s percentage of the average month. For example, assume 240 dogs were taken in during the year and the average month equals 20 dogs (240/12). In July, the dog intake is 120% higher than the average month and we therefore multiply 20 dogs by 1.2 to equal 24 dogs. If 120 dogs were returned to owners during the year, the estimated number of dogs returned to owners in July would equal 12 dogs (120/12 = 10; 10*1.2). The monthly intake percentages were based off the average of the 2017 dog intake data on New York Animal Care & Control’s and ACCT Philly’s web sites.
  • The estimated number of community dogs returned to owners each month are then assumed to stay 5 days on average at shelters based on data from other shelters across the country. If anything, this estimate is conservative (i.e. average length of stay for dogs returned to owners may be less than 5 days and therefore frees up more shelter space for adoptions) based on some shelters returning the bulk of their dogs to owners within 3 days.
  • The number of community dogs euthanized (including animals who died or are missing) is set to equal 5% of intake. 5% is a reasonable standard euthanasia rate for shelters in New Jersey to meet given few vulnerable stray puppies (i.e. who could die or require euthanasia) arrive in the state’s animal shelters. The average length of stay for euthanized dogs is assumed to equal 14.5 days. Half of dogs are assumed euthanized for untreatable aggression towards people and 21 days is the time estimated to make that determination. The other half of dogs are assumed euthanized for severe and untreatable health issues and I estimate these dogs are euthanized after 8 days (subsequent to the end of the stray hold and owner surrender protection periods).
  • Adopted dogs are assumed to stay at shelters for varying lengths of time. Adoption length of stay was based on data from a study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare and the figures used (except for space-constrained shelters) are located in a prior blog on pit bull adoption. The data primarily comes from Tompkins County SPCA during a time it saved over 90% of its dogs. This was a fairly conservative data set to use as other no kill open admission shelters’ average length of stay are substantially shorter. Specifically, the following assumptions were made:
    1. 80% and 20% of each communities dogs (including pit bulls) were adults 1 year and older and under 1 year.
    2. Pit bulls were assumed to comprise 50%, 35% and 25% of community dog intake at poor, middle/upper middle class, and wealthy area animal control shelters. While some shelters may have pit bulls comprising more than 50% of their shelter dog population at a given time, this is due to pit bulls longer average length of stay. For example, a shelter with pit bulls making up 50% of their dog intake and pit bulls having an average length of stay three times longer than other dogs will have pit bulls constituting 75% of the dog population. Shelters without animal control contracts were assumed to only have pit bulls make up 10% of their community dogs (i.e. strays and owner surrenders) based on most of these shelters’ highly selective admission practices.
    3. Pit bull adoption length of stay was taken directly from the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare study. The average adoption lengths of stay for other breeds from this study were averaged and used for dogs other than pit bulls in the analysis
  • Space constrained shelters were assumed to adopt out their easiest to adopt animals first until they ran out of space. To estimate the average adoption length of stay, I used pit bull adoption length of stay data from Greenhill Humane Society from March 2013 through May 2015. I broke the adoption length of stay data into 5 groups that each made up 20% of the data. The average adoption length of stay for each of these 5 groups was calculated. The average adoption length of stay of each group was divided by the average length of stay for all of the adopted pit bulls in the Greenhill Humane Society data set. Those percentages were then multiplied by the average dog adoption length of stay determined in the previous bullet and used to determine the adoption lengths of stay used for space-constrained shelters.
  • Dogs transferred to rescue or other facilities are assumed to stay at shelters 8 days on average based on the assumption strays can’t be released until the 7 day hold period elapses.
  • Community dogs not returned to owners or euthanized are initially assumed as adopted for each month. However, if the calculated length of stay exceeds the shelter’s required length of stay, dogs are moved from adoption (i.e. 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.
  • Animal control shelters have a minimum of 10% of unclaimed dogs go to rescues. To the extent shelters transfer 10% of unclaimed dogs to rescues despite having space (i.e. reclassifying dogs from adoptions with a longer length of stay to rescues with a shorter length of stay), I do not require these facilities to use that space to rescue additional dogs.
  • Required length of stay = Shelter’s reported capacity/adjusted daily intake for the month. Adjusted daily intake for month = Adjusted monthly intake per first bullet above/the number of days in the month.
  • Shelters with excess capacity are assumed to use the extra space to rescue and adopt out dogs from other New Jersey animal shelters. To the extent all healthy and treatable New Jersey animal shelter dogs are saved, I assume additional dogs are pulled from nearby states with similar types of dogs. I assume all rescued dogs will not be killed since the transferring and receiving shelters should evaluate these dogs’ behavior. Based on pit bull type dogs having longer lengths of stay at shelters, I assume 80% of dogs rescued from local animal shelters are pit bulls and 20% are non-pit bulls. 80% and 20% of pit bull and non-pit bull type dogs are considered 1 year and older and under 1 year. The average length of stay for rescued pit bulls and other dogs are the same as the adoption length of stay figures above.
  • Each month’s targeted outcomes are added to determine how many local dogs New Jersey animal shelters should adopt out, send to rescue, rescue from other nearby animal shelters and euthanize.
  • The targeted number of dogs rescued and adopted were capped at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people in each county. If the model yielded a higher result than this cap, the targeted numbers of dogs adopted were set to equal to this cap using the pit bull percentage assumptions above. For shelters in these counties (except Passaic County), I calculated the cap at the county level and then reduced the number of cats adopted for the county to equal the cap. I excluded West Milford from Passaic County due the town’s large distance from the population centers in the rest of the county. Each shelter’s percentage of total targeted adoptions in the county from the unmodified model were applied to the the total reduction in the number of adoptions in the county to yield the targeted numbers of dogs adopted in the modified model. If the shelter also rescued animals from other shelters, the rescued numbers were also reduced since I assume rescued animals are adopted.

2016 Cat Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

Cats are losing their lives at an alarming rate in New Jersey animal shelters. New Jersey animal shelters killed more than 12,000 cats or 29% of those cats having known outcomes in 2016. Additionally, a number of other cats 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 and nearby areas 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 live release 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, animal welfare organizations should not hold these kittens in a traditional shelter setting and instead should send these animals to foster homes or a kitten nursery at or outside of the facility. 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.

My analysis puts a cap on the targeted numbers of cats rescued from other shelters and adoptions. While my unmodified targeted numbers of rescued and adopted animals are quite achievable, I wanted to provide very conservative goals for New Jersey animal shelters. For example, the unmodified model resulted in a statewide per capita cat adoption rate less than half the level found at some of the best animal control shelters.

My modified analysis capped cat adoptions at 8 cats per 1,000 people within each New Jersey county. In other words, the targeted numbers of cats rescued from other shelters and adopted below are the lesser of

  1. Number predicted by model
  2. Number determined by capping adoptions at 8 cats per 1,000 people in the county

In simple terms, a shelter is expected to achieve this per capita adoption rate unless the facility lacks enough space. If a shelter does not have sufficient room, it won’t have the time to reach all the potential adopters and requires assistance from rescues and/or other facilities.

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 a blog I wrote several years ago, I estimated the impact of a high volume targeted spay/neuter program. Generally speaking, this analysis required 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. In fact, a recent study documented 18% of impounded cats were feral/aggressive, but all these cats became safe enough to adopt out after people gently touched the cats and spoke to them softly for 6 days. Thus, the number of truly feral cats may be much lower than the amount of cats most shelters label as aggressive.

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. However, 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 as explained in my blog from several years ago. 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 44,748 New Jersey cats coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2016, 29,059 and 8,871 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 27,238 cats or more than 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 kitten nurseries 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 18,367 cats from out of state shelters or New Jersey’s streets after achieving a 92% live release rate for cats coming into the state’s animal shelters. In reality, the New Jersey shelter system could rescue more than 18,367 cats from out of state shelters or from New Jersey’s streets given the 18,367 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 to 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 2016 data):

  • New York City – 1,416 additional cats need saving
  • Philadelphia – 1,958 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 4% 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 to 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 6.2 cats per 1,000 people in the state (4.3 cats per 1,000 people if no cats were rescued from out of state and all cats sent to rescue 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:

  • Lynchburg Humane Society (Lynchburg, Virginia) – 22.7 cats per 1,000 people
  • Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA (Charlottesville, Virginia area) – 10.1 cats per 1,000 people
  • Tompkins County SPCA (Tompkins County, New York) – 9.9 cats per 1,000 people
  • Nevada Humane Society (Reno, Nevada and Carson City, Nevada areas) – 9.8 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, 6.2 cats per 1,000 people, I set for New Jersey animal shelters is lower than the state of Colorado’s per capita cat adoption rate for both shelters and rescues of 7.3 cats per 1,000 people. Given Colorado still has some regressive animal shelters, 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.

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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 tables below detail the cat kill rates at each New Jersey animal shelter. These figures do not include cats who died or went missing. Shelters having cat kill rates equal to or less than 8% and greater than 8% are highlighted in green and red in the tables below.

The overall results show too many cats are unnecessarily losing their lives at New Jersey animal shelters. New Jersey animal shelters needlessly killed 9,138 cats in 2016. Furthermore, additional cats died or went missing from many of these facilities. Obviously, some of the cats shelters killed were truly feral and required TNR or placement as barn/warehouse cats, but surely many others could have been 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, Gloucester County Animal Shelter, Cumberland County SPCA, Burlington County Animal Shelter, Atlantic County Animal Shelter and Camden County Animal Shelter account for 4,232 or 46% of the 9,138 cats needlessly killed. Associated Humane Societies three shelters had 1,876 cats unnecessarily lose their lives in 2016. Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility had 1,002 cats lose their lives needlessly in 2016. Franklin Township Animal Shelter, T. Blumig Kennels and Ron’s Animal Shelter, which had three of the highest cat kill rates in the state, needlessly killed 626 cats. Collectively, these 13 shelters are 13% of the state’s shelters and account for 7,736 or 85% of the 9,138 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 92% in 2016. 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.

2016 NJ Shelter Cat Kill Rates Less Other

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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 tables below compare 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 95% of the amount needed for the state as a whole, the actual number was 41% since many cats were rescued from facilities which did not require so much rescue assistance. Only 31 out of the 74 facilities needing rescue assistance received the required support. In other words, only 42% of the animal shelters needing rescue help 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 significantly exceeded their dog rescue needs, but just 42% of shelters needing cat rescue assistance received the needed support. 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 New Jersey to pass shelter reform bill S3019, 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 (excluding St. Hubert’s which transfers cats as part of national rescue campaigns) receiving the most extra rescue support were as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies-Newark – 1,021 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Paterson Animal Control – 199 more cats transferred than necessary (estimated due to the shelter’s incorrect reporting of rescues as adoptions)
  • Byram Township Animal Shelter- 170 more cats transferred than necessary (may have been due to hoarding cases not accounted for in my model that could have overwhelmed this small shelter)
  • Trenton Animal Shelter – 163 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Animal Hospital of Roxbury – 149 more cats transferred than necessary

Associated Humane Societies-Newark, Paterson Animal Control and Trenton Animal Shelter are terrible facilities. Associated Humane Societies-Newark has a history of problemskills animals for ridiculous reasons and its Executive Director had animal cruelty charges filed against her. Paterson Animal Control has no volunteer program, no social media page or even a website with animals for adoption and violated state law left and right. Trenton Animal Shelter violated state law per a New Jersey Department of Health limited scope inspection report. 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:

  • Northern Ocean County Animal Facility – 758 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Burlington County Animal Shelter – 484 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Vorhees Animal Orphanage – 437 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Southern Ocean County Animal Facility – 314 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Bergen County Animal Shelter – 274 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Montclair Township Animal Shelter – 247 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter – 226 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Cape May County Animal Shelter – 152 fewer cats transferred than necessary

The million dollar question is why do these shelters receive very little rescue help? Some, such as Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility, reported no cats sent to rescues and may incorrectly count these animals as adopted. As you will see below, Vorhees Animal Orphanage and Montclair Township Animal Shelter adopt out many cats and are doing a good job. Similarly, Cape May County Animal Shelter came very close to reaching its adoption target and achieved its euthanasia rate target. On the other hand, Gloucester County Animal Shelter routinely illegally killed animals during the 7 day hold period, allowed disease to spread like wildfire and does not adopt out animals at the shelter on weekends. Similarly, Bergen County Animal Shelter is a high kill facility and refuses to even give information to rescues over the phone. 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 tables below. If shelters not needing rescue support get that extra help, these shelters will not take the steps necessary to properly run their facilities. As a result of enabling poorly performing shelters and not pulling 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 tables below compare the number of cats from New Jersey and nearby states each animal shelter should adopt out with the number of cats actually adopted out.

Rescue oriented organizations may look better than they actually are. Many rescue oriented shelters likely pull much easier to adopt cats than the bulk of cats needing to get rescued from local facilities.

Few organizations reached or exceeded their adoption targets. Specifically, only 8 out of 98 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.

Several rescue oriented shelters exceeded their adoption targets. Animal Welfare Association exceeded its adoption target by the most of any shelter in terms of total adoptions. 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. Animal Welfare Association also waives cat adoption fees for active military personnel and veterans in its Pets for Vets program. The shelter also waives adoption fees for senior citizens adopting certain senior pets. 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. Beacon Animal Rescue also exceeded its adoption target and charges a reasonable $75 fee for all cats. Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter also exceeded its adoption target by a significant amount. From what I can tell, this shelter is customer friendly and also has a strong cat foster program. Thus, several rescue oriented shelters exceeded their cat adoption targets and Animal Welfare Association used a variety of innovative strategies to adopt out many cats.

Several animal control shelters also exceeded their adoption targets. Despite not being open many hours, West Milford Animal Shelter exceeded its adoption goal. This shelter charges a very reasonable $35 fee for all cats and runs a creative Facebook page called “The Real Cats at West Milford Animal Shelter.” Vorhees Animal Orphanage also exceeded its adoption goal. The shelter also is open 7 days a week, including weekday evenings and weekends (except one Wednesday a month and certain holidays), which makes it convenient for working people to adopt animals. Additionally, Vorhees Animal Orphanage adopts cats out at one PetSmart store and three PetValu locations.  EASEL Animal Rescue League, which operates the Ewing Animal Shelter, also exceeded its adoption target. This organization strives to make Mercer County no kill and it is no surprise this organization does a good job adopting out its cats. Thus, several animal control shelters exceeded or came close to achieving their cat adoption goals and therefore prove these adoption targets are achievable.

Montclair Animal Shelter also significantly exceeded its cat adoption target. In April 2016, a fire destroyed much of this facility. The shelter utilized many foster homes to save its animals. Since I assumed the shelter had no capacity from April through December of 2016, the shelter’s adoption target was very low. Nonetheless, Montclair Animal Shelter deserves credit for aggressively placing its cats into foster homes.

Rescues should focus on pulling animals from Vorhees Animal Orphanage. This shelter’s cat kill rate is too high and its need for rescues greatly exceeds the amount of animals actually pulled from this organization. While some of these cats may be feral and therefore not adoptable, many other cats surely could be rescued from this shelter. Given this shelter is adopting cats out at a good rate, rescues and other other shelters should help this facility out by pulling more cats from 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 (i.e. leaving empty cat cages). My suggestion to these shelters 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.

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 7,196 cats is 79% of the 9,138 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 $9.4 million of revenue last year. This works out to $642 of revenue per dog and cat I project the shelter should take in per my Life Saving Model. As a comparison, KC Pet Project, which runs the Kansas City, Missouri animal control shelter, only took in $340 per dog and cat and saved over 90% of these animals in 2016. Even if we add the amount Kansas City pays its own animal control department (i.e. this agency picks up stray animals and sends them to KC Pet Project), this only raises the revenue per dog and cat to approximately $540 per dog and cat (i.e. around $100 less revenue per dog and cat that my model projects AHS would have). Activists wanting to increase life saving in New Jersey should focus on changing Associated Humane Societies’ policies given the lifesaving potential of this organization and its current horrific state.

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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. 89 of the 98 shelters should rescue some cats from other local shelters. In fact, 47 of the 89 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single cat from other animal shelters. Only 4 shelters with significant amounts of space to rescue cats from nearby shelters met or exceeded their cat rescue targets. 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 shelters 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. Furthermore, implementing a program where fearful and aggressive cats are touched gently and spoken to softly likely will significantly reduce the number of cats labeled as “feral” and increase adoptions. 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. Subsequently, many shelters across the nation implemented these policies. 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 1,600 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 more than 1,400 kittens from Salt Lake City area shelters in 2016. 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 system 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. Hubert’s-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, not trying to rehabilitate fearful and aggressive cats 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 New Jersey’s shelters killing more than one in four cats, our state’s shelters are failing these animals.

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 end 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 2016 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health. You can see the full data set I compiled from these reports here.

  • 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 the average of the 2016 cat intake data on New York Animal Care & Control’s and ACCT Philly’s web sites.
  • 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 15 days at Montana’s Flathead County Animal Shelter, 16 days at Texas’s Williamson County Animal Shelter, less than 18 days at Nevada Humane Society, 24 days (23 days for cats and 27 days for kittens) at Colorado’s Longmont Humane Society, 42 days at Lynchburg 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 22 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 rescues 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 kitten 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 2014. 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.
  • Space constrained shelters were assumed to adopt out their easiest to adopt animals first until they run out of space. To estimate the average adoption length of stay, I used cat adoption length of stay data from Perth Amboy Animal Shelter from 2014 and the first half of 2015. I broke the adoption length of stay data into 5 groups that each made up 20% of the data. The average adoption length of stay for each of these 5 groups was calculated. The average adoption length of stay of each group was divided by the average length of stay for all of the adopted cats in the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter data set. Those percentages were then multiplied by the average cat adoption length of stay determined in the model above and used to determine the adoption lengths of stay used for space-constrained shelters.
  • The targeted number of cats adopted were capped at 8 cats per 1,000 people in each county. If the model yielded a higher result than this cap, the targeted numbers of cats adopted were equal to this cap. For shelters in these counties (except Passaic County), I calculated the cap at the county level and then reduced the number of cats adopted for the county to equal the cap. I excluded West Milford from Passaic County due the town’s large distance from the population centers in the rest of the county. Each shelter’s percentage of total targeted adoptions in the county from the unmodified model were applied to the the total reduction in the number of cats adopted in the county to yield the targeted numbers of cats adopted in the modified model. Rescued and euthanized cats for these shelters were reduced based on the modified model’s assumption that shelters adopted out and euthanized 95% and 5% of rescued cats.