How Lake County Animal Shelter Became an Elite No Kill Facility

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

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

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

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

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

Data Reviewed

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

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

No Kill Culture Ceases Dog Killing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Owner Reclaims and Adoptions Drive Dog Live Release Up

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

Innovative Programs Send More Lost Dogs Back to Their Families

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

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

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

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

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

High Powered Dog Adoption Program Drives Lifesaving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rescue Efforts Focused on Most Vulnerable Animals

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

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

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

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

No Kill Cat Culture 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adoption and Return to Field Programs Save Cats 

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

Cat Sterilization Program Saves Cats at and Outside of the Shelter

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

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

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

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

Cat Adoptions Dramatically Increase After Shelter Goes No Kill

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

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

Rescues Take Cats Most Needing Help

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

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

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

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

Roger Haston’s Ridiculous Kill Shelter Model

Last January, I wrote about Dr. Roger Haston’s “The Future of Animal Welfare” presentation at an Animal Care Centers of NYC sponsored event. Dr. Haston, who was serving as the Chief of Analytics at PetSmart Charities at the time, was giving the same presentation at events held by shelters across the nation. While I acknowledged Roger Haston made some good points, I was deeply disturbed by his anti-pit bull and pro-killing shelter animals views. Furthermore, I addressed a number of problems with the arguments and so-called facts he presented. Subsequently, Animal Farm Foundation wrote a blog refuting many of Dr. Haston’s points and futile attempts to get Dr. Haston to address these. Additionally, Nathan Winograd dismantled Dr. Haston’s pro-killing arguments.

Shortly thereafter, Roger Haston left PetSmart Charities. Currently, Dr. Haston’s Linkedin profile states he is the President of the Institute for Animals. Unfortunately, I could not find anything about this organization. However, Dr. Haston’s Linkedin profile states the following about his position:

Strategy development, though leadership, research and leadership development services for the animal welfare industry. Focusing on the positive aspects of the relationship between people and animals.

Based on this description, it seems Dr. Haston may provide consulting services to animal shelters. Given the views Dr. Haston expressed in his “The Future of Animal Welfare” presentation, it seems kill shelters could look to him for guidance. In other words, kill shelters might look to his analyses as a way to argue against no kill.

What is the analytical basis of Dr. Haston’s anti-no kill views? Does this analysis make sense? Does this analysis match reality?

Haston’s Anti-No Kill Model

While Roger Haston did not present the model he used as the basis for his recent “The Future of Animal Welfare” events, a presentation from several years before may provide this information. In January 2015, when Dr. Haston was the Executive Director of Colorado’s Animal Assistance Foundation, he gave a presentation titled “Beyond Labels: Understanding the True Impact of Live Release Rates and Intake Policies” in a Society of Animal Welfare Administrators webinar. You can view the presentation here and the accompanying slides here.

Dr. Haston uses an interesting and robust statistical method, stochastic modeling, to conduct his analysis. Most animal sheltering data models, such as the one I created, use “deterministic modeling.” Deterministic modeling yields the same results from the inputs or variables included. On the other hand, stochastic modeling, incorporates the varied results an input or variable could have to predict the results generated from those variables. Therefore, in theory stochastic modeling is a powerful statistical tool.

While the deterministic model I use to target New Jersey animal shelter performance (amounts of animals shelters should adopt out, send to rescues and euthanize) is simpler theoretically, I reduce much of the sources of variability and therefore weaknesses of this type of model. For example, I analyze animal intake on a monthly basis, which accounts for higher intake during warmer months, and incorporate the breeds of dogs and ages of animals shelters impound and the overall adoption demand in a region. Furthermore, since I assess past performance, much of the input data I use has no variability at all. Therefore, my model performs quite well when I compare it to the actual benchmark shelters’ performance I use.

In a nutshell, Dr. Haston uses various shelter data estimates to make future projections. For example, he forecasts if a shelter will exceed capacity, what will happen when it exceeds capacity and what the facility’s future financial performance will look like.

Rigged Assumptions Lead to Anti-No Kill Results

Dr. Haston’s model would yield the same general conclusion regardless if he used stochastic or deterministic modeling. Why? He uses excessive animal intake and insufficient shelter capacity, excludes some of the quickest ways animals leave shelters and ignores how shelters would act if they exceeded capacity.

In Dr. Haston’s model, he assumes the shelter takes 3,000 dogs in during the year and the facility can hold 150 dogs at one time. Additionally, he assumes, based on an undisclosed sample of shelters, that different classes of dogs (from most to least adoptable) make up different portions of shelter intake and have varying average lengths of stay.

Using standard animal shelter capacity calculations, which assume animals come in evenly during the year, the shelter would have to on average move its dogs out of the shelter in 18.3 days or less to avoid consistently going over capacity. However, Dr. Haston’s model, which is based on each major class of dog’s average length of stay, shows these dogs would have an average length of stay of 32.0 days. Thus, a less sophisticated model would also show this shelter quickly exceeding capacity.

If there is anything to take away from this blog, this is it. Why? These key assumptions drive Dr. Haston’s subsequent conclusions that no kill animal control shelters severely restrict intake, are filled with animals few or no people want and financially implode.

Under Dr. Haston’s model, a shelter only adopts out or euthanizes an animal under the assumption all dogs are owner surrenders. Obviously, that is not realistic since stray dogs usually are a larger source of dog intake than owner surrenders. In addition, owners sometimes reclaim dogs they previously surrendered.

Typically, owners reclaim lost dogs within a few days since the animals usually have a license and/or a microchip that allows shelters to quickly identify the owner. Therefore, the model yields an excessively long average length of stay since it excludes owner reclaims.

To incorporate owner reclaims into the analysis, I used Tompkins County SPCA’s most recent statistics. Dr. Haston appeared to use Tompkin County SPCA’s adoption length of stay based off his citation of Brown, et al., 2013. While Dr. Haston did not give the full reference of this source, I believe it is this study that takes place mostly at Tompkins County SPCA from 2008-2011 which I use in my own dog analysis. Since I could only find Tompkins County SPCA’s 2018 data, I used this data to compute a revised average length of stay from Dr. Haston’s model based on an assumed 3 days and 32 days average length of stay for owner reclaims and all other outcomes and the percentage owner reclaims made up of total adoptions, total euthanasia and total owner reclaims at Tompkins County SPCA in 2018. A 3 day average length of stay falls into the middle of the range of owner reclaims’ average length of stay I computed from several New Jersey animal control shelters.

After making this adjustment, the model’s average length of stay decreased from 32.0 days to 23.1 days. As a result, the difference between the average length of stay required to avoid exceeding capacity continuously and the model’s average length of stay dropped significantly.

As you will see below, several no kill animal control shelters have dog average lengths of stay around the required average length of stay to avoid perpetual overcrowding implied in Dr. Haston’s model. First, these shelters generally do a better job adopting out dogs than the facility (primarily Tompkins County SPCA from 2008-2011) Dr. Haston used and most likely adopt out dogs quicker. Second, Dr. Haston’s model does not incorporate dogs shelters transfer to rescues. Frequently, shelters can transfer dogs quicker to rescues, especially when the facilities are rescue friendly and make an effort. For example, the Paterson Animal Shelter, which is far from a progressive shelter, transferred a large percentage of all of its dogs as well as pit bull like dogs in 2015 after just seven days on average. Similarly, 2018 Animal Care Centers of NYC data I obtained showed the organization transferred a large number of dogs to rescues in ten days on average. Additionally, my 2017 analysis of Elizabeth Animal Shelter indicated dogs adopted out and transferred to rescues, which mostly were dogs sent to rescues rather than adopted out, spent only 14 days in the shelter. Thus, Dr. Haston’s failure to use role model no kill animal control shelters and dogs sent to rescues in his model makes the model yield inaccurate or skewed results.

Dr. Haston’s failure to include foster homes in his model grossly understates shelter capacity. While most people appreciate the benefits foster programs can have on both the mental and physical health of animals, many don’t realize how much extra capacity these programs can add to a shelter. For example, Dr. Ellen Jefferson provided a goal in a presentation at the 2019 American Pets Alive Conference for animal control shelters to have 3% of their annual dog intake in foster homes at a given point in time. Dr. Jefferson developed this target based on certain no kill animal control shelters’ successful foster programs. Since average length of stay incorporates animals in foster homes, we can add this to the shelter’s dog holding capacity in Dr. Haston’s example. This adjustment increases the shelter’s capacity from 150 dogs to 240 dogs.

As you can see below, the shelter in Dr. Haston’s example will normally have significant excess capacity even without accounting for animals sent to rescues and no kill animal control shelters with stronger adoption programs. While the inherent volatility of dog intake at an animal control shelter, such as a large hoarding case, could temporarily cause capacity concerns, this data shows Dr. Haston’s perpetual overcrowding and related conclusions are simply incorrect.

Real World Data Contradicts Dr. Haston’s Predictions

Dr. Haston’s model predicts a 95% live release rate animal control shelter will have a ridiculously long average length of stay. While his model implies a 32 day average length of stay based on the make-up of dogs brought to the shelter, the model actually predicts an astonishing 90 day average length of stay after one year.

Why does the model predict such a longer average length of stay? Unfortunately, Dr. Haston doesn’t explain whether he is calculating average length of stay for all the animals that came into the shelter during the period or the actual population of dogs in the shelter at a point in time. Assuming Dr. Haston calculated average length of stay of all dogs taken in during the period, which is how shelters typically calculate this metric, the increase in average length of stay from 32 days to 90 days may be due to the shelter exceeding capacity and not accepting all dogs, including many easy to adopt ones. Therefore, the harder to adopt dogs, which take significantly longer to place, will make up a larger portion of the total dog intake and increase the average length of stay.

Even if shelters consistently exceed capacity, which they shouldn’t as explained above, managed admission policies could mitigate that. For example, a managed admission shelter would be more likely to immediately accept an easier to adopt small dog than a larger dog with behavioral issues if the facility was near or at capacity. Therefore, these shelters would have  a much shorter average length of stay than 90 days if these facilities exceeded capacity consistently and restricted intake.

To analyze the Dr. Haston model’s predictions, I compared his model’s key results to actual data from three no kill animal control shelters. These shelters are as follows:

  1. KC Pet Project serving Kansas City, Missouri
  2. Williamson County Animal Shelter serving most of Williamson County, Texas
  3. Lynchburg Humane Society serving Lynchburg, Virginia during the period of my analysis

Due to the lag in non-profit financial data reporting, I had to use 2017 and 2016 data for KC Pet Project and Lynchburg Humane Society, respectively. I listed the links to the data I used in this analysis at the end of this blog.

The average length of stay computed by Dr. Haston’s model vastly exceeds the three no kill animal control shelters’ average lengths of stay. Specifically, Dr. Haston’s model predicts an animal control shelter with a 95% live release rate will have an average length of stay of 90 days while KC Pet Project, Williamson County Animal Shelter and Lynchburg Humane Society had average lengths of stay of 18 days, 9 days and 19 days. In other words, Dr. Haston’s model predicted average lengths of stay five to ten times longer than these three comparable no kill animal control shelters with the same or higher live release rates. Thus, Dr. Haston’s conclusion that a 95% dog live release rate at an animal control shelter will result in the shelter holding large numbers of animals for extremely long times does not match the reality of well run no kill animal control facilities.

Successful no kill animal control shelters also have significantly lower costs than the amounts Dr. Haston’s model predicts. Dr. Haston’s model appears to only include medical and behavior costs in its “operating costs.” Unfortunately, I don’t have this subset of data for the three no kill animal control shelters. Therefore, I used each organization’s total costs, which would include other costs, such as various fixed and overhead costs, that Dr. Haston’s operating costs do not appear to include. To allocate these costs just to dogs, I used each shelter’s annual intake of dogs and cats as well as an estimate of the per animal cost based on average length of stay from the Maddie’s Fund Financial Management Tool. Even using an apparently broader measure of shelter costs, the estimated total costs per dog at KC Pet Project, Williamson County Animal Shelter and Lynchburg Humane Society were $406, $287 and $635 compared to the $750 per dog figure Dr. Haston’s model predicted.

Dr. Haston’s model also understates shelter revenue at no kill animal control shelters. Specifically, Dr. Haston only measures adoption revenue. In reality, adoption fees usually fall way short of covering animal care costs. No kill animal control shelters recoup some of these costs through funding received from the governments running or contracting with them. However, no kill organizations, especially private ones, receive significant donations since the public wants to support shelters that save lives. As you can see below, the estimated total revenue per dog (allocated the same way as total costs per dog above) was $381, $453 and $701 at KC Pet Project, Williamson County Animal Shelter and Lynchburg Humane Society compared to the $176 of adoption revenue per dog Dr. Haston’s model predicted.

The three no kill animal control shelters’ revenue and cost data disprove Dr. Haston’s implicit assertion that no kill leads to financial ruin. Dr. Haston’s model predicted a net loss of around $574 per dog. During the periods presented, both Williamson County Animal Shelter and Lynchburg Humane Society, which received only modest government funding, turned an estimated profit of $166 per dog and $66 per dog, respectively. While KC Pet Project did have an estimated loss of $25 per dog during the year presented, this was an anomaly. Since KC Pet Project was formed in 2011 and began running a no kill animal control shelter shortly thereafter, its net assets increased from $0 to $1,146,550 due to its revenues exceeding its costs over this time period. Thus, Dr. Haston’s model predicting financial ruin at no kill animal control shelters does not match the experience of these three no kill groups.

These three no kill organizations also disprove Dr. Haston’s assertion that a 95% live release rate animal control shelter turns significant numbers of dogs away. According to widely accepted estimates, the average American animal control shelter takes in 14 dogs and cats per 1,000 people. Based on the ASPCA’s estimated total animal shelter intake in the United States, which includes animal control and rescue oriented facilities, approximately half the animals are dogs and half are cats. Therefore, the average American animal control shelter takes in around 7 dogs per 1,000 people. As you can see below, KC Pet Project, Williamson County Animal Shelter and Lynchburg Humane Society took in 12 dogs per 1,000 people, 8 dogs per 1,000 people and 22 dogs per 1,000 people. In other words, these three shelters received more dogs than the average American animal control shelter. While these three no kill facilities do manage intake at times, its hard to argue they are “turning away” significant numbers of dogs and those dogs are having bad outcomes.

The three no kill animal control shelters also disprove Dr. Haston’s prediction that an animal control shelter with a 95% live release rate will do few adoptions. As you can see below, KC Pet Project, Williamson County Animal Shelter and Lynchburg Humane Society adopted out 6 dogs per 1,000 people, 5 dogs per 1,000 people and 18 dogs per 1,000 people. In other words, these three shelters adopt out around as many or significantly more dogs than the average American animal control shelter takes in let alone adopts out.

Absurd Predictions When Incorporating Rescue Oriented Shelters into the Analysis

Dr. Haston laid out one scenario where a rescue oriented shelter in the community took all dogs in when it had room and the animal control shelter had a 90% live release rate. In a second scenario, Dr. Haston assumed the animal control facility had a 95% live release rate and the rescue oriented shelter in the community did not accept the least adoptable dogs (i.e. the dogs an animal control shelter with an 85% live release rate would kill). In the real world, the rescue oriented shelter’s intake policy almost always is more similar to scenario 2 than scenario 1 since most of these organizations pick and choose which dogs they take in. While some of the qualitative results of the first scenario compared to the second scenario make sense (i.e. the animal control shelter in scenario 2 will have a longer average length of stay and higher operating costs than the animal control facility in scenario 1), the actual model’s results do not match reality.

The table below compares Dr. Haston’s animal control shelter’s predicted results under scenario 2 with successful no kill animal control shelters. All three no kill animal control shelters have selective admission rescue oriented shelters in their areas. Therefore, they are operating in a similar scenario to Dr. Haston’s model. As you can see, Dr. Haston’s model predicts an average length of stay 6-14 times longer than these shelters’ average lengths of stay. Similarly, the no kill animal control shelters pulled in 3-5 times more revenue per dog, incurred 40%-73% lower costs per dog and took in more dogs than Dr. Haston’s model shelter did. Thus, Dr. Haston’s model becomes even more absurd after he incorporates rescue oriented shelters.

So how did Dr. Haston calibrate his model to real world results? He contacted 100 no kill shelters across the country about accepting a large dog with behavioral issues and almost all of the facilities did not agree to take the dog in. Since Dr. Haston did not say which shelters these were, I assume these were selective admission shelters. Given we already know selective admission shelters cherry pick their animals, including those near the three no kill animal control shelters above, this is meaningless.

If that was not bad enough, Dr. Haston used his favorite punching bag, pit bulls, at a regressive shelter to validate his model. In a slide titled “Concentration of Difficult Animals in Open Admission Facilities”, Dr. Haston cited pit bulls making up 45% of dog intake and around 25%-30% of dogs killed at Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC) as evidence supporting his model’s results. First, Dr. Haston citing pit bulls as “difficult” tells you much about his attitude about these animals. While dogs having a pit bull label do stay longer at shelters, a peer-reviewed scientific study proves removing breed labels significantly reduces pit bulls lengths of stay at shelters. Second, MADACC is a regressive shelter that had 21% of their dogs lose their lives last year and 32% of dogs lose their lives in 2014 (one year after Dr. Haston’s MADACC data goes up to). For example, the Wisconsin Watchdog blog detailed the shelter needlessly killing a “pit bull mix” with a potential adopter waiting in 2014. Does anyone in their right mind think this shelter was doing all it could do five years ago? Thus, the idea that rescue oriented shelters put an unfair burden on animal control shelters and that forces them to kill is absurd.

Dystopian Conclusions

Dr. Haston makes a good point that the live release rate is a key metric, but we must also look at other data as well. I fully agree with this. For this reason, my dog report card blog each year also grades shelters on the number of local animals (which often require more effort to save) these facilities take in and adopt out. Additionally, the no kill and animal welfare movements should also create other metrics of success to ensure shelters follow all parts of the No Kill Equation. That being said, the live release rate will always be extremely important given killing animals is intolerable.

Unfortunately, Dr. Haston repeats the false notion that raising the live release rate from 85% to 95% results in longer lengths of stay, increased costs and refusing animals. While I know some shelters do severely restrict intake in order to raise their live release rates, that is not what well-run no kill animal control shelters do. As the three no kill animal control shelters’ data above showed, large no kill animal control shelters take many dogs in, save around 95% or more of these animals and do so in a financially responsible way. Can a shelter have a shorter average length of stay and lower costs if it settles for an 85% live release rate and quickly kills every challenging dog? Yes, that is likely. However, the three no kill animal control shelters’ data above prove you can still achieve a very short average length of stay and have manageable costs at a 95% or above dog live release rate. Additionally, no kill animal control shelters’ revenue surge when the public realizes these facilities are doing everything possible to save their animals. Thus, Dr. Haston’s thunderous conclusions about doom and gloom for animal control shelters achieving around 95% live release rates are wrong.

Most disturbing, Dr. Haston describes an “optimal” live release rate where killing is not only acceptable, but desirable. In essence, Dr. Haston says we should quickly kill “difficult” animals, such as pit bulls, and take in more easy to adopt dogs. In other words, shelters should operate more like pet stores instead of doing the necessary work to save “difficult” animals. While Dr. Haston doesn’t explicitly state this in his presentation, he did say “we can’t adopt our way out of” the so-called pit bull problem in a presentation he recently gave. Furthermore, Dr. Haston’s 2015 presentation stated saving more lives may mean sacrificing the individual.

Sadly, Dr. Haston’s myopic view need not be true. While shelters will adopt out more easy to adopt dogs all else being equal, all else is not equal. As the no kill movement spreads, the innovative policies will spur positive change in many organizations. As organizations improve, they will responsibly reduce dog intake, increase live outcomes and therefore rescue more at risk animals. By contrast, Dr. Haston’s narrow view only allows shelters to increase adoptions by having easy to adopt animals. That is a recipe for stagnation.

What happens when shelters run out of these easy to adopt animals in the future? Apparently, they may work with “responsible breeders.” According to a recent Animal Farm Foundation Facebook live video (starting at 11:00 minute mark), the 2019 HSUS Animal Expo conference had a session on doing just this. Specifically, shelters would have “responsible breeders” breed desirable dogs for “gold level adopters” since the shelters would be filled with those “difficult” to adopt dogs “nobody wants” like pit bulls. While I can’t say Dr. Haston supports this, it is a logical extension of his kill the “difficult” dogs and adopt out the easy dogs philosophy.

At the end of the day, Dr. Haston’s and many so-called shelter leaders’ anti-no kill views are based on a deeply flawed model. Not only do the model’s conclusions violate basic ethical values, the actual quantitative predictions fall apart when we compare them to well-run no kill animal control shelters. Clearly, no organization should consider this a prediction of what real no kill sheltering looks like. Instead, shelters should consider the model useful if they attempt to implement no kill the wrong way. If that happens, then the model could show what will happen. However, Dr. Haston does not present his model this way and declares no kill/high live release rates a disaster. Sadly, Dr. Haston’s messaging ruins what could be a very good way to illustrate the perils of not implementing no kill the right way. As a result, Dr. Haston’s model will be used by lazy shelter directors to defend the status quo and not improve.

Appendix – No Kill Animal Control Data Used in Comparison to Dr. Haston’s Model

KC Pet Project 2017 Animal Data

KC Pet Project 2016 Dog Average Length of Stay (2017 data not available, but unlikely to differ significantly)

KC Pet Project 2017 Form 990 Tax Return

Williamson County Animal Shelter 2017-2018 Animal Data, Dog Average Length of Stay and Financial Information

Lynchburg Humane Society 2016 Animal Data

Lynchburg Humane Society 2016 Dog Average Length of Stay

Lynchburg Humane Society 2016 Form 990 Tax Return

Maddie’s Fund Financial Management Tool to Estimate Cost to Care for Dogs

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.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Breaks the Law and Kills Healthy and Treatable Animals in 2017

My last blog detailed Elizabeth Animal Shelter killing more animals in 2017. Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s dog death rate nearly doubled and its cat death rate increased by nearly 50% in 2017 compared to 2016. Furthermore, the shelter hardly adopted out any animals themselves, but instead relied almost entirely on rescues.

What reasons did Elizabeth Animal Shelter use to kill animals in 2017? Were they justified? Did the shelter continue to violate state law as the shelter did in 2016?

Shelter Kills Large Numbers of Dogs for Aggression

Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed too many dogs for aggression/behavior. As the table below shows, the shelter killed 9% of all dogs for aggression/behavior. On the other hand, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.2% of all the dogs it took in for aggression/behavior during 2017. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed dogs for aggression/behavior at 45 times the rate as Austin Animal Center.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter also killed too many dogs for treatable medical reasons. During 2017, the shelter killed 3% of all dogs medical related reasons. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only euthanized around 0.8% of all dogs in 2017 for medical reasons. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed dogs for medical reasons at four times the rate as Austin Animal Center.

2017 Elizabeth Animal Shelter Dogs Killed.jpg

The shelter killed even more pit bulls for aggression/behavior. During 2017, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed 25% of the pit bull like dogs it took in for aggression/behavior. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.3% of the pit bulls it took in during 2017 for aggression/behavior. To put it another way, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed pit bull like dogs for aggression/behavior at 83 times the rate as Austin Animal Center.

As with all dogs, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed too many pit bulls for medical reasons. Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed 5% of all pit bulls for medical reasons in 2017. However, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.6% of all pit bulls in 2017 for medical reasons. As a result, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed pit bulls for medical reasons at eight times the rate as Austin Animal Center.

2017 Elizabeth Animal Shelter Pit Bulls Killed.jpg

Elizabeth Animal Shelter also killed more dogs for aggression/behavior in 2017 as compared to 2016. The shelter killed 9% and 6% of all dogs for aggression/behavior in 2017 and 2016. Similarly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed 25% and 18% of pit bull like dogs for aggression/behavior in 2017 and 2016. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s dog and pit bull kill rates for aggression/behavior increased by nearly 50% in 2017.

Dog ID# 15-D was a 5 year old pit bull surrendered to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter on April 20, 2017. According to the owner, the dog had no aggression/behavior problems or medical issues. While the owner mentioned the dog was not compatible with other dogs and cats, the owner stated the dog was good with kids and adults and was house trained. Despite this dog obviously not having aggression issues with people, the shelter’s veterinarian labeled the dog “not friendly” and killed him after just two weeks at the shelter.

15-D Surrender Form.jpg

15-D Dog Killed at Ellizabeth Animal Shelter

15-D Euthanasia Record

Harley (Dog ID# 24-F) was a ten year old pit bull like dog surrendered to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter on June 29, 2017. While Harley’s owner mentioned the dog was not compatible with other dogs and cats, the owner stated the dog was good with kids and adults and was house trained. Even though Harley’s owner clearly indicated the dog was good with both kids and adults, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed Harley seven days later for “human aggression.”

Dog 24-F Elizabeth Surrender Form.jpg

Dog 24-F Elizabeth Euthanasia Record.jpg

Hawk (Dog ID# 19-H) was a two and half year old pit bull like dog surrendered to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter on August 24, 2017. According to Hawk’s owner, Hawk had no aggression/behavior problems and was not sick or injured. In addition, Hawk’s owner stated the dog was good with other dogs, kids and adults and was house trained. Despite these facts, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed Hawk two weeks later for alleged human and animal aggression. Furthermore, the records did not indicate the shelter made any rehabilitation efforts to fix these so-called behavior issues.

Dog 19-H Elizabeth Surrender Form.jpg

Dog 19-H Elizabeth Euthanasia Record

Rocky was a one year old pit bull like dog surrendered to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter on March 13, 2017. According to Rocky’s owner, the dog was not sick or injured and had no aggression/behavior issues. After seven days, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed Rocky and cited parvo and bloody diarrhea as the reasons. Furthermore, the veterinarian’s invoice suggests Elizabeth Animal Shelter did not treat Rocky other than possibly giving him a parvo vaccine on the day they killed him (the vaccine could have been administered to another dog).

Elizabeth Animal Shelter failed Rocky in every way. Assuming the dog was not sick when he arrived at the shelter, the shelter would have been able to treat Rocky as soon as he displayed symptoms. If the dog was displaying parvo symptoms when he arrived at the shelter, Elizabeth Animal Shelter would have broken state law by not providing prompt medical care since Rocky did not see a veterinarian until seven days later. Instead, Elizabeth Animal Shelter should have treated Rocky with fluid therapy, anti-nausea medications and antibiotics and given him several fecal and blood tests. Most importantly, parvo virus is highly treatable and shelters, such as Austin Pets Alive, are saving around 90% of puppies who contract parvo. Adult dogs, such as Rocky, would certainly have an even higher chance of surviving this disease if the shelter properly treated this dog. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter either waited too long to treat Rocky or simply found it easier and cheaper to kill him.

Dog ID 11-C Elizabeth Surrender Form.jpg

Dog ID 11-C Euthanasia Record.jpg

Dog 11-C Vet Invoice.jpg

Shelter Kills Too Many Cats for Aggression and Questionable Medical Reasons

Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed large numbers of cats for aggression and other behavioral reasons. Overall, the shelter killed 9% of all cats citing aggression/behavior and feral as the reasons. Frankly, shelters should never kill cats for behavior and large animal control facilities, such as Austin Animal Center, prove it is possible.

The shelter also killed too many cats for medical reasons. Overall, the shelter killed 11% of all cats due to various medical reasons. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 4% of their cats for medical reasons even though rescues took a much smaller percentage of cats. Given rescues take so many cats at Elizabeth Animal Shelter, it is highly likely a number of additional ill/injured cats died or were euthanized shortly after rescues took the animals.

2017 Elizabeth Animal Shelter Cats Killed Reasons

Ke Ke was a one year old cat surrendered to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter on April 13, 2017. Ke Ke’s owner stated he had no behavior or aggression issues, no health problems, was good with cats, adults and kids and was house trained. Despite Ke Ke being obviously adoptable, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed him 16 days later stating the “cat is very aggressive and feral.” Clearly, this cat was scared in a shelter environment and Elizabeth Animal Shelter used that as a basis to kill him.

7-D Cat Elizabeth Animal Shelter Surrender Form.jpg

7-D Cat Elizabeth Animal Shelter Euthanasia Record.jpg

Tiger was a six month old cat surrendered to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter on October 5, 2017. The owner stated Tiger had no behavior or aggression problems, no health issues, and was good with cats and kids. Despite the owner stating the cat was not aggressive, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed her just seven days later for having a “Severe Behavior Issue.”

4-J Cat Elizabeth Animal Shelter Surrender Form.jpg

Cat 4-J Elizabeth Animal Shelter Euthanasia Record.jpg

Kitty was a four year old cat surrendered to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter on November 11, 2017. The owner stated Kitty was good with dogs, kids and adults and was house trained. While the owner stated the cat had no illnesses or injuries, they did note the cat had urine issues. After just five days, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed Kitty for having “bloody urine.” While bloody urine can be caused by a serious disease, such as cancer, the shelter did not document the cat was hopelessly suffering. Furthermore, cats with blood in the urine, which is also known as hematuria, can be treated. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter may have illegally killed Kitty during the seven day protection period and made little effort to save her life.

7-K Elizabeth Animal Shelter Surrender Form

7-K Elizabeth Animal Shelter Euthanasia Record

Chester was a three month old kitten surrendered along with his sister, Diamond, to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter on November 30, 2017. According to the owner, the two kittens were good with dogs, cats, kids and adults and were not sick or injured. In addition, the owner requested the shelter keep the animals together. After 20 days, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed Chester for having bloody diarrhea. No records provided to me indicated any effort to treat this kitten.

18-K Elizabeth Animal Shelter Surrender Form

18-K Elizabeth Animal Shelter Euthanasia Record

18-K Elizabeth Animal Shelter Veterinary Invoice

Shelter Becomes Less Transparent

As I reported last year and in 2016, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s legally required euthanasia records did not comply with state law. Specifically, the records did not identify the euthanasia drug the shelter used (the records stated “Euth.” which could mean Euthasol or just an unnamed euthanasia drug) and the method of euthanasia. Furthermore, the euthanasia records in 2016 and 2015 indicated euthanasia was not conducted humanely based on the shelter using pure ketamine in excessive doses as a tranquilizing agent. Finally, many of the legally required weights listed in the euthanasia records were convenient numbers, such as those ending in a zero or five, and possibly suggested the shelter did not weigh animals before administering tranquilizers and euthanasia drugs.

Elizabeth’s Health Officer told me the shelter moved its euthanasia activities to its veterinarian’s office in 2017 and did not have euthanasia records. Furthermore, I found many killed animals, particularly cats, were only included in the veterinarian invoices and not the shelter’s records. While the shelter can have animals killed/euthanized at an outside veterinarian’s office, the shelter must maintain all of the euthanasia records as well as intake and disposition records at the shelter as the New Jersey Health Department of Health’s July 23, 2014 inspection report on Linden Animal Control stated. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter violated N.J.A.C. 8.23A 1.11 (f) (4) and 1.13 (a) and (b).

Elizabeth Animal Shelter may have illegally killed cats before seven days passed. While the shelter stopped routinely illegally killing owner surrendered animals in 2016, the shelter’s veterinarian killed many cats at his office that the shelter did not include in its intake and disposition records. If the shelter’s veterinarian did not hold these animals for seven days, and the animals were not hopelessly suffering, the shelter would have violated the state’s stray/hold period found in N.J.S.A. 4:19-15.16. Overall, I found the shelter failed to include nearly 40 cats in its intake and disposition records that were killed at the shelter veterinarian’s office. Almost all the cats the veterinarian listed as ill or injured did not have sufficient documentation in the records provided to me to prove these cats were hopelessly suffering. Furthermore, the veterinarian killed a number of cats for aggression or being feral. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter may have illegally killed large numbers of cats before seven days passed.

Shelter Has No Disease Control Program, No Recent Inspection Reports and Does Not Keep All Required Records

Elizabeth Animal Shelter currently has no disease control program. While the city’s Health Officer assured me a draft program was under review by the Elizabeth Dog Control Committee last year, the city did not provide me a disease control program this year despite repeated requests under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act. Under state law, a shelter must have a disease control program in order to operate. In 2016, the New Jersey Department of Health made this explicitly clear:

If a facility does not have a disease control program established and maintained by a licensed veterinarian, the facility cannot be licensed to operate in New Jersey.

Therefore, Elizabeth Animal Shelter must put an appropriate disease control program into place as soon as possible.

Furthermore, the City of Elizabeth failed to provide me any legally required health department inspection reports that were conducted in 2017 and 2018. Under state law, a shelter must be inspected each year, by June 30 of that year, and show compliance with shelter statutes to receive a license to operate in that year. As a result, Elizabeth Animal Shelter was illegally operating an animal shelter since it should not have had a license to operate the facility after July 1, 2017.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter also failed to document the breed on many cats it took in as required by N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.13 (a). The shelter should start doing so especially since it does not require much effort.

Shelter Continues to Illegally Transfer Stray Animals During the Seven Day Hold Period

Elizabeth Animal Shelter transferred and adopted out 38 dogs and cats during the seven day stray hold period in 2017 (almost all went to rescues). 31 of the 38 animals were cats which often have very low owner reclaim rates. Of the 31 cats, 21 were kittens which are highly susceptible to catching deadly illnesses in animal shelters. However, only two of the seven dogs and 10 of the 31 cats were released for medical reasons. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter appeared to release most of these animals during the seven day hold period for reasons other than medical treatment.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter should retain ownership of the animals it releases during the seven day hold period. In other words, Elizabeth Animal Shelter should have the rescues and adopters “foster” these animals during this time. After seven days, the rescuers and adopters should then take ownership of the pets. While animals are being fostered, the shelter should keep photos and other records as well as the rescue’s/adopter’s contact information to allow someone to redeem their pet. Similarly, individuals or groups fostering these animals must return pets back to the owners during the stray hold period. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter can easily comply with state law, give owners a chance to reclaim their lost pets, and create much needed space to save lives.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Must Make Bold Moves to Improve

Clearly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter must fix many basic sheltering issues. Specifically, the shelter must pass rigorous inspections every year, create and implement a robust disease control program, keep proper records and comply with the stray/hold law. Simply put, Elizabeth Animal Shelter must follow the law.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth Animal Shelter continues to act as if its above the law. Despite my blogs over the last couple of years alerting the shelter to its violations of state law, it continues to break state law. Ultimately, the New Jersey Department of Health must inspect this shelter to force it to take these blatant violations of state law seriously.

Elizabeth animal advocates must step up and resume the activism they conducted in 2014. At that time, the promised volunteer/contractor was the major change the city made to placate animal advocates. As the data from my last blog and this blog show, this person, at least in her current part time role, is not enough to end the killing of healthy and treatable animals in Elizabeth. Instead, the city must create a No Kill Implementation plan similar to the one in Austin, Texas that mandates the shelter fully put the No Kill Equation into place and achieve a minimum 90% live release rate. Furthermore, the City of Elizabeth can hire a no kill consultant, such as No Kill Learning, to help the shelter put this plan into place. If the City of Elizabeth makes these changes, Elizabeth Animal Shelter will finally become a facility that saves rather than takes lives.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Shows Improvement, But Serious Problems Remain: Part 1

Last year, I wrote a series of blogs highlighting significant problems at the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. You can read the two blogs here and here. Specifically, I discussed the following findings:

  1. Shelter had an unacceptably high kill rate
  2. Routine illegal killing of owner surrendered animals during the seven day protection period
  3. Frequent illegal transfers of stray animals to rescues during the seven day hold period
  4. Poor promotion of animals
  5. Shelter adopted out hardly any animals
  6. Shelter did not spay/neuter animals adopted out
  7. Rescues were often only the reason unclaimed animals made it out of the shelter alive
  8. No volunteers allowed at the shelter
  9. Little to no veterinary care provided
  10. Records indicated inhumane euthanasia/killing practices

In addition to my advocacy, other groups, such as the Reformers – Advocates for Animal Shelter Change in NJ, aggressively pushed for change at the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Did Elizabeth Animal Shelter improve? Does the shelter still have serious problems?

Live Release Rate Increases Significantly

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s statistics for all dogs and cats it impounded in 2016 are listed below. You can view the actual records here and here. Overall, 8% of dogs and 16% of cats were killed, died or had unknown outcomes. This equates to a 92% dog live release rate and an 84% cat live release rate. In fact, the shelter reached the 90% live release rate threshold for dogs, and came pretty close to it for cats, that some people consider no kill (I use a much higher standard).

2016 Elizabeth Animal Shelter Dog and Cat Statistics

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s death rate significantly decreased in 2016 compared to 2015. Overall, the shelter’s death rates for both cats and dogs dropped by about half in 2016.

2016 Verses 2016 Elizabeth Animal Shelter Death Rate

Elizabeth Animal Shelter still killed too many pit bulls in 2016. Specifically, about 1 in 5 pit bulls and 1 out of 4 unclaimed pit bulls lost their lives. On the other hand, Elizabeth Animal Shelter achieved very high live release rates for both small dogs and all other breeds.

2016 Elizabeth Dog Breeds Statistics

Similarly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed too many adult cats in 2016. Overall, around 1 in 5 adult cats lost their lives. On the other hand, Elizabeth Animal Shelter reported an impressive 92% live release rate for kittens.

2016 Elizabeth Cat Age Statistics

Despite Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s death rates for adult cats and pit bulls being too high, the facility still made progress in 2016. Overall, the death rates for adult cats and pit bulls decreased by half (from 42% to 21%) and by around one quarter (from 25% to 18%).

Improved Live Release Rate Associated with End of Routine Illegal Killings

Elizabeth Animal Shelter stopped routinely killing owner surrendered animals during the seven day protection period in 2016. In 2015, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed 124 dogs and cats during the state mandated stray hold and owner surrender protection periods (many were killed immediately). On the other hand, Elizabeth Animal Shelter only euthanized 22 dogs and cats during these periods in 2016. While I do have some questions as to whether some of these animals were in fact hopelessly suffering, which they must be for a shelter to take the animal’s life during this time, the facility did appear to relegate these to medical cases.

Overall, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed/euthanized 15% and 4% of all the dogs and cats it impounded in 2015 and 2016 during the seven day protection period. This 11% decrease in killing over the two years accounts for nearly all of the 12% drop in the combined dog and cat live release rate from 2015 to 2016. Thus, the strong advocacy efforts to stop this illegal killing along with efforts to directly save these animals accounts for much of the improvement at the shelter.

Rescues Continue to Save the Day

Elizabeth Animal Shelter relied almost exclusively on rescues to save unclaimed animals. Based on my review of the supporting documents for approximately 40% of the dogs and cats listed as adopted or “medical release” in Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s intake and disposition records, 89% of these cats and 84% of these dogs went to rescues. This is very similar to my findings from the prior year. If I were to extrapolate this data for the entire year, I’d estimate Elizabeth Animal Shelter only adopted out 9% of the cats and 10% of the dogs they impounded. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter almost entirely relied on the rescue community to save its animals.

Based on my observations, Elizabeth Animal Shelter made little effort to adopt out animals. First, the animal shelter is almost never open. The facility is only open from 4 pm to 6 pm on weekdays and from 3 pm to 4 pm on Saturdays. In other words, the shelter is essentially never open when working people can adopt (i.e. weeknights and weekends). In fact, Elizabeth Animal Shelter violates state law by not being open for at least two hours on the weekend. Second, the shelter’s adoption web site has terrible photos of dogs that look like prison mugshots. Even worse, not a single cat adoption listing is currently on the web site. Third, the shelter does not vaccinate or spay/neuter the animals it adopts out. Instead, the shelter threatens adopters from Elizabeth with fines if they do not spay/neuter the animal within 30 days. Fourth, Elizabeth continues to bar volunteers from the facility who could help market these animals. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s poor policies continue to result in the facility adopting out few animals.

While Elizabeth Animal Shelter has very limited space, it can adopt out substantially many more animals. For example, models I developed based on the performance of good, but not the best, animal shelters suggest Elizabeth Animal Shelter could adopt out around 150 dogs and 160 cats each year. If Elizabeth Animal Shelter did this, it would likely allow the shelter to significantly reduce both the pit bull and adult cat kill rates. In reality, most high performing shelters must adopt out a substantial percentage of pit bulls and adult cats to achieve no kill level live release rates for these animals. Furthermore, if Elizabeth Animal Shelter adopted out more animals, rescues could save animals from other high kill shelters and reduce more killing in the state.

Animal Intake Decreases Significantly

Elizabeth Animal Shelter impounded far fewer dogs and and cats in 2016 as compared to 2015. You can view the actual records here and here. Specifically, the facility took in 16% fewer dogs and 32% fewer cats. However, Elizabeth Animal Shelter impounded 26% and 46% fewer owner surrendered dogs and cats in 2016 verses 2015.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2016 Verses 2015 Dog Intake

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2016 Verses 2015 Cat Intake

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s dog and cat intake decreased significantly more than both the Animal Care Centers of NYC and ACCT Philly. As you can see below, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s dog intake decreased around 2 to 3 times more than both of the two larger urban shelters in the region. However, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s cat intake decreased 3-11 times more than these other two shelters.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2016 Verses 2015 Intake Compared to Other Shelters

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s length of stay data supports this theory. The shelter’s average length of stay for dogs and cats in 2016 were 10.7 days (7.5 days in 2015) and 8.1 days (4.1 days in 2015). As a comparison, Elizabeth Animal Shelter only had about 11-13 days and 8-17 days to get each dog and cat out of the shelter in 2015 (i.e. when the shelter took in more animals) before it ran out of space. Therefore, Elizabeth Animal Shelter appeared to take fewer animals in, particularly cats, to avoid overcrowding, at least during higher intake months.

2016 Elizabeth Animal Shelter Dog Length of Stay Data

2016 Elizabeth Animal Shelter Cat Length of Stay Data

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s strategy of relying virtually entirely on rescues to create space is doomed to fail. While the shelter’s use of many rescues reduces the facility’s risk of any single rescue closing or not pulling animals for other reasons, large coalitions of rescues rarely are efficient at adopting out animals. Why? No single rescue faces any negative consequences if it fails to adopt out enough animals to prevent the shelter from killing. For example, if a single shelter or rescue agreed to pull all animals from Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s kill list, and Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed animals the rescue organization did not pull, the rescue organization could face criticism and lose donations. Similarly, if a single rescue saved all of the shelter’s animals it would receive praise and likely receive more financial support from the public. However, when dozens of organizations rescue animals voluntarily, no single group faces any repercussions and such groups have little to gain. Therefore, these organizations will often stick with overly restrictive adoption policies, less aggressive marketing, and overall less effective processes that result in fewer adoptions. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter has limited the number of positive outcomes it can achieve and will likely have to restrict intake to avoid overcrowding and/or killing.

While I would clearly prefer Elizabeth Animal Shelter impound and safely place more animals, the facility is better off not taking in dogs and cats if it is just going to kill them. Clearly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter can do much more and take in all animals needing help, but at the end of the day, I’d rather the animals have a chance of life on the streets or with their existing owners than face a certain death at a kill shelter (especially since most of these animals are healthy cats who are far better off on the streets than in a shelter).

In Part 2 of this series of blogs, I will examine whether Elizabeth Animal Shelter still kills healthy and treatable animals. Additionally, I’ll answer the question as to whether the shelter still violates state law. You can view Part 2 here.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s TNR Program Saves Lives, But Does Not Protect All Animals

Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) and Return to Field programs save lives. TNR programs sterilize and return cats to a colony with a human caretaker while Return to Field initiatives also return healthy cats to where the cats were found if no caretaker exists. A recent study of an intensive Return to Field program in Florida found:

  1. Cat intake at shelter decreased by 66% over a two year period
  2. Cat intake and killing at shelter were 3.5 times and 17.5 times higher in places outside of the zip codes where the intensive Return to Field program took place
  3. Dog intake at shelter decreased by a third due to the program increasing community engagement and freeing up shelter resources to help people keep dogs they were considering surrendering to the shelter

Unsurprisingly, many animal advocates believe TNR is “the solution” to ending the killing of healthy and treatable cats in shelters.

In 2014, Kearny animal advocates successfully convinced elected officials to implement TNR. Initially, Mayor Santos opposed TNR and residents worked to change his mind. At the time, I fully supported their courageous effort and was delighted to see them succeed with help from Bergen County Animal Shelter several months later.

Kearny implemented its TNR program around the beginning of 2015 and volunteers have run it for the last two or so years. Under the program, Bergen County Animal Shelter trains caretakers who trap and feed cats and monitor the cat colonies. Bergen County Animal Shelter sterilizes the cats and those costs are included in the municipality’s animal and control sheltering contract fees. Additionally, the program requires caretakers to register colonies with the town’s TNR Committee, keep detailed records, and resolve complaints with residents.

Has Kearny’s TNR program reduced cat intake and killing at the Bergen County Animal Shelter? Did Bergen County Animal Shelter’s TNR program eliminate the killing of Kearny’s healthy and treatable cats and dogs?

Kearny TNR Program Significantly Decreases Cat Intake and Killing

Bergen County Animal Shelter impounded and killed far fewer cats from Kearny after the town enacted TNR. Prior to implementing TNR, Bergen County Animal Shelter impounded 300 stray cats from Kearny during the first 8 months of 2014. Based on Bergen County Animal Shelter’s stray cat data from all of its municipalities in 2015, I estimate the shelter impounded 425 stray cats from Kearny in 2014. Using the shelter’s 40% cat kill rate in 2014, I estimate Bergen County Animal Shelter killed 170 stray cats from Kearny in the year prior to enacting TNR. As a comparison, Bergen County Animal Shelter impounded around 150 stray cats from Kearny and killed 19 of those cats in 2016. Therefore, Bergen County Animal Shelter reduced the number of stray cats it impounded from Kearny by around 275 cats or 65% in 2016 verses 2014. Similarly, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed/euthanized around 151 or 89% fewer cats in 2016 verses 2014. Thus, the Kearny TNR program sharply reduced cat intake at the shelter and saved large numbers of the town’s cats.

Kearny volunteers and Bergen County Animal Shelter worked together to trap, neuter, vaccinate and release large numbers of cats. Specifically, volunteers trapped 205 cats in 2016 and Bergen County Animal Shelter sterilized, vaccinated and released almost all of these animals. Therefore, both TNR volunteers and Bergen County Animal Shelter actively worked together to make the TNR program succeed.

Kearny’s mayor recently wrote a letter to Lyndhurst elected officials touting the program’s success. Specifically, Mayor Santos cited fewer feral cats, reduced nuisance complains, improved public health and improved animal welfare. Kearny’s mayor sent this letter to encourage Lyndhurst lawmakers to enact a similar program in their borough.

TNR Program Fails to Save all of Kearny’s Healthy and Treatable Cats

While Bergen County Animal Shelter’s TNR program significantly reduced cat killing in Kearny, the shelter still kills too many cats from the town. 16% of cats impounded from Kearny in 2016 lost their lives at the Bergen County Animal Shelter. This death rate exceeds the general no kill benchmark of 10% and is twice as high as the 8% goal I use. If I focus just on Kearny cats Bergen County Animal Shelter has to find new homes for (i.e. excluding cats reclaimed by owners and placed into TNR colonies), the shelter killed 20% or 1 in every 5 of these animals. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter has not achieved no kill status for Kearny’s cats despite having a successful TNR program.

The table below summarizes the reasons Bergen County Animal Shelter used to kill and euthanize Kearny’s cats. Bergen County Animal shelter cited testing positive for FELV or FIV as a reason for taking the lives of 41% of the Kearny cats it killed. Furthermore, Bergen County Animal Shelter cited behavior/feral for killing another 27% of the cats. The shelter euthanized 18% of the cats due to injuries sustained after being hit by cars. Bergen County Animal Shelter killed/euthanized another 19% of the cats for having upper respiratory and other undefined illnesses.

2016 BCAS Kearny Cats Killed Reasons

Bergen County Animal Shelter used positive FELV and FIV snap tests as an excuse to kill cats. Based on the records I reviewed, none of these cats were hopelessly suffering. As I discussed in a prior blog, many shelters successfully adopt out both FIV and FELV positive cats. Furthermore, both Alley Cat Allies and Neighborhood Cats support neutering and releasing otherwise healthy FIV and FELV positive cats. In addition, these organizations oppose testing and killing for FIV and FELV based on the following reasons:

  1. Tests are unreliable and often positive results relate to a prior vaccination
  2. Spaying/neutering reduces risk of disease transmission
  3. Most cats are asymptomatic
  4. Tests are expensive and divert resources from lifesaving programs
  5. American Association of Feline Practitioners oppose routine killing of FIV and FELV positive cats

Furthermore, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed several cats from Kearny for “behavior” and/or being “feral” despite the shelter having a TNR program in the town.

Cat ID# 20765 was a stray cat impounded from Kearny. After just a single day, Bergen County Animal Shelter tested the cat for FELV and determined he was FELV positive. Despite no documented FELV symptoms or any other medical condition, Bergen County Animal Shelter illegally killed him on the very same day. In addition, the shelter miraculously concluded he was feral after just a single day at the shelter. As a result, Bergen County Animal Shelter violated the state’s 7 day stray hold period and needlessly killed this cat despite having a TNR program in place.

Cat ID# 22471 was a stray “feral” cat with a “possible ear tip” impounded by the Bergen County Animal Shelter. Despite Bergen County Animal Shelter having a TNR program, the shelter killed him 7 days later on the very same day he tested positive for FIV.

22471 Intake Form.jpg

22471 Intake Form 2

22471 Medical Record and Euthanasia Record

Cat ID# 21796 was a cat impounded from the “Isabelle house colony” in Kearny on June 16, 2016. After about two months, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed her for testing positive for FIV. The shelter documented no other medical issues in her records.

Tom was a 1 year old cat from Kearny and was surrendered to the shelter due to his owner moving to a place that did not allow cats. According to the owner, Tom was litter box trained, did not bite even if startled, and was an indoor cat. While Tom did not like to be held or petted, many people adopt cats with “cattitude.” Despite successfully living in a home, Bergen County Animal Shelter evaluated Tom, who was likely stressed adjusting to a shelter environment, just 4 days after arriving at the facility and deemed him aggressive. On the very same day, Bergen County Animal Shelter illegally killed Tom during the 7 day owner surrender protection period. Bergen County Animal Shelter made no effort to socialize Tom despite strong evidence showing a structured program can make many “feral” or “aggressive” cats adoptable. Even if Tom was “aggressive”, Bergen County Animal Shelter could have placed him in a colony. Instead, Bergen County Animal Shelter illegally killed this perfectly healthy cat.

Bergen County Animal Shelter could have attained a no kill level live release rate for Kearny’s cats. If the shelter saved its FIV and FELV positive cats who appeared healthy and treatable and those it deemed “aggressive”, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s death rate would decrease from 16% to 9%. Furthermore, if the shelter saved several other cats that clearly were treatable, Bergen County Animal Shelter could have reduced the Kearny cat death rate to 8% or lower. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s TNR program did not protect all of Kearny’s healthy and treatable cats.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s Death Camp for Kearny Dogs

Bergen County Animal Shelter killed Kearny’s homeless dogs at an astronomical rate. 39% of all dogs, 79% of pit bulls and 17% of the other breeds impounded from Kearny during 2016 lost their lives. If we just count the dogs not reclaimed by owners (i.e. dogs the shelter had to find new homes for), 65% of all dogs, 92% of pit bulls and 36% of other breeds lost their lives. Simply put, Bergen County Animal Shelter was more likely to kill dogs from Kearny than find them new homes. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter acted more like an exterminator than an animal shelter when it came to Kearny’s homeless dogs.

2016 BCAS Kearny Dog Statistics

Bergen County killed virtually all of these Kearny dogs for so-called “behavior” reasons. The shelter cited “behavior” as the reason for killing 11 or 79% of the 14 dogs killed. Several medical reasons, some of which did not show the dog was hopelessly suffering, were used to justify killing/euthanizing the other 3 dogs.

Kearny Dogs Killed

Dog ID# 19450 was a stray dog brought to the Bergen County Animal Shelter by the Kearny Police Department. The dog’s intake record stated “Nice Dog”, “Friendly” and listed 3 heart signs indicating this was a wonderful animal.

Despite this glowing review of the dog outside of his kennel, Bergen County Animal Shelter decided to kill him 16 days later for “agitated barking” and failing to “display soft friendly behavior” in his kennel. The shelter justified this absurd decision since the dog continued his “agitated barking” after a staff person knelt down and offered a treat. Speaking as someone who dealt with the very same type of dogs at other shelters, barrier reactivity does not mean a dog is aggressive (especially one that is “Nice” and “Friendly”). In fact, the Executive Director of the open admission Humane Society of Fremont County proved even highly aggressive dogs can come around. Furthermore, the dog was sent to an isolation area and given an antibiotic three days after his evaluation suggesting he may have been sick during the evaluation (i.e. which could have caused him to “display agitated barking). Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter needlessly killed a “nice” and “friendly” dog from Kearny.

19450 Surrender Form.jpg

19450 Surrender Form 2

19450 Evaluation.jpg

19450 Medical Treatment.jpg

19450 Killing Record.jpg

Yaya was a 9 month old dog from Kearny surrendered by her owner due to landlord issues to the Bergen County Animal Shelter. According to Yaya’s owner, Yaya lived with two adults and a child and had no behavioral issues. In fact, Yaya slept in a room next to the owner’s son.

Despite the owner’s positive experience living with Yaya in a real world setting, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed her for behavior reasons. According to Yaya’s initial evaluation on May 10, 2016, Yaya was so scared in the shelter that she “hunched up in a ball.” Furthermore, this evaluation noted Yaya was lactating and possibly being away from her puppies “may be adding to her anxiety.” The evaluation went on to recommend putting a vari kennel (i.e. a dog crate/carrier) in her enclosure to “give her a quieter place to relax.” Yaya’s second evaluation noted the “vari kennel had been removed from her kennel despite recommendations to keep in the kennel.” This second evaluation then condemned Yaya to death and justified it by stating she “growled at a female staff member”, “silently charged the gate” and “stood in front of kennel holding a hard stare.”

Bergen County Animal Shelter provided little to no help to ease Yaya’s obvious stress. First, Bergen County Animal Shelter failed to comply with their own recommendation to keep a dog crate/kennel in Yaya’s enclosure to reduce her anxiety. Furthermore, Bergen County Animal Shelter violated state law, N.J.A.C. 8.23A 1.9(d) requiring shelters provide relief to “animals displaying signs of stress.” N.J.A.C. 8.23A 1.9(d) goes on to state “environmental stress can be mediated through reducing the negative impact of excess noise, smells, visual stimuli, and perceived threats; socialization; exercise; increased privacy; and providing comfort, such as soft bedding.” Therefore, Bergen County Animal Shelter violated state law by failing to help ease the “environmental stress” Yaya endured.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s killing dogs for kennel stress (i.e. barrier reactivity, cage aggression, etc.) is absurd. As Dogs Playing for Life states, barrier reactivity is “not an accurate indicator of a dog’s social skills.” Volunteers at most animal shelters will tell you how different dog behavior is inside a cage at a stressful shelter and outside in real world situations. In the case of Yaya, we can clearly see she was stressed out in a shelter environment, perhaps exacerbated by being separated from puppies she may have had and her human family. Furthermore, Yaya’s family indicated the dog had no issues living in their home. Instead, Bergen County Animal Shelter should have let Yaya engage in real world situations, such as through socialization outside her kennel and structured play groups as a recent scientific study recommended. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s killing of Yaya goes against smart sheltering practices and basic common sense.

Yaya Owner Surrender Questionairre 1

Yaya Owner Surrender Questionairre 2

Yaya Evaluation

Yaya Killing Record

After reviewing Bergen County Animal Shelter’s records for the Kearny dogs it took in during 2016, it was quite clear the shelter could have saved at least 95% of these dogs. Instead, Bergen County Animal Shelter took the easy way out and frequently killed Kearny dogs for convenience and cost savings.

TNR Alone Does Not Create No Kill Communities 

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s TNR program in Kearny proves organizations must implement the key No Kill Equation programs to create no kill communities. Certainly, TNR significantly decreased cat killing in Kearny, but many healthy and treatable cats and dogs from Kearny still lost their lives at the Bergen County Animal Shelter. Why? The shelter’s leader lacks a passionate commitment to lifesaving. When the shelter director looks for excuses to kill, such as a “positive” FIV or FELV test on an otherwise healthy cat or a dog stressed out in its kennel, healthy and treatable animals die no matter how good the organization’s TNR program is. Thus, Kearny or any community will never achieve no kill status until its shelter’s leaders become passionate about saving lives and enthusiastically implement the No Kill Equation.

So what should Kearny animal advocates do? First, they should thank Bergen County Animal Shelter and Kearny’s elected officials for embracing TNR. Second, they should encourage the town to consider altering the ordinance to eliminate the mandate to register colonies, as recommended by Alley Cat Allies, since this law punishes TNR practitioners who are doing lifesaving work, but are not able to comply with the ordinance’s burdensome record keeping requirements. Finally, residents should tell their elected officials to pressure Bergen County Animal Shelter to replace the facility’s incompetent shelter director and enthusiastically adopt the No Kill Equation. That is the only way we’ll make Kearny a no kill community.

What Great Animal Shelters Do After the End of the Year

Great organizations do big things and make people aware of it. In the business world, companies sell products and services customers love and advertise these facts. Businesses subsequently invest much of their profits to continuously improve these products and services. On the other hand, governments or not for profits run animals shelters and must rely on taxpayer and donor funding as well as volunteer support to help improve the way they do things.

What are some ways successful animal shelters secure the financial and volunteer support they need? How does this differ from the typical high kill shelter?

Do a Great Job

Animal shelters must save lives and inspire the public. Simply put, a shelter must lead by example to obtain public support. Organizations must enthusiastically implement most, if not all, of the no kill equation programs. You can see clear examples of organizations implementing these programs at animal control shelters in Austin, Texas, Kansas City, Missouri, and Lynchburg, Virginia. Thus, great animal shelters must perform at a high level to garner the public support they need.

Share Successes and Challenges from Prior Year

Elite animal shelters provide transparent statistics and summarize performance over the past year. Intake and disposition statistics, which provide specific details on how major types of animals came into and left the shelter, give the public a clear picture of how the organization is doing. In the business world, companies issue financial statements and supplemental disclosures to entice investors to provide funding. Similarly, detailed statistics and supporting commentary give donors and volunteers a reason to support a shelter.

In the upcoming months, many great shelters will voluntarily disclose their full 2016 intake and disposition statistics and also analyze their performance during the year. In general, you will notice several things:

  1. High and/or sharply increasing live release rates
  2. Continuous desire to improve with supporting data
  3. Inspirational tone

However, several elite shelters already provided some of this information for 2016.

Lynchburg Humane Society posted its key 2016 statistics on its Facebook page just nine days into the new year. The shelter’s post was short and contained the following key facts:

  1. Save rate increased to 96% in 2016 from 94% in 2015
  2. Shelter took in over 600 more pets than it impounded in the prior year
  3. Shelter adopted out nearly 800 more dogs in 2016
  4. Nearly 700 more kids participated in the organization’s programs in 2016
  5. Shelter saved around 600 animals from other counties and 300 more than in 2015
  6. Over 1,700 outdoor cats spayed/neutered
  7. Nearly 6,700 spay/neuter surgeries performed
  8. A link to donate to the organization

Clearly, the shelter communicates it is doing great things and improving. Simply put, the shelter inspires confidence and makes choosing to donate an easy decision.

KC Pet Project wrote an engaging summary of the organization’s 2016 performance on its web site shortly after the start of 2017. Some of the key takeaways are as follows:

  1. KC Pet Project quickly transformed a terrible shelter into the nation’s third largest no kill facility several years ago
  2. The shelter’s live release rate of 95% hit a record high in 2016
  3. The organization adopted out a record number of animals in 2016 (over 6,200 pets)
  4. The shelter impounded 4% more animals in 2016
  5. Dog length of stay decreased by 5 days to 18 days in 2016
  6. Cat length of stay decreased by 7 days to 41 days during the year
  7. Over 3,000 animals adopted out at the organization’s off-site adoption centers
  8. Thousands of pets went to foster homes during the year with over 800 of these animals directly adopted out by the fosters through the shelter’s Adoption Ambassadors program
  9. Nearly 100 feral cats adopted out as barn/warehouse cats
  10. Over 1,500 pets received extraordinary levels of care through a special program
  11. A link to donate to the organization

KC Pet Project clearly made the case it is highly successful and continuously improving. Thus, the shelter inspires animal loving people to donate and volunteer.

Austin Animal Center also shared an excellent summary of its 2016 performance on its web site in early January. The shelter’s communicated the following key messages:

  1. Shelter achieved a record high 96% live release rate (98% for dogs, 95% for cats)
  2. Shelter adopted out nearly 8,000 animals and around 500 more pets than it adopted out in the prior year
  3. Shelter returned nearly 2,800 lost animals to their families and ACOs returned an additional 700 more animals to their homes in the field (i.e. never went to the shelter)
  4. Around 800 volunteers contributed nearly 54,000 hours during the year (equivalent to 26 full time employees)
  5. 900 foster families housed 2,500 animals with fosters adopting out 2/3 of the pets themselves
  6. Fosters contributed nearly 82,000 hours in 2016 which is equivalent to 39 full time employees
  7. Shelter takes in 17,000 animal a year and typically cares for 900 animals at a time
  8. Shelter performs more than 5,000 spay/neuter surgeries a year
  9. Shelter achieved this great success despite severe weather events in the area that increased animal intake
  10. Shelter will participate in a pilot program to humanely mitigate human-wildlife conflicts
  11. Shelter started a program to help prison inmates provide care to dogs
  12. Austin Animal Center will help other shelters develop adult dog foster programs

In addition, Austin Animal Center issued detailed monthly statistical reports throughout the year. These reports provided intake and disposition statistics as well as live release rates by major animal class (i.e. neonatal puppy, neonatal kitten, puppy, kitten, adult dog and adult cat).

Austin Animal Center clearly communicates it performs excellent work, keeps improving, and looks to do even better things. In other words, Austin Animal Center’s message is inspiring and encourages people to support the shelter.

New Jersey Animal Shelters Fail to Follow Successful Formula

Hardly any New Jersey animal control shelters voluntarily disclose full statistics on their web sites and social medial pages and summarize their annual performance. In fact, I only recall a couple of shelters occasionally sharing this information. Instead, the state’s largest animal welfare organization, Associated Humane Societies, routinely posts alleged animal cruelty stories and fundraises off them while killing massive numbers of animals in its Newark shelter. As I’ve stated in a previous blog, these money-grubbing tactics make shelter pets seem like “damaged goods” to the average pet owner and reduce life saving. Additionally, these tactics shift the public’s attention from the shelter’s terrible performance to the alleged cruelty of individual people who are not representative of the public at large. Thus, most New Jersey animal shelters must start disclosing more information about themselves and stop shifting the public’s attention from their performance.

Clearly, the New Jersey animal shelter industry has an open niche for progressive organizations to sweep in and replace the many horrible organizations in the state. Now is the time for animal lovers to form a not for profit to do the great work our animals need. A few people formed KC Pet Project to take over the Kansas City animal control shelter. Within a few months, this new organization turned the facility from a high kill to a no kill shelter. If they can do it, so can you. Follow your dreams and use these successful shelters’ operating models as a guide to fix our failing shelters.

Elizabeth’s Enigma of an Animal Shelter (Part 2 of 2)

In my last blog, I discussed the recent history of the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Specifically, I wrote about how the shelter’s illegal killing of Jennifer Arteta’s two dogs, Daphne and Rocko, during the 7 day hold period in June 2014 sparked an effort to reform the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Additionally, I analyzed the shelter’s 2015 statistics to see if the changes the shelter made improved the plight of animals entering the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. To read Part 1 of this blog, please click this link.

Part 2 of this blog analyzes Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s compliance with New Jersey shelter laws. This blog also examines the shelter’s recent actions. Finally, I provide an answer to the question as to whether the Elizabeth Animal Shelter still needs reform.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Illegally Kills Massive Numbers of Animals Prior to the End of the 7 Day Hold Period

Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed animals during the 7 day hold before and after the illegal killing of Daphne and Rocko. Despite Daphne being playful and Rocko loving to cuddle, Elizabeth Animal Shelter wrote “aggressive” on their intake and disposition records and killed them on the day the two dogs arrived at the shelter. Under New Jersey shelter law, shelters cannot kill any animal, whether stray or surrendered by their owners, until after 7 full days. Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed 48 dogs and 35 cats in 2014 prior to the end of the 7 day hold period. To put it another way, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed 49% of the dogs and 85% of the cats it killed in 2014. In fact, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed 25 dogs and 14 cats in 2014 after News 12 New Jersey reported Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s illegal killing of Daphne and Rocko. Even worse, Elizabeth Animal Shelter resumed the illegal killings less than a month after the News 12 story came out and the related uproar. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter thumbed its nose at animal advocates, state law and all Elizabeth pet owners.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter continued to illegally kill animals during the 7 day hold period in 2015. Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed 28 dogs and 96 cats during the 7 day hold period in 2015. To state it another way, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed 53% of the dogs and 86% of the cats it killed in 2015. In addition, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed 9 of those dogs and 5 of those cats after the New Jersey Department of Health issued a memo on October 20, 2015 reminding all shelters that it is illegal to kill animals during the 7 day hold period. Under New Jersey law, shelters technically can’t kill animals who are hopelessly suffering during the 7 day hold period, but the New Jersey Department of Health generally does not go after shelters if a veterinarian documents the animal was hopelessly suffering in a detailed manner. While Elizabeth Animal Shelter labeled some animals as “sick” or “medical euthanasia”, the city provided no veterinary records proving these animals were in fact hopelessly suffering. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed even more animals in 2015 than 2014.

You can find all the intake and disposition records for 2014 here and for 2015 here.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Illegally Adopts Out and Sends Stray Animals to Rescues During the 7 Day Hold Period

Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally adopted out and sent large numbers of dogs and cats to rescues during the 7 day stray/hold period in 2014. Under New Jersey shelter law, shelters must hold stray animals for 7 days prior to adopting those pets out or sending them to rescues. The law is designed to provide pet owners a reasonable opportunity to find their animals. In 2014, Elizabeth Animal Shelter adopted out/transferred to rescues 21 stray dogs and 120 stray cats during their stray/hold periods. 13% and 36% of all dogs and cats Elizabeth Animal Shelter adopted out/sent to rescues were done so illegally in 2014. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter violated the 7 day stray hold period on a massive scale in 2014.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter continued to illegally adopt out and send large numbers of animals to rescues during the 7 day hold period in 2015. In 2015, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally adopted out/transferred to rescues 30 dogs and 75 cats. 14% and 25% of all dogs and cats Elizabeth Animal Shelter adopted out/sent to rescues were done so illegally in 2015. In fact, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed or adopted out/sent to rescues 106 of 171 stray cats or 62% of these animals during the 7 day stray/hold period in 2015. Similarly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed or adopted out/sent to rescues 35 out of 209 stray dogs or 17% of these animals during the 7 day stray/hold period in 2015. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter willfully violated state shelter law and potentially prevented scores of animals from finding their families.

While I can understand Elizabeth Animal Shelter feels pressure to place animals quickly with its small facility, the shelter’s actions are not justified. Certainly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s limited space causes the shelter to fill up quickly. However, Elizabeth Animal Shelter did not appear to consistently use its full capacity. The following table compares the “required length of stay” or the maximum time the shelter could keep each animal on average before it runs out of room each month with the average length of of stay for these periods. In other words, this metric estimates how much shelter capacity was used. As you can see, Elizabeth Animal Shelter only used around 61% and 27% of its dog and cat capacity on average during the year. In fact, Elizabeth Animal Shelter did not come close to reaching its maximum capacity in any one month.

Elizabeth Dog Capacity Used

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (25)

Clearly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s space constraints did not force it to adopt out and send animals to rescues during the 7 day stray/hold period. The city and the shelter simply wanted to save money and do less work by handing animals to rescues as quickly as possible.

To further support the shelter having enough space to obey the state’s 7 day hold period, I recalculated Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s average length of stay if it kept animals for the required 7 day hold period. If the shelter held animals it either illegally killed or adopted out or sent to rescues during the 7 day hold period for 7 days, the shelter’s average length of stay would only rise to 6.3 days for cats and 8.2 days for dogs. As a comparison, the shelter’s required length of stay each month was significantly below these figures (8.8 days to 62 days for cats and 9.2 days to 25.7 days for dogs). Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter did not have to violate the state’s 7 day hold law to avoid overcrowding.

Animals Killed Off the Books

Elizabeth Animal Shelter took a number of injured and sick animals directly to an outside veterinarian and did not report doing so in its intake and disposition records. The veterinarian killed/euthanized almost all of these animals (3 dogs, 12 cats plus a number of wild animals). While many were hopelessly suffering, the veterinarian’s invoices inadequately documented the reason for killing/euthanasia in some cases. The example below provides one such example where the veterinarian killed a cat and listed the animal as “injured” without any specific details:

Elizabeth Vet Invoice

Furthermore, the shelter provided me no additional veterinary records in response to my OPRA requests. Given this veterinarian killed most of these dogs and cats on behalf of Elizabeth Animal Shelter prior to the 7 day hold period, the inadequate documentation represents additional shelter law violations. Also, I could not find any of these animals included in the Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s intake and disposition records. Therefore, the shelter violated N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.13 which requires intake and disposition data on every single impounded animal. Finally, the shelter’s inability to count these animals in its records raises questions as to whether the shelter is also killing other animals off the books.

If I add these dogs and cats to the intake and disposition records, the shelter’s death rates increase by 1-2 percentage points:

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (23).jpg

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (24)

Highly Questionable Categorization of Animals as Owner Surrenders

Elizabeth Animal Shelter classified an unusually large number of dogs and cats as owner surrenders. Specifically, the shelter classified 42% of dogs and 60% of cats as being surrendered by their owners. As a comparison, New Jersey animal shelters as a whole only classified 32% and 27% of stray and surrendered dogs and cats as owner surrenders in 2014. Furthermore, shelters serving poor areas, such as Liberty Humane Society (20% of both stray and owner surrendered dogs and cats classified as surrendered by owners), Camden County Animal Shelter (28% and 19% of stray and owner surrendered dogs and cats classified as surrendered by owners), and Atlantic County Animal Shelter (19% and 11% of stray and owner surrendered dogs and cats classified as surrendered by owners), categorized much lower percentages of animals as owner surrenders. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter placed unusually large numbers of animals into the owner surrender category.

In fact, per the records I reviewed, the shelter classified nearly every single animal turned in by a person as an owner surrender. However, in reality, shelters receive significant numbers of strays from people finding animals and turning them over to the shelter. Below is an example of one of the shelter’s animal surrender forms (I removed certain information to protect the person’s personal information). As you can see, the form does not state the person surrendering the animal is the owner nor does the form seek any documentation that the animal is in fact owned by the person.

Elizabeth Surrender form.jpg

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s convenient classification of most animals as owner surrenders rather than strays reduces costs and saves shelter staff from doing more work. Under current state law, shelters must hold all strays for 7 days to provide the animal’s owner the opportunity to get their family member back. If Elizabeth Animal Shelter classifies the animal as an owner surrender rather than a stray under current law, the shelter can immediately hand the animal over to a rescue instead of caring for the animal for 7 days. Prior to 2011, the shelter could also immediately kill an owner surrendered animal upon intake. As discussed above, Elizabeth Animal Shelter still operates as if the old law relating to owner surrendered animals was still in place and often kills owner surrenders during the 7 day hold period. To make matters worse, Elizabeth Animal Shelter only accepts owner surrenders on Thursdays, the day its part-time veterinarian comes to the shelter, and kills large numbers of so-called owner surrenders on that day. In fact, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed 77 or 72% of the 107 “owner surrender” dogs and cats it killed in 2015 on the day the shelter accepted those animals. In other words, just like Daphne and Rocko, Elizabeth Animal Shelter conveniently classifies animals as owner surrenders to kill them as soon as possible, even if doing so is illegal.

Records Raise Serious Questions as to Whether Elizabeth Animal Shelter Humanely Euthanizes Animals 

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s euthanasia records do not specify how the shelter killed or euthanized animals. Specifically, the records do not state whether the shelter euthanized/killed each animal by an intravenous (preferred method), intraperitoneal or intracardiac (i.e. heart sticking) injection. Per New Jersey law, shelters can only use intraperitoneal injections on comatose animals and neonatal kittens. Under this method, animals are injected in the abdominal cavity and can take up to 30 minutes to die. Heart sticking, as the name implies, involves stabbing an animal in the heart with Fatal Plus poison and New Jersey shelters can only use this method on heavily sedated, anesthetized or comatose animals. Additionally, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s records do not state what specific euthanasia drug the facility used for each animal. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s euthanasia records do not indicate whether animals are in fact humanely euthanized.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter chooses to sedate rather than comfort animals prior to euthanasia. Specifically, the shelter injected Ketamine into nearly every animal to restrain them prior to administering a poison to kill the animals. The Humane Society of the United States Euthanasia Reference Manual states shelters should avoid using a preeuthanasia anesthetic and hold and comfort animals when appropriate:

When appropriate, it is often best practice to hold and comfort an animal for direct IV or IP injection of sodium pentobarbital rather than injecting a preeuthanasia anesthetic, but neglecting or refusing to use pre-euthanasia drugs when direct injection would cause the animal undue stress is equally ill-advised.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s decision to sedate virtually every animal instead of comforting these creatures speaks volumes about how the shelter feels about animals. While some animals are aggressive and require sedatives, surely not 163 of 164 cats and dogs were vicious or incapable of being comforted. After all, when you order the “owner surrenders” to come in on Thursdays for killing you don’t have time to hold and comfort animals. You just stick them with Ketamine and then poison them to death.

To make matters worse, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s use of pure Ketamine as a preeuthanasia drug is cruel. The Humane Society of United State Euthanasia Reference Manual states shelters should not use Ketamine alone to sedate an animal for killing as it makes the animal’s muscles rigid and the injection stings so much that the animal reacts very negatively to it. If that was not bad enough, large doses can cause convulsions and seizures.

Ketamine (available commercially as Ketaset, Ketaject, and others) is an anesthetic agent that renders an animal completely immobile. However, when used alone it can cause the muscles to become rigid, causing the body to  stiffen. It also stings so much upon injection that it creates a fairly pronounced reaction in most animals. Moreover, in large doses it can produce convulsions and seizures. For these reasons, ketamine is recommended for use only when combined with another drug (like xylazine to create PreMix, above), that tempers these negative effects.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter also used excessive doses of Ketamine. Elizabeth Animal Shelter administered 1.5 cubic centimeters of Ketamine to virtually every adult cat. The product label states 1 milliliter, which equals 1 cubic centimeter, of the Ketamine drug contains 100 milligrams of the active Ketamine ingredient. In addition, the product label states cats requiring restraint should receive a dose of 5 milligrams/pound of cat. The product label also states veterinary personnel should use a dose of 10-15 milligrams/pound of cat to produce anesthesia. Based on most cats weighing 8 pounds, that means the cats should have only received 40-120 milligrams or 0.4-1.2 cubic centimeters of the Ketamine drug. In other words, Elizabeth Animal Shelter provided doses up to 4 times greater than the label indicates. In addition, cats weighing as little as 5 pounds, which would require 0.25-0.75 cubic centimeter doses per the product label, also received the 1.5 cubic centimeter dose. Given large doses can “produce convulsions and seizures”, this indicates many animals could have experienced agony prior to their killing.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter also used incorrect doses of its euthanasia drug assuming it used sodium pentobarbital or Fatal Plus. Per the Humane Society of United States Euthanasia Reference Manual, shelters should use 1 cubic centimeter of Fatal Plus per 10 pounds of animal body weight for intravenous and heart sticking injections and 3 cubic centimeters of Fatal Plus per 10 pounds of animal body weight for intraperitoneal injections. For an 8 pound cat, that would equal 0.8 cubic centimeters of Fatal Plus. However, Elizabeth Animal Shelter used 2 cubic centimeters of its euthanasia drug for just about every adult cat weighing 8 pounds and for most adult cats of different weights. If the shelter used intraperitoneal injections on the 8 pound cats, that would require 2.4 cubic centimeters of the drug compared to the 2 cubic centimeters used by the shelter. Animals receiving too small of a dose may have been still alive before being dumped in the trash or an incinerator if the shelter used intraperitoneal injections. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s use of these drugs raises serious questions about whether the facility humanely euthanizes animals.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s euthanasia logs list questionable weights for the animals and raise questions as to whether the shelter actually weighed the animals. Under N.J.A.C. 8:23A-1.11 (f) 3 and 4, shelters must weigh each animal and keep a log of those body weights as well as the drugs used to immobilize and euthanize the animals. Almost all the adult cats weighed exactly 8 pounds. Additionally, most of the weights listed for dogs were convenient numbers, such as 60, 65, and 80 pounds. Frankly, I find it highly unlikely that many dogs just happened to weigh in at these user friendly amounts.

Perhaps the most egregious example was Elizabeth Animal Shelter listing a groundhog weighing 40 pounds in its euthanasia log below. Groundhogs typically weigh from 4-9 pounds with 31 pounds being the maximum weight. Now either Elizabeth Animal Shelter impounded the largest groundhog in world history or it didn’t actually weigh the animal. Conveniently, the animal preceding this mammoth sized groundhog was a raccoon weighing the same 40 pounds.

Elizabeth Groundhoug weight.jpg

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s questionable record keeping raise concerns about whether controlled substances at the shelter are secure. If the shelter reports using more of these controlled substances than they actually do (i.e. a possibility if they are in fact running a humane operation), that provides staff the opportunity to steal some of these drugs. In the case of Ketamine, this is a highly sought after black market recreational drug. As a result, the shelter’s euthanasia records raise concerns that go beyond animal welfare.

Shelter Budget Reflects Misguided Priorities

Elizabeth spends almost its entire shelter budget on employee salaries. Unlike most municipalities that separately disclose the animal shelter’s budget, Elizabeth buries the shelter’s projected expenditures within its Health Department budget. The Health Department’s 2016 budget reveals the Elizabeth Animal Shelter pays salaries totaling $144,481 for its ACOs and $23,241 for a part-time veterinarian. In addition, the Health Officer, Mark Colicchio, who spends part of his time overseeing the shelter, receives a salary of $92,787 a year. Unfortunately, the budget provides no other details on animal shelter expenditures. Unless other animal shelters costs are covered in the $145,000 “Other Charges” line in the Health Department budget, the shelter devotes nearly 100% of its costs to paying people’s salaries and not on animal care.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s part-time veterinarian seems to do nothing more than come in and kill animals. Based on discussions I’ve had with several people familiar with the shelter, the part-time veterinarian works at the shelter every Thursday. As discussed above, the shelter only accepts “owner surrenders”, which seems to include both animals actually surrendered by their owners and stray animals found by people, on the day the veterinarian comes in. Sadly, the shelter kills many of these animals on that very day. In fact, that is exactly what happened to Daphne and Rocko. Despite requesting veterinary records under OPRA, the shelter provided me no such records other than those for emergency care performed by an outside veterinarian (most of these animals were euthanized). In other words, Elizabeth’s part-time veterinarian appears to receive around $450 to come in on each Thursday to kill animals.

Videos Reveal Poor Animal Sheltering Practices

In a recent video, Darcy Del Castillo and another ACO were not conducting behavioral evaluations according to the ASPCA’s guidance. Specifically, the ASPCA guidance states:

  1. The room should be quiet: no phones, intercoms, pagers, barking dogs, people talking, and animals housed here
  2. No distractions during the test such as phones, multi-tasking assessors, side conversations and smells that can capture the dog’s interest.
  3. Tester should hold leash with slack

During the video, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s evaluator uses a room filled with distractions, talks with another person, and tethers the dog on a tight leash to a kennel. Additionally, another staff member yells at the dog.

Furthermore, the shelter still conducts food guarding tests despite the ASPCA recommending that shelters stop using these inaccurate tests and instead provide all adopters information on how to manage food aggression. Many shelters classify and kill dogs for being food aggressive that don’t display food guarding in a home. Additionally, many dogs who pass food aggression tests in a shelter display the trait in a home setting. Thus, the shelter’s continued use of food aggression tests puts both animals and people at risk.

Another video shows an ACO using a chokepole on a friendly dog abandoned in a home. Given chokepoles can strangle a struggling dog, ACOs should only use these devices as a last resort. Frankly, this video speaks volumes about how some of Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s ACOs feel about animals.

Elizabeth Tries to Dupe the Public Into Believing the Shelter Saved Lots of Animals During the Holidays

In late December, a local news story raved about the job Elizabeth Animal Shelter is doing. The article, which appeared like it was hastily written by the Elizabeth Health Department, stated the shelter saved all of its animals prior to Christmas. Additionally, the news story mentioned positive changes began in the Fall of 2013 (actually it was in 2014) after the facility started evaluating animals and allowing people to post the shelter’s animals on social media. Furthermore, the article touted the city’s pet limit law and policy requiring adopters to alter their animals or face fines. Finally, the article praised Darcy Del Castillo’s sharing of animals on her Shelter Helpers Facebook page and also made a quick reference to the Friends of Elizabeth Animal Shelter Facebook page.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed many animals during the month of December. As the tables below show, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed 44% and 20% of all non-reclaimed cats and dogs. In fact, the shelter’s kill rate in December was higher than the average for the year despite very low animal intake relative to most months. While the shelter labeled some of these animals as “sick” and “medical euthanasia”, the city provided me no actual veterinary documentation that these animals were in fact hopelessly suffering. Furthermore, the high kill rate makes it highly unlikely that most of these animals were in a permanent state of severe physical distress. Thus, Elizabeth failed to tell the public about its entire performance during the holiday season.Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (20)

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (28)

The Elizabeth Animal Shelter also violated the 7 day hold period during December 2015. The shelter illegally killed 7 dogs and cats prior the end of the 7 day hold period during December 2015. In fact, the facility illegally killed two owner surrendered cats on December 31 just before the New Years Day holiday. Furthermore, Elizabeth Animal Shelter adopted out/sent to rescue 3 stray dogs during their 7 day hold period in December 2015. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter patted itself on the back while it operated in an illegal manner.

Elizabeth’s touting of its more stringent animal control laws reveals a city putting into place policies that will take rather than save lives. First and foremost, the shelter’s hypocritical requirement that Elizabeth residents alter adopted dogs when the city shelter refuses to do so discourages adoptions. How many companies sell you a product with the threat of heavy fines if you don’t do what they say? Its like Toyota selling you an automobile without seat belts and fining you if you don’t put them in yourself. Frankly, that type of policy scares adopters away. Second, pet limit laws reduce the number of homes for animals and lead to increased shelter intake and killing. The ASPCA, HSUS, Best Friends and the No Kill Advocacy Center all oppose these laws as these statutes waste scarce resources that cities can use to save animals and lead to increased shelter killing. Furthermore, cities can enforce animal cruelty statutes without having pet limit laws. Thus, Elizabeth brags about animal control policies that exacerbate rather than reduce shelter killing.

The glowing Elizabeth Animal Shelter story failed to recognize many of the other people responsible for emptying the shelter out before last Christmas. Specifically, the press release failed to recognize Jennifer Arteta, who runs the Friends of Elizabeth Animal Shelter Facebook page mentioned in the story. Ms. Arteta was the owner of the two dogs, Daphne and Rocko, who Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed in June 2014 and who led the effort to reform the shelter. In addition, the story failed to mention the Union County Lost Pets Facebook group which actively promotes and finds placement for Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s animals. The person running the Union County Lost Pets group also worked to reform Elizabeth Animal Shelter after the Daphne and Rocko incident. As a result, the article failed to mention that the very people fighting against the city to reform the shelter played a key role in emptying out the Elizabeth Animal Shelter.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Still Needs Reform

The Elizabeth Animal Shelter has improved in some respects since it illegally killed Daphne and Rocko in June of 2014. Certainly, the shelter decreased its dog kill rate and Darcy Del Castillo deserves some credit. However, the shelter’s cat kill rate increased since Ms. Del Castillo’s arrival at the shelter. That being said, Elizabeth Animal Shelter is a far safer place for animals than the atrocious Associated Humane Societies-Newark shelter located a few miles away.

However, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s improvement with dogs is primarily due to the rescue community and not the city or its shelter. After following Facebook pages, such as Union County Lost Pets and Friends of the Elizabeth Animal Shelter, and reviewing the shelter’s records, I can clearly see how hard local rescues, animal advocates and Elizabeth residents work to save animals from the shelter. The shelter basically throws out a terrible photo and tells the rescue community to save the animal or the dog or cat will die. Even the few animals the shelter adopts out are due to local animal advocates promoting the pets rather than the shelter itself. Other than Ms. Del Castillo, no one at the shelter appears to do anything proactive to save the animals. Even worse, the near 100% reliance on rescues likely results in little to no net increase in lifesaving in the region due to rescues pulling from Elizabeth Animal Shelter rather than other local kill shelters.

The Elizabeth Animal Shelter fails to even do basic animal sheltering. The shelter typically provides no veterinary care other than killing. The city does not spay/neuter or even vaccinate its animals. Furthermore, the shelter willfully violates New Jersey’s shelter laws relating to public operating hours and the 7 day hold period. In other words, the shelter still regularly does the very thing that sparked reform efforts at the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Additionally, the shelter may be violating state shelter laws in the areas of humane euthanasia as well as record keeping.

The Elizabeth Animal Shelter also violates many of the standards of care advocated by the ASPCA. The ASPCA is a traditional shelter advocacy group and it typically recommends far lower standards than what no kill groups do. However, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter violates even these lower standards. Specifically, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter fails to do the following things:

  1. Have minimum standards for facilities, sanitation, medical protocols, and enrichment/socialization
  2. Shelters should never use the expiration of applicable holding periods or owner relinquishment as license to immediately euthanize animals simply because, at least legally, their “time is up”
  3. Shelters must provide clear notice to the public concerning shelter locations, hours, fees and the return-to-owner process
  4. Shelters should be accessible during reasonable hours to owners seeking to reclaim their pet. These hours should include some reasonable additional period of time beyond the typical workday (e.g. 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday) so that pet owners who may not have flexible work schedules have the best opportunity to reclaim their pets.
  5. Shelters should make written descriptions of key processes and information easily and readily available for public inspection.

Despite the increase in the facility’s dog live release rate, too many animals still lose their lives at the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. 1 out of 3 pit bull like dogs and cats requiring new homes lose their lives at the shelter. In this day and age where animal control shelters in large cities, such as Jacksonville, Florida, Baltimore, Maryland, Salt Lake City, Utah, Portland, Oregon Austin, Texas, Atlanta, Georgia, Kansas City, Missouri, and Washington DC achieved or are close to reaching no kill status (90% or higher live release rate), we should expect far more from the Elizabeth Animal Shelter.

Elizabeth needs to operate its shelter using the no kill equation in an enthusiastic manner. The key programs are as follows:

NKE

For far too long, the city’s leaders have chosen to operate the Elizabeth Animal Shelter as cheaply as possible. The city’s shelter is literally located in a public works area hidden from public view.Elizabeth Dog Warden - Google Maps

City officials never expanded the facility, despite plenty of land being available, and allowed it to remain undersized. Furthermore, city officials compensated by violating its own residents’ rights by killing and transferring animals illegally during the 7 day hold period. Simply put, Elizabeth’s political leaders view homeless animals as trash and only allow rescuers to pick that trash up before its taken to the garbage dump.

Elizabeth residents should demand far more than an old school pound that expects rescues to save the day and completely pay the bills. Clearly, the city of Elizabeth’s residents have spoken up and taken actions that prove they desperately want a no kill city shelter. Just imagine what animal advocates could achieve if they had a city and a shelter determined to do its part in saving lives. Instead of desperately trying to take animals off of death row, these volunteers could urgently work with the shelter to treat, rehabilitate and quickly get homeless animals into permanent homes. In return, hundreds of people would come to the city to adopt, volunteer, donate funds to the shelter and spend money at local businesses.

If the city chooses to not operate the shelter according to state law as well as its residents’ desires, Elizabeth should issue an RFP to allow one or more of the rescues to take the facility over. Clearly, the city of Elizabeth is failing its animals and its pet owning residents. If elected officials won’t act, then its time for Elizabeth voters to replace these politicians with folks who will do the right thing for Elizabeth’s animals and citizens.

Elizabeth’s Enigma of an Animal Shelter (Part 1 of 2)

Several years ago I visited the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Upon arriving at the facility, which was open for a mere hour that day, I waited for 45 minutes for an animal control officer to show up and allow me in the building. Instead of keeping the shelter open for extra time, the ACO only gave me a few minutes to look at the animals before closing the shelter. The facility only housed a few animals despite serving the fourth largest city in New Jersey. When I inquired about a friendly pit bull like dog, the ACO said he didn’t like that dog and the animal must have something wrong with his head. When I offered to take photos of dogs to help increase adoptions, the ACO told me Elizabeth will not allow me to do so. As a result, I did not have a good experience with the Elizabeth Animal Shelter.

On June 5, 2014 the Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed two young adult dogs on the day the animals arrived at the facility. At the time, the owner, Jennifer Arteta, left her two dogs, Daphne and Rocko, with her father while she visited her sick grandfather in another country. For whatever reason, the owner’s father brought the dogs to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Within 30 minutes of the two dogs arrival at the facility, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed the two dogs for being “sick and unadoptable”, but never provided any specifics on how they came to that conclusion. Even worse, shelter personnel denied ever seeing the two dogs when Ms. Arteta went to the facility two days later. Apparently, the shelter placed more value on the the leashes and collars of the two dogs since Ms. Arteta spotted them in the building. Only at that point did the shelter admit to killing the two dogs. By law, the shelter could not kill Daphne and Rocko for 7 days. Thus, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed two dogs and tried to hide that fact.

Daphne’s and Rocko’s owner and other animal activists subsequently tried to reform the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Ms. Arteta created a Facebook page called “Justice for Daphne and Rocko” and along with other animal activists demanded reform at several City Council meetings in June and July of 2014. At those meetings, you clearly could see most of the City Council members feeling public pressure to act.

Elizabeth and the shelter reform activists appeared to cut a deal. From what I could tell, the shelter reform activists ended their campaign in exchange for the shelter giving them unflattering photos of animals coming into the shelter. To facilitate this apparent agreement, the shelter brought in Darcy Del Castillo, who previously volunteered at Associated Humane Societies-Newark, on a part-time basis. Based on my understanding, Ms. Del Castillo works/volunteers on Thursdays, which is the day Elizabeth Animal Shelter accepts owner surrenders. While Ms. Del Castillo certainly did help animals as a volunteer at AHS-Newark, I found her often defending shelters, even bad ones, as shown by the following statement on her “Shelter Helpers” Facebook page:

“No one is to use this page to bash or harass a shelter
it is here for the animals only”

Furthermore, Associated Humane Societies Executive Director, Roseann Trezza, wrote a glowing recommendation for Ms. Del Castillo and even pointed out how well Darcy got along with upper management and didn’t intrude into the shelter’s operations. Roseann Trezza has run Associated Humane Societies since 2003 and held high level positions for several prior decades during the awful Lee Bernstein era. Additionally, Roseann Trezza’s shelter had numerous poor inspection reports in 2009 and 2011 and her shelter kills massive numbers of animals. Frankly, getting a letter of recommendation from someone like Roseann Trezza for an animal sheltering position is a huge red flag. Apparently, Elizabeth felt comfortable bringing in someone who would not rock the boat.

Trezza Darcy letterAround a year after the illegal killing of Daphne and Rocko and the related uproar, the Elizabeth Law Department put out a statement saying people, including city residents, could not volunteer at the animal shelter.

So the question is did Elizabeth Animal Shelter change for the better? How does it compare to other shelters?

Data Reviewed

Several months ago I obtained Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s intake and disposition records for each animal coming into the Elizabeth Animal Shelter in 2014 and through October 2015. Subsequently, I requested the rest of Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s 2015 intake and disposition records. Additionally, I requested all other supporting documents, such as owner surrender forms, adoption and rescue paperwork, veterinary records, veterinary invoices, euthanasia records, and any other documents pertaining to each animal for a few months of the year. My objective was to obtain a complete understanding of the job Elizabeth Animal Shelter is doing.

Statistics Show Mixed Results

The Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s 2015 statistics are summarized below. As you can see, the shelter has a moderately high death rate. Specifically, the overall death rate (animals killed plus dogs and cats that escaped plus animals that died at the shelter/known outcomes) was 22% for dogs and cats combined, 28% for cats and 16% for dogs. If we only consider animals requiring new homes (i.e. excluding animals returned to their owners), the overall death rate was 25% for dogs and cats combined, 29% for cats and 20% for dogs. Based on my review of a sample of underlying records, animals labeled as “Medical Release” left the shelter alive. Clearly, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter performs far better than the nearby Associated Humane Societies-Newark does for dogs and cats coming in primarily from animal control in the city of Newark. However, the shelter’s statistics reveal that Elizabeth is far from a no kill community.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (29)

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s statistics for dogs are less impressive upon examining the data more closely. Specifically, 40% of the dogs coming into the shelter in 2015 were small dogs. Given small dogs are quite easy to place, the large number of these dogs inflates the dog live release rate. While pit bull like dogs make up a significant portion of the shelter’s dog intake, the actual percentage (38%) was lower than I expected for an urban shelter. Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s death rate for pit bull like dogs with known outcomes was 25% in 2015. As a comparison, the nearby Perth Amboy Animal Shelter reported 14% and 0% death rates for pit bull like dogs in 2014 and 2015. Similarly, large animal shelters, such as KC Pet Project, Salt Lake Animal Services, Austin Animal Center and Longmont Humane Society, have pit bull like dog live release rates of around 90% or higher. If we only consider pit bull like dogs Elizabeth Animal Shelter had to place (i.e. excluding animals returned to owners), Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s overall pit bull death rate was 30%. As a result, Elizabeth Animal Shelter still needs to significantly improve its performance with pit bull like dogs.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (27)

The Elizabeth Animal Shelter has had mixed results since the turmoil in 2014. In 2013, the shelter’s kill rates were 12% for cats and 39% for dogs. While the dog kill rate decreased 24 percentage points over the last two years, the cat kill rate increased 14 percentage points over this time. As a result, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter has made some progress with dogs, but went in the wrong direction with cats.

The Elizabeth Animal Shelter shelter has a very short average length of stay (“LOS”) for animals having positive outcomes. Reducing length of stay in a good way is critical for shelters, particularly space constrained facilities like Elizabeth, to save lives. Additionally, shelters with short lengths of stay have lower disease rates and fewer animals developing behavioral problems. Typically, returning lost pets to owners is the fastest way an animal safely leaves a shelter. Overall, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s owner reclaim rate (number of stray animals returned to owners/number stray animals impounded) for dogs was 36%. While that number isn’t very high, owner reclaim rates generally are lower in poor areas. As a comparison, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s owner reclaim rate for dogs was higher than AHS-Newark’s reclaim rate for dogs primarily coming from animal control in Newark (10% in 2014) and about the same as Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s rate for 2014 and the first half of 2015 (37%). Additionally, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s average length of stay for animals rescued/adopted was 4.8 days for cats, 9.3 days for dogs, 12.3 days for pit bull like dogs and 5.3 days for small dogs. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter quickly sent out the animals it got out of the shelter safely.

Rescues Save the Day

Virtually all non-reclaimed animals leaving Elizabeth Animal Shelter alive are saved by rescues. The Elizabeth Animal Shelter erroneously reports all of these animals as “adopted” in its “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health and the supporting intake and disposition records. Based on my review of the underlying paperwork for 35% of these “adoptions”, rescues “adopted” at least 85% of these animals. In reality, I believe rescues make up a higher percentage of these “adoptions” since the shelter did not always list the rescue on the adoption forms. Thus, rescues are saving virtually all animals not reclaimed by owners who leave the Elizabeth Animal Shelter alive.

While many rescues saved animals from Elizabeth Animal Shelter, the following groups pulled the most dogs and cats per the paperwork I reviewed:

Elizabeth Dog Rescues 2015

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Cat Rescues 2015

Elizabeth Animal Shelter has the ability to adopt out far more animals. Certainly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s small facility makes it difficult for the shelter to have enough time to adopt out large numbers of animals. For example, Elizabeth Animal Shelter only has around 9-13 days and 10-16 days to get each dog and cat out of the shelter on average before the facility runs out of room during most months. However, Elizabeth Animal Shelter could have adopted out 140 dogs (39% of dog intake) and would only have needed to send 120 dogs (33% of dog intake) to rescues using the model from my recent blog for dogs and the 2015 dog intake and disposition records. Similarly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter could have adopted out 206 cats (47% of cat intake) and only would have needed to send 188 cats to rescues (43% of cat intake) using the model from my recent blog for cats and the 2015 cat intake and disposition records. Furthermore, Elizabeth Animal Shelter could have rescued and adopted out an additional 21 cats during the lower intake months resulting in potentially 229 cat adoptions in 2015. As a comparison, Elizabeth Animal Shelter should have adopted out 369 dogs and cats, but only adopted out at most 75 dogs and cats or just 20% of the number they should have. Additionally, Elizabeth Animal Shelter could adopt out even more animals if it expanded capacity by creating a foster program as well as building additional animal enclosures on the vacant land around the shelter. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter could adopt out far more animals than it does.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s almost exclusive reliance on rescues is not impressive. As I wrote in a previous blog, sending animals to rescues generally leads to no net increase in lifesaving in New Jersey. Specifically, rescues that pull from Elizabeth Animal Shelter cannot take animals from other shelters as foster homes are typically in short supply. While Elizabeth Animal Shelter certainly needs rescue assistance, the facility is requiring rescues to do all the hard work in finding good homes. Additionally, Elizabeth Animal Shelter does not spay/neuter its animals or provide vaccinations. Furthermore, the records I reviewed indicated Elizabeth Animal Shelter provides virtually no veterinary care whatsoever to animals other than a handful needing emergency medical care. As a result, Elizabeth Animal Shelter requires rescues to save its animals and bear almost all the financial costs.

Poor Policies Lead to Low Adoption Rates

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s policies explain the facility’s low adoption rate. First and foremost, the shelter only adopts out animals for 2 hours a day on weekdays and for just a single hour on Saturdays. In fact, the shelter’s weekend hours violate state shelter law requiring the facility be open for two hours on the weekend for people to reclaim their lost pets. Second, the shelter currently has no animals listed on its adoption web site, Adopt a Pet. Third, the city allows no volunteers to help. Fourth, the shelter does not alter or vaccinate any animals prior to adoption. Even worse, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter threatens adopters that they must alter their pet within 30 days or face fines on the descriptions of the dogs they post on Facebook:

“AS PER CITY ORDINANCE ANY ANIMAL ADOPTED MUST BE ALTERED WITHIN 30 DAYS OR FACE FINES”

While New Jersey’s low cost spay/neuter program allows people to alter pets adopted from shelters for $20, many prospective adopters don’t know about this program and wouldn’t be willing to risk breaking the law. Furthermore, people often have to wait long periods of time to alter their pets through the program due to delays in funding. Frankly, Elizabeth’s refusing to take responsibility for the animals it adopts out while demanding adopters do the right thing is a clear example of chutzpah and hypocrisy.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s posting of depressing photos discourages adoptions. As Best Friends’ adoption guidance states, good photos are critical in getting animals adopted. Specifically, Best Friends recommends shelters take clear photos of happy animals where the pets are relaxed and not scared or anxious. As you can see in the following photos from the Elizabeth Animal Shelter, the pictures are of poor quality and the animals look stressed and unhappy. In fact, the photos look more like prison mugshots than something that would appeal to adopters.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Photo 2

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Photo 1

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Photo 3Elizabeth Animal Shelter Photo 4Elizabeth Animal Shelter Photo 6Elizabeth Animal Shelter Photo 5Elizabeth Animal Shelter Photo 7

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s adoption profiles posted on Facebook also turn off adopters. Specifically, Elizabeth Animal Shelter usually fails to write appealing bios and often the profiles turn off adopters. Kristen Aurbach, the Deputy Chief of the no kill Austin Animal Services municipal shelter, recently wrote an excellent blog on the Animal Farm Foundation website explaining why shelters should use adoption bios to exclusively market animals and save all their perceived flaws for adoption counseling sessions. The profile serves to get someone in the door and build an emotional connection with the animal. Once that happens, the shelter discloses the full details of the animal during an adoption counseling session. An adoption profile is like a resume and no job seeker would ever expect to land an interview let alone a job if the person listed all their flaws on the resume. As you can see in the bio below, Elizabeth Animal Shelter is mixing marketing with adoption counseling and discouraging many potential adopters.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Adoption Profile

Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter poor adoption policies result in few adoptions.

Part 2 of this blog analyzes Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s compliance with New Jersey shelter laws, the shelter’s recent actions, and provides an answer to the question as to whether Elizabeth Animal Shelter still needs reform. You can read Part 2 at this link.

Big or Small Animal Shelters: Which are Better?

One key issue in animal welfare is whether animal shelters should serve small or large numbers of people and animals? Unfortunately, I’ve never seen much discussion about this topic. This blog attempts to answer this question and provide practical solutions.

Live Release Rates Are Lower at Large No Kill Animal Control Shelters

Smaller no kill animal control shelters tend to have higher live release rates than similar facilities taking in more animals. While some small to medium sized no kill animal control shelters achieve live release rates in the 97%-99% range, most large no kill animal control shelters are in the 90%-95% range. As a result, smaller facilities tend to have the potential to achieve higher live release rates.

Smaller shelters may take advantage of their limited service areas. Shelters taking in animals from a very limited area can adopt out many animals to people outside the communities they take animals from. From my review of shelters, the only facilities achieving per capita adoption rates exceeding around 23 dogs and cats per 1,000 people were small-medium sized shelters. Of course, if every facility was tiny smaller shelters as a whole would not sustain such sky high per capita adoption rates.

On the other hand, per capita animal intake rates are lower at larger shelters. Smaller shelters may have higher per capita intake rates due to animals coming in from outside their limited service areas. If a shelter serves a relatively small area, stray animals from other communities may come in more often. Also, larger communities may have fewer animal control officers relative to their populations and therefore impound fewer dogs and cats. Thus, larger shelters may have lower per capita adoption rates at least in part due to the facilities impounding fewer animals relative to the human population in the area.

Smaller Shelters Are More Conducive to Getting Animals Adopted

Animal shelter environments are unnatural for dogs and cats. Despite cats being able to live in colonies and with people, these animals are still solitary by nature. In a typical animal shelter, cats must share living quarters with large numbers of other cats as well as potential predators (i.e. dogs). Therefore, animal shelters are usually highly stressful environments for most cats. While dogs are social animals, they evolved to be social with their family or pack (an extended family generally). In fact the dog’s ancestor, the wolf, is fiercely territorial to the point where being killed by other wolves in turf wars is the number one cause of natural mortality. As a result, putting large numbers of strange animals in one building is highly stressful to most dogs and cats.

Larger shelters increase the risk of sickness and behavioral deterioration. Simply put, more animals means more dogs and cats can potentially transmit contagious diseases to each other. Similarly, all else being equal, more animals equals more noise, sights, and scents that can stress animals out. Shelters with a greater percentage of animals becoming sick and developing behavioral problems will have prolonged lengths of stay, increased costs and decreased lifesaving. Thus, shelters that can prevent physical and mental illness in the first place have greater lifesaving potential.

Animal shelters housing more animals tend to have longer lengths of stay all else being equal. If two shelters adopt out the same number of animals and one of the facilities has twice as many animals, each animal will stay twice as long at that shelter. Longer lengths of stay tend to radically increase the chance of cats catching upper respiratory infections in shelters. For example, a recent study found that 40% and 60% of highly socialized cats and other cats at a medium sized animal control shelter developed upper respiratory infections after just 30 days. Similarly, disease rates for dogs are likely higher as well during longer lengths of stay. Additionally, animals are more likely to develop behavioral issues the longer they reside at shelters making adopting those pets out harder. Thus, larger shelters tend to have longer lengths of stay and animals face greater challenges staying happy and healthy in such places.

Smaller shelters with fewer animals up for adoption make it easier for people to select a pet. While extremely small shelters may not have enough animals for people to choose from, most facilities seem to have enough animals for people to find a suitable pet (excluding people looking for animals rarely coming into shelters). Virtually all people prefer to have a reasonable number of potential animals to choose from. Unfortunately, adopters often become overwhelmed when they must select among vast numbers of animals. Often dubbed “The Paradox of Choice”, people tend to buy less of things when presented too many options. In an animal shelter environment, which tends to involve far more emotion than buying typical consumer goods, this effect is likely amplified. In fact, the ASPCA found one shelter increased adoptions and doubled the rate of people who left with a pet after limiting the number of animals on the adoption floor. While a larger shelter can of course reduce the number of animals up for adoption, most do not and consumers have a more reasonable number of animals to choose from in smaller shelters.

Financial Issues Place Greater Challenges on Smaller Shelters

Shelters and any other enterprise have both fixed and variable costs. Variable costs vary with the level of operations. In other words, if an animal shelter takes in more animals, it incurs more costs to care for the animals (i.e. additional kennel staff to care for animals, veterinary expenses, etc.). Fixed costs do not vary with the level of operations in the short-term. Examples include rent, administrative salaries, such as those of an Executive Director, and insurance. If a shelter has a high amount of fixed expenses, it basically starts in a hole and needs significant revenue, such as taxpayer funding, donations and adoption fees to cover these costs.

Fixed costs are more significant at smaller shelters. Typically animal control shelters are funded indirectly based on the number of animals they take in. In other words, shelters expecting to take in more animals receive more money from the contracting municipality than if those shelters anticipated impounding fewer animals. At a smaller shelter taking in fewer animals, that means less revenue comes in. On the other hand, that shelter will typically incur many of the same fixed costs as a larger shelter. As a result, smaller shelters have high costs, but lack the revenue to cover those expenses.

The following example illustrates the financial challenges smaller shelters face. Let’s assume a municipality has 20,000 people. Based on the average New Jersey community taking in around 8 dogs and cats per 1,000 people, the shelter would impound 160 dogs and cats each year. In order to ensure a prompt response to animals in distress at any time of day, the municipality would require at least two ACOs. Additionally, the shelter would require a director to manage the facility. Assuming a $50,000 salary for each ACO and an $80,000 salary for the shelter director, the municipality would spend $180,000 on these employee salaries alone. This works out to a cost of $9 per resident for animal control and sheltering just considering these fixed costs. However, most New Jersey communities only pay around $2 or less per resident for animal control and sheltering. Furthermore, the municipality would spend $1,125 per animal and that would exclude any direct animal care costs and other fixed and variable costs. As a comparison, some no kill animal control shelters spend less than $300 per animal counting all costs. Thus, operating a small animal control shelter is very expensive.

Municipalities often operate under a pound model to compensate for these unfavorable economics. Under a pound model, the shelter has no director and ACOs work in the shelter when not on animal control calls. Unfortunately, most ACOs are not qualified to perform all the specialized tasks at an animal shelter, such as providing veterinary care, customer service, marketing, fundraising, community relations, etc. Often these facilities operate for very limited hours and many times are not open during those times when an ACO is out on a call. Also, many times these pounds only hold animals for a short period of time and then either kill the dogs and cats or send the pets to rescues. Furthermore, many of these pounds often rely on various fines and fees to raise money that result in the facility impounding more animals, more animals staying longer at the shelter and more killing. Examples include aggressive enforcement of animal control laws and high owner reclaim fees. Thus, many of the compensating measures to reduce operating costs of small animal control shelters do not benefit the animals.

Preferred Animal Shelter Operating Models

Municipalities can use shared service arrangements for animal control services while operating a local shelter. While towns operating their animal control operation undoubtedly improve response times, such functions are expensive. Recently, Fair Lawn sought proposals to outsource its animal control operation, but maintain its municipal shelter. Fair Lawn budgeted $141,000 for animal control officers salaries in 2014 when the municipality performed animal control and ran the shelter . In 2015, the Bergen County Animal Shelter put out a bid for just $42,000 to provide animal control services and operate the town’s local animal shelter (Fair Lawn ultimately selected Tyco Animal Control). As a result, a municipality can save significant amounts of money by outsourcing animal control, but keeping the local animal shelter.

Multiple small municipal shelters can collaborate and share expenses. In a small animal shelter, an Executive Director, behaviorist, marketing manager, ACO and a veterinarian would not have enough work to keep busy. However, several small municipal shelters can collectively hire these specialized people to provide such services. For example, the veterinarian can spend a couple of days a week at one shelter, a day or two at other facilities, and go to individual shelters additional times when needed (i.e. an emergency). Typically, many small and medium sized shelters contract with a private veterinarian who prioritizes his or her individual clients over shelter animals. Thus, smaller shelters can work together to obtain the benefits of operating both a small and large shelter while keeping costs down to a manageable level.

Several small shelters can also collaborate to operate adoption centers at pet stores. Typically, a small shelter could not provide enough animals and staff and volunteers to operate a dog and cat adoption center in a Petco or PetSmart. However, several small shelters would have enough animals to place in these venues. Additionally, these shelters collectively could hire the staff and/or recruit the volunteers needed to run the operation. In exchange, the shelters could enter into an arrangement with each other to split the costs and revenues from operating the adoption center in an equitable manner. Thus, small shelters can work together to conduct activities only bigger shelters do.

Small municipal animal shelters can use volunteers to significantly reduce costs. Volunteers provide free labor to perform basic tasks like cleaning the shelter and administrative work. Additionally, volunteers conduct activities requiring highly specialized skills, such as behavioral rehabilitation, marketing and fundraising. For example, Michigan’s Chippewa County Animal Shelter saved 98% of its dogs and cats in 2014 despite receiving only $182 of government funding per dog and cat. As a comparison, Associated Humane Societies takes in around $900 of total revenue in per dog and cat. Chippewa County Animal Shelter, which takes in nearly 1,000 dogs and cats in a year and serves a human population of around 39,000 people, only has a shelter manager and three kennel attendants. In fact, the Chippewa County Animal Shelter credits its volunteer and foster programs for saving lives.  Thus, small shelters relying heavily on volunteers can run efficient and effective operations.

Private volunteer organizations dedicated to helping shelters can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of small shelters. Often these organizations have more time to dedicate to developing and enhancing volunteer programs. For example, an ACO at a small shelter may not have the time or the skills to recruit volunteers as well as a separate volunteer group dedicated to that effort. An example in New Jersey is EASEL and the Ewing Township Animal Shelter. Prior to EASEL taking over the Ewing Animal Shelter several months ago, EASEL helped the shelter attain no kill status through its coordinated volunteer efforts. Thus, independent volunteer organizations can make shelter programs more effective.

Privatizing small municipal shelters can significantly improve efficiency. Municipal shelters of any size face more bureaucratic challenges. For example, the municipal council may have to approve any policy changes, such as lowering adoption fees for a promotion, making it difficult to save lives. Additionally, municipal shelter employees typically are in a union and the union can make it next to impossible to terminate poorly performing staff. In perhaps the most egregious case of unions interfering in shelter operations, the Teamsters Local 210 President defended the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter Director and Assistant Director, who were subsequently charged with animal cruelty, despite ample evidence showing these people committed unspeakable atrocities. Even after the local prosecutor charged the former Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter Director and Assistant Director with animal cruelty, the union continued to fight against Helmetta’s firing of these two people. Thus, private organizations can operate more efficiently than municipal shelters.

Large organizations also can obtain some of the benefits of smaller shelters. Big shelters should operate adoption centers at Petco and PetSmart stores to reduce the number of animals at their main shelters and to increase adoptions. KC Pet Project, which operates Kansas City’s no kill animal control shelter, runs two permanent off-site adoption locations and adopts out 35% of its animals at these locations. Additionally, large shelters can operate smaller facilities and use its leadership to oversee those operations in a manner similar to the collaboration model I describe for smaller shelters above. Thus, large shelters can also obtain some of the benefits smaller shelters enjoy.

At the end of the day, just about any shelter, large or small, can succeed if it enthusiastically implements highly effective programs, such as those making up the no kill equation, to reduce intake and quickly send animals to good homes. However, shelters can operate even more effectively if they utilize some of the business models discussed in this blog. Clearly, homeless animals should expect organizations to operate at the highest possible level given these creatures lives are literally on the line. Thus, municipalities and shelters should act to make their operations more efficient and effective at saving lives.