The Idiotic Idea to Have Shelters Breed Animals

Recently, a “growing discussion” in animal welfare developed about shelters referring adopters to breeders and having shelters breed animals. Susan Houser, who previously wrote a no kill blog that turned into one defending bad shelters, floated this idea back in 2015. Over the years, I’ve seen others occasionally mention it, but it recently gained momentum. Joyce Briggs, who is the President of the Alliance for Contraception in Cats & Dogs, authored an article that called for shelters to breed animals or outsource the breeding to others. Additionally, she is part of the Functional Dog Cooperative, which is pushing these policies, and members of that group will sell these ideas during an April 2022 HSUS Expo session titled “Family dogs for the inclusive community: Alternatives to puppy mills.” Finally, Ms. Briggs has been doing a series of interviews, such as this one, advocating for this breeding idea.

Proponents argue shelters need to breed pets or outsource the practice to 1) meet demand for dogs, 2) prevent expansion of puppy mills and 3) avoid shelter overcrowding and killing resulting from unscrupulous breeders. Ms. Briggs and her allies claim parts of the country have a severe dog shortage and the rest of the nation will soon experience it. Additionally, the proponents claim we have a cat shortage in parts of the country and we may need to breed more cats.

Are the advocates for shelter breeding and outsourcing the practice correct? Do shelters really need to breed animals to stop puppy mills? Will shelters become overcrowded and kill more pets if we don’t have shelters breed animals?

False Claims of No Kill

In a Functional Dog Collaborative podcast, Joyce Briggs stated the following to insinuate the nation is no kill for dogs:

But for example, there were over 3200 shelters reporting to it in 2019. And in that year, there was an average percentage of about 7% of dogs coming into shelters were euthanized. So you know, and by most cases, they’re talking about “no kill” – a “no kill” being under 10% knowing that there will be some dogs that come into shelters that are either too dangerous to be rehomed or too sick. But, so 7% is pretty good. And actually the trends through that same Shelter Animals Count for 2020. There are… it’s dramatic decrease in intake, but it’s about 5% euthanasia. So it’s even gotten better. 

The Shelter Animals Count data I reviewed does not match up with these claims. When we look at all organizations, both animal control shelters and rescues, 13.3% and 11.3% of all dogs lost their lives in 2019 and 2020 based on net outcomes (i.e. not double counting live outcomes, such as when a shelter transfers an animal to another shelter and that shelter adopts the pet out). From what I could tell, Ms. Briggs did not count owner-requested euthanasia or dogs that died in shelters (i.e. no kill benchmarks must include this data) and used gross intake (i.e. double counting animals impounded by one shelter and transferred to another shelter or rescue). Given no kill level death rates are based on animal control shelters, we should only look at shelters that governments run or private shelters operate under contracts with municipalities. Using this metric 16.5% and 14.1% of dogs lost their lives at animal control shelters in 2019 and 2020. Thus, Joyce Briggs used manipulated and misleading data to claim shelters had a dog death rate less than half of what it really was.

Joyce Briggs used a similar dishonest approach when talking about lower and higher kill regions of the country. She stated New England and the Pacific Northwest had 96% dog “save rates” and Louisiana and Mississippi had an 87% dog live release rate in 2019. Once again, Ms. Briggs appeared to 1) lump rescues and shelters together, 2) not count owner-requested euthanasia and dogs who died in shelters and 3) double count animals who came into shelters or had outcomes. When I look at the real data for animal control shelters, Louisiana and Mississippi animal control shelters had 28.1% and 25.6% dog death rates in 2019 and 2020. New England animal control shelters had dog death rates of 6.6% and 11.1% in 2019 and 2020 compared to the 4% death rate Ms. Briggs claimed. Similarly, The Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland, which Joyce Briggs co-founded, had a 9.7% dog death rate, which far exceeded the phony 4% rate excluding owner-requested euthanasia, and a 13.1% non-reclaimed dog death rate in 2019. Furthermore, these metrics understate the local animals’ death rates as they include easier to adopt transported animals and not just local pets. For example, if we assumed The Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland shelters saved all dogs transported in, the local dogs’ and local dogs’ non-reclaimed death rates would equal 15.3% and 26.3% in 2019. Thus, Joyce Briggs used deceptive data to hide the killing of shelter dogs in New England, the Pacific Northwest and Louisiana and Mississippi.

Ms. Briggs’ use of a 90% live release rate/10% death rate standard itself is a false notion of no kill. As Nathan Winograd, who created the 90% benchmark, repeatedly stated, that benchmark is outdated, obsolete and fails to mean a shelter is no kill. In fact, numerous animal control shelters across the country save around 98% to 99% of dogs, such as Florida’s Lake County Animal Shelter and Williamson County Animal Shelter in Texas. Thus, Joyce Briggs would be wrong to claim communities were no kill for dogs even if she didn’t manipulate her live release/death rates above.

Shelters Animals Count data, which Joyce Briggs relies on to claim many shelters aren’t killing, overstates shelters live release rates. Bad shelters are more likely to not voluntarily report data. Therefore, many high kill shelters won’t submit such information to Shelter Animals Count. For example, only 24 out of 87 or 28% of New Jersey animal shelters who reported statistics to the New Jersey Department of Health in 2019 also reported such data to Shelter Animals Count. Similarly, only 15 out of 71 or 21% of the New Jersey animal control shelters that reported data to the state health department sent that information to Shelter Animals Count. In fact, 6 or 50% of the 12 New Jersey animal shelters that killed the most dogs in 2019 reported data to the state health department and not Shelter Animals Count. As such, it is no surprise that New Jersey animal control shelters had a 7.1% death rate per Shelter Animals Count in 2019 while the more comprehensive state statistics showed a 7.6% dog death rate in 2019. Additionally, Shelter Animals Count data includes rescues without facilities that have much higher live release rates. When we include all reporting facilities in 2019, Shelter Animals Count showed New Jersey organizations had a 5.2% dog death rate while the state health department’s sheltering statistics reflected a 7.0% dog death rate. Thus, Shelter Animals Count data likely makes shelters look better than they really are due to self-reporting bias.

Data Does Not Support Pet Shortage Assertion

Proponents of shelters breeding animals assume pet owners will replace their dogs when the animals die. Based on the 2020 American Pet Products Survey, approximately 85 million dogs exist in the country and pet owners would obtain around 8 million dogs each year to replace those animals that die assuming the pets lived with owners 10 to 11 years. Given dogs live on average 10-13 years, these figures take into account people obtaining older dogs that don’t live with the owner for their entire lives. Thus, the demand side of the equation is reasonably well known.

Advocates for shelters breeding animals have no good data on the supply of dogs to meet this demand. Specifically, the total number of dogs purchased from commercial and hobby breeders is unknown as complete data does not exist. Furthermore, no one has any information about the number of dogs rehomed between pet owners.

So why do people like Joyce Briggs claim a pet shortage exists? She points to the fact that a minority of people obtain their dogs from shelters and rescues (36% in the 2019-2020 American Pets Products Survey). However, rescue animals have long comprised a minority of the total dog acquisition market. That does not mean a dog shortage exists. In an attempt to stretch the truth, Ms. Briggs asserts we can only count shelter and rescue puppies as part of the supply to meet dog owner demand since only these dogs are “new” supply. Given we are measuring demand for dogs as the number of dogs people want to obtain in a year, we absolutely should count almost all shelter dogs in the supply figure. Why? When people surrender a dog or lose a dog, most do not immediately obtain another dog. Thus, Joyce Briggs has no data to support her pet shortage assertion and deliberately tries to overstate this “problem.”

Basic economics prove no dog shortage exists in the United States. If a dog shortage existed, we would see the following:

  1. Price of dogs purchased and adopted skyrocket
  2. Shelter and rescue share of the pet acquisition market dramatically decrease
  3. Vast expansion of commercial and backyard breeders to take advantage of those price increases
  4. Shelter intake increasing dramatically as intact animals breed

While we all have heard of stories of people paying large sums of money for specialized breeds, no data I can find suggests a massive rise in the price of dogs. In fact, the price of pets and pet related products has barely exceeded the rate of inflation from 1997 to 2021. While this figure includes things other than the cost of acquiring a pet, one would except a significant rise if a dog shortage existed.

American Pet Products Survey data shows no decrease in shelter and rescue share of the pet acquisition market. As you can see in the following chart using American Pets Product Survey data, animal shelters’ and rescues’ dog market share has largely been the same over the last decade. In fact, shelters and rescues had a greater share of the dog market in 2019-2020 (36%) than in 2012-2013 (35%).

The cat market share data shows a similar picture. As you can see, shelters and rescues had the same percentage of the cat market in 2019-2020 as these organizations did in 2012-2013. Given cats are far more plentiful in shelters and rescues than dogs, we’d expect a far better trend than we see with dogs if a canine shortage really existed.

Puppy mills and backyard breeders have not expanded in areas of the country with low animal intake at shelters. If the alarmist claims of Joyce Briggs and others were true, we’d see puppy mills and backyard breeders spring up in the northeast to take advantage of the supposed pet shortage. Furthermore, we’d expect to see a surge in the numbers of animals coming into shelters in the northeast due to unscrupulous breeders not sterilizing their puppies and kittens. What does the data show?

As you can see in the following chart, New Jersey animal shelters took in around 30,000 to 35,000 dogs each year from 2013 to 2019 (2020 had an unusual decline in shelter intake due to the pandemic).

When we look at just dogs New Jersey animal shelters impounded within the state, we see a steady decline in dog intake from 2013 to 2019.

At the same time, New Jersey animal shelters total and local dog death rates declined.

New Jersey cat data shows a similar picture with total cat intake dropping approximately 7% from 2013 to 2019 and the cat kill rate decreasing from 40.8% to 16.6% over the same period.

Connecticut animal shelters also have a similar trend of declining dog and cat intake and decreasing numbers of animals killed.

Clearly, a “pet shortage” is not driving up shelter intake and killing. Instead, the opposite occurred with shelters taking in fewer dogs and cats and killing a smaller percentage of them.

Even if the proponents of the pet shortage alarm calls claimed transports temporarily delayed the pet shortage “problems”, the experience with small dogs proves that wrong. Few small dogs have been transported to northeastern states for many years even though these animals are popular. If the pet shortage pushers were correct, we’d see local shelters overwhelmed with small dogs. Instead, local shelters have few small dogs. Thus, the “pet shortage” panic is unwarranted.

In reality, people can always claim a “pet shortage” exists. The American Kennel Club and Fédération Cynologique Internationale currently have 199 and 354 dog breeds. Even when shelters took in and killed the most dogs in the 1970s, people couldn’t walk into shelters and find every, if not most, dog breeds. Similarly, shelters have a very small percentage of the 43 to 71 recognized cat breeds despite these facilities impounding and killing many cats. Thus, the argument we have a dangerous pet shortage is simply absurd.

Similarities to Transport

Regular readers of this blog and my Facebook page know I’m no fan of transports. While transports can serve as a temporary lifesaving measure for the very small number of shelters where high intake may be difficult to handle locally, in practice it is a money-making shell game. On the source shelter side, lazy directors can just ship animals out instead of developing the 11 No Kill Equation programs to responsibly reduce intake, provide elite level care to animals and increase live outcomes. On the destination shelter side, shelters can artificially increase their live release rates by bringing in easy to adopt animals. Additionally, destination shelters make significant amounts of money fundraising off transports and adopting out the animals for high fees.

Most disturbingly, transports harm local animals. When I volunteered at a local animal control shelter, the facility housed lots of large dogs (many of which came from the community) for years in tiny cages and crates. At the same time, the shelter transported in hundreds of easy to adopt puppies each year. When people came to the shelter, the individuals flocked to the puppies and ignored the adult dogs rotting away in tiny cages and crates. Similarly, when we went to adoption events, people ignored the adult dogs and adopted the puppies from our organization and other shelters and rescues. In one memorable instance, a young couple, who volunteered and loved the many suffering adult dogs, “fell in love” with a puppy the shelter just took in on a transport at an adoption event we held primarily for the adult dogs. This couple would have definitely adopted an adult dog. However, this cute puppy was too difficult to resist. Thus, transport harms local animals.

The Shelter Report blog performed an analysis that supports this hypothesis. In the blog, the author found, both in the winter and during kitten season, that having more kittens available reduced adult cat adoptions. This conclusion makes intuitive sense. When stores hold “Black Friday” or other sales with highly sought after items, they only offer a small number of the desirable products to increase foot traffic that enables these stores to sell other items. In contrast, most destination shelters flood their facilities with easy to adopt transported animals that displace the local pets who need more help.

While actual data is needed to determine impacts of puppy availability on adult dog adoptions, I think it would be more significant than the kitten effect on adult cat adoptions. Society seems to view puppies as “cuter” than kittens and shelters typically quickly adopt out puppies.

Dakin Humane Society, which is located in Springfield, Massachusetts, proves transports harm local animals. In 2010, the shelter killed 40.6% of all adult dogs and 52.2% of local adult dogs if we assume it did not kill any transported adult dogs. In 2019, those figures were 44.6% and 51.9%. Those death rates further increased to 61.5% and 62.7% in 2020. On the cat side, Dakin Humane Society killed 32.6% of all adult cats in 2010, when it did not transport in cats, and killed 21.0% (23.3% of local adult cats assuming the shelter did not kill transported adult cats) and 29.4% (33.3% of local cats using the same assumption) of adult cats in 2019 and 2020. However, when we compare this data to the New Jersey Animal Shelters and Connecticut shelters above (which transported in a much smaller percentage of animals), we clearly see how the New Jersey and Connecticut shelters significantly decreased their kill rates over this time period while the mass transporting Dakin Humane Society increased their dog kill rate and had their cat kill rate stay flat/decrease much less. Thus, Dakin Humane Society’s mass transport program hurt local animals in need.

Most importantly, transports devalue the lives of local animals. If an organization is willing to bring in dogs and cats from hundreds or even thousands of miles away, what does that say about how much value the organization places on animals in its own community or even its shelter? Clearly, those animals lives don’t matter as much. Given the data above shows local animals’ live release rates increase when animal intake decreases, which is likely due to shelters being able to divert more time, resources and focus on these pets, transport harms these animals. Furthermore, shelter breeding programs would offer more desirable animals than transports and would hurt local pets even more.

Mass Transporters and Pro Killing Zealots Push Shelter Breeding

Joyce Briggs, who is the most vocal proponent of shelter breeding, started her animal welfare career working in a high level marketing and public relations position at American Humane Association during the mid to late 1990s. Nathan Winograd wrote many articles highlighting American Humane Association’s decades long pattern of supporting animal killing and abuse. For example, the organization frequently held “training” sessions at regressive shelters where American Humane Association killed animals. Additionally, American Humane Association had conference sessions “teaching” people not to feel bad about needlessly killing these animals. Furthermore, American Humane Association gets paid to certify “no animals were harmed” in various films. However, Nathan Winograd asserted animals were in fact harmed in cases, such as 27 animals dying in one film. In another instance, an animal nearly drowned and the American Humane Association inspector said “I think this goes without saying but DON’T MENTION IT TO ANYONE, ESPECIALLY THE OFFICE! I have downplayed the f— out of it.” Furthermore, American Humane Association gets paid by factory farms and slaughterhouses to receive their humane seal of approval. No wonder a prosecutor Nathan Winograd conversed with stated “From being the protectors of animals they’ve become complicit to animal cruelty.” Thus, Joyce Briggs started her animal welfare career off in a key position at an organization that harmed animals and allowed the infliction of violence towards animals in exchange for money.

Ms. Briggs went on to become the Executive Director of another animal exploiting operation called PetSmart Charities. While PetSmart Charities is technically separate from PetSmart, PetSmart Charities is nothing more than a public relations arm and money making vehicle for PetSmart. In 2021 and 2020, 32% and 34% of PetSmart Charities’ revenues came from PetSmart. Why would PetSmart give $26 to $27 million a year to a “charity?” To provide PetSmart customers the illusion PetSmart is doing right by animals. In reality, PetSmart profits off the sale and suffering of many small animals. Furthermore, PetSmart does not allow pit bulls to go to its “Day Camps” or “Play Groups” despite the widespread belief that people and organizations should treat all dogs as individuals. Thus, Joyce Briggs led an organization that enabled PetSmart to profit off the harming of animals and spreading of anti-pit bull bias.

Joyce Briggs created and ran a massive transport program at PetSmart Charities while destination regions still killed large numbers of animals. In 2004, Ms. Briggs launched the “Rescue Waggin” program. Over its 13 year life, the program transported 60,000 of dogs primarily from southern to northern states. While PetSmart Charities claimed “no animals are ever displaced at destination shelters to make room for incoming dogs”, the reality is the organization transported dogs to regions where shelters still killed many animals. In 2004, New Jersey and Connecticut animal shelters killed 43.5% and 11.8% of impounded dogs and cats. In 2006, New Jersey animal shelters killed 23.7% and 51.7% of all impounded dogs and cats. Thus, Joyce Briggs’ Rescue Waggin program transported massive numbers dogs to regions where shelters still killed significant numbers of animals.

The Rescue Waggin program had shocking incidents. The YesBiscuit! blog detailed how the SPCA of Southwest Michigan killed two dogs, which Rescue Waggin said were behaviorally sound. The shelter stated one of the dogs, Buddy, was “mouthy but very sweet.” YesBiscuit! also relayed an account from an SPCA of Southwest Michigan employee stating the shelter killed two dogs to make room for a Rescue Waggin’ transport of 20 puppies to the facility. Thus, Rescue Waggin did in fact cause the killing of local dogs and even some of the transported dogs themselves due to it working with kill shelters.

Joyce Briggs currently is the President of the Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs. Ms. Briggs states she transformed the organization from “all-volunteer” to a non-profit where she conveniently receives approximately $120,000 a year. In fact, her salary made up 44% of the Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs’ total expenses according to the organization’s 2020 Form 990. While the the Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs does do good work in facilitating the development of non-surgical sterilization techniques for dogs and cats, Ms. Briggs states the organization’s board “also supports me spending time” on the shelter breeding animals issue “knowing it’s a passion and knowing and believing it will advance animal and dog interests to do so.” In other words, the Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs board allows its President, who receives almost half the organization’s expenditures, to devote time to push the breeding shelter animals idea. Who is on this board and why would an animal sterilization group do this?

The Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs board has many former and current large and traditional animal welfare organization people. Of the 10 board members, seven, including Joyce Briggs, work or previously worked at large national or international animal welfare organizations. One of these members worked at Colorado’s Animal Assistance Foundation that refuses to give money to organizations calling themselves no kill. Thus, the Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs board is filled with people who appear comfortable with shelters killing animals.

Many traditional national animal welfare organizations also provide funding and “key strategic
and networking support” to the Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs. According to the organization’s notes to its 2018 audited financial statements, its “Council of Stakeholders” include Alley Cat Allies, the ASPCA, Best Friends, HSUS, International Cat Care, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Maddie’s Fund, Petco Foundation and PetSmart Charities. As a result, these organizations are funding and helping Joyce Briggs spend time to push for shelter breeding programs.

Joyce Briggs recently joined the Functional Dog Collaborative Board of Directors as its Treasurer. The organization’s web site states it was “founded to support the breeding and raising of purebred, outcrossed, and mixed-breed dogs while prioritizing the goals below.” Those goals generally attempt to reduce the physical health problems associated with breeding and to minimize behavior problems. While the Functional Dog Collaborative’s goals are admirable, the organization admits they conflict with what many breeders want to achieve (i.e. limited genetic diversity to breed for specific physical traits). In other words, the Functional Dog Collaborative appears to want to continue selective breeding and make it less damaging to dogs. However, the very nature of selective breeding (i.e. limiting genetic diversity to breed for specific traits) often harms the health of dogs. Unsurprisingly, several of the Functional Dog Collaborative board members and advisors are breeders or have close ties to breeding. Thus, Joyce Briggs serves on the board of an organization that is trying to encourage breeding.

The Functional Dog Collaborative inclusion of a person vocally calling for shelters to kill more dogs for “behavior” is far more concerning. Trish McMillan, who was a former director of animal behavior at the ASPCA, serves on the Functional Dog Collaborative’s Board of Directors as its Secretary. During a horrific Animal Farm Foundation video on “Behavioral Euthanasia”, she stated we should kill dogs that were aggressive towards other dogs and even ones that have high prey drives. Furthermore, she advocated for killing shelter dogs with pretty minor behavior issues since they may take up space for a long time and lead to the shelters not having perfect dogs. Even just a few weeks back, Ms. McMillan cheered the Humane Society of Utah’s decision to kill a dog that “attacked” another dog while on leash, but didn’t actually harm the animal.

Ms. McMillan’s philosophy about killing dogs is so extreme that she admits to being down with Sue Sternberg’s views. Sue Sternberg created the infamous “Assess-A-Pet” temperament test that killed and continues to kill huge numbers of dogs across the country. Even worse, Ms. Sternberg gives lectures advocating for shelters to kill many dogs, and pit bulls in particular. In an article Trish McMillan wrote and referenced during the Animal Farm Foundation video, she clearly stated her alignment with Sue Sternberg:

I’ve come a lot more in line with Sue Sternberg’s philosophy that shelters should be where people come to get the best dogs, not to become expert trainers or to have their bank accounts drained.

In a recent podcast, the Functional Dog Collaborative founder, Jessica Hekman, showed her cards in stating she was down with Trish McMillan’s killing many more shelter dogs idea:

I also have been talking with and watching the work of Trish McMillan, who has a lot of interesting things to say about the state of behavior issues in dogs coming out of shelters in the U.S. Obviously when I say that, I do not by any means mean 100 percent of the dogs coming out of shelters, but that she’s seeing an increase in the number of really severe behavior cases. So she does a lot of work around behavioral euthanasia, particularly with dogs coming out of shelters and rescues. All of that started coming together in my head into one thing: the problems with finding a good dog, basically.


This is really what Trish McMillan is grappling with. This is a lot of the work that she’s doing right now, just talking about … she calls it “outsourcing behavioral euthanasia” that she feels that a lot of rescues are not willing to do the hard work of saying, “These animals are not appropriate to place into pet homes and actually there isn’t a place for them.” That euthanasia part is so hard, and I hate talking about it because it sounds like I’m saying we need to kill more dogs.

In reality, a University of Denver study found that severe dog bites did not increase in Austin during the time its dog live release rate skyrocketed to a very high number. Thus, the implication that saving all treatable dogs and public safety are not compatible is simply not true.

If the pro-killing culture of the Functional Dog Collaborative wasn’t bad enough, the organization had no other than Sue Sternberg herself on its Advisory Board until recently. Ms. Sternberg has stated she is down with shelter breeding. In a frightening video, Ms. Sternberg said shelters should not adopt out pit bulls to families with small children by asserting their tails could knock someone’s teeth out.

While I cannot confirm these allegations, I have heard people claim Sue Sternberg publicly calling for shelters to kill many more dogs in the northeast. Specifically, I’ve seen allegations here and here stating Ms. Sternberg wants shelters to kill 75% or more of dogs in the northeast. Most disturbing, many people, including someone I know, pointed to Sue Sternberg seminars where she quickly concluded people should could kill dogs that didn’t seem to have any significant problems.

Sue Sternberg still has these sociopathic and psychopathic views. The rabid anti-pit bull organization,, gleefully shared and analyzed Ms. Sternberg’s Fall 2020 “seminar” at Long Island’s Oyster Bay Animal Shelter. During this “seminar”, Sue Sternberg quickly agreed with the killing of dogs for absurd reasons. For example, Sue Sternberg applauded the killing of a dog named Precious, which caused public outrage, for fence fighting. And how did Sue Sternberg come to that conclusion? Precious showed too much “arousal” and “frustration” as a “fighting stock guarding breed” and she was too “game bred” due to her playing too aggressively with a stuffed animal dog:

Savocchi asks if it is valid for animal “advocates” to say, “Any dog will fight through a fence.” And that Savocchi should not negatively score a dog for fence fighting(1:04)

“No,” Sternberg said. “This is what happens when people only see fighting stock guarding breeds and mixes in the shelters, who have such dog aggression and such arousal and frustration problems, that this becomes normal,” she said. “This is not normal. This is not what dogs do … a normal dog will fence fight and there is no contact. It’s all display” (posturing and noises). Referring to Ruby and Precious, due to their genetics, “there is no place where they are able to be with access to their instincts because they’re not bred as dogs. There is no way to fulfill them. It’s a cruelty to keep them alive. There is no way to provide the enrichment that they would really need in a safe way.”

(1:11) There was a protest after Precious was euthanized. Protesters said, “She’s a good dog. She just needs to go to a house without other animals.” After watching the Dog-to-Dog test, Sternberg goes into the concept of “game” and being “game bred.” Precious was not playing with the stuffed dog — play is reciprocal. “What she is showing, her motor patterns, all of her behaviors are to kill. She’s not doing it out of anger.” She added, “These dogs do not belong in our communities. When shelters place these dogs or send them to rescue and they get loose and hurt somebody else’s dog or a person? The emotional and financial liability? It’s so irresponsible. It’s got to stop. This is all in the name of a complete lack of knowledge of normal dog behavior, and a complete lack of knowledge of the limitations of behavior modification and of dog training.”

Sue Sternberg also stated the following about pit bulls:

You should be afraid of these dogs. These dogs are predators. These dogs are dangerous, the highest level of aggression and risk.

Ms. Sternberg also cheered on the killing of a small intact male pit bull seized from a squatter house. Using Sue Sternberg’s infamous, and scientifically invalid, food guarding test, the dog lightly nipped at the hand after being harassed. In response, Sue Sternberg stated the following in response to the shelter’s trainer asking if she should have rehabilitated the dog:

“No,” Sternberg answers. “You can’t change these aggression thresholds. This isn’t a food bowl issue. This is a resource guarding, a guarding issue. This is a guard dog. Here’s the thing, you neuter him, his appetite goes up. Now, he is worse, if that is even possible. No, this level of resource guarding is so serious. That dog, no sociability to humans. These are really dangerous combinations. These are not pet dogs. So dangerous.”

In reality, scientific studies prove food guarding in a shelter often doesn’t even happen in a home and most people can manage it (i.e. leave dog alone when eating) when it does occur. Of course, that would interfere with Sue Sternberg’s psychotic god complex to kill the many dogs she hates. Therefore, she ignores it. Simply put, the animal welfare community must ostracize the Functional Dog Collaborative for having anything to do with this maniac.

Roger Haston also is pushing the pet shortage panic. In 2019, Mr. Haston infuriated the animal welfare community when he went on a speaking tour where he expressed anti-pit bull views and told shelters to kill more animals. Furthermore, Roger Haston’s views were shaped by a deeply flawed model he previously presented. In 2015, Mr. Haston commented on a vicious anti-no kill blog by Michigan Humane’s CEO by stating “Fantastic Article.” After Nathan Winograd and Animal Farm Foundation strongly criticized Roger Haston’s 2019 presentation, Mr. Haston resigned from his high level position at PetSmart Charities and formed a consulting firm called The Institute for Animals.

Roger Haston recently put together another model to estimate the future supply and demand for dogs in the country. Once again, I have serious concerns about this model. It used unreliable animal shelter data primarily from Shelter Animals Count (see issues above). Additionally, Mr. Haston’s assumed puppy intake at shelters is a proxy for puppies in the community (I’d argue people are less likely to surrender puppies than adult dogs) and owner microchip rates would massively increase in the future. Overall, these assumptions would understate the supply of dogs to meet demand. Unsurprisingly, Roger Haston used this model’s results to argue for shelters and breeders to “work together”:

We never thought we would be here,” Haston said, adding that he believes breeders and shelters will have to work together to figure out where dogs will come from to meet the demand, and how to produce them humanely.

I think we are, on both sides of the equation, ill-prepared,” Haston said. “It’s going to force us to have to have a lot of conversations that maybe weren’t traditionally in our realm that will be uncomfortable for all of us.

The mass transporting and high kill Dakin Humane Society also is down with the “pet shortage” story. In an article from last year, the organization cites Roger Haston’s model to claim a pet shortage exists and transport isn’t enough. It should come as no surprise Dakin Humane Society’s Director of Operations. Karina King, will present at the upcoming HSUS Expo shelter breeding session. In a 2016 HSUS Expo article, this very same person claimed she desperately needed transport since she only had one “one dog available for adoption.” What Ms. King failed to mention is her shelter killed 445 dogs and 36% of all adult dogs the facility took in that year.

The wealthy and high kill Massachusetts SPCA also is down with shelters breeding animals. In a recent Facebook post by Austin Pets Alive Director, Kristen Hassen, Mike Keiley, Massachusetts SPCA Director of Adoption Centers and Programs, stated New England shelters discussed the issue for “30+ years” and “we cannot possibly import dogs fast enough and with enough diversity to satisfy the adoption market” to argue for shelter breeding. What Mr. Keiley failed to mention were his very “adoption centers” catastrophic death rates of 37% to 74% for all dogs, 39% to 76% for adult dogs, 6% to 27% for cats and 8% to 33% for adult cats.

At the same time, Massachusetts SPCA is extremely wealthy. The organization took in $89 million of revenue, with a $12 million profit, in 2020 and and had $142 million of net assets per its 2020 Form 990. When we look at the organization’s 2020 audited financial statements, nearly 80% of that revenue comes from its health and hospital services. These hospital services don’t just include caring for poor folks’ animals, but also offer state of art treatment for people who could easily afford to go to other high end animal hospitals. Where does a lot of Massachusetts SPCA’s revenues go? To its highly compensated executives. In 2020, the two people serving as CEO during the year received $867,033 from the organization (the person serving as the only CEO in 2019 made $777,830). Thus, Massachusetts SPCA is money making scam for its high end executives and a death trap for homeless animals unlucky to find themselves entering Mike Keiley’s “adoption centers.”

Austin Pets Alive and Best Friends Community Sheltering Programs Will Transform Shelters into Pet Stores

Austin Pets Alive and Best Friends are strongly advocating for their Human Animal Support Services (HASS) and community sheltering programs. Under these programs, shelters only take animals in on an emergency basis, such as serious bite cases and severely injured animals, and do not bring in stray and owner surrendered animals. Instead, the public is forced to do the work shelters previously did. While Austin Pets Alive and Best Friends argue shelters will assist people in these efforts, experience shows many shelters simply dump the problem on the public. In fact, El Paso, Texas terminated its HASS program after public outrage resulting from abandoned animals dying on the streets.

While HASS promotional pieces argue shelters can use this empty animal holding space for good uses, such as more expansive kennels and larger adoption counseling areas, this is hopelessly naive. If governments have no animals to house, they will simply stop funding shelters. Therefore, animal control shelters will close or become significantly smaller unless these organizations find new revenue sources.

Shelters will become pet stores if HASS/community sheltering becomes the norm and the pet shortage/breeding idea wins out. While the idea may seem farfetched, it has happened with transport. A decade ago, Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter contracted with numerous municipalities and killed scores of them. At the same time, the shelter transported tons of easy to adopt pets from the south. Why did the borough of Helmetta do this? To bring in revenue to lower taxes. Similarly, private shelters, such as Dakin Humane Society and St. Hubert’s, do similar things albeit without the animal cruelty charges that Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter had. Even though empty shelters could have more than enough pets to adopt out for decades by transporting animals in from other countries, this would cost more due to longer traveling distances and more stringent disease control policies for international dogs. Additionally, breeding will provide the public even more “desirable” dogs than any transport could yield. Furthermore, for people like Trish McMillan and Sue Sternberg, who want to kill any dog that doesn’t fit their submissive and supplicant ideal, breeding dogs in this way will be preferable. Thus, the combination of HASS/community sheltering and the pet shortage ideas winning out will transform shelters into pet stores.

Respect for Life Must Be the Future of Animal Welfare

Shelters should use declining intake to put more focus and resources into animals dying in shelters. When shelters first achieved 90% live release rates over a decade ago, savable animals still lost their lives based on the standards of today. Specifically, the respect for life culture of many individuals utilized advances in animal behavior science and veterinary medicine to save animals previously considered “untreatable.” Eileen McFall of the Final Frontier Rescue Project, which has been at the forefront of saving previously unadoptable behavior dogs in Austin, Texas, recently stated she believes only 1 in 5,000 or fewer shelter dogs truly have unfixable/unmanageable behavior problems. Yet even the best no kill animal control shelters still take the lives of around 1 in 500 dogs for behavior. In other words, we should focus our efforts to save the lives of animals who are still falling through the cracks by developing programs and techniques to address their needs. Thus, shelters must make respect for life of the animals in their care the key focus of their activities.

Nathan Winograd also articulated a broader respect for life approach shelters can take in his recent podcast. Using his work at the San Francisco SPCA in the 1990s as an example, Mr. Winograd envisions a world where shelters proactively attend government meetings and address issues in real time. For example, Nathan Winograd cited an example where the San Francisco SPCA stopped a plan to use glue traps in government buildings and instead rodent proofed the facilities to solve a pest problem. Similarly, I could see shelters working to resolve wildlife conflicts without resorting to killing the animals. Also, shelters can proactively work with pet owners in the community to solve behavior, medical and other problems long before the issues could result in the owners surrendering their animals. Finally, shelters can continue to support retail pet store bans and additional legislation to curb cruel breeding operations. As a result, shelters can spread the respect for life culture far beyond their walls.

On the other hand, the pet shortage pushers disrespect life. Instead of viewing shelters as places to save the lives of homeless animals, the pet shortage proponents want to use these facilities to sell puppies to meet their view of market demand. Of course, good shelters have long altered this market demand by appealing to the public’s deep desire to save lives. Unfortunately, that doesn’t matter to the pet shortage pushers who have long profited off the killing (or enabling) of animals in need. Even worse, folks like Trish McMillan and Sue Sternberg, are on some perverse quest to kill animals and even huge swaths of the dog population. Thus, the pet shortage pushers show a complete and utter disrespect for life.

The pet shortage idea is just another example of the animals welfare industry harming animals. In Nathan Winograd’s recent podcast series “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: Animal Sheltering in the United States”, Mr. Winograd outlined how shelters abandoned the movement’s initial goal of animal protection in favor of profit. After ASPCA founder, Henry Bergh, died in 1888, the ASPCA and other animal protection organizations took over pound contracts and killed animals for money (albeit in a less cruel manner). Subsequently, the animal welfare industry created myths, such as blaming the public, to justify it killing animals for money. Even when lifesaving alternatives existed, such as subsidized high volume spay/neuter, TNR and high powered adoption programs, the animal welfare industry opposed them for long periods of time. Is it any wonder that people who accumulated wealth and notoriety in this system would not respect the lives of animals?

Austin Pets Alive Director, Kristen Hassen, seems to want to have a “conversation” with the pet shortage pushers even if she appears to oppose shelters breeding animals. I disagree. You don’t have a “conversation” with people who have no respect for the lives of animals. You do not talk with people who profit off the killing of animals. Certainly, you do not have a “discussion” with psychopaths like Sue Sternberg, Trish McMillan and the people elevating those two individuals. Instead, you destroy their arguments and crush this idiotic idea before it takes hold.

Joyce Briggs describes herself as a “game-changer” and “serial collaborator” in her Linkedin profile. Animals and their lives are not a “game” and even if they were I wouldn’t want Ms. Briggs to “change” it based on her track record. Collaborating with people like Sue Sternberg and Trish McMillan should disqualify Joyce Briggs from being part of any serious “conversation” in animal welfare. Instead, Joyce Briggs should retire and her shelter breeding idea should never see the light of day.

*This blog’s cover photo is courtesy of:

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.