Role Model Shelter Saves Its Pit Bulls


Earlier this year, I wrote a blog on how many progressive open admission animal shelters are saving all of their pit bull type dogs. One of these progressive facilities was Colorado’s Longmont Humane Society. Longmont Humane Society’s Executive Director, Elizabeth Smokowski, was kind enough to share some data with me showing how impressive this facility is.

Longmont Humane Society places all of its savable pit bulls in a very short period of time. Based on raw data provided to me, Longmont Humane Society saved 96% of its pit bull type dogs impounded in 2014 (through November 21). Additionally, pit bulls on average only stay at the shelter for 33 days. As a comparison, Longmont Humane Society saves 98% of its non-pit bull type dogs and non-pit bull type dogs stay on average around 9.5 days at the shelter. Both pit bull type dogs and other kinds of dogs are saved at rates far exceeding the typical 90% threshold required for no kill status. Thus, Longmont Humane Society does an amazing job for all of its dogs.

Longmont Humane Society impounds far more pit bull type dogs than New Jersey animal shelters. Through November 21, Longmont Humane Society impounded around 430 pit bull type dogs this year (483 annualized). This equates to 3.59 pit bull type dogs per 1,000 people in Longmont Humane Society’s service area. As a comparison, Associated Humane Societies – Newark, which many people believe impounds extraordinary numbers of pit bulls, only takes in 2.06 pit bull type dogs per 1,000 people in its service area assuming 50% of impounded dogs are pit bull type dogs. Thus, Longmont Humane Society impounds far more pit bull type dogs than New Jersey’s urban shelters “filled with pit bulls.”

Longmont Humane Society Performance with Pit Bull Type Dogs Dispels Many Excuses Shelters Use for Killing or Refusing to Rescue Pit Bull Type Dogs

Pit bull type dogs are adopted quickly at Longmont Humane Society. Assuming a similar percentage of pit bull type dogs and all dogs are returned to owners (i.e. 35.6% of all dogs with outcomes) and those dogs are returned to owners in 5 days on average (i.e. Longmont’s hold period policy), we can estimate pit bull type dogs take 48.5 days to get adopted. However, pit bull type dogs likely take less time to get adopted than 48.5 days due to fewer pit bull type dogs probably getting returned to owners. Restrictive landlord policies often force owners to surrender their pit bull type dogs to shelters and such dogs typically aren’t returned to owners. Furthermore, breed-specific legislation in nearby communities may also result in more owners surrendering their pit bulls. With such a high save rate, many dogs likely require physical and/or behavioral rehabilitation and Longmont Humane Society still successfully adopts its pit bull type dogs out quickly. Thus, Longmont Humane Society has a high pit bull live release rate and quickly adopts out its pit bull type dogs.

Longmont Humane Society has a high pit bull live release rate and quickly adopts its dogs out despite the shelter having lots of pit bulls. Many shelters argue they have to kill or can’t rescue pit bulls due to having too many pit bulls. Longmont Humane Society’s pit bulls and other breeds short lengths of stay prove this is a meritless claim. For example, we can estimate the percentage of pit bull type dogs in Longmont Humane Society’s shelter and foster care dog population by using pit bull and non-pit bull lengths of stay and standard shelter population equations. Based on this data, 45% of Longmont Humane Society’s dog population at the shelter and in foster care should be pit bull type dogs. Furthermore, the large number of pit bulls do not negatively impact adoptions of other breeds given the non-pit bulls length of stay only averages 9.5 days. Unlike many shelters who complain about too many pit bull type dogs coming in and being forced to kill or warehouse scores of them, Longmont Humane Society rolls up its sleeves and saves these dogs.

Winning Strategies Save at Risk Dogs

Longmont Humane Society actively tries to return lost dogs to their owners. Returning lost dogs to owners is often the quickest way to get stray dogs safely out of the shelter. While Longmont Humane Society does not disclose its return to owner rate (i.e. dogs returned to owners/stay dogs taken in), it likely has a high return to owner rate given 35.6% of all dogs received (i.e. strays and owner surrenders) are returned to owners. The shelter’s web site lists lost pets both at the shelter and found by private individuals in the community. The animals can be sorted by type of animal and/or sex to allow someone to quickly find their lost family member. Additionally, people can report lost pets electronically on the shelter’s web site which can help the shelter quickly match lost dogs with their families. Thus, Longmont Humane Society takes active measures to help families find their lost pets.

Longmont Humane Society makes huge efforts at rehabilitating dogs at the shelter and in the community. Amy Sadler instituted her Playing for Life program at Longmont Humane Society several years ago. This program uses playgroups to give shelter dogs much needed exercise, which reduces stress, and increases adoptability. Furthermore, the shelter has a world class behavioral rehabilitation program helping dogs overcome treatable issues and trains other shelters in these methods. All dogs adopted from Longmont Humane Society come with lifetime behavioral support from the people running this program. Even more impressive, Longmont Humane Society provides reasonably priced classes to the public to help their dogs become model canine citizens. For example, Longmont Humane Society only charges $10 for one hour supervised playgroups designed to socialize dogs. Additionally, the shelter also offers a free new adopter workshop for Longmont Humane Society adopters (adopters from other shelters only pay $10). Thus, Longmont Humane Society makes great efforts to help dogs become emotionally healthy and build strong community support.

The shelter put into place many other innovative programs to adopt animals into loving homes. Longmont Humane Society uses foster families to help animals become more healthy, both physically and mentally, and therefore adoptable. In 2013, 656 animals or around 19% of all animals taken in spent time in foster homes. Longmont Humane Society rightly adheres to breed-neutral policies at the shelter focusing on individual behavior rather than breed labels. Also, Longmont Humane Society walks dogs outside the shelter with “Adopt Me” vests and gives interested people information about adopting. The adoption section of Longmont Humane Society’s web site is very user-friendly and allows people to quickly sort dogs who are good with other dogs or cats. Finally, the shelter has 850 active volunteers who logged over 59,000 hours helping the shelter last year. Thus, Longmont Humane Society uses a variety of innovative programs to save lives of all types of dogs.

Longmont Humane Society is a goal oriented organization. The shelter has a strategic plan for 2012-2018 listed on their website laying out measurable goals with specific deadlines. For example, Longmont Humane Society is seeking to reduce its average length of stay for dogs from 18 days to 9 days and for cats from 28 days to 14 days while maintaining no kill level save rates by 2018. Frankly, most shelters would be ecstatic with the old lengths of stay and would sit on their laurels. However, Longmont Humane Society continues to improve and has made substantial progress towards achieving its goal by reducing its average length of stay for dogs from 18 days to 14 days and for cats from 28 days to 21 days in two years. Another goal, using a mobile outreach program to help adopt animals out to underserved communities by 2018, will likely significantly reduce average length of stay for pit bull type dogs even further. Longmont Humane Society also has a goal to maintain a 95% adopter satisfaction rating on surveys and another goal to measure customer satisfaction for other programs, such as training, by 2017. Finally, the shelter lays out specific goals for attracting the best employees and financial performance. This focus on excellence allowed the shelter to turn its financial performance around while it was in danger of bankruptcy and continue improving its service to the community. Thus, Longmont Humane Society’s success with pit bull type dogs is a function of a goal oriented organization focused on continuously improving.

Longmont Humane Society proves that focusing on excellence yields impressive achievements. For far too long, most shelters have not set standards or goals and unsurprisingly fail to save their animals. Longmont Humane Society saves its pit bull type dogs and places them quickly despite taking large numbers of these dogs in and facing a severe financial crisis. Shelters need to drop the excuses for killing pit bull type dogs and do the hard work necessary to save them. Ghandi once said “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” Pit bulls are the most vulnerable dogs in shelters and we should judge shelters on how they treat these animals. We know these dogs can be saved. Will those with the power to save pit bull type dogs do so or will the killing and excuses continue to win out at most shelters?

Misguided War on Craigslist is Costing Lives

Most of the animal welfare community believes listing animals on Craigslist is a terrible thing. Craigslist allows people to rehome pets for a small fee to encourage pet adoption, but not promote pet profiteering by breeders. Every day, people post pictures on Facebook saying Craigslist animals automatically go to dog fighters, laboratories and dog flippers. In fact, numerous petitions to remove Craigslist’s pet section entirely have popped up in the interest of animals.

No Solid Evidence to Suggest Craigslist is More Dangerous Than Other Pet Placement Venues

The evidence showing Craigslist is far more dangerous to place pets is nonexistent. The well-publicized Puppy Doe incident where a man abused a pit bull puppy obtained from Craigslist is one example of abuse. Craigslist is the nation’s 10th most popular web site and attracts 50 million different visitors each month in the United States alone. In other words, 1 out of 6 Americans use Craigslist each month. Therefore, it is entirely logical with so many visitors and pet placements that a few would go wrong.

People abuse animals obtained from other sources as well. Do people think no one abused an animal adopted from an animal shelter or rescue? Yes, it does happen at animal shelters who “do criminal background checks” as well like this example here. Unfortunately, animals placed for adoption always have a small risk of falling into unsavory hands. Few people would take PETA’s view that killing homeless animals is preferable to adoption due to the tiny risk things may go wrong. Unfortunately, the Craigslist haters fall right into this misguided view that the public at large cannot be trusted. Should we no longer do off-site adoption events since unscrupulous people may visit? Maybe, we shouldn’t put shelters in high traffic locations or keep them open at convenient hours to prevent bad people from adopting animals?

Craigslist also literally saved one bait dog’s life. Mama Jade was a victim of untold abuse, including apparent dog fighting, having her teeth removed, over-breeding, and various other injuries. However, the breast cancer she had was too expensive for her rescuer to afford. As a result, euthanasia seemed like the likely outcome. After posting a plea for help on Craigslist, all the necessary funds came in and then some (which went to a local rescue). Mama Jade finally got the life she long deserved. Unfortunately, these types of Craigslist stories rarely make the rounds on various animal welfare groups Facebook pages.

Banning Craigslist Pet Placements Will Lead to More Shelter Killing

Removing Craigslist’s pet section will undoubtedly lead to more shelter killing. Many people who will not be able to place their pets will be forced to surrender animals to kill shelters. These impounded animals will either be killed or cause another dog or cat to die by taking its space.

Eliminating Craigslist’s pet section will reduce adoptions by shelters and rescues resulting in more animals killed in shelters. Many shelters and rescues rely on Craigslist to place their animals quickly into loving homes. If rescues cannot place their animals quickly, fewer animals will get pulled and saved from kill shelters. Similarly, kill shelters who cannot place their dogs as swiftly will kill more animals due to lack of space.

Craigslist also is an important avenue for long-term lifesaving. Craigslist is immensely popular with young adults. If we can convince young adults to adopt now, we may very likely gain adopters for decades to come. Rough 60% of people online aged 25-44 years old use online classified ads, which Craigslist is the most popular. Facts like these lead those focused on saving lives, such as Bert Troughton of the ASPCA, no kill advocate Kathe Pobloski, and Austin Pets Alive to support using Craigslist to place animals. Thus, it is imperative we use every tool we can to save lives today and well into the future.

In fact, my wife and I placed several dogs we fostered in great homes using Craigslist.  All these dogs were pit bulls, which languished in the shelter for months, and were adopted within a few weeks using Craigslist. One adopter was a young man who went on to volunteer with us at the shelter. His girlfriend ended up becoming a dedicated worker at a no kill shelter. Another adopter was a young golf instructor who regularly shares pictures of the dog and even lets us pet sit our former foster. Thus, our personal experience corroborates the effectiveness of Craigslist to save lives and find wonderful homes.

Unfortunately, the war on Craigslist already is resulting in shelter animals losing their lives. Several rescues are “saving” animals being rehomed on Craigslist. At the same time, New Jersey shelters are killing 73 animals each day. Therefore, these rescues are choosing to “save” animals who will likely be fine and ignoring the animals who have a 100% chance of death. Additionally, many other animals who would have been safely rehomed on Craigslist may end up surrendered to high kill shelters after their owners were told not to use Craigslist. As a result of their war on Craigslist, self-proclaimed animal welfare advocates are reducing the amount of lives saved.

Wrong Assault on People Rehoming Their Pets

While certain rescue groups and individuals sharply criticize owners rehoming their pets, leaders in the animal welfare and no kill movement think otherwise. One argument made by these folks is owners are basically too stupid to rehome a pet on their own. The California Sheltering Report, which was written by the Humane Society of the United States, ASPCA and other groups, disagrees and says owners are in fact better at placing their dogs:

“Owners may also be in a better position than a crowded shelter to rehome their pet, as they know their pet’s positive qualities and can exhibit the pet in a comfortable habitat.”

Similarly, Austin Pets Alive, which led Austin, Texas to becoming the largest no kill community in the country, strongly advocates people rehome their pets using Craigslist. Logically, keeping pets out of shelters saves lives and improves quality of care for animals in shelters.

The criticisms from these individuals show a clear lack of empathy. On the adoption site I run for a local shelter, people frequently contact me looking to rehome their dogs (typically pit bulls). Most times people must relinquish their dogs for very good reasons, such as landlord issues, personal health problems, or even the owner’s death or going to prison. Virtually all rescue groups do not even respond to their pleas for help or simply say “no we will not help you.” If these people turn the dogs over to a kill shelter, which are typically the only ones willing to take the dogs, animal welfare people sharply criticize the “heartless” owners. Yet, when distressed owners try to rehome the animals on Craigslist these same owners are castigated as well. For example, these judgmental people often send nasty messages to distressed owners on Craigslist telling them not to rehome their animal that way. Unfortunately, this not only fails to solve the problem, but turns people off from supporting animal welfare organizations.

The Better Way

So, am I advocating people place animals for free on Craigslist with no questions asked? No, I am not. However, I also believe most people will have the common sense and knowledge of their pet to make informed decisions. That being said, I believe the following things would result in more safe placements and lives saved:

1) Local rescue groups and shelters should collaborate to provide a hotline to distressed pet owners. People answering the hotline should have ample resources, such as solutions to common behavioral issues, lists of dog (particularly pit bull) friendly rental properties, and dog trainers who agree to provide discounted or free training. Many times problems causing a person to relinquish a pet can be solved. Therefore, the animal welfare community can prevent the need to rehome pets altogether in many instances.

2) People insisting on contacting individual placing animals for adoption on Craigslist need to follow proper etiquette. First, they should come across as nonjudgmental, offer to help, and provide the following or similar rehoming guidance:

3) For those wanting to crackdown on Craigslist posts, flag all posts where someone appears to sell animals for a profit. Craigslist only allows classified ads for animals needing homes for “a small rehoming fee” in order to help homeless animals. Cracking down on ads from breeders will decrease their ability to sell animals.

Let’s focus on saving lives and leave moralizing to others.