Thursday, January 21, 2010

Approaching no-kill

Adopting a philosophy of no-kill at a shelter is no simple task. Done wrong, it can lead to institutional hoarding and some might suggest that we have seen an example of that at the Toronto Humane Society. Done right, it can lead to dramatic if not almost miraculous reductions in animal killings by shelters.

The Humane Society of Utah, for example (h/t KC Dog Blog), is the latest shelter in the United States to reach a goal of no-kill for their dogs.

For the first time in the 50 year history of the Humane Society of Utah, the non-profit animal shelter did not have to euthanize a single adoptable dog.

According to HSU Executive Director Gene Baierschmidt, “This is a great achievement, one we’ve been striving for over the past five decades. Ten years ago one of our goals was to end the need to euthanize healthy, adoptable animals. And last year’s record for canine adoptions bring us much closer to reaching that goal.”

In 2009, the Humane Society of Utah was successful in finding homes for 3,917 dogs.
Compared to 3,763 dog adoptions in 2008, the HSU experienced a 4.1% increase despite the economic downturn.

And ...

Mr. Baierschmidt credits a proactive approach for the high adoption rate. The HSU’s Outreach (off-site) adoptions, pet foster program and the Transfer Initiative all contributed to a successful year. More than 100 families in our community are fostering animals, taking special-needs or hard-to-place animals into their own homes and working with them until they are ready to go to new families in permanent homes.

The HSU’s transfer program, established in 2008, works with more than 140 shelters and rescue groups (i.e. Katherine Heigls╩╝ Hounds of Hope) taking different types of animals to areas where there is greater demand for them. And the Outreach effort expanded in 2009 from 3 adoption sites to 7 different locations, including local Petco and Petsmart stores. 350 volunteers work closely with all three programs, helping socialize and groom animals while assisting the full time staff with various other duties.

In addition to these programs, the Humane Society of Utah Clinic spayed or neutered more than 11,000 cats and dogs during the past calendar year, addressing the root cause of the pet over-population issue and helping the HSU achieve its goal.

I'm thinking that what they've done in Utah, we can do here. Specifically, in reference to the reformation of the THS, here are some points to consider:

No kill does not mean never kill. It refers to the saving of all healthy and behaviourally sound animals. Humane - truly humane - euthanasias are still performed on those animals which suffer and will likely see no end to their suffering. Included in that are those animals which would be forced to live out the rest of their lives in institutional cages because they are too aggressive, with little or no hope of changing that behaviour, to be adopted out.

No kill is a goal. It is not a commandment that is to be thrust upon an organization which is not ready for it. Every aspect of the organization must be committed and ready in order for no-kill to be successful, from intake to adoptions, from every animal care worker to every board member.

No kill is a community goal. It cannot be reached without communal involvement and that includes networking with rescues, foster homes, businesses, vets, government agencies and the public at large.

No kill means having a truly open admissions policy. It's not no-kill if an agency refuses entry to some animals so that others have to deal with them or they end up on the street.

The online, no-kill website is here - as if you didn't know already - but first check out these excellent videos recorded in Australia at the 2009 National Summit to End Companion Animal Overpopulation.

NOTE: Oops, the following videos have been taken offline until permission to post is given by the presenters. Hopefully, they'll be okay with them.

The first is Mike Arms who is the president of the Helen Woodward Animal Center. He gives a spellbinding talk and you might want to keep some hankies close at hand, just in case:

Summit - Mike Arms Large from John Bishop on Vimeo.

This next one is from Nathan Winograd and he talks about his experiences in the no-kill movement:

Summit - Nathan Winograd Large from John Bishop on Vimeo.

Well, until this vid link comes back up, there's always this older one:

I wonder if either of these two guys would consider a relocation to Toronto.

And here are two more from the conference, first with Joy Verrinder who talks about her shelter's experience with moving towards no-kill.

Summit - Joy Verrinder Large from John Bishop on Vimeo.

This last one is of Michelle Williamson, who is the chief of PetRescue, Austalia's equivalent (or arguably better) to Petfinder, an online search engine for finding shelter dogs.

Michelle Williamson - 2009 NDN Summit from John Bishop on Vimeo.


Anonymous said...

The THS never had a no-kill policy, that was simply marketing, as the blog author alludes to. You must be very suspicious of no-kill, because it often means that animals are warehoused until they die, or the no-kill organization is simply lying, or doing things like sending dogs to third parties who then euthanize them. It is a feel good notion that must be tempered with verifiable evidence, not anecdotes from charlatans.

Triangle said...

Can I ask an honest question? Why is that no kill seems to be focused so much more on dogs than cats? Utah did not go no kill- no mention is made of their kill rate for cats. The exclusion of that rate makes me think they were killing healthy cats. But since they got the dog rate to zero, they qualify as no kill? Even Winograd, who I highly respect, focuses almost entirely on dogs in his books. This really disturbs me- it feels as if killing cat just doesn't matter nearly as much as killing dogs.

Fred said...

Hi Triangle, you have to dig a bit on their site, but I think you'll find that Utah's record for cats seems pretty good. I'm not that knowledgeable on cats but my guess is that it's a lot more difficult to attain no-kill for cats because there are a lot of feral/strays and so as an institution strives for no-kill, it's more likely it'll achieve it with dogs first. Just looking at the TAS website, you can see that there are 8 dogs up for adoption and 153 cats and there are 24 "lost" dogs while there are 249 "lost" cats.

Triangle said...

I know that it is more difficult to find homes for cats, though I don't agree that is due to the fact that most of them are feral. I think the majority of cats in shelters are house pets or could easily become a house pet. The real issue is that society is more likely to view cats as throw away pets- lose one, just get another. I don't feel shelters are helping by focusing so much on dogs when it comes to no kills. Utah's record for cats may be good and better than other shelters, but if they are still killing adoptable cats, they aren't no kill. Saying that they are feels like ignoring those cats. Getting the dog rate to zero is great and should be celebrated and used as a model for other shelters, but Utah is NOT no kill until the cat rate is the same.

Fred said...

Agree. Unfortunately, there is an unstated ranking of animal worth based on species, for example people will generally place less worth on a pet rodent than either a dog or cat. Please note, though, that no one said HSU is no-kill in general. I wrote that HSU is no-kill for dogs and on the HSU site, they expressed something similar and acknowledged that they hadn't reached no-kill for their cats.

Triangle said...

Thanks for clarifying that, it makes me feel a little better. I think I just misread. I have seen that stated before though- claiming a no kill title when what the shelter really means is they aren't killing canines. Since it is easier to achieve no kill for dogs (easier but not easy, of course), maybe we need to focus a little more on what needs to be done to achieve it for cats? The model isn't the same. You can ship small dogs from CL to UT, but brown tabby cats can be found anywhere. Trap and release helps, but what about all of those house cats? What unique things can we do to lower the kill rate in that population? I wish there was more conversation in the no kill community about saving that population.

Anonymous said...

"No kill does not mean never kill. It refers to the saving of all healthy and behaviourally sound animals."

I would add treatable animals and animals with behaviour problems who can be rehabilitated. Even in more difficult cases, I think Winograd would agree that we have a responsibility to do whatever we can for homeless animals even if that means setting up specialized sanctuaries and hospices. I would also add that if a shelter isn't ready for no-kill, it should get ready fast.

Thanks for posting this helpful information. Your blog raises important issues and I hope the members of the THS are able to bring in competent, forward-thinking leadership.