Formula to end feral cat killing by Ed Boks

Ed Boks and feral cats
The formula to end the killing of feral cats works

It is commonly understood that any serious initiative to end shelter killing has to focus on ending the “supply side” of the surplus animal equation.  The only way to do that is to preemptively spay/neuter those animals most likely to “supply” (give birth to) animals most likely to die in animal shelters.We

The three categories of animals dying in the largest numbers in most shelters throughout the United States are feral cats, pit bulls/pit bull mixes, and Chihuahuas.

There are effective solutions for ending the killing of these populations; and those solutions begin and end with targeted spay/neuter programs.  In a previous blog I addressed the need for targeted spay/neuter programs for pit bulls.  In this blog, I focus on how to end the killing of feral and stray cats.    Continue reading “Formula to end feral cat killing by Ed Boks”

Pets improve owners’ health and well-being By Ed Boks

Ed Boks and pet therapyDid you know that the presence of a cat or dog in a counseling office can speed the therapeutic process for some patients? Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) was introduced by psychologist Boris Levinson in the 1950s when he discovered that his dog Jingles was able to connect with autistic children in a way humans had not.

Since then, AAT has continued to develop as a therapeutic science. Although dogs are the most frequently used therapy animals, cats, birds, rabbits, horses, donkeys, llamas and even pigs and snakes participate in different programs.

According to research, when people hold and stroke an animal, many positive physical and psychological transitions occur, including lowered blood pressure, a feeling of calm, the ability to be more extroverted and verbal, decreased loneliness and increased self-esteem. Continue reading “Pets improve owners’ health and well-being By Ed Boks”

Ed Boks leaves Yavapai Humane Society; carrying on his legacy

Ed Boks and Yavapai Humane SocietySix years ago this month I joined the Yavapai Humane Society (YHS) team as executive director. When I joined the YHS team I found an organization operating with some challenges — from a notable deficit, high employee turnover, and low morale.

The greatest concern was the sheer number of animals dying each year. YHS was among the highest kill shelters in Arizona per capita; killing over 2,200 animals annually – six per day. The organization and our community wanted to see change.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, I made it my mission to bring a transformative vision to YHS, summed up in the term “No Kill Ethic.” I have always stood in the conviction that killing animals because of lack of space or out of convenience is immoral and it need not occur in any community.

The YHS Board of Directors rallied around this vision to help attract and establish a team aligned with our determination to end the killing. The results speak for themselves.

YHS immediately began the “steepest and fasted decline in shelter killing ever seen in any shelter anywhere” according to Animals 24/7 publisher Merritt Clifton, a 25-year watchdog of animal shelter euthanasia in the United States.

This transformation was no flash in the pan either. YHS has sustained the lowest or among the lowest kill rates of any shelter in the nation throughout my tenure—a commitment that I know the solid leadership which remains at YHS will continue to carry far out into the future. Today, YHS holds prestigious ratings from both Charity Navigator and GuideStar for fiscal responsibility and effective program management.

I am honored to have been a part of what I consider to be YHS’s greatest chapter – transforming a troubled past into a very bright future.

This was not a one man show. The YHS miracle occurred because of a committed Board of Directors, a brilliant management team, dedicated employees and volunteers, and generous donors and community partners. Together we generated an extraordinary legacy having created and sustained the safest community in the nation for pets.

It is with this recognized success that I have decided to leave YHS to continue my vision to help other communities establish their own “No Kill Ethic.”

Prescott has been my home these past six years and I have come to know many of you and I will miss you all. Thank you for the opportunity to serve you.

Ed Boks, former Executive Director of Yavapai Humane Society

A message from the Board of Directors President, Jerry Kipp:

“Ed’s vision brought YHS to a place of leadership in the animal welfare industry, and inspired our organization to create an extremely safe community for animals in need. We remain grateful for the numerous contributions Ed has made toward YHS’s lifesaving work and will continue to build on the solid foundation created during his six-year tenure.  We remain committed to our No Kill Ethic, which is at the heart of all we do at our organization.”

Source: Carrying on legacy at Humane Society

Practical consequences of the no-kill ethic By Ed Boks

Ed Boks and the STAR Program
Ed Boks’ STAR Program makes sure animals like Ziggy get the care they need!

Although the Yavapai Humane Society (YHS) has been providing animal shelter services to our community for 43 years, it was only five and a half years ago that YHS embraced what we have come to call our “no-kill ethic.” We define this ethic as applying the same criteria to determining a homeless pets’ fate that a pet owner or conscientious veterinarian would apply to a beloved family pet. That is, healthy and treatable animals are not euthanized (killed) simply because of a lack of resources.

Once this life-affirming ethic was implemented, the practical consequences immediately began to fall into place.  Embracing and practicing the no-kill ethic has resulted in our community becoming the region in the United States for dogs and cats – for five consecutive years.  Euthanasia/killing has been effectively eliminated as a tool to control pet overpopulation in our community and overcrowding in our shelter.  Killing has been replaced by a robust low-cost spay/neuter and pet identification (microchip) programs. Spay/neuter programs reduce the number of unwanted pets and pet identification programs allow for the quick return of lost pets to their frantic owners.

A perfect example of an animal benefiting from the YHS no-kill ethic is Ziggy – a 2-year-old intact male Tibetan spaniel mix. Ziggy was found by animal control on Dec. 1.  He was abandoned by his owners with an apparent broken leg.

Upon arrival, the YHS medical team found Ziggy had suffered severe trauma. X-rays revealed two broken legs: his right front leg had fractures of the radius and ulna and his left front leg had metacarpal fractures. We splinted both front legs and started him on pain medications. YHS veterinarian consulted with a private practice veterinary orthopedic surgeon.

The decision was made to transport Ziggy to a local veterinary hospital in Phoenix where Ziggy was examined and immediately scheduled for surgery. His multiple fractures were repaired with plates, screws and a tension splint. Ziggy’s recovery is expected to take 6 to 8 weeks and is made possible thanks to YHS’ compassionate foster care giving volunteers.  The orthopedic surgeon felt the fractures could be old injuries suggesting criminal cruelty and neglect may have been involved.

Typically, the cost for this surgery would exceed $4,300; however, the private veterinarian graciously agreed to charge YHS only $2,800 for this lifesaving surgery. Ziggy is now a STAR Animal.

STAR (Special Treatment And Recovery) is a donation funded program designed to ensure animals in critical need of medical care beyond the scope of the YHS budget are not denied the care they need to survive. These animals are sadly routinely euthanized in many other shelters.

If you would like to help animals like Ziggy please make sure your local shelter has a STAR Program you can make a tax deductible donation.  Your donation will help ensure your local shelter has the funds available to help the next rescued animal in need of life saving medical care.

YHS receives Community Excellence Award by Ed Boks

This past Friday, July 10 at the Prescott Resort, the Yavapai Humane Society (YHS) was recognized by the Prescott Valley Chamber of Commerce at their 2015 Community Excellence Awards ceremony. YHS was honored as “The Organization of the Year.” Among the many YHS accomplishments cited by the Chamber, the impact of our no-kill ethic was particularly singled out.

The Yavapai Humane Society (YHS) celebrated its 43rd Anniversary in March, however, it was only five years ago this month that YHS first embraced its no-kill ethic.

The no-kill ethic refers to our commitment to apply the same criteria when deciding an animal’s fate that a caring pet owner or compassionate veterinarian would apply to a beloved pet. That is, healthy and treatable animals are not killed simply because of a lack of resources. Believe it or not, that was happening just five years ago.

Killing animals because of a lack of resources may be the quick, convenient and, at least from afar, the easy thing to do. But I have never, in over 30 years in this field, heard anyone argue it is the right thing to do. After all, the creatures who fill our shelters can hardly be faulted for bringing trouble upon themselves. People who excuse euthanasia in shelters often say we have to be “realistic.” But we contend such realism is best directed at the sources of the problem and at the element of human responsibility.

It is gratifying to be recognized by the Prescott Valley Chamber of Commerce for the remarkable transformation the no-kill ethic has had on our community. In fact, YHS’ no-kill ethic is gaining attention in communities coast to coast. Organizations in Los Angeles, Mohave County, New York City and even the country of Israel have asked YHS for help embracing our no-kill ethic.

YHS is fast becoming a world class organization. This growth has required every member of the YHS team to expand their individual capacity, vision and expertise. Working for YHS is no longer just a job; it’s not even just a career – it’s a vocation. I’m proud of every member of our team for getting us to where we are today; but even more exciting is where we’re taking YHS in the years ahead. If you are not a part of this life affirming effort, I invite you to join the YHS volunteer team.

Other reasons cited by the Prescott Valley Chamber for selecting YHS as “The Organization of the Year” include our many lifesaving programs that ensure appropriate care is provided for every lost, homeless, sick and abused animal we rescue until we find them their forever home. YHS successfully “re-homes” 97 percent of the pets who come through our doors (compared to the national shelter average of about 40 percent). The 3 percent who are humanely euthanized are due to irremediable suffering resulting from disease or injury, or aggression that threatens public safety.

The Chamber also called attention to YHS humane response to the significant increase in the number of animals rescued from hoarding situations (over 70 animals in the past 12 months compared to 20-30 animals in previous years); the recent expansion of the YHS New Hope program, which enables YHS to rescue animals from kill lists in shelters across the Southwest – effectively exporting the no-kill ethic; and YHS plans to include homeless equines in its rescue mission as early as 2016.

It is gratifying to be recognized as our community’s “Organization of 2015” for providing a broad and compassionate safety-net for animals in greatest need. This award is deeply appreciated by the Board of Directors, employees and volunteers of YHS.

No-kill: truth and consequences By Ed Boks

Ed Boks and pet hospice
Foster and Hospice Care saves lives!

I’m often asked how the Yavapai Humane Society (YHS) maintains its “no-kill” status. (“no-kill” is defined as applying the same criteria to deciding a homeless animal’s fate that a devoted pet owner or a conscientious veterinarian would apply to a beloved pet). Since embracing this ethic in July 2010, pet euthanasia in our community has declined 94 percent, and 97 percent of all the animals rescued are re-homed (compared to the national average of about 40 percent).

How do we do this? Every animal shelter has “decision points.” YHS refers to these as our “moments of truth” – junctures where we ask ourselves if we’re being true to our no-kill ethic or are we capitulating to expediency because of a perceived lack of resources.

Let me share a true story to help illustrate how YHS responds to moments of truth. On a Wednesday this past April a Good Samaritan found a severely injured four year old cat hit by a car. The Samaritan rushed the cat to YHS where we found no microchip, collar or ID. This sweet cat was clearly someone’s pet; but now she was alone and scared.

Moment of Truth 1: Euthanize or treat?

The trauma was severe. No one would have faulted YHS for humanely euthanizing this cat at that moment. In fact, it is common practice in many shelters to immediately euthanize severely injured animals at impound. Instead, the YHS medical team jumped into action and stabilized, evaluated and diagnosed the cat – finding a right femoral head fracture and gross hematuria. She was befittingly named Tuscany, defined in the Urban Dictionary as a “perfect mixture of art and wisdom.”

Moment of Truth 2: Euthanize or operate?

Tuscany’s prognosis was good so the YHS medical team performed surgery. However, weeks of recovery were now necessary – requiring prolonged use of cage space that could otherwise benefit many other cats.

Moment of Truth 3: Euthanize or Foster

To benefit the greatest number of animals, Tuscany was placed into Foster Care with a qualified YHS volunteer. While in Foster Care our volunteer discovered a lump – demonstrating the value of the individualized attention foster volunteers provide. The YHS Chief Veterinarian was consulted and confirmed three masses had acutely developed – suggesting cancer.

Moment of Truth 4: Euthanize or test?

To make an informed decision, biopsies were performed. Two tests were negative; the third discovered fibrosarcoma, a type of soft tissue cancer. Prognosis in such cases, even with surgery, projected a mean survival time of about 19 months. Recovery would take weeks and the trauma would negatively impact Tuscany’s remaining quality of life.

Moment of Truth 5: Euthanize or hospice?

In many shelters, euthanasia would be the only remaining option. YHS had three: uncertain surgery, euthanasia, or keep her comfortable until the tumor metastasizes. Because Tuscany has significant quality of life, she was placed in the YHS Hospice Program – where she is thriving in a home dedicated to ensuring her remaining months are filled with tender loving care.

Multiply Tuscany’s story by 3,500 animals annually and you begin to understand the challenge. Every animal has a story – and our mission is to create as many happy endings as possible.

Tuscany’s story underscores how YHS depends on exceptional employees and compassionate volunteers and supporters. If you’d like to volunteer to provide foster or hospice care to a needy animal, contact your local shelter. If you’d like to help support lifesaving programs financially, send your tax-deductible gift to your local shelter or call for information on giving opportunities. Together we can keep this dream alive.

State sanctions county, municipal feral cat programs by Ed Boks

Ed Boks and feral catsThe Yavapai Humane Society (YHS) does not accept feral cats. Taking unadoptable feral cats into an animal shelter is a death sentence and is contrary to the YHS no-kill ethic. Rather than employing the “catch and kill” methodology used by many shelters, YHS champions trap/neuter/return (TNR) as the only viable and humane method for effectively reducing feral cat populations.

The Arizona state legislature recently came out in strong agreement with YHS on TNR. Arizona’s governing body overwhelmingly passed SB1260. The new law encourages animal control to return healthy “stray” cats to the vicinity where they were captured after being sterilized; the very definition of TNR.

Coincidentally, perhaps the strongest scientific support for Arizona’s robust endorsement of TNR comes from a 13-month study conducted by the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries in Hobart, Australia. The study, entitled “Effects of low-level culling of feral cats in open populations” appeared in a recent edition of the journal Wildlife Research, 2015. The findings, trumpeted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Discovery Science, and other media, directly contradict the Australian government, and its environment minister Greg Hunt, who has called for the “effective” eradication of all feral cats by 2023.

Biologist Billie Lazenby, who led the study, says she expected to validate the use of lethal culling (catch and kill) promoted by the Australian government but instead found, to her dismay, that culling markedly increases the numbers of feral cats in an area.

Lazenby and her team of researchers used remote trail cameras to estimate the number of feral cats at two southern Tasmania study sites before and after a 13-month “low-level culling.”

However, Vox Felina blogger Peter Wolf observed, “The effort was anything but low-level. Over the course of 13 months, researchers managed 2,764 trap-nights-an average of seven traps every day of the culling period. Each trapped cat was, after being left in the trap for up to 12 hours or more, ‘euthanized by a single shot to the head from a 0.22 rifle using hollow point ammunition.'”

“Contrary to our prior expectations,” reported Lazenby, the “number of feral cats rose 75 percent at one test site and 211 percent at the other.” Of particular interest, “Cat numbers fell, and were comparable with those in the pre-culling period, when culling ceased.” Suggesting feral cats fill a stable self-regulated ecological niche.

The researchers ultimately concluded the surprising population explosion was the result of “influxes of new [adult] individuals after dominant resident cats were removed.” A phenomenon YHS refers to as the “vacuum effect.” When cats are removed but natural conditions (such as food sources) remain the deterrents of existing territorial cats vanish and neighboring cats quickly invade and overpopulate the newly open territory.

When culling feral cats, Lazenby now says “You may be inadvertently doing more damage than good.”

“What we should focus on when managing feral cats is reducing their impact; and you don’t reduce impact by reducing numbers.” In fact, a growing number of studies conclusively prove lethal culling induces a biological imperative that causes feral cats to overbreed and overproduce to survive. Counter-intuitively, lethal culling directly exacerbates feral cat problems.

Gratefully Arizona has a legislature who understands the science and through SB1260 is directing county and municipal animal control agencies to recognize TNR as the only viable, humane solution to our communities’ vexing feral cat problems.

Arizona is leading the nation through this ground breaking legislation. How wonderful would it be if Yavapai County and local municipalities took the lead by building an effective and humane trap/neuter/return program on this historic foundation?

Reigning or Raining Cats and Dogs? by Ed Boks

The Yavapai Humane Society (YHS) often uses a play on words to get a message across. For instance, on Saturday, Sept. 20, YHS is celebrating its 42nd anniversary at the Prescott Resort, and the event is called Reigning Cats & Dogs.

The name Reigning Cats & Dogs is an attempt to humorously convey the role our pets play in our lives. In many ways, and for many of us, our pets take on a central, or if you will, a “reigning” role in our lives. It is in this fun spirit that we are inviting animal lovers to a royal celebration of the relationship we share with our pets.

The phrase “Reigning Cats & Dogs” is a play on the term “raining cats and dogs.”

It is ironic, even tragic, that in a community that celebrates Reigning Cats & Dogs we also experience the incessant raining of lost and homeless cats and dogs pouring into YHS every day.

So dire was the situation this past summer that YHS had to announce a state of emergency twice in response to the sheer number of lost and homeless pets finding their way into our shelters – and most were found without a license, identification tag, or microchip. Worse, pet owners did not come to YHS to identify their lost pets in a timely manner, which is a costly delay for both YHS and frantic pet owners. YHS is the central location where all lost pets are taken by local animal control and good Samaritans who rescue lost pets from the streets.

When you lose your pet, please visit the YHS Lost & Found Pet Center every three days – and more often when possible. If your pet does not have a microchip, you can purchase one at the YHS Lost & Found Pet Center Monday through Friday or at the YHS Wellness Clinic on any Friday. In the effort to reunite more lost pets with their owners, YHS is offering microchips for just $15. A microchip will help YHS reunite you with your lost pet in the shortest amount of time.

YHS is also hosting a Kitten-Palooza Adoption Special through the end of September. Kittens are available for just $50 or you can adopt two for the price of one. Every adoption (dog or cat) includes spay/neuter surgery, vaccinations and a microchip. This is over a $400 value per adoption. If you are considering adding a pet to your family, now is the time. YHS has the largest selection of quality pets available for adoption at the most affordable prices. When you adopt a pet from YHS you save two lives; the one you adopt and the one your adoption makes room for.

Another way you can help YHS is by participating in the Reigning Cats & Dogs auction, which is open online until Thursday, Sept. 18. Auction items range from luxurious vacation getaways to having your pet featured in the 2015 Yava-Paw Calendar. So tell your friends and family and let the bidding begin!  You can also purchase your tickets to the Reigning Cats & Dogs Gala scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 20 at the Prescott Resort on-line. All proceeds go to help fund YHS’s many life-saving programs. I hope to see you there!

Pets provide the best therapy By Ed Boks

Ed Boks and cat
Homer is a sage 10-year-old domestic longhair with the very rare and exotic trait called heterochromia (two different-colored eyes). He is a staff favorite with a very therapeutic personality. June is Adopt-a-Cat month at YHS, and all cats 5 years of age and older are free!

Science continues to prove what most of us know intuitively. For instance, few of us would deny pets help make us healthier by reducing stress. In fact, interacting with animals helps produce the feel-good hormone known as oxytocin, which reduces stress and helps heart attack patients live longer.

It’s been found that cats in particular can help lower the risk of heart attack and stroke by reducing spikes in our blood pressure caused by stress.

In a study of 48 men and women stockbrokers in high-paying, high-stress jobs, each was prescribed a drug for high blood pressure. Half were selected to get a cat as a pet at home. Six months later, the blood pressure of those without pets continued to rise at higher rates than those with pets.

People who care for cats are found to cope better with their own stress by tending to a cat’s needs – dealing with their own feelings later when they’re more relaxed and their minds are clearer. Cats are living, breathing companions who are always on our side, always caring and non-judgmental. Even the most supportive spouse or partner will sometimes point out our flaws, making us feel judged – which, warranted or not, causes stress.

Playing with a cat also increases serotonin and dopamine production in our brains, which explains why companion animals help reduce the symptoms of stress and depression. Pets help our overall psychological health by helping us maintain a better balance of these two chemicals. When these chemicals are out of whack, many different “negative” moods can develop, worsening existing depression and anxiety.

Another reason why cats are such great therapeutic companions is that they fulfill a basic human need for touch, especially if they’re cuddle cats. A friendly cat likes to be in physical contact with its person, lying quietly in your lap or right next to you while you’re sitting on the sofa or lying in bed, enjoying the stroking and scratching that comes with simply being there. Touch is comforting for people, and cats provide that comfort.

Cats are used as therapeutic aides in psychiatric hospitals as well. Patients who are severely depressed, anxious or having other problems are put on a couch with a calm cat in their laps, and many report feeling calmer after petting the cat.

A cat’s antics can make us laugh, even when we’re feeling at our lowest. Who doesn’t get a chuckle out of their feline friend walking nonchalantly into the room with a toy mouse or a hair tie in its mouth? Who hasn’t laughed at a cat who suddenly arches its back, puffs up its tail, and does the sideways dance at its own shadow or mirror reflection? What cat owner has never cracked a smile at their cat randomly pouncing at some invisible dust mote, only to charge off down the hallway as though the dust mote is in hot pursuit a moment later?

Laughter is a great stress-reducer, and a cat can make you laugh even when you’re feeling your lowest. Laughter has been shown to boost immunity, reduce stress and its effects), and even reduce pain. It also can relax your entire body and when you’re more relaxed you’re better able to look at your situation with a clear head and better handle problems.

If you want to take advantage of the many health benefits provided by cats, including the reduction of stress, depression, and anxiety adopt a cat from your local shelter.

YHS needs your help for blood analysis equipment By Ed Boks

The Yavapai Humane Society (YHS) is celebrating its 42nd anniversary, and we hope to further expand our “no-kill” ethic in 2014.  Many still ask what no-kill means, while others ask if it is even possible.

I define “no-kill” as applying the same criteria to deciding a shelter animal’s fate that a devoted pet owner or conscientious veterinarian would apply to a beloved pet.  That is, healthy and treatable animals are not killed simply because we lack the resources to care for them.

YHS is not a no-kill shelter; however, since the YHS Board of Directors and management team embraced the “no-kill ethic” in July 2010, we achieved a 93 percent decrease in shelter killing.  If no-kill were an Olympic event we would no doubt rejoice in our success.  However, while achieving no-kill is similar to an Olympic moment, sustaining no-kill is a marathon – and each day presents many life-and-death challenges to continue to hold the line.

YHS is the largest animal rescue organization in northern Arizona. We are increasingly known for our many life-saving programs, which are responsible for making central and western Yavapai County the safest region for pets in the United States.

So effective are our life-saving programs that often the only animals most at risk of euthanasia or delayed care are those with medical issues we are challenged to diagnose because we lack the necessary blood analysis equipment.

Consequently, YHS must rely on local labs to provide these services at considerable cost.  Often YHS just can’t afford these lifesaving services, and when we can it requires YHS staff or volunteers to spend precious time transporting samples to the lab and awaiting results.  Many times an animal doesn’t have the time it takes to get those results.

Historically, YHS euthanized suffering animals when we were unable to determine the full extent of an illness.  If YHS had a blood analysis machine the likelihood of a rescued sick pet’s survival would increase exponentially.

To ensure every ill animal that YHS rescues has a fighting chance at quality life requires this equipment on-site. This vital equipment will allow YHS to treat these critical needs animals efficiently and humanely – and it will save more lives.

In just the first quarter of 2014, YHS submitted 55 samples to local labs for analysis at an average cost of about $65. The cost for this equipment is about $20,000. If YHS had this equipment on site it would pay for itself 18 months.

This is YHS’s 42nd Anniversary. If 42 individuals could find it in their heart to give $475, YHS could secure this equipment this year. What a 42 Anniversary present for our community’s neediest animals!

If you are able to help in this life-saving effort, please mail your donation to the Yavapai Humane Society’s STAR (Special Treatment And Recovery) Program.

If you can’t afford $475, any gift towards this essential need will be greatly appreciated. Any monies above the $20,000 will go to the STAR program which provides critical medical care to sick and injured homeless animals.

Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society.