Compassion is not a finite commodity By Ed Boks

Ed Boks and strategic planningIn many communities, decisions regarding animal welfare are complicated by a host of competing priorities. When evaluating competing priorities it’s easy to look to the bottom line. When that happens, the questions of conscience concerning animal welfare can be overlooked.

There will always be enough injustice and human suffering in the world to make animal welfare seem less important. But compassion is not a finite commodity. We demonstrated the power of compassion in 2012 by ending euthanasia as our community’s method for controlling pet overpopulation. That is no small achievement; indeed, it places us among the nation’s most humane communities.

Still it’s not difficult to understand how decision makers can feel strongly that human need and wants are more important than animal needs and wants. When this happens, animal welfare can be reduced to a simple equation of what’s affordable, profitable or expedient. We can almost fool ourselves into thinking we’re dealing with widgets rather than lives. It’s at this point that our moral fiber emerges.

German philosopher Immanuel Kant opined that “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” Indian Prime Minister Mahatma Gandhi expanded on this truism stating the moral progress of an entire community “can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” No less than Abraham Lincoln said he considered animal welfare as important as human welfare for “that is the way of a whole human being.”

Ed Boks and Matthew Scully
Ed Boks and Matthew Scully

Matthew Scully, senior speech writer for President George W. Bush and author of the book Dominion, put it this way: “We are called upon to treat animals with kindness, not because they have rights or power or some claim to equality, but because they don’t; because they all stand unequal and powerless before us. Animals are easily overlooked, their interests easily brushed aside.”

The danger now is that we return to thinking there is only enough compassion in our community for our elderly but not for our children; or just enough love for our children but not for our mentally ill; or just enough kindness for our human populations but not for our animals. St. Francis of Assisi taught that to regard the lives of animals as worthless is one small step away from regarding some human lives as worthless.

We compound community wrongs when wrongs done to animals are excused by saying there are more important wrongs done to humans and we must concentrate on those alone. A wrong is a wrong, and when we shrug off these little wrongs we do grave harm to ourselves and others.

“When we wince at the suffering of animals, that feeling speaks well of us… and those who dismiss love for our fellow creatures as mere sentimentality overlook a good and important part of our humanity.” (Scully: Dominion)

As 2012 comes to a close, I want to thank the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors, the Prescott City Council and the Prescott Valley Town Council for their support in 2012 and ask them to kindly remember animal welfare as they begin to build their 2013/14 budgets.

If you want to live in a community where the circle of compassion includes animals, let your elected officials know how important their support of the local shelter is to you. You can also help this humane initiative directly by making a yearend donation; including your shelter in your will; joining their volunteer program; or adopting a pet from them. Together we transformed our community into a showcase for “that good and important part of our humanity.” This can continue into 2013 and beyond – but only with your help, involvement and support.

Achieving No-Kill by the numbers By Ed Boks

Ed Boks and No KillEarly in my animal welfare career I developed a “no-kill” ethic.  I trained shelter staff to apply this “ethic” by using the same criteria for deciding a homeless animal’s fate that a compassionate owner or conscientious veterinarian would apply to a beloved pet.  That is, healthy and treatable animals are not killed simply because we lack the room or resources to care for them.

The “no-kill” ethic embodies a commitment that for every animal who comes through a shelter’s doors there is a kind and loving person or family – and it is our mission to bring them together.

There are three statistics animal shelters can use to measure their success, or failure, in reducing pet euthanasia (or killing). To rely on any one or two of these numbers tells only a partial, and possibly obfuscated, story.  When you compare all three of these numbers you are better able to tell your organization and your community’s whole story:

The Live Release Rate (LRR) refers to the number of animals who get out of a shelter alive.  I call this “heartbeats in/heartbeats out”.  It includes adoptions, transfers to rescue organizations, and lost pets returned to owners. Some shelter experts claim a 90 percent LRR is the threshold to “no-kill.”  During my tenure at the Yavapai Humane Society (YHS) in Arizona, I maintained a 97 percent LRR for several years.  This is a good internal measurement.

The Euthanasia Rate reports the actual number of animals euthanized.  In the first year implementing the no-kill ethic, YHS achieved a 63 percent reduction in killing, followed by a 64 percent reduction in year two, and a 40 percent reduction in year three; for an overall reduction of 92 percent.  This too is an important internal measure of success or progress.

The Per Capita Kill Rate refers to the number of animals killed per 1,000 residents.  Prior to implementing the no-kill ethic, YHS was killing 17.25 animals per 1,000 residents.  This was one of the worst kill rates in Arizona. However, at the end of my tenure we had reduced the YHS kill rate to 0.2; the lowest in the nation for several consecutive years!  This number is the best for comparing your community with other communities in your state or across the nation.

Understanding the enriched shelter experience By Ed Boks

Ed Boks and enrichmentImagine an animal shelter that is quiet and smells clean; where pets are stress and disease free; where dogs are led outside to eliminate, enjoy fresh air and exercise a minimum of 4 times each day; where adoptions into loving homes are permanent; where well-trained staff and volunteers are able to meet the needs of shelter pets and clients; and where the community generously supports shelter activities and programs.

In the enduring words of John Lennon, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

The dream is the Yavapai Humane Society “Enrichment Program” which implements shelter structures and husbandry practices designed to increase behavioral choices in a way that species-appropriate behaviors and abilities are encouraged, thus enhancing each animal’s overall welfare.

In other words, the YHS Enrichment Program is designed to bring out the best in our community’s homeless pets in an effort to make them more adoptable. This wonderful program directly reflects our community’s love and compassion for animals – and with one of the highest Live Release/Adoption Rates in the nation (97 percent) it is clear the program is working!

It is sad to see the negative consequences in shelters lacking an enrichment program. Animals become less adoptable over time because they become hyperactive, bored, anxious, and frustrated. They can lose housetraining skills, and may develop an uncontrolled exuberance at seeing people or withdraw and isolate themselves in fear. These outcomes diminish an animal’s quality of life and their chance at adoption. Thanks to the YHS Enrichment Program, pets learn and retain valuable skills and are happier and more adoptable.

One of the enrichment strategies employed was replacing the chain link fence dividing the kennels with solid dividers which created greater privacy for the dogs resulting in less anxiety, barrier aggression, and barking. The outcome of this one simple change was transformational, creating a feeling of security for perhaps the first time for some dogs and a quieter shelter for the public to visit.

Other YHS Enrichment initiatives include:

  • Well-trained staff (including three behaviorists) and volunteers capable of consistently and positively training dogs and counseling adopters before and after an animal is adopted;
  • Outdoor facilities for training, house breaking, exercise and fresh air;
  • A “behavior” house to sensitize and train dogs to be well behaved indoors;
  • An HVAC system to ensure 8 air exchanges per hour in the kennels to reduce the risk of disease;
  • Kennel beds and toys to allow animals to choose between resting and playing;
  • Piped in music designed to calm animals;
  • Agility courses and play groups to teach self-confidence and good social skills;
  • Educational materials, videos, free handouts, training classes and behavioral services and strategies that provide guidance and information to adopters and the community.

The Enrichment Program benefits the thousands of animals rescued by YHS each year. It reduces behavior problems and decreases stress induced illnesses – making YHS animals healthier, happier and more adoptable. It also provides our community an environment where everyone can be proud of the compassion, care and training we provide our soon to be adopted animals.

If this program resonates with you and you would like to participate, please call your local shelter to find out how you can join their Volunteer Program. If you would like to support this lifesaving program with a gift, you can make a donation to your local shelter and designate it for “enrichment”.  Your support makes a lifesaving difference to many pets.

As John Lennon would say, “I hope someday you’ll join us…”

Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai 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.

It takes a village to sustain No-Kill by Ed Boks

Ed Boks and no killIn July 2010, the Yavapai Humane Society (YHS) implemented a “no-kill” ethic. YHS applies this “ethic” by using the same criteria for deciding a homeless animal’s fate that a loving pet owner or conscientious veterinarian would apply. That is, healthy and treatable animals are not killed simply because we lack the room or resources to care for them.

The “no-kill” ethic embodies our commitment that for every animal who comes through YHS’ doors there is a kind and loving person or family – and it is our mission to bring them together.

Each July, I report on our progress towards achieving “no-kill.” There are three statistics animal shelters use to measure their success, or failure, in reducing pet euthanasia (or killing). These numbers help tell the whole story:

The Live Release Rate (LRR) refers to the number of animals who get out of a shelter alive. It includes adoptions, transfers to rescue organizations, and lost pets returned to owners. Some shelter experts claim a 90 percent LRR is the threshold to “no-kill.” Since July 2010, YHS has maintained a 91 percent LRR (and a 95 percent LLR in 2012 and a 97 percent LLR in 2013 YTD).

The Euthanasia Rate reports the actual number of animals euthanized. In the first year implementing the no-kill ethic, YHS achieved a 63 percent reduction in killing, followed by a 64 percent reduction in year two, and a 40 percent reduction in year three; for an overall reduction of 92 percent over the past three years. This translates into four additional lives saved every day of the year.

The Per Capita Kill Rate refers to the number of animals killed per 1,000 residents. Prior to implementing the no-kill ethic, YHS was killing 17.25 animals per 1,000 residents; one of the worst kill rates in the state. However, in the 12 months ending June 30, the YHS kill rate was 0.8; the lowest in the nation! This rate is calculated by using the 2010 U.S. Census population estimate for central and western Yavapai County of 154,482 (131 animals killed / 154 = 0.8).

There are many ways everyone can help maintain our status as the safest community in the United States.

1. Spay/neuter your pets: Pets should be spay/neutered before sexual maturity. Call the YHS Spay/Neuter Clinic (771-0547) to make an appointment today!

2. Microchip your pets: YHS has one of the highest “Return to Owner” rates in the nation (50 percent). When your pet comes to YHS with an up-to-date microchip, he has a guaranteed ticket home. For a limited time, microchips can be purchased for just $15 at the YHS Spay/Neuter & Wellness Clinic any Friday without an appointment (2989 Centerpointe East, Prescott). For an additional $9.95, you can register your pet for life!

3. Support YHS by becoming a PAWS (Planned Automatic Withdrawal Service) donor.   By joining PAWS, an automatic monthly donation of your choice comes to YHS without the hassle of sending in a check. Each month our secure system automatically processes your donation. You choose an amount that feels comfortable and you can change or cancel your participation at any time.

4. Include YHS in your planned giving: Attend a free YHS Planned Giving Seminar on Aug. 1 at the Prescott Lakes Country Club at 7:30 a.m. A complimentary deluxe breakfast will be provided. The seminar is entitled “Reduce Taxes and Save Lives: Tax Reduction and Planned Giving Strategies.

YHS to be featured in national magazine By Ed Boks

Ed Boks and enrichment
Amber is an intelligent and athletic 2-year-old chocolate Labrador/pit bull mix who loves to agility. She would be an ideal companion for an active individual.

Animal Sheltering magazine is considered the gold standard for reliable information for people who care about the animals in their community – from humane society directors and city animal control managers to kennel staff, volunteers, and private individuals working as activists, breed rescuers, wildlife rehabbers, veterinarians, and more.

One of the purposes of Animal Sheltering magazine is to feature innovative animal shelters that are new, renovated, updated, or expanded, focusing specifically on aspects of the design and engineering that makes life better for the animals – as well as more pleasant for staff, volunteers, and visitors.

James Baker, a reporter with Animal Sheltering, is responsible for a feature called The Build-Out in each publication. Having heard about many YHS shelter enhancements over the past several years, he contacted us saying YHS “sounds like the perfect story for The Build-Out feature in Sept/Aug issue.”

While YHS appreciates the national attention we receive for our innovative, life-saving programs, we are especially grateful to our local community for your support in making these improvements possible. Here is just a small list of accomplishments made possible by YHS supporters that may be featured in the upcoming Animal Sheltering magazine:

• The YHS Pet Adoption Center is now climate-controlled, thanks to a newly installed central HVAC system.

• All YHS animals have their own beds, private kennels or cages (cats have condos), piped-in music, and daily enrichment exercises.

• An outdoor Enrichment Kennel facility that helps housetrain dogs and provides training and holding space for animals.

• Commercial laundry equipment ensures YHS is able to provide the cleanest blankets and towels to our animals every day.

• Solar power helped reduce utility costs by 50 percent, providing more money for direct animal needs.

• A new digital X-ray machine allows YHS Medical Team to diagnose and rehabilitate greater numbers of sick and injured animals.

• Water-retention barrels are being installed to help beautify YHS landscaping.

• The YHS Cat Facility to care for sick and injured homeless cats, and momma cats and their kittens.

All of these amenities are the result of gifts, donations and grants that demonstrate our community’s unflappable commitment to making YHS the best it can be; a truly happy place for man and beast.

One of the premier amenities at YHS is the Buffy Pence Dog Park; named in memory of the beloved pet of Don and Shirl Pence – the benefactors who made the YHS dog park a reality. The park was recently reconfigured and enlarged with a net result that YHS now has two large dog parks where there used to be just one.

The fabulous YHS volunteer dog walkers use the dog park to ensure all our dogs have ample exercise and enrichment activities every day. The park provides a great place for dogs wanting to play fetch, catch Frisbees or just run around exploring. The park also serves as a friendly space where potential adopters get acquainted with prospective pets before actually adopting. The YHS dog behaviorists also use this space for training dogs and teaching dog walkers to do likewise.

Sustaining the no-kill vision By Ed Boks

In July 2010, the Yavapai Humane Society (YHS) embraced a no-kill ethic. We defined that ethic as applying the same criteria when deciding a homeless animal’s fate that a loving owner or conscientious veterinarian would apply to a beloved pet. That is, healthy and treatable animals would not be killed simply because we lack the room or resources to care for them.

With a 95 percent live release rate in 2012 and a 97 percent live release rate YTD for 2013, it could be argued that YHS has achieved its no-kill goal. The challenge now is sustaining it. Google dictionary defines “sustaining” as strengthening or supporting.

It is important to understand the life affirming momentum occurring at YHS. In nearly every community in every state in the Union, killing is the primary method employed to control pet overpopulation. In just three short years our community has become a national model for a better way, a way of compassion through strategic planning.

While it requires a lot of work to sustain a compassionate, no-kill community, we have our share of fun too.  Take for instance our recent Walk for the Animals.  It is remarkable how our community came together, for one of the most fun family events of the year, and raised over $41,000 to help sustain our many life saving no-kill programs.

This week we moved into a newly completed facility dedicated to sustaining quality medical care for our community’s sick and injured homeless cats. The facility was made possible thanks to the generosity of our community.

Also, this week, we are installing a climate controlled HVAC system throughout our Pet Adoption Center. This amazing enhancement was also made possible thanks to the compassionate generosity of our community.

Next on the drawing board is a canine hospital to care for our community’s lost and homeless sick and injured dogs. We are in the design phase and should have a budget for this project within 30 days. It is my hope that there is the same public support for our canine friends as there is for our felines, so we have no delay in building this much-needed facility. Naming rights are available to anyone willing to fund a substantial portion of the construction cost.

These new facilities are designed to help ensure our community never returns to the barbaric practice of killing homeless animals simply because we lack the room or resources to care for them. Achieving no-kill is not an Olympic moment; it is an arduous marathon. We’ve proven it can be achieved, the question now is can it be sustained?

Imagine if everyone reading this article donated $1 a day or $30 a month.  We could then sustain our many no-kill programs – each designed to save animals’ lives, fight cruelty and rescue homeless animals.  Choose a tax deductible amount that is comfortable, and you can change or cancel your participation at any time.

If you have questions about achieving and sustaining no-kill contact me today.  It can be done in your community too!  Together we can achieve and sustain no-kill throughout our nation.

Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society. He can be reached at ed@edboks.com or by calling 213-792-4800,