Is it time national animal welfare organizations rethink their position on pit bulls?
This is the recommendation of Beth Clifton, a former Miami Beach police officer, animal control officer, elementary school teacher, veterinary technician and wife of Animals 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton.
Every year, ANIMALS 24-7 conducts a national dog-breed survey. The results of the 2018 survey were just released. As interesting as the data collected by the survey are, I was particularly struck by a rather provocative proposition posed by Merritt Clifton, the editor/reporter of ANIMALS 24-7 and this survey.
Before exploring the thought provoking proposal, let’s set the stage:
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.
Over the course of my career I may have been responsible for safely placing more pit bulls into loving homes than any other person in the United States.
I have long been troubled by the fact that no dog in history encounters more misunderstanding and vilification than the pit bull; a canine category I define as the American pit bull terrier, the American Staffordshire terrier, the Staffordshire bull terrier, and any crosses of these three. I admire these animals for their tenacious athletic ability, loyalty, intelligence, and high-energy.
In 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. Continue reading “Compassion is not a finite commodity By Ed Boks”
Early 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.
Imagine 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.
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.
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.
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.