Sunday, August 29, 2010

Leave Those Cats Alone

This poor kitten has little chance of survival
Regardless of whether the cat is the most beloved and pampered pet or the wildest outcast, shelter policies that claim to be based on humane policies view cats without a human home to protect them as feral. Since they have no owner is it better to take them to the shelter and kill them rather then to allow them to survive on their own?

The palace of mirrors were cats are selected
The endless road, cold bloody moons and the wailing of the chimes
The empty rooms were their memories are protected
The angels voices whisper to souls departed from better times

Eden is burning
Either brace yourself for the night
Or your hearts must have the courage
For the changing of the guard - Bob Dylan

Information obtained through open records paints an even more dismal outlook of survival for cats in Gwinnett County. In June of 2010, Gwinnett Animal Control & Enforcement took in 480 cats killing 468 of them. Only 12 cats survived the shelters slaughter.

In other words, the shelter was only “able” to save less then THREE PERCENT of the cats entrusted to their care in the month of June.

Yet, despite these dismal, pathetic numbers there was no discussion whatsoever on addressing this issue at the July 2010 animal advisory meeting. The fact our shelter manager doesn’t consider this wholesale slaughter a “problem” is troubling. The fact that she offers no alternatives paints but another bleak picture of incompetent leadership.

A Glance Back at Feline Death by Numbers

Year End       2007     2008     2009

Clayton          1867     2095     2258

Cobb              3394     4058     4000

Dekalb           1077      1896     1843

Fulton               464        400      565

Gwinnett         3169      4025    4588

Over 10,000 cats have been slaughtered by this animal control administration since opening our new EIGHT MILLION DOLLAR shelter in the fall of 2007.

I use the word slaughter for a reason – any healthy animal who is trapped, captured or stolen and subsequently put into an environment where death is the only outcome has not been rescued, it has not been humanely euthanized – it has been cruelly slaughtered.

I first wrote in June of 2008 about the issue of a rabid shelter plan that aggressively went out picking up wandering cats only to bring them to slaughter in our shelter. My hope was that by raising awareness the compassionate voices in our community would holler and scream for this killing to stop.

Instead, even those voices claiming a stake in protecting cats, including ferals, has been uncharacteristically silent. Instead of condemnation there was but another rash of excuses that not only condoned the killing but allowed it to grow by 50% by year end 2009.

Now, we have reached a point were over 97% of the cats are being killed in one month alone – still no outrage. At what point do we as “No Kill Advocates” justify cutting deals “to save a few more” while turning our backs on the thousands who will die in the process?

Are we so afraid of failure that we have lost our moral voice? This author would rather fight for moral high ground rather then crawl through the dirt and dead carcasses to negotiate with the “terrorists” who are responsible for this slaughter.

Isn’t that what NO KILL ADVOCACY is all about? How do you advocate for “some” or a “few” of the animals? Only Allison Cauthen would do that.

Offering up the key to life and death for so many animals (dogs and cats) simply to grandstand and promise something that is morally offensive while ignoring the silent screams of those who are slaughtered is nothing short of repulsive.

It’s a sell out and one should question the motivation that makes these lives expendable. Can you imagine a situation where a negotiator agreed “give me a few and kill the rest”? This author can’t and won’t.

Frightened by what looms ahead?
Until this shelter administration answers the question “why do we kill healthy animals” this battle for No Kill will continue. The reason they won’t answer is because there isn’t a morally acceptable response to that question except that we don’t have the moral authority to continue taking innocent lives.

What is a feral cat?

You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks.
You that never done nothin'
But work to destroy – Masters of War

Though feral cats are members of the domestic cat species and are protected under state anti-cruelty laws, they are typically fearful of people. They are NOT a danger or health risk to the community.

The question that needs to be raised is does our local policy of picking up and killing stray feral cats violate the state’s anti cruelty laws meant to protect them “in their habitats”? We don’t get questions answered by being silent an d looking the other way – we get answers by confronting the abusers and holding them accountable for THEIR actions.

Feral cats live and survive outdoors, yet have no chance of survival and are killed once they reach the shelter.

Of course, there is no moral justification for killing a cat simply because the cat lives in the wild. This fact is backed up with a national opinion poll that shows 81% of Americans who believe it is more humane to leave a stray cat outside to live out her life then have her caught and killed.

Intentionally killing any cat is a criminal offense in all fifty states, regardless of ownership. Yet, when animal control picks up a stray or feral cat knowing that it will be killed upon entering the shelter shouldn’t that be criminal (sanctioned by the very entity empowered to enforce the anti cruelty laws) as well?

Many times these “feral” cats become friendly with the caregiver and decide to come inside after they trust the person. In addition, many cats we help are actually abandoned stray cats who wind up outside through no fault of their own.

The cats that are friendly are the ones we put up for adoption and work hard to find them loving homes. The other truly feral cats are not happy being inside. They prefer to live in their cat colony or environment where they exist.

There are an estimated 50 million feral cats in the United States living in groups known as colonies. Dedicated individuals and organizations practice a non-lethal strategy known as Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) to reduce their numbers and improve the health and safety of cats and communities. With TNR, cats no longer reproduce, and nuisance behaviors are reduced or eliminated.

Without TNR, the majority of feral kittens do not survive to adulthood, and almost 100 percent of the feral cats brought to shelters are killed because they cannot be adopted as pets. –
Feral Cat Program of Georgia

To learn more about the “Feral Cat Program of Georgia”

Do feral cats have a “right” to live?

Behaviorally speaking the answer again appears to be that feral cats are wild animals and should be treated by animal control as such. We no more have the right to address feral cats through "trap and kill" policies as we do to the wholesale slaughter of other wild animals such as birds, rabbits, squirrels or raccoons.

If a pet cat is abandoned or runs off and gets lost in the woods, has kittens and the kittens that grow up wild because they have no contact with people, are they wild or domestic? Technically, they would be domestic because of domesticated parentage but don't all domesticated cats ultimately come from the wild?

The concept of “rescuing” a cat that has been abandoned by killing it is not only repulsive but immoral. Defining a feral cat as a "nuisance" in the absence of any nuisance behavior is simply an excuse to justify this ignorant behavior.

Society goes to great length to protect "wild animals" with great efforts being placed on "allowing" man to live amongst them. Why are feral cats not afforded those same protections?

The reality is that all animals living in the wild face hardship—and feral cats are no exception. Since no animal groups support the trapping and killing of other wild animals—raccoons, rabbits, fox—why do we reserve this fate for feral cats?

Current shelter policy not only allows for the trapping of cats but animal control condones, supports and encourages this illegal trapping by supplying the traps. Citizens can bait these traps therefore encouraging cats to enter their property where they are captured and delivered to animal control to be killed.

We can argue semantics about whether the cats should be contained but the fact remains for animal control to condone and encourage the illegal trapping and subsequent killing of these cats is not only irresponsible but should be viewed by the community as abuse of power that sanctions animal cruelty.

At the point that OUR animal control participates in the rampant slaughter of any species they lose all credibility in enforcing any of our laws that are designed to protect animals.

The fact remains that the leading cause of death for cats in Gwinnett is not irresponsible pet owners, it’s not pets who die from neglect or abuse but it’s the killing of healthy cats at the hands of the very entity entrusted to protect them from this abuse – animal control.

Since animal control makes no effort to determine whether these cats being turned into the shelter have owners or are truly homeless or are truly feral, a system is put in place that allows and encourages people who dislike cats with an easy option to kill them.

The right to choose death as a “humane alternative” for wild animals?

No time to choose when the truth must die
No time to lose or say goodbye
No time to prepare
For the victims that die
No time to suffer or blink
No time to think

Socialism, Hypnotism, Patriotism, Materialism
Fools making laws for the flapping of jaws
The sounds of the keys as they go clink clink
But there’s still no time to think - from Dylan's No Time to Think

One of the excuses used for killing feral cats is that these animals suffer by being “forced” to live their lives in the wild. Think about that, animal control is ending an animal’s life so it might potentially spare it from future suffering?

In fact, the shelters current “rescue coordinator” has been quoted as saying that “she has no problem with killing all the feral cats that come through the shelter”.

Determining that feral cats can’t lead meaningful lives is not an opinion (since it isn’t a fact it can only be an uneducated opinion) shared by others in the community, especially the dozen of feral cat rescue groups who work diligently to save these precious lives. What gives anyone the right to negotiate away this compassion for saving lives – even feral cats – including those who wave a No Kill Banner?

What chance does this cat have when this is the best our shelter can do in promoting her life?
Kill them she does – that much is a fact. Cats that enter the shelter must pass a unscientific, unproven “temperament test” which identifies their characteristics as domesticated or feral. With the shelter consistently reporting killing nine out of ten cats in either group there doesn’t appear to be much difference in the survival rates of domesticated or feral cats.

The fact remains, those cats determined to be “feral” are killed immediately as opposed to a domesticated cat being held the state mandated period for stray animals. This policy of labeling a cat un adoptable simply because the shelter has determined it is feral defies a state law that states “all stray animals are to be held in order that their owners might reclaim them.

The result of applying this unsupportable policy is that cats misidentified as feral are killed immediately. Thus cats that might have owners, who “test” as feral, are also being illegally killed. There are documented cases where citizens have had their domesticated (yet outside) cats killed simply because they failed an unscientific temperament test administered by an animal control officer who has predetermined that all “wild cats” are better off dead.

The Secret War to Kill Feral Cats

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I'm dumb
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though you claim I'm dumber than you
That even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do. – Bob Dylan

Even the wildest cat can learn to live around humans and may even exhibit pet like behavior to the person who feeds him. Those locally who care for feral cat colonies cats witness cats who rub up against their legs and even perhaps purr, just like pet cats. Don't mistake their aloofness as being a symptom of a dangerous nuisance animal.

Contrary, even the most pampered house cat that escapes and runs loose in the wild can survive with the deftness of the most voracious raccoon, rabbit, squirrel or other wild animal. Wouldn't that cat deserve the same respect and rights of survival as any wild animal?

We cannot continue with punitive enforcement that includes rounding up feral cats. This only discourages compassionate citizens from caring for these homeless cats. It also drives caretakers “underground” making them harder to reach and help.

If a person is feeding feral or homeless cats, they will be loathe to turn to the shelter for low cost spay/neuter help, rabies vaccinations or other support because doing so not only the entire feral colony of risk even though doing so does not violate any of the counties leash laws, pet limits or licensing requirements.

Why does Gwinnett Animal Control view an un-owned cat’s life as a series of brutal experiences? Are our policies enforced to "protect" these cats from future suffering? How do we justify using our animal control policies to systematically slaughter animals who are guilty of nothing more then being animals surviving in the wild?

Ultimately, while there are no leash law requirements for cats, there are state and local laws that protect animals that live in the wild from citizens who might choose to capture and kill them – yet – our animal control policies not only condone and participate in these “acts of cruelty” but perform the final act of taking an animals life at the very shelter financed with our tax dollars.

A law that should protect them from acts of cruelty was ignored over 4,500 times in 2009 alone. While the numbers are staggering the concept of visualizing the size involved in stacking 4,500 dead cats is mind boggling – and depressing.

Ninety cats EVERY week were killed in 2009 alone.

The palace of mirrors were cats are selected
The endless road, cold bloody moons and the wailing of the chimes
The empty rooms were their memories are protected
The angels voices whisper to souls departed from better times

Eden is burning
Either brace yourself for the night
Or your hearts must have the courage of the changing of the guard - Bob Dylan

To be effective, cat lovers and No Kill advocates, must confront those responsible – rather then ignore the excuses that legitimize this killing.

With a 50% increase in feline killing from 2007 to 2009 we can no longer ignore the excuses used to slaughter cats in our community. While this author is NOT a cat person the numbers alone scream out for reform. We must put an end to the feline policies that allow this mass killing to continue. This open season on cats can’t be negotiated away – it must be stopped.

The Economics of Running a Slaughterhouse

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
War can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the blood
That runs down your drain.

You fasten all the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you sit back and watch
When the death toll gets higher
You hide in your shelter
As the innocent blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud.

You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to allow feral cats
To exist in this world
For threatening their babies
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your veins. – author’s adaptation of Dylan

We have a shelter management team that enjoys killing – is addicted to the power that killing represents – that is why things never get any better at our new EIGHT MILLION dollar shelter that should be called what it is – a slaughterhouse for displaced animals.

There are more sinister reasons for the excessive slaughter of cats in our county.

It’s all about funding, job security and the county making a profit off the suffering of innocent animals. Think about this – if we weren’t able to substantiate – or pump up our kill numbers coming out of our new shelter wouldn’t we citizens demand downsizing the animal control staffing and budget?

It is that “fear” of downsizing that drives our current management team – run by the Gwinnett Police Department - that refuses to even acknowledge that killing isn’t even necessary. What size budget would be needed to handle an animal control services unit that welcomed volunteers, welcomed partnerships with the rescue community and worked diligently towards rapidly moving animals out of the shelter ALIVE rather then turn them into ashes and dust?

Since we have an absence of proactive management that seeks to improve operations, we are left with a lazy unsupervised staff that works hard at doing nothing to save lives or save the taxpayers money. Not only do we taxpayers receive lousy or no service for our tax dollars. We are repeatedly punished and accused of being part of the problem.

A few months ago the Gwinnett Police Department put in for a rate increase for those who surrendered an animal to the shelter. In our compassionate community this rate increase would have been welcomed IF the result was the animals being surrendered were offered opportunities to be adopted or placed into qualified rescue groups. Instead, we have a policy were owner surrenders are routinely killed almost immediately after arriving at the shelter. It has become profitable or a cost savings to kill these pets as soon as possible so that the money collected can go into the police department’s general fund.

Think about how much money is collected by duped pet owners who think their contribution will help their pet find a new home? It’s outrageous that these animals are killed for no good reason except we have policies in effect that reward expedient killing for profit.

"We the Pet Owners of Gwinnett" demand an end to the policy of killing ANY owner surrender until every effort at placing them safely has been explored. If they enter the shelter without shot records the shelter should use the money paid by pet owners to vaccinate these pets and make them available for adoption or rescue.

“Regardless of whether or not you’re a “cat person”, taxpayers around Atlanta spend over $15 Million taxpayer dollars each year dealing with homeless animals. Research proves that killing animals does not effectively reduce the number of homeless pets, including feral cats. Only spay/neutering and in the case of feral cats “Trap-Neuter-Release” has been the only proven success in controlling feral cat population numbers.” - Alley Cat Rescue

With a substantial portion of our animal control budget being allocating at “cracking down” on “stray cats” this is an area where long term cost savings can be realized by simply implementing a more effective, HUMANE feline cat policy.

That is why “We the Pet Owners of Gwinnett” advocates for ALL animals to have an equal right to live. We will not accept saving a few while ignoring the critical masses simply because current management is feeling the heat of our criticism and complaints.

This is all about “too little – too late”, we no longer have any confidence that the current leadership can be trusted to work in any honest partnership with the rescue community. We not only support “regime change” but will aggressively push for that needed change. There are compassionate leaders in our animal welfare community who share our dreams and goals that this killing must and can stop.

Working side by side with a killing mentality is not an option we will support. Through education we will arm an army of compassionate soldiers to engage in this change. It is this author’s belief that once the citizens of Gwinnett are presented with the facts they alone will make the right compassionate choice on how our community moves forward in our relationship with our homeless pets.

We must unify and must speak out loudly demanding NEW MANAGEMENT. No more excuses – no more wholesale slaughter of the innocent.

While the shelter industry claims to be in continuous development,
So are the tempers of it’s citizens. – I said that

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul. - Dylan

Please use YOUR voice to defend the lives of the innocent who continue to be slaughtered.
Citizens in our community who agree with my comments are encouraged to let their voices be heard by contacting their elected commissioner - here's the contact information.  Phone messages work too.

Gwinnett Police Department
Chief Charlie Walters
770 513 5000

Animal Advisory Board 
Gail Leberge Chairperson and Lawrenceville Kennel Club
Shelter Manager
Mary Lou Repress New Shelter Director
Gwinnett County Commissioners
Commission Chairman:

Charles Bannister

District 1 Commissioner: Shirley Lassiter

District 2 Commissioner: Bert Nasuti

District 3 Commissioner: Mike Beaudreau

District 4 Commissioner: Kevin Kenerly

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Urgency of Death has No Honor

With Death Awaiting this sad soul
All animals that enter our shelter deserve a process where each has a chance of either being reunited with their family or placed in the safety of a new home.  That safety net could be through adoption right out of the shelter or by finding a suitable rescue group willing to take them in.

In today's multi tasking environment rescue groups work tirelessly on the goal of saving shelter pets from high kill shelters located throughout the state.  With so many homeless pets in the Atlanta area critically needing help - time and space are at a premium. 

Rescue groups learn how to wisely use their time and resources in order to benifit as many as pets as possible.  With the new role that the Internet and social networking play in our business and private affairs the rescue community has come to rely on these communication mechanism's as well to "get the word out."

Two of the most widely used sites are Facebook and Petfinders.  In working with either or both of these venue's progressive shelters are able to rapidly communicate a shelter's "urgent" needs, especially when it comes to dogs or cats that are facing death.  These are called an "Urgent List".

To accomplish this minimal goal of promoting a shelter pet throughout the community certain standards must be written into a shelter intake and exit procedures.  Every dog and cat that enters the shelter, whether it be a stray or owner surrender, should have an ID number assigned, a pen or kennel location, a picture for identification and information about that pet, sex, approximate age and size along with any other information that might help with the placement process.  The reality is if you perform this step right and provide useful information on either Petfinders or Facebook others can pass that information on through "crossposting".  This gives a shelter and the pet maximum coverage.

Nine out ten cats will die
That would be the goal or Breakthrough Thinking (which would move the community closer towards a "No Kill Gwinnett) that would develop a process where these standards were met, not just some of the time, but each and every time a pet entered the shelter. 

Ultimately, this process would not only provide pet owners with the service they are entitled to but would lower the costs associated with animal control as well.

Currently, Gwinnett animal control uses two data bases to list the dogs and cats held at the shelter. One listing is the Gwinnett County Animal Control website (maintained by the county) and a Petfinders site maintained by animal control.  Neither are remotely accurate, alike or kept up to date. What the consumer is left with is a confusing malfunctioning process that leads to more killing. 
While the county site has more information, pictures and the date available - that information is suspect because there doesn't seem to be a process of removing pets that aren't at the shelter and the website itself is out of date.  Petfinders is easier to access but critical information like a picture and release date are lacking.  It too seems to have many pets who aren't even at the shelter anymore.

Gwinnett's dysfunctional animal advisory council (GAAC) has studied this issue for sixteen months without any sense of urgency.  For the thousands of dogs and cats senselessly killed during this period, this couldn't be further from the truth.

The Urgency of an Urgent List

The issue of developing an urgent list for pets needing reclaim or adoption was first addressed at the  Gwinnett Animal Advisory Council's (GAAC) April 21, 2009 meeting.

GAAC board member, Carla Brown, talked about "increasing cooperation with rescues" by creating an urgent list (to compete with all the other shelters who do) of dogs and cats at the shelter, and providing details of available dogs and cats on Petfinders.  With the number of pets going to rescue having dropped by over 30% this would be a crucial step needed to bring more rescue groups into our new shelter.

July 21, 2009 GAAC meeting

Council (GAAC) members agreed there is a need for creating a list of animals, with their information and picture, that are scheduled to be killed in a few days. This list needs to be visible by network to reach more people and organizations that could adopt or take one or more of these animals. The information needs to be sent to the organizations or people or accessable rather then having them having to come to the shelter.

This list should also provide timely information for local pet owners as well seeking to find lost pets as well.  In attendance was shelter rescue coordinator Officer Chris Hughes.

GAAC Chair Gail Laberge recommended a committee be set up consisting of Carla Brown, Dennis Kronenfeld and Rescue Coordinator Officer Hughes to get the urgent list up and running. 

The purpose of any committee should be to identify a problem but more importantly to seek out a solution.  All three accepted the task.

Dekalb Animal Control puts out this information on it's pets awaiting reclaim or adoption.

Hello. My name is Sunshine. I am a beautiful and sweet young male orange and white cat. I am about 7 months old. I was turned into the shelter by my former owner who was moving and said she could not take me with her. The people at the shelter said that deserve someone who will love me forever and take me with them no matter where they go. I am a great boy. Please consider adopting me.

Sunshine's intake date: 4/16/2010

Lost and stray animals are held at Dekalb Animal Services for five (5) business days in order to give their owners a chance to reclaim them. After that time period, adoptable animals are held as long as space allows.

Gwinnett's Broken Process leads to broken dreams

The GGAC meeting scheduled on October 21 2009 was canceled due to a mix up in scheduling - there was no quorum, however Officer Hughes was in attendance.

A solution would have to wait until the next year.

January 19, 2010 GAAC meeting

Discussion of urgent list - Dennis Kronefeld, Carla Brown, Chris Hughes

Dennis Kronefeld, who represents feline interests, commented that he didn't see an urgent list working for Gwinnett Animal Shelter. With the shelter killing nine out of ten cats that enter the shelter Dennis offered nothing in it's place.  This is an interesting surrender to change a broken process especially in light of his own rescue group's reliance on Petfinders to place their adoptable pets.

Officer Hughes did not attend the meeting nor was there any indication that she offered any input on the issue.  Her absence and lack of interest was not explained, nor should it have been acceptable for a critical aspect of her job responsibility that is so obviously lacking.

Carla Brown, who works closely with others in the rescue community, commented she thinks it can work and would bring recommendations to the called meeting on March 2nd (2010).

Such a defeatist and lackadaisical attitude by two crucial members of this committee before seriously researching the issue is telling with the need to reform the GAAC.  This attitude does not explain how other shelters like Fulton County are able to provide a mountain of timely information about all of it's dogs and cats needing rescue.  The fact is Gwinnett is one of few major county's that doesn't provide access to this crucial information.

With support from only one of the three committee members, with the other two bored with the discussion,  things would only get worse for the dogs and cats urgently needing an urgent list..  The "Urgent List" was about to die a horrible death.

March 16 2010 GAAC meeting

Urgent list - Carla Brown is putting together and will give to Chris Hughes (once again Hughes was not in attendance even though she still was assigned to this committee). Carla also commented that beginning May 1st (2010) Gwinnett AC will receive new software that will make an urgent list easier to implement and maintain.  Dennis Kronefeld offered had no input on the discussion.

April 20 2010 GAAC meeting

Urgent list - Carla is working on an email format with a cute picture of the animal and a detailed description of the animals personality and facts about the animal.  Carla suggested that volunteers could come to the shelter and take several shots of the animals in a variety of locations, other then cages to better capture their personalities.

Once again, Dennis offered no comments or suggestions and Officer Hughes didn't bother to attend. 

Will YOU help me - do YOU care?
Since successful implementation would require input and cooperation from her department her failure to show an interest in this discussion dooms any process that the council might recommend.   With no explanation or excuse coming from her boss, the shelter director, one can assume that the issue of providing timely information to the community on pets needing rescue is urgent with management either.  The reality is this crucial step should be part of any intake procedure performed not by volunteers, but by the person in charge of checking animals in.

The bottom line is that not only do these lists increase the number of pets rescued but they save the taxpayers money.  It costs LESS money to send pets back to their owners or to rescue then it does to hold and kill them.  This is one of many reasons why "We the Pet Owners of Gwinnett" has no confidence in the shelter's current management team.

July 20 2010 GAAC meeting

The lack of urgency in developing a communication tool for pets facing death at our shelter dies a horrible death as the "Urgent List" is dropped from the GAAC meeting agenda.  This despite a shelter report of over 60% of all dogs and cats being killed at the shelter in the previous month. 

This wouldn't be the first time that GAAC Chair Laberge dropped a shelter discussion issue that didn't effect her "AKC world view" of our county's animal welfare issues. Laberge represents breeders in our community who in effect compete for the same homes that as shelter pets - is it any wonder why she's not enthused about promoting competition?

The GAAC admits defeat, agrees that the solution others have implemented is far too complicated for our shelter and that the alternative of killing these nameless pets is an attractive alternative.

The fact that management can not see the connection of extremely pathetic kill numbers and a lack of urgency in providing minimal information on the animals THEY are killing suggests they simply have accepted killing as a logical conclusion for a majority of pets they are entrusted to care for. 

This low level of service is not only unacceptable by any community standards but costly and wasteful of the resources provided as well - including our county's multi MILLION dollar investment in a new shelter..  What's really sad is in the old shelter under the previous shelter manager we provided more information and more cooperation with the community then what we have now.

So, we are left with the age old question - what are the metrics of communication provided by those operating our animal control department.  From the county's web site it is stated:

The Gwinnett Police Department operates the Animal Shelter to enforce animal control laws and to shelter animals that have strayed, gotten lost, or been turned over for adoption. With pet overpopulation on the rise, we're proud to report a decrease in incoming animals and an increase in animals placed to individuals and rescue groups through our shelter. 

The problem with this statement is not only is it downright inaccurate - the shelter is NOT reporting a DECREASE in incoming animals (as reported in Dismantling the Killing Machine) the number of cats entering the shelter is UP by 50% and the number of dogs entering the shelter is UP by 20% from our old shelter.

There is NOT an increase in adoptions and the number of animals placed in rescue is DOWN by over 30 % for the last three years .  If the shelter can't be honest with it's appraisal on these critical issues why should we believe them with any statements they make?

Breakthrough Thinking - the solution is obvious

Please, before it's TOO LATE?
Breakthrough thinking doesn't require reinventing the wheel to solve every problem a shelter might face.  In fact, in this case, the solution might be as simple as evaluating the current process for intake and outtake on animals that go through the shelter to determine whether that process is being followed.  If the process needs to be rewritten then the answer might be as simple as contacting other shelters like Dekalb or Fulton (or a number of other shelters) and asking for their process and input on implementing an Urgent Notification system. 

Breakthrough Thinking requires a willingness to ADMIT that there are problems - problems that are easily overcome.  A basic premise that anyone can break out of self-defeating, traditional modes of reasoning once these accept that change is inevitable.  We will not change nor will we see improvement until we recognize the urgency for this change.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Still The Band Played On

Still The Band Played On

This blog was created with a purpose of informing local pet owners on the laws and rights of pet ownership in our county. It is presents a vision of how we can work together in reducing the number of pets who are senselessly killed in our new shelter when life saving alternatives do exist.

There is a paradigm of killing that is embraced by those who control our animal welfare policies who are resistant, down right stubborn, to any suggestions of change that would focus on life saving alternatives instead.

While history has praised the band that went down with the Titantic as heroes, there are no heroes for those who defend the the practice of killing innocent yet homeless animals.

Initially, the focus of my writing was to protect all of my hounds from the county’s attempt to include their lives as part of any plea bargain with the court. There has never been a reasonable explanation why a first offense, amounting to three minutes of barking, could send me to jail for twelve years.  Instead, this type of "behavior by the court" was used to extort a guilty plea in exchange for the lives of ten of my hounds.

For my role in speaking out, I have paid a heavy price, including the loss of my freedom,  I was was sentenced to thirty days in jail for “violating probation” which ultimately lead to the death of one of my beloved hounds Bam Bam.

That type of sentencing extreme would be common for violent criminals, drug offenders, sexual predators or even white collar criminals but for three minutes barking offenses?

Since the solicitor never presented any evidence of my incident being anything more then a first offense, the county attorney's office should have offered a nolo plea, with a reasonable fine, which I probably would have accepted.  Had we reached an agreement the county would have come out ahead as opposed to opening up the vault in a desperate attempt to punish me.

Instead, the case mutated into a costly nightmare that included several pre trial hearings, a full blown trial (Dog Barking Case of the Century) covered by the media, which lead to a finding of guilt and a sentence of two years jail time (served on probation) and that my property be “brought into compliance with all zoning codes within 45 days”.  In the end the county emerged battered and bruised in the court of public opinion, the hounds became heroes oblivious to all the new found fame..

I was content with an outcome that didn’t include the court placing a “pet limit” on my property.  Judge Muise did correctly rule that doing so would amount to the court invoking zoning requirements, which is outside of the courts juristiction.  Nor did the court include any fines due the county.

The county attorney's office wasn’t content on simply silencing the hounds.  Instead, an effort was made to silence me as well.   I was told that as a part of my two year probation term I would be prohibited from speaking out, either verbally or through my writing, with any negative comments about the solicitor’s office, animal control or any of the witnesses who testified in my case.  Those witnesses included Lilburn City Councilman and tax cheat Eddie Price).

As an advocate and a writer these conditions were clearly not acceptable.  There has never been any precedence that would include surrendering one's first amendment right to "free speech" for a misdemeanor offense   Clearly, the lengthy probation term was more about silencing me as opposed to “bringing peace and tranquility" to a neighborhood that has overwhelmingly supported the hounds.

While one would assume that attempts at limiting discussions on governmental policies might be expected in some third world areas where oppression rules the land, one should be outraged that the "law of our land" would include such outrageous conditions.  Since I also intended on changing the nuisance barking law that was used to manipulate my case, this condition was tempered but ignored.

Once the hounds were safe, I moved forward with having the barking law changed.  There were a number of issues in the old law that clearly violated pet owners rights, including the issue that allowed citizens to file a criminal complaint with no policing agency being required to investigate whether a crime had indeed been committed. Nowhere in the constitution are citizens granted such broad policing powers.

The other changes involved requiring complainants to actually live nearby where the alleged complaints were filed. Both witnesses in my case, realtor Porter and Councilman Price lived several miles away with their only interests being rental property they owned.

Finally, the sentencing guidelines that allow animal control and more importantly the animal advocating attorney who wrote the law to threaten and extort pet owners into surrendering their family pets or go to jail had to be removed in it’s entirety.  This is the area where I went nose to nose with our self proclaimed animal advocating attorney who not only wrote the previous law but wanted to strengthen any new law by limiting barking where any dog that barked six times for thirty seconds would be a violation of the ordinance.

Animal advocacy is, in a certain sense, standing up to tell true life

stories that are not being heard; true life stories that most people are
ignoring. The first step in animal advocacy is to help people see things
differently. Animals are somebody, not something. - Tom Regan

The public saw through this madness and sided with the barking provisions recommended by "We the Pet Owners.  With her law now extinct it became clear that the county attorney’s office and the court was not happy with my involvement in rebuking her idea of advocating for animals by sending them to our high kill shelter simply because they bark. 

No longer could she build her career by sending innocent dogs and cats to animal control despite her claims "where they would be adopted".  Had she ever bothered to really get her "hands dirty" by investigating the truth on the fate of animals entering our shelter, especially our new shelter, she would have realized that for most this was a death sentence.  While it may be understandable that animals living in "squalor" might be better off dead (something I don't advocate for) hounds who are living in a responsible, loving home would never be better off dead.

Maybe, she was upset because I hurt her feelings.

Instead of thanking me for streamlining the court process and saving the county money by having these cases resolved through mediation my efforts were instead greeted with six attempts to revoke my probation for much mundane offenses like failure to pay probation fees of $129 and for alerting the county tax office of Councilman Price’s fraudulent claim of a homestead exemption on property he owned nearby.

The county attorney’s office proceeded with six attempts to revoke my probation including attempts to. One would assume that the courts would focus on jailing violent offenders that present a danger to the community, especially during an economic downturn that has many fellow citizens struggling financially. In fact, even when presented with prior Supreme Court rulings (Georgia vs Bearden) where the court upheld the Fourteenth amendment which prohibits incarcerating citizens simply because they have an inability to pay fines or fees.

In that ruling, the court suggested that non violent offenders be offered alternatives to jail not limited to changing fines or fees over to community service instead. My repeated attempts at offering to pay back “restitution” with community service were denied.

This makes absolutely no sense, of course, in lieu of recent studies by “Engage Gwinnett” that point out the cost of incarcerating a person to taxpayers is about $45 a day – thirty days incarceration comes at a cost of $1,350. Even with the good time provisions that allowed me to “only” serve 15 days the cost to taxpayers was $675 – for a failure to pay Sentinel Offender Services $474 in fees – none of which were due the county of Gwinnett. 

Since when does the court have a responsibilty to improve the bottom line for a private company like Sentinel by acting as a collection agent with tactics one would expect from the mob - not our courts.
Anyone else who used threats and intimidation to collect money would be charged with a RICO violation.

These are the facts in my case – even though my case is officially over – even though I have no further business with the court – the court is now attempting to intimidate me from speaking out about my dreadful experience.  This has never been about seeking justice for something the hounds may have done – it’s about punishing me for my dissent.

On July 28th I wrote an entry that explained how our court case was now over with the following article which was only initially released to the rescue community.

Sittin' and starin' out of the hotel window.
Got a tip they're gonna kick the door in again
I'd like to get some sleep before I travel,
But if you got a warrant, I guess you're gonna come in. –

Words from Grateful Dead – “Trucking”

This article was released early in the morning. Within the hour two animal control trucks pulled up wanting to “inspect my house”. I simply informed animal control's "cruelty officer" that the court case was over, probation was over (which never included allowing inside inspections of my home since the barking incident occurred outside) and that absent any proof of a specific cruelty or neglect complaint there would be no inside inspection of the hounds or my property.

The law is clear on this, policing agencies are required to attain warrants before storm trooping your home, looking under your bed, rifling through your belongings, invading the sancity of your home looking for alleged criminal activity with no prior proof that a crime has or will be committed.

Further, AC was advised that if they were truly concerned about issues with the hounds they could simply go to FACEBOOK (like everybody else) where I have shared dozens of pictures of the hounds inside our “castle’ and that was as close as they would get.  The truth be known, why would I trust the judgment of  animal.control with a history of being complacent with killing?

Our shelter director can not explain why she choose to send two trucks with two officers who spent at least two hours “investigating” my property simply because of something I wrote on a blog. This is an abuse of power which she should be held accountable for, especially since she has repeatedly claimed she can’t implement programs that save lives at the shelter she manages because the citizens in our community don’t give her the resources needed to do the job. She has the resources; she simply squanders these resources in her attempts to punish anyone who has the nerve to hold her accountable.

One would think that would be the end of those in positions of making responsible decisions on spending resources that should be directed towards the real crime issues we face in Gwinnett. Tuesday morning I answered a call from someone who identified himself as an “Officer of the Court” who wanted to discuss comments I had written on my blog.

After pointing out that all of the comments I had written were protected under the first amendment and after he assured me I wouldn’t be arrested for those comments I agreed to meet him outside to clear up any questions he might have.

According to the two officers who showed up, a court clerk had brought this posting to the attention of the court as “threatening” and they just wanted to make sure I had no intentions of being “violent”. It was pointed out that there was nothing in the post were threats were made that could even remotely be viewed as threats as opposed to what appeared to be one more desperate attempt to silence my comments by intimidation.

What bothers me is why would the court assign a clerk to monitor private emails I have written in the first place?  Would they prefer I send them an advance copy for their review? 

Since this happened early in the morning with the court in session I would assume the court could find more productive duties.  Not only was the court clerk’s time a waste and abuse of the court system but to send two officers to my house when they had my cell number where any misconceptions could be cleared up is mystifying.   This isn't about justice, it's about protecting personal agenda's and appeasing political special interests.

Anyone smarter then a fifth grader would be able to see that the only weapon I have ever used is my keyboard.  The only way I’ll give up my keyboard is when the county pries it from my cold dead fingers.

I was bold in the pursuit of knowledge, never fearing to follow truth and reason to whatever results they led, and bearding every authority which stood in their way.

Thomas Jefferson

The right to dissent is a core value and foundation with which our country was founded.

All the flag waving in the world doesn’t make us free if we are intimidated against speaking out against those who are supposed to uphold the law. The court is free to answer why they deemed this case so important to proceed in the irresponsible manner as they have.

Over the years I have volunteered over 5000 hours of my time trying to place hounds in homes. Still I am saddened by the fact I no longer feel safe living in this community. While I do feel safe inside my home I certainly don’t feel safe outside. How ironic that it’s not the fear of being victimized by a criminal element that concerns but instead a fear I now have for our county government instead. Love my country but fear my government.

It should be obvious that these latest acts of desperation from the court and from the leader of animal control come from those who are trying to protect that power to kill - acts of desperation coming from an obsolete killing mechanism that's sinking faster then the Titanic. With a ship hell bent on killing sinking fast, this band of characters still plays on.

We have two political positions on the fate of animals sent to animal control being actively discussed in our community. Those who want to protect a paradigm of killing that is embraced by animal control, our county attorney’s office and the court and those who want to change the focus to proven life saving alternatives instead.

The question for those on the fence is what side of the issue do you want to end up on? The side that will continue to abuse their power in a feeble attempt to bale out the water on a sinking ship OR the many No Kill Advocates who are offering life boats to anyone who is willing to abandon this killing philosophy.

Your typical city involved in a typical daydream
Hang it up and see what tomorrow brings.
Sometimes the cards ain't worth a damn, if you don't lay'em down and play your hand.,
I guess they can't revoke your soul for tryin',
Get out of the door and light out and look all around - Grateful Dead

One would assume that these recent threats would cause me to throw down my “axe” in disgust but in doing so I would dishonor all of the brave souls who through the years fought and died to keep this country free.

For those dumber then a fifth grader, an “axe” is British slang for a “tool used to create words that cut deep”, no violence intended there either.

Now, excuse me while I answer the door…. It’s the band still playing on….. disconnected.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Breakthrough Thinking - A No Kill Gwinnett

Shelter's killing dogs and cats by the thousands... the rest of the story

To get a community on track requires a spark – sometimes borne of anger, other times of compassion, most of the time from a combination of the two – Nathan Winograd

Breakthrough Thinking - A No Kill Gwinnett

The key to any effective solution lies in the approach to the specific problem at hand. The essential, straightforward process of “Breakthrough Thinking” involves a meaningful organization of the purposes you seek to achieve.

If the shelter’s purpose is to efficiently kill homeless dogs and cats as a standard operating procedure then it could be determined that there is no problem that needs corrected for they are already quite efficient in that operation.

One question that remains unanswered is “what are the metrics or standard operating procedures that the police department uses to evaluate the shelter’s performance? 

If the SOP calls for efficient use of killing to control costs then the leadership is performing there jobs admirably.

Breakthrough Thinking would seek to identify the purpose of animal services in the broadest possible purpose level, to not kill any healthy treatable dogs or cats, with development of a feasible target solution from a variety of alternatives.

Under breakthrough thinking the goal, not killing any healthy, treatable animals would always remain the same with only the targeted solutions changing. By working backward to develop a creative change (from killing over 60% of healthy, treatable animals) in the problem situation, you can evolve toward your solution goal.

Breakthrough thinking offers an exceptionally productive approach to problem solving and problem prevention. Its basic premise is that anyone can break out of self-defeating, traditional modes of reasoning (kill traditionalists) and break through to find revitalizing, consistent positive “No Kill” solutions to the problems he or she confronts.

What breakthrough thinking does require is a willingness to admit that there is a problem. If we want to stop killing healthy pets then we must first admit that killing healthy pets is wrong.

Once identified as a problem (killing) a solution or need for change becomes the dream or goal. At this moment, we face several problems – nine out of ten cats being killed, owner surrender’s being killed, dogs with socialization issues being killed, puppies and kittens being killed – that are not at all unusual nor daunting in complexity.

Life is an ongoing struggle. The purpose of solving problems and accomplishing legitimate dreams isn’t to remove them, but to give meaning and direction to the struggle.

Ours is a struggle for No Kill. It’s a struggle much too important not to succeed.

Yet simply talking about change, the future and emerging dreams does not ensure results. Everyone agrees that change is constant, that today’s choices create tomorrow’s future, and that we have many options in developing solutions to fulfill that dream. One thing is certain, if we continue using the same failed practices we can predict a future of only killing as well.

We have compelling reasons for following in the footsteps of other progressive communities that have successfully implemented No Kill parameters. We have seen the depths of frustration that our current shelter model delivers. Yet, there are reasons to be optimistic about the immensely productive changes that lie ahead.

Successfully implementing life saving procedures will make us feel good about ourselves – both as a community of compassionate pet owners and as people who respect all life as sacred.

The importance of “Breakthrough Thinking” cannot be overestimated. We will not solve the complex problems that have been allowed to accumulate through the years by attempting to fix blame. Every day we chase down these phantom causes we miss another opportunity in addressing the real problems instead. .

Our shelter has a duty to one thing only; the homeless animals being killed there.

It will be your voice, silenced no more, and your heart that will march our community into this promise land where the killing of the innocent will end.

Steps for No Kill Success

I. Feral Cat TNR Program – TNR refers to “Trap-Neuter-Release” or “Trap-Neuter-Return.” Gwinnett Animal Control is killing close to 100 cats a week – establishing a working trap/neuter/release program with the rescue community is crucial to establishing No Kill Success.

TNR is the only proven method for lowering the numbers of feral cats living in an area. Using TNR effectively sterilizes the cat colony.

The current policy on feral cats, “catch and kill”, is not only ineffective in lowering the feral cat population but is extremely expensive to implement. Shelter resources are squandered in a futile attempt to kill off the “ownerless” cats in our community.

What a “catch and kill” policy doesn’t do is answer the moral question of why “wild” cats are singled out for eradication while other wild animals such as squirrels and raccoons are not. Obviously with the number of cats being killed approaching 5000 a year this dismally unmoral policy has failed.

While feral cats by definition are not “adoptable”, that fact alone doesn’t translate into ferals as not having meaningful, healthy lives if they are maintained as a feral cat colony.

A compassionate community believes that even though these cats are not adoptable they do have a right to live. A responsible TNR program serves the community by lowering the colony’s population over time.

II. High-Volume, Low-Cost Spay/Neuter – Quality of Life Issue - Low cost, high volume spay/neuter will lead to fewer animals entering the shelter system, allowing more resources to be allocated toward saving lives. Current animal welfare policies do little or nothing to promote low cost spay/neuter resources in our community.

One is left to wonder whether we would have been better served by building a number of spay/neuter clinics with the several million that went into building what has in effect turned out to be our new state of the art kill shelter.

III. Rescue Groups – An adoption or transfer to a rescue group frees up cage and kennel space, reduces expenses for feeding, cleaning and while improving the rate of lifesaving. With the rampant rate of cats and dogs being killed at our new shelter there is no practical excuse for not working with licensed rescue groups.

Killing a dog or cat that otherwise would have a safe haven in rescue is a judgmental, vindictive form of animal cruelty at the hands of shelter management.

Our shelter must reach out to the rescue community and form a partnership that currently does not exist. The first step in reaching out must include naming a new rescue coordinator who will works towards nurturing and developing this partnership.

IV. Foster Care – Volunteer foster care is crucial to No Kill. This fact has been proven by the success of the “Jail House Second Chance Program”. Dogs that would have been killed at the shelter are being socialized and placed through this fostering program at the jail. This same program, if ramped up through volunteer foster homes, would all but eliminate killing at our shelter while reducing the costs associated with providing longer term care for dogs and cats with specialized issues.

Shelter management refuses to discuss any type of outside volunteer fostering program, instead preferring to hang on to the failed policy of killing for “space” animals that would be highly adoptable if only they had a little more time.

Saving lives becomes compromised by the tunnel vision policy of controlling an animal’s destiny inside a malfunctioning shelter that implements the expediency of killing instead.

Fostering programs are a low cost, often times no cost, method of increasing a shelter’s capacity, improving public relations while improving the shelter’s image, rehabilitating sick and injured or behaviorally challenged animals and saving more lives.

Our shelter must reach out into the community for volunteers to foster dogs and cats who simply need more time to blossom.

V. Comprehensive Adoption Programs – Quality of Life Issue - Adoptions are vital to a shelter’s lifesaving mission. The quantity and quality of shelter adoptions is in shelter management’s hands, making lifesaving a direct function of shelter policies and practice.

In practice, rescue groups are better prepared to conduct home inspections, hold off site adoptions, evaluate application options and matching up pets to new owners then public shelters because of volunteer resources available.

Our shelter would increase adoptions by merely making the shelter more assessable to working families and through off site adoptions that promotes shelter pets needing adoption.

VI. Pet Retention –Quality of Life Issue - Saving animals requires communities to develop innovative strategies for keeping people and their companion animals together. The more a community sees its shelter as a place to turn for advice and assistance, the easier this job will be.

Changing our focus from “Gwinnett Animal Control and Enforcement” to “Gwinnett Animal Services Unit” is more then mere semantics. It’s a cultural shift and enhancement of value structure our animal welfare policies have on those citizens who responsibly own pets.

VII. Medical and Behavior Programs – Quality of Life Issue - The shelter must put in place comprehensive vaccination, handling, cleaning, socialization, and care policies before animals get sick and rehabilitative efforts for those who come in sick, injured, unweaned, or traumatized.

Our compassionate community will support efforts to rehabilitate, rather then kill, our homeless pets. We witness this all the time with news stories – the public leads the cheers for those pets that are saved and mourns those who are not.

VIII. Public Relations/Community Involvement – Increasing adoptions, maximizing donations, recruiting volunteers and partnering with community agencies comes down to one thing: increasing the shelter’s exposure.

New ordinances and a focus on enforcement won’t solve animal related problems in our community – our people will – the very people who are being exploited by these draconian laws that often times include threats of impounding the family pet and sending owners to jail..

Public relations and marketing are the foundation of all a shelter’s activities and their success. To go No-Kill, the shelter must be in the public eye.

IX. Volunteers – Quality of Life Issue - Volunteers are a dedicated “army of compassion” and the backbone of a successful No Kill effort. There is never enough staff, never enough dollars to hire more staff, and always more needs than paid human resources. That is where volunteers come in and make the difference between success and failure and, for the animals, life and death.

With only 31 approved volunteers our current volunteer program is a failure.

Our shelter must proactively recruit more volunteers to help staff the shelter – walking dogs and promoting adoptions.

X. Proactive Redemptions – Quality of Life Issue - One of the most overlooked areas for reducing killing in animal control shelters are lost animal reclaims. Sadly, besides having pet owners fill out a lost pet report, very little effort is made in this area of shelter operation.

This is unfortunate because doing so—primarily shifting from passive to a more proactive approach—has proven to have a significant impact on lifesaving and allow shelters to return a large percentage of lost animals to their families as well as garner more public support and backing for the shelter.

XI. A Compassionate Director – A hard working, compassionate animal control or shelter director not content to regurgitate tired clich├ęs or hide behind the myth of “too many animals, not enough homes.”

In the end, there may be an overpopulation problem but not the one traditionally linked to animal control. What we are suffering from that is actually killing a higher number of animals, it is an overpopulation of unqualified, jaded or simply worn out individuals entrusted in caring for our shelter pets, who fail at doing so.

It is the contention of this author that management’s “incorrect thinking” entrenched in killing is the single most cause of our shelter’s failure. With our leadership mired in negativity, implementing only the failed policies of the past, we have become complacent with the status quo of killing.

Those who are intoxicated with punishing the public while killing their pets magically dance through the fog of misrepresentations and deceit only to emerge as the irresponsible death seekers themselves.

Our shelter must put an end to the bureaucracy that needlessly administers lethal “blue juice” injections as an only solution for our homeless animals. They’ve become lost in this low hanging fog of the shelter’s deceit.

Killing Defined: Animals are only euthanized if they are too sick to be treated or too aggressive to be suitable for adoption. No-kill shelters reject euthanasia as a means of population control; all "adoptable" and "treatable" animals are saved.

This conversation on No Kill alternatives cuts through that fog for all pet owners to see that killing healthy pets as wrong because it will always be wrong to kill any healthy pet. It’s morally wrong and for pet owners to kill healthy pets and it’s morally wrong for the shelter’s management and their subordinates to kill healthy pets as well.

Our lack of life saving focus comes from the years of mismanagement of a shelter run by the Gwinnett Police Department. They alone have squandered the opportunity to change and save lives with repeated rhetoric of misplaced blame.

Effectiveness of any movement in reaching shelter goals and operations begins with competent leadership that holds it’s staff accountable for developing proven life saving programs and one that fosters good relationships in the community, none of which exists now.

We face a moment in history where on one side we have “Kill-Oriented” traditionalists and on the other “No Kill Advocates”. This “culture clash” has taken on new life as word spreads across the country off other community’s success in implementing “No Kill” alternatives.

The Blame Game

“I think of all the good things we have left undone
Suffer premonitions, confirm suspicions of the holocaust to come”
 “Finally I understand the feelings of a few
Ashes and diamonds, foe and friend
We are all equal in the end” - Pink Floyd - The Final Cut

It’s not the public who is to blame when adoptions are low because the shelter makes it impossible for working families to visit. It’s not the public who is to blame when the shelter refuses to do “off site” adoptions. It’s not the public who is to blame when the shelter denigrates or downplays working with rescue groups in placing at risk animals.

It’s not the public who is to blame for rounding up and killing stay cats despite there not being a leash law for cats. It’s not the public who is to blame when our shelter kills feral cats because a Trap-Neuter-Release program is not being utilized.

It’s not the public who is to blame when pet owners are denied services to help overcome behavioral, medical or environmental conditions that cause them to relinquish animals because no pet retention programs are in place.

It’s not the public who is to blame when the shelter focuses on threats and intimidation enforcing the draconian animal ordinance passed in 2007.

It’s not the public who is to blame when animal control works closely with the courts enforcing a draconian animal ordinance with threats and intimidation that leads many responsible pet owners to surrender their cherished pets to avoid jail terms and exorbitant fines from the county solicitors office.

In the end it will be public support that will create No Kill – the same outraged public that will cry out for change that shifts the focus from animal enforcement to an era of providing top notch life saving services instead.

To reach that culture shift it only takes one shelter manager – one leader – who is committed to simply saying NO to KILLING while choosing to aggressively promote life saving alternatives instead.

How can we expect pet owners to act “responsibly” when our own animal control unit commits the ultimate act of cruelty ending a healthy pets life with a myriad of excuses seeking to justify their own incompetence.

This is a failure of leadership, nothing more – nothing less. A leadership addicted to the failed policies of “killing for expedience”.

It will be our voices that will be heard over the silent screams of death coming from our shelter.

“In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies,
but the silence of our friends = Martin Luther King

Monday, August 2, 2010

Dismantling the Killing Machine

Shelter’s killing dogs and cats by the thousand

“If we are to reach the goal of a No-Kill Nation, we must move past the notion that animals are being killed because of pet overpopulation (not enough homes), because we don’t have enough laws, or because the public is irresponsible – Nathan Winograd

Contrary to what many shelters falsely claim are the primary hurdles to life saving, be it the public’s irresponsibility or lack of homes during this period of economic downturn, the greatest impediments are actually in the shelter manager’s hands.

Animals in shelters, like Gwinnett, are being killed because shelter management clings to kill oriented practices.

For far too long animal advocates have remained silent to this abuse – yet sanctioning or allowing these practices to continue will never bring this killing to an end.

In the end, this is not a war of words or ideas but a life and death struggle to save all the healthy and treatable animals we claim to advocate for. In the end, this issue is not about “too many”, “not enough” or “more or less”, the question that begs for a moralistic answer is “why do we kill healthy pets at all”?

Yet, every dog and cat that enters our shelter is more likely to be killed as a result of our broken animal shelter system. For nine out of ten cats that enter our shelter there is absolutely no chance at survival. Dogs don’t fare much better.

The public is increasingly aware of just how broken our shelter policies are and will support proven “No Kill” alternatives. What the public won’t support is a defeatist attitude that wants to blame them for the killing.

The public is left to believe that it is their irresponsible actions as pet owners who is at fault for this failure. Yet, its not the irresponsible public who fails to implement life saving programs at our shelter, nor is it the irresponsible public who fails to hold the animal control staff accountable either. It’s definitely not the irresponsible public that decides the only workable solution for shelter dogs and cats is the “blue solution”.

Effectiveness in our shelters goals and operations begin with competent leadership that sets realistic life saving goals and holds her staff accountable for reaching those goals.

Our battle is against those who claim to be part of our movement but fail to recognize the killing of shelter animals as the ultimate betrayal

It is time that pet owners in our community have an open discussion, not on the excuses given for killing healthy pets but why we kill healthy pets in the first place.

The fact is killing is neither kind, nor necessary, nor does it prevent any future animal suffering. The decision to kill an otherwise healthy animal is not only the ultimate act of irresponsible behavior but it is clearly immoral as well.

In contrast, animals that enter our shelter should be cared for and be saved – no excuses – no blame game.

That is the right thing to do in a community that is compassionate about our pets. A morally acceptable way to run our shelter. Ultimately, does it really matter how they arrive at the shelter as much as how they leave the shelter?

Shelter “Death by Numbers”

“There is nothing so wasteful as doing with great efficiency that which doesn’t have to be done at all. – Anonymous

Our shelter continues to “kill it’s way” to animal control with a majority of animals entrusted to their care paying dearly with their lives. Yet one might suggest that despite all of this killing our shelter is more out of control then anytyime in recent hisory.  The shelter has failed to set a mission to control the killing.  Staff accountability, effective life-saving programs, and good relations with the community currently do not exist.

The following spreadsheets are a compilation of five years of shelter statistics – including three years from the old shelter (2005-2007) and two years with results from the new shelter (2008-2009). The data represents only the live animals that entered the shelter. Since the shelter officially opened in the last quarter of 2007 some of the numbers for 2007 were skewed upwards

Felines Handled           2005     2006     2007     2008     2009
Feline Strays                1707     1771      1981    2487     2836
Felines Surrendered     2642    2257      2051     2343    2298
Total Incoming              4349    4028      4032     4830    5134
Felines Killed                3084    3079      3169     4025    4588
Felines Return/Owner      57        28          43         18      108

What is telling about these numbers is the dramatic increase in feline cats entering our shelter system after 2007. The number of cats killed at our new shelter went from an average of slightly over 3000 to 4500 in 2009 or an increase of 50%. The number of cats being surrendered has remained constant at around 2300. Since the shelter doesn’t report separately on cats that are adopted or that go to rescue the increase in killing of cats (1500) is a combination of increases in strays picked up in the field and a decrease in the number of cats going that are adopted or go to rescue.

Yet, not once has our Animal Advisory Council or the shelter’s management brought up the issue of cats during the meetings this author has attended for the last two years. It would appear that killing cats has become acceptable to those who manage our shelter..

The fact remains that there isn't a leash law for cats.  Any cat picked up as a stray is impounded despite the cat not violating any of the ordinances.  Nor is animal control required to pick up stray cats.  With a 90% kill rate on cats this author has questioned the reasoning behind management's decison to continually round up cats she knows are going to be killed.  That's not a policy I would expect a compassionate director to implement.  While all cats are impacted by this policy it's the feral cats who are most in danger.

I have heard from several local volunteers who maintain trap/neuter/release colonies for feral cats and they are concerned that the county does not care whether a feral has been altered or whether someone has accepted the responsibility of feeding the colony.

Not only is the rampant killing of feral cats (Hemingway’s) morally wrong, it comes at a huge expense to our animal control budget as well.  Money that could be spent helping low income families alter their pets, help open the shelter more hours for potential adoptions and a variety of other pet friendly programs are squandered by this policy alone.

History has shown that killing has never been a solution to contolling feral population numbers – Trap/Neuter/Release programs have been successful in that area.

Canines don’t fare much better……..

Canines Handled            2005    2006     2007    2008     2009
Canines – Strays            3026     3068     3095    3539     3823
Canines Surrendered      2493     2011     2047    2068     2106
Total Incoming               5519      5079    5142     5607    5929
Canines Killed                2145     2320     2673    2966     3020
Returned to Owner           891       860       865      924       885

The numbers on canines are down for owner surrenders but there are huge increases once again in the number of strays that enter the new shelter. Some of this explanation could be as simple as poor customer service which has local pet owners concerned that the shelter will simply kill any pets that are turned in or perhaps it may account for pet owners who have been told that owner surrenders that enter the shelter without shot records are killed immediately. Pet owners might choose not to surrender a pet if they want to avoid an surrender fee. Unfortunately, any or all of these issues ends with the pet owner simply dumping the dog and letting it fend for itself.

No Kill is an open door facility where the shelter actually lives up to it’s name of providing shelter for pets with no where to go. Since there is little or no evidence that animal control officers are trying to return stray dogs in the field, one way to reduce the number of strays that ends up at the shelter is to aggressively scan for microchips or ask neighbors if the dogs owner is known.

It is far too simplistic to simply blame the public for a problem that management has spent little or no time determining if there were programs that might reduce these numbers instead. Absent a proactive management approach to problem solving the problem and costs associated with strays in our community will likely get worse.

The Killing Machine Continues

Since the shelter has failed to develop an infrastructure that saves pets, any increase in the number of pets entering the shelter results in a corresponding increase in the number killed. Not only has our shelter management fasiled to develop new programs that increase adoptions but it has failed miserably in building a partnership with Gwinnett’s diverse rescue community.

Dogs/Cats               2005       2006      2007       2008      2009
Animals Adopted     2326       1756      1982       1906      2093
Animals Rescued      1335       1492      1770       1201     1071

One could argue that adoption averages have remained constant from the results of the old shelter versus the new shelter except – we were told that by building a new shelter adoptions would increase. We do know that the shelter is capable of adopting out more – after all the best year was 2005. Is it poor customer service, lack of advertising, lack of promotions? Who knows – this is another area that management doesn’t seem to care about. Of course, the reduced hours of operation are probably suspect as well.

The biggest failure of shelter management can clearly be seen in the dramatic drop in the number of dogs and cats going to rescue. Those numbers dropped by 700 from 2007 to 2009 alone. This author would once again point out that not only is the reduced number of dogs and cats going to rescue a reflection of the failure of shelter management to work in partnership with the rescue community, but in fact, had management built these partnerships those numbers should have shown a dramatic increase instead.  That increase might have all but wiped out any increases in shelter intake.

One fact is beyond dispute – dogs and cats - going to rescue has been down by 30% for the last three years now. There's the new shelter that opened in 2007.  One would assume that the increaed killing isn't becuase a new facility was built.  With the new shelter came a new management agenda of focusing on enforcing the draconian animal ordinance passed in January of 2007.

Who wants to put themselves in potential harms way when the shelter management is threatening those who rescue with jail, huge fines and even loss of their personal pets???

Totals                            2005           2006       2007       2008       2009

Total Canine/Feline In    9868           9107       9174     10437      11063
Total Out Alive              4609           4136       4660       4049        4157
Total Out Dead              5229           5399       5842       6991        7608

What does it all mean? The number of dogs and cats killed has increased from 5200 in 2005 to an astounding 7600 in 2009 – we’re not only not approaching No Kill in our brand new state-of-the-art shelter but were going in the other direction at warp speed.

The buck stops at the Gwinnett Police Department’s management door. That’s were the decision was made to replace a shelter manager who had developed a partnership with the rescue community with a bona fide beat cop who knows how to write citations. Are they really surprised with the chaos that we now have?

The result of this colossal mistake is we end up with a totally unqualified shelter manager who finds enforcement, punishment and the killing of innocent animals entrusted in her care easier then developing the programs and partnerships to do otherwise.

The current shelter manager lacks management skills that manifests into poor community relations, poor customer service, a lack of lack of leadership in setting life saving goals for employees to meet. The job of management is not just supervision, but more importantly it’s leadership.

Management must work on sources of improvement, the intent to deliver a quality of service to the community’s pet owners, and off setting high expectations that all staff members would focus foremost on the shelter’s responsibility to save lives not end them.

Rather then removing employees who fail at their jobs, poor performance is tolerated and becomes the norm. There is no incentive for employees to go above and beyond in trying to save an animal’s life when it’s far easier and less time consuming to kill them. Since each shelter death is a failure, our shelter fails over 60% of the time.

Why else would management keep the current rescue coordinator in her position.  Her numbers alone would have been enough cause to at least move her where she couldn’t kill any more animals.

Instead, she has been rewarded with job security despite the number of animals placed with rescue is consistently down by 30% for three years in a row? Rewarded for what – because she’s valuable for not doing her job?

To this day, this rescue coordinator still refuses to post urgent lists to the rescue community – claims she doesn't have time.  Rescue is often the last resort for many of these pets.  Gwinnett remains the only shelter in the Atlanta area that doesn’t put out a weekly urgent list in the hopes that they can save more animals.

As Forrest Gump would say “That’s all I gotta say about that” cause it makes me ill to think anyone could shirk there responsibility to the pets they are about to kill.

Stay tuned for the rest of the story...............