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...............

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