Monday, November 14, 2011
Breaking with Tradition to Revitalize Animal Services
The essential, straightforward process of “Breakthrough Thinking” involves a meaningful organization of purposes you seek to achieve and how to reach that point.
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 and break through to find revitalizing, consistent positive solutions to the problems that confront you.
Solutions put forth must adhere to community’s ideals yet remain revenue neutral In today’s economic environment solutions must work towards lowering the number of adoptable pets killed without raising the cost of animal control. These solutions identify wasteful spending and re-direct that funding into program investments that will reduce animal control costs long term.
Revitalizing Animal Services - A look into the future
We can think of all the good things left undone yet there is good reason to believe the community can succeed in both goals of lowering shelter deaths and reducing the costs of animal services as well.
The policy of stray cats
One area of huge cost savings is in the area of picking up stray cats (ferals). Not only was/is this policy unnecessary (there isn’t a law that requires cats to be restrained) but the combination of manpower costs associated with rounding up stray cats along with the fact over 90% are killed once they reach our shelter exemplifies wasteful spending.
There can be no economical justification for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on a failed “catch and kill” policy for feral cats that simply does nothing towards lowering future feral cat population numbers.
In 2010 that number dropped to 1,318 stray cats picked up or 110 cats each month,
In the first nine months of 2011 only 324 stray cats have been picked up or a rate of 35 cats each month (our goal should be zero).
Reversing direction to kill less – spend less
In 2009 the shelter handled a total of over 5,100 cats of which 4,588 were killed.
In 2010 that number dropped to a total of 3,800 (1,300 less) were handled with 3.232 killed.
Projections for 2011 show the shelter handling around 2,900 cats with approximately 2,400 or 80% killed.
The policy change of no longer picking up stray cats has resulted in a two-year reduction of 2,200 cats entering the shelter and a reduced number of 2,100 killed.
The combined cost savings from running a shelter that no longer performs a “catch and kill” methodology saves both lives and taxpayer money. If we want to continue to see cost savings along with more lives saved we must develop policies that support trap/neuter/release on feral cats and proactively invest in low cost spay/neuter programs for the rest.
These policy changes working in tandem with renewed partnerships with local cat rescue coalitions will ultimately reverse the trend of killing far too many cats simply because the shelter lacks a cohesive plan that saves lives.
Clearly, dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to control feral cat populations by rounding up and killing them by the thousands has never been a workable solution. In fact, it is government waste at it’s worst.
Conventional thinking long has been that about 70% of the cats killed in shelters are feral, but studies suggest that could be true only if the overwhelming majority of unweaned kittens who are killed were believed to be from feral mothers. Neonatal kittens actually appear to account for more than half of the cats killed in shelters.
We strongly encourage the task force committee study the alternate Trap/Neuter/Return programs. We must embrace a trap/neuter/release policy because it saves LIVES and MONEY.
An Animal People survey found that only 20% of limited admission shelters and 55% of open admission (public) shelters acknowledged accepting feral cats, except in emergency cases. Yet, 56% of the cats occupying shelter space were kittens and only 14% of those from feral moms.
An astounding 45 of open admission public shelters mention promoting neuter return as an alternative to accepting feral cats, usually working in partnership with feral nonprofit trap/neuter/return organizations.
The goal should be to eliminate stray cats entering the shelter by outsourcing all feral cats complaints to a new “feral cat rescue coalition”. At best a partnership that helps fund spay/neuter of feral cats and maintains nuisance free feral colonies is a far more humane and cost effective solution.
Policies that “outsource” feral cat issues also eliminate the need to house the un adoptable feral cats in our shelter allowing the shelter to focus on finding adoption and rescue options for those domesticated cats that are adoptable.
Policies on stray dogs
In 2009, animal control picked up 3,823 stray dogs or 320 a month of which 885 dogs or 75 a month (less then 25%) were reclaimed by their owners..
In 2010 that number dropped to 3,455 stray dogs (about 10%) or 290 a month were picked up of which 936 or 80 per month were reclaimed.
Third quarter (2011) results have 2,683 strays dogs or around 300 dogs per month entering the shelter of which 845 or 90 a month were reclaimed. These numbers project out to 3,600 for 2011 with 1,080 reclaims.
One of the most overlooked areas for cost saving and reduced killing in animal control shelters is lost animal reclaims. Sadly, besides having pet owners fill out a lost pet report, very little effort other effort is made to reunite lost pets with their owners.
It costs the county taxpayers money for each dog picked up as a stray. It costs even more money when that dog enters the shelter. Each dog returned in the field represents immediate cost savings to the taxpayers.
The goal of animal control should always be to protect the community but it should also be to do so in the most efficient cost effective way possible.
It is simply too costly and ineffective to not proactively seek solutions that return pets to their owners rather then impounding them into our shelter system. Not only is this a tremendous waste of resources but it leads to far too many pets being needlessly killed as well.
There is technology available that would allow an animal control officer to take a picture of dogs picked up in the field that could be uploaded on the county animal control website. The solution might be as simple as rewriting the SOP’s written to address stray’s picked up in the field.
Pioneering work in this regard already has been done in North Carolina, where Wake County and the surrounding counties of Chatham, Durham, Franklin, Granville, Harnett, Johnston, Orange, and Person joined together to form TriangleLostPets.com. Individuals with lost and found pets input comprehensive information about them into this user-friendly system (i.e., name, breed, type, age, gender, location lost/found, colors, description, and date lost/found) along with the individual’s contact information and a photograph of the animal.
Pet owners should be able use their smart phone to look for lost pets including if that pet has been picked up by animal control. Not only is this a service pet owners should expect from our county, ultimately it is a service pet that owner’s should demand because it saves the taxpayers money.
The issue of enforcing ordinances that requires pet owners to maintain control of their pets does not justify spending a tremendous amount of resources forcing pet owners to look for pets that clearly could be returned in the field.
The community must develop programs that encourage responsible pet owners to put both tags and/or microchips on their pets. Providing a ride home instead of a trip to the shelter helps return pets to their responsible pet owners. More importantly, it lowers shelter intake numbers, reduces the cost burden on taxpayers and allows the shelter staff to focus it’s resources on finding homes for the strays and owner surrenders that don’t have responsible owners.
Owner Surrenders – Turning problems into cost saving solutions
In 2009 pet owner’s surrendered 2,106 dogs at animal control. This represents 175 dogs each month needing shelter and new homes.
In 2010 that number dropped to 1,586 or 130 dogs a month. As in the case of stray dogs canine owner surrender’s dropped in 2010 as well. This drop represented a reduction of owner surrenders of 25%.
In 2011, the number of owner surrender’s stabilized with 1,168 owner surrenders or 130 dogs per month were surrendered at animal control. This projects out to about 1,500 for the year.
A progressive animal services unit should be able to offer pet retention alternatives to help aid owners surrendering their pets at the shelter. A trained volunteer staff with strong people and customer service skills is needed to answer calls and counsel pet owners surrendering pets at the shelter on resources and rescue partner options that might be available instead.
Partnering with rescue in finding life saving options
Over the last three years the combined result in canine intake numbers (strays and owner surrenders) dropped from 5,929 in 2010 to 5,041 in 2010. This represents a 15% reduction in dogs needing shelter services.
In 2011, the shelter is trending towards a total of slightly over 5,000 strays and owner surrenders entering the shelter. This becomes the baseline number of dogs that need new homes or rescue.
In 2009 there were 1,071 dogs and cats transferred to rescue partners.
In 2010 the number of dogs and cats transferred to rescue dropped to 1,016.
In 2011 the number of dogs and cats transferred to rescue partners is projected to be around 1,080.
These numbers represent a 40% drop in the number of pets sent to rescue from the 1,770 transferred to rescue in 2007 from the old shelter.
The number of pets sent to rescue continues to drop – adding to the shelter costs and killing.
The humane community must solidify a “rescue partners” coalition to immediately accept ownership transfer of surrendered dogs and cats though a shelter/rescue partners program.
The benefit to animal services is these pets no longer enter the shelter but instead are moved quickly into foster care where they can be placed back into the community.
Transferring dogs and cats to rescue is not only critical in the effort to improve the rate of dogs and cats saved but in cost savings as well. We must form the rescue partnerships needed to double the amount of dogs and cats saved by our rescue partners.
This rescue coalition in partnership with animal services must increase the exposure of our shelter pets to citizens and the rescue community through use of the social media networks including the use of Facebook and Twitter that highlight all of our adoptable pets.
Outsourcing Adoptions and Animal Services
The number of citizens visiting the shelter fell off in 2010 by 4,500 visits. That number is projected to climb slightly in 2011.
Citizens Visiting Shelter (2009) - 32,308
Citizens Visiting Shelter (2010) - 27,791
Citizens Visiting Shelter (2011) - 28.500 (projected)
The number of pets adopted from the shelter dropped as well. Adoptions fell by 25% from 2,093 in 2009 to 1,583 in 2010. This is disappointing as well.
In 2009, 3,164 dogs/cats or 260 a month were either adopted or transferred to rescue partners in the community.
In 2010 that number dropped to 2,599 dogs/cats or 210 a month were adopted or transferred to rescue.
In 2011, as of the end of September a total of 2,160 dogs/cats or 240 a month have been adopted or transferred to rescue. This number is up from 2010 but still trending down from the number adopted/rescued in 2009.
(Note – while the data is lumped together for dogs and cats data on these numbers should be specific for number of dogs and the number of dogs adopted and specific for the number of dogs transferred to rescue and the number of cats transferred to rescue.)
Outsourcing the adoption processes will not only improve the save rate but reduce shelter costs as well.
Shelter Euthanasia Policy
You can’t adopt your way out of shelter killing
Dogs killed 2009 3,020 or 250 per month,
Dogs killed 2010 2,475 or 200 per month,
Dogs killed 2011 1,422 or 160 per month (thru 9/30/2011)
Current policy at animal control is to immediately kill owner surrenders that do not include documented vaccination records when surrendered. It is unacceptable under any humane context to kill a pet simply because the surrendering owner did not or could not provide proof if such vaccinations.
The current management excuse for this abusive abhorrent policy is that unvaccinated pets pose a “disease” issue for the shelter. Fact is stray pets picked up in the field do not come with vaccination records either.
All owner surrenders need to be transferred to licensed rescue partners groups for fostering and placement OR the shelter must vaccinate these pets while providing the same vigilance in seeking new homes as the strays are afforded.
Through an outsourcing partnership with the rescue community pet owners could work closely in finding these pets new homes without costing taxpayers in the process. In practice, rescue groups are better prepared to conduct home inspections, hold off site adoptions, evaluate application options and match up pets to new owners then public shelters.
Solving the dilemma of the pit bull crisis
A 2011 Animal People survey an increase of 120,000 in the number of pit bulls killed raising the number killed to 930,000 nationally. That represents the highest number in three years and represents 60% of the total number of dogs killed.in U.S. shelters. Pit bulls represent 3.3% of the U.S. dog population but account for 30% of the dogs surrendered or impounded by animal control.
Despite an extraordinary national rate of more then 16% of pit bulls being adopted or transferred to rescue over 75% of the remaining shelter pit bulls arriving at shelters are killed, either do to dangerous behavior or simply because the shelter is receiving pit bulls in an ever-escalating numbers.
The trust and honesty of the no kill movement itself is at risk when animal advocates deny the reality of the pit bull crisis.
The offense for which the humane community is most culpable is thinking all pit bulls in shelter are adoptable.
Pit bulls rarely arrive at the shelter as unwanted litters. Typically they come to shelters at twelve months or older; having already had at least three homes: their birth homes, the home they were sold to, and one or more pass along homes that took the dogs after problems developed in the first home into which they were purchased.
About two thirds or more of the pit bulls entering the shelter are surrendered by their primary caretakers, many of whom are not voluntary caretakers. These caretakers simply end up with an unwanted pit bull after a family member or friend abandoned the dog or left it behind after moving. Many are picked up as strays as their previous owners/caretakers dump them in our neighborhoods.
Humane Societies and breed rescue promote what wonderful family pets pit bulls make but shelter dogs of any breed have a reputation perpetrated by a virtually unregulated breeding industry as “damaged” goods.
With the ever-increasing numbers of pit bull incidents in the press the public has grown weary of adopting a pit bull of unknown history, but the public tends to believe that pit bulls can be good pets if “raised right” from puppy hood.
Shelters typically do not have pit bull puppies. Pit bull puppies are in hot demand in backyard breeder markets; it isn’t until these puppies outgrow that cute puppy stage that they end up as confused dogs in our shelters.
Of critical importance is to realize that few pit bull births are accidental. Instead, almost every pit bull who contributes to this surplus of shelter pit bulls is the product of deliberate breeding, sometimes by dog fighters, but most often just someone engaging in speculative backyard breeding, capitalizing on a perceived value for pit bulls created at least in part by the physical mystique of the breed.
The end result is that even though the number of dogs killed in shelters continues to drop nationally the number of pit bulls killed continues to rise. Meanwhile, with all the factors related to pit bulls, the vigorous pit bull promotions of pit bull rescue groups appears to have hit it’s limits on just how many of one type of breed can be successfully adopted out.
Even if every pit bull had the positive qualities, and no problematic behavior, there are only so many families who want and can safely handle a big potentially powerful dog.
Fact is with all the negative new stories about problematic pit bulls even those families inclined to purchase a pit bull are lead to believe that the best source for “pet quality” pit bull puppies is from an unlicensed backyard breeder.
So, persuaded by ads from our humane shelters promoting pits as wonderful family pets, those seeking a pit bull puppy end up supporting backyard breeders who are not only not licensed but also do not pay any types of fees or taxes either. The community must close down the loopholes that allow unlicensed breeders to fill this market void.
Despite a record number of local humane licensed pit bull rescue groups throughout the greater Atlanta metro area there is no chance that the humane community can oversea and execute responsible placement or adopt it’s way out of killing pit bulls in what has historically been high volume until the numbers of pit bulls who are surrendered to shelters or are impounded, throughout the greater Atlanta and surrounding areas drop by at least 80%.
Licensing Breeders – a community and consumer safety issue
It is simply indefensible for the community to allow people to breed dogs that can be used as weapons. The risk of raising and selling aggressive dogs that could endanger other citizens in the community is also indefensible.
Since pit bulls can be more dangerous to humans and other animals, and more difficult to handle then most dogs and more importantly since they attract “owners” who may want to exploit them – breeding pit bulls must be tightly regulated at a county level.
Gwinnett should lead the way on responsible oversight in the area of pet overpopulation by requiring all breeders be licensed, that licensing requirements include a criminal background check, that breeder’s maintain a city business license and have yearly inspections from animal control. These requirements should be across the board for breeding and selling of companion animals and not breed specific.
Without laws and programs that severely reduce the number of pit bulls entering the shelter; especially those bred by an irresponsible backyard breeder market, adopting out enough pit bulls to dramatically reduce the number being killed only risk placing pits with behavioral issues or lowering the standards of pet owners who can and would care for their pits as pets.
Public policy of breeder licensing should NOT be set by breeders and fanciers, and certainly not by dog fighters who pose as breeders and even pretend to be rescuers. When so-called pit bull lovers and rescuers use language like “it is the right of every American to buy or breed whatever kind of dog they want” then they are obviously not animal advocates. Breeding, buying, and/or selling pit bulls are all inconsistent with ending pit bull exploitation. .
An effective response to pit bull overpopulation is to target irresponsible unlicensed pit bull breeders and this must be done mandated legislatively by our county government, since the high profitability of the pit bull market has proved that pit bull breeders are resistant or opposed to any and all forms of gentle persuasion.
Only if these standards are achieved is there hope of achieving a no-kill sheltering model for all dogs regardless of breed. Unfortunately, behavioral issues cannot be ignored – whether the focus is the behavioral traits of pit bulls or the attitudes and behavior of the people who tend to keep pit bulls.
The community can no longer ignore or condone irresponsible breeding or ownership of pit bulls. Thus forming a coalition of responsible pit bull rescue partners to overlook placement and adoption criteria for all pit bulls is crucial in protecting not only the community but the breed as well.
Breed Specific Legislation is not the answer
Opponents of breed specific legislation (BSL) often argue that disproportional high rates of fatal and disfiguring pit bull attacks on humans and other animals are the fault of the pet owners of those particular pit bulls, and not representative of typical pit bulls.
This shortsighted thinking overlooks that pit bulls, like other breed s produced for a specific purposes, have been often times bred with a mindset and inclination to tear other animals to pieces. This has in turn made pit bulls attractive to the sort of people who have made them the dogs most likely to be violent abused and/or neglected: sadists, people with drugs and alcohol addiction, those involved in criminal activity, and people seeking to toughen their image to compensate for their own perceived negative self image issues.
The central behavioral issue involving pit bulls is not a matter of natural genetics per se but rather a product of inherently problematic dogs being acquired by inherently problematic people, who keep, train and often times neglect and abandon in a manner which multiplies the community’s risk factors.
It is the actions of the dog that makes a dog vicious, not the breed line. BSL does not work and will not work because the target of the laws – those irresponsible pit bull owners are often times the criminals, the drug dealers, the gangbanger’s, and those inclined to fight their dogs – these type of dog exploiters definitely would not be registering their dogs with any police agency that might stumble on their criminal activity or previous outstanding warrants.
Criminals will continue to own pit bulls irresponsibly and responsible pit bull owners who were role models in the community but feared registering would be outlaws as well. The cost of enforcing breed specific legislation and sorting out the new criminal element would be enormous.
Breed Specific Legislation, is not the answer, it does not solve the human issues involved and actually does more harm than good in accomplishing the cultural shift needed to encourage responsible ownership of pit bulls.
Investing in spay/neuter solutions
A unique opportunity for the county presents itself to selectively invest in programs that will continually lower our intake numbers moving us closer to ending all the needless killing of dogs and cats in our shelter.
The natural follow up to the crisis of “pit bull” pet over population would be the passage of a responsible pit bull owner resolution encouraging all pit bull pet owners to spay/neuter their pet.
Reducing the pit bull populations to a level kept safely in stable homes would require a responsible sterilization rate of 90%. Making those spay/neuter services available through low cost clinics or even free to income qualified pet owners has been successful in increasing the numbers of pit bulls who can not reproduce further adding to our already overpopulation issues on pit bulls throughout the Atlanta area.
Setting aside behavioral issues that should be minimized through responsible breeder licensing requirements, just looking at the numbers, a 90% sterilization rate is necessary if no kill sheltering for pit bulls is to become a theoretical possibility.
Spay/Neuter Policy Recommendations
Responsible citizens can all agree that pet owners need to be responsible to the community by spay/neutering their pets as a quality of life issue. Our community is a village of responsible pet owners; studies suggest that 90% of responsible pet owners are altered to prevent them from adding to to the community’s pet overpopulation issues.
Focus on spay/neuter funding should be on the two largest contributors to shelter intake numbers – pit bulls and cats. The community should adopt a policy of providing low cost or free spay/neuter for pit bull owners seeking to alter their pets.
Promoting investments in low cost spay neuter and release of feral cats in partnership with the feral cat rescue community will work towards investing in long-term reductions and control of feral cat populations as well.
Partnering with non-profits spay/neuter organizations that provide and promote affordable low cost spay/neuter services for all responsible pet owners is a quality of life solution. Promoting and educating our citizens on the critical importance of spay/neuter as a solution to reducing our shelter intake numbers is the mechanism for long-term success.
However, focused attention on the irresponsible ten percent of pet owners who fail to alter their pets is also critical to a community’s long-term success as well.
In order to target irresponsible pet owners who not only fail to alter their pets but also fail to comply with the county’s animal ordinances as well is to “mandate” that all pets that enter the publicly funded animal shelter must be altered prior to being reclaimed by their owners.
This type of selective enforcement of a “mandatory spay/neuter” law would exempt all responsible pet owners who maintain control of their pets and comply with all the ordinances as they pertain to being responsible. It also avoids the
Excessive costs of trying to enforce a spay/neuter mandate through door-to-door enforcement that in itself raises constitutional and moral arguments to the issue.
The issue is simple – those pet owners who can’t or won’t maintain control of their pets add to our community’s animal welfare problems. They need not be rewarded or ignored for those contributions to our shelter issues.
Task Force transformation in ideology takes root
We have compelling reasons for following in the footsteps of other progressive communities that have successfully implemented progressive sheltering 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.
To reach that goal communities much determine what problems exist and focus resources on solving those issues.
With the recent announcement of Gwinnett’s “Animal Task Force”, the mechanism has been created for dramatically reducing the number of adoptable pets being killed in our shelter while developing a long term strategic plan to reduce governments role in that process.
The Gwinnett Animal Task Force builds the foundation for developing a compassionate but effective animal welfare policy that will serve the entire communities needs. It removes all obstacles that prevent responsible citizens from having oversight and participating in this process.
More importantly, it gives a huge voice to all of our community’s animals whose entire future rests in the balance. 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.
There could not be a better time for this county to reach out to it’s citizens for help in attaining our shared goals. Our county commissioners bold decision to tackle these issues with our newly formed “Animal Task Force” is a stepping-stone to that success. It is certainly is a better approach then to continue squandering the community’s trust instead.
Privatization, funding and investing in our future
One thing is certain, if we continue using the same failed practices we can predict a future of more failed results. What we can’t predict, however, is the escalating cost of these failures.
Government is not the solution for all of society’s problems. Running a successful animal services unit requires both; governmental oversight and control in providing animal services that protect the community and an animal services unit that promotes animal welfare policies including services offered pet owners that promotes responsible pet ownership and helps to rehome the community’s homeless pets.
Long Term Reform of our Animal Advisory Council
Much has changed in the field of humane animal services. We know how to end the killing of all healthy adoptable dogs and cats. We know how to implement cost effective, community supported feral cat programs, low cost spay/neuter services and proactive adoption and pet retention programs.
After an exhaustive study of the county’s animal advisory council it became apparent how this dysfunctional advisory system was broken. Detailed documents extracted through detailed documents of Animal Advisory Meetings show an alarming with issues that plaque our shelter.
It became apparent that the community not only needed to reform it’s animal welfare policies but more importantly how it develops animal welfare policies that best serve the citizens and pet owners in the community.
The current system of having a closed off dysfunctional animal advisory council which for years either acted in secrecy or closely guarded it's activity does NOT reflect the will of citizen pet owners in Gwinnett. The current animal advisory council is heavily weighted and controlled by local animal control and should be immediately disbanded and replaced by a group of advisors that reflects ALL pet owning constituents; including those who breed responsibly, rescue respoonsibly or are responsible pet owners in the community.
A newly appointed animal advisory council must be balenced and reflect the views and values of Gwinnett's pet owners. The board should represent all neighborhoods of the county, the general public and the stakeholders in Gwinnett's animal services programs.
The “Animal Advisory Council Reform Resolution” tackles that difficult process of how expert advise enters into our policy process in developing a long-term animal welfare program that not only meets the expectations of the community but more importantly looks at programs that will reduce the cots of animal control and services while reducing or putting an end to the killing of healthy dogs and cats that the shelter is supposed to protect.
The credit to this resolution goes to AAC members Carla Brown and Dr Tim Montgomery who worked diligently in finding common ground. This resolution should be up for consideration through the task force as a solution towards providing long-term quality advice to our county’s leadership.
The “Animal Advisory Reform Resolution” builds a foundation for developing a compassionate but effective animal welfare policy that will serve the entire community. It removes the obstacles that prevent responsible citizens from having oversight and participating in this process.
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.
Collectively as a community, we have talented and compassionate citizens that when provided the bricks, tools and mortar necessary to build the bridge to a compassionate, responsive animal services unit we can all be proud of. Once provided with facts and meaningful solutions our political leadership and courage will lead the way.
The Pet Owners of Gwinnett is committed to walking down the path towards the light as we seek to find our way out of the darkness by building a responsible community of pet owners and empowering our citizens to do the right thing for not only their pets but the neighborhood and community as well.