Monday, January 25, 2010

What's Stopping Us?

All aspects of the No Kill Equation are intertwined and it would be foolish to think we can single out one or two tenets and solve the problem of killing pets in shelters. Having said that, I sometimes think about doing something along those very lines. That is, I consider what single thing could happen today to bring us dramatically closer to being a no kill nation. The two most obvious to me are:
  1. All those killing homeless pets in this country simply stop. They adopt the no kill philosophy and begin to implement the changes needed in their communities. And in the meantime, they stop killing pets.
  2. We increase shelter adoptions a little bit. Nathan Winograd breaks down the math for us here.
Now of those two ideas, I think it's unrealistic to expect the first would happen today. Changing philosophies takes time. Especially when many shelters are still very far away from the no kill philosophy and consider killing to be a "kindness" they perform because they love pets or a "necessity" due to so-called pet overpopulation. As for the second, I think yes, that could happen today.


The first and most important point to my mind is to stop blaming the public. We don't want potential adopters to feel guilty for buying a pet from a responsible breeder by perpetuating the myth that a shelter pet must be killed for every pet purchased from a responsible breeder. There is room in no kill, and in fact a need for, responsible breeders selling pets to people. In addition, we don't want the public to feel guilty that animal shelters exist. For example, when we wag our fingers at owners who do not neuter their pets and state that they are the reason we must have shelters and in turn "must" kill pets, we demonize both potential adopters and the shelters themselves. More education, assistance and understanding - less judgment.

Secondly, let's recognize that there is a group of people in society who would like to add a pet to the family but are not sure how best to obtain one. This is our target market. If we can influence some of the people in this group to adopt from a shelter, we can make that giant leap toward no kill I dream about. The good news is that the potential adopters are out there and the pets are out there. The bad news is that there is a gap between the two preventing them from connecting. It is this gap we must bridge and everyone must pitch in if we are to be successful.

Shelters must make themselves as inviting as possible to the public by keeping pets and facilities clean, keeping their doors open when people are most likely to visit, getting pets out to high traffic locations such as pet supply stores, and maintaining reasonable guidelines for approving adopters. To meet these goals, high quality, committed leadership is essential and more volunteers will be needed:

Some pets will need more than a bath in order to look presentable. If you have basic grooming skills, your help is needed.

Other pets will benefit from some time in foster care to learn basic manners. For example, a large dog who has been taught not to jump up on people and not to pull on the leash is going to be far more adoptable than one who hasn't. If you have basic obedience training skills, your help is needed.

Orphaned kittens who need to be bottle fed around the clock in order to survive their first weeks of life arrive at shelters every Spring. If you have the ability to offer a temporary home to a litter of kittens in need of care, your help is needed.

Shelter cats who have been handled lovingly by humans are going to be more adoptable than those who haven't. If you have cat petting skills, your help is needed.

Dogs who have been walked are going to have less anxiety when visitors stroll through the shelter than those who haven't and as such, will be more appealing to adopters. If you have dog walking skills, your help is needed.

Sick or injured pets will require more veterinary care than healthy pets to make them adoptable. If you have veterinary skills, your help is needed.

Caring for pets costs money and shelters want to keep adoption fees as low as possible in order to encourage adoptions. If you can donate money to your local shelter, your help is needed.

Educating the public about the availability of shelter pets and how to responsibly care for pets over their lifetimes is essential. If you have a digital camera and know how to create a website to advertise shelter pets, your help is needed. And if you have good written and/or verbal communication skills and know how to make people feel good about themselves while learning something, your help is needed. (Lecturing finger-waggers need not apply.)

You get the idea: Your help is needed. If we all pitch in and work to bridge the gap between adopters and shelter pets, we could bump up shelter adoptions enough to make enormous strides toward becoming a no kill nation. It could happen today.


Smart Dogs said...

Shelters and breeders need to do a lot more follow up and education than most of them do today.

Out of sight, out of mind is too often the mindset. "We sent him off to a nice home, our job is done," just doesn't cut it.

A scary number of adopters and puppy buyers don't realize what they're getting into and/or don't have the skills they need to handle a pet appropriately. Getting them help before the animal ends up chained out in the yard, as a stray, in a shelter or with an unplanned pregnancy is - IMO, the best and most efficient way to fix the problem.

Support and education can do a lot more to change behavior than blame ever will...

YesBiscuit! said...

I tried to touch on this issue too. I find as a breeder, many buyers have lots of questions that arise after they've taken the dog home. But once you get them over the hump (figuratively), they do pretty well. I can imagine if new owners don't have that support through the initial challenging phase, they can become frustrated and end up creating more problems instead of simply solving the existing ones.

Anonymous said...

I worked in a shelter once. The routine was to go in in the morning, clean, learn the front desk, and go home. You didn't socialize with the animals, or take care of them at all except to clean, and give them food and water. The shelter manager did play with her "favorites" from time to time, but that was all. I would attempt to give the animals some attention while doing my cleaning duties, and irritated the manager greatly because I took too long! The manager had the keys to the place, opened it in the morning, and closed it in the evening. There was no way I could go there without her being there. (It was the smaller, lower-intake shelter in my area).

These ideas you have are well and good, but we also need to figure out how to implement these ideas when a lot of shelters have workers who are so jaded, so completely resigned to The Way It Is (perhaps because of all the crap they've seen) that they don't believe that things CAN change!


YesBiscuit! said...

As in any business, it is impossible to produce significant change without strong leadership. The shelter manager must be not only on board with, but leading the way to building a more humane shelter. On the plus side in the sitch you mentioned, the manager played w/"favorites" - I might try to build on that. But on the other hand, you mention the manager seeming to discourage you from interacting w/the pets during cleaning. So I don't know how open she would be to these kinds of changes. Opening a dialogue is the first step. And if it proves fruitless, the shelter manager answers to someone (probably several someones) too so you could always take your concerns there. Many city shelters have their business discussed at public meetings - another possible place to start a discussion.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. This post starts out with an acknowledgement that all the pillars of the No Kill Philosophy are intertwined, then proceeds to suggest that the "math" of adoption might give us hope of a solution without waiting on the shelters to adopt the philosophies of no kill. This is not the first place I have read something along this line, so maybe it's just "groupthink" - but is there something we can learn about the 17 million people that might be out there looking for pets?

Surveys conducted by Purina, APPMA, and even an (evil) HSUS study done in Mississippi and Louisiana show that (roughly) 40 to over 50 percent of people get their pets from neighbors or strays. These are not customers of the shelter OR of the breeders. These pets are "free", and they are intact. And until one turns basic economic theory on it's head, it will be a hell of a sales job to convince these folks to go to the shelter and pay $25, $75, or $100 for a pet - especially when these are people making much less than $30 grand a year, often with 2 adults and 2 or 3 kids, or a single mom with a kid. I hear the sales pitch at the local shelter, (which is actually pretty good as shelters go - volunteers, pretty clean, some outreach, etc) about the great deal on the $90 dog that has been spayed or neutered, has their shots, is microchipped, has the first years license, gets a free health exam, free return with refund, has passed a behavioral test, yada, yada, yada - the dog IS free, 'cause it would cost them more than $90 to get that done. And there are even storefronts here that adopt pets from other groups and some pulled from this and other shelters. Could they work harder? Probably. Could money be redirected and increase those rates? Almost certainly. But will the numbers of adoptinos ever be high enough to overcome the consistent and overwhelming flow of unwanted litters from feral cats, and from the pets of people who got them from a neighbor or as a stray, never realizing the urgency of having them altered (for the community if not for their pet). Haven't seen it yet. What I do see are days when they adopt 3, or 5, or 8but nearly everyday brings in 10, or 12, or 16, or 35. I see big events in parking lots with tents where advertising on television and in newspapers brings in people, specials on old dogs, specials on cats. But despite the ramp up in this, there are ALWAYS more coming in the door, by a significant amount, than being adopted. And I have seen this in more than one city - 8,000 here, 30,000 there. But the picture is the same.

Winograd placed "high-volume low-cost spay/neuter" as the second of the 11 key pillars of the No Kill Equation, with the first one being spay/neuter of feral cats. I think there is a reason he made these #1 and #2 in his hit parade. He knows darn good and well that feral cats and the pets of people who barely make enough to live on are overrepresented in the shelters. He knows that adoption is vital, but if you are putting across an important message, you put the most important stuff first, in case you lose their attention.

One could, of course, dismiss the HSUS study out of hand - not based on the data, but on some notion that because the HSUS does such horrendously stupid things that everything they do is so flawed as to be useless. (Hey, it took the Catholic Church about 400 years to even suggest that Galileo might have had a point about the earth revolving around the sun, so we know evidence is not always valued equally by all parties ). But should the Purina and APPMA studies go out with the same bathwater? When research done by separate entities produces reasonably similar results, one could spend a lot of time ignoring or critiquing them, or one could move ahead while keeping an eye on the results.

Adoption, by itself, will never overcome the lack of "High-Volume, Low-Cost Spay/Neuter".

YesBiscuit! said...

To "Anonymous" - I don't think I suggested that adoption, by itself, would overcome anything. You are comparing the No Kill Equation - a carefully thought out and practiced model for communities - to a mere blog post. I don't see it as a fair comparison. I'm simply making a sales pitch, as it were, based on what I think I can sell. I write these sorts of posts regularly and for a small readership. They can't possibly compare to a model for a no kill community.
At any rate, I've always been a strong believer that w/out hope, there is no meaningful action. I try to instill hope as a motivator to action - unlike those opposed to no kill who often work to destroy hope.
As far as the poor who own pets, I am one. So it's really not plausible to me that poor people can not be educated on the myth of pet overpopulation and become involved in no kill. Again, this is a tactic often employed by those opposed to no kill and designed to strip away hope. Poor people can do math too. And care about saving pets' lives.

Anonymous said...

There's nothing wrong with a little hope and I commend you for that. If it is not backed up with facts, however, it might lead people down a path which won't accomplish what is suggested.

You do more than simple blog posts. People look up to you and you are cited as an authority, so your words matter. The post said “one single thing…that could bring us dramatically closer”. If adoption won’t do that, people could get the wrong idea. Valid, published research shows most people don’t, and likely won’t, get their pets from a shelter and suggests that there are not enough who could be converted in the numbers it would take to overcome the quantity of animals entering the shelters. If there is something out there other than Winograd\Maddie's opinions a link would be really helpful. Note: people who take in strays and unwanted litters do this without the expense and intervention of the shelters, so if we can just get those animals altered we would be money ahead.

Have you read Brent's post on the "False Solace of Vilification"? "In each case, the person being hated on is precisely the person who can do the most to help. And yet sometimes, we can't help ourselves". The No-Kill philosophy tells shelters to take responsibility for their actions, not point fingers and vilify the public. Yet twice in the reply to my post it is insinuated that by questioning the ideas in the post I am adopting the tactics of the opposition. There is an old rule, but true: if we can’t question our assumptions, the opposition wins.

It is disrespectful to refer to “poor people”. They are just like you and me, even if they live in areas of or are disadvantaged by a low-income. They may be rich in other ways. To say we need to be "educated" suggests we are somehow deficient in our learning. Ironic - although I know you disagree with the way many shelters operate, that is exactly the same language used by the shelters to excuse their behavior in killing millions of animals. Let me assure you and the shelters - there is nothing wrong with our education. We are not deficient. We know when approached by someone who enforces an arbitrary and ill-conceived set of laws that we are likely to come out the loser, and our best defense is to stay away. We know the shelters hide behind a veil of "helping" that would be called cruelty and murder if we treated people the same way. We have to dry our children’s tears (and sometimes our own) when the shelter takes a dog and kills it because we had to work 10 hours a day 6 days a week just to put food on the table, or heat the house, or buy food, and couldn’t get there. We don’t need to learn to care, we already do. Our animals wind up in the shelters far more than others, so we already know about the need for change and what needs to be done. Rather than suggesting that we be "educated", maybe you should suggest that our employers offer to spay/neuter our pets, or offer a couple of paid hours off for a few weeks to search for lost pets, instead of being threatened with the loss of a job. That would at least show some respect

I agree with the principles of the no-kill philosophy, but I cannot sit and take comfort in a self-righteous campaign which insists that shelters change their philosophies while cats and dogs die in the battle. Municipal governments have more money, power, and political will than any nonprofit ever will. What I do is work to empty the community of unwanted litters and manage feral cats with TNR, taking away the impetus for the shelters to act the way they do. Facing empty kennels their position that we need to kill for space evaporates into the ether. Administrators can go to councils and tell them their city really can be like Calgary, and here is the proof, and Winograd can get what we all want in much larger numbers. We won’t get there by relying on no-kill’s weakest parts, or with unsubstantiated assertions.

YesBiscuit! said...

Do you have a name to stand behind your words "Anonymous"?
I can't help but think you have missed the basic point of the post (which may be my failing). If you disagree with Winograd's math, please be specific. I'm simply riffing off the premise that if we could increase shelter adoptions, we could be a lot closer to no kill than we are today. At the same time, I point out that it is impossible to expect doing this one thing would achieve a no kill nation.
I'm not being disrespectful in referring to myself as "poor people". In terms of the population of this country, I'm poor. I have no idea where you are getting the "they". It's me. And I learned about no kill. Therefore, my previous comment.