California’s Death Rate Increases

The California Department of Public Health put out its annual reporting of “Local Rabies Control Activities” which shows that impounds and killing in shelters across the state increased in 2008 fairly significantly. The economy is the preferred explanation. As a result, the Humane Society of the United States took their hundreds of millions of dollars and pledged some small portion of it to helping families with animals get through these tough economic times. Only in my dreams, of course. Instead, the masters of saying little and doing even less put out a press release with such savvy tips like “Consider cutting back on your personal spending and use that money for pet care expenses.” Really? That just would never have occurred to anyone.

Others are using the data for their own agendas. Killing apologists and enablers like the people behind punitive laws are using it to explain the need for their efforts despite increased rates of killing at those shelters, like Los Angeles, which have such laws (the logic of saying people cannot afford to keep their companion animals so we need to force them to pay exorbitant veterinarian fees without providing any subsidy and expecting them not to surrender their pets for shelters to kill is beyond me, but logic has never been their strong suit.)

In an earlier blog, I wrote about a Texas shelter that was threatening to kill dogs claiming they were running out of food because of “the economy.” I wrote,

shelters in economically hard hit areas run by progressive directors are finding ways to either run more efficiently while increasing lifesaving (such as Reno, NV which increased lifesaving again this year despite 11% unemployment and a foreclosure crisis in the county) or are finding ways to make up the shortfall in donations through creative fundraising and marketing (such as Animal Ark in Minneapolis, MN).

So the question has to be asked: is “the economy” really to blame for increased killing in California? It would be difficult to deny an increasing unemployment and foreclosure rate as not having an impact on impounds. But killing rates appear to have an altogether different causal mechanism. I think the data shows that blame must be put on the shelters themselves.

In light of the availability of homes (17 million people looking to adopt 3 million animals nationally; in California, by population extrapolation, roughly 2 million looking for less than 300,000), the economy can’t be the real reason for the increased killing. In fact, that is why shelters exist in the first place—to provide a safety net for animals who have nowhere else to go. The progressive ones prepared and geared up programs to assist the influx of animals from those losing their jobs and their homes. The regressive, kill-oriented ones did not. Their answer continues to be what it always was: adopt a few and kill the rest. My preliminary review of the data shows that may provide a more accurate assessment for the differences between communities like San Bernardino which saw an increase in killing and other communities, like San Francisco, San Diego, and Alameda, which saw a decline.

I looked at several counties I was familiar with in terms of their sheltering operations, because I’ve either lived in the community, live in the community now, worked there, consulted there, or have more than casual familiarity with the operations. Those counties include San Francisco, San Diego, Alameda, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Mateo, and Tulare. And this is what I found (admittedly, this is preliminary and not scientific):

Alameda, San Francisco, and San Diego saw decreases in killing. Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Mateo, and Tulare saw increases. If you look at economic indicators (foreclosures and unemployment), the “economy” does not appear to provide a satisfactory explanation because there did not appear to be any correlation between economic indicators and whether the counties saw increases or decreases in killing.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, all of the counties had increases in unemployment from one year prior. The lowest of these communities (San Mateo) had a rate of 4.7% and saw the lowest increase from 2007 of just 0.9% but killing rates increased. Orange County had the second lowest rate of unemployment at 5.3%, an increase of 1.4% but killing also went up. By contrast, Alameda had a higher increase (1.5%) and a higher unemployment rate (6.2%) but killing declined. San Diego also saw a 1.4% increase to 6.0%, but killing went down.

In short, given that every community saw unemployment rate increases of at least 1.1%, with the exception of San Mateo, all of them should have seen increases in killing. That they did not, that the County with the lowest overall unemployment rate and the lowest increase, also saw killing increase, while those with higher increases and higher rates saw killing decline indicates that “the economy” (if you use unemployment rates as a proxy) does not provide a satisfying answer. And while inland rates were admittedly the highest, there does not appear to be anything like either correlation or causation of whether killing went up or down that can be extrapolated from unemployment rate increases.

Foreclosure rates also provide the same randomness. In 2008, San Mateo was low, second only to San Francisco, at 1.13, but it saw an increase in killing. San Diego was more than two times higher than San Mateo (2.51) but it had a decrease in killing. Los Angeles saw a huge increase in killing despite a rate of only 1.79, Orange County’s was 2.00 and it saw an increase, while killing in Alameda declined despite a higher foreclosure (2.41) rate. Once again, while inland rates were admittedly the highest (5.33 and 7.58), there is nothing like either correlation or causation that can be extrapolated from foreclosure rates.

But there is one indicator which may account for the difference. It is the same indicator which accounted for save rates at shelter across the country in the No Kill Advocacy Center study that looked at whether per capita animal control funding rates correlated with rates of lifesaving. They did not. It found that the difference in save rates were a function of leadership. And it appears that is the reason why killing rates varied across the state in 2008 compared to a year earlier.

San Bernardino County’s shelter—and its leadership—has always had a wanton disregard for animal life. You can read about it here (County shelter) and here (City shelter). Riverside County has long been a battle ground between animal lovers and shelter killing bureaucrats.

Tulare County’s shelter leadership was indicted for killing animals and selling their bodies on the side to enrich themselves. You can read about that by clicking here.

Los Angeles County was the subject of a lawsuit by the No Kill Advocacy Center for indifferent and inhumane care of animals, while City shelters were also mismanaged. You can read about that by clicking here (County shelters) and here (City shelters).

San Mateo’s leadership has been a long-time opponent of the No Kill philosophy, while Orange County has been rocked by allegations of mismanagement and several cities in that county have been considering starting their own regional or local animal control programs.

In fact, I randomly read through the counties on the list which I knew were subject to either litigation or threats of litigation (Kern, Kings, and San Luis Obispo) over poor care of the animals and hostile treatment of volunteers, and guess what? Like those above, they lined up as well.

Indeed, next to “pet overpopulation,” “irresponsible public,” and “unadoptable animals,” it appears “the economy” is the latest excuse for shelter managers steeped in a culture of killing who continue to find killing easier than doing what is necessary to stop it. And so while the economy may lead to intake increases, it doesn’t mean killing needs to rise as well.

Shelter Volunteer Driven to Life of Crime?

A North Carolina man faces theft charges after stealing 37 cats from the Rockingham County Animal Shelter he volunteered with because the cats were going to be killed. According to shelter bureaucrats “many of them had overstayed the 72-hour mandatory hold period and would have been euthanized [killed’].” He planned on fostering them until he could find them homes. The cats are safe “for now,” and are available for adoption—for free. After being caught, he agreed to pay their adoption fees so that cost would not be a barrier for someone saving their lives.

He’s not the first law abiding animal lover who claims to have been driven to a life of crime by uncaring bureaucrats intent on needlessly killing animals. In 2002, volunteers and staff for an Arlington shelter faked death records for kittens who the director wanted killed and fostered them instead, bringing them back when they were ready for adoption. After the director found out, they lost their jobs and some of the animals were killed. Click here for more.

And just last year, a man wielded a baseball bat to rescue his cat a Texas shelter was committed to killing because all his money was being spent on cancer drugs and he could not  afford the heavy fees and fines. Click here for that story.

More optimistic news out of Missouri?

With the fate of some 400 dogs in the balance in Missouri and more optimistic statements coming out of the Humane Society of Missouri (HSM), there is some more news to report: HSM put out a press release asking for assistance from rescue groups. You can read the press release here.

The dogs are not yet out of the woods…

Is it ethical to spay pregnant dogs and cats?

I launched a decidedly unscientific study to gauge people’s attitudes about spaying pregnant animals (and thus aborting puppies and kittens). So far, 36% say it is ethical to spay pregnant animals, 25% say it is unethical, and 41% say it depends. The survey includes narrative responses not yet analyzed.

To participate in the survey, click here.

Want to snorkel in Australia? Or gamble in Las Vegas?

Join me at the following animal welfare conferences as we forge forward not just toward a No Kill nation, but a No Kill world:

  • September 30 – October 2, 2009, National Summit, Gold Coast, Australia.
  • October 23-25, 2009, No More Homeless Pets Conference, Las Vegas, Nevada.

Are you a San Francisco Bay Area animal lover?

Catch my reports and commentary about No Kill issues in the Bay Area on examiner.com.

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