Breed Bans are Economically Wasteful. Not only are dogs needlessly being killed because of them, but they are also wasteful financially. A new study commissioned by Best Friends shows the high economic cost of breed bans, without the corresponding public safety benefit. The study demonstrates that breed discriminatory legislation tends to exhaust limited resources in already under-funded animal control programs by flooding the system with potentially “unadoptable” dogs due to the ban. It is not that the dogs themselves are dangerous. The vast majority (roughly nine out of ten) are healthy, friendly, or treatable. It is that the legislation declares them to be “unadoptable” and slated for execution. Costs to regulate or ban the animals can run into the millions and provide no help to prevent dog bites. At a time when communities are declaring bankruptcy, this is yet one more reason why breed bans should be abandoned. Click here for more information.

Too Many Homes, Not Enough Animals. The Maddie’s Fund keynote from No Kill Conference 2009 was based on a study by the Ad Council. It shows that 17 million people are going to bring a new pet into their home next year and have not decided where that animal will come from. They can be influenced to adopt from a shelter next year, where there are roughly 3,000,000 available animals. So much for “too many animals, not enough homes.” Click here for more information.

Cost is the Primary Barrier to Spay/Neuter. Alley Cat Allies has a new study that shows while most housecats are neutered, the primary factor for neutering rates in household cats is income. The lower the household income, the lower the sterilization rate. The primary reason cited was cost. The research also found that low cost sterilization of unaltered feral cats would have a dramatic impact on impound and death rates in shelters.

This research reaffirms what we have known in this movement since at least the 1970s when the city of Los Angeles opened the nation’s first municipally funded spay/neuter clinic in the United States for low-income pet owners and saw sterilization rates increase, and impound/death rates at local shelters plummet. Another study several years ago in Mississippi found 69% of pet owners with unspayed/unneutered animals would get them sterilized if it were free, a fact which is not surprising for a state with some of the lowest per capita incomes in the nation.

It also reaffirms a ten year JAVMA study of feral cat impound and death rates in Ohio. It reaffirms an analysis of impound dates at animal control done in San Francisco in the mid-1990s that found upwards of 75% of kittens are from feral moms. It reaffirms early to mid-1990s-era studies (one in Santa Clara County, CA and the other in San Diego, CA) putting the percentage of sterilized housecats at or around 80%. And it reaffirms many others going back decades. While the study is not surprising and doesn’t break new ground, it is great to have further research to back it up for the pinheads in government who need gobs of data analysis before they will acknowledge the obvious. Click here for more information.

Invest in Leadership. A survey of animal shelter funding and save rates conducted by two organizations found some interesting preliminary data (the study is not yet public). What was not surprising was that governments which run their own pounds pay more than if they contract out to private shelters. Private SPCAs and humane societies have been subsidizing animal control for so long that it has become the unfair and unreasonable expectation of municipalities that these private non-profits should continue to do so. Assuming that the agencies will retain these contracts despite compensation levels that fail to cover the actual costs of running animal control, and regardless of whether they are No Kill or killing shelters, governments are, in effect, having shelters use private donations to subsidize a government mandate. As a result, these shelters are using money raised for adoptions, medical care, and other lifesaving work to pay the cost of sheltering and killing stray and seized animals under their animal control obligations. Donor funding may also be used to enforce often arcane and inhumane animal laws (e.g., breed bans, cat leash laws, feeding bans, pet limit laws) which are inconsistent with lifesaving.

This survey surprisingly found that government-run or municipal animal control shelters had higher rates of lifesaving than private non-profit shelters administering animal control contracts, but this was not dependent on funding levels. One possibility is that if a community has both an animal control shelter and a distinct private shelter, the private shelter can maximize its donations to increase spay/neuter, adoptions, and other programs rather than subsidizing animal control leading to improved lifesaving rates. In addition, with two shelters working in a community, there are greater resources available for the animals (including cage/kennel space). But this requires further analysis. It is not clear that each of these communities also had a private humane society, had a private humane society which worked with them, and/or had a private humane society which actually cared about saving lives.

The real gem in this study is that rates of lifesaving were not conditioned on per capita rates of animal control funding. In other words, regardless of whether the shelter was public or private, it found little correlation between level of government funding and rates of lifesaving. Roughly, per capita funding ranged from about $1.50 to about $6.30. The average was $5.85. The mean was $3.95.

Save rates ranged from 35% ($2.00 per capita) to 90% ($1.50 per capita), but they did not follow any predictable pattern. There were shelters with an 87% rate of lifesaving spending only $2.80 per capita, and shelters with a 42% rate (less than half of the former) spending more than double that (at $5.80 per capita). It was generally all over the map:

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What did make a difference was leadership: the commitment of shelter managers to saving lives. While communities should provide adequate funding, only throwing money at the problem will do very little without leadership committed both to lifesaving and to accountability. In King County, WA, the City Council has spent millions of additional dollars since three independent evaluations in 2007 and 2008 revealed high rates of illness, deplorable conditions, cruelty and uncaring at King County Animal Care & Control (KCACC). In fact, the King County Council has never denied a funding request for KCACC. But no improvement in animal care has been made. Animals continue to languish, continue to get sick because of poor care, continue to go untreated, continue to suffer, and continue to die.

In Portland, OR, likewise:

Over the course of the past few years (fiscal years 2003 though 2008), a period during which the total number of animals brought into the shelter increased by only 5 percent and the agency’s budget increased by 50 percent (to a current $4.6 million), nearly every measure of the agency’s performance documents failure. Adoptions are down by 40 percent (dogs) and 18 percent (cats). Nearly half of the dogs not returned to owners are killed; so too are nearly two-thirds of cats. The “kill rate” is now well above rates in neighboring counties facing far more severe budget limitations. Thousands of dollars are squandered on adversarial enforcement efforts that have achieved no meaningful improvement in the public’s safety. The number of animals saved by cooperating life-saving organizations and individuals, a number widely recognized as a key measure of community support, has dropped by 40 percent.

To really make an impact, communities must also invest in progressive leaders willing to embrace the programs and services which make No Kill possible. As I have said in the past, the most important element of the No Kill Equation is often the hardest to find. But find it we must, because lifesaving is simply not possible without it:

A hard working, compassionate animal control director who is not content to continue killing by hiding behind the myth of “too many animals, not enough homes” or regurgitating tired clichés about public irresponsibility.

The studies are important because they help elucidate the truth:

  • Make spay/neuter affordable;
  • Breed bans waste money and lives without any benefit to public safety;
  • There are plenty of homes for shelter animals if shelters did a better job marketing them, competing with commercial sources of pets, and tapping into the public’s compassion; and,
  • Invest in leadership.

Hopefully, advocates can use these studies in their own communities to sway public policy. Hopefully, they will help win votes on City Councils across the nation. But a word of caution: While we must use data and analysis to help make our case to the community, we can’t abandon the emotional plea. Ultimately what is going to cause a triumph of No Kill over killing—of compassion over shelter cruelty—are the simple concepts which have historically triumphed in every successful social justice movement—right vs. wrong. Ultimately, what is causing this great revolution to sweep across the country, what will destroy every last vestige of the HSUS-inspired killing paradigm we live with today is not cost analysis, safety data, or number crunching. It is empathy. It is love—the great love people have for companion animals. It is emotion. All those things we are told not to focus on because somehow they are less valuable than the data and analysis. We can determine the difference between right and wrong based on what we know to be the truth in our hearts. I’m with Captain Kirk on this one. Mr. Spock got it backward.

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Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock debate the merits of logic vs. emotion.

The Unholy Trinity

Given that all the indicators, studies, data, and public opinion are in our favor, why aren’t we a No Kill nation yet? I would argue that it is a failure of leadership. The three largest animal protection organizations in the country are HSUS led by Wayne Pacelle, the ASPCA led by Ed Sayres, and PETA led by Ingrid Newkirk. And no one can explain why we are still mired in killing as a nation—and as a movement—as they can, in their own words:

Ed Sayres: “There is no room for No Kill as morally superior.”

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Ed Sayres apparently telling a crowd that killing is the moral equivalent of not killing. Are you kidding me?

Ingrid Newkirk: “The animals … got the gift of euthanasia, and to them it was the best gift they’ve ever had.”

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Ingrid Newkirk with a dog. The dog’s whereabouts are currently unknown. Hopefully Newkirk did not give the dog the “gift.”

Wayne Pacelle: “I don’t have a hands-on fondness for animals. To this day I don’t feel bonded to any non-human animal.”

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Wayne Pacelle in a P.R. photograph with a dog belonging to someone else.

“We are not killing [animals in shelters].We are taking their life, we are ending their life, we are giving them a good death… but we are not killing. And that’s why I cannot stand the term No Kill shelters.” –Penny Cistaro, “Euthanasia Expert,” speaking at the Humane Society of the United States Expo.

With friends like these, who needs enemies?