It would be great if, when faced with criticism, kill pound directors, staff and their defenders would say “We’ll show you! We are going to STOP killing all healthy and treatable pets and then you will have to EAT YOUR WORDS, sucker!” But no, I dream. Instead, what usually happens is depressingly predictable: people circle the wagons and blame others for the killing. “It’s not our fault! The people who (don’t spay/neuter, “dump” pets at the pound, don’t vaccinate, buy pets instead of adopting, etc.) are FORCING us to kill. Go pick on them and leave us to kill in peace!” (Imagine if the police failed to do their jobs and responded to criticisms by saying “Solving crimes is hard! It’s not our fault people steal things and shoot each other!”)
A passage in a post here yesterday promoting an adoptable dog in the Stokes County Pound seemed to hit a nerve with the Stokes County pound staff and volunteers. The Stokes County pound killed 76 percent of the cats and dogs who came in during 2011*, so it’s easy to imagine that a black pit bull mix like Frisky (who has since been adopted! Yay Frisky!), might not face very good odds of getting out of there alive. The crossposting that led me to feature him here said Frisky “doesn’t stand a chance,” so I wondered out loud, figuratively speaking, what factors might make that so. Given the fact that many pounds kill pit bulls either as a matter of policy or because staff think they are unadoptable, I wrote:
I don’t know if that’s because the staff at the Stokes County pound are eager to kill “pit bull mixes” or not eager to adopt them out, or if it’s because of the perception that “nobody wants to adopt a pit bull.” (Which I think is sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy, because shelter staff are quicker to choose death for the dogs they believe are “less adoptable.”) At any rate, it’s pretty clear that showing up at the Stokes County pound may not be the luckiest thing that ever happened to Frisky. It could have been, if the pound functioned like an actual shelter, a safe place for animals that need our protection, but the statistics say it does not: last year 76 percent of the pets who entered Stokes County pound didn’t make it out alive.
That sparked some heated comments by pound staff and others. And no, the response was NOT “We’ll show you that we CAN stop killing all healthy and treatable pets!” It was more like : “Go bash the irresponsible pet owners who do not spay and neuter their pets” and “The staff are doing the very best they can with their limited budget and there’s nothing more they can do.” (Multiplied many times here and on the Stokes pound Facebook page.)
So that raises a really good question: Are the director and staff of the Stokes County Pound really “doing the best they can?” Is there absolutely nothing more they can do to stop themselves from killing healthy and treatable pets?
Let’s start with the spay/neuter issue. If that really were the one most important ingredient of the recipe to end needless killing at pounds (and it’s not, really, it’s one of eleven essential ingredients, all equally important), then surely the Stokes County Pound would be participating in the NCDA&CS spay/neuter reimbursement program. This program encourages pet sterilization by allowing cities and counties to apply for reimbursement of costs for spays & neuters of dogs and cats owned by low-income people.
As an example of how it can be used, Haywood County, which posted a kill rate of just over 45 percent in 2011, was able to help fund 1,641 sterilization procedures in 2011, receiving a reimbursement of $38,658.19. That’s a LOT of sterilizations– more dogs and cats were altered than Haywood County Animal Control killed in 2011 (1611). You’d think the Stokes County pound director and staff would be all over a program that could do so much against such a big obstacle to their success at protecting animals.
But a look at the participants from 2011 and the first two quarters of 2012 shows that Stokes County actually does not participate in the program that would help people do something shelter staff and volunteers believe is required before they can stop killing healthy and treatable pets. So as far as helping people spay and neuter pets, are the director and staff of the Stokes County pound “doing the best they can?”
What about other programs that get pets out of pounds alive, like adoptions? A quick search of the internet casts doubt: As of this writing there are zero pets from the Stokes County pound listed on the two top pet adoption sites, Petfinder and Adopt A Pet. The pound doesn’t even have accounts at two other sites, Rescue Me and Petango.
The Stokes County pound has an excuse: According to one commenter, the pound’s secretary is out on medical leave so no pets have been posted to Petfinder recently. Seriously? There is one single solitary person who can post pets to adoption sites, so when that person is out, no pets get posted AT ALL to the most popular places people go online to find adoptable pets? Staff can’t ask one of the pound’s enthusiastic volunteers to help out in the interest of getting more pets adopted?
The pound’s open hours are Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to noon and 1 to 5 pm, when working people are at work and their kids are usually at school, and for three hours on Saturday mornings, 9 am to noon, when families with kids often have sports practices and other commitments. It almost seems like the Stokes County pound’s hours are meant to discourage adoptions. Families who only have weeknights or Sundays available are out of luck. Sure, staff time and money are tight, but staff hours can be staggered to open some evenings and more weekend hours, and some of the volunteers would be happy to staff adoption hours that make it easier for people to come in and adopt. Volunteers LOVE getting pets adopted into happy homes.
Also, how many offsite adoption events does the Stokes County Pound have at places that are happy to host such events, such as Tractor Supply, Southern States, Walmart, Petsmart, Petco, etc.? Again, all that’s needed for these are some trusted volunteers, some adoptable pets and maybe a table and chairs so people can fill out adoption applications.
So, as far as a comprehensive approach to adopting out as many pets as possible, are the director and staff of the Stokes County pound “doing the best they can?”
Several of the commenters mentioned that the Stokes County pound doesn’t have the budget to do any better. But a look at North Carolina’s 2011 shelter outcome statistics shows there is no correlation between shelter funding and kill/save rates. Stokes County spent $63 per animal in 2011 and killed 76 percent of the cats and dogs who came in. By contrast, many other counties were able to spend less public money and save more. Transylvania County spent $42 per animal and killed 37 percent; Columbus County spent $46.95 per animal and killed 45 percent, Caswell County spent $58.54 per animal and killed 60 percent, and Haywood County spent $24.65 per animal and killed 48 percent of the dogs and cats who came in. Conversely there are many counties that spent more and got worse kill rates.
The point is that the amount of money allocated to any given shelter is not what determines its outcomes. But saving more pets, by implementing the eleven pieces of the No Kill Equation, can actually be more cost-effective from a public administration perspective, because of the reduced costs associated with killing, enhanced community support, an increase in adoption revenues and other user fees, additional tax revenue and the positive economic impact of adoptions and pet-related spending in the community. (For more on the cost-effectiveness of No Kill, read Dollars & Sense: The Economic Benefits of No Kill Animal Control.)
I’ve not even mentioned how many cats could be saved (the cat kill rate was 91 percent in 2011) if Stokes County pound had a Trap Neuter Return program for feral cats (for a good example in NC, see the Foothills Humane Society’s Po’Kitties program in Polk County). Or how many owner surrenders could be avoided with a good pet retention program like the Richmond (VA) SPCA’s Project Safety Net.
So, are the director and staff of the Stokes County pound “doing the best they can?” They can do a lot better, and fortunately, there’s a proven formula all written down ready to go they can follow. All they have to do is copy the success of many others who are proving it’s possible not to kill healthy and treatable pets for “space” at open-admission shelters.
*I have been informed that those are “old numbers” and assured that the current outcomes are way better. But because the Stokes pound current statistics are not available online and the person who made the claim did not send me the stats when I asked for them, I cannot confirm this without filing an open records request.