Where does Animal Control End and Animal Welfare Begin?

One of the most difficult questions to answer in animal sheltering is where does Animal Control Services end and Animal Welfare begin? For example, many cities have an Animal Control Organization that enforces laws, picks up stray and nuisance animals and provide a holding building for stray or surrendered animals. Many of these same organizations provide temporary housing for these animals for the minimum period of time: 3 days for an animal not wearing identification and 5 days for an animal wearing id (typical state mandated holding periods). At the end of the set time period the animals are adopted, transferred or euthanized.

If an Animal Welfare group is providing Animal Control duties they will often provide a higher or deeper level of care, including: behavior assessments, intake exams and vaccinations, s/n services, microchipping, foster care, extended hold periods, medical and behavior assistance, etc – no matter how long it takes. But when a city has been set up under the taxpayer funded Animal Control model, where does an animal welfare component come in?

Boarding animals is expensive business. The quality of care determines the cost per night. In a basic, progressive shelter that cost is around $25/night. By the time the state mandated holding period is up a city has already spent $75-$125 on an animal. If the animal was undernourished, sick, injured or aggressive they require more than the basic level of care and cost {the city} even more. But if we say it costs on average $100 per animal just to board and feed them and a city has 5,000 animals coming to its animal shelter – that’s a half-a-million dollar expense the city has to cover.

That’s significant. Many cities cannot justify or come close to covering this cost. This is not unusual. Even non-profit shelters that contract with cities and municipalities often have to take less per night per animal than it actually costs to provide their care. So for example if it costs a shelter $25/night for an animal they may need to negotiate a contract with the city that comes in at $20/night (or less) depending on how fiscally challenged the municipality is. This is not to say that the quality of care for these animals is any different because the city can only pay so much – but instead that the animal lovers of the community are willing to offset the remainder.

And this is where we can draw the line between Animal Control and Animal Welfare. The animals deserve to be cared for in a humane and caring manner and need to be housed until transport or re-homing can take place. But the city cannot afford to do that, so community animal lovers need to. Animal lovers need to work together to provide for the animals in the communities – we cannot sit back and watch while the government dictates what is good and bad for animals when they don’t have the experience, knowledge or concern necessary to make educated decisions.

There’s bunches of resources available online for anyone wanting to go this route. One of the biggest pieces of advice I can provide when working with Animal Shelters and Animal Control Organizations is to respect the people you’re working with. If you walk in with an attitude that the organization is broken…you won’t find any allies. But if instead you walk in and help, listen and spend time communicating – a lot can be accomplished.

What Does No Kill Mean to You?

Recently I was doing some soul searching….what are my goals? What do I need to accomplish during my life? These questions inevitably lead to many more like; what can I contribute? Who am I talking to? Eventually I found myself asking how I really felt about no-kill.

If you’ve read any of my earlier work you know I’m no fan. But when I took the time to really dig deep into what it is about no-kill that makes my skin crawl, I find that the answer is not that simple.
In order to understand it better I needed to define no-kill.

What is no-kill? Technically

• It was a rally cry from San Francisco stating that; “euthanizing for space needs to end”
• To the average citizen it means no longer euthanizing for space – for overpopulation

But as time passed and others jumped onto the bandwagon with their own agenda’s, a multitude of additional meanings came forth:

• Division in the industry
• Heavier burden on city/county governments
• Quantity of life being held higher than quality of life
• Finger pointing and blame
• Private (-vs- Government)
• Save a Few – Ignore the Rest
• New school (-vs- Old school)
• Limited-admission

What I realized was that my confusion was due to the different meanings of the word/movement. I do what I do because I worked in a shelter, I helped take the lives of happy, healthy dogs and cats because we couldn’t get them into a home before another needed the space. I do what I do because I want to help end the need for and practice of euthanizing animals for space. So in theory I subscribe to the technical definition of no-kill.

But unfortunately it’s not that simple. The other meanings listed above have come about due to what no-kill has become. And when I consider those things, I find it easy to list those items in no-kill I’m against:

• Using the word kill to describe an animal shelter is wrong – Highlighting an outdated and terrifically unpopular strategy is shortsighted

• It is being preached loudest by a man who makes arguments by ignoring key facts and milestones and who casts blame at the people – Blame never works – and if the argument is valid there’s no reason to ignore the truth

• Every “successful” one is some form of limited admission – I believe in open-admission animal sheltering – Every animal deserves a safe haven

• I believe in Quality over Quantity – Animals should NOT be made to suffer (or live out their lives in a shelter type atmosphere) because we want to keep our conscious clear

This shouldn’t surprise us. If the audience is the general public then no-kill = not euthanizing for space. But it would be interesting to run a similar vote in and among the sheltering community and see the difference. My bet is that it would be more in favor of No – since to them no-kill = division, animosity and little help for the constantly incoming.

What I’ve realized is that I need to temper my reaction to no-kill based on the individual I’m talking to. For example; if I’m speaking with an individual at the grocery store and they state they hope we go no-kill – my old response of “Not me. There’s too many problems with it” would be better said to a volunteer within animal welfare movement. For the average person (aka the woman at the grocery store) I will work on re-directing. “Oh, I know we all want there to be a day when there’s a home for every one of them. Do you adopt from the shelter?”

After all no-kill is not an answer. The answers are (as they’ve always been…)

• 80% of the dog and cat population in a community altered
• A solid portion of the community adopts animals from the shelter
• The community values the animals they share their homes with

Volunteers Needed

The amount of time, energy and resources required to run an animal shelter is not small. Animals need to be cleaned up after, daily. They need to be walked, fed, socialized, trained, and taken to meet with potential adopters. Dogs are behavior assessed and partnered up with other dogs, while others go out on daily visits or to adoption centers.

At a time of budget cuts, lower donation dollars and more expensive treatments – it is impossible for a shelter to have enough staff on hand to do everything. Volunteers need to be utilized to help with day-to-day care, enrichment programs, daily exercise and a host of other activities.

Staff is Key

The key to a Successful Volunteer Program is strong management. Many shelters have implemented volunteer programs only to have them fail or be taken over by eager but uninformed volunteers. This is often due to weak management on the part of the shelter. A well organized and managed program allows people to play within the rules, while a poorly-managed program invites people to do their own thing and assume the rules aren’t meant for them.

A strong coordinator is a must! The Volunteer Coordinator must be a people-person, she or he needs to be able to interact with the community on a daily basis. They must be able to patiently explain the same policy’s and reasons over and over. And they need to be creative in order to find ways to build the number of volunteers. Individuals in these rolls are a direct representation of the organization itself.

Shelters that restrict volunteers to walking dogs or playing with cats are missing out on a big opportunity. Volunteers can be crucial in retraining, enrichment, and many other areas not necessarily specialized by the staff of an animal shelter. Volunteers can run events, raise funds, write grants, run programs, work the front desk and perform many other crucial functions needed in a sheltering situation.

The Ripple Effect

The Ripple Effect – A fiction novel exploring the challenges and triumphs of running an animal shelter. It’s taken me years, and it’s far from perfect, but my hope is that this book will help to ‘open the doors’ of animal sheltering, show the tremendous compassion and sacrifices made by those involved in the profession and educate the country on some of the current issues faced by animal shelters every day.

The story takes place over six weeks during the busiest time at an animal shelter: May and June. The Ripple Effect follows Shane Hillard, a 36-year old Shelter Director as she and her staff work to find positive solutions for the animals brought to them. At the same time the Board of Directors appoints a passionate but ill-informed volunteer to head up the organizations change to no-kill. The combination of events cause the staff to question their programs, processes and the very reasons they do what they do.

Providing a rare and candid look into American Animal Shelters, The Ripple Effect explores the no-kill debate, veterinary conflicts, the impacts of nationwide population imbalances and many other sensitive topics. Inspiring and revealing, The Ripple Effect weaves together the animals, the people and the issues in play across the country.