Pet Connection has published the complete transcripts of my interviews with shelter reform pioneers Richard Avanzino of Maddie's Fund and Nathan Winograd, author of "Redemption." I was on my way over here to link to them, and I will, but first... allow me to spatter gray matter all over your monitor.
In today's Houston Chronicle, a story about the Austin, Texas' failed effort to move its animal control department out of the dark ages and into not the future, dear readers, but even a decade ago in terms of its save rates:
A decade after city leaders adopted an ambitious program to end the euthanasia of healthy, adoptable animals, 14,000 dogs and cats at the Town Lake Animal Center are still being killed annually.
But some progress has been made. Benefiting from two private low-cost spay and neuter clinics, and aided by a well-established network of 85 approved rescue groups and 400 volunteers, the city pound has seen the number of incoming animals drop by 4.6 percent over the past decade, from 27,000 to 26,000 last year. It's cut its euthanasia rate by 17 percent.
Now, nearly half of all animals that enter the shelter leave alive.
That puts Austin well ahead of just about anywhere else in Texas, including Houston, but not far enough in front to appease local activists like Ryan Clinton. He faults his city for failing to adopt the policies enacted more than a decade ago in San Francisco, which became the nation's first city to end the killing of healthy non-aggressive animals in its shelter.
"The definition of insanity is not changing your ways and believing that the results will be different," said Clinton, who heads Fix Austin, an animal advocacy group. "We only get by by saying we are better than the worst."
Cities that look to Austin for guidance in reducing their animal euthanasia rates will learn that the politics of saving cats and dogs is as contentious as a roomful of cats and dogs.
Many in Austin's rescue community note that the city's euthanasia rate has been creeping upward since 2001. The reductions in euthanasia, they argue, occurred in the early years after city leaders vowed — but ultimately failed — to become "no kill" by 2002. Today, more than a third of all cats and dogs deemed fit for adoption by shelter staff is euthanized.
Nathan Winograd says that usually, such failures are due to decisions made by shelter management: "The buck stops at the shelter director's desk," he's said. So let's hear from Austin's shelter director:
Dorinda Pulliam, director of the Town Lake Animal Center, said: " 'No-kill' is dramatic, and communities can get behind it, but it can be disappointing because you don't get the outcome people expect." Many animals, she said, have to be euthanized because they're too sick, injured or aggressive to be rehabilitated.
But critics say Austin could save as many as 90 percent of the animals that enter its shelter if it embraced the policies and programs that led to significant euthanasia reductions in places like San Francisco, and more recently, in Reno, Nev., and Philadelphia.
They fault Austin for failing to implement off-site adoptions and allowing only employees and volunteers, not the public, to foster kittens and puppies too young to survive shelter conditions.
Nathan J. Winograd, a former criminal prosecutor who founded the No Kill Advocacy Center and who offers seminars to municipal shelter employees around the country on how to achieve "no kill," status said: "When you make a claim that you're going to be no kill in the millennium and basically a decade later you're killing half the animals, you have to classify that as failure. ... I think it's great Austin is saving 48 percent of its animals but it would be saving 85 or 90 percent if its leadership rigorously or comprehensively implemented all the services and programs."
Pulliam was quick to defend her agency. She said Austin failed to achieve its "no kill" goal because "there was no strategic plan" — just a list of good ideas.
Ultimately, she said, the problem of homeless animals is a community problem.
"The city shelter can't be held singularly accountable because people in the community are the ones creating it."
The "people in the community are the ones creating it," she says, in the same breath as admitting there was "no strategic plan," just a list of good ideas. Hello, cognitive dissonance. But there's more:
She believes the majority of animals that get put down are simply not fit for adoption. "The easy pickings are getting adopted. The animals that are left are the hard-core problems."
I would guess that's why you're a highly trained professional, hired specifically to come up with strategies to deal with problems, rather than just process the low-lying fruit? What about Nathan Winograd's "No Kill Equation," foster problems, off-site adoptions, and all the other programs that have been successful over and over in other communities?
She said it would be irresponsible to open a public foster program for kittens and puppies, since not everyone knows about caring for kittens and puppies.
Off-site adoptions work in communities that have shelters in remote locations and not centrally located ones, like Town Lake in central Austin.
"We have more people here selecting animals than I have staff to process."
She has more people in the community who want to adopt than she can process with her staff, but it's the community that is to blame? Can she even hear herself? But don't worry about her overworked staff, trying to handle the deluge of people who want to adopt from them but can't because they're too busy killing cats and dogs in the back room:
That may change. The city recently approved plans to move the Town Lake shelter to a more out-of-the-way area east of Interstate 35.
Winograd says the plan will be a death sentence for thousands of animals.
"I can't think of a business in the country, across any industry, that says it's better to be where the people aren't. In terms of a retail business, and sheltering is like a retail business, it doesn't make sense. It just shows you how desperate they are to do what they've always done."
The writer of the article concludes, "Today, death remains a part of life at Austin's city shelter."
Now, to take that bitter taste out of your mouth and possibly even glue my poor shattered skull back together, head on over to Pet Connection and see what Nathan Winograd and Richard Avaninzo are doing to stop the use of killing as a form of population control in America's shelters.