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02 October 2007


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I never realized how much of a problem this really is, until i looked into assistance for my Min Pin. She has a broken leg, and I cant afford $2,500 for surgery - but as a responsible pet owner I am digging myself into a financial hole. All pet owners should consider pet insurance. After TWO dogs requiring surgery, I am $8000 in debt and cant the bills - but $30 for insurance each month would have been a much better situation for me.



Christie: I agree with you but cherry-picking can be very disheartening, especially when the big well funded shelter takes the most adoptable animals and leaves the rest to the care of smaller organizations that are not as financially able to take care of them.

I suppose this is more a matter of doner education. I know that in the end any adopted animal is a good thing, but I think its a shame that in our city at least, the bulk of the $ goes to low cost adoption of highly adoptable animals and not so much goes to the shelters that take older or sick animals.

I would love to see the shelters that take these harder to place animals be in a financial or resource position to make adoption of an older or sicker animal more attractive (perhaps by providing some free medical care or waiving adoption fees). Bet you can guess where my checks are going.

Christie Keith

Yes, but... and here's where I think it gets difficult.

Why should we give our money, volunteer hours, tax dollars, animal control contracts, and even our sympathy to failed shelters?

If the goal of an animal shelter is to save animal lives and offer shelter to animals in need, and they cannot do this, and they plead poverty... are we not simply enabling a failed system by responding to their pleas?

The reason we give money to shelters that don't do a lot of killing and are clean and love the animals in their care is because we WANT TO.

Now, would I personally walk through fire for the INDIVIDUAL animals in those shelters, no matter what I think of their management? Of course.

But to continue to give them money, and accept their analysis of the situation and prescription for addressing it, is to say you agree with how they're handling the problem.

And I don't.

If they can't get enough volunteers, but some other shelter in the area can, then they're doing something wrong.

If they don't get enough donations but some other shelter in the area can, then they're doing something wrong.

If they are on the wrong track, they should turn around and get on the right track.

I think the best thing we can do for animals in the slightly-more-than-very-shortest-run is to inspire all shelters to abandon failed strategies and try something new. If they're killing animals, if their donor base is bad, if they have no volunteers, if they have trouble hiring and keeping good people, they don't need more funding, they need regime change.

Regime change can bring more funding, in the form of donations and in the form of grants from places like Maddie's Fund (which only funds community-based efforts, not individual shelters, so as to avoid the entire "cherry picking" issue). Regime change can also bring in more government support, if the new shelter management knows how to work with local authorities and tap into local programs.

Winograd and many other shelter directors across the country have formed alliances with local veterinarians and pet-related businesses to address some of the gaps in funding for their shelters.

If shelters are not doing those things, many of which do not themselves cost any more than the failed strategies they are implementing now, why are we giving them our money?

It's not about finding a nice, clean, la la la happy happy shelter and giving them money they don't need. It's giving money to institutions that are trying something new to help animals, and succeeding, rather than sending good money after bad.


I am just grateful that some of the shelters with which I have worked have stopped the automatic killing after X number of days from intake. Even the step to "kill when full" is better than "it's been 20 days so you're out of here." But I agree with the premise, more things can and probably should be done to stop the need for killing.

That's part of why I stopped helping at shelters. My heart could not take any more killing of the ones I was there to work for.


The people who post comments on SFgate are, for the most part, completely insane. There is always someone posting the most horrible things. The comments you got were actually pretty mild, for that site :)

Also, I think the fact that your article focused on *who* (the shelter owner vegan book author guy, and, to a lesser extent, yourself) rathern than *what* (particular strategies used to save animals and why they work) made it easier for people to attack the article. I think a lot of people missed the point of the no kill movement and instead became offended by particular characteristics of the people involved. But, people on SFgate will become mortally offended by pretty much anything, so, really, I wouldn't worry about it.


I volunteered for a while at a small rescue group, but I have now signed up to volunteer at the large county animal care/control program. Last year, as part of a Maddie's Fund grant, they coordinated and cooperated with rescue groups and foster parents and other volunteers and killed NO healthy animals. Now, to keep that going, and to move onto eliminating the killing of more treatable animals and reducing the intakes of feral cats, and ....


Christie: I didn't think we were really that far apart. I know that there are sites like CharityNavigator that can tell you what % of donating money actually goes to services. I actually think, that in the world of animal shelters, I'd like to see a calculation of donation dollars spent per adoption.

If you go to CharityNavigator - the big charity I mentioned has a 4 or 5 star rating. And as I said, they are not a bad shelter. But if you look at the amount of money they take in

(which is maybe 50 times higher than the small charity) and the amount of placements made (which is maybe 10 times higher) - where are you, as a small doner (who won't be invited to the parties, or flown to meetings in exotic places)getting the best value for you donated dollar?

And I do agree with you that there are a lot of well meaning, but poorly run, poorly funded small shelters that exist only because of the whim of someone who started it up with a small amount of money and hasn't a clue about keeping it financially solvent. I can think of one that recently closed; the shelter manager (not the person who put up the seed money to start the shelter)was a very good person, loved and really cared about animals, but was so inflexible about everything that she alienated volunteers, which lead to the animals not getting proper care, and no one to do fundraising, which lead to the shelter closing. The remaining animals were taken in by a far, far better run shelter so the end result was a win for the animals.

Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, I make donations to both charities, but my donation to the small charity is much larger because I recognize that they are the ones taking in the difficult cases.


Christie - I'm not referring to failed shelters. Both the large and small shelters I referred to are strictly "No Kill." Both are privately funded and receive no goverment support.

And I totally support the concept of a NO Kill Community. Perhaps the problem is that we blessed with a plethora of No Kill shelters in our area. Which leads to competition, which leads to problems.

What I'm referring to are several large shelters that are underwritten by wealthy corporate and individual doners. Who wouldn't want to volunteer at a place that can offer you catered parties several times a year, where they can afford to hire paid staff to clean litter boxes and do other scut work. These are not terrible places, they are good places, but they are economically inefficient.

ON the other hand, one small shelter that has a capacity of around 75 cats - placed almost 250 cats last year. So no, they are not doing a bad job. And considering that virtually none of those cats were kittens, but were middle aged to older and many with health problems, they are doing a great job. Their volunteers and doners give their all to the place. Some of the cats may never get placed due to medical or temperment problems. But the small shelter isn't passing them on to others or putting them down, they are committing to a life time of care. Care which is expensive and doesn't generate income.

But they don't have large facilities where for $1 million donors can have an adoption counseling room named for them (I'm not making this up). And you know what, big time doners like to go to fancy dinners and have facilities named for them. And they don't want to have to clean dirty litter boxes, do laundry and pill cats.

I have seen a few older cats at the large facility but I have never, ever seen 1)a cat that was seriously deformed (missing a limb or eye), 2)a cat that needed insulin shots, 3)a FIV+ cat. I guess if you only take in animals that are in great shape, the right age etc you can be No Kill and still have plenty of money left over to have fun with.

I think if the average small doner like myself knew about cost of salaries, big doner parties, flights for board members at the big shelter, versus the same at the small shelter they'd be appalled.

But its much like the pet food issue - great PR convinces people that you've got the best product. Its only when you scratch below the surface that you can really find out what's going on.

Christie Keith

Oh, okay, well that's a different situation.

However, the reality is that charities... all charities... compete for volunteers and donations. Some of them are big corporate machines and squander the funds they are given on making nice with bigwigs and useless things that look pretty but do no good.

And others huddle in dark, dank cheerless spaces and curse the big shiny organizations that are sucking up all their donors.

Both of these are problems.

I personally like to see the best of both: Organizations with good ratings as far as donor dollars to services, good policies, and good mission fulfillment, along with having good media relations, a good public image, and positive public outreach.

As a member of the media, I am often frustrated by the good things I hear of charities doing who don't respond to my requests for information, photos, or interviews. If they want to continue to exist, they need to get serious, and as long as they think "PR" is a dirty word, they're not doing justice to their mission.

I personally do not give money to organizations who have high administrative costs, or who cover those costs with donations, at least. I do support well-run organizations who understand that a clean, well-lit facility, an effective public outreach department, and a good public image are all part of being effective.

I shouldn't have to scratch beneath the surface to find out what's going on with good organizations. Telling me what's going on is part of what makes an organization good. If you start an organization that needs donations and volunteers to function correctly, you simply CANNOT expect to run it without effective public outreach ("PR") and some positive public face. You just can't, and to try is to do a real disservice to the animals you want to help.

And if you're running a big money sucking Mega-Charity with humongous wasteful overhead, then you won't get my support, either. And calling wasteful overhead "public relations" doesn't make it any better. And yet, I'd throw a ball for bigwigs tomorrow if it would get me a million bucks for my shelter, as long as it didn't come with strings I couldn't live with. You have to take things like that on a case by case basis.

It's nice to be ethical, but you can be effective and ethical at the same time. And being small and understaffed and underfunded and have poor volunteer rates and staff morale is not effective, while sometimes being splashy and even wasteful is.

I would rather not have to choose between two poor options, though. I like to try to find organizations that get the balance right. :)

Gina Spadafori

That's one way of looking at pet insurance -- HMO-style, you could say.

I look at it another way.

I can budget for preventive care and a certain amount of normal sick-pet care. What I can't budget for is a catastrophic illness of the nature that has you pondering a second on the mortgage.

So I have chosen pet-health insurance with a high deductible ($500, I wish $1,000 were offered, because, again, I can budget for that) and a high co-pay and high cap.

That means if I end up with vet costs in the thousands, I can swing it. And by the way, this kind of coverage is less expensive -- and I can budget for that, too!


I greatly sympathize with NPH's difficulties in paying for expensive surgery for her MinPin, and I understand why she feels that pet insurance might have been helpful. But unless pet insurance plans have become much more realistic over the past few years, I'm not at all sure that they are a viable solution to the financial problems that responsible pet owners often face.

Five years ago, I purchased an insurance policy from a major company for my Golden Retriever puppy. It was a complete waste of money. I ended up spending more for my puppy's care and for the insurance than I would have spent on her care without getting a policy.

Two determinations on the company's part were especially galling:

1. When I had my dog spayed, the company covered the surgery, but refused to cover the anesthesia (which, in fact, comprised most of the vet's bill). The reason given was that spaying is an elective procedure. Was the company suggesting that I should have had my dog spayed *without* anesthesia? Or were they saying that I shouldn't have had her spayed at all, even though I did not intend to breed her?

2. The insurance company claimed that my policy covered the costs of microchip insertion -- so I went ahead and had that done for my dog. My vet charged me $45.00 for that procdure. The company's reimbursement? (Drum roll, please): $5.00. This is coverage?

Needless to say, I did not renew the policy. And I would urge anyone who is considering the purchase of such a policy to do a lot of research and number crunching first.



Here's one that looks like a candidate for Mr. Winograd's ideas. Apparently the folks at this facility said they "didn't have the funds" to either treat or euthanize this poor dog:



I went to Nathan Winogrod's seminar last night, and while my head didn't explode, my eyes almost popped out of my head. The number of shelters (particularly municipal) doing a really crappy job is appalling!

The most shocking thing were the photos of shelters with high kill rates. Empty cages but animals being killed for 'lack of space.' Filthy cages, animals in their feces, etc. And these were shelters were told ahead of time that they were being audited!! Doesn't sound like a bunch of dedicated, animal lovers working at these shelters.

My 'favorite' - a shelter where a new manager who tried to keep cages filled to lower the kill rate but was fired because his staff complained that it made for too much work!

I urge everyone, to make a visit to their local 'dog pound'. Or the Humane organization that had the community contract for dealing (killing) stray animals. See what's going on. Is the place filthy? Are the animals being well cared for? How do they define unadoptable animals? What percentage of the animals are they killing? And then raise a stink if they are doing a poor job.

Remember, if its a municipal shelter, its YOUR tax money that's being wasted.

Concha Castaneda

I just got a copy of Redemption through Interlibrary loan. I highly recommend this book. I am only halfway through but the kill shelters (dog pounds) read very much like a Nazi concentration camps for pets. The Nazis streamlined killing in the 40s. They were very efficient at it. The folks running the camps had pretty much the same attitudes as the pound people "who are just following policy".

The other thing that I am struck by is reading this book after Menu pet poisoning. The same organizations that have been silent throughout this horrific time (vets) seem to be the same organizations (AMVA) that opposed the champions that have tried to save animal lives since the early days. And the same tactics are used. Blame the public. Us stupid pet owners! Somehow we don't know what is right for our pets (table scraps) and the unknown (commercial pet food) is better. We are too stupid to make these decisions for our pets. The fact that vets opposed the cheaper spay neuter clinics is almost as revealing as vets opposing us to make our own food. I certainly will finish the book but I can see clearly how the almighty dollar bill is the motivating factor every step of the way (historically). I will be visiting my local pound here in Columbus Ohio very soon. I hope those of you who can not afford this book will try to obtain it through interlibrary loan. Here in Columbus most books that are borrowed (through interlibrary loan) are also eventually bought by the library. This is a book that every pet owner and lover should read.


They Eat What We Are

(Article on pet food industry)


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