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Eugene Weekly : News : 08.03.06

Pet Politics

Animal welfare advocate proposes 'no kill' policy for Lane County.

BY MARTHA CALHOON

While it seems there are few things about which County Commissioners Faye Stewart and Bill Dwyer agree, a commitment to animal welfare is one of them. This was demonstrated in the July 20 event cosponsored by the two commissioners proposing a "no-kill" policy for Lane County animal shelters. The roughly 225 attendees at the presentation included both Stewart and Dwyer, as well as Commissioner Peter Sorenson, Mayor Kitty Piercy, County Administrator Bill Van Vacter, Springfield City Councilor Christine Lundberg and a slew of prominent veterinarians and animal welfare advocates from throughout the community.

The three-hour presentation was given by Nathan Winograd, a consultant for No-Kill Solutions, who successfully implemented no-kill programs in San Francisco, upstate New York, Philadelphia and Charlottesville, Va. Could Eugene be next?

A Decade of Saving Lives

Under Winograd's direction, the city of San Francisco went no-kill in 1994; its shelters have not euthanized an animal for space or resource reasons since. Winograd went on to test his policy as the shelter manager in the rural community of Tompkins County, N.Y., where his comprehensive, community-based effort reduced the death rate of impounded animals by 75 percent, leaving only vicious animals or those injured beyond rehabilitation to be put down. Similarly, Philadelphia went from an 88 percent death rate for impounded animals to 34 percent today; Charlottesville, Va., is now saving 95 percent of all homeless animals.

The innovative approach that has made these models so successful involves rejecting what Winograd calls the myth of "too many animals, not enough homes." Winograd advocates a more proactive approach for shelters than acting merely as enforcement agencies. Rather than blaming the public for irresponsibility, no-kill shelters engage people by providing no-cost and low-cost spay/neuter clinics.

Surprisingly, the policy of not euthanising adoptable pets has not produced a glut of unwanted shelter animals. "No-kill doesn't mean you save the animals and then let them rot in the shelter," says Winograd. "It means you keep them moving through the system."

This proactive approach is what Winograd believes Lane County is missing. "Animals need to be brought to where people live, work and play. Lane County animal control agencies are not located in the center of town. There is no retail traffic there, no foot traffic, no residences. Animals need to be available for adoption at the PetSmarts, the Petcos, the shopping malls."

The Low Cost of Caring

The question now is whether this plan is feasible for Lane County. Dwyer, who supports no-kill, is skeptical. "No-kill is an ideal," he says, "but I don't think it would ever work around here. The government needs resources, and it requires a tremendous commitment from the community."

Winograd, however, has no doubt that it can be achieved in Lane County, and he has the support of many prominent community members. "I am very excited about this," says Sorenson, who is planning a September 26 meeting at the Hilyard Community Center to follow up on Winograd's presentation. "I'd like to see a resolution from the Lane County Board of Commissioners that we want LCARA [Lane County Animal Regulation Authority] and various other partners to sign on to the idea that we're going to have a goal of not killing these animals. We are going to try to implement policies that will lead us to low-cost and no-cost spay/neuter programs that will pay off in terms of lower death rates and fewer unadoptable animals. That's the direction I'd like to push in."

Sorenson feels that the greatest advantage of Winograd's plan is that it doesn't generate additional costs for taxpayers; instead, existing agency revenues are redirected. "This is not just a liberal program of throwing money at a problem," he says.

When the city of Los Angeles began to invest in spay/neuter programs, shelter impounds decreased by half, Winograd says. The result was that for every dollar invested in spay/neuter programs, L.A. taxpayers saved $10 in animal control and public health costs.

Winograd suggests that a no-kill policy is especially feasible in Lane County, which is relatively close to Oregon's only veterinary school at OSU. He believes that using faculty clinicians and students in need of on-the-job training could be a cost-effective way of treating impounded animals and spaying or neutering them at low cost, as well as rehabilitating those with behavioral issues, making them viable for adoption.

Policies, Not Labels

Despite the benefits of no-kill, some shelters are reluctant to commit to the policy. Greenhill Humane Society Executive Director Johnni Prince supports no-kill in principal, but worries about the implications of the label. "No-kill" refers only to animals that are adoptable, but vicious dogs or animals that are badly injured or terminal are still candidates for euthanasia. "Greenhill does not identify itself as no-kill," Prince says. "We don't want to be restricted by the term because it is so misunderstood, but we are already doing a lot of what [Winograd] recommends. We are a low-kill shelter."

Prince estimates the death rate at Greenhill to be below the national average and says that space issues in the shelter are resolved through an extensive animal foster care program, not through euthanasia. Statistics for last year indicate that LCARA and Greenhill combined euthanized just over 50 percent of cats and about 16 percent of dogs.

Prince acknowledges that the Humane Society is not entirely in compliance with Winograd's proposed system and agrees that there are areas where Greenhill could improve. She says, however, that despite Winograd's cost-effective measures for improving shelter care, resources are still an issue. This is especially true for LCARA, which faces the additional challenge of taking in strays. Greenhill, for the most part, does not.

To jumpstart a lower kill policy, Suzanne Arlie of Arlie and Company has proposed a challenge grant: If the Willamette Animal Guild can raise $15,000 to provide spay/neuter services targeted at low-income Lane County residents, Arlie and Company will match that figure.

In the communities where no-kill has been implemented, local pet-related businesses — which profit when people have more pets — have supported adoption agencies with discounted products, sponsorship and services. These savings can then be passed on to pet owners as added incentives to adopt from shelters rather than pet stores.

Winograd explains the overwhelming local support for no-kill, as demonstrated by his standing-room-only presentation: "People are pretty nuts about their pets. It doesn't matter if you're a Democrat or a Republican or what your background is — we love our dogs and cats. This issue can really be the great uniter."   

A follow-up meeting for a no-kill resolution in Lane County will be held Sept. 26 at the Hilyard Community Center. For details, contact Peter Sorenson's office at 682-3721 or email Peter.Sorenson@co.lane.or.us For more information on no-kill, visit nokillsolutions.com