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Eugene Weekly : 4.26.07

The Road to No-Kill

Can Lane County stop killing pets?

by Camilla Mortensen

When he was brought in to the pound, the orange tabby cat's impound form stated, "chubby fellow with a nice attitude." And later the sign on his metal cage read, "I'm Garfield without the attitude. I'm the best kitty here because: I'm already neutered; I'm comfortable with dogs and other cats; everybody can hold me, even kids."

Pit bulls make up the bulk of the dogs that wind up at LCARA. This dog waited patiently for three weeks at the shelter before someone took her home.
Euthanized pets are picked up from LCARA each week to be rendered into bone and meat meal.
Garfield, an orange tabby like this one, was killed before he could find a home. Nationwide 56 percent of dogs and 71 percent of cats that enter animal shelters are euthanized.
Picked up for killing chickens – an offense punishable by death in Lane County – this dog awaits his fate.

Garfield never found his way to a new home with dogs, cats and kids. Early on a Friday morning, the tabby cat was pulled out of his cage, and his veins were filled with a dose of sodium pentobarbital that first stopped his breathing and then his heart. His limp body was then placed in a garbage can. After less than a month at Lane County Animal Regulation Authority (LCARA), Garfield was killed.

Garfield is only one of the approximately 1,000 dogs and cats that have been euthanized so far by LCARA in 2007. A growing number of people think they might have a better solution to Lane County's animal overpopulation problem. The No Kill Community Coalition (NKCC) was formed in Lane County to help prevent cats like Garfield as well as dogs and other companion animals from being unnecessarily killed. They have asked the Lane County Commissioners to pass a resolution requiring the county to adopt a no-kill philosophy.

Killing pets is a messy and emotional business no matter who is doing it. Many people are unclear who exactly is "the pound" in Eugene — LCARA or Greenhill. Others don't understand what the designation "no-kill" really means. If they do know what LCARA is, some people are put off by its reputation for killing animals. Others wonder if Eugene and the rest of Lane County are willing to put out the human and monetary resources to stop killing its stray cats and dogs.

Eugene is home to thousands of animal lovers: People who take their beloved pets to get their nails clipped and polished and buy them cute outfits and collars with crystals. People who spend hundreds of dollars to take sick pets to specialists and acupuncturists and herbalists. So in a town filled with businesses devoted to adored pets and the people who love them, why did we let a nice chubby cat get killed?

At a February County Commissioner's meeting, LCARA manager Mike Wellington said, "Garfield should not have been put down, but here again, Garfield had been there over 30 days."

LCARA kennel supervisor Tom Howard said at the same meeting, "It was a space issue."

 

Euthanasia

Last year, LCARA impounded 1,710 cats, and 1,188 of those cats were euthanized. Of the cats that were killed, 1,093 were listed as nonadoptable, 42 were killed by owner request, and 53 were killed for lack of space.

The dogs of Lane County fare slightly better. So far this year 1,561 dogs have been impounded, and 232 have been euthanized as unadoptable. Lack of space was the reason listed for 29 canine deaths; 105 were killed by owner request.

Euthanasia at LCARA takes place in a small room with a concrete floor and incongruously cheerful purple walls. The walls were painted by LCARA volunteers to cheer up the animal control officers and the animals they must kill. Near the euthanasia room is the storage freezer, where animals are placed in garbage cans until they are picked up.

There is a door to the outside where officers can go and recuperate, if needed, after putting an animal down. The schedule rotates, but with a small staff, officers will find themselves killing cats and dogs almost daily for days at a time.

As he stood in the small room, Wellington said, "There isn't an officer here who hasn't cried in this room." One of his officers, a 29-year LCARA veteran, isn't asked to euthanize spaniels because he has one of his own and finds it too upsetting to kill dogs that look like his pet.

"You have to be very strong," Wellington said.

Euthanasia, from the Greek "good death," is accomplished through the injection of sodium pentobarbital, a drug sold under brand names such as Sleepaway and Fatal-Plus. This is, according to the Humane Society of the United States, the safest and least stressful choice. The animal first goes unconscious, and then it dies. This is the source of the euphemisms that often get used like "put to sleep" or "put down."

Once or twice a week, Baker Commodities, a rendering company, comes and picks up LCARA's garbage cans full of dead cats and dogs as well as animals from local veterinarians and other businesses and takes them to Baker's plant in Washington. LCARA pays Baker approximately $14,400 a year for this service. Wellington said he was told the animals from LCARA are rendered into fertilizer and shipped to China and Korea.

An article about Baker in Render magazine states that the company sells tallow and meat and bone meal in 20 different countries. Cosmetics, organic detergents and even biodiesel are made from Baker Commodities' products. Renderers often refer to their business as "the original recyclers."

The sort of meat and bone meal that Baker produces is indeed used in fertilizers. These "meals" are also used in pet foods. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), "meat meal" is "the rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of any added blood, hair, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents."

In response to an EW call, the Seattle office of Baker Commodities, where Lane County's animals are rendered, first denied servicing LCARA. They then corrected themselves and referred EW's questions to the L.A. office. Baker executive vice-president of operations Dennis Luckey said, "It is against our policy to comment on our process." So exactly what happens to the dogs and cats euthanized at LCARA and other local businesses once Baker has picked them up isn't entirely clear.

Ben Kelley, a former office manager for a animal hospital, says that many area vets, uncomfortable with the rendering of the animals into fertilizer and other products, send remains to Rest Assured Animal Cremation in Springfield.

FDA studies have shown traces of sodium pentobarbital in some pet foods. But the agency said there was no cat or dog DNA in the foods they tested. Food Pets Die For author Ann Martin has criticized these tests, calling them "vague." So it is unclear how the euthanasia drug is getting into pet foods. The FDA report suggests it is via cattle and horse euthanasia. However, cattle are rarely killed via lethal injection, and horses are rarely used in pet food — their meat is worth more as an export for humans to consume.

Many might find the idea of rendered dogs and cats in pet food or even fertilizer disgusting, but for members of the No Kill Community Coalition, the solution lies in preventing unwanted dogs and cats from being killed in the first place — and preventing unwanted pets in general.

 

LCARA, Greenhill and the NKCC

Many of NKCC's members are pet rescues and businesses along with private citizens. LCARA has taken note of the no-kill goal, stating on its website that one of its goals is to "support and implement the No Kill philosophy as resources allow." According to Wellington, "the overall euthanasia rate is down 29 percent."

But for many, like the local group Voices for Animals, LCARA is not doing enough.

Lane County Code states that after impounding a dog, LCARA is required to hold it for 72 hours. After that time, LCARA may offer the dog for adoption or destroy it. Cats are not regulated by the Lane County Code, and LCARA is not required by law to maintain its approximately 30-cage cattery. The facility has approximately 30 dog kennels. That is not enough for a county that "is the [geographic] size of the state of Connecticut," Wellington said.

LCARA's mandate is to enforce the animal control code, maintain or "contract for maintenance a shelter or other place for all animals which are subject to impoundment" and collect the associated costs and fees. LCARA is paid for out of Lane County funds and some donations. Wellington said, "In all reality we are animal control and enforcement for all animals in the county and the city of Eugene."

LCARA is also contracted to provide services to cities like Springfield, Cottage Grove and Creswell, among others.

LCARA and Greenhill Humane Society, SPCA, are separate entities. Greenhill is a non-profit humane society. Like other Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCAs), it has its own policies and procedures. Through a "second chance" program, Greenhill receives several LCARA dogs four days a week, said Johnni Prince, executive director of Greenhill.

Eugene also has many animal rescues and resources, including SARA, Luv-A-Bull Pit-Bull Rescue and Pro-Bone-O as well as numerous private rescues and foster homes. Other groups, such as WAG (Willamette Animal Guild), work to develop resources such as low-cost spay and neuter.

However LCARA is the only government entity responsible for animal control in Eugene and Lane County.

Voices for Animals recently took out an advertisement in The Register-Guard alleging that LCARA is "woefully mismanaged" and that animals "are labeled vicious when they are actually deeply frightened."

The group further alleged that LCARA refuses "to let a true foster care program to take root," and does not "fully utilize an extensive volunteer base."

Shortly after the ad was placed, the Lane County Commissioners held a public hearing on the proposed no-kill resolution. Discussion and public comment lasted for more than three hours. The commissioners requested that public comment not involve personal attacks. Despite the caution, several people spoke critically of LCARA's management.

Katie Hull Anderson, on the other hand, praised the staff of LCARA for their handling of "the lost and unwanted animals their stupid owners don't know how to care for."

Almost 20 people spoke in favor of adopting a no-kill philosophy. Speakers included Flo Byrne, who said her research showed that going no kill was "revenue enhancing" because donations increase. Scott Bartlett, chair of the 2003 Animal Regulation Advisory Task Force, spoke against the killings. Bartlett asked the commissioners, "Have you no compassion? Can't we do better?"

 

What is No-Kill?

Much of the debate at the hearing centered on an understanding of just what "no-kill" is. Many find the phrase confusing. Greenhill director Prince said the shelter is "not at odds philosophically with the NKCC," but there is a "language problem." Greenhill identifies itself as a "low kill" shelter. Prince said Greenhill has not euthanized an animal for space in six years though the facility does euthanize for other reasons. Greenhill will start keeping and publicizing its euthanasia statistics in June of this year, Prince said.

However, she said unlike LCARA, Greenhill is not "required to accept all comers." Greenhill currently has an eight-week waiting list for people who wish to relinquish their cats. Groups like Greenhill and Shelter Animal Resource Alliance (SARA) are growing anxious as "kitten season" begins and their kennels and resources become strained.

The no-kill concept stems from the work of Nathan Winograd , director of the nonprofit No Kill Advocacy Center in California. According a recent article in Reader's Digest, Winograd gave up a job as a corporate lawyer to become executive director of the Tompkins County, New York SPCA. While there he reduced the kill rate to only 1 in 10 and doubled the average donation. (Currently LCARA statistics show a 47 percent kill rate.) Winograd then moved on to San Francisco and became director of operations for the San Francisco SPCA, which is now a no-kill shelter, before forming his no-kill advocacy group.

The no-kill philosophy does not actually mean no animals will ever be killed. According to the NKCC, "the term 'no kill,' as popularized by Nathan Winograd, and as utilized by NKCC, means 'no killing of adoptable or medically/behaviorally treatable companion animals, or feral cats.'"

Many of the members of the NKCC came to the cause after eight cats were allegedly trapped and then shot in the head by Swanson's Pest Management in July 2005. Others joined after Nathan Winograd came to Eugene in July 2006 and spoke to a room of more than 200 people about becoming a no-kill community.

According to Wellington, there is "no government animal control that is no-kill." But the city of San Francisco claims to be no-kill, as does Tompkins County, and Maricopa County, Ariz. New York City has a goal of no-kill by 2008. Charlottesville, Virginia is going no-kill. Los Angeles Animal Services calls itself "on the road to no-kill" and provides low cost and free spay and neuter programs, including a "Customize Your Pit Bull" day in Watts, providing free vaccinations, microchipping and spay/neuter services.

How can these cities and counties claim they are not killing excess cats and dogs if they, like LCARA, are mandated to regulate and control animals? The city or county animal regulation teams up with no-kill animal shelters, rescues and foster homes, and these groups then take on the dogs and cats until they are adopted.

However, according to Winograd, sheltering, rescuing and fostering is only part of the solution. In order to become no-kill, Eugene needs affordable spay/neuter; better adoption programs; trapping, spaying/neutering and releasing feral cats; pet retention counseling (helping people with pets with behavioral problems keep them, rather than giving them up to a shelter); medical and behavior rehabilitation for impounded animals; and better public relations.

 

Public Image

LCARA's public image is not warm and fuzzy. Winograd's August 2006 report on LCARA alleged that "the shelter is being run as a quasi-police department." LCARA officers wear badges, "police type uniforms" and are issued bullet-proof vests. The newest LCARA purchase is a black Ford F150 pickup truck. Wellington referred to LCARA officers as "first responders."

Winograd's report on LCARA further alleged "misallocated resources" such as $85,000 spent on a software management system. Winograd stated that such shelter management software is currently available for free.

The report references critics who claim that the shelter has "no systematic policy" with regard to euthanasia and that decisions "are often made capriciously." Winograd suggests that a decision as final and irrevocable as euthanasia should be subject to "standard written operating procedures."

The report also critiques the kennel operating hours, which are 10 am to 5:30 pm. It also closes from noon to 1 pm for lunch. This, according to the report, eliminates adopters and volunteers who work or have school-age children. In response to suggestions for increased kennel hours Wellington said, "I don't disagree with that. Ideally we'd be open seven days a week, including Sundays."

Jenny Johnson, a Springfield resident who drove to Berkeley, Calif., to adopt her pit bull, Martina, said LCARA's website is problematic in the age of the Internet. She said the pictures are not attractive and are difficult to find; there is little to no information about the dogs, and most of the animals are not listed on Petfinder.com, the widely used pet adoption site where Johnson found Martina. Moreover, she said, "What really sold me on Martina was her story."

Wellington said, "They all have a story." And said unfortunately LCARA "doesn't have the time and staff" to list animals on Petfinder with pictures and stories.

LCARA volunteers like Starly Pupke and Lesa Fisher have asked that LCARA become more "transparent" and keep public records of what happens to each animal. For example, animals that have been sent to Greenhill as part of the second chance program are not tracked once they leave LCARA. If the animal is euthanized at Greenhill instead of LCARA, no report is made to LCARA, nor is the euthanasia listed in LCARA's numbers.

Prince calls allegations that LCARA sends animals to Greenhill to be euthanized, thereby hiding the numbers of animals killed by LCARA, "ridiculous."

Many of LCARA's critics also allege that while staff members are trained and certified in euthanasia, they are not trained and certified in temperament testing, nor is there a veterinarian on staff. Instead, LCARA staff attempts to assess and make medical and behavioral decisions.

Wellington said that sick animals are transported to local vets who attempt to stabilize them with a spending limit of about $60. The vets, he said, "donate a lot."

 

No-Kill Now?

Michelle Parris founded Grateful Dogs Rescue in San Francisco and recently helped the Coos County Animal Shelter go for three years without euthanizing any adoptable healthy dogs. She maintains that it is not impossible for Eugene to accomplish what she helped the animal controls of San Francisco and Coos County do — stop the killing of healthy adoptable animals.

"If people come together," she said, "you need a single nonprofit doing the work." You also need "strong volunteers and donors that believe in them." Lane County, she said, "should have a beautiful shelter by now."

Parris and other animal advocates nationwide stress the need for low-cost spay and neuter and many volunteers. "Volunteers come in and do an excellent job," she said.

When Parris learned of comments made at the public hearing by Cheryl Dyer, president of the county employees union, (AFSCME) who said an increase in volunteers will be expensive because "they need supervision," Parris said, "I had to laugh." One program at LCARA, the off-site PetSmart adoptions by volunteers such as Julie McDonnell, has resulted in the adoptions of almost 100 cats since it began.

At the public hearing, Commissioners Pete Sorenson, Bill Dwyer and Bill Fleenor were optimistic about the possibility of Lane County going no-kill. Fleenor's efforts on the no-kill issue were noted several times at the hearing. Faye Stewart was reserved in his opinions, and Bobby Green was dubious about the meaning of the phrase "no-kill." At the conclusion of the hearing, however, the commissioners agreed to appoint an Implementation Task Force on the no-kill issue.

This Task Force hit a snag when a county administrator said the Task Force needed a $25,000 facilitator. This issue has since been resolved, and according to Sorenson, "we are inching our way towards a no-kill philosophy." He said it's "not as fast as I want, but neither are we getting stopped."

If Lane County is able to adopt a "no-kill philosophy" and stop killing healthy adoptable animals, then cats like Garfield will one day find homes with families rather than end up as fertilizer or "meat meal."

There is one point upon which Wellington and the no-kill advocates agree: No one wants to be killing all these pets. "We wouldn't be in this profession," Wellington said, "if our goal was just to kill animals."

 

Interested in adopting a pet, volunteering or becoming a foster home? Here are just a few of Eugene's animal resources:

Note: If you are interested in being on the No-Kill Task Force, contact your county commissioners.

Animals Inc. Collaboration of animal rescues. Links to dog training and other resources. 686-6768. www.animalsinc.org/

Greenhill Humane Society Monthly volunteer and foster orientations. Many dogs and cats available for adoption. 689-1503. www.green-hill.org/

LCARA: Lane County Animal Regulation Authority Offering a discount on cat adoptions. Cats and dogs available. Volunteer and foster opportunities. 682-3645. www.lanecounty.org/animals/

NKCC: No Kill Community Coalition Meetings on the second Monday of each month at 6 pm, Harris Hall, Lane County Court House building. www.nokillcoalition.org/

Pro-Bone-O Caring for pets of the homeless. 607-8089. www.proboneo.org/

SARA: Shelter Animal Resource Alliance Currently encouraging the adoption of adult cats. 607-8892. www.sarasavesanimals.org/

WAG: Willamette Animal Guild Raising money for a low-cost spay/neuter clinic. 345-3566. www.wagwag.org/