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From: Animal People April 1999


Building shelters won't build a no-kill nation

On pages 12 and 13 of this edition, the Duffield Family Foundation, now doing business as Maddie's Fund, answers the question weighing most heavily on the minds of ANIMAL PEOPLE readers since October 1998, when we announced that PeopleSoft founders Dave and Cheryl Duffield had committed the entire $200 million assets of their foundation to making the U.S. a no-kill nation, and had hired Richard Avanzino to direct the effort, beginning at his retirement after 24 years as president of the San Francisco SPCA.

The $200 million question, bluntly put, is "How do we get on the gravy train?"

The answer, summarized, is "Build a railroad."

As the ad explains, Maddie's Fund wants to see animal care and control organizations for harmonious partnerships, to reach the no-kill destination on a specified timetable. Get there early and you might get a bonus--but crash like Casey Jones, cannonballing along in disregard of others stalled on the tracks, and you won't even get a ticket to ride.

This is a new approach to animal protection grant-giving, as befits a foundation which from the outset may distribute more money per year than all the others which give to animal shelters combined. Grant-giving agencies in the animal protection field have traditionally not tied their giving to performance--almost as if expecting failure.

Such is not surprising, given the many other self-defeating policies and practices prevalent in the humane world. Among the more obvious examples are subsidizing unpopular civic animal control duties with donated money, then wondering why donations lag; fining owners of animals found running at large so excessively that the fines become disincentives for licensing and reclaiming lost pets; adopting out unneutered animals; and screening adoptors so stringently as to preclude many adoptions which might succeed, just to prevent a relative handful of failures.

Identifying and dismantling obstacles to success were a major part of Avanzino's accomplishment in making San Francisco the first U.S. no-kill city via the Adoption Pact, which took effect on April 1, 1994. Avanzino's ability to "think outside the box" and willingness to try unconventional approaches was what attracted Duffield support. The Duffields made their money themselves through personal initiative, and they expect results.

The Maddie's Fund guidelines also stipulate that, "As a general rule, Maddie's Fund will not award grants specifically for building projects."

This may shock the many humane society directors who have beseiged us since October 1998 with requests for Avanzino's contact information, so that they could lobby him for money with which to expand or replace their overcrowded shelters. They typically cite an urgent need to renovate and/or relocate, to attract more prospective adoptors and donors; claim an equally urgent need to add cages in order to hold more animals, for longer; and assert that this will be essential to achieve no-kill in their communities.

Many express in as many words their expectation that costly building projects will be the kind of proposal most likely to win support from Maddie's Fund.

Their misconception is understandable, especially since Avanzino from the beginning has emphasized that the Maddie's Fund grant-giving would be performance-based. Traditionally, animal protection donors who have monitored performance have been most inclined to favor building projects--perhaps because seeing if a shelter or cat room or new set of dog runs is actually constructed is relatively easy, or perhaps (as the cynical would have it) because building projects provide the most opportunity for benefactors to see their names memorialized in stone or bronze.

The Maddie's Fund aversion to building projects may particularly surprise those who have visited the Oakland SPCA adoption atrium, opened in 1994, and Maddie's Adoption Center, at the San Francisco SPCA, opened in 1997.

The Duffields supplied major funding for both. Both represent radical breaks from conventional thinking about how to build an animal shelter. The Oakland SPCA design is intended to make visiting the shelter pleasant for humans. Maddie's Adoption Center carries the concept one step farther, intending to make a stay there pleasant for the animals as well.

Obviously Avanzino and the Duffields would like to see the Oakland SPCA and Maddie's Adoption Center design innovations copied as widely as possible. With Duffield encouragement, both the Oakland SPCA and the SF/SPCA have put much effort into publicizing their facilities, encouraging tours by personnel from other humane societies.

But, in direct discussion with ANIMAL PEOPLE, Avanzino made plain why funding building projects won't be what Maddie's Fund is all about. Buildings, per se, don't reduce shelter killing. More holding space may delay the killing longer, and more attractive and convenient space may increase adoption rates, yet the real keys to reducing killing are cutting dog and cat births, the approach that has already reduced shelter killing nationwide by about two-thirds in 15 years, and keeping pets in homes.

The latter, a longtime SF/SPCA emphasis, is perhaps the least addressed aspect of why U.S. shelters are still killing about 5.5 million dogs and cats per year--but of the 1.5 to 2.2 million dogs who are killed, about half enter shelters as owner-surrenders, and three of the top seven reasons for owner surrenders of both dogs and cats, according to the National Council for Pet Population Study, have to do with the scarcity of pet-friendly housing.

Maddie's Fund wants to encourage coalitions of animal welfare organizations to address the totality of pet overpopulation in their respective communities.

Some building projects may be underwritten, Avanzino told us, if they are part of multi-dimensional approaches, likely to verifiably and immediately reduce shelter killing.

But Avanzino also pointed out that of all the things humane societies can do to reduce killing, building new facilities is probably the easiest to fund from local sources. There are the donor recognition opportunities--and, more important, physical improvements may be funded by mortgage. Any humane society in business a reasonable length of time should have a record of cash flow and a credit rating. If it already has a shelter, or even undeveloped land, it also has collateral. If the humane society has the initiative and imagination to start an appealing building project, it should be able to develop ever-expanding community support for it as the work progresses and the results become visible--just as other charitable institutions do, whether constructing churches, libraries, fire departments, or even whole universities.

As well as encouraging humane societies to develop community support for their building projects, Maddie's Fund also hopes to help them avoid an all-too-common mistake: trying to avoid the perceived risk in taking out a loan by taking the far greater risk of trying to amass all the necessary capital before breaking ground. Construction costs have risen far faster than interest rates over the past 20 years. Consequently, many humane societies that have saved their pennies toward a new shelter for years or even decades are still saving, and are farther from their goals than ever, while mortgages might have been paid off long ago.

Most important, Maddie's Fund wants grant applicants to rethink their priorities, and to question whether their building plans are even appropriate.

There is nothing new in this. American Humane Association field services coordinator Nick Gilman has told humane societies for years that just building bigger and more attractive warehouses for animals is not the answer to pet overpopulation, and that investing in neutering lowers their killing rates faster. Gilman also points out that if humane societies facilitate enough neutering to keep surplus dogs and cats from being born, they don't need even as much cage space as many already have.

Not more cages but no cages

The North Shore Animal League a solid decade ago and Maddie's Adoption Center much more recently have both demonstrated a further point: that if a shelter through effective promotion and facility design halves the length of time animals wait for adoption, it doubles the number of animals it can accommodate per year, without adding any cages. Thus how a shelter is built and how it operates matter vastly more than how big it is.

Finally, shelters with a clear need to build new and better animal care facilities should be moving away from traditional caging and kenneling as rapidly as possible.

Kenneling started as long as 3,000 years ago, when ancient huntmasters began housing hounds in horse stalls alongside their masters' steeds. The technique has evolved with only scant refinement since it was first depicted in frescos by the ancient Greeks and Babylonians.

Shelter caging, meanwhile, started in the Middle Ages as a means for the nightwatches who doubled as dog-and-cat-catchers to hold and drown strays (and often witches) all in one container. Horrified by animal-drownings which were managed as a public spectacle, the Women's Humane Society of Philadelphia in 1873 became the first humane organization to accept animal control duty--and redefined caging as a quarantine device. The American SPCA took the same approach to caging when it took on animal control and ended the drowning of strays in New York City in 1895. Caging was seen then not as a humane ideal, but rather as a lamentably necessary evil, until such time as rabies might be vanquished.

Prolonged kenneling and caging in small, noisy spaces tends to drive dogs and cats insane. Neither canines nor felines choose analogous accommodations in the wild. No humane society we're aware of would adopt out a dog or cat to anyone who planned to keep the animal in the equivalent of the typical shelter kennel or cage. Many shelter kennel and cage facilities might even flunk the weak Animal Welfare Act standards for laboratory dog and cat housing--as defenders of animal use in biomedical research from time to time point out.

There are now demonstrably successful alternative designs. They should be copied. A Maddie's Adoption Center is little more expensive to build, per animal handled, than a conventional state-of-the-art animal control shelter. At the low-budget end of the scale, DELTA Rescue-style straw bale doghouses are durable, sanitary, dog-friendly, easily replaced if necessary, and in "deluxe" stuccoed form could house 100 dogs for 10 years in quarters much like the homes that wild dogs dig for themselves, at construction cost of under $20,000.

Priority #1, though, is lowering the number of animals who require sheltering. As ANIMAL PEOPLE reported in December 1998, by the most conservative estimate each neutering operation on a dog or cat prevents four surplus births per year over the next three years. All U.S. clinics combined, public and private, are now fixing about eight million dogs and 12.6 million cats per year, extrapolating from data published by the American Veterinary Medical Association. It will be necessary to fix an additional half million dogs and eight million cats per year, six million of them feral, to make the U.S. a no-kill nation.

That can be done. Dog neuterings per year rose by 1.6 million and cat neuterings per year rose by four million, 1987-1998.

Adding to the momentum already built by such other national leaders as PETsMART, the North Shore Animal League, the Fund for Animals, Friends of Animals, the SF/SPCA, and the Animal Foundation, Maddie's Fund offers the wherewithal to reach the national no-kill destination--if priorities are kept in order.