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S P E C I A L R E P O RT

SCRIPPS HOWARD

NEWS SERVICE

While more and more animal shelters adopt ‘no-kill’ policies, millions of healthy dogs and cats still get put down each year. Why?
SPRING 2012

Sheltered from harm?

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Nathan Winograd calls it the modern Underground Railroad. It’s not for people fleeing persecution, but for dogs and cats escaping It’s not for people Nathan Winograd calls it the modern Underground Railroad.extermination. fleeing persecution, but Through phone calls, emails, for dogs and cats escaping extermination. websites and hand-to-hand connections, friends and strangers are collecting stray, runaway and homeless dogs and cats, then shepherding them to caring new homes — sometimes in other parts strangers are collecting Through phone calls, emails, websites and hand-to-hand connections, friends andof the country. Despite the efforts of people like Winograd — head of the No Kill Advocacy strays, runaways and homeless dogs and cat, then shepherding them to caring new homes — sometimes in Center of the country. other partsin Oakland, Calif. — 4 million dogs and cats are put down every year in U.S. pounds and shelters. In the country as a whole, a dog or cat that goes into a shelter Despite the efforts of people getting out alive, let of the No Kill Advocacyhome. in Oakland, Calif. — 4 has a 50-50 chance of like Winograd — head alone finding a new Center million dogsdecade ago putUpstate New York’s Tompkins County, Winograd helpedwhole, a dog A and cats are in down every year in U.S. pounds and shelters. In the country as a start oronethatthe first “no-kill” communities in the United alive, let alone finding a happy newU.S. cat of goes into a shelter has a 50-50 chance of getting out States. Now, in several dozen home. communities, animal lovers, shelters and government agencies collaborate to find A homesago in Upstate New York’s Tompkins County, Winograd helped start one of the first “no-kill” decade for pets that have been abandoned, lost or just down on their luck. The goal is communities least 90 percent of Now,animals. U.S. dozen communities, animal lovers, shelters and to save at in the United States. the in several government agencies collaborate to find homes for pets that haveof the nation’s 6,700 shelters on The movement is growing, too, with a majority been abandoned, lost or just down their luck. The goal is to dedicating90 percent of the adoption,be placed in new homes. and rescue groups save at least more effort to animals to spaying and neutering, and training. Regardless of whether these shelters call themselves no-kill, they want to The movement is growing, too,and pets are a of the nation’s 6,700 shelters dedicating more effort to ensure that new owners with a majority good match. They are funded in part by the adoption, spaying and neutering and training. Regardless welfare organizations. themselves no-kill, $1.3 billion donated to more than 4,000 animal of whether these shelters call they want to ensure new owners and pets are a good match. They are funded in part by the $1.3 billion These are some of the fascinating, and encouraging, findings by Scripps donated to more than 4,000 animal welfare organizations. Howard News Service reporter Lee Bowman in his investigation of how animal shelters are changing for the better. We have a long way to go, though. These are some of the fascinating, and encouraging, findings by Scripps Howard News Service reporter Lee As Bowman discovered in his reporting, everybody loves Fido, but there isn’t Bowman in his investigation of how animal shelters are changing for the better. We have a long way to go, enough energy, time, space or money to rescue every pet in need. though. Almost every week, another community announces that it wants to do a better job of caringin his reporting,cats. The deathFido, but there isn’t enough energy, time, space As Bowman discovered for dogs and everybody loves penalty for household pets has by no ormeans to rescue every pet in need. people everywhere are showing what can happen money been abolished, but good when love meets determination, organization and money: Good animals find good homes. Almost every week, another community announces that it wants to do a better job caring for dogs and cats. The deathFor more information on this and other Scripps investigations, please visit are penalty for household pets has by no means been abolished, but good people everywhere www.scrippsnews.com. love meets determination, organization and money: Good animals find showing what can happen when
good homes.

About the special report on ‘no-kill’ shelters

Sincerely, For more information on this and other Scripps investigations, please visit www.scrippsnews.com.
Thank you.

Peter Copeland

Editor & general manager

2 SPRING 2012 Peter Copeland

Editor & General Manager

SPECIAL REPORT: NO-KILL SHELTERS

CONTENTS
Growing ‘no-kill’ movement spares more animals
The “no-kill” revolution promotes the ideal of euthanizing only those shelter animals too sick or too vicious to adopt. Yet millions of pets are still at risk, even in supposed no-kill shelters.
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CONTRIBUTORS
Reporter Lee Bowman Lead editor Carol Guensburg Editorial writer Dale McFeatters Managing editor David Nielsen Other editors Carolyn Cerbin Lisa Hoffman Bob Jones Photo editor Sheila Person Multimedia editor Danielle Alberti

Graphic: Number of pets / spending on pets

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Transports help no-kill groups save cats, dogs

An informal transport network delivers unwanted dogs and cats to sometimes-distant places with better adoption prospects. PAGE 11

Graphic: No-kill shelters by the numbers

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How to evaluate an animal shelter
Questions to ask when choosing where to surrender a pet or to PAGE 16 adopt one.

Making news across America EDITORIAL: No-kill animal shelters still a work in progress

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See local shelters and communities in an interactive map at scrippsnews.com/projects/no-kill-shelters. On the cover and above: A dog waits at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington (Va.) shelter. (SHNS photo by Kristin Volk)

Graphic: No-kill animal shelters and communities map

CONTACTS
202-408-1484 www.shns.com
Scripps Howard News Service is part of the E.W. Scripps Co.

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Growing ‘no-kill’ movement spares more animals

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Scripps Howard News Service

BY LEE BOWMAN

n 1994, San Francisco became the nation’s first community to stop the city’s pound from killing healthy dogs and cats by introducing a radical combination of adoption outreach and companion-animal birth control. Now those and other “no-kill” tactics are being embraced across the country.
The chain stores PetSmart and Petco no longer sell dogs and cats; they host shelter adoptions. Spay-neuter laws and programs are more common. A loose network of rescue groups, shelters and pet-oriented businesses connects adoptable animals to new homes, sometimes hundreds of miles away, in what some animal advocates call a variation on the Underground Railroad. “If you can’t turn off the spigot, you’ve got to put the water somewhere,” said Christine Link-Owens, president of Giles County Animal Rescue in southwestern Virginia. Last year, the group transported more than 600 pets from the county pound to an adoption center outside Washington, D.C. The no-kill revolution has gone mainstream, promoting the ideal of euthanizing only those shelter animals suffering from terminal illness or injury or too vicious to live among humans. Nevertheless, millions of pets are still at risk, even in supposed no-kill shelters. With the no-kill ideal, shelters would protect and place at least 90 percent of their wards. The stark reality is that half of the estimated 8 million dogs and cats entering U.S. shelters of

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SPECIAL REPORT: NO-KILL SHELTERS

A cat rests in the shelter run by the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, Va. The league has an aggressive “trap-neuterrelease” program for feral cats, a source of overpopulation.

BY LEE BOWMAN Scripps Howard News Service
SHNS photo by Lee Bowman

all kinds last year were put down. Roughly 1,200 of the nation’s 6,700 shelters and rescue groups — more than one in six — identify themselves as no-kill, according to the nonprofit NoKillNetwork.org. But no matter how shelters label themselves, a Scripps Howard News Service examination found shelters’ performances and policies as mixed as a mutt’s pedigree. The label itself has little impact on shelter animals or their outcomes, though it divides people. Scripps analyzed a national listing of no-kill shelters from NoKillNetwork.org. It showed:

„ While the no-kill label signals good

intentions, it is no guarantee of an animal’s survival or even good care. Limited space may leave owners no choice but a public pound. „ Two-thirds of all U.S. counties lack nokill entities, though many still have effective rescue groups. And the nation’s 34 no-kill communities — where pounds, rescue groups and civic leaders collaborate to save animals — are concentrated in relatively affluent metropolitan areas. „ Data on shelter intake and euthanasia are limited. Only a few states — including IlSPRING 2012

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linois, Michigan and Virginia — require shelters to report how many animals they bring in or kill. Only a few hundred shelters nationwide voluntarily report their numbers, which critics say can be skewed or incomplete. „ Standards for shelter and pound operations are voluntary in most places, with virtually no accreditation or oversight. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says 25 to 30 percent of animal hoarding incidents it probes each year involve sites that started as no-kill shelters. “Sheltering animals has become much more diverse in this country, from traditional public shelters to sanctuaries to a couple outfitting their garage with cages,” said Boston veterinarian Martha Smith-Blackmore, who was president of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians last year. She helped write the first national guidelines for shelter care and virtually anyone caring for homeless animals. The association issued them last October. “Sheltering is not just about shoving dogs and cats in cages, but giving them a life that’s worth living,” she said. Almost all humane groups agree on basic programs needed to reduce shelter killing. Backed by a growing field of veterinary behavior specialists, shelter workers are socializing many dogs and cats whose habits or temperament once doomed them. Many facilities also educate owners, trying to stem a 20 percent return rate for shelter pets. Spay-neuter laws have been strengthened in many states or municipalities, and most shelter and rescue groups either run their own clinics or subsidize the surgery for lowerincome pet owners. Feral cats, once routinely killed, are now trapped, neutered and released back to their habitat in hundreds of communities.

SHNS photo by Lee Bowman

“It’s not as if there is resistance to those ideas to reduce euthanasia. There’s a practical problem . . . of getting this done in a very complex world.”
— Wayne Pacelle, Humane Society of the United States

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“It’s not as if there is resistance to those ideas to reduce euthanasia,” said Wayne Pacelle, who heads the Humane Society of the United States. “There’s a practical problem of execution, of getting this done in a very complex world.” Whether shelter groups call themselves nokill or not, most are applying the same tactics to improve the survival rate of creatures in their care. Disagreement arises over how quickly the changes can be widely implemented. “This is the defining issue in sheltering all over the place. We know how to make this happen,” said Nathan Winograd, who directs

Nathan Winograd, who heads the No Kill Advocacy Center in Oakland, Calif., contends every community easily could implement strategies to reduce shelters’ animal populations and boost adoptions.

SHNS photo courtesy No Kill Advocacy Center

the No Kill Advocacy Center in Oakland, Calif., and contends any community can end most shelter deaths. Nearly three dozen communities already have reached no-kill status and dozens more are closing in, reckons Susan Houser of Tallahassee, Fla., who tracks death rates and other milestones in her No-Kill News blog. These communities report 90 percent survival rates even in their open-admission shelters, which must accept any animal, not just those more likely to be placed in an adoptive home. “There is nothing unusual about limited-

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U.S. households with pets
Americans love animals. Some 62 percent of all U.S. households have at least one pet, according to the most recent survey by the American Pet Products Association.

Number of households (in millions)

46.3

38.9

admission shelters being no-kill. The revolution that is occurring is with open-admission municipal shelters that are achieving no kill,” Houser adds. While the presence of no-kill shelters suggests advocates working to reduce euthanasia, their space limitations mean owners trying to surrender a pet may have no choice but a public pound. And in many places, volunteers aren’t welcome at the pound, adoptions are rare and animals are killed because of illness, undesirable breed or limited space. “No-kill is really more about branding than animal welfare,” said Sharon Adams, executive director of the Virginia Beach SPCA, an open-admission shelter. “Our policy is that we do everything in our power to adopt every critter presented to us and not turn any away.” The shelter euthanized 13 percent of dogs and cats in 2010. The supply of animals available for adoption

12.6 5.7
DOGS CATS FISH BIRDS

5.0
SMALL ANIMALS

Number of pets (in millions)

78.2

86.4

159.7

16.2

16.0

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far outweighs demand. Although an American Pet Products Association survey shows 20 million households look for a new companion each year, just 30 percent of new pets come from shelters. “We simply need to convince a few million more families that a shelter is the best place to get a pet,” said Richard Avanzino, who helped pioneer no-kill tactics in the 1990s in San Francisco. He now heads the pro-adoption Maddie’s Fund in Alameda, Calif. Money is another challenge. Spay-neuter costs average $40, and though many shelters offer free or subsidized surgeries, “there are many pockets of the country where these programs just haven’t taken hold,” said Ed Sayres, president of the ASPCA and Avanzino’s successor in San Francisco. Many local governments argue that keeping most animals alive is too costly. But Winograd cites a 2009 study by the No Kill Advocacy Center that found the opposite: “A community that was saving 90 percent (of animals) was spending $1.90 per citizen for animal control, while another that was saving just 40 percent was spending $6 per capita.” At the ASPCA, Sayres is working to transplant “best practices” for shelter management around the country. The organization, with headquarters in New York, is part of an alliance that has reduced the city’s shelter death rate to less than 30 percent, with a goal of no-kill. But Sayres stresses lifesaving programs must be durable: “We’re not talking about Olympic moments, we’re looking for sustainability.”

4.6
REPTILES

2.4
HORSES

2011 spending on pets (in billions)
Food Veterinary care Supplies/over-thecounter medications Services (Groom & board) Live animal purchases Total $19.5 $14.1 $11.4 $3.7 $2.2 $50.8

13.0

7.9

Source: American Pet Products Association

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SHNS Photo Courtesy Giles County Animal Rescue

Dogs get loaded into an SUV at a veterinary clinic in Giles County in southwestern Virginia. They’re transported in a caravan from the county pound to suburban Washington, D.C.

SPECIAL REPORT: NO-KILL SHELTERS

Transports help ‘no-kill’ groups save cats, dogs
BY LEE BOWMAN Scripps Howard News Service

T

oby had issues. The 4-year-old chow’s owners had dispatched him to the municipal shelter in Virginia’s King George County for being aggressive with their children. He had skin allergies and wouldn’t let anyone near him. Prospects for adoption seemed grim. But after a few weeks, Toby made friends — first with one attendant, then with the rest of the shelter staff and King George Animal Rescue League volunteers. After five months, the dog got a second chance. The league arranged with volunteers from Chow Chow Rescue of Central New York to drive 16 hours round trip to pick up Toby, with another chow, and deliver him to the home of an older couple in New Hampshire. Transporting unwanted dogs and cats to places with better adoption prospects is a common tool among the nation’s relatively rare “nokill” communities, which routinely save more than 90 percent of the animals brought to their

shelters. The informal transport network is “our movement’s Underground Railroad,” says nokill advocate Nathan Winograd, who helped establish one of the first no-kill communities a decade ago in Tompkins County in Upstate New York. As of January, just 34 locales around the United States were recognized as no-kill communities by the No Kill News, a blog affiliated with a national alliance of shelter reformers. Two in Virginia — in mostly rural King George and in urban Arlington County, just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. — show some of the characteristics these communities share and the challenges they confront. Most of the communities, Arlington included, are concentrated in somewhat more affluent metropolitan areas. The Animal Welfare League of Arlington hosts the only shelter for the county of 200,000. It has a paid staff of 35, including several animal control officers, plus more than 700 volunteers.
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Its $2.5 million budget includes $1.2 million from the county contract. Even with all its resources and services, the shelter transfers out some pets, working with dozens of rescue groups to place animals like Biscuit, an energetic 60-pound foxhound mix that had limited appeal amid Arlington’s highrises and small backyards. Biscuit was adopted within weeks of a transfer to the Loudoun County Animal Shelter 35 miles to the west. Transferring “frees up some space and allows us to look at other shelters, perhaps in other parts of Virginia that don’t have the resources,

‘No-kill’ shelters by the numbers

4 million 90%

Estimated number of dogs and cats euthanized each year out of 8 million taken in by U.S. animal shelters.

“No-kill” shelters’ minimum goal for animal survival rate. Such entities put down only the most sick, injured or vicious animals.

“We’re fortunate to have the volunteers that allow us to try and do the right thing for every individual animal.”
— Neil Trent, Animal Welfare League of Arlington
where animals are essentially living day-today, and transfer them to our shelter,’’ said the league’s executive director, Neil Trent. League policy prevents the shelter from turning away any Arlington animal — or any animal from anywhere — making it the ultimate “open-admission” facility. It makes no guarantee of survival, just a commitment to strive for “positive outcomes.” In 2011, the shelter, which takes in about 2,000 animals a year, had a “live release” rate of 93 percent. Owners surrender most of the animals arriving in the Arlington shelter. So the league offers an extraordinary range of services to help people keep their pets, from “canine good-citizen classes” to keeping tabs on pet-friendly housing in the county. The league also offers temporary shelter for pets whose owners face an emergency and

1,200

Number of the nation’s 6,700 shelters and rescue groups that in 2011 identi ed themselves as no-kill. That’s more than 1 in 6.

$1.27 billion 13.8%

Total amount donated to 4,400 nonpro t, animal-welfare organizations in the U.S. in 2007.

Poverty rate in counties with no-kill shelters vs. 16.7% among U.S. counties overall in 2010. No-kill communities tend to be more a uent counties.
Sources: NokillNetwork.org, NokillNation.org, U.S. Census Bureau, Internal Revenue Service

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Neil Trent, executive director of the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, in Virginia, shares his office with rescue dog Abby. Innovative adoption efforts and other measures helped the shelter achieve a “live-release” rate of 93 percent, even though it must take in any animal.

SHNS photo by Lee Bowman

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SHNS video still by Kristin Volk

Anna Gruszka, can’t afford a kennel. Last year, just four dogs out of president of the King “We’re fortunate to have the vol422 were euthanized, along with George (Va.) Animal unteers that allow us to try and do Rescue League, seven of 305 cats, or about 1 percent the right thing for every individual places many animals and 2 percent. As recently as 2006, animal and put it in the best home,” in homes hundreds of the shelter put down 41 percent of miles away. Trent said. dogs and 80 percent of cats. Although King George’s population nearly The change has come from gradually strondoubled to more than 20,000 in the past decade, ger partnerships between county officials and as subdivisions have sprouted amid farmland, the hundred or so volunteers with the local resit’s still rural. cue league, which spent about $27,000 last year. “We deal with the barn cats and dog litters “We’re still a kill shelter, although we’re right along with the pets given up when folks working to reduce that,” said Eller. “I think the lose their homes,” said Kevin Eller, the senior only (animals) euthanized last year were due to animal control officer. He has five full- and partinjuries or by court order for vicious dogs.” time staff and a $250,000 budget for the 2-yearLast year, local residents adopted more than old shelter, which can hold 50 or so animals. 100 animals directly from the shelter. But the

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SPECIAL REPORT: NO-KILL SHELTERS
that have a better handle on spayneuter and there’s a better chance for adoption.” Similar rescues take place all over the country. For example, a group called Colorado Animal Rescue Express last year reported making 151 transport trips that moved 3,143 dogs and cats from shelters with high kill rates — in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Mexico, Nebraska, Wyoming and rural Colorado — to more than 100 rescue groups or adoptive families, mainly in Colorado. Hundreds, if not thousands, of similar groups operate nationwide. Although some transport volunteers get money for gas, most pay their own expenses. League dues, adoption fees and fundraisers — such as craft fairs and raffles — mostly go toward support medSHNS photo courtesy Zammit family ical care of animals. Toby, a 4-year-old chow rescued Along with foster care and league, working with hundreds from Virginia’s King George networking, other key no-kill of rescue groups, arranged for County, found a new home with tactics include promoting spaymost of the shelter’s animals Annie and Victor Zammit in neuter programs to curb the to be transported to adoptive Hampstead, N.H. King George number of animals coming into homes as far away as far away as shelter staff and volunteers worked with the dog for five shelters and sponsoring various Connecticut and Florida. months to address behavior programs to make sure adopted “Most of the time, the orga- and medical problems before animals and their new families nizations we work with have al- helping him reach a new home. “stay.” ready got a match in mind when Gruszka, also the league’s spay-neuter cothey take the animal,” said Anna Gruszka, the ordinator, said along with vouchers to low-cost league’s president. clinics, “we’re focusing on educating people “Thankfully, more people are looking to about how important this is to keep populations adopt a pet, and they go out to the rescue groups down at the shelter and the killing rate down. and search through the Web. Our transport But it takes time to get that message around, so coordinator is emailing and Facebooking conwe have to transport.” stantly. We’re moving our animals to areas …
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A cat sheltered at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, Va.
SHNS video still by Kristin Volk

How to evaluate an animal shelter
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If you’re able to choose where to surrender an animal, or select one as a pet, what should you consider? Use the following tips as a guide:
„ Does the organization have a website? What

are its policies for accepting, caring for or placing animals? Does it have open admission — offering shelter to any animal — or does it place limits on species, breed or size? Or by where an owner lives?
„ Does the organization have a facility or shel-

ter? If not, how and where are animals cared for?
„ Visit the facility. How accessible is it in terms

of location and hours? Is it clean and well lit, with adequate space for each animal? Is the staff friendly to animals? And to visitors?

SPECIAL REPORT: NO-KILL SHELTERS

A dog sheltered at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, Va.
SHNS video still by Kristin Volk

„ How long does it keep strays or animals sur-

„ How does it screen prospective owners and

rendered by owners?
„ Does the organization charge to take in, or

pets for adoption placement?
„ Does the organization promote animal

adopt out, animals? What do those fees cover? Veterinary care and food? Spaying or neutering?
„ Is a veterinarian available or on site? „ Does the organization follow the Association

spaying-neutering beyond the shelter? How? Does it offer assistance, such as financial aid, to low-income families seeking the surgery for their pets?
„ Who runs the shelter? How many people

of Shelter Veterinarians’ “Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters”?
„ If the organization can’t accept an animal,

are on staff? Does it have a board of directors? Or volunteers?
„ Does the organization provide outcome sta-

will it help you find an alternative?
„ If it describes itself as “no kill,” what does

tistics for animals in its care?
„ Does it partner with other shelters or rescue

that mean? What are its criteria for euthanizing animals?
„ How does the organization determine if an

groups? Does it transport animals to, and/or exchange them with, other facilities?
— LEE BOWMAN Scripps Howard News Service

animal is adoptable?

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Making news across America

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KSHB KANSAS CITY, MO.

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EDITORIAL

‘No-kill’ animal shelters still a work in progress
San Francisco has always been an incubator of radical ideas, and in 1994 it came up with another one. The city’s pound would no longer kill healthy dogs and cats but, through a policy of sterilization and an aggressive outreach program, see that these so-called “shelter animals” found welcoming homes. Since then, Lee Bowman of Scripps Howard News Service reports, the “nokill” approach has gone mainstream. The idea is to euthanize only those animals too ill, too injured or too vicious to put up for adoption — no more than 10 percent of a shelter’s occupants. Half of the estimated 8 million dogs and cats entering shelters last year were put down. The no-kill movement has the ambitious goal of finding adoptive homes for 90 percent of shelter animals. The concept has worked, after a fashion. About 1,200 of the nation’s 6,700 shelter and rescue groups identify themselves as no-kill. Bowman’s examination of listings with the umbrella group NoKillNetwork. org shows that while the no-kill label signals good intentions, in practice it is a rather elastic term. Limited shelter space may leave the operators no choice but to turn an animal over to the public pound and likely eventual euthanasia. And cases of animal hoarding often turn out to involve well-intentioned people who wanted to start a no-kill shelter and simply became overwhelmed. Two-thirds of U.S. counties lack no-kill entities, and the communities that do have such shelters tend to be affluent. There are no uniform standards or reporting requirements for no-kill operations, but the good ones are not cheap. The affluaent Washington, D.C., suburb of Arlington — one of roughly three-dozen no-kill communities — has a paid staff of 35, a network of more than 700 volunteers and a $2.5 million budget. In 2011, it had a “live release” rate of 93 percent. One hurdle is finding volunteers willing to transport an animal often several hundred miles to a new adoptive home. Steps are also necessary to educate the owners, if only to cut the 20 percent return rate of adopted animals. Americans are notoriously pet-loving, and with that comes a certain moral responsibility: to ensure that when a pet loses one home, the animal has a humane chance at finding another, rather than simply being discarded at the point of a needle.
— DALE McFEATTERS Scripps Howard News Service

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