On the verge of bankruptcy, Stockton's economy is in shambles. Banks seemingly own more homes than citizens. The crime rate in the city is at an alarming high, breaking homicide records in 2011. And the city's animal shelter is synonymous with overcrowding, poor conditions, and an exceedingly high kill rate.
Reno, Nevada was facing strikingly similar circumstances in 2007. Devastated by the economy, inundated with foreclosures, boasting the nation's highest per capita felon rate and housing a shelter that took in more strays than Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, the city was hanging by a thread. But despite all the hurdles standing in its way, one institution took it upon itself to serve as shining example of overcoming the odds.
In 2007, the Nevada Humane Society, serving Reno and all of Washoe County adopted a "No Kill" policy and within a yea, transformed into one of the most successful and highly regarded shelters in the country. Now boasting a better than 90-percent leave-live rate.
In the span of a year, the Nevada Humane Society reduced the number of dogs and cats killed at the shelter by half, saved 92 percent of the dogs they received and 78 percent of the cats, and found homes for 8,030 dogs, cats, and other species that could have otherwise been killed, found. Even more impressive, they did it facing an animal intake rate two times greater than the national average.
So why could Stockton not replicate this level of success? Why couldn't a city surrounded by violence and despair emerge with something positive upon which to build? Why couldn't the Stockton Animal Shelter be a guiding light for a despondent local community to see that the odds can be overcome.
By looking at the Nevada Humane Society's 10 guiding principles that Executive Director Bonnie Brown claims put them on the path to saving lives, one can see Nevada relied on desire and dedication, rather than citing obstacles and excuses in order to save lives and inspire a community.
Following are the 10 tactics Nevada employed in their transformation to a "No Kill" shelter.
1. Establish priorities and align actions with them to save animals immediately - Brown says they began with a mission of making "lifesaving priority number one". In other words, they set off with a unified goal of "wanting" to save animals. To support their mission, Brown says they established four priorities for the staff:
• "Create lifesaving solutions for the animals"
• "Involve the community in our work"
• "Deliver quality customer service"
• "Provide excellent care to the animals"
2. Get "the right people on the bus - As in any business venture, an entity is only as successful as the people charged with steering it toward the final goal. As was the case in Washoe County, Stockton would have to employ individuals who are committed to the organization's goals and values, from the top down. As Brown said, "It is absolutely essential that every member of the management team be passionately committed to lifesaving and fully support the organization's mission."
3. Invest time and assets in lifesaving - In other words, eliminate every aspect of the shelter that does not contribute to the saving of lives. The Nevada Humane Society included staffing and space allocation as aspects of the shelter that were subject to elimination if they did not contribute to the end goal. Perhaps aspects of Stockton's shelter system could be eliminated or converted to achieving a lower kill rate.
4. Inspire and involve the community - People by nature want to get behind something in which they believe. Political campaigns are built on the idea. By publicly declaring a bold goal to become a "No Kill" shelter, the Nevada Humane Society inspired people to take action and support the cause. Stockton has a small army of animal enthusiasts ready to help lead the charge towards reducing their kill rate. A public declaration of intent to save lives would surely draw support from members of the general public sympathetic towards the well-being of animals.
5. Increase adoptions - Brown, attributed Nevada's successful transformation in adoption rates to the following tactics:
- Setting and publicly declaring specific monthly adoption goals
- Marketing all animals beyond the cute and cuddly
- Making shelter hours that accommodate the average person's schedule
- Bringing animals to the people
- Streamlining their adoption process
- Making staff and volunteers easily recognizable
- Making the shelter a welcoming place
- Aggressively promoting adoption drives with fun events
Are these strategies the Stockton shelter has employed? Are they ideas that could be easily emulated?
6. Spay and neuter animals - Irresponsible pet owners also play a large role in the high number of animals destroyed each year. As many shelters claim euthanasia as a necessary form of population control, it stands to reason that less animals in shelters would equate to less killings. However, just as the shelters look to the public for support, so to must they reciprocate and make low-cost and free spaying and neutering options and awareness available to the public.
7. Actively work to keep animals out of shelters - Simple suggestions and minor adjustments to a pet's lifestyle could be the difference between a person dropping off an apparent problem pet, or keeping a loving, well-behaved companion.
Most pet owners aren't animal behavior experts and as such, the Nevada Humane Society created an animal help desk to answer questions from pet owners on the verge of giving up on their animals.
Members of Central California Pets Alive say they have been able to convince individuals against leaving a pet at the Stockton shelter, surely staff could do the same.
8. Provide a safety net for feral cats - Like Stockton, Reno has a large feral cat population, and subsequently sees a high number of ferals taken to the shelters. "People who are surrendering feral cats to animal shelters often mistakenly believe that they are doing the cat a service and that the kitty has a chance of being adopted as a pet," Brown says.
Therefore, Brown says it is imperative to council people who surrender feral cats, and inform them of the option of Trap Neuter Return (TNR) programs. TNR programs are cost-effective, popular neutering programs for feral cats, proven to not only reduce the number of wild cats brought into shelters, but to improve the lives of outdoor cats.
9. Partner with other groups - "Our lifesaving success would truly not be possible without the support of the many amazing local rescue groups and individual rescuers who are hard at work every day helping to get the animals out of the shelters alive," declared Brown.
Members of Pups Rescue and Central California Pets Alive claim they have had many unpleasant interactions with Stockton shelter staff and have been denied adoption rights to dogs that were later euthanized. If following in the footsteps of those who have succeeded, does in fact breed success, it would be wise for Claerbout and the Stockton shelter to mend their relationships and build alliances with as many local rescuers as possible.
10. Stay Flexible - As Brown states, new and different challenges arise all the time. Being flexible makes one more prepared and able to find suitable solutions to unexpected challenges. Simply put, her staff relied creativity and innovation rather than taking the easy route in order to save lives.
The Nevada Humane Society's success is not something easily replicated, and the majority of animal lovers would not complain if the same results were not achieved, as long as the high kill rate began to decline. The 10 steps laid out by the Nevada Human Society do not require an abundance of ready funds, a thriving surrounding economy, or even a low intake rate to implement. They simply require a passion for animals and a commitment to save lives.