LETTERS: San Francisco SPCA wins hands down

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1995:
San Francisco SPCA wins hands down

In our continuing war against more legislation and law enforcement aimed at pet owners, we sent a recent update of our pamphlet 20 Questions to the Progressive Animal Welfare Society in Lynnwood, Washington. We had taken data from the Animal Legislation Awareness Network report entitled An Analysis of King County, WA Animal Control Ordinance 10423. We received a call from PAWS’ Lisa Wathne, who offered to send us the 1994 Annual Report of King County Animal Control, which thanks to her, we now have. The euthanasia numbers in the two reports agree.

Our conclusion from analysis of the ALAN report, which covered just one shelter in King county, was that, “There is
certainly no evidence that the tougher legislation has made significant improvement in reducing euthanasias.”

As we have been challenged by a number of people on this conclusion, we were very anxious to see if the King County report would cause us to change our stance on such matters as high license fees, door-to-door license enforcement, and public awareness campaigns to encourage licensing, all of which are central features of the celebrated King County anti-pet overpopulation ordinance.What have we found? The report claims, “Dramatic initial success allowed for the continuation of the programs…Figures for this second annual report show further improvements in all areas
targeted by Ordinance 10423.”

But the program cost, for 1994, was $243,000, and the revenue obtained by license fee increases was $200,000. The program cost much more than it brought it. And consider how many animal lives were saved. In 1993, there were 9,032 shelter euthanasias, and in 1994, only 8,738, a one-year reduction of 3.26%. But in the
same period, according to statistics ANIMAL PEOPLE published in June 1994, the national average euthanasia reduction rate was 5.88%.

Without a program, the rest of the nation reduced euthanasias at almost twice the King County pace.

And now for the shocker. King County euthanized 294 less animals, at a cost of $826.53 per life saved. Dividing total budget by adoptions, the San Francisco SPCA spends, on average, $600 per animal adopted, and kills no adoptable or treatable animals, while running 54 other programs that help reduce animal suffering throughout the city. Even if you only count the net loss from the King County program, $146 per animal saved, that could cover free neutering and licensing for 294 animals with savings of $50 per animal left over.

There are several other shelters in King County besides the county animal control shelter, and we don’t have complete shelter statistics for the whole jurisdiction, hence we are unable to compare the King County results with national norms in any meaningful way.

But we did call PAWS to verify our interpretation of the cost figures. Checking further with King County Animal Control, we were told that the first year and a half was more expensive because they had start-up costs, and there were some license tracking problems that may have inflated the figures, and they expect better results this year. The only firm conclusion we can draw is that the King County ordinance was correctly evaluated in our original statement. The new
statistics only make our evaluation more negative.

By contrast, the SF/SPCA has maintained an 18.5% annual reducation rate in euthanasias, citywide, and is against mandatory licensing. Why? Because the poor are unable to pay high license fees, and are consequently afraid to use low-cost neutering programs through which noncompliance with licensing requirements might be detected, making them vulnerable to fines that they can’t afford, either.

The following table compares the percentage of animals entering shelters who leave alive via redemption, adoption, and euthanasia, together with our estimate of maximum possible success:

National King S. F. Ultimate
% redeemed 16.6% 15.6% 10.6% 10.6%
% adopted 20.9% 17.1% 53.9% 63.9%
% euth. 62.5% 68.0% 35.6% 25.5%

We do not have shelter statistics for the whole of King County, so cannot make a comparison based on national normalized data. We do have the numbers of pets entering shelters and euthanized per year per 1,000 human residents for the U.S. as a whole, San Francisco, and Washington state, which are as follow:

National Washington San Francisco
Entries: 29.97 30.82 16.70
Euthanized: 20.38 18.49 6.18

San Francisco wins hands down in the fight to reduce euthanasias, and the San Francisco polices are directly opposite to the tough-law/blame-the-public/more-animal-control-with-door-to-door, etcetera: less legislation, not more; an end to mandatory licensing, not door-to-door enforcement; and more service, not more lobbying.

We also note that the King County neutering voucher program is a dismal failure, with only 633 vouchers redeemed (11.2%) of the 5,654 handed out. Our tiny organization in rural Butte County, California, achieves that much. This indicates to us that poor people, those the voucher program should target, are not licensing their animals because of the fees involved, and are then afraid to use the vouchers. It is not clear to the public whether the $25 King County vouchers are a rebate on the $55 unaltered license fee or are given without requiring the purchase of a license. And for all the effort of door-to-door canvasing, the King County licensing compliance rate is still officially estimated to be about 33%. That two-thirds of the pet-owning public do not support this program should send a message to elected representatives.
–Lewis R. Plumb
Promotion of Animal Welfare Society
Paradise, California
Get a clue!

I feel that higher licensing fees create an ever-smaller base of support for pet population control programs as compliance drops. A review of the Sacramento animal control budget indicated that license revenue dropped by $20,000 when the fee went up 33% in 1993. Only canvasing brought revenues back up. Yet animal control stated
that they didn’t think doubling the current unaltered licensing fee would harm license sales. I predict compliance will drop and revenue too, and animal control will do more canvasing, have increased enforcement costs, and seek a bigger budget. Am I the only person who sees that with the majority of licenses being sold at the lower altered rate, and salary plus overhead and vehicle costs for animal control officers close to $70,000 per year here, that canvasing is
not cost-effective?

The poor can’t afford to neuter or license, or reclaim their animals from animal control, which costs nearly $100 if an unaltered animal isn’t licensed, so the poor relinquish lost pets. Then animal control comes back and says, “See, we have all these unclaimed animals, which cost us money. Aren’t people awful? Let’s raise fees to force them to be responsible.” Meanwhile the poor pick up more animals from the readily available pool of free animals.

Animal control policies perpetuate the problem. Debating the new Sacramento licensing structure, I said that your idea of “Mobile vets at combat pay” (editorial, March 1994) is the answer. An HSUS representative said flat out that anyone who doesn’t have $50 for neutering shouldn’t keep pets. I find such an attitude extremely inhumane. I have been poor, fortunately temporarily, and I am offended that someone cannot understand that there are people who don’t have credit or a spare $50, but need the comfort that pets provide. Kim Sturla of the Fund for Animals committed what I consider a Freudian slip when she said, “We need to spay and neuter people on welfare,” tee hee hee.

I went through all the information about positive incentives versus coercion, the San Francisco Adoption Pact, cost/benefit of neuter/release, etcetera, with the animal control director, who admitted that most animal pick-ups are from poor neighborhoods. But she knew someone who was middle-class, whose cat had kittens by accident, so out the window went my statistics on frequency and probability.

As to the San Francisco Adoption Pact, she said she completely disagrees with Richard Avanzino and doesn’t believe they really have zero euthanasia of healthy animals. This is widespread, as are the beliefs that the SF/SPCA has city animal control do all the killing so that they can look good, and that it’s only because SF/SPCA has money that they can do what they do.

Get a clue! They have the money because people support an organization that demonstrates effectiveness. San Francisco has proven that proper policy and management can solve the pet overpopulation problem. I am frustrated that money is wasted, people are wrongly blamed, and animals are needlessly dying because of demonstrably bad policy.
–Margaret Anne Cleek
Sacramento, California