Editorial: Building shelters won’t build a no-kill nation

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1999:

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.

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