Fighting animal control canon in the wild west
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2000:
KANAB, Utah; ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico
––A statewide animal care-and-control coalition headed by the
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary of Kanab, Utah, on June 22,
2000 received $1.3 million from Maddie’s Fund, as first
installment of $8 million to be paid over the next five years in
grant assistance toward making Utah the first U.S. state to practice
statewide no-kill animal control.
The Utah coalition qualified for Maddie’s Fund help,
Maddie’s Fund executive director Richard Avanzino told ANIMAL
PEOPLE, by enlisting the participation of 54 animal
control agencies, 18 no-kill organizations, two traditional shelters,
52 private-practice veterinarians, and 70 veterinarians
who were already participating in neutering voucher programs
administered by 14 different organizations.
To earn payment of the next installment, the Utah
coalition must perform 21,000 more neutering surgeries during
the next 12 months than were done in Utah during the past 12
months, and must adopt out 3,000 more animals. The neutering
and adoption targets are to increase each year until 2005,
when Utah animal care and control agencies are expected to be
killing no healthy or easily recoverable dogs or cats.
The news from Albuquerque was rather different.
There, on June 21, activist Marcy Britton filed an emergency
motion seeking, Britton told ANIMAL PEOPLE, “to completely
shut down the shelter operations” of Albuquerque
Animal Services. Her motion was to be heard on June 28. At
issue was not how many animals are killed, but rather how
they are killed, and how they are treated beforehand.
Sharing desert landscape and the typical southwestern
mix of cowboy, yuppie,
Native American, and Mexican cultures, Kanab and
Albuquerque are divided by state boundaries, the southern
Rocky Mountains, and a Grand Canyon-wide gap in outlook
for homeless companion animals.
Utah shelters, according to the coalition, take in
85,000 dogs and cats per year, killing 46,000, for a ratio of
21.9 dogs and cats killed per 1,000 humans––more than the
U.S. average of about 18.1, but low for the southwest.
Albuquerque shelters kill 35.7 dogs and cats per
1,000 humans, comparable to the tolls in Oklahoma City,
Corpus Christi, San Antonio, and Tucson.
If Utah kills 15 fewer dogs and cats per thousand
humans five years from now, it will have reached no-kill for all
practical purposes, since in most cities between five and six
animals per thousand humans require euthanasia due to irrecoverable
conditions. Only New Hampshire, killing just 3.0 dogs
and cats per 1,000 human residents in 1999, is known to have
cut the shelter toll lower across a whole state. San Francisco,
killing 3.9 dogs and cats per 1,000 human residents in 1999, is
lowest among major cities.
If Albuquerque kills 15 fewer dogs and cats per 1,000
humans, it will only be approximately where Utah is today.
Britton’s June 21 emergency motion was only the latest
of a series of cases she has pursued against Albuquerque
and various city employees since 1998.
Britton began by seeking action against kennel supervisor
Bernadette Garcia Sanchez, whom she accused of choking
a kitten with a catch pole. The alleged incident occurred
before present Albuquerque Animal Services director Bob
Hillman was hired. Britton began trying to oust Hillman when
he did not respond to her satisfaction.
Instead, Hillman defended Garcia Sanchez and other
personnel against public criticism, privately attributing “some
problems” to poor previous training, while attempting to teach
more humane animal handling technique.
In March, at instruction of the Albuquerque District
Court, the city of Albuquerque hired a Humane Society of the
U.S. shelter evaluation team including HSUS Animal Services
Consultation Program manager Sally Fekety; consultants
Penny Cistaro and Rebecca Rhoades, DVM; HSUS northwest
regional director Dave Pauli; former HSUS south-central
regional director Jim Tedford; and publicist Karen Allanich.
They were to assess the validity of Britton’s allegations of continuing
abuses in both city shelters.
The team visited the shelters in April. On June 12,
HSUS released to news media a 57-page report faulting almost
every aspect of Albuquerque Animal Services animal handling
and killing. Excessive use of catch poles appeared to be the
most often observed problem. The headline item, however,
was that seven out of 28 animals who had supposedly been
dead for 35 minutes after receiving lethal injections to the
heart––in itself an obsolete procedure––reportedly still had
intend to send four more staff from the kennel and field. I am
also working with the New Mexico Federation of Humane
Societies in planning a two-day training conference to be held
in our new building in November, and have scheduled National
Animal Control Association Level 200 training in our new
building for early December as follow-up to last year’s NACA
The 60-seat training room in the new building will
also be made available “to other animal groups, rescue and
whatever, for meetings, training, or get-togethers,” Hillman
said. “We also have in the works a plan to double the size of an
outside fenced exercise area and build a shade cover for it, so
that we can offer free obedience training for pets adopted to
new homes. I already have several volunteer trainers willing to
teach basic dog obedience.
“As by contract the Animal Humane Society of New
Mexico provides spay/neuter for all adopted animals, this facility
will not be used for in-house spay/neuter at this time,”
Hillman added. “We will use it for the recovery of animals
spayed by AHS while they wait for their new owners to pick
them up, as well as using it to treat any sick or injured animals
who come in as strays.”
By the book
“The City of Albuquerque has recently revised and
updated its 216-page General Operating Guidelines for all
Albuquerque Animal Services Division staff,” the HSUS
inspection team acknowledged, in perhaps the most telling passage
of their report. “For the most part, we were favorably
The HSUS team even quoted, with endorsement, a
portion of the preface:
“Often, the guidelines of an organization are passed
along by word-of-mouth. When guidelines are not written,
they often become vague, modified to suit the users’ needs,
distorted, or subject to misinterpretation. This manual will
enable users to obtain direction and clarify expectations.”
Unfortunately, the updated guidelines had only been
printed a few days before the arrival of the HSUS team. The
team also observed Albuquerque Animal Services staff members
routinely ignoring them, continuing to do things as they
always had––which were usually “by the book” as “the book”
of decades ago recommended.
Hillman told ANIMAL PEOPLE that the previous
written guidelines dated “to either 1984 or 1988,” and in any
event preceded publication of the first National Animal Control
Association Training Guide in 1989.
The NACA guide is “The Book” to most professionally
trained animal control and shelter personnel. Even vehement
critics of standard animal control methods generally credit
the NACA guide with creating the first comprehensive standard
reference for the animal care and control field. Four thousand
copies were printed; probably 20,000 animal control and shelter
staff have used them. The methods, equipment, and
approaches that the NACA guide recommends––some considered
breaking-edge when it was written––now demarcate the
prevailing culture in animal care and control.
A new edition, now in production, is to add new
information on disaster planning, the process of obtaining or
updating an animal control ordinance, microchipping and DNA
animal identification, advances in forensic evidence-gathering,
cat behavior, neuter/return for feral cat control, use of online
networks to faciliate adoption, shelter care of senior dogs, and
special needs of dogs in longterm kenneling.
But the NACA guide and indeed NACA itself,
formed in 1978, do not predate the tenures of many animal
care-and-control personnel, especially department heads.
Many personnel, particularly with smaller agencies, have
never taken the NACA training, nor read the manual, and
some have not even heard of NACA. Some are barely aware of
HSUS and the American Humane Association, the national
animal advocacy groups which are the other major providers of
conventional animal care-and-control education.
ANIMAL PEOPLE hears from almost as many sheltering
organizations in the U.S. as abroad whose staff have
never received professional training because attending training
conferences, joining NACA, and subscribing to the HSUS and
AHA sheltering publications costs money that isn’t in their
local animal control budgets, while public donations barely
keep the animals in custody fed. These shelters organizations
get ANIMAL PEOPLE because––knowing those with the
least money need information most––we send subscriptions free
of charge to all animal control agencies and nonprofit humane
societies for which we can find an address.
For institutions and personnel outside the influence of
NACA, HSUS, and AHA, “The Book,” as in “going by the
book,” may be either of two other corpuses of knowledge and
experience. Neither is actually a book per se, yet each retains a
The older corpus, existing in absence of any other,
might be described as “How to be a dogcatcher.” The emphasis
is on disposing of free-roaming dogs, and sometimes also cats
and wildlife, as quickly and inexpensively as possible. The
dogcatcher is typically a part-time employee, sometimes paid
on a piecework basis. Animals may be held for reclaim on the
dogcatcher’s own property. Animal care and disposal costs
come out of the same allocation as the dogcatcher’s compensation
and other expenses. The dogcatcher may not be directly
compensated at all; instead, compensation may depend upon
collecting fines, license fees, adoption fees, and payments for
selling animals to laboratories––or anyone else who wants
them. There are no health benefits, so all animal handling may
be done in the manner that most minimizes personal risk, for
instance at the end of a catch pole, hose, or gun.
Dogcatchers still prevail in much of rural America.
Some former dogcatchers still head municipal animal control
departments, and many others, now retired or deceased, were
the primary trainers for thousands of animal control personnel
still on the job in big cities.
Founding members of NACA, mostly only middleaged,
have difficulty seeing themselves as “the establishment,”
because just yesterday they were the upstart radicals who were
trying to remake the occupation of dogcatcher into the animal
control profession. They know as well as anyone that the job is
still incomplete, and worry that the gains of 22 years might yet
be eroded by fiscal conservatism or anti-regulatory backlash.
The newer Book is no-kill animal control, following
the models of high-volume adoption developed on Long Island
by the North Shore Animal League since 1954; high-volume
spay/neuter developed in Las Vegas by Mary Herro and the
Animal Foundation of Nevada since 1988; neuter/return feral
cat control, pioneered by the Universities Federation for
Animal Welfare and the Kenya SPCA abroad, brought to the
U.S. in 1991 by Alley Cat Allies; and most especially, the
model of municipal conversion to no-kill achieved in 1994 by
the San Francisco SPCA.
The no-kill corpus began spreading by more than just
news reports and word-of-mouth via the outreach training programs
presented by North Shore and Spay/USA since 1993,
including a series of regional seminars also featuring Alley Cat
Allies, and––with rapidly growing momentum––via the annual
No Kill Conference, organized by Doing Things For Animals
since 1995. The first No Kill Conference, in Phoenix, drew 65
people. This year the No Kill Conference may draw 600.
Fundamentally, conversion to no-kill animal control
requires specialization of services, so that each public and nonprofit
animal care agency in a community does a particular job
well, with the cooperation of the others, instead of each one
competing for resources in overlapping roles.
Specialization conflicts with the ideal of the full-service
shelter long advanced by HSUS and AHA. It can also
seem threatening to animal control personnel for whom doing
an occasional adoption offers an emotional lift amid the daily
routine of catching and killing. Already scarred by public dislike
of dogcatchers, caring animal control professionals often
suspect that community no-kill plans will leave them with no
role that is generally appreciated––although, if no-kill succeeds,
they would be killing only irrecoverably injured, ill, or
vicious animals. High-volume adoption shelters and rescue
groups would take all others out of pounds alive.
Animal control professionals also have practical reason
to fear the consequences of a community trying to go nokill
Before San Francisco went no-kill, then-SF/SPCA
president Richard Avanzino had planned and prepared for the
conversion for one year longer than NASA took to put the first
astronaut on the moon. Building up the SF/SPCA neutering,
adoption, veterinary treatment, and fundraising capacity to
meet the anticipated need took ten times longer than was
required to mobilize D-Day. The preparation paid off with a
smooth and successful transition.
No-kill organizations trying to do too much, too
soon, by contrast have a history of failure that too often leaves
animal control to euthanize large numbers of neglected and ill
dogs and cats, left at filthy premises for which a lease has been
lost, as protesters accuse the officers of sabotage and murder.
At the end of 1998, Avanzino retired from the
SF/SPCA and became executive director of Maddie’s Fund. A
$220-million foundation started by PeopleSoft founders Dave
and Cheryl Duffield to promote no-kill animal control,
Maddie’s Fund requires that successful applicants––like the
Utah coalition led by Best Friends––must be consortiums representing
all of the major animal care-and-control agencies in a
particular community, led by an established no-kill organization
like Best Friends, and requires further that the timetable
for accomplishing no-kill animal control be set forth in a
detailed five-year plan, like the one Best Friends et al p u t
together for Utah.
One reason for requiring the five-year plan is to
ensure that the objectives of a Maddie’s grant are met. Another
is to prevent agencies from reaching too far, too fast.
The road to no-kill
In Utah, Best Friends and the other participating
organizations are celebrating and expecting that a tide of public
enthusiasm will, in effect, lift Noah’s Ark to carry all homeless
dogs and cats to safety.
In Albuquerque, Hillman and Animal Humane
Association executive director Joel Warner know that merely
getting to where they can develop a realistic five-year plan to
go no-kill may take at least five years of intensely concerted
effort. But for 18 months they have partnered with the no-kill
People’s Anti-Cruelty Association/Albuquerque Animal Rescue
in low-cost neutering projects intended, in PACA/AAR president
Jane Long’s words, to “help this city get started on the
road to no-kill.”
At the NACA conference in Indianapolis in early
June 2000, Hillman stood up alongside North Shore Animal
League operations manager Tammy Kirkpatrick to tell skeptical
fellow animal control professionals that he had become convinced
that aiming toward no-kill, rather than trying to excuse
the necessity of killing healthy animals, is the direction of the
future. He emphasized specialization of services and teamwork
with nonprofit community organizations.
Hillman sounded a lot like Richard Avanzino circa
1993, when Avanzino was still getting a lot more flak than
praise for attempting to take San Francisco animal care and
control arrangements in an altogether unfamiliar direction.
“I’ve been in this field for 36 years,” Hillman told
ANIMAL PEOPLE. “I started at 19 years old. There are people
my age, and younger, who think they can’t change or
shouldn’t change or have to learn anything. I don’t want to be
one of them. If I survive in this job, I want Albuquerque to be
living a new day in animal control by the time I’m finished.
Maybe all this criticism can help us get there.”