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By Tom Cushing

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About this blog: The Raucous Caucus shares the southpaw perspectives of this Boomer on the state of the nation, the world, and, sometimes, other stuff. I enjoy crafting it to keep current, and occasionally to rant on some issue I care about deeply...  (More)

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Animal House

Uploaded: Nov 11, 2014
Show of hands ? who knows that your Town or City underwrites the operation of the County Animal Services Department (ASD) shelter in Martinez?

It's true ? state law mandates that 'animal control' be performed in each political subdivision; our cities choose to deal with the County, under annual contracts to perform those functions. Elsewhere, governments sometimes turn to an SPCA or humane society, also under contract (locally, both the City of Alameda and Marin County operate in that fashion). Trouble is, we're not getting our money's worth.

The County ASD is a pleasant, modern facility, built by all of us only ten years ago. It operates mostly behind the scenes, however. For the record, it takes in about 12,000 companion animals per year. Tragically, it kills nearly 4,000 of them ? most of those unlucky critters are healthy and adoptable pets. Many people with whom I've spoken don't want to go there, out of concern for learning too much. Sometimes, ignorance really is blissful, especially when knowledge creates a kind imperative to do something.

Are you still here? Good, because it doesn't have to be this way. Over the past twenty years, animal sheltering has been revolutionized ? away from the idea of inevitable killing (some label it 'euphemasia' because it has so little to do with mercy). The so-called 'No-Kill' movement has gained traction by demonstrating that true shelter euthanasia can be reserved for the few impounded animals who are truly beyond hope of redemption for health or behavior issues. In the current state of things, that's usually only 5-10% of sheltered animals. It's about 1,000 animals per year in Martinez shelter terms. The other 3,000 are just destroyed.

So, for example, Reno has half our population; it takes in 16,000 animals annually ? and saves 94%, year after year. Austin TX, exactly our size, takes in a whopping 27,000 animals ? 92% find their way out the front door under their own power. Locally, Berkeley, Alameda and Marin are all better than 90%ers. In fact, 213 communities of all sizes and shapes have achieved No-Kill status. In Contra Costa, our save rate is about equal to Oakland, which has lacked permanent shelter leadership for the past year.

High rates of success are achieved via unswerving leadership commitment, and a series of a dozen programs, passionately pursued by shelter staff and volunteers. Those programs deal with reducing intake, expanding capacity and dramatically improving adoption matching. Many have involve both community outreach and making the shelter The Place To Go for your next animal companion. Here's an example especially for fans of ABBA: imagine if Martinez could command that kind of energy and appeal!

Contra Costa ASD is at a bit of a crossroads. Its Director has announced his retirement, set for early next year. A group called Citizens for a No-Kill Contra Costa (I am a member) is visiting each County Supervisor and every contributing burg (including Danville @ $226,000 and San Ramon @ $405,000 in annual fees), to request two things:

1 -- that the County establish results-oriented metrics to guide its sheltering practices, and embark on a three-year plan to raise its 'save' rate to 75% in fiscal 2016, to 85% in 2017, and then 90+% in 2018 and beyond. The best shelters in the country consistently hit 94-5%; our ASD has been mired at 65% for many years.

2 ? that as the outgoing Director of ASD departs, the County seek to hire a replacement well-versed in the specific leadership qualities, philosophy and processes of the No-Kill movement.

By contrast, ASD's current, activity-based goal reads as follows: "Increase animal adoptions by increasing the use of modern technology to better showcase animals on our website and on Facebook pages; create video presentations to improve the visibility of the animals and our adoption programs; and increase the number and locations of mobile adoption events." As they say, "that which gets measured, improves." And conversely.

Regarding the second request, 'leadership' has been demonstrated to be the single best predictor of no-kill success. One shelter director in Minnesota, a former consultant on the subject of managerial leadership, has isolated 22 out of hundreds of leadership characteristics that are particularly useful in running a facility that can truly call itself a 'shelter.' The hope is that the hiring process can focus on finding a candidate with those qualities, as well as demonstrated no-kill chops.

Okay, another show of hands: who'd like to help?

One excellent step is to check-in on the subject by email with your elected officials: County Supervisor Andersen:, Danville Town Council, and San Ramon City Council. Each council has a public comment opportunity at the opening of their sessions, as well.

In addition, if you have any experience with the Martinez shelter, you might take the brief(!) assessment survey here. You can use my name as 'facilitator,' if you like.

Of course, the ultimate aid is to adopt your next 'best friend' ? if roughly 1/10 of the families seeking new pets were to match-up with a shelter veteran, we'd be at a 90% save rate. Marry that stat with the recent study finding from PetSmart Charities that 2/3 of pet seekers are interested in adopting, and both the nature of the challenge and its good prospects for success are clear. Which brings to mind the story of the kid at the beach, throwing stranded starfish back into the waves. "Why bother," she was asked, "you can't possibly save them all."

"Maybe not," she responded, as she flung another one back into the sea. "But I Can save THIS one!"
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Nov 11, 2014 at 4:30 pm

Obligatory 'your pet needs a buddy' video (view at your own risk!): Web Link

Posted by American, a resident of Danville,
on Nov 12, 2014 at 7:13 am

Thank you for bringing this very important issue to the attention of the public. I am always amazed at how many so-called animal lovers, who belong to PETA and other groups, routinely buy dogs from breeders and others, while ignoring the fantastic, loving, dogs waiting for you at the local humane societies or dog rescue groups. I have always gotten my dogs from either the local animal shelter, or from the Golden Retriever Rescue group, and they have been amazing, healthy, easy to train and loyal companions. A neighbor bought a "show" dog with papers from an out of state breeder at the same time I adopted from the Golden Retriever Rescue group my dog, and the "show dog" has been to obedience school numerous times and yet can not be left alone without it getting into trouble, while my buddy is a god send who has never caused any problem and is completely trustworthy and knows exactly when to bark when an unknown solicitor knocks on the door and when to simply wag his tail when a neighbor or friend rings the bell.

I can tell anyone who has reservations about adopting a dog from a shelter or dog rescue group that my experience with numerous dogs over the years has been fantastic, and my family has gotten more from the dog than the dog got from us, and immediately became part of our family. Do not think that the amount of money you pay for a dog has anything to do with the type of dog you receive, and in fact often the more you pay means a more problematic dog due to overbreeding.

If you truly care about animals, please at a minimum go down to the local animal shelter, or contact a dog rescue group, and look into it, before buying a dog from a breeder or stranger on Craigslist. A lot of local vets also will give you free initial exams and any shots that can not be verified, if you adopt from a shelter or dog rescue group.

Posted by Formerly Dan from BC, a resident of Bridle Creek,
on Nov 12, 2014 at 11:00 am

Formerly Dan from BC is a registered user.

Adopted a dog from Central Valley Lab Rescue back in 2003. She was the best darned dog we've ever had.

Would do it again in a heartbeat.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Nov 13, 2014 at 7:41 am

Thanks for your comments, guys. There are shelter puppies available on occasion, and kittens just about constantly. Adults are often young mature, but not always -- there are many to choose from, and sometimes one will 'speak' to you -- even from just a photo. While you may miss the cute puppy stage, you do get a better idea of this particular dog or cat's characteristics -- their 'person'alities, as it were -- and how they'll fit with your life and times. A rescue will usually take back a pet if it doesn't work-out. Try That with a pet store.

I also believe that seniors are an undertapped 'market' for shelter pets. Older dogs have difficulty competing with young'uns at getting adopted, but they often particularly well-suited to the routines of older folks. in SF is a rescue group that specializes in dogs 6-or-7 years and up. Here's a link to a piece I wrote a while back on senior dogs -- it wound up in a coffee table book with other tributes Web Link And here's an excerpt, from a woman who'd adopted a senior dog, and later returned for another:

?Frankie?s time with me was very good. He was loving, gentle and a good friend. He would bound out of the house at the end of the day when I returned home from work. He would wiggle with happiness to see me. He would do those ?play bows? that sometimes much younger dogs do."

?I want to tell you that I think I needed Frankie more than he needed me, but he loved me and I was grateful for that wonderful creature every day that I had him. My new girl, Willow, is lying at my feet chewing on a rawhide. I hope this makes sense?I heard her snore last night while I was watching television. I can hear her breathe and I am not so alone."

?It is possible that animals are our greatest gifts in this life.?

That story gets me every time and reaffirms, as Am writes above, that this work is not just, or mostly, about the dogs and cats. If anybody needs help getting started on a search, my email address is up top.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Nov 14, 2014 at 10:17 am

I talk to my dogs daily and we have tons of laughs about everything. I hope that they live a long long time so that we can continue to have long walks forever!


I've always had animals and totally appreciate spending time together.

Posted by unnat, a resident of Canyon Oaks,
on Oct 9, 2017 at 11:39 pm

unnat is a registered user.

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