“Just stop breeding until the pounds are empty”

A increasingly common rhetoric in the rescue community goes along the lines of, “I’m not against breeding, just breeding when the pounds are full” coming along with the suggestion “just stop breeding for a few years, until the pounds are empty”.

This is a misguided suggestion. While this almost sounds good to the uneducated ear, it seems to imply that the dogs in pounds are exactly the type in demand or that there is a dog in a pound to suit every person. Further, ceasing breeding for 3 years would have an impact on not just breeders, but breeds as a whole, on any organisation with working dogs (guide dogs, custom dogs, farm dogs). Also, placing a ban on breeding is just unenforceable. However, the biggest issue with this suggestion is that it doesn’t target the source of the problem. I’ll look at all these issues in more detail.


Pound dogs aren’t for everyone

The dogs available for adoption in pounds is not highly varied. The suggestion that ‘anyone’ can find the dog that is perfect to their household is erroneous. There’s simply not a large variety of dogs in pounds to suit the demand. The reason that breeders (good and bad) are popular is they fulfil a demand that is not met by pounds. Small white fluffies, and indeed small dogs overall, are not well represented in the pound system.

I looked at the first page of dogs available for adoption at Blacktown Pound (NSW). You can see that most dogs are working or bull breed type, and most are medium to large in size. Not a great deal of variety.

I looked at the first page of dogs available for adoption at Blacktown Pound (NSW). You can see that most dogs are working or bull breed type, and most are medium to large in size. Not a great deal of variety.

Some might argue that if someone really needs or wants a particular type of dog, they should just wait for it to end up in rescue. Is it really fair for someone to wait 2 year or more for a dog that may never appear in rescue? Personally, I was waiting 18 months looking for a dog in rescue (with the requirements that the dog be big, with a wire coat, and very good with other dogs). I gave up waiting and went to a breeder. I feel like I was more than patient, but a dog suiting my needs just wasn’t available to me in this period of time.

On the same date, these are the available pets at Broken Hill Pound NSW available on the 26th of June. Again, the dogs are mostly medium-large working or bull breed types.

On the same date, these are the available pets at Broken Hill Pound NSW available on the 26th of June. Again, the dogs are mostly medium-large working or bull breed types

The other alternative is that people may just get the dog that is available instead of the dog right for them. Did you know that at least two studies (see: one / two) found that 22.5% of the dogs relinquished to a shelter came from a shelter to start with? Being from a shelter is a risk factor for relinquishment in itself, and proposals that people should ‘have to’ acquire a dog from a pound actually seems circular to the end goal of clearing shelters of pets.


Implications for Working Dogs

Seemingly in Australia, about 700 dogs are bred for customs and guide dog work each year.  These professions have targeted breeding programs to select for characteristics important for that dog’s individual role. They’ve obviously done the maths, and figure that it’s more cost effective for them to breed their own dogs than take dogs out of shelters and pounds. The proposal that breeders should ‘just stop breeding’ until pounds are empty means that either these programs suffer financially, or the community suffers by not having any dogs at all for several years or more (or forever, really).

Another industry that would suffer would be dogs used on properties for herding or as livestock guardians. These agricultural branches have specially bred dogs for their purposes. Many farms find the work of dogs invaluable, and would also be financially impacted by a breeding ban.


Enforcement is not going to happen

I’ve blogged at length about all the types of legislation that continually goes unenforced Australia-wide, yet touted as ‘good’. In reality, animal legislation is horrendously unenforced. If microchipping laws get flaunted, breeder licensing flops, and the animal welfare acts regularly are violated nation wide, what hope do we have of ceasing dog breeding for a particular period of time?


Dog and Breed Welfare

The idea that breeding should just stop for ‘a few years’ neglects to mention that ‘a few years’ is a long time in a life of a dog.

Let’s say you have a breed that lives until about 12 years old. Three years is a quarter of that dog’s life. That means the dog is middle-aged by the time it is 6 years old.

What I’m getting at is that if you were to ban breeding for a few years, we are going to be breeding older bitches, which we know is riskier. (As bitches age, they have smaller sized litters with bigger individual puppies, which is riskier for the bitch to whelp.)

This means that, for the individual bitches involved, this is bad for their health.

On a broader scope, if breeders choose not to breed their bitches because of a breeding ban, this could put the health of entire breeds in jeopardy. If a bitch is especially important (maybe she has hip scores of 0/0 in a breed with a high incidence of hip dysplasia, or maybe the bitch was imported from Sweden and is important for improving genetic diversity within the breed in Australia), then the loss of this bitch’s progeny to the breed is significant.

Basically, a breeding ban is bad for individual bitches, as they will be bred older, to their detriment. And a breeding ban is bad for breeds, as desirable or important bitches will not be able to make substantial positive impacts on their breed.


Is this really where we should focus?

My biggest gripe with this is it is, again, taking the focus away from the pound – the place where killing happens.

Pounds have an obligation to promote and market their animals. Let’s ban pounds from killing and so obligate them to make changes to their approach!

The other gripe is that this proposal works on the basis that there is an overpopulation program – there isn’t an overpopulation problem.

And: pounds will never be empty! Pounds have an important community service reuniting pets to their families. If my dogs got lost, they’d probably end up in the pound (if not scanned for a chip prior), and I’d be grateful for that.


A ban on breeding, even for a short period, is not a solution to shelter killing.

  • Shelters do not have a wide variety of dogs available for adoption, so limiting the availability of some breeds may mean:
    • People wait a unreasonably long time to acquire a dog, or
    • People acquire a dog unsuitable to their lifestyle (and the dog becomes at greater risk of being relinquished back to the shelter at a later date).
  • Working dog breeds (including customs, guide dogs, farm dogs) and the organisations that breed them will suffer, as will the people that these dogs benefit.
  • Animal legislation is not enforced and this will be another unenforceable law.
  • This proposal is bad for bitches and breed welfare.
  • And most importantly, this proposal fails to acknowledge the fault of pounds in the shelter-deaths.

How to choose a rescue or shelter to adopt from

Purchasing a dog or puppy: What to look for in a rescue or shelter


Congratulations on choosing to add a new dog or puppy to your family.

It is great that you are considering adopting a pet from a rescue or shelter. However, not all rescues/shelters are created equal – indeed, some facilities are merely posing as rescues and are more like an animal-broker than an animal-rescue.

It’s not a ‘black and white’ matter, but here are some suggestions that will hopefully help you when you’re looking at adopting a pet.


Green traffic lightNecessities

Do not purchase a dog from a shelter unless the facility:

  • Shows concern and regard to the physical health of their dogs and puppies
  • Shows concern and regard to the psychological well being of their dogs and puppies – either in providing enrichment on site, by frequently taking their dogs ‘out and about’, by using Dunbar’s methods of raising puppies (with toilet area, kongs, socialisation), and by providing training to dogs with behavioural problems
  • Is willing to provide life-long support to you as a purchaser, and is willing to take their dog or puppy back if things don’t work out. (There should be a trial period of anywhere from 1-12 weeks where a refund is provided.)
  • You feel comfortable approaching the rescue or shelter for advice, and feel they would be supportive and give you clear advise you can understand.
  • Sells all dogs and puppies microchipped, vaccinated and sterilised (or on contracts to have these procedures performed at a latter date, or with a medical certificate exempting them from these procedures)
  • Gives you some time to ‘think about’ adding the dog/puppy to your household



It’s ‘nice’ if a shelter/rescue does these following things, but not a deal breaker.

  • The rescue/shelter asks you lots of questions about your household and what you’re looking for
  • There is a sales contract
  • The rescue/shelter seems to have a great deal of knowledge about dogs
  • The rescue/shelter uses foster carers so they know what the dog is like in a house (instead of just living in a kennel)
  • The rescue/shelter has had the dog in care for at least 10 days, to serve as a quarantine period
  • Friends, family, or other shelters and rescues have heard of this rescue and have positive things to say
  • Identifies as ‘no kill’ or ‘out the front door’ or as ‘saving 90%’


Red Flags

Have some concern about the shelter or rescue if any of these events take place.

  • The rescue/shelter seems overly concerned about the purchase price
  • The rescue/shelter puts the hard sell on – “I might sell her next week if you don’t take her today”, or “I’ll give you 10% off if you buy her now.”
  • The rescue/shelter sells puppies together to the same pet family
  • The rescue/shetler is willing to sell a puppy/dog to you without you even meeting the dog/puppy to assess it for yourself


Do Not Buys

If the shelter or rescue does any of the following things, then walk away and source a dog from an alternative source.

  • You cannot meet the dog or puppy before sale
  • Dogs/puppies are not microchipped – in most states of Australia, this is a legal requirement
  • The dogs or puppies seem unhealthy or in poor condition (dirty, matted, skinny, fat)
  • There seems to be no plan to improve the socialability/behaviour of dogs that have problematic temperaments
  • The rescue/shelter is not willing to show you all the dogs in their care


Is there anything you would add to the list?


Further reading: See How to Find a Good Dog Breeder


Pets as Gifts – Evidence not Anecdotes

ResearchBlogging.orgPets aren’t gifts. We all know that.

If a pet is given as a gift, the recipient might not be prepared for the financial commitment. The pet might be unsuitable to their lifestyle, or the recipieint may be uncommitted. And this means the pet is more likely to be relinquished.

But are you willing to be wrong about that?

This pretty shar pei has found her home through Adelaide All Breed Dog Rescue Inc.

This pretty shar pei has found her home through Adelaide All Breed Dog Rescue Inc.

“Studies of dog and cat relinquishment to shelters, however, show that the relinquishment of dogs and cats received as gifts is lower than from other sources,” says Weiss et al. in their 2013 paper. While this blog post will concentrate on this article, it’s important to note that this study builds on the research of others. For example (as summarised by Weiss et al.),

  • This article looked at 2600 dogs and 2300 cats, and found “Relinquished dogs infrequently came from pet shops, as gifts and from veterinarians. The study found the odds of dog relinquishment were higher when acquiring an animal from a shelter, friend, as a stray, and from a pet shop compared to receiving an animal as a gift”. Cats had similar trends.
  • This article “identified 71 reasons for pet relinquishment” and unwanted gift made up only 0.3% of dog surrenders and 0.4% of cat surrenders.
  • And this one found that being received as a gift was a protective factor, with dogs and cats received as gifts being “at [a] significantly decreased risk of being relinquished”.

Simply, there is no evidence that pets being given as gifts leads to relinquishment. It is an unfounded myth.

This study even says, “the myth that dogs and cats should not be given as gifts still persists“.


How was this study conducted?

A large telephone survey of 1006 adults was conducted, with 222 people saying they received a dog or cat as a pet in the last 10 years.

If an individual identified them self as a pet-gift-receipient, they were asked further questions. Were they involved in selecting the pet? How attached are they to their pet? Do they still own the pet?


And what did they find?

Some of the gifted-pets were rehomed – 21 out of the 215 pets. That is, 9.7%.

It didn’t seem to matter if the gift was a surprise or not – it wasn’t associated with people rehoming their pet, or being more or less attached to it.

“These results suggest that there is no increased risk of relinquishment for dogs and cats received as a gift.”

On a side note, this study is different, because it looked at owner retention, instead of shelter relinquishment data. This means that the statistic of 9.7% rehomed is probably higher than shelter surrender intake (as many pets would be rehomed privately instead of through shelter facilities).


How does this relate to shelters?

Weiss et al. express their concern about shelters who prohibit adoptions when they know that the animal is going to be given as a gift.  Weiss et al. says, not allowing pets to go as gifts may “impede the overarching goal of increasing adoptions of pets from our nations’ shelter system”.

Significantly, they say (emphasis my own):

“These findings may help animal welfare organisations open options for those interested in obtaining dogs and cats for their family and friends. It is important to note that animals obtained from a shelter are more at risk than those obtained as gifts. Allowing adoptions of dogs and cats to those obtaining the pet as a gift may decrease the risk of return or relinquishment for that dog or cat. Furthermore, it would allow for more animals from shelters to find homes.”


The next thing

Briefly, the article suggests that the next area for study is research and planning, and how that relates to pet retention. Current evidence suggests that ‘spur of the moment’ type acquisitions made with little or no research or planning are not associated with higher rates of relinquishment.


So have you ever received a pet as a gift? And did you keep that pet for its life?


Weiss, E, Dolan, ED, Garrison, L, Hong, J & Slater, M (2013). Should dogs and cats be given as gifts? Animals, 3 (4) DOI: 10.3390/ani3040995


Clever Marketing Ideas for Shelters

Often, we hear about ‘the overpopulation problem‘ – the myth that there are too many animals in the shelter system to find homes for.  Of those that argue that an overpopulation problem exists, they often point to shelter-euthanasia rates. The argument goes that if there was no overpopulation problem, then there would be no pets killed in shelters.

I call bullshit.

There are plenty of pounds in Australia that impound animals, hold them for the mandatory holding period, and then kill them with not a scrap of community engagement. They didn’t try to find the owner. They didn’t try to find a new owner. For whatever reason, there are many facilities in Australia that just do what they have to do (legally), and not what they should do (morally).

So what should impounding facilities be doing?

I argue that impounding facilities need to do each of these marketing and promotional steps for every animal in care, in order to get animals out alive.


"That's absolutely my dog!" said no one ever. This is a genuine impound photo from an Australian pound - not very useful.

“That’s absolutely my dog!” said no one ever. This is a genuine impound photo from an Australian pound – not very useful.

On Impound

Take a good photo and use it

When an animal comes into the facility, they should take a clear and appealing photo. The animal should not be obstructed by cages, people, or other animals.

Once a good photo is obtained, it needs to be distributed everywhere – Facebook, Gumtree, council offices, the local paper. While we would love for our good photo to find the original owner, it also, potentially, will find the pet a new owner once that holding period is over.


Correctly record details on the animal

Make sure that the impounded animal is recorded in a way that can maximise reclaim. In short: Record details correctly!

Try to minimise the emphasis on breed. Breed cannot be identified by looks alone, and owners may believe their pet is a different breed than the pound, making reclaims less likely. Bad!

So instead, details about the pet needs to be accurately recorded: colour and coat type, any obvious medical issues, its sex (please get it right!), and make a note of any tattoos.


Minimise disease risk

Administer relevant vaccinations immediately, upon intake, to minimise the chance of disease risk across the shelter. (And, obviously, protect that individual pet from contracting a disease, too.)


For more details, read the KC Dog Blog on “The First 60 Minutes“.


During Holding Period (i.e. Find the past owner!)

Check for identification

Obviously, facilities need to check the animal for details on the collar (e.g. stitched into the fabric) or the tag.

Animals need to be scanned for a microchip – but this needs to be done thoroughly and properly. This involves:

  • The scanner needs to be fully charged,
  • The scanner needs to be waved, slowly, all over the animal, but remain close to the animal at all times,
  • If no chip is found, a second fully charged scanner should be used, by a second person.

Basically, facilities should assume that every animal is microchipped, and work hard to find that chip.

Some animals have tattoos on their ears or groin, so these can also be used for identification.


Use all available information on past owners to full capacity

If you find any skerrick of information regarding the animal and the past owners, find out more!  If the number on the microchip is no longer active, use their names to look them up on Facebook or the electoral roll. If you can find the phone number on their tag, Google it, and see if you can find a name associated. If there’s a number or word in the ear of a dog, find out what it pertains to. Do everything possible to make contact with the owners. Get that pet back home!


Know who’s lost

Shelters and pounds should use staff or volunteers to maintain a catalogue of lost pets.  These individuals would check lost pet notices, online and in print, and record the details on a centralised system.  If this resource was to be kept up to date, then it could mean that impounded animals could quickly be reunited with their people.


Be accessible for reclaims

Many people work 9am to 5pm, and find it difficult to access the shelter to reclaim their pet.  Having opening times of 8am-8pm would allow working people to access the facility and reclaim their pets, or simply just come to the shelter to make sure their pet has not been impounded over the course of the day.


During Adoption Period (i.e. Find new owners!)

So now the animal has been in the shelter for the mandatory holding period – what now?

This is the kind of photo that gets pets adopted. Taken by Kimberley Gifford Photography, this photo of 'Benjamin' led my now-husband and I to adopt.

This is the kind of photo that gets pets adopted. Taken by Kimberley Gifford Photography, this photo of ‘Benjamin’ led my now-husband and I to adopt. (And we didn’t even want a cat at the time.)


Photos and advertising

Facilities need to seek the services of a professional photographer to take awesome photos of pets for adoption. The photos should be well lit, with an appealing background, with the pet looking happy. Once you have an awesome photo or two, share the bejesus out of it. Put it on your website, on Facebook, on PetRescue, on Gumtree, share with the press, whatever! Get it out there!


Use deals and events to lure in adopters

It’s no secret that people like a bargain, so facilities can offer financial incentives to potential adopters: Your pets are cheap, especially considering all the vet work that has been done. If you buy a cat, you get a bag of cat food free. If you adopt a kitten, get the mother free. Adult cats are free. Whatever needs to be done to get an adopter in, needs to be done!

The other option is to run big events. Invite the media to mega adoption days, where you hope ’100 pets in new homes before the end of the day’, or whatever it may be. Make a spectacle.

Also, make sure at least some of your adoptions can occur off of the shelter. Many people find a shelter environment depressing, and so may not be inclined to visit the shelter to find their new pets. Using pleasant, external environments is likely to encourage adopters to take pets home.


Be accessible

This flows from off site adoption days – facilities need to make sure their adoption events are off site and are in different geographic locations, so people from many areas can get their hands on a rescue pet.

Just like I advocate shelters being open 8am-8pm for reclaims, adoptions can also happen in these extended hours too. This means that the average-worker can adopt a pet without having to take the day off work.

Having an online site, listing pets available for adoption, also means that people can access potential-new-pets in the comfort of their home – online shopping, for pets!


Make the pets you have better

Clearly, not every pet that enters a pound or shelter is going to be ‘the perfect pet’ on intake. Facilities need to run programs that make them more adoptable. Does that cat have a skin problem? Put her on medication and fix her up. Is that bunny a bit scared of people? Get him onto a regular handling program. Does that dog jump up? Engage in some behavioural modification.

Sometimes, some pets need a lot of work to improve their adoptability, and these pets may be better suited to entering foster care or a different rescue…


Use rescue groups

Rescue groups are valuable to shelters and pounds.  They can help relieve the pressure of bigger facilities by taking in pets and rehoming them.  As they are often smaller, they can often more intensely treat medical and behavioural issues.  As they normally hold pets in foster homes, for animals requiring long term treatment (for example, mange), then a foster home may be more humane than a shelter environment.

In short, rescues and pounds need to use rescue groups to their advantage.


Use compatible animals to maximise kennel space

Many pounds claim that they need to kill pets for space. An alternative to this is doubling up compatible pets in the same run.


But, but, but…

People keep saying to me that pounds can’t afford to do this. I argue that if they stopped killing animals, they probably would gather community support. It’s not a secret that people don’t like volunteering at places that kill pets. If you stop killing pets, you’ll attract volunteers, who will be able to take sexy pictures of animals, will be able to put them online for you, and will be able to staff your front counter during your opening hours. The possibilities are endless.

Further, successful shelters don’t shame the public. They don’t call people irresponsible for surrendering pets.  They don’t criticise people when their pets get lost. They don’t black mail the public, telling them that if they don’t adopt, pets will die. All these things get the public off side – and the public is a very important friend.

Also, the public is more likely to donate to pounds that don’t criticse them, and don’t kill the pets in care. So fundraising will be easier.

In summary, shelters kill pets because they don’t bother finding their owner or don’t bother finding a new owner. And if they just stopped killing pets and blaming the ‘irresponsible’ public, perhaps the public would like them more and volunteer and donate, and then there will be less dead pets.

Pound’s nonchalance to getting pets out alive is the real bullshit here.


Further reading:

10 Ways to Get Pit Bulls Adopted from ThatMutt.com

The First 60 Minutes from the KC Dog Blog

What a Good Pound Does from Dog Rescue Association of Victoria Inc.

The Seven Deadly Sins of ‘Overpopulation’ from SavingPets


Companion Animal Shelter Summit

It was with surprise, and pleasure, I received an invitation to the Companion Animal Shelter Summit held in Adelaide, in Parliament House. This was a new venture, supported by diverse politicians (Susan Close from the Labor Party, Tammy Franks from the Greens, and Michelle Lensink form the Liberal Party), and, pleasingly, gaining attendance from a number of different animal welfare organisations. This function promoted itself to be, and was, a great networking opportunity.

I attended this function on the 10th of October and share my notes on the program below. I must admit that I neglected to take detailed notes on many ‘cat things’ (not a surprise), but I did make some notes and did include them below.

Dr Michael Moyer and Mr Tim Vasudeva at the Companion Animal Shelter Summit.

Dr Michael Moyer and Mr Tim Vasudeva at the Companion Animal Shelter Summit.

They keynotes speaker for the Summit was Michael R Moyer, a veterinarian practicing in Pennsylvania, with an extensive history in animal welfare, and what he approximates to be 20 years experience in sheltering practices.


Sheltering and Animal Welfare in the USA

Moyer began by describing the many organisations that function in the USA. Like the ASPCA, an old organisation with roots in equine welfare, who have a turn over of $189million in gifts and donations on an annual basis through public awareness campaigns.  A lot of this money goes into things like ‘Animal Cops’ (they’re behind the TV show). They do run a shelter and hospital for companion animals, which holds about 3,200 animals.

Moyer also looked at the HSUS, who earns itself $233million on an annual basis through TV advertisements and mailouts. They are a highly ‘visible’ organisation, dipping their fingers into many pies. They do not run shelters for domestic anials, but have about 6-8 wildlife sanctuaries across the country.

The American Humane Association is a little novel in this day-and-age as it looks at the humane treatment of animals and children.  This organisation is largely unknown by the public, despite it placing “No animals were harmed” labels at the end of movies. Their focus is not so much on companion animals, but producing animals on farms and accrediting these facilities. They gain about $22million in donations annually.

Best Friends Animal Society logo.I included Best Friends Animal Society’s logo on the left here because I just think it’s one of the most adorable logos I’ve ever seen.  BFAS often focusses its attention on ‘crisis’, such as hurricanes or other disasters, and providing boarding for animals in times of evacuations.  Through these disasters, they seek fundraising, leading to an intake of about $53million a year.  They often frequently take on high-profile cruelty cases.  They have a 1000 dog and cat animal sanctuary (with some large animals) and often have animals in long-term housing scenarios. They have recently taken over No Kill Los Angeles, including off site adoption sites and with 14 different rescues using these sites.

Moyer mentioned Humane Alliance, that focusses on desexing surgeries on a large scale – about 4 million pets being sterilised in the USA in a year, including transport to and from their desexing facilities. The desexing they provide is of high quality and they also have unique, high-volume training camps for vets.

Additionally, Petsmart Charities was mentioned. Even here in Australia, we have heard of ‘Petsmart’ (the pet store), but what we don’t hear about how they encourage customers to donate on purchase. Moyer described Petsmart Charities as ‘data driven’ in the type of recommendations they make for life saving in shelters. Petsmart Charities earn about $79 million, mostly from customers, annually.

Overall, Moyer described Animal Sheltering in the USA as:

  • Highly localised, highly fragmented, highly variable in success.
  • Often funded by municipality and not for profit runs it.
  • County shelters in more regional areas.
  • Large numbers of shelters in USA – 3500-5000 individual shelters.
  • The term ‘SPCA’ is used by counties and the public is confused because they think it relates to the ASPCA.
  • Regional variation in scope of challenges/success – climate/culture has an impact – as there are differences across the country with free ranging dogs and they care of dogs, geographical differences.

When someone brought up PETA, he called their sheltering an “active euthanasia program” instead of a shelter, as 88% of their intakes are euthanised. He clarified, though, that sheltering isn’t really PETA’s thing and they’re more into other animal rights agendas.

Across the USA, there are many universities teaching shelter medicine alongside their veterinarian studies.


Pediatric Desexing

Part of Moyer’s talk was surrounding pediatric desexing, which he defined as desexing from 6-16 weeks of age.  He noted that many recommend that desexing take place at 6-8 months of age, but there is no evidence to back up this being the ‘best time’ for desexing. Indeed, animals are still quite young at 8 months, so arguably it’s still a pediatric desexing procedure then, too!

While some idnividuals advocate that large breed dogs should be desexed at 14-18 months, Moyer saw “no reason” for this to occur, as surgery is more complex and serious the older the dog is. Moyer poo-pooed the idea that someone with (his example) a Neopolitian Mastiff may want the dog to look as substantial as it would be given the time to mature, and thought the other health benefits were far more pressing.

His main focus was on research that indicates that desexed animals live longer. He does not think urinary incontinence is a big deal (you can medicate it), and made reference to some rare types of cancers being less common in entire dogs, but concluded that this was because they died earlier so never got the chance to have cancer.

Moyer described some guidelines regarding the surgeries themselves:

  • Pediatric desexing should avoid and/or prevent:
    • hypothermia (from premed precautions need to be in place!),
    • long procedures,
    • fasting (controversially, Moyer suggests that young animals are not fasted before a surgery),
    • and NSAIDS.
  • In dogs, anaethetic is riskier if there is mask induction, xylazine, or injectable induction with halothane maintence.
  • In cats, intubation increases the risk of death by 3 times!
  • Young animals should be fed after surgery.
  • Pediatric desexing should house litters together before and after.
  • Hygiene is importnat, including true sterile hemostats.
  • Moyer recommended an inguinal tattoo (which is not common practice in Australia).
  • Pediatric desexing: Consider autoligation, in dogs and cats, males and females!
  • Flank/abdomen spays a matter of preference.

Moyer included several studies regarding desexing in dogs and cats:

Moyer talked about applying a process orientated approach to surgery.  He made reference to ‘The Checklist Manifesto’ by Atul Gawande.  You may be surprised to know that there is evidence that checklists improve patient outcomes in surgery.  That is, less patients die or experience complications if checklists are in place.  Even something as simple as requiring staff to introduce themselves to one another can improve patient outcomes. For this reason, checklists are good and should be implemented!

The benefits of taking a process orientated approach to surgery include:

  • Improved consistency and efficiency
  • Patient care is improved as it is process based, quality assured
  • Facilitates training and cross training
  • Facilitates leadership development
  • Facilitates continuous improvement – with individuals questioning every step of a process, assessing themselves and one another, and being comfortable to discuss problems.
  • Documented processes in place

The alternative to SOPs are: inconsistency, neglect, inefficiency, stagnation, tribal knowledge, and so forth. Moyer argued that not following a SOP should be grounds for discharge (while following them well should be grounds for promotion and other rewards).

With SOPs in place, mass-desexing is done effectively and with good patient outcomes. Moyer wants to dispel the ‘chop shop’ myth – if someone is desexing a lot of animals on a daily basis, they’re going to get very good at it.


Intake protocols for shelter, foster and rescue: Vaccination

Moyer emphasised the importance of shelters vaccinating animals on intake.  Any pet that is at risk of acquiring a disease (including pregnant animals) should be vaccinated against it on intake.  The particular diseases that are relevant will vary between facilities.

Dogs and cats respond to shelter environments, and pathogens, in different ways. For cats, many have latent viruses on intake to a facility and, because of the stress of being held in a shelter environment, they develop illnesses. Dogs on the other hand are normally healthy when they enter the facility, but they develop diseases from exposure to pathogens within the shelter environment.

Moyer joked that the ideal time to vaccinate incoming animals is two weeks before they enter the facility. Of course, that’s not possible (though it suggests that community education and discounted vaccination in the community may have a role in bettering shelters). Failing vaccination before intake, the recommendation is that animals get vaccinated within 30 minutes of entering a facility.

It’s a matter of weighing up risks: surrenders are at a low risk, in terms of disease, while strays are at a higher risk. Young puppies and kittens are the greatest risk of contracting disease.

These vaccinations should take place with modified live products that have been properly stored and reconstituted.

In Australia, we do not have a problem with rabies. For this reason, we do not have animal sheltering intertwined with public health. Moyer described how, in the USA, an interest in public health has funded much of animal control.


Intake protocols for shelter, foster and rescue: Other

Moyer argued that many shelters should have particular intake areas and protocols, with intake staff, an intake processing area, and a ‘receiving area’. But these spaces have to be appropriate. He used an example of intake-kennels where dogs had nose-to-nose contact through the fence, meaning diseases were spread among the 12 or so current intake animals in no time, and then spread to the rest of the shelter population.

Intake procedures should include:

  • health assessment
  • identification (collar/tag/microchip)
  • vaccination
  • anti-paraciticies
  • adoption status assignment (e.g. is it on stray hold or available for adoption immediately?)
  • data capture
  • schedule follow up needs (e.g. a second vaccination? desexing?)
  • for kittens, Pen-G injection


Shelters/Rescues/Fostering Interconnectedness

While Moyer has been in the sheltering industry for the last 20 years, he describes the recent popularity of rescue to be ‘an explosion’.  Rescues are great for shelters: they prevent surrenders and save impounded animals (especially impounded animals that need rehabilitation and special adoptive homes).  This work of rescue has seen a reduction in shelter intakes in many areas.

Shelters are typically the largest resource in the community. They offer opportunities for community engagement including collaborative adoption events. They hold a lot of resources and data.

Moyer considers fostering to be ‘an offsite location of the shelter’.  One of the key challenges with fostering is ‘staying in touch’ – this can sometimes be rectified by providing a list of dates for the animal to come back to the shelter (for example, coming back for surgery, vaccination, of adoption events).  Moyer also advocated the use of ‘foster to adopt’ in some settings. Foster carers need to be fully informed about the disease risks of bringing in foster animals, especially to their existing pets.

In contrast, ‘rescue’ is a broad term that covers networks of kennelling and fostering in an external network. A ‘transfer to rescue’ is a (desirable) outcome for a shelter.  They are a big potential resource and often can specialise in pets at high risk of euthanasia – and, by taking them, effectively reduce euthanasia.


Neonatal kitten care and medicine – and cats

Moyer talked about Austin Pets Alive Bottle Baby Program, and its high density housing of high need neonatal kittens.  The program vigorously and positively recruits volunteers, and these volunteers are staffed around the clock. (Staffing numbers are calculated from the intake data of past years.)  Obviously, this is a big job, and there are coordinators for both foster and adoption.

The program uses a ‘all in, all out’ batching system, where there are three rooms which fill and empty in a week, and then that one room has an entire clean. This reduces the spread of disease.

Moyer believes kittens are easy to place in new homes, because they’re cute and just need a little bit of marketing.

Moyer explained how the unowned cat population produces the cat population (as most owned cats are desexed), so it’s targeting this unowned population which should be the focus of number-reduction efforts.

Shelters need to provide intake alternatives for free ranging cats.

Moyer recommended that cats are cleaned ‘in residence’, so there is less stress for the cat and there is less spread of disease. There is no reason for a cat to have a completely disinfected cage every day.


No Kill Communities

A shelter’s capacity describes a shelter’s resources, associated rescue’s resources, and their foster resources. In that way, the life saving capacity of the community is interlinked with the shelter facility.  Moyer doesn’t like to use the term ‘no kill’ to describe facilities but, rather, communities. Despite the fragmented nature of the animal rescue/sheltering system, it is still ultimately one system.  In this way, it is a community working towards the ‘no kill’ goal, rather than an individual facility’s pursuit.

Homeless pets are a social problem. Not vetrinarian, not biological, not legal. As homeless pets is a community issue, then community and social solutions are the best.  If political support is available use it.


Extra thoughts from Moyer:

  • Moyer described dogs as having a ‘supply/distribution mistmatch’ – not an overpopulation problem.
  • In Moyer’s mind, there is a ‘native rate’ of animals entering any shelter. It’s not a high number, but it’s inevitable that shelters will have an intake of animals, as that is the role the community.
  • Moyer dismisses some individual’s focus on adoption returns, as the number of animals returned is a negligible number.
  • “Make rehoming the primary source of pet acquisition” and a lot of sheltering problems get easier. This includes removing barriers to adoption, like price.
  • Make return to owner easier – that is, impounded animals should easily be able to get home.
  • Make surrender harder.  This means making it less necessary and less attractive (e.g. required surrender appointments).
  • Asking this question pre surrender: “What would you need for you to keep your pet?” and working to supply this. (Like Downtown Dog Rescue.)
  • Many people don’t realise that their veterinarian can euthanise pets. It seems silly, but many people would choose this option if they knew it was available, over ‘surrender for euthanasia’.
  • And a neat idea: reward transport volunteers with naming opportunities!
  • Leasdership must: inspire change, incetizise staff and volunteers, instutionalise success, innvoate collaborative models


Barriers to life saving

I was in a group that broke away to discuss ‘barriers to life saving. The questions included “What is dying? Why? What can be done about it?” 

What is at highest risk of euthanasia? Our group suggested:

  • council pound
  • aggressive
  • anti social
  • medium sized or bgigger
  • bull breeds
  • untrained
  • unsocialised
  • senior dogs – greater than 8 years
  • ‘escape artists’
  • health conditions
  • request euthanasia
  • fearful and stressed
  • working dogs that don’t work – including greyhounds
  • kitten season

Moyer (who we were lucky enough to have chairing our focus group) suggested that we need shared reporting/data and greater trasnparency. There is no state requirement for this type of record keeping. Some groups are ‘concerned about backlash’ (if I may personally comment… if groups are doing things that may produce backlash, then perhaps they should cease to do things that create backlash…), so perhaps data could be aggregated to prevent this problem.

Reasons for surrender:

  • rental isues
  • behaviour – sep anxiety, destructive, untrained/hyperactie, escapes, aggression
  • deceased
  • not enough time
  • council number enforcement
  • life changes – including relationship breakdown or pregnant/new baby

What animals are most at risk of being unclaimed?

  • bully breeds
  • kelpies
  • lack of info on process
  • lack of finances
  • untrained
  • lag for cat owners (i.e. they wait a few more days to start looking for a lost cat)

Just as a note, the suggestions above were just the result of brainstorming of the group, and there was no need to substantiate individual suggestions to these lists. What I am saying is this is ‘ideas only’ stuff, and places to research more, not to accept as gospel.

Found Pets App

Tim Vasudeva from RSPCA SA (formally AWL NSW) spoke about his ‘Found Pets App’.

He briefly mentioned the importance of using visually appealing images to capture the attention of adopters, and suggested promoting animals on Facebook and PetRescue on Fridays (so they can come look at those pets over the course of the weekend).

Found Pets is an app that aims to ‘fufil a gap’ for pet owners, as we, as a community, are ‘bad’ at supporting people through the stressful time of losing a pet. The community needs more information about the reclaim process.

The Found Pets app is for all animals, and it is a ’1 minute’ process for Animal Management Officers/Rangers to upload an animal. The ranger uploads a photo, specifies the species, and the suburb that the animal was found (and the app adds the date, council contact details, and relevant pound contact details.

Found Pets is a website and a mobile application.

Owners can set the app so it alerts if a relevant pet (i.e. one amtching their lost pet’s description) is found.

It saves councils money. It saves pet owners money.

It’s a $30 per user per month expense for council. (The funds go to the app developer, not the RSPCA.)


Further reading from the Paw Project: CASS: Companion Animal Shelter Summit