Humane Society does its job, but is that really enough?

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What do you do when unforeseen circumstances force you to give up a beloved pet? Maybe you or your spouse are about to be deployed, or you’re moving to an apartment complex that doesn’t allow dogs, or you have a new baby on the way, or your new significant other is severely allergic to cats.

Not so many years ago your choices were limited.

You could ask friends, family, or co-workers, you could post flyers in the neighborhood, and once those options were exhausted, you had two choices.

You could drive out in the country, release the pet, and hope that he/she would find a home, or you could drop the animal off at the Humane Society.

The out-in-the-country idea for drop-off was (and is) the worst option. Rural Colorado is not populated by big-hearted ranchers who want to adopt your mutt, but by angry, exasperated folks who are sick of city dwellers abandoning their animals.

The Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region contracts with local governments in Colorado Springs and Pueblo to perform a wide variety of tasks related to animal control. The organization runs animal shelters, picks up strays, investigates reports of cruelty to animals and mediates animal-related neighborhood disputes.

Most visibly, it offers surrendered or unclaimed animals for adoption — and kills those that attract no takers.

In 2011, the Humane Society had revenues of more than $8.7 million. Of that, $4.6 million came from contract services (i.e., government sources), $2.6 million from contributions, and $1.1 million from shelter fees. During 2011 (the most recent year for which figures are available), the organization took in a total of 27,961 animals, of which 7,326 were “euthanized,” while 55.9 percent of cats found new homes, as did 79.8 percent of dogs.

Pretty good for a kill shelter, but not good odds from the standpoint of a person surrendering a beloved pet.

So what do you do?

You post on Craigslist. You reach a much larger audience than does the HSPPR website, you can describe your pet in detail and attach multiple photos, and you can deal directly with potential adopters.

Here, for example, is HSPPR’s description of an adoption-ready golden retriever, accompanied by a somewhat grainy pic:

“I am a neutered male, red Golden Retriever (adoption fee: $130). The shelter staff think I am about 5 years old. I have been at the shelter since Jan 07, 2013.”

And here’s a typical ad from Craigslist:

“We have to give up our beautiful Aspen (a yellow lab) nine years old. I want to make sure she goes to a good home. She is older (9 years) but she is awesome. She still likes to play but she’s calm and she doesn’t chew. She is completely house trained and will alert you to having to go to the bathroom. She is a great comfort when you are sick and sweet as can be. I’m completely devastated about this. She’s perfectly healthy and is good with other animals and great with kids. She’s been in my baby’s life since he was 1 and he’s 3. She doesn’t bite. She’s protective but not violent. All she does is bark when the door bell is rung or someone knocks. Please only serious inquiries. She also comes with collar, leash, food bowl and food. Please email or text the number…”

Earlier this week, 26 dogs were listed for adoption at the Humane Society. Many more were posted on Craigslist, although the exact number isn’t clear since posts stay up for a month unless deleted. Craigslist is also used as a resource by small nonprofits that shelter or foster unwanted animals.

A post (http://cosprings.craigslist.org/pet/3519560914.html) earlier this week listed more than 100 organizations statewide where animal owners can “get help with Food, Vets, Lost/ found, deployment, surrender, and adoption.”

Business model disruption via Craigslist is nothing new, but it’s interesting to see the site accidentally take over part of a crucial governmental function.

Just as charter schools have diverted thousands of the most educable students from public schools, Craigslist diverts adoptable animals from the Humane Society.

That may in turn increase kill rates, reduce public funding, and worsen the problem of animal overpopulation, since private owners don’t spay or neuter their animals before giving them away.

That’s why HSPPR needs to change. Its website should be less opaque, offer more information about pets, and cooperate more fully with private owners who want to offer their pets for adoption on Craigslist or other social media.

In an era of fragmentation, disintermediation and infinitely adaptive personal networks, government-financed command and control nodes are vulnerable. Just ask the School District 11 board of education.

One Response to Humane Society does its job, but is that really enough?

  1. Thank you, John, for shedding some light on the pet overpopulation problem in our area! We are making great strides every day in decreasing the number of pets that come through our shelter and increasing our adoption rates. As you mention in your blog, there are definitely areas in which we can improve. In 2012, we sheltered more than 24,000 animals in our Colorado Springs and Pueblo facilities. We would love to give every animal infinite attention and resources; however, we must take into account the volume of animals passing through our doors and our limited means. We are committed to saving as many lives as possible, and this past year, we celebrated a live release rate of 72.7 percent for dogs and cats in all locations.

    You might be surprised to learn 5 – 7 million animals enter animal welfare and control agencies each year in the United States, with 3 – 4 million animals euthanized each year. While there has been great improvement over the last two decades, a total of 60 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats are euthanized across the United States. To us, this is an outrage. We are very proud of our 2012 live release rate of 72.6 percent, but there is still so much work to be done in our community to save animal lives. Overpopulation is a community issue, and local animal welfare and control groups need support to solve the problem. Our agency offers sterilization, adoptions, a foster program, and medical and behavioral rehabilitation, and still averages 65 animals coming through the doors every day. HSPPR is a resource for homeless and abused animals, not a “kill shelter.”

    We do want to be a resource for pet owners who have no other options, but we highly encourage owners who are willing/able to take the time to find the right home for their pet to do so, whether it be on Craigslist or using other methods. We would rather have an owner, who knows their pet’s personality best, be able to find a suitable home. In fact, 40 percent of animals in households in the United States were rehomed through the friends and family network. While animals leaving HSPPR are spayed/neutered, we offer subsidized low-cost spays/neuters in the HSPPR hospital to help pet owners ensure their pets are sterilized and not contributing to pet overpopulation. In 2012, our veterinary team sterilized more than 900 owned animals through this program.

    Direct interaction with adoption animals at HSPPR is the best way to ensure a good fit for your household. However, because we know animal photos on our website drive people to the shelter, we are working toward providing more information about animals available for adoption. Most animals, 70 percent, come in as lost pets with no known prior medical or behavioral history. Despite this additional challenge, our knowledgeable staff and volunteers evaluate the animals for health and behavior. This provides helpful information for potential adopters to consider and our volunteers are working on a project to add more information about the animals to the website.

    We also feel very fortunate to have the support of local media in helping us spread the word about animals looking for a new home. Last month alone, HSPPR was able to take advantage of nearly 80 opportunities to promote animals in local media, leading to adoption almost immediately. This does not include pets featured on HSPPR’s Facebook page and other social media outlets. We are lucky to have multiple channels in which to promote animals, giving us a much greater reach in finding potential adopters than the average individual.

    We are very proud of the progress we have made, but as always, we are pushing ourselves to do better. As residents become more aware of the problems facing homeless and abused animals today, we can work together to further our mission: a compassionate society where animals are cared for and valued. Readers can help by adopting homeless animals from HSPPR and local animal rescue organizations. Or, if you are interested in our volunteer program, please visit http://www.hsppr.org/volunteer.

    Jan McHugh-Smith, HSPPR
    January 17, 2013 at 7:00 pm