Getting to the Goal: Making Michigan a No Kill State

BY AJ TRAGER

In efforts to end the killing of healthy and treatable homeless cats and dogs in Michigan, 40 percent of the counties in the state practice the "No Kill" equation model for animal shelters.

Since 2003, the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance has been advocating the No Kill equation model where euthanasia is only used in the truest sense of the word: when the animal is immediately suffering or is intensely vicious, and is not administered to healthy or treatable animals. According to the organization's website, open admission shelters that do not turn animals away are achieving save rates of over 90 percent with this model accompanied by collaboration and partnerships with other organizations in the area.

Debbie Schutt, chair of the board of the MPFA, says that the biggest hurdles to getting animal shelters in Michigan to adopt this model are the myths surrounding the practice, which include: allowing sick animals to suffer, euthanizing poorly mannered and possibly vicious animals, promoting hoarding or warehousing, advocating for limited admission in municipal shelters, and that extending an animal's life is more expensive than euthanasia.

"We reach out to all of the shelters and have invited them to our conferences. We do offer various services and anybody can contact us. We are more than welcome to go work with them. In the last year we have worked directly with three shelters to finally implement some changes," Schutt said.

As a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, MPFA advocates, educates and provides tech assistance to shelters across the state. Over the last year MPFA has worked with Genesee County, the Macomb County Humane Society and the city of Detroit to improve their no kill practices.

As is common with a change in leadership, Schutt says that Genesee County in particular has experienced an "about face" and change is happening dramatically; Detroit is experiencing this as well. She credited Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, executive director of the Detroit Department of Health & Wellness Promotion, with helping to get newly hired shelter director Melissa Miller for the Detroit Animal Control. Miller was hired in December and since then has really begun changing the shelter around, Schutt says.

The treatment of domestic pets has evolved over centuries -- even more so in recent years.

"Companion animals have developed a different place in society. There was a time where the dog was out in the backyard and the cat roamed around and you threw out the table scraps and no one would ever think about taking their animal on vacation. It has taken quite awhile for us as individuals to see them as members of our family, and that didn't easily translate over to the shelters system," Schutt explained.

She says that 60 percent of Michigan residents have one or more pets and the vast majority of households are treating their pets like members of the family. But what happens when the pet runs away from home or gets separated from the family? The clock starts ticking in some counties, and the family would only have a small window of time to find and collect their pet.

"There are too many of those stories out there," said Schutt. "That their pet was euthanized before they got to them."

Annual Shelter Report

Every year the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development produces the "Annual Shelter Report." Statistics over the last year are collected in March. Results are released before the end of June. In 2014, 162 shelters filed reports. The MPFA uses this report to compose their annual "Shelters by Save and Live Release Rate" report.

While the number of shelters in the state practicing the No Kill model is growing, many shelters still practice with a live release rate of below 70 percent.

Based on the MPFA report, the majority of the 40 percent of Michigan counties dedicated to engaging in best practices for euthanasia reside in the Upper Peninsula and northern counties.

Counties rich in population such as Oakland, Wayne, Ingham and Kalamazoo all have a long way to go before they achieve a No Kill rate of 90 percent or better. Five counties in the state -- including St. Clair, Arenac, Lake, Cass and Oscoda counties -- have received a less than 50 percent live release rate from MPFA.

"If they have low save/release rate, we've found it's a process to get folks to understand they need help. Sometimes it's a knock out, drag out process. We've offered help for years in the city of Detroit -- they weren't interested. Offered Macomb County help for years, too. Sometimes it involves two to three years of advocating, working and pushing until finally something changes. That's what happened in Genesee and Macomb (counties)," Schutt said.

Roscommon, Montmorency, Mecosta, Manistee, Leelanau, Keweenaw, Alger, Alpena, Baraga-L'Anse, Barry, Branch, Chippewa, Crawford, Gogebic, Grand Traverse, Houghton, and Huron counties all received a 100 percent live save rate.

Fourth No Kill Conference

Every other autumn the MPFA hosts a "No Kill" conference to discuss the No Kill movement and how to advance best practices for euthanasia in shelters and/or organizations. The conference provides six different educational tracks for shelter workers, home based animal care workers, veterinarians and the general public.

In addition to the animal care specialist focused tracks, the organizers of the annual conference are developing a track specifically for police officers.

"We are going to reach out to a group that we haven't reached out to before because often times the police, in their line of duty, are getting confronted by a lot more pets," Schutt said. "So it's a matter of helping them understand animal behavior and how to deal with the animal -- which is training they don't normally get. We want to step up and help educate them. Our animal control officers understand the laws about abuse and neglect of animals. But regular officers may not recognize the danger signs."

This year MPFA is participating in the national "1 million cat challenge," an effort to get 1 million cats adopted that would normally be euthanized. The program started a year ago and includes different components for working with cats, including removing barriers to adoption or foster care.

The conference will be held Sept. 15-16 near Flint. Check out the MPFA website later in the year for more concrete details about the event and to obtain a schedule and registration guidelines.

The full 2014 Michigan Shelter's report can be read at http://gaybe.am/shld.

The full MPFA shelter save and live release report can be found at http://gaybe.am/shrp.

Visit the MPFA website at http://www.michiganpetfund.org/.

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