On January 1, 2004, the Humane Society of Tampa Bay inaugurated a new no-kill policy that commits the organization to saving all of the healthy and treatable animals in its care. According to Executive Director Linda Baker, "There will still be some circumstances where an animal will be euthanized, but we will no longer euthanize one pet to make room for another." Maddie's Fund recently spoke with Linda about the shift in policy.
Q. Tell me a little about your community....
A. Tampa is centrally located on Florida's west coast. The county population is 1.1 million. Animal Services maintains the largest shelter, a facility that takes in 32,000 animals per year and adops out 3,000.
Q. What sparked your transition to no-kill?
A. I attended a No More Homeless Pets Conference, where I heard a talk by Robin Starr, Executive Director of the Richmond SPCA. As she spoke, a light bulb came on and I said, "We can do this." I worked with our Board to put together a master plan in April of last year. Having the template of the Richmond SPCA sped up the process tremendously. I used their model because they are from the same region and share a lot of similarities with us.
Q. What operational changes have you made to accommodate the change in policy?
A. We no longer take in strays. Owner surrendered animals are admitted by appointment only. This system is modeled after the program at the Richmond SPCA. If the shelter is full and we can't accept an animal, the caller goes through a detailed intake process and is offered advice and resources that may either allow them to correct pet behavior problems or find a new home for the pet themselves. We've found that by the time there's an opening at the shelter, many have decided to keep their pet.
Since we're only taking in the number of animals we can adequately care for, we estimate that our intake will decline by about 20% this year. The shelter took in 13,000 animals in 2002 and 11,000 pets in 2003. With the new policy, we figure to take in 8,000-9,000 animals. The shelter will also put an increased emphasis on spay/neuter. Since our spay/neuter clinic opened five years ago, we have provided surgery for 15,000 owned animals, in addition to altering all of our shelter animals prior to adoption.
We were pleasantly surprised to find that closing the door to strays has not led to a huge rise in intake at Animal Services. In the first four months of the new program, the shelter had only taken in an additional 84 animals.
Q. What kind of positive outcomes have resulted from the no-kill policy?
A. We were surprised that our change in policy was so well received by the community. The transition was a lot smoother than we anticipated.
Donations and volunteer support have increased. A donor recently funded treatments for heartworm and URI. Lack of time and money prevented the animals from getting these treatments in the past. We also received a recent donation of a new adoption outreach van.
The percentage of shelter adoptions has nearly doubled over the same period last year. For one thing, we're taking in more adoptable animals. And, instead of spending time on euthanasia, we're spending time with individual animals to improve their health and behavior. Our animals are spayed and neutered before they're put out on the floor, which helps adoptions. We're also doing more aggressive outreach. In 2003, we opened a satellite adoption center in an upscale shopping center. With our new adoption van, we're able to take out an additional fifteen or twenty animals per day, three to four days per week. We've taken the van to corporate business complexes and apartment complexes. One apartment owner was so supportive he offered a $50 donation to the Humane Society for each adoption.
Q. Have there been any downsides?
A. Now that animals stay with us longer, we have more animals coming in healthy and getting sick with conditions like upper respiratory infections. Our shelter veterinarian has done some research and come up with new protocols for treating URI.
We also have to worry about stress associated with length of stay. We just opened a "real-life" room for cats to help reduce stress. We're looking for more volunteers to help us with the dogs. We also want to build our foster network.
Q. How did other animal groups in your county feel about your new policy?
A. We've had a cooperative working relationship with all of the groups in the county for several years through a No More Homeless Pets coalition. Animal Services is part of that group, along with 23 other rescues and shelters. Animal Services is rooting for us to succeed so we can help them succeed. The other groups are also very supportive. For quite some time we've helped our coalition partners by providing low-cost spay/neuter surgeries for some of their animals and by inviting them to share our mobile adoption van and offsite shopping mall adoption site.
Q. What is your ultimate goal?
A. To do even more spay/neuter and stop the killing community-wide.
About the author: Linda has been the Executive Director of the Humane Society of Tampa Bay since 1999. She directed a local chapter of the American Heart Association for twelve years before assuming her current position. She led a local chapter of the American Cancer Society for ten years before that.