Best Friends Blog
 

Why shorter hold times save lives

Shar–pei mix dogBest Friends’ mission is very focused and simple. It involves ending the killing of pets in American shelters. We believe that every single community in the United States can be no-kill. We believe this because there are already more than 200 communities across the country saving 90 percent or more of the pets who enter the shelter system.

How these levels of lifesaving can be achieved isn’t rocket science: Reduce the number of pets entering the shelter through aggressive, targeted spay/neuter programs, and on the other side, increase the number of animals leaving the shelter through adoptions. It’s a noses-in, noses-out equation that drives everything we do. But, as they say, the devil is in the details and those details can often lead to division within the animal welfare community about how exactly we ensure that the noses-in, noses-out equation comes to fruition.

One thing we know that can hinder a shelter’s ability to save lives, paradoxically, is an increased mandatory hold time — the number of days that shelters are required to hold an impounded stray for owner redemption before being permitted to offer that dog or cat for adoption to the public, or transfer to a qualified rescue group. Hold times are common sense. They allow for lost pets to be reclaimed by their people and for the shelter to put forth a reasonable effort to ensure that wayward pets find their way home.

On first glance, a longer minimum hold time seems to make sense and serve the interests of lost pets and the pet-owning public. However, real-world analysis doesn’t support that conclusion.

Right now in the state of Wisconsin, a debate is raging over a bill that addresses hold times. Under current law in the Badger State, stray animals must be held for seven days. In practice, that actually becomes eight days because the law does not count the day the animal was brought to the shelter. Wisconsin has one of the longest stray hold times in the country and the numbers show that a longer hold time doesn’t actually prove to be a lifesaving measure.

For example, take the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC), which is the primary shelter for the 19 municipalities of Milwaukee County. According to MADACC, 74 percent of dogs and 52 percent of cats reclaimed at MADACC in 2014 went home in the first two days of their stray hold. Only 114 of the 11,221 dogs and cats entering MADACC in 2014 (just one percent) were reclaimed on days five through seven.

You may look at those numbers and say that one percent is worth the wait. Those 114 animals deserve to go home just as any other, and the shelter should find a way to accommodate the longer hold time to ensure all lost pets make it home. The problem with that line of thinking is that longer hold times mean that the shelter population can easily balloon beyond the shelter’s capacity, which plays into the “euthanizing-for-space” rationale for shelter killing. Conversely, smaller shelter populations mean that animals needing more training or health care in order to be ready for prime time can be given the time they need, rather than being squeezed out by the extended stay of an easily placed pet.

Opponents will say that reducing hold times will simply give the shelter manager who’s not invested in no-kill the opportunity to kill more animals more quickly. Sadly, such individuals are already killing shelter pets for any excuse, and shelter crowding is at the top of their list of reasons.

As a point of comparison, let’s look at some very successful no-kill communities, recent save rates and their minimum stray hold times*:

  • Austin, Texas, 93 percent, three-day stray hold
  • Portland, Oregon, 93 percent, three-day stray hold
  • Hamilton County, Indiana, 90.3 percent, four-day stray hold
  • Kansas City, Missouri, 93 percent, five-day stray hold
  • Boulder, Colorado: 93 percent, five-day stray hold

A bill working its way through the Wisconsin state legislature right now would allow shelters to find homes for animals on the sixth day in the shelter — which cuts the stray hold to four days, plus the initial day of impoundment. This simply puts the state of Wisconsin near the national average for stray holds and will improve save rates across the state, essentially overnight. No large community with a stray hold as long as that in Wisconsin has ever reached a 90-percent save rate.

Without question, getting lost pets home is a priority for Best Friends and every other animal welfare organization. Microchipping and other strategies should be promoted to ensure that lost pets get home as soon as possible. Forcing pets to stagnate in shelters for unnecessary extra days that do nothing to increase return-to-owner rates is not a lifesaving strategy.

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Francis Battista
Co-founder
Best Friends Animal Society

 

*References:
Austin, Texas
Portland, Oregon
Hamilton County, IN
Kansas City, MO
Boulder, CO

  • Melissa_BestFriends

    Rob,

    Thank you for sharing this with us, and please understand, just as with Kathy and Lost Dogs of Wisconsin, Best Friends is incredibly grateful for your work on reuniting lost pets with their families. Just like Kathy, we’ve had you speak at our National Conference – a measure of the respect we have for your expertise on this issue.

    At Best Friends we strongly believe in the use of data as a way to inform our decisions. We believe that the data shows that longer hold times in shelters don’t support stronger RTO rates. We have shared the experience of MADACC, and others across the country have confirmed the data in their own shelters.

    It’s again worth noting that Wisconsin has the longest stray hold in the entire country. As we look to other communities for guidance, we can see that shorter hold times can positively effect save rates. Our goal is ending the killing of pets in shelters, and Best Friends will support legislation that helps us achieve that goal. Thank you for everything that you do to help homeless pets.

    Sincerely,
    Melissa Miller
    Social Media Community Manager

    • Mike Fry

      The problem with your statement, Melissa, is that while you say you want to use data to support your positions, you have, in effect, cherry picked data from one shelter in order to shoe-horn your position. Reduced stray hold periods accelerate killing in shelters. You and I both know that. And, why BF is supporting this bill when it includes this language, while failing to support bills (like CAPA in Maryland) that absolutely will save lives demonstrates to me how far from your stated core mission your organization has strayed.

      • Melissa_BestFriends

        Hi Mike,

        The issue we’re arguing is that when intake reaches into the tens of thousands, holding animals for extended stray holds (when those extra days don’t actually improve RTO rates) is detrimental and leads to more killing. We know those extra days don’t improve the rates dramatically by looking at the data. Not just of MADACC, but other communities. Since this issue was raised, we’ve heard from other, very progressive shelter managers around the country who have said that reduced hold times enable them to save more lives.

        We believe that more can be done, not just in Wisconsin, but also across the country as it pertains to increasing RTO rates. Best Friends supports those initiatives and we will continue to hold shelters accountable and work to end the killing. There is much work to be done after this bill passes, and we will continue working in Wisconsin, alongside all the willing stakeholders moving forward.

        Because every animal matters, we support the creation of sheltering systems that give the most animals the best chance at leaving alive, while also giving pet owners appropriate time to be reunited with their lost pet. We believe this bill does just that, and I hope this helps to clarify our position. Thank you for all of your hard work on behalf of homeless pets.

        Sincerely,
        Melissa Miller
        Social Media Community Manager

        • Mike Fry

          “Those extra days don’t actually improve RTO rates)”

          This is not true, even according to the cherry-picked data Best Friends has put forward to support its God-awful position. In fact, if you even bothered to read the blog post to which we are all commenting, you would see that even Francis has acknowledged this by writing:

          “Only 114 of the 11,221 dogs and cats entering MADACC in 2014 (just one percent) were reclaimed on days five through seven.”

          So 1% were reclaimed by owners after the 4 day hold period. But, that number needs to be put in the context of the redemption programs the agency has. If they want to increase RTO, they need to engage in those activities, and they will need time to do so, which is also why citing this one number from one facility is, actually, pointless to this discussion.

          It is worth noting that Best Friends has said nothing about the other benefits of extended hold period… like, not making a life/death decision about a pet while it is still trying to settle into a new environment, etc.

          You folks would be better off if, now that you have dug yourself into a hole, you simply stopped digging, IMO.

    • Stop the killing NOW!

      Melissa – Your example is like me showing you a person who lives well into their 90’s even though they smoke 4 packs of cigarettes a day, every day of their life. Does that mean that smoking is healthy and everyone should pick up the habit? There will always be statistical outliers, which you would know if you ever had studied statistics,

  • mklitt

    The Wisconsin legislature is considering reducing the shelter stray hold from 7 days to 4 days, arguing that sending dogs (and cats) to rescues will save lives. This ignores the fact that removing dogs earlier from a shelter, whether by killing, adoption, or release to a rescue, you take away precious time from families looking for their missing animals.

    The argument is that by keeping animals for a shorter period, shelters will save more animals by making room to take in additional animals. If this argument were correct, then you could save even more animals by holding animals for an even shorter length of time, say an hour.

    The logic is faulty because one of the best ways to keep an animal alive is to send him home. The Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC) sent only 15% of the animals in their care home in 2014, 1,681 animals. Unfortunately, this low percentage is the national average. More effort should be made to boost that percentage to above average, not take steps, which will lower it.

    As to comparing No Kill shelters with 3 day stray holds to MADACC’s kill shelter and suggesting a shorter stray hold is the secret to their success, compare MADACC to other 3 day hold kill shelters, such as Dallas and Houston for a much grimmer picture and a far more apt comparison. No Kill is hard work and cannot be legislated. But you can legislate away from No Kill and that is what will happen in Wisconsin if the stray hold is shortened.

    • Melissa_BestFriends

      Hi there,

      Thanks for your note and thoughtful response. Ultimately what we’re looking to help Wisconsin do is to strike the balance between getting animals home and getting them out of the shelter (via adoption). When intake reaches into the tens of thousands, holding animals for extended stray holds, when those extra days don’t actually improve RTO rates, is detrimental and leads to more killing. We know those extra days don’t improve the rates dramatically by looking at the data. Not just of MADACC, but other communities. Since this issue was raised, we’ve heard from other, very progressive shelter managers around the country who have said that reduced hold times enable them to save more lives. Our mission at Best Friends is to end the killing of pets in shelters, and we will work on legislation that works to that end.

      Because every animal matters, we support the creation of sheltering systems that give the most animals the best chance at leaving alive, while also giving pet owners appropriate time to be reunited with their lost pet. We believe this bill does just that. I hope that this helps to clarify our position on the matter. We appreciate everything that you do to help homeless pets.

      Sincerely,
      Melissa Miller
      Social Media Community Manager

      • Esther Delgado

        Heard it through the grapevine ?

      • Stop the killing NOW!

        Melissa – You are like a broken record, repeating the same garbage over and over again. None of what you said is true and shelters across the country will tell you taht you’re dead wrng. FACT: Shorter hold period means more dead animals. As a “social media community manager” you know nothing about what happens in shelters.

        • Melissa_BestFriends

          Hi Nicole,

          I’d like to clarify for our readers here that I do understand what happens in shelters. Before I began working for Best Friends, I was part of a team that helped a city become no-kill. In fact, that city is one of those listed here in this blog with a three-day stray hold — and for reference, they saved 96.9 percent of their January 2016 intake. While we encourage a healthy discussion on our blog and social media channels, I’d like to remind you that personal attacks and excessive negativity are not allowed per our comment policy: http://blogs.bestfriends.org/index.php/comment-policy/. Those who are repeat offenders will be banned from commenting further.

          Melissa

  • Exhausted

    Its sad that some in WI are putting their own agenda before life-saving by opposing this legislation. The numbers are clear, longer hold times reduce shelter capacity and increase the likelihood of a negative outcome when space runs out. There is no reason these advocates can’t lobby for minimum standards to increase the likelihood of RTO with their own bill and with their own time. To try to destroy forward progress in other areas of life-saving is a shame.

    To portray it that Best Friends, as not encouraging better practices in other areas of sheltering (such as RTO) because in this instance, they are focusing on increasing capacity, is disingenuous. This organization is made up of people that have dedicated their entire lives to life-saving and the humane treatment of animals. To attack the messenger because you don’t like the message is petty.

    And lastly, anecdotes aren’t evidence.

    • mklitt

      Best Friends is an organization made up of people and people
      can be fallible. Just as they were on the wrong side opposing Oreo’s Law, they are on the wrong side supporting this legislation.

    • Esther Delgado

      Neither is rhetoric…

  • Kay Frederick

    The following was my response when Mike Kuglitsch asked me why I opposed this shorter stay. Sadly, he never responded.

    I could not disagree more with the “logic” put forth by Spiros and Petrowski. Nor, as I have learned, do the many fine small rescue groups in the state.

    As someone who lost a pet, I can attest to needing the longer time period. First, we were on vacation when our dog disappeared (not uncommon as I have learned), so it was three days before I could begin looking for my girl. Next, she disappeared from East Troy farm area, so I had a minimum of three shelters to check. The Racine County shelter is located at the east end of the county, adding to my distress. One major issue, of which I was unaware so you may be also, is that giving shelters a verbal description of your pet gives you a false sense of security. I received calls, only to find that the animal was nowhere close to matching a description of my Annie. This meant that I had to visit these sites and make a visual check of animals that had been brought in.

    I’m really distressed that the authors would once again pull that “taxpayer money” language since owners are charged a hefty amount when, and if, they retrieve their beloved pet, as is an adoptive family. So that’s just political jargon meant to perk the ears of the uninformed!

    If they, or you, truly wish to reduce the amount of time a lost animal is in shelter, you will require all rescue facilities to post a digital image of pets after a 48 hour period. This is of no cost to them and would be of huge benefit to both lost animals and their families. You would also require all pet owners to have microchips implanted. These are measures that would actually help return an animal to its family.

    Lastly, to say that a reduced hold is of benefit to the animal is, frankly, absurd. Yes, being in the rescue facility would be traumatizing. But to think that being taken from there by anyone other than their family members would not just be another trauma, shows a lack of caring and understanding. As a person who has done rescue work, I have seen these poor animals go through these times of being passed off to a loving home. To them, all they understand is that it is not family.

    Should this come to a hearing, I will be there with Lost Dogs of Wisconsin to voice my concerns.

    Kay Frederick

    • Melissa_BestFriends

      Kay,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us on this.

      Animal sheltering while on paper seems simple is quite complex and quite frankly, no single issue can be prioritized over another. Managing intake is a major piece of the puzzle when it comes to improving save rates. When intake reaches into the tens of thousands, holding animals for extended stray holds, when those extra days don’t actually improve RTO rates, is detrimental and leads to more killing. We know those extra days don’t improve the rates dramatically by looking at the data. Not just of MADACC, but other communities. Since this issue was raised, we’ve heard from other, very progressive shelter managers around the country who have said that reduced hold times enable them to save more lives. Our mission at Best Friends is to end the killing of pets in shelters, and we will work on legislation that works to that end.

      We agree that more can be done, not just in Wisconsin, but also across the country as it pertains to increasing RTO rates. Best Friends supports those initiatives and we will continue to hold shelters accountable and work to end the killing. There is much work to be done after this bill passes, and we will continue working in Wisconsin, alongside all the willing stakeholders moving forward.

      Thank you for all that you do on behalf of homeless pets.

      Sincerely,
      Melissa Miller
      Social Media Community Manager

      • Esther Delgado

        Again heard it through the grapevine…I’ve had many experiences of shelters and humane societies making human errors or worse in regarding a certain family member being in or having been in their “fine establishments” and from day one owner had been describing and asking for dog to a tee and always hearing no not here! ! While then finally many days later the owner went into check personnelly and found their dog ..despite days of being told no that dog was not there. And then was tried to make pay full fees for every day!!! If the 1% counts for the corporate politics, it counts for these family members!

  • Kathy Pobloskie

    I am very disappointed that instead of encouraging shelters to implement better return to owner (RTO) strategies, Best Friends supports reducing stray holds for lost pet without requiring ANY minimum standards for shelters. In Wisconsin we have NO minimum standards for shelters regarding Return to Owner. We do not have a law that requires adoptables to be microchipped (like Illinois does). We do not have a law that requires stray holding facilities to check for a microchip (like Illinois does). We do not require shelters to report statistics to the state (like several states do). So we can’t even look at data to see what is working and what is not working because there are no statistics available. You have used the figures from Milwaukee County in this blog, but that is not a fair representation of Wisconsin. It is only a very small part of a big state. We do not require stray holding facilities to post photos online or use a centralized database.

    Stray holding facilities can include large shelters, vet clinics, boarding kennels, police departments, town offices, individual contractors who may hold the dogs in their garage on their property. These facilities do not cross-communicate making it very difficult for an owner to locate their lost pet. Unlike car keys, that usually stay where you lose them – dogs and cats can easily wander and cross jurisdictional borders ending up in a stray holding facility many miles from where they went missing. Many of these facilities do not post photos online. It becomes logistically impossible and financially draining for someone who has lost their pet to continually check everywhere.

    The ASPCA has recently come out with a position statement regarding the minimum standards that a shelter should be doing to ensure lost pets get back to their rightful owners. Does Best Friends have a similar position statement? That would be very helpful.

    All we are asking is that this portion of the bill be removed from the court case dog content. Then the court case dog bill can pass. Then we can sit down with ALL stakeholders from around the state including animal control officers, vet clinics and shelters from rural counties to hash out some new animal control laws. Of course, we would like to see minimum standards for RTO and mandatory statistical reporting. As I have said in the past, reducing the stray hold before requiring minimum standards for RTO for shelters and stray holding facilities is putting the cart before the horse.

    • Melissa_BestFriends

      Kathy,

      First of all, let me say how much Best Friends respects the work you, and Lost Dogs of Wisconsin does. We’ve had you speak at our conference, because we not only believe in you and your work but we do believe that RTO programs can positively impact shelter save rates.

      This bill, and the resulting disagreement is ultimately a lesson in legislation and what it takes to get a bill passed.

      When Best Friends sat down with stakeholders to talk about this bill several weeks ago, details about how to put together a workable, passable bill were discussed. Of course, in a perfect world, we’d include many of the line items you have proposed. But a bill like that, according to our legislative team, lobbyists, and legislators just wouldn’t pass right now. So, as we often have to do with legislation, we have to take what we can get and we believe this bill will lead to more lives saved in Wisconsin.

      You’ve worked alongside Best Friends for long enough to know that we don’t just pick up and leave. We’ll continue working in Wisconsin toward more legislation that will hold shelters accountable, get lost pets home, and increase the number of lives saved. Trying to alter this bill at this point, to either take away language, or add more provisions would seriously harm the chance of passage. We work pragmatically on legislation, and that often means “putting the cart before the horse” as you say. And ultimately we will just have to agree to disagree when it comes to what we feel will be the results from the passage of this bill.

      Sincerely,
      Melissa Miller
      Social Media Community Manager

      • Esther Delgado

        Hello Melissa/BFS
        A Huge Problem with your specific statement is the…”take what we can get” mentality. That sort of ideology is a huge part of what Is itrinsically wrong with our political machine. It gets nothing accomplished and sets the stage for further procrastination. Our machine will run indefinitely upon our own Legislation, if ever there is the power to put in motion. For any american; the dream is for any individual or groups to be able to make a difference. This is the American Dream and Right… Your argument takes away from all that we have fought for and makes it less. Your take what we can get statement, works to undermine all reasonable and rational arguments for undeniable human rights for the United States, let alone hard won or faught for rights for animals. Your politics are only a way to further procrastination for obvious points that all true animal advocates should be standing for. Get strong or move along! …