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A Faithful Friend from the First State: Interview with Jane Pierantozzi

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The No Kill Advocacy Center has announced this year’s recipients of the Henry Bergh Leadership Award. The award, named after the founder of the first SPCA in the United States, recognizes outstanding leadership in the quest to end the killing of healthy and treatable shelter pets. There are five recipients this year and I will be interviewing each of them—one per week for five weeks. Each has approached the problem of animal shelter reform from a different angle and so brings a different perspective to the issue at hand—how do we stop this needless killing?

I‘ve already spoken with Robyn Kippenberger of the RNZSPCA about the quest to make new Zealand the first No Kill nation, with the leader of a grassroots volunteer effort in the Southern United States—Kelly Jedlicki of the Shelby County No Kill Mission in Kentucky, and with an animal control director known for his innovative, yet very common-sense business model for animal control, Mitch Schneider of Washoe County Regional Animal Services in Nevada. This week we’ll hear from a leader whose advocacy on behalf of shelter pets began ten years ago, at a time when her home state was killing 90% of the animals that entered its “shelters”. What was to many a hopeless situation became to her a call to action which has resulted in a dramatic increase in lifesaving in the state of Delaware, renewed hope, and the passage of legislation which may well put the First State on track to be the first No Kill state. Jane Pierantozzi directs Faithful Friends, a no-kill shelter, and spearheaded the passage of Delaware’s version of CAPA, the Companion Animal Protection Act, one of the most inspiring accomplishments on behalf of shelter pets in 2010.

I managed to visit her at Faithful Friends over the winter holidays and she gave me a tour, introducing me to the staff, telling me about their programs, which include a pet food pantry, support for feral cats, hundreds of volunteers, innovative fund raising, adoption promotions, and more, and also about how the organization has grown from its tiny beginnings ten years ago, and her exciting plans for its future. She introduced me to quite a few of the temporary residents, telling me their names and histories, all of which she seemed to know offhand.

How did you become involved in animal welfare and the No Kill movement?

I was drawn to the No Kill movement after a traumatic experience nine years ago, during my first visit to a public shelter to see adoptable animals. I heard employees saying horrible things about the animals and witnessed them dragging a terrified dog back to a room where I was certain he would be killed. The deplorable neglect, cruel treatment and desperate cries of the dogs and cats in the shelter left a forever heartbreaking impression on me.

One dog specifically caught my ear and then quickly my heart – Peanut (as she would eventually be called) who didn’t have a name then only a number. I heard what sounded like a baby crying and I turned and saw a small Lhasa Apso, balding and scratching, shaking and huddled in the corner of a cold steel cage with no bedding, just a few sheets of newspaper for a bed, and a small bowl of water.

When I asked the staff about her – they said “Oh, honey, you don’t want her, she has a skin condition that will cost thousands of dollars to fix”. I felt certain that if I didn’t get this precious little dog out of the shelter, her “thousands of dollars to fix” skin condition would be her death sentence. As it turned out, Peanut was suffering from a flea allergy that was easily and inexpensively treated. Shortly afterwards, she was adopted from my home by a family who would love her forever. Peanut went from the brink of death to a life of happiness because someone just couldn’t let her life be taken away so needlessly.

My own experience with my dog and a stray cat I took in showed me that animals are innocent and rely solely on us to care and protect them.

I treasured their unconditional love and the joy of their loyal companionship. I knew in my heart and in my gut that this system of ‘disposing of our companion animals’ was immoral and cruel.

How could we allow dogs and cats who are really family end up in shelters where they are being treated like trash? How? Because no one in Delaware had the compassionate conviction to speak the truth, no one was saying this was terribly wrong and needed to stop.

I researched the Best Friends Animal Society and was greatly impressed by their great care of animals and by their explanation of the no-kill goal for our country. Other leaders in the No Kill movement like Nathan Winograd, and Peter Marsh in New Hampshire confirmed for me what I knew in my heart that there is a better way of dealing with abandoned and abused dogs and cats rather than the mass killing of these innocent victims at the hands of humans.

Convenience killing was happening because it was simply easier and cheaper to do so rather than to take on the hard work to save animals - to spay and neuter them, to find them new guardians and to hire caring and professional staff to work tirelessly to raise money to provide good care for the animals who end up in shelters and deserve a second chance at life.

When I looked into the plight of shelter animals in my state, I learned that the save rate was 10% --only 10%! The excuses I heard for this, the lack of accountability from leadership and government were totally unacceptable. The local public shelter leader at that time stated to me, “We can’t do things in this state, honey.” Little did he know then that he was talking to the wrong woman. But I can assure you, he does now!

There simply is no excuse for allowing animals to be terrified and treated like trash in our state or country – scared because they knew they would be the next one dragged into a back room and killed and then stuffed into a trash bag.

I will not stop my efforts in Delaware until Delaware becomes a No Kill state and I hope that other individuals and public policy leaders in other states will speak the truth and do the right thing.

No Kill is moral and right; killing is immoral and wrong. No Kill solutions actually solve the problem. Killing just ends the lives of precious animals who deserve so much better.

How have things changed for Delaware shelter pets over the past 10 years?

Ten years ago the kill rate at one of Delaware’s publicly funded shelters was 90% as quoted by the Executive Director of the DESPCA in the News Journal. We couldn’t even get the exact statistics at that time because it was a secret. Today, the data is required to be public information. The euthanasia [kill] rate average in 2009 for the state was 31.6% for dogs and 51.1% for cats. It’s much better but not good enough. We are working hard to reach the national No Kill goal of a 10% or less kill rate; or a 90% or better save rate

Thanks to the support of legislators, two Governors and the public, several important changes have helped us get to where we are:

1. 2006: The first rabies surcharge in the country creates a public fund for low cost spay-neuter for low-income pet owners and mandates that shelters alter animals before adoption with exceptions only for age or health.

In 2006 the Delaware legislature unanimously signed into law a bill creating funds for a spay-neuter program. The leaders of this bill were bi-partisan Republican Representative Terry Spence and Democrat Senator Patricia Blevins. The law was signed by Governor Ruth Ann Minner and the first rabies surcharges on pets in Delaware were collected in September 2006. After a small pilot program was tested, the program was implemented state-wide in 2008. This law created a permanent animal population policy group with required participation of all shelters, rescue representation in each county, the state vet, the state Department of Agriculture and the Vet Association to monitor the program’s success and make changes as necessary, or legislative recommendations if needed. The program, which is modeled after the successful New Hampshire spay-neuter program funded through dog licenses, targets low-income pet owners. So today, low-income pet owners on public assistance (Medicaid, food stamps, TANF, and disability) can get up to three pets ‘fixed’ each year and a rabies vaccine for just $20 per animal. This program, once we reach a threshold number of spay-neuters each year, should push us faster toward the No Kill goal. Peter Marsh, Esq. from New Hampshire who spearheaded their program in 1999 was a wonderful asset to us in creating a law for our state based on their success and lessons learned in New Hampshire.

2. Early 2008: A new Director at the DESPCA committed to the animals and the No-Kill movement.

We have two shelters in Delaware that accept government contracts for dog control: the Delaware SPCA, a non-profit with two shelters in two counties and the KCSPCA, a non-profit with one main shelter and two offsite holding shelters.

Today, of the two publicly funded shelters one shelter, which had a 90% kill rate 10 years ago, the Delaware SPCA, is now our partner in making the No Kill goal a reality for the State of Delaware. Anne Cavanaugh, an exemplary business woman who was a Board member of our shelter, Faithful Friends applied for and took the Director position at the DE SPCA about three years ago when the prior Director retired. Under her leadership, the new DE SPCA has an average save rate of 85% or a kill rate of 15%.

They actively medicate sick animals, and opened a new high volume spay-neuter clinic which actively promotes Trap Neuter Release for impacting the feral and general cat homeless problem where the prior administration did not and would take in and kill feral cats.

3. Summer 2010: Delaware passes the first animal shelter standards bill (CAPA) in the country, to be implemented by January 2011.

Tell us a bit about the Delaware CAPA. How did it come about?

Two years ago, we invited Nathan Winograd, the Director of the National No Kill Advocacy Center to come to Delaware to present a workshop during our week for the Animals to educate the public and policy makers about the No Kill movement and his success in turning around high-kill shelters in other communities. He also agreed to come and meet with all the shelter directors in Delaware along with board leaders to discuss where are our state was and what we could do to advance the no kill cause.

After Ann Cavanaugh took over as Director of the DESPCA we discussed the fact that a passionate, committed Director really makes or breaks the care and outcome for the animals and is crucial to continue to provide excellent care and a high save rate for the animals. Nathan recommended that we consider pursuing the creation of a bill that he had outlined on his website to ensure in law that shelters meet certain standards so if leadership changes the same basic standards are required for shelters.

The timing appeared right to pursue this law in 2009. Because while most of the shelters in Delaware were already meeting the standards we outlined in a proposed law there was still some resistance to certain standards that we felt were critical.

We took the model legislation known as the Companion Animal Protection Act as a starting point and approached the same Senator who helped us in 2006 with the spay-neuter law. We were also fortunate that an attorney who was on our board of directors was now a policy advisor to the new Governor--Governor Jack Markell (also a pet lover), and she was able to help us negotiate with all the stakeholders and come up with a good bill that we could get passed into law this year. And we did.

The DE CAPA law has some critical elements, some already in place in all shelters, that we wanted to ensure will continue, and some new standards that we wanted to see put in place to help save more lives.

  • Have evening and weekend hours so that working people and those with children in school can visit the shelter to adopt or reclaim animals.
  • Scan all incoming animals for microchips and check for tattoos to increase the number of animals reunited with their families.
  • Vaccinate all incoming animals within 8 hours of intake to prevent the spread of potentially fatal infectious diseases such as distemper and parvo.
  • Contact rescue groups so that animals may be transferred rather than killed.
  • Post sufficiently detailed descriptions of stray animals on the web so that owners may search for lost pets online.
  • Not kill animals when empty cage or kennel space is available, or when animals may share appropriate cage or kennel space with another animal, or when a foster home is available, or when a rescue group is willing to take that animal.
  • Minimum holding period of 72 hours for dogs and cats to allow reclaiming by their owners and five days before "euthanasia". This is Delaware’s first-ever holding period requirement for cats. Prior to this cats could be killed and were being killed the same they entered some shelters.
  • Provide all animals with a veterinary exam within 72 hours of admission.
  • Have a current policy and procedure manual for performing euthanasia.
  • Maintain records on intake, adoptions, reclaims, euthanasia, and medical treatment and publish these records quarterly on the shelter’s website.

What are some of your accomplishments that led to your being chosen for the Henry Bergh Leadership Award?

I believe for turning my passion for the animals into unrelenting action and leading the creation and passage of the spay-neuter program and law; advocating for a new director at the DESPCA and now leading the creating and passage of the shelter standards law. Overall being a very vocal voice to the community, media and with policy makers for exemplary care for the animals and the No Kill goal.

What was the smartest thing you did?

Looking for and finding great individuals with working models who are leading the way to make No Kill a reality to advise us all along the way including: Peter Marsh, Esq. in New Hampshire, and Nathan Winograd.

What would you do differently?

I would not be so polite or politically correct. I think we were too polite early on, trying not to rock the boat when the boat needed more rocking to expose the horrible outcomes and conditions for the animals in Delaware’s shelters.

In addition, I would terminate employees sooner who are not right for the team in some way including poor or only fair interaction with people. Customer service is critical in this business just like any other business. The staff are so stressed in the shelter environment and the jobs do not pay as well as they should for the workload, so if an employee is good with the animals and dedicated you want to keep them, but sometimes it’s still not the right fit and you have to recognize other problems hindering your goals for the agency and the animals and make a decision sooner rather than later.

What was your biggest disappointment?

When we tried to get a spay-neuter law and program going in 2001 but the right players were not in place to help us get it done.

What was your biggest success?

The spay-neuter law and program’s passage in 2006. I think it was our first success to impact the animals state-wide.

When did you realize you were succeeding?

After the 2006 law was passed. We were thrilled--it was a big victory for the animals – a state-wide public fund for animals and the legislator supported it unanimously. They were uninformed about the mass killing and wanted change too. They just needed someone to show them the way--a better viable way. And we did.

What advice do you have for someone embarking on a similar venture?

Take a risk – take a first step and then a second and keep going….

Start talking - find an interested legislator, maybe your own, to start educating about the poor outcomes for animals in your community and the better outcomes in other communities–outline it to make it simple to review.

Seek out and accept help from those who know what they are doing as we did with Peter Marsh and Nathan Winograd. Don’t try and do it on your own.

Don’t be discouraged when people you trust or who are counting on turn on you or let you down--it will happen over and over. Have faith and keep moving on …

What do you think makes you an effective animal advocate?

Passion and respect for the animals and for justice. A persistence in my personality that will not allow me to give up.

Also, prayer and faith–keeping your faith will help you to never give up when it gets hard and it is hard – it’s a roller coaster of losses and successes and setbacks and successes--just know you are doing the right thing and things won’t change unless someone takes the lead and doesn’t give up. Remember other good people will follow and help you along the way.

What are your plans and goals for the future?

Right now we want to work with the Governor’s office and other shelter leaders to implement the shelter standards law across the state.

Our other goal is to start educating legislators on the cat abandonment problem and large number of cats living outside.

We will be looking for ways to increase the protection of cats.

At the same time, we are working on system changes in the state we continue to work to build our own shelter resources. Fundraising is the hardest, especially for a young agency without an endowment. We are working to increase our high volume spay-neuter program. We hired our first full time Veterinarian.

We continue to seek 30 acres or more in New Castle County, DE for our future site to create a campus-like environment and a larger shelter that is made specifically for animals and visitors. Right now we have a 10,000 square foot warehouse we renovated into a shelter and it’s in an industrial park. Our future site will have a full adoption center, full hospital and high volume spay-neuter clinic with low-cost treatment for low-income pet owners to help them keep their pets, as well as sanctuary or long-term and life-time care for certain animals that are not able to get adopted in a timely fashion.

What was the most difficult part of your accomplishment, and what is your biggest challenge?

Being patient is the most difficult thing. Everything you want to accomplish seems to take longer than you hoped or planned.

There are two big challenges: First is fundraising--it is a constant stress and worry. We know we can do so much more for the community and for the animals if we had the funding. Second, is the politics of change from the status quo. Sometimes we have to take steps not leaps when we want change and it is very frustrating especially when lives are at stake.

I think we have the legislative and Governor’s support to do the right thing and continue to advance animal welfare and become a No Kill state. I know the community wants it.

What was the most surprising thing you learned along the way?

That people turn on you and stop supporting the work you are doing because they don’t agree with one thing or don’t get their way. I am not surprised any more–I just see if there is anything to learn or improve from the situation and move on. Usually it’s their own issue of power and control. That is why if I didn’t have strong faith and prayer it would be very hard for me to continue to the work with all the barriers that occur and in dealing with difficult people.

Is there something outside of animal welfare that informs your work and advocacy?

My Christian Faith. My faith in Jesus Christ and doing the Lord’s work. I believe the animals are a gift to us for companionship and to give us unconditional love we are to protect and care for them.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Animals have feelings just like we do despite what anyone tells you. They get depressed, happy, scared, or jealous. They bring us the gifts of unconditional love, loyal companionship and they make us laugh. Homeless and abused animals deserve dignity, love and care from humans--anything else is not acceptable.

And it’s not enough to feel bad for animal or to think, “Well the shelter in my community is terrible to the animals but I can’t do anything”.

It’s our duty to act because we have the means to help them. If I could do it anyone can. I am an average person.

No system is moral if killing has become the answer. If someone is working in animal sheltering and it is not their goal to stop the mass killing, then they are in the wrong business. If you don’t believe in No Kill you should let someone who does fill your shoes so they can help the animals.

Everyone is given a purpose and it comes to you in your talents and passions. Whatever your passion is don’t hide it–take a risk and step out so good things can come into our world through you.

Support the work of FaithFul Friends by donating or volunteering.

Read part one in this leadership series, the interview with Robyn Kippenberger of the RNZSPCA.

Read part two of this leadership series, the interview with Kelly Jedlicki of the Shelby County No Kill Mission.

Read part three of this leadership series, the interview with Mitch Schneider of Washoe County Regional Animal Services.

Become a fan of the No Kill Advocacy Center on Facebook.

Become a fan of the Atlanta Animal Welfare Examiner on Facebook, or follow me on twitter.

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Comments

  • Karen 3 years ago

    Beautiful interview, thanks so much.

  • Elainea 3 years ago

    I live in DE and I agree with some of the things in this interview. But what Jane is not telling you about the other shelters in DE is that Delaware SPCA has closed it doors to accepting all animals. They are no longer publicly funded and send away the animals that they think are unadoptable. These animals are taken in by the only open access shelter in DE. That is how they have decreased their euthanasia numbers. The other shelter now has to deal with all the other animals in DE that every other shetler turns away because they are full, the animals are unadoptable, or the owners cannot pay the surrender fee. This includes Faithful Friends. Faithful Friends has even stopped taking animals from the full service facility at the KCSPCA.
    I think if you are going to run a story, you should get the whole story first.

  • Jane Pierantozzi 3 years ago

    Elainea,

    The DESPCA has the dog control contract for the City of WIlmington and has to take in all kinds of animals even unadoptables. They are open access for city stray dogs. They also have triped their cat space and increased cat adoptions dramatically. Whether your agency is open access or not you job is to save animals and treat them with digity and it starts at the top or it doesn't happen.

    The DESCPA's standards of care are dramatically better with the new Director and they are doing everything they can to read the national goal of a 90% save rate without blaming the public for the problem. Their leadership has reached out to Nathan Winograd and other leader who have turned around the kill rates in open access shelters with animal control just as you speak about.

    That is the whole story - we have to stop making excuses for the killing and start being proactive about saving lives. That is why we are in these jobs otherwise we dont belong in this business.

  • Profile picture of Valerie Hayes
    Valerie Hayes 3 years ago

    Elainea-

    Please refrain from making false and unsubstantiated claims. Lies do nothing to further the discussion. I do not tolerate such nonsense in my comments, nor do I welcome killing apologists. If you wish to discuss ideas regarding how to save more animals and bring the day when shelters are truly places of refuge for lost and homeless animals closer, then you may do so here. If you want to spread the same tired old lies about those working towards that end or make the same tired old excuses for those working against it, then about the most polite thing I have to say to you is "get lost".

  • Profile picture of Valerie Hayes
    Valerie Hayes 3 years ago

    Elainea--
    Perhaps it would help us all understand where you're coming from if you told us a bit about your experience in animal welfare and sheltering.

  • Lynn 3 years ago

    Every story about a successful move towards no-kill is immediately followed by someone claiming the no-kill (or low-kill) shelter no longer accepts open admissions. I wonder why that is.

  • Profile picture of Valerie Hayes
    Valerie Hayes 3 years ago

    The No kill movement is all about creating No Kill communities. No kill shelters have existed for many years, and generally take in only as many animals as they can handle and thus avoid population-control killing. Nothing wrong with that, as long as they are using their available resources to save as many animals as possible. It is important to keep the distinction between a no-kill shelter and a No Kill community in mind.

    The Tompkins County SPCA became the first open-admission animal control shelter to comprehensively implement the No Kill Equation almost 10 years ago. In so doing it created the first truly No Kill community in the country, saving all healthy and treatable animals while turning none away. Others have followed, including Charlottesville, VA and Reno, NV, and others. Still more communities are closing in on their No Kill goals. Unfortunately, the facts don't stop naysayers intent on furthering their own agendas and defending those that kill in the face of lifesaving alternatives.

    Saving lives is fraught with controversy. Who knew?

  • Anonymous 3 years ago

    What Elainea is saying may or may not be true but to dismiss her claim and not interview the shelter she is referring to is to do exactly what you accuse your detractors of doing. One should always investigate both sides of a story because the claim that "No Kill" shelters are not as open as they say if not proven false once and for all with only impede progress to the absolute no kill goal.

  • Profile picture of Valerie Hayes
    Valerie Hayes 3 years ago

    Anonymous-
    Please re-read the article. Slowly.

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