This week I had the privilege of sitting down with the Bay Area Humane Society’s executive director and director of operations as well as a board member from Cat’s Anonymous. To be honest, I rarely get responses to most of the emails I send to shelters, but when I asked to sit down face-to-face with these individuals they were more than willing to meet and speak with me. I found that refreshing and in stark contrast to the negative and non-responses I’ve received from others in the past.
During our meeting, I learned a lot about the Bay Area Humane Society. I already knew that the shelter was laboring to improve its live release rate as it has done in the past. In 2013, BAHS had a live release rate of 88 percent which was up three percentage points compared to the previous year if animals brought into the shelter for euthanasia by their owners are not factored into the equation. When those animals are included in the math, BAHS recorded a live release rate of 81 percent, up two points compared to 2012’s number.
Since 2011, the Bay Area Humane Society’s owner requested euthanasia number has decreased by 12.5 percent. Prior to 2011, pets brought to BAHS by their owners to be killed were identified as animals surrendered by their owners for the purpose of being rehomed. This means that the yearly numbers of pets killed by BAHS annually prior to 2011 are deceivingly low when compared to more current figures.
Due to the often high cost of end of life services performed by veterinarians, people bring their typically aged and/or terminally ill pets to BAHS because its fees for the same services are much lower by comparison. Because voluntary euthanasia is difficult on its staff and its relatively small building does not have a dedicated space for pets to be put down surrounded by their family members, BAHS is currently investigating alternatives for people who cannot afford the euthanasia services provided by their pets’ vets and will be discontinuing this service in the near future.
It’s important for me to point out that BAHS reserves its right to refuse to kill a pet even if the animal’s owner requests BAHS to put down his/her pet. BAHS also requires owners to allow their pets to be examined by one or both of the vets the facility employs as well as a behaviorist before BAHS will agree to terminate an animal’s life. If it is determined that an animal can enjoy a high quality of life with medical treatment and/or behavior training, BAHS will not euthanize the pet regardless of its owners wishes. Instead, the owner will have the option to work with BAHS to rehabilitate his/her pet or turn the animal over to BAHS which will do everything necessary to rehome the animal.
Considering the area that it serves, the Bay Area Humane Society is a small shelter in terms of space. When I visited, the shelter reminded me very much of Chicago’s animal control facility, but on a smaller scale. In fact, I’m still wondering if the shelter was modeled after Chicago’s prototype. Neither of the BAHS executives complained about their somewhat cramped space, however, and they repeatedly mentioned that they and the facility’s other staff members and volunteers are effectively making do with what they have available to rehome pets.
BAHS is a shelter which moves dogs like clockwork…almost literally. I was told that the goal of BAHS is to save lives and the shelter’s representatives will go to whatever lengths it takes to save every animal that comes through its doors. Whether it’s talking to an owner who has surrendered a dog for euthanasia about allowing BAHS to care for his/her dog and rehome the dog instead, modifying a traditional adoption process that’s ineffective and out-of-date or something else, BAHS staff members are unafraid of having difficult conversations and making meaningful change to improve the chances that each animal within its walls will be saved and placed in a forever home.
BAHS does not waste time checking the references provided by prospective adopters. Why? Well, how likely is it that someone is going to identify a person as a reference if he/she isn’t 100 percent certain the individual is going to say something positive? In addition to bypassing references, BAHS does not require “meet & greets” at the shelter, either. Why? Because how an animal behaves during what is essentially a play session is not a reliable indicator of how the dog or cat will behave once he/she is brought home by his/her adopters. Dogs and cats require weeks to adjust to any home and the people involved with BAHS recognize this. That’s why the shelter provides a 30-day health guarantee to each person who adopts an animal from its shelter as well as ongoing support.
In addition to its impressive live release numbers and innovative, contemporary adoption procedures, BAHS has many additional impressive facts associated with the work the shelter performs for the animals within its care. Here are just a few of them:
BAHS adopted out its first FIV-infected cat just last month! BAHS will stop killing cats infected with the virus even if their owners request that the organization does so in the near future, too! FIV is the feline equivalent to the HIV virus, but as it is with many of the people afflicted with AIDS, cats who have FIV can live comfortably for years after being diagnosed if they receive medication and live in low-stress environments.
BAHS employs a full-time vet who performed over 3,500 spay and neuter procedures combined in 2013. The shelter also has a part-time vet on staff, too.
BAHS is currently working on a behavioral program to increase the odds that dog-aggressive canines can be rehomed safely and responsibly.
BAHS is currently in the process of ordering state-of-the-art cages for cats which will reduce their stress and enable them to perch at different levels.
BAHS has play groups for the dogs it tends to when the weather is good.
The Bay Area Humane Society’s staff members and volunteers will go “all out” to save a dog. For instance, if a dog requires a surgical procedure that cannot be done by the facility’s vets or local medical care providers, the animal will be transported to a hospital or clinic equipped to perform the necessary operation. In fact, BAHS just recently transported a dog to a veterinary facility to Minnesota so that the animal could undergo a life-saving operation performed by a specialist.
The Bay Area Humane Society has a much-utilized and well promoted barn cat program which is credited with saving the lives of many, many felines since its inception.
BAHS has a retail shop which generates approximately $30,000 in revenue yearly.
The Bay Area Humane Society’s executive director and director of operations are members of the Society of Animal Welfare Administrators, or SAWA, one of the largest animal welfare think tanks in the world. Sadly, SAWA membership is so rare in Wisconsin that only six of the state’s shelters employ people who belong to the group.
BAHS adopts and implements programs developed by Maddie’s Fund and UC-Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine.
BAHS does not kill ringworm positive cats. Instead, the facility treats them.
Clearly, BAHS is a shelter that does everything and anything necessary to protect and preserve the lives of the animals it exists to provide care for. In many ways, the Bay Area Humane Society is evolving into a No-Kill shelter although becoming one is not a current goal for the organization. Regardless of whether or not BAHS ever earns the No-Kill designation, I hope the facility’s operations and commitment to animals serve as a combined template that other shelters choose to follow.