Saturday, June 04, 2011

No-Kill - By the Numbers - Update

The Yavapai Humane Society (YHS) has completed eleven months since implementing its “no-kill ethic”. This ethic embodies our commitment to the proposition that for every animal who comes through our doors there is a kind and loving person or family, and it is our mission to bring them together.

Many ask what effect our “no-kill ethic” has had in the lives of the animals in our care. There are three numbers that animal shelters use to explain their success, or failure, in reducing pet euthanasia (or killing).

1. The Live Release Rate (LRR): This number refers to the animals who get out of a shelter alive. It includes adoptions, transfers to rescue organizations, and lost pets returned to their owners. Some animal shelter experts claim anything over an 85% LRR can be considered “no-kill”.

Since July 2010, YHS has maintained an 87% Live Release Rate (compared to 71% for the same evelven months a year earlier).

2. The Euthanasia Rate: This number is the inverse of the LLR and reports the actual number of animals euthanized.

Since July 2010, YHS’ euthanasia rate fell 67%. This difference represents three additional lives saved each and every day.

Without question, the above numbers are cause for celebration. However, they don’t explain how YHS compares to other communities. The next number does, which is why I suspect so many shelters avoid talking about it:

3. The Per Capita Rate: This number refers to the number of animals killed per 1,000 residents. For instance, if a community of 500,000 people kills 5,000 dogs and cats per year, you divide 5,000 animals by 500 (groups of 1,000 residents) to determine a kill rate of 10 animals per 1,000 residents. The per capita rate provides an objective “apples to apples” comparison to other communities.

ANIMAL PEOPLE magazine issues an annual National Shelter Killing Report based on this number. In the 2009 report, the national kill rate average was 13.5 animals per 1,000 U.S. residents.

In 2009, YHS euthanized 17.25 animals per 1,000 residents; sadly, a substantially higher rate than the national average.

However, over the past 12 months (June 2010 - May 2011) the YHS kill rate fell to 4.7, well below the national average; thanks to applying the “no-kill ethic”.  This is using the number of animals killed (700) divided by the 2010 Census number of 146,000.

Clearly, YHS has come a long way - from 17.25 to 4.7; but just as clearly, we have a long way yet to go. To create a “no-kill community” requires all of us to play our part as responsible pet owners.

Here is the Top Five List for how you can help transform our community into a truly humane society:

1. License your dog and microchip your pets. YHS has one of the highest “Return to Owner” rates in the nation (68%). When your pet comes to YHS with a current license or microchip he has a guaranteed ticket home.

2. Obey the leash law. Don’t allow your pet to run at large, especially if not spayed or neutered.

3. Spay/Neuter all your pets. Pets should be spayed or neutered before sexual maturity. Call the YHS Spay/Neuter Clinic to make an appointment today!

4. Become a YHS Member by making a live saving donation. Consider YHS in your Planned Giving strategies.

5. Join the YHS Volunteer Organization. Your involvement brings new energy and expertise to our organization and will make a big difference in the lives of the animals and people of Yavapai County.

Call 928.455.2666 Ext. 21 if you have questions or ideas about how you can help. Together we can make Yavapai County the safest community in Arizona for our pets.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Winter weather pet tips: If it's cold for you, it's cold for them!

I moved to beautiful Prescott, Arizona from sunny Los Angeles in June of last year. Being an outdoors enthusiast, I love the quality of life provided by my adopted community. However, being a Southern California boy, I was a bit unprepared for the dramatic drop in temperature. So I thought I would review for all our cold climate resident pet owners the cold weather dangers for our pets. Be aware of these cold weather safety tips for your pets:

• Remember: If it is cold for you, it is cold for your pets, too! A common mistake people make is to assume our pets are better equipped to handle cold weather just because they are animals. They are not just animals; they are pets. They are the result of thousands of years of genetic reengineering that has left most companion animals completely dependent on our common sense.

• Although YHS believes all pets should be kept indoors, if you must keep your dog outside for any period of time, provide a dry, draft free dog-house. It should be large enough for your dog to sit and lay down comfortably but small enough to hold his body heat. The floor should be off the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw. Turn the shelter away from the wind, and cover the door with a waterproof burlap or heavy plastic.

• Make sure all outside water sources don't freeze over. Pets can't burn the calories they need to stay warm without a fresh supply of water.

• Be aware of salt and other ice-melting chemicals on the streets and sidewalks. They are an irritant to your pet's paws and may cause injury if ingested. Use a warm, moist cloth to clean off any salt or chemical residues after a walk. Be the first on your block to provide your dog with a set of booties to protect his paws from these harsh and cold chemicals.

• Check your garage and driveway for antifreeze. Antifreeze tastes sweet to your pet and most brands are poisonous. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your pet has consumed antifreeze.

• Grooming is important; a matted coat will not protect your pet from the cold. Be watchful of ice or salt that may become entangled in long hair and remove it immediately.

• Don't let your pet venture onto frozen bodies of water. The ice may be too thin to support his weight and water rescues are both difficult and dangerous for the both of you.

• Be a good kitty Samaritan and slap the hood of your car before starting it. Cats often climb next to a warm engine during the night.

• Keep snowdrifts from piling up next to your fence, providing your pooch a way of escape. Make sure your dog is wearing a current dog license. In the event your dog does get away during this dangerous weather and YHS is able to rescue him, you will be assured of his return. If you love your pet, please license him or her.

• If you are flying with a pet, make sure the airline provides for your pet's safety and warmth. Some airlines restrict pets from flying when the temperature dips below a certain point. Call ahead to confirm.

Pets are part of the family; keep your family warm, and the winter months can be filled with wonderful memories. If you are looking for a pet to keep you warm this winter, come on by the Yavapai Humane Society and we'll help you select your next best friend.

Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society. He can be reached at or by calling 445-2666, ext. 21.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Buyer beware: Make sure you're not supporting puppy mills

An edition of "Oprah" last year focused national attention on the "puppy mill." Puppy mills provide an unending supply of often purebred puppies to a public with an insatiable appetite for them, an appetite that has created a situation ripe for abuse. Puppy mills force dogs to produce litter after litter just for profit. These dogs are often plagued with disease, malnutrition, and loneliness.

Oprah's intrepid investigative reporter found bitches who could barely walk after living a life of immobilized confinement. When people buy a puppy from a pet shop, newspaper ad or from the Internet, they are often supporting a cruel industry.

Puppy mills frequently house dogs in shockingly poor conditions, particularly the "breeding stock" who are caged and continually bred for years, without human companionship, and then killed, abandoned or sold to another "miller" after their fertility wanes.

These dogs are bred repeatedly without the prospect of ever becoming part of a family themselves. The result is hundreds of thousands of puppies churned out each year for sale at pet stores, over the Internet, and through newspaper ads. This practice will end only when people stop buying puppy mill puppies.

How do you separate fact from fiction?

1. Pet stores cater to impulsive buyers seeking convenient transactions. Unlike responsible rescuers and breeders, these stores don't interview prospective buyers to ensure responsible, lifelong homes for the pets they sell, and the stores may be staffed by employees with limited knowledge about pets and pet care.

2. Puppy mill puppies often have medical problems. These problems can lead to veterinary bills in the thousands of dollars. Pet retailers count on the bond between families and their new puppies being so strong that the puppies won't be returned. And guarantees are often so difficult to comply with that they are virtually useless. In addition, poor breeding and socialization practices can lead to behavioral problems throughout the puppies' lives.

3. A "USDA-inspected" breeder does not mean a "good" breeder. Be wary of claims that pet stores sell animals only from "USDA-inspected" breeders. The USDA enforces the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which regulates commercial breeding operations. But the act doesn't require all commercial breeders to be licensed, and the USDA enforces only minimum-care standards and its inspection team is chronically understaffed. Breeders are required to provide food, water, and shelter, but not love, socialization, or freedom from confining cages. Many USDA-licensed and inspected puppy mills operate under squalid conditions with known violations of the AWA. Federal law prevents state and local authorities from blocking the shipping and sale of these animals across state lines, placing the burden on the customer to educate themselves.

4. Many disreputable breeders sell dogs directly to the public over the Internet and through newspaper ads. They often sell several breeds, but may advertise each breed separately and not in one large advertisement or website. These breeders are not inspected by any federal agency and, in many states, are not inspected by anyone at all.

5. Reputable breeders care where their puppies go and interview prospective adopters. They don't sell through pet stores or to families they haven't thoroughly checked out.

6. Purebred "papers" do not guarantee the quality of the breeder or the dog. Even the American Kennel Club (AKC) admits that it "cannot guarantee the quality or health of dogs in its registry."

When looking for a pet, do not buy from a pet store, and be wary of websites and newspaper ads. Don't buy a dog if you can't physically visit every area of the home or breeding facility where the seller keeps the dog.

Puppy mills will continue until people stop buying their dogs. Putting them out of business should be a goal of every dog lover. Instead, visit your local shelter or respectable rescue individual or organization where you will find a wide selection of healthy, well-socialized puppies and adult dogs - including purebreds - just waiting for that special home - yours.

Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society. He can be reached at or by calling 445-2666, ext. 21.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

No-Kill Ethic gives every dog a chance

There are moments on this job that make all the heartbreak and disappointment worthwhile. Recently Sandy Nelson, who had adopted one of our shelter animals a few months ago, called me to say, "Thank you for believing Xena (pronounced Zeena) deserved a chance to live." That was one of those moments.

When I first arrived at the Yavapai Humane Society (YHS) in July, I found Xena on the euthanasia list. Alone in her kennel, surrounded by barking dogs and abandoned by her family, she was understandably frightened. She responded to her new surroundings the only way she knew how - by demonstrating a behavior known as "fear-based aggression," which is not uncommon in shelter dogs when they first arrive.

Although we knew she was acting out her fear, her behavior was so fearsome that our most experienced animal handlers were unable to handle her. One of them admitted that, in all his years at YHS, Xena was the only dog that actually scared him. By the time I arrived that first week in July, it had already been determined that there was no chance Xena would ever be adopted. She was marked for euthanasia.

Public safety is the primary focus when evaluating dogs for adoption. With nearly 30 years experience in animal control and welfare, I understand better than most that there are dogs who are dangerously aggressive - dogs who should never be adopted out. Was Xena such a dog?

Imagine what must go on in the mind of a dog abandoned by her guardian. You wake up as you do every morning at the foot of your master's bed - but tonight you inexplicably find yourself alone in a cold concrete cell surrounded by excited barking dogs and strange people. Wouldn't you lash out in fear to defend yourself?

How do you discern a truly dangerous dog from an estranged pet?

Fortunately for Xena, renowned Malibu-based dog trainer and behaviorist Robert Cabral came to the rescue. Waiving his $250 per hour fee and all the expenses he incurred from driving himself and his two dogs, Silly and Goofy, to Prescott, he came to help staff and volunteers learn his life-saving techniques.

Cabral is not your typical dog trainer. His focus is not training beloved pets how to sit and stay in your backyard. His expertise is rehabilitating behaviorally challenged shelter dogs. He has been called upon to rehabilitate dogs adjudicated as "vicious" by city magistrates - dogs most of us wouldn't want to be in the same town with, much less on the same leash.

Believing that even these dogs deserve a chance at life is the essence of the no-kill ethic. These dogs do not come by this behavior naturally; they are trained directly or through neglect to be aggressive. The no-kill ethic asserts that every shelter animal deserves a chance at life. That means YHS will strive to treat animals in need of medical care as well as animals in need of behavioral rehabilitation in the effort to find each animal a loving home.

It was this ethic that saved Xena. The no-kill ethic created a way for the Nelsons and Xena to meet and fall in love. Today, Xena is in dog obedience classes, she happily sits for treats and she devotedly follows the Nelsons around their beautiful ranch in Chino Valley.

Cabral has a slogan: "You can't save all the dogs in the world, but you can save one. Join the revolution." Xena is one of many dogs benefiting from Cabral's life-saving training. YHS staff applied what we learned and Xena responded. She overcame her fear, was removed from the euthanasia list and was adopted by the Nelsons in July.

Isn't it time you joined the life-saving revolution? Adopt a shelter animal today.

For more information on Robert Cabral or the many wonderful pets available for adoption at YHS, visit and click on the Black Belt Dog Training logo.

Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society. He can be reached at or by calling 445-2666, ext. 21.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Truth About Pit Bulls

No dog breed in history has encountered more misunderstanding and vilification than the American pit bull. In fact, the pit bull is an all-American breed blessed with tenacious athletic ability, loyalty, intelligence, and high-energy.

Pit bulls are not lap dogs or a dog for the sedentary person. They are not fashion accessories or macho symbols. They are a breed apart from every other canine.

The pit bull was so respected in the early 1900s that the military chose the breed to represent the United States on World War I and World War II recruitment posters. Sergeant Stubby, a pit bull WWI war hero, served in 17 battles, was injured twice in battle, saved his entire platoon by warning them of a poison gas attack, and single-handedly captured a German spy. Stubby earned many medals for heroism, including one presented by General John Pershing, Commanding General of the U.S. Armies. Stubby's obituary from the New York Times may be viewed at the Connecticut State Military Department's website.

The American pit bull terrier is the only breed ever featured on the cover of Time magazine - and not just once but three times.

Famous people who owned pit bulls include Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, George Patton, Jack Dempsy, Helen Keller, Humphrey Bogart, Fred Astaire, Anne Bancroft and Thomas Edison.

A few celebrities who own pit bulls today include Jon Stewart, Alicia Silverstone, Jessica Biel, Jessica Alba, Michael J. Fox, Bernadette Peters, Brad Pitt, Madonna, and Rachael Ray.

Pit bulls are commonly used as therapy dogs. Whether they are visiting a senior care facility or helping someone recover from an emotional accident, pit bulls are exceptional therapy dogs.

Pit bulls are also used in Search and Rescue work and serve as narcotic- and bomb-sniffing dogs. One pit bull, Popsicle (so named because he was found in an abandoned freezer), lays claim to the largest recorded single drug bust in Texas history.

Pit bulls are great with kids too, as demonstrated by Petey, the beloved dog featured in "The Little Rascals." Pit bulls were actually referred to as the "nanny dog" in the early 20th century because of their gentle and loving disposition with kids.

Pits are known for their personality. Even as they age, most remain playful. They are affectionate dogs who appreciate their owner's attention and approval more than anything else.

While certain purebreds are prone to a long list of health problems, pit bulls are fairly healthy and hearty. They are strong and long-lived. They are low-maintenance because their short coats are easy to care for and you'll have no grooming bills.

Sadly, a lot of pit bulls never have a chance. Many shelters have a policy to euthanize all pit bulls, and do not adopt them out. Irresponsible individuals, bad breeders and biased media attention have given these wonderful dogs a bad rap. Breed-specific legislation has turned this beloved family pet into an outlaw in some communities. Fortunately, there are many people who are educating the public on the breed and dispelling the myths.

According to The American Temperament Test Society, a national nonprofit organization for the promotion of uniform temperament evaluation of purebred and spayed/neutered mixed-breed dogs, the pit bull scores an 83.4 percent passing rate. That's better than the popular Australian shepherd (81.5 percent), beagle (80.3 percent), border collie (79.6 percent), boxer (84 percent), Chihuahua (71.1 percent), cocker spaniel (81.9 percent), German shorthair (76 percent), Lhasa Apso (70.4 percent), and miniature poodle (77.9 percent) to name but a few.

The American Temperament Test Society found that pit bulls were generally less aggressive when faced with confrontational situations that produced negative reactions in many other stereotypically "friendly" dog breeds, such as beagles and poodles.

The National Canine Temperament Testing Association tested 122 breeds, and pit bulls placed the 4th highest with a 95 percent passing rate.

The fact is that in most communities pit bulls are so popular that they account for the largest percentage of dogs rescued, adopted - and, sadly, euthanized. If you are interested in adopting a super dog, consider a rescued pit bull.  Most shelters have adoption counselors standing by to help you select the perfect one for you and your family.

Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society. He can be reached at or by calling 445-2666, ext. 21.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

FIV-positive cats can lead long, healthy lives

In the quest to achieve No-Kill (applying the same criteria a loving pet guardian or conscientious veterinarian would apply when deciding a shelter animal's fate), one of the challenges YHS must overcome is the widespread belief in many myths regarding shelter animals.

The fact is some shelter animals have issues. Equally true is the fact that these issues are seldom the animal's fault and they can almost always be resolved. Knowingly adopting an animal with special needs is one of the noblest acts you will ever perform; you are truly saving a life.

Let me give you an example of a myth responsible for unnecessarily killing far too many animals: "cats infected with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) should be euthanized." The truth is FIV cats often live long, healthy lives with no symptoms at all.

FIV is an endemic disease found in domestic cats worldwide; it is a lentivirus, meaning it progresses slowly, gradually affecting a cat's immune system. Cats are typically infected through a serious bite, usually inflicted by a stray male cat - earning it the moniker the "fighting cat" disease (a good reason for keeping your cat indoors).

The most well-known lentivirus in humans is HIV - but there are major differences between FIV and HIV. HIV cannot infect cats and FIV cannot infect humans - in fact, there is no evidence that FIV has ever infected a human in the 6,000 years humans and cats have lived together.

The fear concerning FIV cats came to my attention recently when YHS rescued a loving 3-year-old American shorthair named Pushkin. Pushkin was surrendered by a family not because of his disease, but because they were moving out of state and sadly could not afford to take him along. Pushkin is so sweet that staff fell in love with him and tried earnestly to find him a new home. However, when potential adopters learn Pushkin has FIV, they immediately lose interest in him.

Being the proud guardian of an FIV cat named Oliver who lives happily with my other cat, Beau Bentley, I am distressed by the apprehension I find among so many cat lovers regarding FIV.

As long as FIV cats are not exposed to diseases their immune system can't handle, they can live relatively normal lives. When kept indoors, as all cats should, health risks are significantly reduced. FIV is not easily passed between cats either. It cannot be spread casually - in litter boxes, water or food bowls, or when snuggling and playing. It requires a serious bite to transmit the disease.

Before we knew FIV existed, shelters routinely placed these cats into loving homes where they often lived long, normal lives. With the discovery of FIV in 1986 came an undeserved stigma that has since made placing them unduly difficult.

Dr. Susan Cotter, professor of hematology and oncology at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, is helping counteract these misinformed fears. "I would not advise getting rid of a cat that tests positive for FIV," she says. "If the cat is young and healthy, it could be years before anything changes."

Best Friends Animal Society veterinarian Dr. Virginia Clemans says "the one important thing is to keep your FIV cat healthy."

That, of course, is good advice for all cats. In fact, the very advice we offer FIV cat owners is equally appropriate for all cats. That is, all cats should be kept as healthy as possible; kept indoors and free from stress; fed a high-quality diet; and medical problems should be treated as soon as they arise.

If you already own a cat, ask your veterinarian about early detection to help maintain your cat's health and to help prevent the spread of this infection to other cats.

Although many FIV cats live long, happy lives, some may need periodic medical care or ongoing medical management. This is why adopting a special-needs animal is such a noble and selfless act. If you can find the room in your heart and home for Pushkin, or a cat like him, please contact YHS - because every animal counts.

Eb Boks is the Executive Director of the Yavapai Humane Society. He can be reached at or by calling 445-2666, ext. 21