Another look at no-kill

LIHUE — The conversation about turning Kauai Humane Society into a no-kill shelter will renew next weekend with a conference hosted by Nathan Winograd, director of the National No Kill Advocacy Center.

Penny Cistaro, executive director of KHS, said she’s hoping the June 26 meeting will generate more support for helping the shelter to reach the distinction of no-kill.

“If it can engage the community in helping us continue to move our program forward so we can get to the point where we aren’t euthanizing animals other than to relieve suffering, or for safety, than it would have done its job,” Cistaro said.

“All our programs are geared toward (minimizing euthanasia) and decreasing the number of animals coming in,” she said.

Those programs include transfer, fostering and field trips — which increase the animals’ exposure to potential new families. Other programs include a low-cost, high-volume clinic and a mobile clinic for neutering and spaying, active volunteers and an aggressive adoption promotion campaign.

The programs are having an impact. Fewer dogs and cats are coming in and fewer are being put down.

“With all of these combined, we’re at a point now where less than 24 percent of the dogs coming into the shelter are being euthanized,” Cistaro said.

In fiscal year 2014-15, the shelter put down 420 dogs and 1,524 cats. This year, those numbers are down to 274 and 865 through May 15. The fiscal year ends June 30.

“We are getting better, we are not getting worse,” Cistaro said.

On Tuesday, a family from France adopted a dog from the shelter, and will be taking the canine back home with them.

“It was the field trip program that brought them together and that happens quite often,” Cistaro said.

She said the sheer amount of animals coming into the shelter is a major roadblock to establishing a no-kill operation because there isn’t space to house all of the animals.

The shelter took in 1,056 dogs and 1,839 cats in the last fiscal year. This fiscal year, through May 15, it’s taken in 826 dogs and 1,445 cats.

“No-kill shelters only really work well when there’s an open-door shelter, like ours, around,” Cistaro said.

That’s because no-kill shelters offer limited admission and when they’re full, animals are sent over to an open-door shelter. Since Kauai Humane Society is the island’s only shelter, and is an open-door shelter, the animals coming in fill all the available space quickly and there’s nowhere for animals to go once it’s at capacity.

The number of animals having babies on the island is also a problem, Cistaro said. About 15-17 percent of the stray dogs that come in are spayed or neutered.

“That’s incredibly low and that means the majority of the population is unaltered,” she said.

She said at the moment, the facility is overrun with cats because it’s “kitten season” and there is no more room for felines. Generally, she said, cats have two litters of kittens a year. June is at the tail end of the first round of kittens, so there are more on the island now.

There are a total of about 100 puppies, adults dogs, kittens and adult cats available for adoption at KHS, and another 100 or so not available for adoption or in foster programs.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, about 6-8 million cats and dogs end up in shelters each year. About 3 million are euthanized.

In a previous interview with The Garden Island, Winograd said any community can adopt an effective no-kill policy. Even a small, isolated island with a pet overpopulation problem like Kauai, he said, can operate under no-kill guidelines.

“Shelters like to say that until the public is responsible, we will have to continue killing animals,” said Winograd, who adopted a stray black Lab on Kauai while on vacation here 15 years ago. “But that’s not true. There are shelters who take in 23,000 animals a year who have gone no-kill in six months, in a year. What changed wasn’t the public. What changed was the way the shelter operates.”

Cistaro isn’t the only one who would like to see KHS transition to a no-kill shelter. Basil Scott, with the Kauai Community Cat Project, said that’s his goal as well.

“It’s worthwhile to look at what it would take to get the humane society to a no-kill status,” Scott said. “Right now their rate for dogs is around 70 percent and you have to be at 90 percent to be no-kill. There’s a few things you can do to make up that 20 percent.”

Scott’s first suggestion is to lower the fees for returning a dog to its owner. The second suggestion is to amp up the transfer program.

“If you add up the cost of those two things, that’s the price of achieving no-kill,” Scott said. “Maybe it’s $100,000, maybe it’s $50,000, but it all boils down to: are you willing?”

Winograd, whose Oakland, California-based non-profit is focused on creating no-kill shelters nationwide, will be at the Kauai Beach Resort from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on June 26. The event is free but seating is limited, so for reservations, call Nawahine at (808) 887-2022.

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