D.C. Humane Society Hopes to Curb Killing
Shelter Plans Campaign to Find Homes for All Adoptable Animals

By D'Vera Cohn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 26, 2005

The Washington Humane Society has announced a five-year goal of eliminating euthanasia of adoptable animals brought to the D.C. shelter, potentially saving the lives of thousands of cats and dogs by finding homes for more of them and preventing unwanted births.

The organization's effort will include launching an aggressive campaign to encourage adoptions and expand spay/neuter clinics to shrink the surplus population of cats and dogs that end up in shelters. The society, which operates the D.C. shelter under contract with the city, also will offer medical care and behavior training to make more animals eligible for adoption.

The "Good Home Guarantee" effort also includes an innovative "pet retention" program to help owners deal with problems that might cause them to give up their pets, and to persuade landlords to allow companion animals in rental units. The society also acquired a 32-foot RV that it plans to use as a mobile adoption center.

"This is about expanding the number of animals available for adoption but also guaranteeing adoptable animals have a home," said Howard Nelson, the society's chief executive officer. However, he said, "we can't adopt our way out of the situation. We really have to reduce the pet population, thus reducing the number of homeless animals in the city."

The Washington Humane Society's comprehensive program puts it at the forefront of a movement to reduce the killing of surplus animals, according to an official of the Humane Society of the United States, which has no affiliation with the D.C. organization.

"Just to be able to say we are going to place every adoptable animal within the next five years is an admirable goal," said John Snyder, the national organization's vice president for companion animals. "If this works, Washington will definitely be a model."

Denver has a program in place to promote adoption and reduce unwanted animal births, and New York launched one this year. But New York advertises itself as a "no-kill" city, which Snyder said is "confusing and misleading," because shelters that accept any animal brought to them -- such as New York's and Washington's -- will have to euthanize animals that are severely injured, dangerously sick or vicious. The Washington shelter took in 12,000 animals for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

Scotlund Haisley, executive director of the Washington Animal Rescue League, a private shelter operator, said he is "very happy" with the Humane Society's new program. "We're delighted that the Washington Humane Society is progressing toward a goal of making euthanasia of adoptable or potentially adoptable animals a thing of the past," he said.

Nelson, who assumed his post in July, said the D.C. shelter is close to meeting its adoption goals for dogs, because more than 95 percent of them find homes. The society recently hired an animal behavior expert to train dogs so they are adopted more quickly and to help owners learn how to manage their animals.

The cat surplus will be harder to fix: Only 55 percent of cats that come into the shelter are adopted. Nelson said one big reason is that Washington lags in offering free or low-cost spaying and neutering for cats. The society plans to open a full-time clinic to do that -- one reason it has embarked on a million-dollar fundraising campaign.

Nelson said the Humane Society will expand its efforts to work with other groups to reduce the city's population of feral cats, believed to number in the thousands, some of which end up at the D.C. shelter.

One component of the plan will be providing better statistics on the condition and fate of animals that enter the D.C. shelter system. The Humane Society has agreed to a standardized reporting system developed by a national animal-welfare coalition last year with the goal of providing clear data and a better assessment of the euthanasia rate of potentially adoptable animals.

Nelson said the way statistics are kept now, it is difficult to assess exactly how many adoptable animals are euthanized each year at the city shelter. But, he said, "by the end of five years, we will have saved thousands of animals in the District."

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