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The Unintended Consequences of Animal Shelter Transports

For years, the public and animal shelters alike have celebrated transporting animals between communities to get them adopted—but is that really the best solution?

Years ago, Dr. Cynthia Karsten was working with a shelter in California that was full of small dogs, some who had been there for a very long time, and she had a realization: If these dogs were at an animal shelter in the Midwest, the shelter would be empty. There weren’t a lot of small dogs in the Midwest, and people wanted them.

So it seemed like an obvious solution: Bring these dogs from California, where they were at risk of euthanasia, to animal shelters in the Midwest, and they’ll find homes.

It was kind of like a real estate problem, said Karsten. 

“It’s location, location, location,” she adds. “[There were] places of too many animals and not enough homes, and then there were places with too many homes and not enough animals.”

Over the years, Karsten was instrumental in facilitating the transport of thousands of dogs from California to the Midwest, and many animal shelters followed suit.

The practice of transport—bringing animals from crowded source shelters to less crowded destination shelters—has been a major component of the animal sheltering field in the United States. It has helped save animals’ lives, but there have been some unintended consequences.

Now experts in the field—including Karsten herself—are looking for solutions that better serve both animals and people. Karsten, who is now the outreach veterinarian with the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine program, discussed the topic with Panhandle Animal Shelter Executive Director Mandy Evans in the podcast, People Are Animals Too, Darnit! 

Good communities vs. Bad Communities 

To be clear, animal shelters and industry leaders transport animals with the best of intentions, and it has—and does—save animals from euthanasia. 

“I thought it was a great solution for a long time,” said Karsten. “I was so proud of what we did and all the animals we were saving.”

But the downside of transport has become increasingly clear, she said. 

It has perpetuated mistrust and bias toward source shelter communities. Transports operate under the inherent assumption that source communities are “bad,” and that they do not want the animals in their communities and cannot take care of them. The destination community is the savior that provides “better” homes for animals. 

Instead of keeping wonderful companion animals in the communities they came from, they are getting sent away, said Karsten. 

Another downside of transport is that it is a reactive, stopgap measure; it’s not a long-term solution. It doesn’t address the root cause of why there are supposedly too many animals and not enough homes for them in a community. 

“How does just taking [animals] actually address that problem?” asked Karsten.  

Finding new solutions 

To find new solutions, animal shelters need to challenge assumptions they’ve been making and continue to make about the problem they’re trying to solve. Is the problem really that there are too many animals and/or not enough homes? 

Maybe shelter leaders think there aren’t enough homes for animals in the community because animals end up at the shelter in the first place. But maybe more programs are needed to help keep pets in their homes with owners and prevent surrenders, like pet food banks, low-cost, accessible veterinary care and behavior support.

Or, it might be a matter of a perspective shift, away from a “negativity bias” that makes shelter staff upset with people who come to the shelter to surrender animals, said Karsten.

“That would kind of be like working in a hospital and getting upset with people for coming in because they’re sick,” she said. “…Remember, there are tons of people in your community who never need you.”

Finally, maybe it seems like there aren’t enough homes because animal shelters have impossible requirements for adoption that rule out many community members. 

It’s possible the shelter just needs to trust their community and remove requirements that prevent people from adopting, like having a fence, previously having a pet or not living with children, that don’t affect whether someone will provide a loving home. 

In fact, as the COVID-19 crisis was unfolding, animal shelters had to remove these requirements to quickly get animals out of their facilities, when they were worried about operating during a pandemic. Many saw amazing results, with community members stepping up to provide great homes for animals. 

Destination shelters, too, can start to rethink their roles in the community. Instead of operating as large adoption centers and transporting animals from other shelters to fulfill that mission, maybe they can start to focus more on providing resources and information to community members who already live with pets. 

Overall, if source shelters start looking to their communities more, they’ll build up relationships and support, said Karsten. 

After all, she added: “I can’t believe that it doesn’t feel just as good to do a great adoption as it does to put 50 animals on a plane.” 

Episode 39 – The Importance of the Human-Animal Bond with Dr. Hoy-Gerlach

University of Toledo professor of social work and author of Human-Animal Interactions -Dr. Hoy-Gerlach – joins Mandy to discuss the importance of the human-animal bond and how it impacts social welfare and animal welfare.

Get a copy of Dr. Hoy-Gerlach’s book here: https://amzn.to/2GK6WRk

“Why do we love dogs so much so so much?” article:

https://www.patriciamcconnell.com/theotherendoftheleash/why-do-we-love-dogs-so-much-so-so-much

Check out this episode!

Episode 38, Part 2 – Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Animal Welfare with Kim Wolf

Social worker and animal welfare expert Kim Wolf joins Mandy for part 2  of the discussion on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within animal welfare.

Check out this episode!

Episode 38 – Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Animal Welfare with Kim Wolf

Social worker and animal welfare expert Kim Wolf joins Mandy to discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within animal welfare.

Check out this episode!

Episode 36 – Access to Veterinary Care: A New Model with Dr. Sara Pizano and Aimee St. Arnaud

Dr. Pizano from Team Shelter USA is considered a leading expert in shelter reform with unprecedented results. As an accomplished public speaker and influencer, in particular with municipal leaders, she is a positive force helping organizations reach their potential.

As the Director of National Veterinary Outreach for Best Friends Animal Society, Aimee St. Arnaud focuses on how to increase access to spay/neuter and veterinary care in underserved communities to help reach the goal of achieving no-kill nationwide by 2025.

Dr. Pizano and Aimee join Mandy to discuss vet care access.

Check out this episode!

Episode 35 – Knowledge is Power Don’t let “No Pets Allowed” Hold You Back from Renting

Abby Volin founded Opening Doors, which advocates for tenants with pet-related housing issues and helps housing providers manage pets on properties. She is a nationally recognized expert on animal accommodation law and frequently holds lectures for landlords, attorneys, animal welfare advocates, and healthcare providers. Prior to starting Opening Doors, Abby worked as a policy specialist at The Humane Society of the United States and began her career as a litigator. Abby earned her JD from Loyola University Chicago School of Law and BA from Tufts University. She has volunteered with numerous shelters and rescue groups throughout the years and fostered countless pets (much to the chagrin of the resident cats).

Abby joins Mandy to discuss how to can help keep families together.

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Episode 34 – Pet-Friendly Housing with Todd Cramer and Heather Schechter

Todd Cramer is the former President & CEO at the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society (MHHS) in New York’s Capital District. Prior to joining MHHS, he was the Senior Vice President of Community Engagement & Chief of Staff at St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in New Jersey. Todd has also served as the Senior Program Manager, Adoptions at PetSmart Charities and Director of Community Initiatives at the ASPCA. During his time at St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center, Todd led the Pets Are Welcome, pet friendly housing initiative, pilot program working to encourage rental property owners to go beyond just allowing pet residents and make them truly welcome by eliminating breed, type and size restrictions and providing the tools necessary for pet guardians and their pets to live successfully in rental communities. Under his leadership, the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society successfully partnered with the Sunrise Management & Consultants to create Pets Are Welcome communities. Todd has written for Animal Sheltering Magazine and has been a popular speaker delivering workshops on animal welfare topics at regional and national conferences including Best Friend’s National Conference and the Humane Society of the United States Animal Care Expo.

Heather Schechter, Director of Marketing and Business Development, is responsible for identifying and developing new business opportunities and building and expanding the public presence of the company and its clients. She oversees the marketing of multiple apartment communities, including branding, advertising, public relations, and communications functions. Heather brings to Sunrise her experience in marketing in Albany and New York City. She is currently the Past President and Membership Chair of the Capital Region Public Relations Society of America. Heather is Accredited in Public Relations and a licensed New York State Real Estate Salesperson. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Columbia College and a Master of Science degree in Education from the Sage Colleges.

Check out this episode!

Episode 33 – Barriers to Accessible Housing with Shannon Glenn of My Pitbull Is Family

Shannon Glenn started with My Pit Bull is Family in 2014 and quickly became an expert in housing policy and surrender prevention for the animal welfare community. She has an extensive professional background in grassroots campaigns, voter outreach, community outreach, fundraising, homeless advocacy and policy creation. Shannon holds a Master’s in Advocacy and Political Leadership where she centered her degree program around drafting policies to end housing and insurance discrimination for families with large dogs. She lives in Minneapolis, MN with her partner, Anthony, their two dogs Charlotte and Wilbur and cat Max. Shannon currently is the Shelter Supervisor for the only pet friendly emergency homeless shelter in the state of Minnesota. You can usually find Shannon spending her free time updating our database, volunteering at Minneapolis Animal Care and Control, or enjoying the outdoors with her family.  

Shannon joins Mandy to discuss breed discrimination and barriers to accessible housing.

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Episode 32 – Does That Cat Really Need Us? How Shelters Can Reduce Cat Euthanasia with Cameron Moore

Cameron Moore oversees shelter engagement for the Million Cat Challenge, a joint project of Maddie’s Fund®, the Maddie’s® Shelter Medicine Program at the Univerity of Florida, the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program, and the ASPCA® designed to save the lives of 1 million more shelter cats over five years.

Cameron appears to have been born to be part of the Million Cat mission, and been guided by its Five Key Initiatives at every stage of her professional life — even before the Challenge existed.

Cameron joins Mandy to discuss cat intake at shelters and how to reduce cat euthanasia.

Check out this episode!

Episode 31 – The Eviction Crisis: What’s Coming and How to Prepare with Abby Volin

Abby Volin founded Opening Doors, which advocates for tenants with pet-related housing issues and helps housing providers manage pets on properties. She is a nationally recognized expert on animal accommodation law and frequently holds lectures for landlords, attorneys, animal welfare advocates, and healthcare providers. Prior to starting Opening Doors, Abby worked as a policy specialist at The Humane Society of the United States and began her career as a litigator. Abby earned her JD from Loyola University Chicago School of Law and BA from Tufts University. She has volunteered with numerous shelters and rescue groups throughout the years and fostered countless pets (much to the chagrin of the resident cats).

Abby joins Mandy to discuss the coming eviction crisis from the COVID-19 fallout.

Check out this episode!