Fresno: We CAN Save Them ALL!!


Fresno Humane’s leadership team just returned from the Best Friends National Conference in Los Angeles.  The theme of the conference:  Achieving Nationwide No-Kill Status by 2025.  The strategies presented:  Use data to drive decisions, target the problem areas using proven solutions, and collaborate with other agencies to get it done.  Everything we heard over those three days reinforced our own mission and the importance of our efforts at a local level.  We came back more committed than ever to making Fresno a no-kill community.  Here’s a bit of what we learned and how it’s driving us forward.

The Data:

1.5 million dogs and cats are killed in U.S. shelters each year.  A minority are true euthanasias—animals whose lives are ended humanely due to untreatable medical or behavioral issues.  Most are adoptable pets that are simply killed due to lack of time and space.  Best Friends refers to this as the “lifesaving gap,” the number of adoptable dogs/cats currently put down that could be saved under a no-kill model. (Click here for more information on the no-kill movement.)  Nationally, Texas has the highest lifesaving gap--220,000 pets are killed there annually.  Of course, it’s also the largest state, and the data shows that a scattered number of large shelters are responsible for most of those deaths. 

California has the second highest lifesaving gap in the nation.  Roughly 104,000 dogs and cats die unnecessarily each year in California shelters.  Again, data shows that they aren’t distributed evenly throughout our state.  The good news is that over 200 shelters in California already have a 90% or higher save rate!  Ten counties collectively account for more than two-thirds of the lifesaving gap, and almost half of the deaths take place in just 4 shelters.  What does that mean?  It means we can focus our efforts on the places that need help the most, where it will have the most impact.  

How Fresno’s Shelters Compare:

Fresno County has the LOWEST save rate in California (only 53%).   In fact, our  largest shelter currently has one of the HIGHEST lifesaving gaps in the state.  OUR animals in the Valley need the most help.  Let me repeat that—Fresno County puts down more dogs and cats than most other counties in the state. In the past, blame has been shifted solely onto the community.  The defense has been that there are simply too many dogs and cats and not enough homes.  It's true, Fresno and several of its nearest neighbors do have higher per capita intakes than most California counties.  But this doesn't have to continue to be our reality.  Together we can take steps to CHANGE the norm throughout Fresno County. 

Fresno Humane Animal Services is proving that it can be done.  Prior to our tenure, the county shelter had a save rate of less than 30%; our organization now has an annual save rate of almost 89%.  We serve a population of roughly 500,000 people spread out across 6,000 square miles.  Ours is a population of pet owners who have historically been underserved and undereducated, many living below the poverty level.  We are starting from ground-zero with programs proven to reduce intake and increase positive outcomes:

·      Trap-Neuter-Return for community cats, this includes feral and friendly.   We are part of the of the Million Cat Challenge

·      Managed vs. open intake for stray kitties

·      Transfer partnerships with no-kill rescues & humane societies

·      Progressive return to owner policies 

·      Emphasis (and grant funding for) community spay & neuter

·      Solution-based vs. enforcement-based field services

We don’t have bottomless funding, we don’t have a fancy shelter, we don’t have a huge staff or volunteer force.  What we have is a desire to save lives and a willingness to work hard and adopt the strategies that work.  We are transparent with our community and brave enough to share our failures alongside our successes.  We also know that we cannot change our community alone. 

Earlier this year, Fresno Humane joined the newly-formed No-Kill Valley Central California Coalition, a collaboration of shelters and rescues united by the mission to strategically save lives across the Valley.  Along with several key organizations in the Bay Area, Best Friends is assisting our efforts.  For the first time, there is state-wide (nation-wide, in fact!) interest in improving animal sheltering in Fresno. 

What You Can Do:

Be a part of the change! 

·      Spay/neuter, vaccinate, microchip, and license your own pets.

·      Adopt your next pet from a rescue or shelter.  Don’t support local breeders (purposeful or accidental) who contribute to the overpopulation problem.

·      T-N-R the community cats in your neighborhood.

·      Encourage your friends, family, and neighbors to do all the same things!

Expect—DEMAND!—better from your local animal control agencies, but also be prepared to HELP THEM improve!

Fresno’s pets deserve better.  Fresno’s pet owners deserve better.  Right now, Fresno Humane operates out of a parking lot attached to a condemned building—the old county morgue, no less!  The kennels (too few of them) sit on asphalt with only metal carports, tarps, and shade cloths to shelter the dogs.  The play yard is a small corner of blacktop.  One tiny portable storage building houses our kittens.  Our entire staff and front office are crammed into a mobile trailer.  We battle flooding and freezing temperatures in the winter and months of triple-digit temperatures in the summer.  Despite all this, FHAS manages to save almost 90% of the animals we take in, and we provide low-cost vaccines, microchips, and spay/neuter assistance to hundreds of County residents each month.  Imagine what we could do in a proper facility…

The dream is poised to become a reality!  Thanks to the Ridenour family, Fresno Humane has plans to open a brand new state-of-the-art animal shelter on Grantland near Highway 99.  With 185 indoor-outdoor kennels and properly outfitted cat rooms, our ability to humanely house stray animals would vastly improve, as would our ability to provide much-needed services for pet owners. 

Our shelter project goes before the County Board of Supervisors in September.  There’s always a chance that they may not approve the rezoning proposal, which would crush our dreams of a new facility.  We sure could use some help from the public to convince them that the project is (a) urgently needed, and (b) a welcome addition to that area of Fresno.  Some opponents have voiced concerns regarding the specific location because it’s near churches, a school, and homes.  We think it’s a great location, and not just because it’s being generously donated (allowing us to stretch our construction budget), but also because it has convenient freeway access and visibility.  We also think the shelter SHOULD be an integral part of the community itself.  This won’t be a prison-like “pound,” but a beautiful community pet center and adoption venue.  It’s designed specifically to minimize noise and odor.  Its location right off the highway makes it convenient for rescue transports, and it’s within a few miles of our primary spay/neuter clinic.  We believe the North Fresno location will reduce our transit expenses and generate more foot traffic for adoptions—which translates into more lives saved! 

You can help bring the project to life!  Show your support for Fresno Humane’s new shelter by writing a letter to the Board of Supervisors before September 1st.  Let them know that Fresno's residents are ready to raise the standards for sheltering.  It starts here, with all of us.  Together we CAN save them all!