|MF: Mike Fry |
BN: Beth Nelson
JP: Jane Pierantozzi
MF: On the line, we’ve got Jane Pierantozzi, who is the Executive Director of Faithful Friends Animal Society in Delaware. I believe the law they passed in Delaware was called the Shelter Standards Act; in other places like Minnesota and Texas, it’s being referred to as the Companion Animal Protection Act. I think it’s similarly named in Florida, and has a slightly different name in New York. It’s a piece of legislation that’s getting traction all around the United States in various ways. She was instrumental in bringing it to Delaware, getting it through the legislature where I believe it passed unanimously.
BN: In 2010.
MF: We’re going to be talking to her about all that. Welcome to Animal Wise Radio, Jane.
JP: Thank you.
BN: Before we really kick off the focus part of the discussion, we have to first just let our listeners know a little bit about where you spend your days and what kind of work you do. Can you share a little bit about Faithful Friends?
JP: Sure. Right now I’m spending my day in my office surrounded by a couple animals, but Faithful Friends Animal Society is in Wilmington, Delaware. We have about 300 cats in our care and maybe 40 dogs at any one time. We also have a number of prevention programs, local spay/neuter, a free pet food bank so people can keep their pets at home when they’re going through tough times. We also serve people feeding cat colonies through the food bank. We have a pet lifeline to give people advice and help them work their way through the animal welfare system.
BN: I love that. I love all of it!
MF: It sounds like important work. What was it prior to 2010 that made you decide that there was a need in the shelters that needed to be addressed from a legislative perspective?
JP: Let me just start back a little bit farther if it’s okay. We started Faithful Friends 13 years ago because we have two partially publicly shelters that had a save rate of only 10% to 20%, which meant that 80% to 90% of the animals were being killed that came in. When we started on our journey of creating Faithful Friends Animal Society, we wanted to find out why there was no transparency and why the public wasn’t aware of what was happening there.
The first law that we had passed in 2003 was a spay/neuter law, and we were really fortunate because one of the SPCAs that had a high kill rate got a new director about five years ago, and that alone made a huge difference in turning around that shelter. What we were concerned about was what happens if this leader leaves? Will this agency go back to how it was before with no basic standards of care? It was a closed system with no transparency. We researched, and we decided we needed to come up with a basic Shelter Standards law with some accountability built in as any social service agency really has in their industry.
MF: I think that’s absolutely true. When we were talking about having you come on the show via email you said, “Point me to another social service field where there are vulnerable beings at risk that doesn’t have some of oversight and standards set.” I thought that was very well put and spot on.
BN: I’d like to frame something you said too, Jane. Sometimes when I hear percentages, it gets mushy in my head, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. I understand numbers, but when you think about if ten animals come in, eight of them are killed and two might survive, that’s what you’re saying when you’re saying there’s a 20% live release rate.
BN: In so many shelters across the country today, we’re still seeing some really unfortunate and abysmal numbers around the live release rates, but as you were alluding to, we don’t really know for sure, because some of them are really good at spinning the numbers.
MF: We’ve seen direct manipulation of outcome reports in shelters throughout Minnesota where what they’re reporting as their live release rate is nowhere near the actual live release rate, so that transparency is so important.
One other thing I would like to say is I know one shelter here in Minnesota who’s got a very progressive director that people like universally, but everybody knows when that director goes out of town on vacation, things changes radically, and your point that the success of the place should not be at the whim of whoever happens to be in charge, there should be some baseline, codified expectations of whoever fills that position.
JP: Exactly. That’s why we developed our piece of legislation that passed unanimously. Also, our legislation, our Shelter Standards law which you referred to as CAPA, was led by our Governor as one of his top priority legislative items in 2010.
BN: Fabulous. Sometimes it’s a big educational hurdle to get around to the people at the top or even a general person on the street position. Lots of folks don’t know this stuff is happening in our shelters. The transparency even to the public, especially for publicly funded shelters, is key.
I’m curious how long it took you to develop this legislation. We have about 30 seconds, so we might have to continue when we come back from our break, Jane.
JP: Sure. Really, we had some national experts advising us, and we developed a legislation probably within six to eight months, and we had it passed the same year we worked on it. It was really for us a natural progression of the work we had been doing over the years to improve animal welfare system outcome and accountability in our state.
MF: When we come back, we’re going to be looking at some of the data. What’s happened since CAPA was passed in Delaware, and where do they go from here? We’ll be back with that.
BN: We have a very on fire Jane Pierantozzi with us today. She is the Executive Director at Faithful Friends Animal Society in Wilmington, Delaware. They do good work at their shelter, but some years ago, as she described in the first segment, they decided that they needed to figure out how to bring more transparency around sheltering in their state because they were seeing a lot of problems, one of them being some shelters with a 20% live release rate – that means an 80% kill rate. We started the conversation, and we’ve got lots more to cover since they introduced shelter reform legislation.
MF: Since you passed that law, you were so gracious to send me all the data and I’ve looked at it. The first thing I have to put out there is it seems like when you correlate the data for Delaware shelters, doing so now is probably much easier, because the reporting of those numbers is now required and open and transparent, and you can see exactly what’s going on in the shelters. We can actually go back and look at how many animals have come in, how many animals left alive, and it shows that things have gotten better and better. Do you want to talk about that a little bit, Jane?
JP: Sure. Before we passed this law and even prior to that, we could not get numbers in our community for how many animals were coming in to shelters, how many were being euthanized, how many were being adopted. It really made it hard to measure and set a goal to get to as a State. We decided that we would have in our law that animal shelters had to be transparent. People are paying tax dollars to fund shelters or they’re donating, so they should be able to see what’s happening to animals going into the shelters. We put in our laws there had to be statistics posted on the website every quarter, which we all do, including intake, euthanasia, adoptions, etc. That also allows us to see where we need to develop programs or as a community to continue to reduce our euthanasia rate and increase our save rate.
MF: It seems like if you’re not measuring and you’re not measuring accurately, how could you know? How could you possibly know? I want to get into talking about some of the opposition to CAPA in other states. If you look at the numbers, the save rates in Delaware, I think one shelter I looked at, the kill rate had dropped by 62% since this law went into effect, and that was consistent across the board from the data set that you sent me. How anybody could really be not thinking that that’s just an incredible success story boggles my mind.
Shelters in other places where CAPA is being discussed have tried to spin some stories about CAPA in Delaware, making it sound like it’s this horrible thing. Can you explain that, or do you have any sense of where that’s coming from?
JP: When we put together our Shelter Standards or our CAPA law in Delaware, all the agencies agreed to it, because we were all doing just about everything in the law that we created together. There might have been a couple things we had to come up to speed on that we all agreed to, but once the law passed, we found that one of the shelters was not really complying. When they got new leadership, that leadership decided they were against the Shelter Standards law. There’s some creation of negativity coming from that one agency and people that support that one agency.
They did have a lawsuit or two with that agency, but it was basically because they weren’t following the Shelter Standards law. Every shelter is open to lawsuits anytime, just like any other social service agency. People can bring a lawsuit for everything. You just have to make sure that you’re documenting what you’re doing and that you are following any standards that are in the law or regulations that are over your agency’s services.
MF: It’s kind of ironic, because here in Minnesota, one of the opponents of the CAPA law here has been running around saying, “If we pass this law, the shelters will be inundated with lawsuits,” but in fact I would say, “Not likely, unless the shelters overtly violated the law.”
JP: Right. Really, none of the other shelters have had lawsuits, including two other shelters who actually have animal control contracts as well as the one that’s had lawsuits. The other two have not had lawsuits, because they’re following the Shelter Standards law. I think that agencies who are not used to be accountable and that are used to being able to be behind closed doors are afraid of having to be accountable and having to meet standards, but if they really care about the industry and animals, they shouldn’t be. They should be embracing this, because this is part of progress of any social service industry is to have basic standards for those who don’t have a voice.
BN: One of the correlating things that we hear from people who are saying, “It’s going to be just so much work for shelters, and smaller shelters won't be able to keep up with the onerous amount of paperwork that this will require,” ties to what you were just talking about. Mike and I have talked about this imagined paperwork for the past months and years, and we just are a little bit mystified about this argument. Was that one that came up in Delaware at all?
JP: No, it did not. Like I said, what we put in our law, 90% of it the shelters were already doing. They were already vaccinating animals upon intake, which was critical. They were already …
BN: Counting the ones they were killing?
JP: Yes. Some of them were already keeping animals for 72 hours, like cats. That wasn’t something that was being done across the board. Paperwork has not really been an issue. Most of the agencies are computerized, and I can tell you this – our agency is not computerized yet. We’re looking for a computerized system, and it hasn’t created more paperwork. We’ve always done it by filing systems and paperwork.
Like I said, it’s very basic. When an animal comes in, you should already have a medical sheet where you put down what you’ve done to that animal in terms of intake, vaccinations. If it’s paperwork that they’re not doing that they need to do, they need to be doing it. You have to document these things if you’re caring for animals.
MF: If they weren’t keeping track of it already, that’s a little bit like a bank not keeping track of their money.
JP: Right. That’s a little bit scary if you don’t have these basic things in writing as it is, so it did not create a lot more paperwork. That’s really not true at all.
MF: I’m just curious – what do you think is the best surprise or the best thing that you’ve gotten from CAPA? The lifesaving is dramatic. At one shelter alone, it seems they’re saving an additional 4,000 animals every year from that shelter as a result of CAPA because they’re not killing them. What do you think is the best benefit you’ve seen?
JP: I guess I want to say more than one thing. Vaccinate upon intake was so critical, because when you want to take an animal from another shelter and it comes in so sick, it makes you then discouraged from taking in animals from other shelters. Vaccinating upon intake reduces disease, so that animals could be transferred to other agencies or shelters, and if they still got sick, the level of sickness was greatly reduced. That was critical to saving more lives and to having other shelters and rescues wanting to work together.
The other piece in our law was we asked shelters before they euthanize an animal that could be adopted that they have a list of all the shelters and rescues in the area and that they email out pictures and a little bio. That has helped save so many lives, and it’s really brought the community together, because now the organizations that want to help the shelters feel that they can help the shelters. They know when animals need to come out. They know that they’ve been vaccinated upon intake, and there’s a better system now for getting those animals help when the shelter is full or overwhelmed.
In a way, it really brings the community together to make it a community problem where everybody is trying to help the shelters that are overwhelmed instead of the secrecy, and no one then can help the shelters and be of support to them either.
MF: Have you seen a dramatic increase in the amount of animal hoarding going on in Delaware?
JP: No, we have not. I think that there is always a certain amount of animal cases where people get overwhelmed with animals or hoard animals, and we have not seen that. I think the biggest problem that we have in our state, and most states, is that there are a lot of people who take in a lot of cats because of the number of cats, meaning well. That hasn’t changed. We’re hopeful that our shelters will take the approach of helping those people reduce their numbers instead of prosecuting them.
MF: I ask that because that’s one of the things that the anti-CAPA people always say. The fact of the matter is animal hoarding is not a problem that can be created by a piece of legislation.
JP: No, not at all. Animal hoarding is either a mental health issue or it’s created by, as we said, the number of cats in communities and people trying to take in maybe more than they can handle, which is a completely different issue than Shelter Standards, because that goes more to spay/neuter.
MF: I think when they go to that place, it shows me there are shelters who just don’t want the transparency. They just don’t want the accountability, and they will make up anything that they can to try to prevent a law like that from passing.
JP: The legislators should be your champions for accountability and transparency, especially those who’ve worked in other social service fields, whether it be for elder care, child welfare, child abuse, where they’ve seen the same thing happen over the years where there was no transparency, and those people were being harmed in systems that wanted to hide behind their doors.
BN: I would like to go back to something you just recently said, and that was about how the list of rescues and the emailing of the short bio and the picture has actually created a broader sense of community among the animal welfare folks. One of the criticisms or concerns that we’ll hear and what came out of New York as they were trying to promote this type of legislation in New York was, “That’s going to be so very hard for the rescues.” I think to myself, “It’s an email list.”
MF: It could be a Facebook page.
JP: Right. Really, the ones that are doing all these emails with photos and bios are generally the shelters that have the animal control contracts, because they’re generally shelters that are overwhelmed because they’re taking in animals regularly, even when they don’t have space, possibly. Those are the ones, and most of those shelters already have computers in place and have better staffing levels. The smaller rescues are the ones that are generally taking the animals. I think this helps you get to know your community if you are a bigger shelter with animal control contracts or just unlimited intake – you get to know these rescues, and you get to know each other, and you build a relationship that wasn’t there before.
BN: I was hoping you would go there, because I see that as a piece of the argument against CAPA, time and again that people link the hoarding to these small rescues, and I always think, isn’t it better to bring the community together because rescuers know rescuers, and that information comes back, and then you have a chance – you have a chance to address it. You don’t necessarily have to send animals there anymore.
JP: Right. If you think one of your rescues is getting in over their head, you should be having a relationship with them where you can talk to them. If you think they’re taking in too many animals from your organization, you can say, “Let’s hold off this month or for two months,” and you can help them. You generally get to know each other better, so you know which organizations can handle the animals they’re taking and which ones can't. You don’t have to give animals to an organization you feel is starting to take in too many, and you can talk to them about trying to help them move them out.
That’s one thing that happened here. I think one organization was taking in, and early on, before we even passed this law, from a shelter more animals than they could handle. It was generally because they didn’t have that relationship with their shelter management, because their Shelter Manager before this law was very closed. They were just sending animals out and not talking to the organization, not getting to know them. This really opens the door to relationships and making the community take some responsibility to help the shelters that are overwhelmed.
MF: Jane, thank you so much for your work, not only in Delaware, but I think you’re being a light that’s being shone, and you’re spreading this around the United States as a result, and I really think that’s important work. If people want more information about Jane, they can find Faithful Friends Animal Society at www.faithfulfriends.us.
Find the show podcast here.