Here’s how Stanislaus County animal shelter achieved ‘no kill’ status for dogs

Volunteer Sarah Curl spends time with Rusty, at the Stanislaus Animal Services shelter, on Thursday, October 3, in Modesto.
Volunteer Sarah Curl spends time with Rusty, at the Stanislaus Animal Services shelter, on Thursday, October 3, in Modesto. cwinterfeldt@modbee.com

The Stanislaus animal shelter is now considered a ‘no kill’ shelter for dogs, a remarkable achievement for an area chronically challenged by pet overpopulation.

This doesn’t mean absolutely no dogs are euthanized. Those too sick or dangerous to adopt still are put down. But they amount to less than 10% of dogs coming into the shelter, and that’s broadly recognized as meeting the industry definition of “no kill.”

This milestone does not apply to cats. More on them later. For the moment, let’s acknowledge that nearly every dog put behind bars in the Stanislaus shelter eventually finds a home.

True, the 10% put down in the past fiscal year ending June 30 amounted to 658 dogs. That’s a sad thought. But it’s so much better than the 4,692 that were euthanized in 2011, when more than half the dogs taken in did not leave alive.


How did we come so far, so fast?

Annette Patton, executive director of the Stanislaus Animal Services Agency, points to two factors: more adoptions, and more rescues. Lots more.

The first is mostly local. Eight years ago, the shelter adopted out 1,494 puppies and dogs. It’s now up to 2,085 — a 40% increase. That’s pretty good.

Technology advances deserve some credit. Only a few years ago, people looking for a certain size, color or breed might have tired after a few trips to the pound to check the inventory.

These days, a few computer key strokes pull up color pictures of each animal, complete with age, weight and the date each becomes available for adoption (10 days after arrival for dogs with tags or microchips, four days for strays without that information). Some are snatched up moments after doors open, because people have done their homework at home.

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Rescues have been even more impressive. Eight years ago, the shelter sent 747 animals (dogs and cats) to rescue organizations, for placement in homes near and far. Last year, these groups saved 5,971 of our former pets — an almost unbelievable increase of 700%.

One employee does nothing but coordinate animal pickups with 400 rescue groups, some as far away as Montana although our local Stanislaus Humane Society is the most engaged.

As good as this news sounds, a word of caution is in order.

“We don’t want the community to relax and say, ‘Ah, we’re good; it doesn’t matter if I let my dogs have puppies.’ No! It takes a sustained effort to maintain and improve,” said Jill Tucker, CEO of the California Animal Welfare Association, or CalAnimals.

Fixing pets remains the standard for every self-respecting community. It’s far more efficient and effective to keep animals from reproducing than to deal with unwanted castoffs. The data suggest some improvement: the number of dogs admitted to the Stanislaus shelter dropped from 8,859 eight years ago to 6,370 last year.

Do the right and responsible thing, people: spay and neuter your animals.

Now let’s talk about cats.

The Stanislaus kill rate for cats and kittens is 29 percent. That’s a lot better than a few years ago — four times better than in 2013, when 6,661 were put down. But the new mark, from last year, represents 2,053 cats put down. New trap, neuter and release programs are making progress, but we’ve still got a long way to go, and reaching ‘no kill’ status may not be realistic.

‘No kill’ designation, by the way, may sound like a rational goal, but the very words stir controversy among pet advocates.

Some say the ‘no kill’ movement is evil, because shelters anxious to maintain that boast are forced to turn away animals when their cages are full — sometimes, with animals too sick to adopt.

That argument doesn’t apply here, because the Stanislaus shelter has an open admissions policy. Patton’s board did not set a ‘no kill’ goal as a marketing ploy; she and her crew and volunteers and an army of rescue groups have achieved ‘no kill’ status, for dogs, through hard work.

That’s something worth saluting.