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"The no-kill shelters work with animals," Salter says. "If we get a dog with a behavior problem, we will have a trainer work with that dog so we can place them in an appropriate home. At AHS any dog that would have any reaction in their temperament test would not be considered for the adoption floor, even if it was a behavior that could be trained. Any cat or dog that would have even a treatable physical ailment would get put down."
AHS detractors also complain that the organization doesn't cooperate with other agencies to reduce the need for euthanasia. Many times, Salter says, she watched AHS turn down offers from other rescue groups willing to take animals scheduled to be put down. So far this year, AHS has placed only 43 dogs and four cats with other rescue groups, despite euthanasia rates in the thousands. "If they couldn't place them, why not allow other willing groups to place them?" Salter asks.
In 2006, 14 animal welfare groups, including the Twin Cities' municipal animal control facilities and Animal Ark, joined together to reduce kill rates and overpopulation by allowing rescue groups to take in animals scheduled for euthanasia at open-door shelters. AHS refused to join.
One reason is that AHS couldn't ensure that the smaller groups would provide adequate care, says Brickley. AHS is not going to give an aggressive animal to anyone, she says, even another group. Dixon later added via email: "We work in collaboration and partnership with many of the groups. ... [However], one of the important components that is required for Homes for All Pets participants is the expectation to collaborate in an open and constructive way. Unfortunately, this type of relationship does not exist between AHS and Animal Ark. The attacks...by Animal Ark are prohibitive to AHS participation."
Another frequent criticism is that, despite AHS's size, it is doing little to alleviate the critical problem of animal overpopulation. The first tenet of Winograd's no-kill formula is instituting a trap, neuter, and release program for feral cats, to reduce the large number of strays brought to shelters.
Yet Fry says AHS spends little of its money to meet that goal. This year, he points out, AHS announced it is building a $4.25-million boarding facility to house pets while their owners are on vacation. The shelter hopes to pull in about $100,000 a year within two years from the fundraising plan. Fry and others believe that money could have been used to slow overpopulation and limit euthanasia using components of the Winograd model.
"Look, if Animal Ark had the same budget as the Humane Society, the Twin Cities could literally move toward no-kill tomorrow," he says. Fry's organization, the largest no-kill, limited-admission shelter in the state, took in 734 animals in 2007, but Fry says he had to euthanize only five.
While Dixon concedes that feral cats are becoming more of a problem in the Twin Cities, AHS has no plans to implement TNR. "It's not on our immediate agenda," she says. TNR is a complicated, controversial program that takes a lot of effort to be successful, Dixon says. "We're just not there yet. Our first priority is subsidized spay and neuter on a broad scale for people in the community."
AHS does not offer a low-cost spay-and-neuter program for low-income families, another crucial part of the no-kill model. Currently it is against the law for any group to provide sterilization surgeries to the public unless it is owned or run by a veterinarian, Brickley says. But that doesn't mean groups can't finance them, Fry counters. Many rescue organizations, including Animal Ark, provide low-income families with vouchers for the procedure. AHS does not, and instead is working on legislation to change the law. They maintain that if shelters could do the surgeries, more would get done.
"Why does it really matter who is doing the surgery?" says Fry, whose organization spent nearly half of its $1.3 million budget to fund spay-and-neuter initiatives. "What matters is that it is getting done, and you would think, at least in the meantime, they would be doing everything they could to get more animals sterilized."
DESPITE HER CRITICS, Dixon argues that AHS is making strides in reducing both the population of homeless animals and its high kill rates. "We are always trying to reduce our euthanasia rates," she says, pointing to AHS's 420 foster homes and its new Mission Meow pilot program. Hundreds of volunteers have signed up to foster older cats during kitten season, so they don't have to compete with the little ones for adoption, she says.
With five locations, AHS can transfer pets from place to place to increase their visibility. "One of our goals is to have our animals in our facilities for as short of a time as possible," she says. "That's better for them, for their health, and for the individual animal."
Once put on the floor for the public to see, the average length of stay at AHS is 3.2 days for dogs and 5.7 days for cats. But there is no time limit, says Dixon. Some pets, like hard-to-place breeds or special-needs animals, stay with AHS for months.