How Northland animals benefit from 'Campaign for Zero'

Ever wonder what's being done on a local level to help the homeless dogs and cats in Duluth? Animal Allies Humane Society, with the help of a couple other local organizations, recently kicked off Campaign for Zero. The goal of this program is to ...

Lost Pet? Don't Fret
If your family pet ever wanders off, a microchip that animal shelters can check may help bring it back quicker. Matthew R. Perrine/Budgeteer News

Ever wonder what's being done on a local level to help the homeless dogs and cats in Duluth?

Animal Allies Humane Society, with the help of a couple other local organizations, recently kicked off Campaign for Zero.

The goal of this program is to end euthanasia of healthy pets in Duluth by encouraging the adoption of homeless animals, as well as spaying/neutering, licensing and microchipping all city animals, whether or not they're homeless.

Above all, the staff at Animal Allies wants to make these services affordable for all pet owners.

So, why is Campaign to Zero so important? The campaign stresses that every pet deserves a lifetime of loving care. It stems from the fact that, as recently as 2005, more than 500 healthy animals were euthanized at Duluth shelters alone.


On a positive note, the number of euthanasia operations has been decreasing, with only 59 healthy animals euthanized in 2009 and, as of this June, no healthy pets have been euthanized at a Duluth shelter this year -- which is a first in the city's history.

"This is a strictly local program," said Jim Filby Williams, executive director of Animal Allies. "Many communities have elimination of euthanasia of healthy animals as a distant or strictly abstract goal -- like world peace -- but it is very unusual for a city of any size to be able to talk seriously about achieving the goal right now."

So far this year, 977 animals have been adopted from Animal Allies (538 cats and 439 dogs). That is up 36 percent from the same period in 2009, and up nearly 150 percent from the same period in 2008.

But how does Animal Allies plan on achieving the goals set forth by Campaign for Zero? A gift from Maurices made it possible for the shelter to greatly reduce feline adoption fees, from $75 to $115 down to between $25 and $75. (The new fee scale will run as follows: $75 for kittens younger than 6 months; $50 for cats 6 months to 5 years old; and $25 for cats 5 years and older.) These friendly felines also receive veterinary services, which can run up to $400, before they are adopted by the public.

Before being adopted, all animals are examined by a veterinarian and tested for temperament, then classified as healthy, treatable or unhealthy/untreatable, based on a national standard known as the Asilomar Accords.

"The goal for this year is to eliminate euthanasia of healthy animals, and continue to decrease euthanasia of animals with treatable medical and behavioral conditions," Filby Williams said. "If we can achieve this goal, the next logical goal would be to eliminate euthanasia of all animals that have treatable medical or behavioral conditions as defined in the Asilomar Accords. We define an animal as treatable if the typical private pet owner in our community would treat the animal's condition."

If an animal is deemed unhealthy/untreatable, the animal is then humanely euthanized and cremated.

Animal Allies has also been able to permanently reduce microchipping fees to $25 -- half of what it normally costs.


Microchipping is the process of implanting a silicon chip containing an identification number under the skin of a dog or cat.

The chip is about the size of a large grain of rice and is injected with a needle.

Microchipping pets helps animal shelters like Animal Allies to identify a lost pet and return the cat or dog to its owner quicker.

This, in turn, also helps the shelter avoid the expense of providing care for the pet, such as food, boarding and vet care.

Animal Allies and the city of Duluth are also working on ways to make pet licensing more convenient to owners as well.

In addition to the gift from Maurices, PetSmart Charities has also made it possible for Animal Allies to pay for all the costs to sterilize 1,000 Duluth cats in the next year, with focus on the Lincoln Park and Hillside neighborhoods in Duluth.

Surprisingly, these two neighborhoods comprise only 22 percent of the city's human population but contribute 45 percent of the stray animals to Duluth's shelters.

The program will pay all cat sterilization costs for all households in zip codes 55805 and 55806 earning less than $40,000.


For residents in other areas of the city, the program will pay all cat sterilization costs for any household that can show proof that it is currently eligible for one of seven public assistance programs.

Making it work

Without euthanasia of healthy animals, the intake of animals at the shelter could exceed the outflow of animals, making the shelter overly crowded with too many dogs and cats being housed at Animal Allies.

In the short term, though, Animal Allies does have some tricks up its proverbial sleeve to combat the possibility of overcrowding.

Foster homes are great for taking in animals temporarily until there is room at the shelter for them.

The shelter also runs adoption promotions to quickly find homes for animals, thereby opening up kennels for incoming animals.

The economic downturn has forced many families to surrender their pets to animal shelters because they just don't have the funds to care of them. Filby Williams said that making owner-surrenders by-appointment-only "enables us to modestly postpone intake by usually no more than a couple weeks."

Basically, this means that the shelter delays taking an owner-surrendered animal for a couple weeks until room opens up at the shelter. (Another option to reduce the number of animals being housed there is to transfer a few animals with conditions requiring special expertise to rescue groups with that expertise.)


Filby Williams says too that postponing intake of unclaimed strays from the city of Duluth shelter for no more than a couple days is also another way to prevent the shelter getting overcrowded.

"We take every unclaimed healthy and treatable dog and every unclaimed healthy cat from the city of Duluth as soon as their stray hold expires," he said. "In general, we have been taking these animals much more quickly this year, but postponing intake for a couple days can sometimes help get through a difficult stretch."

For more medium- and long-term solutions, Filby Williams said the "most powerful way" to bring the number of homeless animals into equilibrium with the number of available homes is to use targeted spay/neuter programs to decrease the number of homeless animals.

"We are leading the state in this area," he said. "We are also investigating heavily in improving veterinary care so that animals stay healthy and happy while moving as quickly as possible through the shelter to a good new home. The speed of that process is critical to avoiding overcapacity. Increasing the flow of animals through the shelter is a multi-year process."

Filby Williams also went on to say that while some shelters manage being over capacity by closing their doors when they are full, Animal Allies chooses not to because they do not believe that closing is the best way to deliver the greatest good for the largest number of animals in the service area.

All told, how is Campaign for Zero going to affect the cost of running Animal Allies?

"There are certainly costs associated with improving and speeding up medical care, paying for spay/neuter procedures for those who cannot afford it, holding and promoting off-site adoption events and reducing cat adoption fees when needed," Filby Williams said. "So far, we have been able to increase other sources of earned income and grant income enough to mostly offset those costs. However, there remains a gap, and that is why we are asking the community to give as generously as they are able to Campaign for Zero."

Filby Williams admits that the campaign is an ambitious endeavor and far from a sure thing, but feels that they have a fighting chance with Campaign for Zero. He says that the outcome of the campaign will ultimately be determined by the community and individual pet owners to help adopt, spay/neuter, microchip and license their animals.


"To save every healthy animal this year," he said, "we need the community to take these actions like never before."

Superior-based freelance writer Sarah Chapman last covered the ropes course at UWS for the Budgeteer. She can be reached via .

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