by Karel Minor, President & CEO, Humane Pennsylvania
What do we do when “No Kill” is not the aspiration but the standard? In 2008 Humane Pennsylvania killed its last animal simply because it ran out of space. For the past five years we have exceeded 90% live outcomes, the accepted, arbitrary benchmark for achieving “No Kill” status, for all healthy and treatable animals. We now take in fewer animals each year than we used to kill each year.
We’ve reached the point where our intake numbers, like shelters in large swaths of the US, are declining and our euthanasia counts are at historic lows. Being the only organization in the region with accredited animal hospitals attached to each of its shelters often means we are the first choice for the least savable. We are OK with that, that is why we got into veterinary medicine, and we make a difference for even these tough to help animals.
But what does this success mean for the relevance of our organization when we routinely have empty adoption centers? Without much fanfare we, and our local partner and peer rescue organizations, have turned our many communities into essentially No Kill zones. While some shelters and cities are declaring their intentions to reach No Kill, the actual numbers, especially in Berks County, show that we are already there. Is every animal saved? No. But by the agreed upon yardsticks of the past, we’ve walked through the golden “No Kill” door. Where do we go from here?
Fortunately, Humane Pennsylvania has always kept an eye beyond the horizon and we know what lies Beyond No Kill. Humane Pennsylvania will create America’s first Universal Pet Healthcare Community. In the City of Reading, we will accomplish this in two years.
Merely not being dead is not the standard by which any of us, or our pets, should live. We should expect to be healthy, or at least have meaningful access to high quality healthcare. Humane Pennsylvania can’t do much to make that a reality for people, but we can commit to providing it to our community’s pets.
What does meaningful access to pet healthcare mean and what will a Universal Pet Healthcare Community look like?
Meaningful access means all people, regardless of income, geography, and capability, have the ability to access and afford basic health and wellness needs for their pets. Those without geographic access, those with limited or no financial resources, and those who simply don’t know how to access services.
- Where there are veterinary hospital “deserts”, we will bring services and access.
- Where there are barriers to affordability, we will break those barriers down.
- Where there is a lack of knowledge, understanding of how these services can help pets and families, or language barriers, we will educate and communicate- respectfully, and without judgment and condescension.
Living next door to a veterinarian you can’t afford is not meaningful access. Living ten miles from a vet you can afford when you don’t have a car is not meaningful access. Not being able to understand the language of your pet healthcare provider is not meaningful access. We will tear down those barriers.
We have identified several steps that will lead to the creation of the first Universal Pet Healthcare Community in the City of Reading. First and foremost is providing veterinary services that are close to people and pets in need, open hours that work for working family schedules, and offer care that is suitable for their needs and not driven by profit motive. We have focused on Reading because of the need as one of America’s poorest cities and a high population density, and it’s what our funding allows at this time thanks to the Giorgi Family Foundation Grant which kick started this initiative. If it works, we will seek more funding and we will expand to the City of Lancaster, the suburbs, and beyond.
Humane Pennsylvania has identified several key services which we feel are central to community pet health:
- Every pet should have access to free microchip identification. Universal, free microchip identification is offered to all hospital clients, our adopters, or anyone who walks in and asks for it. The largest easily preventable cause of pet death in the US is being an unidentified stray in an animal shelter. It’s hard to be healthy if you’re dead, and a properly registered microchip can reduce the chances of dying as a stray in a shelter to nearly zero.
- Every pet should receive all appropriate preventative vaccinations. Preventable disease is not something our pets should face when a simple and inexpensive vaccination can prevent it. We will make this basic healthcare intervention available to all, affordably.
- Every animal should have access to appropriate reproductive healthcare options. Sterilization services will be made available to all pets, both in home and neighborhood pets like free roaming cats. We know not everyone will or wants to sterilize their pets, but we want to make sure financial considerations are never a barrier in our Universal Pet Healthcare Community.
- Every pet should be free from hunger. A hungry pet is more likely to be unhealthy or poorly behaved. Through a massive expansion of Humane Pennsylvania’s Spike’s Pet Pantry program, we will partner with humane food pantries to ensure that no pet goes hungry.
Even microchipped, vaccinated, and sterilized pets need ongoing vet care so we are also committing to ensuring that all pet owners have the ability receive high quality sick care vet services through empirical/incremental care delivery that suits the needs of the pet and the caretaker. We will continue to offer and expand upon our unique sliding scale, subsidized, and payment plan offerings to ensure that animal care decisions are driven by empathy and love, not merely the cost.
Humane Pennsylvania is also working to ensure that in the event of disaster our community pets are safe and sound and don’t face death in shelters simply because of being temporarily displaced. By creating the region’s first 500-1,000 pet mobile mega-sheltering capability, supported by our animal hospitals and animals shelters and working in partnership with sheltering peers, local and State government, PEMA and PASART, we will be ready if the worst ever strikes our region.
What will this mean for our community?
Besides just having the healthiest and happiest pets anywhere, we think that taking these actions will result in a 50% decrease in animal shelter intake from our target Universal Pet Healthcare Community. It took us the last 15 years to achieve a 50% reduction in intake in Berks and Lancaster Counties. Our goal is to achieve the next 50% animal intake reduction in just two years.
This is what Beyond No Kill means. Not merely avoiding death but offering a healthy and meaningful life.
We are accomplishing this thanks to a historically large $3.1 million dollar grant, with hundreds of thousands of additional dollars from thousands of donors small and large in support of this effort, with hundreds of incredible volunteers, and with amazing staff.
Will we succeed? We don’t know. No one has ever done this before. No one has ever attempted this before. It appears that no one has ever even talked about attempting this before. We think we can do it. A few decades ago the San Francisco SPCA simply decided it was going to attempt the impossible, and became the first No Kill city which now has the lowest per capita shelter intake and euthanasia rates in the nation. We have decided that the City of Reading will be the first in the nation to move beyond No Kill and become No Suffering. We will create America’s first Universal Pet Healthcare Community.
If we can do this in Reading, one America’s poorest cities, we can do it anywhere. And we hope you will help.