- Associated Press - Saturday, April 18, 2015

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) - One afternoon in early March, a van rolled into the parking lot of the Humane Society of Boulder Valley, carrying five dogs that had spent the previous weeks unadopted in Adams County.

The dogs were trotted one by one out of the van and into the area of the Boulder shelter where new admissions, transferred in from elsewhere, are held for a few days before being put out on the adoption floor.

The idea behind adding this group of transfer dogs was simple: They weren’t getting adopted at the public Adams County Animal Shelter, but maybe they’d have a better shot at Boulder’s privately run and resource-flush branch, so effective in pairing pets with owners that dogs spend an average of just six days in the kennel before finding homes.

Within two days of being placed on the adoption floor, a silky terrier named Ryder and two mixed breeds named Happy and Casper had all been found owners. The remaining pair, Pee Wee and Princess, followed shortly thereafter.

“When I adopted my second rescue dog, they told me she’d been in the kennel for about a day,” said Cris Boston, of Longmont. “When I found out she’d been brought in from another shelter where she’d spent seven weeks, I just felt lucky she landed where she did.”

The transfers symbolize a changing tide in animal welfare, in which shelter directors are starting to evaluate their successes and failures through a more comprehensive system, collaborating on a regional and state level more efficiently.

The rise in the kinds of positive outcomes found by the Adams County crew has coincided directly with the waning of the roughly decade-long cultural moment by the “no-kill” animal shelter movement, the Boulder Daily Camera reported (https://tinyurl.com/p8m28lo).

No-kill shelters usually qualify as such by rejecting euthanasia for healthy or treatable animals, even at full kennel capacity. Proponents tout the practice as a recognition and protection of the basic right to life of animals, and 70 percent of American pet owners say they support the practice.

Critics, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, say no-kill operations distort statistics and employ agreeable rhetoric to conceal an unpleasant and inhumane reality.

Count Liz Smokowski and Lisa Pedersen, honchos at the humane societies of Longmont and Boulder Valley, respectively, among the dissenting minority.

“It would just be ultimately impossible for us to be totally no-kill,” Smokowski said. “You’d have to have an endless amount of space and resources, and I just don’t feel it’s acceptable when there’s an animal that’s ill and in need of a humane euthanasia.”

Last year, Boulder Valley euthanized 462 animals for health and behavioral reasons. Pedersen believes that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“If I’m no-kill,” she said, “what’s the opposite of that? For me, the words don’t define the problem, and simplify what’s happening in shelters too much. And I think it changes the conversation from being around what are we doing for animals in the holistic sense and drives it down to euthanasia, and that’s just one piece of the whole pie.”

There’s a growing consensus among experts that focusing solely on euthanasia, at the expense of numerous other factors, can be detrimental to both the animals and their shelters, as well as the communities those shelters serve.

By limiting admission to avoid euthanizing pets, Pedersen says, no-kills resist the kind of regional cooperation that helps less privileged shelters do the most good they can.

The most notable shift is in the degree to which operations based in more affluent and pet-friendly communities such as Boulder and Longmont are taking in “transfer” animals. Instead of standing by as dogs and cats, usually from southeastern Colorado and the Western Slope, go unadopted for weeks or months, Pedersen and others are taking in more and more pets from outside their own jurisdictions.

Last year, the Humane Society of Boulder Valley transferred in 2,356 animals, including about 2,000 dogs. That’s about double its transfer total a decade ago. The Longmont Humane Society, with 534 transfers in 2014, doubled its efforts in just five years.

Bill Fredergill, executive director of the Logan County Humane Society, said that for his and other shelters in areas that serve populations less prone to pet adoption, transfers are invaluable.

“Just to be able to get those animals into a place for adoption as an actual option is key because when we transfer an animal out, that allows us to bring another animal in and get them into a system where they have a chance for a happy home,” Fredergill said. “We have some animals that stay here quite a long time. Months. Others, because of transfer programs, are out of here in less than two weeks.”

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