The 1994 San Francisco “Adoption Pact” recast the roles of animal control & humane societies––but not as intended
Again, in hundreds of cities and towns across the U.S., and indeed around the world, factions are polarized in furious conflict over what their local animal control agencies, humane societies and shelterless, volunteer-run “rescues” should be doing.
Millions of animals’ lives and millions of dollars in tax money and donated resources are again at stake.
The ongoing cat-and-dog fight has now been going on for more than a quarter of a century, having begun when the San Francisco SPCA and the San Francisco Department of Animal Care & Control introduced an agreement called the Adoption Pact in 1994.
The Adoption Pact, as written, simply defined and delineated the respective jobs of the two agencies.
The Department of Animal Care & Control, formed 10 years earlier and funded entirely by taxpayers, would have the lead role in ensuring public safety, including impounding dangerous dogs and enforcing vaccination requirements.
The San Francisco SPCA had held the San Francisco animal control contract, and had done those jobs, for 100 years before it decided it no longer wanted to wear the black hat of the “dogcatcher.”
The Department of Animal Care & Control was then created as a stand-alone city agency to do law enforcement, while the San Francisco SPCA, now funded entirely through donations, did all of the other animal care and advocacy work that it always had.
The Adoption Pact built on 18 years of s/n
Included in that role, under the Adoption Pact, was finding homes for any and all impounded dogs and cats whom the Department of Animal Care & Control deemed suitable for rehoming after quarantine and behavioral assessment.
Because the San Francisco SPCA had done an outstanding job of promoting and facilitating high-volume, low-cost spay/neuter for the preceding 18 years, the San Francisco SPCA and the Department of Animal Care & Control both enjoyed one of the lowest community rates of intake of unwanted puppies and kittens of any city in North America.
Breed-specific ordinance helped
Because the dangerous dog epidemic of today had not yet hit, with pit bull proliferation still a few years in the future, the San Francisco shelters received relatively few dogs who were unsafe to rehome.
Thus the Adoption Pact in effect made San Francisco the first “no kill” city in the U.S.––a status maintained post-pit bull proliferation by an ordinance requiring all pit bulls in the city to be spayed or neutered.
San Francisco became “no kill” through the combination of a successful and sustained spay/neuter drive with a division of duties that took the San Francisco SPCA out of deciding which dogs were safe to rehome.
“No kill” goal still distant for most of U.S.
But the achievement of “no kill” itself, not how it was done, was the aspect of the Adoption Pact that got most of the ensuring media attention, caught on with the public, and has made the lives of conscientious people in animal care and control miserable ever since.
Plainly put, the “no kill” outcome of the Adoption Pact in San Francisco was not even remotely in sight as a reasonable goal for most of the rest of the U.S., and still is not, because most of the rest of the U.S. has yet to accept the clear and distinct separation of animal control and humane services that the Adoption Pact was really all about.
What the Adoption Pact was not about
The Adoption Pact was not about saving every dangerous dog’s life, at any cost to taxpayers and public safety.
The Adoption Pact was not about practicing neuter/return feral cat control, a topic it did not even mention. Nor was the Adoption Pact about extending the practice of neuter/return from reasonable use in appropriate locations, to leaving large and problematic cat colonies in places where the cats themselves will suffer, along with wildlife and, sometimes, humans.
The Adoption Pact was not about turning animal control agencies into humane societies.
The Adoption Pact was, however, about improving humane services by freeing humane societies of the obligation to try to do animal control too.
Doing animal control backfired for humane societies
Ironically, many humane societies––including the San Francisco SPCA––had originally taken animal control contracts with the expectation that public contracts would ensure them financial stability, and that handling impoundments would help them to keep animals away from for-profit suppliers of dogs and cats to laboratories.
By the mid-20th century, though, under pressure of having to underbid the laboratory animal suppliers to keep their animal control contracts, most humane societies that did animal control were heavily subsidizing the work with donated funds.
Laboratory demand for dogs and cats had largely subsided by 1994, but meanwhile dog and cat overpopulation had long since kept humane societies perpetually filled to capacity, without the resources to do much more than hold impounded animals for a few days in hopes that they might be reclaimed or adopted, before killing them to temporarily accommodate more animals.
This was soul-destroying work for people who came to humane work in the first place because they loved animals, and killing animals tended to alienate donors and potential animal adopters as well.
Had the Adoption Pact been well understood, the U.S. might by now have achieved all the prerequisites to follow San Francisco to “no kill” status. This would include having done enough free and subsidized spay/neuter of the right target animal populations to eliminate feral cats as a public issue, and to sterilize the most dangerous dog breeds––all of them products of deliberate human manufacture––out of existence.
But the Adoption Pact was not well understood, nor for that matter understood at all by most of those who took up the “no kill” mantra.
This includes the then-leadership of the San Francisco SPCA, several of whom have spent much of the past 25 years promoting a popular but bastardized notion of what the Adoption Pact did, with scant reference to the actual document and the context.
When “no kill” rhetoric went to Knoxville
Among the early casualties of the ensuing series of local lynchings of animal control and humane society directors for simply doing their jobs was 19-year Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley executive director Vicki Crosetti, later a founding member of the ANIMALS 24-7 board of directors.
Until mid-1996, Crosetti was best known as an early leader in borrowing proven adoption techniques from the North Shore Animal League America, including opening a downtown adoption center that displayed animals more attractively and conveniently than the aging city shelter, then situated in a World War II surplus Quonset hut.
Crosetti also routinely sent adoptable puppies for whom there was no local demand to the North Shore Animal League America adoption center at Port Washington, New York, next door to New York City.
Accused of being a “no kill” fanatic
Doing adoptions through satellite facilities and transporting animals to meet demand, in lieu of killing them, long since became standard procedure for almost every shelter, but in the early 1990s were so controversial that some conventional shelter operators derisively accused Crosetti of trying to turn the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley into a “no-kill shelter.”
At the time, the term “no-kill shelter” was not a compliment. In animal care and control jargon, “no-kill shelter” was shorthand for either an overcrowded, diseased hoarding situation, or a what was also called a “turnaway,” which would not help problem animals, and is now––unfortunately––the standard model for shelters so fixated on achieving a high “live release” rate that they refuse to accept animals who may require euthanasia.
After having been derided as a supposed no-kill fanatic, Crosetti just a few years later was routinely sizzled by Knoxville tabloids and talk shows as a purportedly needle-happy animal killer hellbent on an anti-no-kill vendetta, and was sued for euthanizing animals whom she as a veterinary technician believed to have little or no chance of being recoverable within the limits of humane society resources.
“No kill” became cover for everyone with a grudge
Perhaps the trouble began when Crosetti cracked down on cockfighting, technically illegal in Tennessee but openly practiced, or when she called for stronger humane laws to protect livestock and animals in exhibition. She made more enemies by impounding dogs for Knoxville animal control, enforcing neutering requirements, and refusing to adopt to people who did not pass standard adoption screening.
Crosetti also dropped veterinarians who did not comply with normal procedural and accountability requirements from the list of vets recommended by the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley. She annoyed anti-vivisectionists by serving on the University of Tennessee Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, to see to it that the Animal Welfare Act was enforced. She irritated some people just by being assertive, female, and a “Yankee,” albeit from the Pennsylvania coal country not far north, differing from Tennessee more in accent than in prevailing culture.
Crosetti’s foes did not coalesce into a mob, however, calling her at midnight with death threats and from whom she eventually received police protection, until she raided and prosecuted two alleged animal hoarders who called their facilities no-kill shelters, one of whom had prior convictions for mass animal neglect.
Big trouble in the Big Apple
Crosetti and the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley long since went their separate ways. Knoxville has yet to approach becoming a bona fide “no kill” city.
In some respects the Knoxville situation paralleled the 1997 political lynching of Marty Kurtz, who in 1994 became the first director of the New York City Center for Animal Care & Control, then became the first in a now long line of agency directors to be fired or forced into resignation by militant “no kill” advocates.
Like Crosetti, Kurtz was seen among peers during his three-year tenure as a leader in learning from “no kills.” Kurtz modeled the New York City Center for Animal Care & Control after the San Francisco Department of Animal Care & Control. He envisioned a relationship with the American SPCA similar to the relationship that the San Francisco SPCA enjoyed with the San Francisco Department of Animal Care & Control.
“No kill” advocacy made “animal control director” a revolving door
Kurtz made enemies, however, by enforcing the New York City anti-vicious dog law; by firing staff for various alleged offenses, some of them drug-related, that they apparently got away with during the 100 years that the ASPCA handled New York City animal control; and by welcoming volunteer help from grassroots adoption/rescue groups if they followed rules intended to insure that none of them became animal hoarders.
When some volunteers broke the rules, Kurtz was obliged to dismiss them. Together with disgruntled ex-employees and pit bull advocates who insisted Kurtz just wanted to kill dogs, they became a deadly if unlikely-seeming coalition.
Their success against Kurtz, who had been considered one of the most media-savvy and politically astute of all shelter administrators, scared away some qualified potential successors, a phenomenon now seen in many cities where the position of animal control director has become a revolving door.
Protecting animals & protecting humans are different mandates
The Adoption Pact recognized the potential value of becoming “no kill” to donor-funded humane societies, whose job amounts to protecting animals from humans.
Yet the Adoption Pact did not seek to mandate “no kill” as an appropriate goal for an animal control agency, either in San Francisco or anywhere else.
Animal control work centers on protecting humans, and other animals, from dangerous animals. Only if this work is done effectively, including removing dangerous dogs from the population, can any whole community become “no kill.”
A community cannot be considered genuinely “no kill,” no matter what the local shelters’ “live release” rates are, if pit bulls and other dangerous dogs run amok, killing other animals and sometimes humans, or if deadly zoonotic diseases go unchecked through lack of vaccination law enforcement.
Humane societies & animal control are not competitors
The Adoption Pact authors, then-San Francisco SPCA president Richard Avanzino and then-San Francisco Department of Animal Care & Control executive director Carl Friedman, recognized that a no-kill humane society and an animal control department are not in competition with each other, even though they represent opposite concepts.
The no-kill humane society wears the white hat and is the hero for doing popular things, while the animal control department wears the black hat and may be vilified, but both are part of the essential cast of the same morality play.
Both benefit by the contrast: the more menacing the black hat to scofflaws, and the more enticing the white hat to donors, the less animal catching and killing the black hat actually has to do. Neither benefits by muting stark black and white into blurred shades of grey.
Bullied into “no kill” advocacy
Animal control itself exists, and is funded by taxpayers, to provide one specialty: protecting public health and welfare.
Humane societies, no-kill and otherwise, most effectively furnish “extras” that tax-funded animal control shelters cannot and do not.
Unfortunately, after witnessing the lynchings of animal control directors like Kurtz, who emphasized the animal control role, and even open-admission humane society shelter directors like Crosetti, who euthanized animals as necessary, but at a fraction of the rate of most other shelters in the South at the time, animal shelter leadership generally chose to espouse a “no kill” philosophy.
This continues, whether or not the animal care institutions serving communities involved have done anywhere near the amount of spay/neuter work needed to reduce shelter intake enough that “no kill” can be achieved without causing more animal suffering, not less.
Everyone wants to wear the white hat
Even as formerly open-admission humane societies became what used to be called “turnaways” in order to go “no kill,” animal control agencies have tended to morph into entities emphasizing adoptions over public safety.
Everyone wants to wear the white hat, while maintaining public safety has fallen so far from favor that the U.S. now has as many fatal and disfiguring attacks by dogs rehomed from shelters each year as it had in total, by all dogs, just 30 years ago.
The underlying problem may be that the white hat versus black hat metaphor no longer describes the realities of today.
Animal population control killing, as it was practiced in the 20th century, in most of the U.S. long since ceased to be a routine part of either humane work or animal control.
Authentic white hats put public health & safety first
The major ethical problem confronting the animal care and control community today is not killing too many animals, too easily, but rather having become afraid to kill any animals at all, even those who have already killed others and are imminent threats to kill more, or to kill humans.
The authentic white hats now are those who put public health and safety first, including the health and safety of animals other than dangerous dogs.
The black hats include those who put canine killers back out to kill again; those who leave feral cats out in places where they will soon be poisoned, shot, or hit by cars; those who keep animals in hoarding conditions; and those who pass animals on to “rescue” hoarders, no questions asked and no inspections done of premises.
These are all frequent problems today that were rarely problems when the Adoption Pact came into being. They need not have become problems, had appropriate separation of services been maintained, such that animal control agencies continued to emphasize animal control, and humane societies continued to emphasize humane treatment of all animals, not just avoiding killing any.