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  • Writer's pictureSusan Houser

Getting to Know Target Zero

Several organizations have started doing No Kill counseling and shelter assessments in the last few years. One such group is Target Zero, or TZ. TZ was originally a program of First Coast No More Homeless Pets (FCNMHP), which is one of the organizations that created No Kill in Jacksonville, Florida. The founders of TZ were Rick DuCharme, the head of FCNMHP; Peter Marsh, who spearheaded a state-funded targeted spay-neuter program in New Hampshire in the 1990s; Tracey Durning, a “social entrepreneur and philanthropic advisor” to non-profits; and an anonymous donor. Once TZ was underway DuCharme moved back to giving his full attention to FCNMHP and Marsh moved to advisor status.

Shelter assessments are done primarily by two members of the TZ staff. One is Dr. Sara Pizano, a veterinarian who was director of the Miami-Dade shelter for six years and was also a panel member for the Association of Shelter Veterinarians while that organization was seeking recognition of shelter medicine as a specialty. The other is Cameron Moore, former program director for FCNMHP.

TZ receives referrals from communities that are interested in receiving a shelter assessment. One of the initial steps is a Go To presentation, which Pizano and Moore do remotely. All stakeholders in the community, including government officials, shelter staff, and representatives of other humane organizations, are encouraged to view the presentation. The TZ philosophy includes the concept that cooperation is key to No Kill, and cooperation is built into the program from the beginning.

After the Go To presentation, if there is interest and TZ staff members believe there is sufficient evidence that the various stakeholders can work together, a full, in-person shelter assessment is scheduled. Pizano and Moore do the assessments, although they sometimes bring additional experts with them. An example was their recent assessment for the Tazewell County shelter in Virginia. Pizano and Moore were accompanied on this assessment by Dr. Tiva Hoshizaki, who is currently doing a residency in shelter medicine at Cornell veterinary school.

Pizano told me that shelter assessments are often most effective once a community has decided to make changes and the process of change is just getting underway. In those cases the commitment is there and the assessment can help guide the change. In Tazewell County, for example, the county was planning to renovate a building to replace the current shelter but had not received any input from shelter design experts. Hoshizaki has a special interest in shelter design and she and the TZ team were able to offer suggestions for the renovation. The timing was right, and the new shelter will reflect some of the latest advances in shelter technology.

TZ promotes the concept that healthy community cats are better off in a return-to-field program rather than being taken into a shelter only to be killed. When a shelter stops impounding healthy community cats it frees up staff to work on pet retention, adoptions, and other lifesaving programs. TZ supports the Million Cat Challenge, which has a detailed program to help shelters create humane and effective community cat initiatives. Million Cat Challenge founders Dr. Kate Hurley and Dr. Julie Levy are TZ consultants. TZ urges shelters to join the Challenge and also the Best Friends network.

In addition to a sterilization program for community cats, TZ often recommends that shelters implement targeted spay-neuter for owned pets, a program that was key to Jacksonville becoming No Kill. Another intake-reduction program that TZ recommends is managed admissions. This includes asking people who want to surrender animals if they can work with the shelter when the shelter is full. Owners might be willing to hold their animal for a couple of weeks until the shelter has room, or might even be willing to rehome the animal themselves using social media. Managed admission programs can mesh with pet retention efforts to cut owner surrenders substantially and smooth out peaks and valleys in intake.

I asked Pizano if each of the shelters they assess are different, requiring an individualized approach. She said that while there are many differences in starting points, programs like the Million Cat Challenge and best-practice strategies for dogs are effective everywhere. TZ frequently finds that communities have local ordinances or rules that have to be changed or worked around. In Tazewell County, for example, the shelter is not allowed to accept donations directly from the public. One possibility in such circumstances is for a private non-profit to collect donations and help the shelter fund programs. TZ is not a grant-giving organization, but they can help shelters and community organizations apply for grants.

TZ does not just offer an assessment and then leave. Instead, they continue to work with shelters through their Fellowship program. Fellowships last three years, after which the community “graduates,” hopefully with a high live release rate. TZ also offers a Partner status to cities that do not currently qualify for the Fellowship program but show good potential to qualify in the future.

Perhaps the most unusual thing about TZ is that it can offer consultations and Fellowships at no charge due to support from its anonymous donor. Another characteristic of the organization is that it seeks out shelters that are performing poorly, because those shelters offer the greatest possibilities for saving lives. (Tazewell County was something of an exception since it was already doing very well at the time TZ became involved.) Reading the list of Fellow and Partner cities, it is obvious that they present challenges – cities like El Paso, Texas; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Brevard County, Florida. Progress so far is encouraging – two of TZ’s Fellowship cities, Waco, Texas, and Huntsville, Alabama, have achieved a 90% live release rate and have graduated from the program.

Consultants are an increasingly important means of helping communities get to No Kill. Today we have an enormous amount of information online about how to improve lifesaving, but there is nothing like having an expert take a look at a particular shelter and a particular community, identify the issues, set out priorities, and give shelter leadership the confidence that they can do it. This is especially true for shelters that are doing poorly, as many times the leaders of such shelters are in a deep hole and have no idea how to begin to climb out. A consultant can be the key to helping those directors realize that other people just like them have succeeded, and that there is hope.



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