Since we last reported on the Pueblo Animal Protection Act (PAPA), support for this proposed ordinance, introduced by City Council member, Chris Nicoll, has been getting much support, and from some influential sources. Particularly interesting is the fact that Randy Thurston, former Pueblo City Council President and highly respected Pueblo resident, published an op-ed in the local paper, the "Chieftain," in which he officially endorsed the proposal. He also systematically, using facts and research, destroyed the arguments of opponents. Specifically, Thurston wrote:
"The opposition posed several objections to PAPA. To make this simple, they're all false. But let's take them one at a time to give you perspective if you're having a hard time sifting through the rhetoric."
He then went on to take down each of the objections people, particularly those with ties to the Humane Society of Pikes Peak, which, under contract with the City of Pueblo, runs Pueblo Animal Services (PAS). Naturally, the first objection offered has been that PAPA will cost the City money. The most vocal opponent of PAPA to play the money card has been the head HSPPR, Jan McHugh-Smith, It is worth pointing out that Smith was pushed out of her last job, in San Francisco, after animal advocates had repeatedly complained she was too focused on getting money while not doing enough to help animals. After leaving San Francisco, Smith came to Colorado to head HSPPR, earning a comfy $200k salary, plus other compensation. With her reported history of reportedly being more about money than life-saving and her large income, it is not surprising that she would immediately try to proclaim that PAPA will be expensive, a not-so-subtle way of saying Pueblo needs to give her even more money.
Smith's argument is troubling from many perspectives. Most importantly: The City of Pueblo is already paying her and her organization handsomely for their services, more than is required to achieve No Kill. Yet, in spite of her exorbitant salary, and the dollars paid by the City of Pueblo, plus the donations collected by HSPPR because they run this shelter, she says that saving all of the savable animals is too expensive. It is an argument that is absurd on the face of it, particularly given the dollars already being spent and being paid to HSPPR executives.
However, to make his point, Thurston didn't even have to bring that up, because the simple fact is that Smith's argument is false and demonstrated by objective data. Municipalities that have implemented PAPA-like laws have not seen related costs increase. Thurston explained it like this:
"PAPA requires no increase in the city budget. The opposition is ignoring a study that was just released by the University of Denver. The study gave Pueblo 157 million reasons to prove their shelter. Released from the University of Denver in October, the study showed a total positive economic impact in the city of Austin, Texas, after passing a similar ordinance was $157,452,503."
Thurston goes on to add:
"Killing pets is entirely revenue negative. There is cost output with no gain. Keeping pets alive can be revenue positive to the community. The animals kept alive need food and veterinary care at the very least. They may be boarded or taken to groomers. Their caregivers may buy them toys and treats. They become the source of business in the community. According to a five-state study, it costs about $106 to receive a homeless pet to a shelter, kill the pet and dispose of the pet. When you do that, you have cost taxpayers $106 and you have taken the life of a healthy or treatable pet for the simple lack of a home. If you adopted that pet out, you generate an adoption fee. Now you have reduced the cost to the shelter for the intake of that pet and you did not kill the homeless pet. When animals get adopted quickly and are already spayed or neutered, it could be revenue generating for the shelter."
All of that, of course is objectively and verifiably true. When you kill and dispose of an animal, it costs money to do that. If you release the pet to rescue, it saves those costs. If you adopt the pet to a new home, you generate revenue, via adoption fees. It's basic math. But, for us, there is a bigger problem with Smith's argument: The primary reason for a municipal shelter to contract with a nonprofit to run animal control is that the nonprofit is able and willing to do fundraising to help pay for the animal welfare side of the animal welfare/animal control equation. If the nonprofit is unable or unwilling to fully embrace the job (i.e. Smith's job) of saving lives, then there is no point in contracting with them. Saying "Saving lives is too expensive" is not the job of a humane society CEO. Their jobs are to raise money to save lives. And, if they are really passionate about the work, they should not require exorbitant salaries to do so.
The next argument used by Smith and her supporters is that PAPA will force them to place dangerous dogs in the community. Thurston countered that with some basic facts. He wrote:
"A peer-reviewed 2016 study in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior found that "nothing in the prevalence estimates we reviewed suggest that overall, dogs who come to spend time in a shelter ... are dramatically more or less inclined toward problematic warning or biting behavior than are pet dogs in general." Again, Austin is a good example. After the city passed its ordinance to save every healthy pet in its community, not only is the city saving more than 97 percent of all animals entering its shelter system, dog bites have gone down even though people and dog populations have gone up. The percentage of dog bites deemed moderate or severe declined by 13 percent with the greatest decline in the number of bites classified as severe, which declined by 89 percent."
What he said is true. Serious dog bites go down in communities that achieve No Kill, likely because animal advocates, rescues and others are willing to bring challenging dogs to the local shelter, and trust the shelter to objectively and rationally evaluate the dogs. They trust that nervous or fearful dogs will not be needlessly killed. They also trust that the shelter has a behavior program that will accurately identify dangerous dogs. None of those things are currently true at PAS or HSPPR. In addition to Thurston, several others have weighed in, locally and nationally. A petition asking the City Council of Pueblo to vote "Yes" for PAPA has gained nearly 4,000 signatures. Feel free to weigh in yourself.
A public hearing will be held on PAPA in Pueblo on December 11. We will be watching!