How the county’s No-Kill animal shelter became successful

What does it mean when an animal shelter makes a commitment not to kill?

For the Camarillo shelter run by Ventura County Animal Services, which officially adopted its no-slaughter status over three years ago, the commitment was to hire an animal behaviorist and foster family coordinator and increase the number of volunteers and donations.

“For us, non-slaughter means that no healthy adoptable animal will be euthanized in space or time,” said Donna Gillesby, deputy director of Ventura County Animal Services. “We don’t perform euthanasia for space and time, and we are working very hard to find them homes. We look at treatable and rehabilitable animals, and we integrate them into enrichment programs. “

No-kill means saving at least 90 percent of the animals that enter the shelter, said Tara Diller, the agency’s director and chief rescue officer.

“We take 10,000 a year and cannot refuse them,” she said. “We did a great job. “

Last year, nearly 11,000 animals entered the shelter, and 92.5% of them left the shelter alive, Diller said.

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In fiscal year 2011-12, the live broadcast rate was 62.7 percent. In 2012-13, it was 67%, then 79.9% the following year.

In 2014-15, it reached 91.3%.

“Others asked for advice on how we did it,” Diller said. “We’re the largest open-admission municipal shelter in California that doesn’t kill. “

So how did they do it? And how do they keep from killing when the animals keep coming?

Gillesby admitted that maintaining a non-elimination status “is extremely difficult”.

“There’s a lot to do to keep these animals going – just talking about the stress of the kennel and keeping them mentally healthy,” Gillesby said.

“We are investing more in animals now than we have ever done before,” she said. “The things we would euthanize in the past, we’re dealing with them now. We just paid for chemotherapy for a cat because that cat has a chance.”

A key part of becoming – and staying – no-kill has been the volunteers, she said.

Ventura County Animal Services has over 400 active volunteers who walk the dogs and perform other necessary duties.

Volunteer foster parents look after the animals in their own homes until a permanent owner can be found.

Other volunteers serve as “ambassadors” who know the details of the animal’s personality and market the animal to find a “forever home”. The shelter also offers an off-site program, Hound on the Town, where volunteers choose a dog, equip it with an adoption vest, and go out into town for a day – in an effort to attract the pay attention to the animal and talk with people about the need for adoption.

“The community is so involved with us now, and it’s the community that keeps us from killing,” Gillesby said. “We wouldn’t be able to do this without the community and the staff who put in hour after hour caring for these animals. “

Diller called the collaboration a “perfect storm”.

“The community grew stronger in a way we didn’t realize it was possible,” Diller said. “They have answered the call to action to help us with the plight of homeless animals. In order to maintain a no-kill organization, you must have a no-kill community, which means that the community must be committed to helping keep Ventura County no-kill.

To speed up adoptions, animals are sometimes transported to shelters in other states.

“We send dogs all the way to New York, Canada, Oregon and Washington state – it’s based on their needs,” said Kimberly Flavin, animal behavior specialist at Ventura County Animal Services. . “Like in New York, they are running out of small dogs and their shelters might not have enough, so we send them on a plane. Someone usually pays the cost for them to get on the plane, and the rescue picks them up and adopts them.

Other shelters in California are doing the same.

“The Pasadena Humane Society just had an adoption event and they needed a few more dogs spayed and ready for adoption,” Flavin said. “So they came here and picked eight or nine of our own. “

Local rescue groups also play a role.

“Other rescue organizations are taking animals away from us,” said Sarah Aguilar, foster family coordinator. “Typically, once they go to a rescue, they stay there. For example, we’ve had a dog here for a very long time, and he’s now in the Canine Adoption Rescue League. He’s been here for a while, but the league won’t bring him back. We don’t just rotate.

There have been other more subtle changes since the refuge went no-kill.

On the one hand, animals are referred to by name, not number, Aguilar said.

“Here all the animals were called numbers, but not anymore,” she said. “You never hear ‘Kennel Number 52.’ You hear “Molly,” “Daisy.” It’s a very different environment.

Earlier this month, the shelter adopted Misty, who was brought to Ventura County Animal Services just two months after the shelter was not killed.

“She was one of the first group of dogs that were rescued and she stayed here for 1,020 days,” said Randy Friedman, the agency’s media and marketing manager.

Currently, around 400 animals are offered for adoption, including dogs, cats, rabbits, birds and reptiles.

For more information or to view pets for adoption, visit

Long-time shelter residents

Louie: About 8 years old, this American Pit Bull Terrier mix was returned by its owner for unknown reasons on November 7, 2015. According to shelter officials, “He is a sweet, kind senior who has a hard time trying to relax here. He’s been relatively calm in all the chaos, but some days you can just tell he’s not happy. “

Daisy: About 7 years old – maybe a little younger – this American pit bull terrier mix arrived as a stray dog ​​on January 19, 2016. Personality, ”say shelter officials. “Her favorite pastime is running around the yard with all her might. As cute as it is, we worry about finding an adopter. She couldn’t learn anything while she was here. A clue to figuring out if a dog feels comfortable this is if they are going to eat treats. Daisy will not eat food outside of her kennel. She is too overwhelmed by the environment here. We need someone willing to open her kennel. house her crazy side and help her learn a few things. She loves to cuddle and is very affectionate. “

Billy Jean: About 13 years old, this Chihuahua mix arrived wandering on October 4, 2016. “Our small dogs are usually adopted on the day they become available – if not their first day, then very soon after,” officials said. from the refuge. “Ninety-four days is a ‘little’ long.”

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