In Savannah Morning News Column

Introducing Target Zero

Savannah Morning News – July 7, 2017 Michelle Thevenin, Executive Director

Last week, I was traveling in Effingham and Bulloch Counties with Target Zero, a national organization that provides practical advice to communities who want to decrease euthanasia in their shelters, with a focus on government funded shelters.  We toured facilities, talked with staff and met with the public to share best practices.  It was really inspiring to see the energy and enthusiasm that their citizens, shelter staff and elected officials have for saving more lives in our municipal shelters.

Two important aspects of Target Zero’s support – it’s free to participating communities and it’s based on best practices that have worked across the country, especially in the Southeast.  Carroll County (Georgia), Greenville County (South Carolina) and Huntsville (Alabama) have all seen significant results by implementing recommendations of Target Zero.  But to become a Target Zero Fellow Community, our elected officials have to agree and actively participate in the assessments and recommendations.

The recommendations are not overly costly or complex but they do require some change in thinking and collaboration across the community.  Here’s the model (adapted from the Target Zero website at www.target-zero.org):

  1. Responsible Public Policy: As our foray into animal ordinances this past spring proved – this is an important foundational area that citizens feel passionately about.  There are best practice examples in communities like ours and we should consider adopting them.
  2. Responsible Shelter Policy: Our public shelters were established to protect the public from dangerous animals and animals from dangerous people.  We have many more expectations of them now and it’s not always in the best interest of the animals or fiscally responsible.  Should Animal Control officers be the Uber for community cats to their euthanasia appointment?  Probably not.  And at the shelter itself, the Association of Shelter Veterinarians has established Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters that should be implemented. We’re in the midst of assessing and adopting these standards at HSGS right now and will share our work with Chatham County Animal Services.
  3. Targeted Spay/Neuter:  Spay/neuter those pets most at risk – low-income households, dog breeds most commonly surrendered to shelters and community cats.
  4. Common Sense Solutions for Community Cats: A hot topic in every community but when we find common ground and partner together, we can create a solution that works for everyone.
  5. Surrender Prevention Program:  As I’ve often discussed here and elsewhere, this involves keeping pets in homes where they are already loved and cared for, but just need a bit of support. This proactive approach is far more efficient and humane than admitting these pets to shelters.    The Humane Society for Greater Savannah is taking small steps towards building this safety net for our community pets at risk with Pet Fix Savannah, our monthly wellness clinics and training classes. Soon we’ll be introducing the HSUS Pets for Life program here in greater Savannah once funding is secured.
  6. Live Release Programs:  We acknowledge that some pets will still end up in shelters – our goal should be to get them back into loving homes as soon as possible.  Aside from ensuring that all adoptable pets are spayed or neutered and up to date on shots before they go home, we should lower or eliminate barriers to adoption to get pets into homes ASAP.  This lessens disease spread and stress and allows us to open up a spot for the next pet.

We’re building strong partnerships and momentum in coastal Georgia  — the beauty of all this is that we can start working on these programs without becoming a Target Zero Fellow Community.  And it will better the lives of pets and people when we do.