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Please be very careful about assuming anything from articles more than a few months old are still applicable. Things move fast.

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Princessa Seeks Villa near NYC!

IMG_5659I knew it would happen eventually – if you rescue cats for long enough, you will eventually rescue one who is FIV or FeLV positive. FIV doesn’t bother me – if they’re not fighters, they should be able to live with other cats well enough. FeLV is a bit different. It’s a retrovirus that is transmitted from cat to cat through bodily fluids fairly easily. FeLV cats should really only live alone or with other FeLV positive cats. Though the virus can cause illness, many cats who test positive for FeLV live long and happy lives without ever showing active symptoms. FeLV affects cats only and cannot be transmitted to humans or other pets.

I rescued Princessa from an apartment here in the Bronx where her owner was moving the next day, discovering that she was FeLV positive when she went in to be spayed – she is asymptomatic. What I had always assumed I would do would be to seek sanctuary with an organization devoted to FeLV cats, as there are a number of reputable ones nearby. But I can’t do that.

IMG_5958Princessa is simply one of the nicest, sweetest, most people-friendly cats I have ever rescued. She is extremely affectionate, curious, and confident. At our trips to the vet she walks right out of her carrier, approaches everyone, gives them head bonks and solicits petting. She loves to play. She is so very easy to handle and has never once made an attempt to scratch or bite me, even when I flip her over on her back to rub her tummy. She gets along with cats too, and used to live with another cat (who has since tested negative). She is around two years old and has striking coloring. She’s a pretty spectacular cat, and I really want to see her in a home of her own. She loves people so much, I have to give this a try for her.

If you have a place in your heart for a cat who is a little different, a little special, please email me with any questions you have. I am willing to drive any reasonable distance in the New York City area for her to meet an interested adopter. She will steal your heart as she stole mine.

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Help Prohibit Breed Discrimination in Housing in New York State

23dogs650New York State Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski has introduced a bill that would prohibit breed discrimination in rental housing in New York State. While various media outlets have reported that it would end breed discrimination in New York City public housing (which is true) the bill is so much broader than than and would prohibit breed discrimination in all rental housing in New York State. This bill appears to have solid support among Assembly members.

Please call and/or email the office of your New York State Assembly Member and ask them to support bill A02065 that prohibits breed discrimination in housing, then call and/or email your New York State Senate representative and tell them you support the Senate version of the bill, S05944.

Legislation like this is an incredibly important step toward a world where every dog is judged as an individual. Please contact your representatives today.

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NYCACC Announces Upcoming Board Meeting – June 9, 10:30AM

The next Board Meeting of New York City Animal Care Centers will be held on Thursday, June 9 at 10:30AM in lower Manhattan.

These meetings are key to understanding the workings of NYCACC and the only chance the public has to address the board in person.

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Stop Paying Shelters For Excuses

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton gave a surprise press conference today to announce that the NYPD was giving up on enforcing the law. “There are just too many criminals, there’s nothing we can do,” said NYC’s Top Cop. “The truth is, we’ll never solve New York City’s crime problem until we address the roots: education, mental illness, homelessness, poverty. Without complete success combatting those issues, what’s the point?”

Would you ever see this happen? You would not. (And to be absolutely clear: the quote is made up, and satiric.) Law enforcement is the job of the police. It is what they are there for. It is why they exist. A police chief or commissioner who gave this statement to the press would be removed from office before the ink on the newspaper had dried. (Showing my age there a bit…)

And yet, conditioned by a long history of mostly failure – a tide that has only recently begun to turn – there is a tendency to buy in when shelters do it, which they do constantly in media outlets all over the country. We know that’s an excuse, of course, we have municipal shelters in this country saving 97% and even higher. So is there any reason to maintain this innate expectation of failure, to continually let taxpayer-funded agencies off the hook for the job they’re paid to do? There is not.

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The next time you see a statement like this one from New York City’s Animal Care Centers placing blame on “the real issues” rather than taking responsibility for the job they have been hired to do, I want you to imagine the equivalent statement from your area’s top law enforcement official where they list all the reasons they can’t get the job done and how ridiculous that statement would be, and I want you to keep in mind one thing: If you can’t do the job, why are you there?

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No Kill In New York City

Definition-610x250One thing opponents of No Kill love to do is try to twist the definition of the term, so a quick and easy note to get us all on the same page. If you’d like a longer answer you can read Redemption and everything published since.

The term first must be used in a context of honesty by reclaiming the true definition of “euthanasia” and “kill”. Many shelters have adopted a twisted version of the definition of “euthanasia”, turning it from a release of suffering to a term applied to the death of any animal they find inconvenient. It is no wonder, in this context, that the term No Kill is clearly understood by most of the public but so often misunderstood (or intentionally twisted) by shelter professionals. So the first step is the understanding that causing the death of animals who are not suffering irredeemably is killing and applying your language appropriately. You can’t get to No Kill without the admission that you’re currently killing.

No Kill is the effort and practice of saving every healthy and treatable animal who passes through your doors. The sole exception, at this point, is dogs who are irredeemably violent for the obvious purpose of public safety, and we learn more about ways in which to help them every day. Euthanasia, of course, is permitted – but actual euthanasia of the kind that would be chosen by a caring owner, a merciful act in an effort to end irredeemable suffering – not, as so many shelters use the term, a death of convenience. No Kill is the commitment to save animals like him, infected with in-shelter disease, and her with a broken leg.

In the past a save rate of 90% was considered “shorthand” for No Kill achievement, when that number was arrived at in the 1990s it was theorized that about 10% of shelter animals would prove unhealthy and untreatable. While that number is still used by many as a guideline, we now know that higher sustained save rates are possible as more No Kill shelters blaze the trail, even in open-admission municipal shelters, some of whom have sustained save rates of 95% or higher.

So that’s what we’re talking about.

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NYCACC Says They Will Never Be No Kill: “There Is Actually No Such Thing”

I’ve been pretty bullish on New York City Animal Care Centers (NYCACC) lately. No secret, there have been some great improvements.

I thought we were finally on the same page. I thought we were working towards a common goal, a New York City where no healthy or treatable animal was ever killed in a shelter. I thought the announcement of funding for shelters in the Bronx and Queens was an exciting development toward that goal.

Evidently I was wrong.

This recent article in a Queens-based publication is a slap in the face and an insult to every admirer of progressive animal sheltering in New York City and beyond, and signals that NYCACC doesn’t have any plans to stop killing any time soon.

For as long as NYCACC insists that there is no such thing as an open-admission No Kill municipal shelter, I will not call them one. The assertion is an outright lie – you can find a list of communities at or near No Kill status, many led by open-admission municipal shelters, here. New York City is insulting their professional colleagues, and their betters, in their denial of reality. Austin, TX, with an open admission No Kill municipal shelter that has an intake of about 18k per year with a far higher per capita intake than New York and just hit a 97% save rate? Sorry, you don’t exist. Tompkins County, right here in New York State? Screw y’all. Over a hundred others? Meh.

Instead of emulating or learning from the highest performing No Kill open admission municipal shelters in the United States, NYCACC claims they don't exist.

Instead of emulating or learning from the highest performing No Kill open admission municipal shelters in the United States, NYCACC lies and claims they don’t exist. (Image: Austin Animal Center home page.)

If NYC does not think that there is any such thing as a No Kill open-admission municipal shelter, it is very strange that they accepted millions of dollars over a period of nearly a decade as the lead agency within a coalition designed, in part, to turn them into one.

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The No Kill open-admission shelters that DO exist do not make pathetic excuses like this, blaming a straw man for their “need” to kill. They do not blame anyone else for their killing. They make a plan to stop it and inspire their community to help them get it done – the type of leadership we have yet to see NYCACC demonstrate. This should have been a triumphant moment, a statement of how important these two new facilities are to their goal, an chance to inspire their community to help. Instead we get this pathetic display of lies, doublespeak, and killing justification: we can’t, we won’t, and it’s someone else’s fault. New York deserves better than that.

The shelter in NYC did not improve their save rate to date by “cutting out the sources of homeless animals” (Although that would have been helpful!). They did not provide spay/neuter services to the public (they can barely muster the resources to spay/neuter their own animals, sometimes outsourcing the job to the ASPCA). They did not provide or support TNR programs for cats. They did not expand education. (All of which are very good things and would be welcome, by the way – when do they intend to get started?) What they did was focus on being a functional shelter. They opened a department to interface with rescue… that was conceived of and funded by an external organization. They had the brilliant idea, after 17 years of existence, that maybe there should be a department devoted to adoptions. They were gifted with some additional funding, largely achieved through the agitation of outsiders. They begrudgingly accepted funding for more facilities (again, largely achieved through the agitation of outsiders), including the Queens facility that is the subject of this article after years of very publicly insisting that more facilities were unnecessary. Back when ACC was killing far higher numbers of animals and even with the killing they are doing now, “the real issue” was and is their own shortcomings to lead the way and do the job. Even now we see them dragging their feet over the illnesses that run rampant through their facilities, claiming there is nothing more to be done as advocates attempt, once again, to push them along.

It would be nice if they would lead the way to No Kill. Instead, historically, they need to be dragged towards progress. Hassled. Embarrassed. Browbeaten. Coddled. Carrot and sticked. Along the way advocates and outsiders have arranged for so much help – for staffing, for funding, for facilities – and still we are left with a shelter that will not make a public commitment to do their very best for the animals of New York City. Without that commitment, it’s almost time to move on.

Lead the way. Declare that your goal is to make sure that no healthy or treatable animal is ever killed in New York City (aka “No Kill“) instead of downplaying that in hopes of managing expectations. Believe me, most have been conditioned to expect very little of you. Break that mold. Declare the bold plan of how you’re gonna do it. Ask for help. Be transparent. Be inspiring. Inspire others to help you, to believe in you. Do it today.

Lead. We can’t wait much longer.

If this is as far as you can go, as well as you can do, if you’re satisfied with this, if you’re convinced that you can never be No Kill, then you won’t. And that isn’t good enough. Do I expect you to hit your goal tomorrow? No. Do I expect you to try? Goddamnit, yes.

Lead. Or accept our thanks for the progress you’ve made and get out. Let someone else – someone who believes – reach ever-higher for the goal you say is impossible, the goal that so many other cities are so much closer to, the goal that you are lying about when you say they do not exist.

We accept nothing less. We deserve nothing less. They deserve nothing less.

Lead. Or leave.

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The Fall of Bill de Blasio and the Future of NYC Shelters

The writing is on the wall; NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio is pretty much done for. He’s now the subject of multiple federal investigations for various types of improper financial relations (including with NYCLASS, who have recently been subpoenaed.) It’s too much to cover here, frankly – the scandal(s) widen on an hour-by-hour basis.

Barring some minor miracle, it seems the Mayor is done for. Should he manage to serve the rest of his term, he will be powerless and friendless, his political capital gone.

Very recently the Mayor’s budget included funding for, among other projects, two desperately needed new shelter facilities and the expansion and/or repair of two more. But if de Blasio falls from power, as I expect he will, that funding may be in jeopardy: it is easy to strip funding from projects that are only in their initial phases. It will be of utmost importance that citizens of New York City make their next mayor someone who believes in those projects.

Keep an eye on developments, and keep an eye on Scott Stringer, Tish James, and Melissa Mark-Viverito.

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NYCACC News: A Phone System, Petco Foundation Donation, Resignation of Medical Director

Some random news from Animal Care Centers of New York City (NYCACC)…

After years without one, the shelter system finally has a publicly accessible phone number again: 212-788-4000. Although the phone tree is rather byzantine at the moment and many options lead to recorded information, it is in fact possible to use the system to speak to a human being, which is a positive development.

downloadThe shelter was the recent recipient of a $500,000 donation from the Petco Foundation, it is my understanding that the funding is earmarked for animal enrichment, mostly in the form of hiring staff. This is awesome in pretty much every way; just a few years ago the idea that anyone would give the shelter $500k was unfathomable. It is wonderful that the shelter is beginning to be able to attract large donations; this is the kind of fundraising power that hopefully will eventually give them greater independence from City of New York funding. A huge thanks to the Petco Foundation for this gift.

Finally, internal sources confirm that Medical Director Dr. Lisa Hara Levin has tendered her resignation from the shelter. After a rocky start I was bullish on Dr. Levin and her initial plans were very impressive, but it became clear to me before long that she had been sidelined for unknown reasons. We haven’t had a presentation from her at the board meetings in quite some time, which is odd when disease is such a problem in the shelters. Still, Dr. Levin deserves an enormous amount of credit: she took on a thankless job at a time when very few would even consider it and undeniably moved the ball forward. New York owes her a debt of gratitude.

This is actually a fairly positive development – with such huge recent improvement in lifesaving, reputation and funding NYCACC is in a better place than ever before to attract a top-tier candidate who can tackle some of the fundamental issues the shelter faces: not just the internal spread of communicable disease but the basic standard of care that, while improved, still seems to be lacking. This is difficult to quantify in the absence of hard data/statistics, but there are certainly no shortage of anecdotes emerging from the shelter of misdiagnosis and mistreatment. The arrival of some fresh blood may bring new energy to tackle these problems and I believe this opening creates an excellent opportunity.

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Biggie Smalls & The NYCACC Kill List

I didn’t have any intention of adopting that day in Feb – with 5 large dogs and four cats in a two bedroom apartment, I have quite enough on my hands, and I try not to spend much time looking at the New York City Animal Care Center (NYCACC or simply ACC) kill list because I know I am weak.

And then there was Biggie.

I’m not sure where I caught sight of her first but I couldn’t get her listing out of my mind. She is 15 years old and long blind, with eye disease, glaucoma and luxated (detached) lenses. That landed her a dreaded “4” medical rating, for animals with severe medical conditions, and some notes about her attitude to boot.

I was up most of the night thinking about her. The next day I asked a New Hope rescue (one that is registered to pull from the shelter) to pull her for me before the list closed and I went to pick her up.

She is not nearly as bad as the listing made her sound. Our first stop was my vet, where her bloodwork and most of her checkup proved normal. Our second stop was a veterinary opthamologist; she will remain blind for life but her glaucoma is now well controlled through eye drops which are easy to administer. She is not in pain and has no need of pain control. Finally, she had extensive dental disease so once she had settled in all but one of her teeth were removed.

IMG_4052While she does not like strangers much, within days she was completely attached to me; it is not so surprising that an elderly, 9lb, blind dog should be terrified in a shelter. She loves to sleep at my side (or in my lap) and loves to snuggle and burrow under the covers. Surprisingly, she also loves travel, cars, and new places – set her down and she’ll set off happily exploring and gently bumping into things. She sleeps most of the day and has rock-solid house training. She completely rules the household, having announced to one and all cats and dogs on the day of her arrival that she was now in charge – and they accepted it, instantly. My big 75lb boy, Leo, doesn’t let ANY dog lay down rules like that in HIS house – but he accepted her as The Boss instantly and none have touched a hair on her head. She doesn’t want to interact with them, but she’s completely comfortable around them and they’re completely comfortable around her.

So I had to do a bit of work, a bit of expense, and a bit of puzzle solving. But for that I got in return a sweet and loving animal who is perhaps the easiest dog to care for I have ever had. While she’s blind and old, her disease is not progressing, she is in no pain, and she is fully capable of enjoying her life.

Do I feel great about adopting her under threat of harm? I do not. Does it give me warm fuzzy feelings about that process? It does not.


New York City releases a list every night around 6pm. It is officially named the “at risk” list, but most New York City advocates call it the kill list. The name is a euphemism; these animals are not at risk of a good cuddling but of a needle of poison. The list has two portions: a list of animals who are available only to ACC partner (New Hope) rescues and a list of animals who are available to the public and to rescue as well.

You can see the public portion of the list daily on the NYCACC website beginning at 6pm until it closes at noon the following day. The shelter does not publicly provide information on the animals available only to rescue, nor is the list especially easy to access – one has to enter a considerable amount of personal data to see the list, and no tools are provided for social media networking or commentary. Facebook-based groups have sprung up to make the complete list available in a format that makes it easy to share individual animals or the entire list on social media as well as add commentary, information, links, and fundraising for groups that pull the animals. Some of the information on these freewheeling groups – especially in the comments – is not accurate, which is a thorn in the shelter’s side, but they have yet to provide a competing, better system. The two groups have formed a symbiotic but uneasy relationship: neither side likes the other but they both need the other, and as much as the shelter cries that it’s not a kill list, just an “at risk” list, they reap the benefit (and look the other way) when outside groups use the threat of death to drive adopters their way. It has been enormously effective in getting animals out of the shelter: on an average day, the majority of animals on the daily kill list are pulled by New Hope rescues or adopted by members of the public.


ACCMake no mistake: Feb of 2016 (the last month of available data) was the most successful lifesaving month in the entire history of NYCACC, with a live release rate of 94.1%. This is, if you will excuse my French, fucking amazing. It is an incredible save rate for New York and a massive step forward for the shelter.

February is a pretty good month in the Northeast for lifesaving, generally speaking. Sheltering is a seasonal business and intake tends to slow in the colder months, especially cat intake. It’s a great time to show the world what you’re capable of and to regroup for the spring, which brings kitten season. This February was kind to NYCACC. Even with fairly mild temperatures, intake was around 60% of average – quite slow. The shelters had rows of empty cages. But the kill list marched on, typically with 10-20 animals listed per day.

New York’s Shelter Reform Action Committee recently pointed out that the kill list has been an amazingly successful marketing tool for the shelter, representing a significant portion of their live release at reduced effort for them. But February made it very clear that it is a marketing tool used even when it is not necessary, presumably to place animals that would take more than average time, effort or medical resources (and probably sometimes as a method of disease control). There isn’t any reason to kill list dogs like Biggie in small-dog-crazy New York, for instance, other than that she takes some not insignificant investment to save. In February, most of the animals not pulled by New Hope groups or adopted by the public from the list were simply either removed or re-listed again the next day.


Why is this important?

national-lampoon-january-1973-if-you-don-t-buy-this-magazine-we-ll-kill-this-dogIn the recent past the shelter has undergone a huge transformation that has resulted in a historic increase in lifesaving and a live release rate unheard of in New York’s history. But it’s hard to convince people of that improvement, especially people who never set foot in a shelter facility, when their only interface with the shelter is seeing the daily list of animals threatened with death. It is simply devastating for public relations – it encourages people not to come to the shelter, to work against the shelter, to not volunteer, to not donate, to not support – even, perhaps, to not adopt. Some of it is barely worth the trouble it causes; it is extremely unusual for a cat to be pulled from the public list by a member of the public.

I am contacted on a regular basis by people who do not live in New York City, many at great distances, who seek to educate me on WHAT REALLY GOES ON at a shelter that LOVES TO KILL with the HIGHEST KILL RATE IN AMERICA. None of that of course is true, and if they’d ever spent any time in shelter facilities they’d know that. But they don’t know of the shelter statistics, closely tracked and verified by New York advocates. They don’t know of the improvement in facilities, in staffing, in funding, in the treatment of animals in general. All they know is the kill list, because that’s all they see.


It is very, very difficult to even consider discontinuing the use of a tool that was responsible, by Shelter Reform Action Committee’s calculations, for 22% of 2015s Live Release Rate. I understand that. I understand that it’s been enormously effective. I also understand that it engenders the dislike and distrust that is the fuel powering New York’s shelter rescue engine – fuel that will either substantially impede future improvements or make current ones unsustainable. To take the next step – to reach higher – there is no question: New York must leave the kill list behind.

I’m well aware this is not original thought. I know this debate takes place inside the shelter on a daily basis. We are now in uncharted waters; New York City would be by far the largest shelter in terms of intake to crack the 90% yearly mark, and some tactics that work well in smaller markets do not adapt well here due strictly to the volume involved. But there are some obvious potential steps forward, and I’m sure others will chime in with what I’ve missed – this list is by no means a complete solution, but it’s a few ways to start.

– End the use of the list for convenience placement of more difficult to place animals. Make it narrowly focused on animals that are actually due to be killed in shelter as a temporary step until the day the list can be eliminated. Develop and publish the long-awaited evaluation matrix, as called for by the Asliomar Accords, so that everyone may be on the same page what is considered healthy, treatable, or not treatable in New York City and what the criteria are for kill listing an animal – something that should be reserved for the untreatable and the suffering.

– Focus New Hope staff on further developing personal partnerships with New Hope rescues. New Hope rescues are currently a sleeping giant – there are more than 250 New Hope rescues approved to pull animals from NYCACC, but most pull very few. The majority of registered New Hope rescues pull fewer than 10 animals per year, and a tiny handful represent the majority of the rescue pulls in NYC. This is an untapped market.

One of the most phenomenally successful New Hope counselors in recent memory, a specialist in cat placement, approached her job differently than others in the past. She set out to learn everything she could about the rescues she worked with, their needs and their abilities. When she had animals appropriate for a certain rescue, she reached out to them personally by phone or text. The rescues have her personal cell number, she has theirs. She built trusting relationships with rescues that helped to effectively move a tremendous number of animals out in a way that was satisfying to both parties, with a bond of trust. Embrace this model of personal relationships and pursue rescue. Court rescue. Call rescues that don’t pull much and ask why, and what could be done differently to help them. Encourage personal contact. Go see them. Have them come see you.

When I was pulling animals for rescue there was nothing quite as effective as when I showed up to pick up animals from the list and a New Hope counselor pitched me to take additional animals that they wanted to get out. I cherished those people, and I bent over backwards to say yes to pull those animals. We’re all somewhat immune to appeals on a screen, especially those who look at them all day. It is much harder to deny an appeal from someone you know who contacts you personally seeking your help.

– Beef up the foster program. When last publicly disclosed, New York had very few foster families for a city of our size and shelter intake. One of the major barriers to attracting fosters has historically been the number of orientation and training sessions required, and hopefully those could be streamlined. This could give the shelter more places to send animals who need isolation and a drop in stress to beat disease, or a little time for a more careful behavioral evaluation for a scared animal. Many of these homes are located where the shelter has the least presence – many homes with an extra room or a backyard are in the Bronx and Queens. The shelter has been beefing up their presence in these traditionally underserved boroughs and more attention to them can’t come fast enough.

– Market animals who need a little something extra in a positive way, both through daily notice via emails to rescue and publicly as well. Develop on-line outreach that takes advantage of both direct email to rescues/public and social media to focus attention on animals who are more difficult to place, but without the risk of death. Make sure this social media outreach makes it as easy as possible for other people to share, add information, add pictures, pitch animals to rescue, and donate to orgs who pull them. An easy way to start would be a Facebook page devoted to animals who need a little something special.

– Continue efforts to stop the spread of preventable in-shelter disease. Currently most animals on the list have some form of illness, and many of them acquired that illness in the shelter. There needs to be a continued, laser-like focus on maintaining the health of animals in the shelter’s care. This has improved considerably recently, with an obvious focus on not only handling procedures but reducing length-of-stay as much as possible to reduce exposure to disease while animals are in a vulnerable state. Don’t let up. Keep reaching. The New Hope rescues need the assurance that everything possible is being done to cut in-shelter disease transmission and that the shelter is being as transparent as possible about conditions of animals.


The engine of shelter rescue in NYC cannot run forever on the fuel of hate. It is a caustic fuel that eventually destroys all that it touches. The time is now to look to the future and to replace it with a fuel that is sustainable: partnership, transparency and trust.

There was once a time when the best way to advocate for change in the shelter was to advocate, metaphorically speaking, for burning it down. That time has passed. The proof is in the lifesaving, and I have indications that March numbers will be equally impressive. It’s time for advocates to shift from how to tear the shelter down to how to help the shelter reach higher.

IMG_3233I don’t feel good about the manner in which I got Biggie. It is disappointing and disheartening to me that an organization I support threatened her life in order to place her. But I understand why, I get the efficacy of the available tool.

It’s time to build some new ones. What would you build?

N.B.: It would be a mistake at this point to not treat animals on the nightly kill lists as if they are in the gravest of danger; no one external to the shelter can tell you if any given animal will actually be killed or not. For the moment the animals on the list should ALWAYS be considered in immediate danger of death.

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