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Defending the Indefensible - Are You Enabling Animal Shelter Killing?

Over 5000 animals lost their lives at MADACC in 2012. Are you still defending shelter killing as a "necessary evil"? Or is it just plain evil?

My very first job for a newspaper was in advertising sales in a tiny little town  in northern Alberta. There were three staff - an editor/reporter, a typesetter/secretary and myself. We published a weekly paper that was absolutely horrible, not worthy of lining a birdcage.  Back before the days of desktop publishing; everything was typed, sight unseen into a huge blue machine that I have since forgotten the name of. There were many typos and factual errors, the pictures were blurry, and the stories were poorly written.

But I beat the streets day after day, defending the newspaper and trying to convince the local businesses to advertise. We needed the advertising revenue to keep our jobs and keep the doors open. I had no control over the content of the paper (I was the newbie on staff) and I was embarrassed by the whole thing. But you do what you gotta do to put food on the table.

Luckily, after about six months, I relocated to another town and got a job at an award-winning weekly newspaper that I was extremely proud to work for.

Now that I've become involved with animal welfare, I often see staff at shelters defending bad practices. I honestly think these staff took a job in animal sheltering because they love animals. They probably started the job with enthusiasm, thinking they were going to be able to make a difference, saving the lives of  homeless animals.

But then something went wrong. All of a sudden those enthusiastic employees begin to see the cracks in the system. Instead of saving lives, the shelter is cutting corners or killing healthy animals or making costly mistakes. It becomes an embarrassment to work there. But you gotta do what you gotta do. Staff need their jobs and they need for the shelter to keep it's doors open. So instead of speaking up for the animals they love,  they defend the shelter's bad practices. Even when the shelter is killing pets when better life-saving methods are available.

Somebody has to bear the blame.  So it's much easier for the staff and management to point the finger at the "irresponsible public" than to criticize shelter management, potentially losing their job. It's much easier to blame lack of donations, or lack of public support, or the No Kill advocates that are rallying for change. It's much easier to try to discredit the better methods than to embrace change and learn new things. It's much easier to call the advocates "bashers and trouble makers" and reject their good ideas. Because it's hard to not defend your employer. Until one day, you realize that killing healthy or treatable animals is just plain wrong.

I know. I was there. Defending something that I didn't believe in. But killing healthy or treatable animals is wrong. Just plain wrong. And it's indefensible.

 Leadership that makes a difference includes a personal willingness to do the right thing. It makes tough choices - moral choices, spiritual choices, ethical choices, right choices.

- Stan Toler


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Mr Lundt February 12, 2013 at 03:20 PM
Thanks Kathy One of the reasons that the kill rate is so low is that when the Reno site gets filled---they transfer animals to a variety of other "shelters". However I could see no information regarding THEIR kill rates. Could you address that? And how you verified that? The Reno facilities and the staff are top notch--in both quality and pay/benefits. Are you suggesting that our local budgets can remain flat and the same results achieved?
Jack February 12, 2013 at 03:23 PM
I am doing my part, I own 2 dogs and 3 cats, my wife volunteers at the Human Society as a dog walker, but I don't think there is ever going to be a perfect situation when animals aren't put down. There are simply too many and not enough pet owners, heck, look at how easy some folks leave their children and older parents.
Kathy Pobloskie February 12, 2013 at 03:34 PM
I have written numerous times about the link between compassion for animals and compassion for people. The two are intertwined. A truly humane society cares for people AND animals. But since my blog on the Patch is under the Pets heading. I write about pets (companion animals). $$andSense, if you want to raise awareness about human concerns, I suggest you write a blog about that.
Kathy Pobloskie February 12, 2013 at 03:42 PM
In fact Jack, there are enough homes. Twenty four million people in America acquire a new pet each year. About 8 million animals enter shelters each year. About 3 - 4 million are kiled (many of those are feral cats that cannot be adopted out as pets). So, we don't have an "overpopulation" problem. We have a marketing problem. And a management problem. Shelters that are killing animals are failing to follow the eleven steps that I outlined above. 40 to 60% of animals in shelters are lost pets. Simply using volunteer efforts to help reunite these animals with their families would go a long way to reduce shelter crowding. Yet many shelters don't take the simplest steps to do this. Some shelters have poor sanitation practices that cause animals to become sick. Good sanitation does not cost more. It actually costs less because animals that are sick require longer stays, more medication and then if they need to be killed there are costs associated with killing them and disposing of their body. In a taxpayer funded shelter, like MADACC, this is YOUR money that is being wasted. When an animal is transferred out or adopted instead - the costs are transferred to private philanthropy. Plus there are spin off effects in the community. Veternarians, dog groomers, pet sitters, pet supply stores, all benefit.
Kathy Pobloskie February 12, 2013 at 03:51 PM
Mr. Lundt, to answer your questions about Reno (Washoe County, Nevada). The animals are transferred to Nevada Humane Society which also has a greater than 90% save rate. If you go to their website at this link check out the bottom left hand corner under Statistics that not only shows their numbers but also how they achieved them. http://www.nevadahumanesociety.org/index.htm You can also read this booklet called Dollars and Sense that explains the cost benefits of effective animal sheltering: http://www.nokilladvocacycenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/econbenefits.pdf
Randy1949 February 12, 2013 at 05:56 PM
Kathy, I have seven cats I have kept out of shelters -- five directly, because their owners were planning to take them there if i didn't step up, and two who showed up as strays. They are all spayed, at my expense, and cared for. I tend to stay away from shelters, mostly because I'd be tempted to adopt, and I know fate will send another needy animal my way soon enough. How do we solve the problem of pet overpopulation? Better owner education and more low-cost spay/neuter programs. That about all we can do.
Evelyn Black February 12, 2013 at 07:05 PM
SHELTER KILLING is the #1 cause of death for healthy dogs & cats in Americ. However, there's a lot that can be done instead of the "save some and kill the rest" mentality that the majority of animal "shelters" are stuck in. Close to one hundred open admission shelters around the country are SAVING over 90% of all the animals coming into their doors, by a variety of programs outlined in the book REDEMPTION, by Nathan Winograd. These shelters (and many others striving toward this achievement) are documented at www.NoKillNews.org. There is a better way; owner education and low-cost spay & neuter availability are a big part of it - as well as the sometimes novel concepts of being open evenings & weekends or working with rescue groups willing to pull animals on the euthanasia list - simple things that most shelters aren't doing!!!!!!
Evelyn Black February 12, 2013 at 07:11 PM
There is a better way - where shelter animals AREN'T killed!! Please look into the solution that many shelters around the country are implementing - specific programs which result in an over 90% SAVE ratio!! These programs are explained in REDEMPTION by Nathan Winograd and at www.NoKillAdvocacyCenter.org.
Mr Lundt February 12, 2013 at 07:41 PM
At some point Reno will be saturated at the deaths will increase. The HSUS estimates that animal shelters care for 6-8 million dogs and cats every year in the United States, of whom approximately 3-4 million are euthanized. Do we really think there are 3-4 million homes PER YEAR waiting to adopt pets? DO you think these people are not adopting pets now because they don't know how or where to go? Do we think that the people the are reckless and careless with animals will change behavior as a result of education? Some yes but 8 million a year? I'm telling you it does not add up in my head.
Kathy Pobloskie February 12, 2013 at 10:49 PM
Mr. Lundt. I am attaching a link that will perhaps explain the numbers better for you: http://www.maddiesfund.org/Maddies_Institute/Articles/The_Shelter_Pet_Project_By_the_Numbers.html
Born Free February 13, 2013 at 04:00 AM
Not a population problem? Too much inventory = over population! Pets are maintenance items and depreciating assets. Word on the street has it that people have cut back on expenses and are giving up their pet's. Right now no one needs a vet bill, a groomers bill, animal toy expense and an extra mouth to feed. People are already seeing federal tax increases on their pay checks for you know what and this is only the beginning.
Kathy Pobloskie February 13, 2013 at 03:04 PM
Born Free, you may want to check the statistics before you comment. Pet spending has continued to increase, even in tough economic times. Here is an article from Time Business and Money that shows how much Americans spend on their pets. "last year, consumers spent $51 billion on pets, a record that's expeted to be broken again this year."http://business.time.com/2012/10/04/millions-on-pet-halloween-costumes-why-we-spend-more-and-more-on-pets/
Randy1949 February 13, 2013 at 03:12 PM
Golly, I feed, shelter, and provide medical care for my pets. I don't dress them up for Halloween. And in my experience, cats enjoy a crumpled up piece of paper better than a store-bought toy. I have known people who had to give up pets for economic reasons (foreclosure and move to an apartment that doesn't allow pets) but it's an agonizing decision, not the simple money-saving thing Born Free suggests.
Kathy Pobloskie February 13, 2013 at 03:27 PM
I don't dress my pets up for Halloween either, Randy! But apparently a lot of people do!
Randy1949 February 13, 2013 at 03:42 PM
I think dogs might enjoy being dressed up for holidays, because dogs are really into being part of the human activities. Cats -- not so much. My cats and my horses are a part of the family, and I'd do without myself to see that their needs are met. But it's a no-frills kind of love.
J. Carter February 15, 2013 at 06:02 AM
Mr. Lundt, The increased costs of no-kill is also documented for other NK communities. There are links directly to county budgets and shelter 990's. Reno - http://delawarecapa.blogspot.com/2012/04/millions-of-dollars-common-sense.html Austin - http://delawarecapa.blogspot.com/2012/05/hillsborough-animal-services-director.html It seems to me the no-kill agenda is placing shelters in financial jeopardy and that is something to be concerned about. Shelters can't help animals if they financially bankrupt themselves. Nevada Humane Deficits Since No-Kill Effort Began 2006 2004 403,343.00 2005 2,168,793.00 2006 (1,000,367.00) 2007 (855,614.00) 2008 (237,365.00) 2009 (1,000,164.00) 2010 (293,971.00) Austin TX 2008-2009 Budget $5,397,428. 2012-2013 Budget $8,200.000 Delaware SPCA Deficits since No-Kill Effort Began 2008 Losses going down by taking less animals each year. 2008 (814,100) 2009 (573,154) 2010 (361,163)
J. Carter February 15, 2013 at 07:24 AM
Some of us believe that fixing the demand side is not the answer because overpopulation is not a myth. We need to focus on the supply side. Clearly targeted spay neuter works, or we wouldn't see so many transports headed to New Hampshire and other New England states due to their lack of supply of puppies and kittens. It's the more fiscally sound approach since it results in less pets that need animal control services, rather than the costly demand side approach. Here is a recent article that references that huge 39% of pets that come from friends, family, & strays. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ruth-steinberger/spay-neuter-animal-shelters_b_2534069.html
J. Carter February 15, 2013 at 07:25 AM
Exactly Born Free. There is an image that the various NK sites pass around that shows supply and demand. The issue is they only show shelter pets on the supply side, when it should include pet stores, breeders, family & friends & strays, and others like Craiglist, etc. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=487301907960725&set=pb.159092957448290.-2207520000.1360911524&type=3&theater The image claims 23.5 million Americans acquire pets each year, so if 23.5 million acquired animals last year and 4 million were euthanized, that is overpopulation. What's significant about the misrepresentation in that image is the fact that it doesn't address the largest category of 39% of animals are acquired from family and friends. So if the concept is that we can shift market share, then the result is that extra shelter pet that was adopted out will unfortunately be replaced by the one he would have adopted/bought from one of the other sources. If it doesn't work with shifting the market, then the only solution is finding 4 million homes that weren't looking to acquire and animal, and that could explain the increase we've all seen in hoarding and rescues gone bad.
DevonTT February 15, 2013 at 08:11 AM
The whole "We can adopt our way out of killing" strategy was conceived by Maddie's Fund with research conducted by DraftFCB, an advertising agency. DFCB approached the problem as they would with any client whose success depends on increasing sales (in this case, adoptions). Their strategy was to steal business from the "competition"--i.e., to convince people who are getting their pets from "other sources" to adopt from a shelter instead. In the business world, if you're the competitor who sees your sales shrinking because customers have gone elsewhere, you cut back on production. You don't keep flooding the market with products that people aren't buying. But this doesn't apply to pets. No matter where people may be acquiring them, animals keep reproducing at the same rate, creating a perpetual oversupply. DraftFCB did not factor in a supply of "product" that self-generates. The no-kill movement has based its philosophy and approach on this flawed strategy and have deluded too many people into believing it's possible to empty shelters if they only worked harder. By doing so, they have diminished the importance of the only tactics that can actually solve the problem: a sweeping, pervasive emphasis on spay/neuter, tagging/ID'ing pets so they can be returned without ever entering a shelter, programs to help people keep their pets, and other initiatives that reduce intake. Increasing shelter adoptions is laudable, but it cannot be perceived as The Solution.
Lyle Ruble February 15, 2013 at 12:23 PM
I wish that all the attention that is paid to this subject was paid to saving our abused and neglected children who have been placed in the foster care system. I have to seriously question people's priorities.
Bob McBride February 15, 2013 at 12:41 PM
That's a false equivalency. The issues are not the same. There's no need to denigrate the priorities of people dedicated to one cause, simply because they aren't the same as yours. Why not do a blog on that topic yourself? You've got knowledge on the topic, I believe. You generally do a very good job of presenting an issue. There's certainly more than enough room on this site for a variety of issues.
Lyle Ruble February 15, 2013 at 01:13 PM
@Bob McBride...OK, you're right, it is a false equivalency. That's why I like you to be around, you keep people like me honest. Thanks for the suggestion about doing a blog about the condition of our "throw away" children.
Randy1949 February 15, 2013 at 02:54 PM
@Lyle Ruble -- You disappoint me. Concern for animals is not antithetical to concern for other human beings. I used to know someone who insisted that as long as one person was hungry in this world, animals shouldn't be fed. That person kind of lacked a genuine concern for other human beings when you got below the surface. Children shouldn't be throwaway, any more than puppies, kittens or baby chicks at Easter. The root cause of it all is human irresponsibility.
Lyle Ruble February 15, 2013 at 03:38 PM
@Randy1949....I am not advocating that we ignore our animals and let them suffer because of owner irresponsibility. I know from your previous posts that your family is not one that turns their backs on needy children. However, I think that if we should have the same amount of concern for kids that we do for animals, both deserve to be treated with kindness and empathy.
Randy1949 February 15, 2013 at 03:54 PM
@Lyle -- I can also say with complete authority that a child who is treated with a lack of kindness and empathy will become a much worse problem for society than a dog or cat whose owner has turned it vicious. Life is life, and if you bring it into the world you are responsible for it. I also belief (and this is merely a personal prejudice) that people who are brought up to have an empathy for animals extend that empathy to human beings.
ann February 15, 2013 at 04:11 PM
Why can't we be compassionate to kind to all animals and children? Why is this an either/or situation? It's not.
Randy1949 February 15, 2013 at 04:28 PM
Well, you can't just take stray kids home with you, no matter how much you'd like to.
Larry Brink February 18, 2013 at 02:02 PM
In my opinion, the number one, biggest problem with pet over population is, Puppy Mills. Those individuals are in the business for the money and nothing else. The almighty dollar. They could care less how many litters a female dog has, or if that dog is healthy or not. The majority of dog, puppies sold from the pet stores are from puppy mills. A good percentage of those puppies are in fact sick because of the conditions. My wife and I have Rescued 5 dogs, male and female from puppy mills. these animals have never even stood on grass, some not even on the ground. Lets maybe think about eliminating or regulating these puppy mills. Why have I not read anything about the main cause, puppy mills, in these comments? larryb
Wendy Ruhland February 19, 2013 at 05:17 AM
Thank you Ann!
Wendy Ruhland February 19, 2013 at 05:25 AM
I also think, the small time breeders make a huge impact...and i may be wrong- add them all up. Good conversation here. It's a major problem: we all have a long way to go.

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