A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Killing Shelter Pets Is Never the Answer

Progress begins as soon as “humane killing” ends

By Michael Mountain – at the No-Kill Conference in Washington D.C.

In 1989, writer and provocateur Ed Duvin wrote a landmark article highlighting the dark paradox of animal sheltering in America. Underlying the entire humane movement, he said, “is the dark secret that it is, in part, little more than a vast killing machine.”

At that time, roughly 17 million homeless dogs and cats were being killed every year in places that should have been saving their lives. Duvin’s article was one of the first sparks of the no-kill movement. By the early 1990s, its pioneers were developing new adoption and spay/neuter programs. A few years later, San Francisco was on its way to becoming the first no-kill city, and by early in the next decade the number of dogs and cats being killed in shelters each year had fallen to below 5 million.

Since then, the rate of decrease has slowed. There are still between 3 and 4 million dogs and cats dying in shelters each year. But there’s nothing stopping this number from falling to near zero in the coming years.

Nothing, that is, except the will to reach that goal.

Some people – even major organizations – still think the no-kill philosophy can’t succeed, in spite of all the evidence that it is succeeding. Only yesterday, a PETA spokesperson wrote in an Austin, Texas, newspaper that:

“It isn’t surprising that since implementing ‘no-kill’ policies, the Town Lake Animal Center is reportedly overcrowded and struggling to find space to house all the homeless animals who pour through its doors … [This] is only the beginning of what is to come, as long as it maintains these dangerous and misguided policies.

“Because there are so many more homeless animals than good homes waiting for them, the only way most shelters can avoid euthanasia is by caging animals for months on end, sometimes warehousing them in stacked crates – which is cruelty, plain and simple – or by turning away animals when there is no more room.”

What’s wrong with assertions like this?

For starters, it’s entirely untrue that “there are so many more homeless animals than good homes waiting for them.” In fact, the opposite is the case.

Roughly 23 million people will bring a new pet into their home this year. According to Richard Avanzino, who piloted San Francisco’s drive toward no-kill and now runs Maddie’s Fund, 17 million of them have not yet decided where they’re going to get that pet. (Half of the other six million will definitely go to a pet store or breeder, and the other half will definitely adopt from a shelter or rescue group.)

Meanwhile, of the three million dogs and cats being killed at shelters, 700,000 will be euthanized because they are painfully, terminally and untreatably sick, or put down because of incurable behavior problems. That leaves 2.3 million who can be and should be adopted. And there are 17 million people who are open to adopting them.

“That’s less than four more dogs and cats each week by each and every animal group in the country,” Avanzino said. “It’s a slam-dunk.”

Meanwhile, PETA continues to argue that spay/neuter is the only way to reduce the number of pets in shelters. For sure, in the early days of the no-kill movement, getting people and shelters to fix their pets was, indeed, the No. 1 priority. And as a result, spay/neuter is now thoroughly mainstream. But PETA continues to ignore the adoption component (they’ve never been too keen on people having pets), and the reason animals are dying in shelters today is not because there isn’t enough spay/neuter but because the dogs and cats in the shelters are not being placed in good new homes.

What will it take to reach the no-kill goal? The answer is straightforward: a firm decision on the part of shelter managers to stop the killing and do what it takes to get those homeless pets into good homes.

You’d think that an organization like PETA would be leading the charge to get those animals into good homes. But at their own small shelter, they kill the vast majority of animals they take in. The Huffington Post quotes PETA’s own reports to the State of Virginia, showing that in 2009 they killed 2,301 dogs and cats – fully 97 percent of the animals they brought in – and placed just eight in new homes.

Eight adoptions in a year.

By contrast, last Saturday, Austin Pets Alive, which works with the Austin shelter that PETA is complaining about, placed 48 dogs and cats in good homes.

The previous weekend, the Pennsylvania SPCA placed 477 of its animals.

And on a rainy June weekend in the Bay Area, 2,265 shelter dogs and cats from 46 shelters and rescue groups in Alameda and Contra Costa counties found new homes.

At the annual No-Kill Conference in Washington D.C. last weekend, Nathan Winograd talked about how even just
being a kitten (one of the most adoptable of all animals) used to be an automatic death sentence in Austin.

Winograd described how the then-shelter director killed more than 100,000 animals – tens of thousands a year, hundreds per month, dozens per day, one animal roughly every 12 minutes the shelter was open to the public.

“She did so,” he said, “after refusing to implement common-sense alternatives to killing.

“She refused to stop killing even when a state inspection report noted that the shelter routinely had hundreds of empty cages. She argued to the press that she did not have time to focus on adoptions, did not want to do offsite adoptions, did not trust the public enough to foster those kittens she killed.

“And she complained that too many people were calling to adopt, and she and her staff were too busy to answer their calls.”

How do we bring an end to the killing of homeless pets in shelters?

It’s simple: We stop killing them. That’s what the people of Austin decided to do, and it’s what more and more communities across the country have decided to do.

Only when you take killing off the table do you start looking for real alternatives. Necessity, as the saying goes, is the mother of invention. As long as these so-called shelters give themselves excuses to kill the animals whom they have specifically taken into their care, the killing will continue.

The resources, the talent, and the knowhow to bring an end to this horror are available to any shelter. All that’s required at this point is the commitment to get the job done.

First comes the commitment, then come the solutions, and that’s how we get to be a no-kill nation.

What you can do: Be part of the no-kill movement. Check out the No-Kill Advocacy Center. And more resources for neighborhood programs are on the No More Homeless Pets Network.