No Kill Shelters– It is not all roses.
So let’s take a look at animal shelters. They can be public or private, kill or no kill. I personally am not a fan of the term kill or no kill. But, in any case, shelters take in animals and adopt them out, end of story right? Not so fast. Shelters are ranked on a ratio of the number of pets that they take in as compared to the number of animals they euthanize. Because of this, shelters have become very good at improving their statistics, this is where the term No kill comes in. The no kill movement has been very successful at reducing the number of animals euthanized in this country According to a recent article in the New York Times, the number of stray pets euthanized, has been estimated at 13.5 million in the 1970s, and has decreased to 2.6 million in 2011, and is down to 1.5 million now, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. These are tremendous numbers and look great on paper, but what about reality?
When we talk about shelters it is important to realize that public shelters do not get to pick and choose which animals they take in, if you bring a pet to the local shelter they are required by law to take in the pet. Private shelters and rescue groups, however, do not have to take in a particular animal, they can be very picky about the animals that they take in and in many cases they do not take in old, sick or un-adoptable pets, can have a very good statistic concerning euthanasia.
According to a recent commentary published on the Veterinary Information Network website, there is a very dark side to the no kill movement. Because the definition of no kill is created by evaluating the number of animals that are euthanized, groups have found a way to fudge the numbers. These techniques begin when an animal is presented to the shelter, some shelters will turn away pets that they feel are not adoptable or are sick. For example, Fox 2 in St. Louis reported in July that an audit uncovered a higher-than-reported euthanasia rate at St. Louis County Animal Care & Control. Shelter personnel had all owners who surrendered their pet for re homing check a box marked “ORE,” without explaining that it was an acronym for “Owner Requests Euthanasia,” and that by checking the box, they were requesting euthanasia for their pet. Because animals surrendered for euthanasia are not counted in the statistics, this tactic artificially reduced the shelter’s euthanasia numbers to stray or otherwise unowned animals. Other shelters will “re home” the pet to another shelter and leave the next shelter to deal with the animal. The movement of animals from one shelter to another can have positive effects such as allowing animals that may not be adoptable in one area to be moved to an area that they may be more adoptable. The downside is that this can lead to a spread of disease across state lines or the pet may go to a shelter that is a kill shelter. This explains how we can have no kill shelters.
The true dark side of the no kill movement occurs when a shelter decides to become no kill and then turns into a hoarding situation. In many shelters animals can sit in cages for years with little hope of adoption. Some of these animals may have illnesses that are not addressed or they may have behavior problems that limit their adaptability.
As an example, the St. Francois Society shelter in Missouri was closed in 2011 and its animal inhabitants removed after the overcrowded shelter was found by state regulators to have numerous violations that jeopardize the health and welfare of the animals.
Overcrowding and long-term kenneling at any shelter results in increasing stress among the inhabitants. The stress can manifest as severe behavioral problems such as aggression, food- and resource-guarding, separation anxiety and stereotypies, which are repetitive movements or utterances. In addition to causing behavioral problems, overcrowding can result in a failure by personnel to provide for even the basic needs of the animals in their care. This can, and has, resulted in serious neglectful and abusive situations; at the extreme, it can result in large-scale death of animals. For instance, in late September, a couple who operated an animal rescue was charged with multiple offenses after authorities found 150 dead dogs on properties in Missouri and Texas associated with their operation, according to a report by USA Today. These can all be consequences of the no kill movement.
According to Drs. Woolf and Brinker on the Veterinary information website
Solutions to the unintended consequences of the no-kill movement include:
- Dropping the term “no-kill,” since it is inflammatory, inaccurate and causes division between groups that share a goal of helping animals.
- Requiring licensing, regulatory inspection and enforcement of welfare rules at animal shelters and rescues in all states. This would provide a baseline for a facility to be considered an acceptable place to send animals for sheltering. Until such legislation can be passed, shelters should require a minimum level of care that can be ascertained or audited amongst themselves.
- Encouraging grant money and other funding to be provided for improvement of animal welfare only, allowing for broader acceptable ranges of live-release rates and euthanasia rather than a specific number.
- Educating the public in the different services and missions of varying types of shelters and rescues, so that they might recognize that comparing open-admission and limited-admission shelters is like comparing cats and dogs.
- Increasing efforts to educate shelters, rescue groups and the public in proper physical and mental care of animals. Serious behavioral problems constitute welfare deficiencies just as much as medical problems do. Education will help all animals to receive better care, and the public will be doing its part to decrease the need for animal shelters in the first place.
We think all of these are viable options, we have seen our share of pets from rescue groups, hoarders and “kill shelters”. If we start with the assumption that everyone wants the same things: reduction of deaths of unwanted animals, humane treatment of those in the care of shelters, and happy well adjusted animals we as a society need to have a fundamental conversation on how we treat all of these animals.