Quite a few months ago my friend, Lisa, and I were talking about her orientation at Animal Care and Control and about how even people who know that pet homelessness is a problem don’t quite grasp it like those who work “in the trenches” do. I asked her to write about her thoughts and to be honest, I’ve held this for a few too many days hoping I could make a series out of it, but earlier this week Ray the Victory Dog and his mom had a very good post about just the same topic, so I thought now was as good a time as any.
I have volunteered with many animal welfare organizations through the years, worked for a spay/neuter clinic and a Veterinarians office. I have had a behind the scenes view at how all of these different entities work and the hardest thing for me to understand is how a lot of these organizations work against each other. One of the greatest divisions is in the words used to describe a shelter as “kill”, “no kill”, “high kill” etc. These words aren’t only misleading, but immediately label a shelter as good or bad. I prefer that we distinguish the shelters as “open admission” and “limited admission”.
Open admission shelters are usually what people refer to as “kill” shelters. These are typically the government Animal Care and Controls or Humane Societies. Open admission shelters cannot refuse any animal brought to them. This means that every dog, cat, gerbil, rabbit, snake, goat, pig, cow or alligator. My local Animal Care and Control is a public safety department and they are assigned the task of euthanizing for the city
“Limited Admissions shelters that pick and choose the pets they admit may sometimes refer to themselves as “no-kill” shelters, because they are not taking in the animals that are being euthanized in their community. However, in every community there are a number of pets (approx. 25% of the pet population in any community) that will NOT be candidates for re-homing due to major medical issues or aggression. So those “no-kill” shelters are simply shifting the euthanasia of animals in their community to another entity.” (Humane Society of Mississippi) Limited admission shelters are typically your non-profit or breed specific organizations. These shelters work solely on public donations and grants.
An equally important organization in the animal welfare community is the local, low cost Spay/Neuter clinic. These organizations are usually non-profits operating on donations, government and private grants. I feel that a spay/neuter clinic is the single most effective tool in raising live release rates (the amount of animals that make it out of a shelter) in a community. Communities without access to these low cost clinics have a difficult time raising their release rates.
My city, which has a population of approximately 256,000, has an average of 53 (last year’s stats of almost 12,000 take in) animals taken to Animal Care and Control every day. At my orientation it was put to us like this. If I dropped off 7 animals at your house tomorrow and asked you to find homes for them, how long do you think that would take? What if I dropped off 7 every day for the rest of your life? How well do you think you would do? The intake numbers were even down from prior years and those numbers have been close to 19,000 intake. This is one shelter is a small city. These numbers don’t include the other thousands that are in various rescues throughout the city. The amount of animals in need dramatically surpasses the availability of homes.
So let’s address the Elephant in every circle and every room of every rescue and shelter, the euthanasia of millions of animals every year in this country. We euthanize animals at an alarming rate because irresponsible people breed, discard, abuse and relinquish every day. How do we change these statistics and why aren’t we working together to do so?
There seems to be a huge division within the animal welfare community as to who the good guys and bad guys are. I’ve heard people say that they would never volunteer at a shelter that euthanizes because they think that it is a horrible thing to do to animals. I have seen small shelters essentially flip dogs and cats for profit and notability with little regard to the actual animal. I have also heard the heart wrenching decision made to euthanize a dog because he bit someone, most likely out of fear.
Why the division? I have theories that range from greed to prestige to ego. First of all, there are a lot of people that work/volunteer in rescue because they want to be acknowledged, not because they truly care. There is a mad dash for fund raising and anyone that “takes” money out of your hand is your enemy. There are people that like to feel righteous about their organization and spread rumors about others. There are even rescues that are in it for the money and lie to people about the money spent on care and lie about how many animals are even in the rescue. Veterinarians spread lies about inadequate care and safety to scare clients away from the low cost spay/neuter clinics because they think they are losing money. Humans are hopelessly flawed.
What can we do to change this and reach what should be our true goal, no more homeless animals? We can take the lead from my city where our local Animal Care and Control, SPCA and spay/neuter clinic work as a coalition to save animals. We have introduced a TNR (trap and release) Community cat program that has raised the live release rate by 100% (plus) while ensuring that future litters are not being born. The local SPCA pulls adoptable dogs and cats from the city shelter opening up more space. Both shelters give information to the public about spay/neuter/vaccines at our low cost clinics. All three of these organizations support each other to reach the common goal.
I had become disheartened this past year about the work that was being done locally. I felt that not enough was being done to find homes for the local animals and simultaneously felt that animals were practically being given away to anyone asking. I had to come to the realization that the demand is so high that sometimes the shelters have to decide to give people a chance or risk that the dog/cat will not be placed. Should we give them the less than perfect home or no home at all? I thought that a lot of these homes were less than ideal in my mind. I was judging too harshly. I realized that on paper, I might not look that great either.
I decided to focus on the good. Look at the number of homes being found. Look at the amount of dedicated volunteers that come in every week to help. Look at the employees that have back and heart breaking jobs, but show up anyway. Look at those faces as they leave the shelter and hop in that car.
If you are a volunteer or animal welfare worker, I ask you to do the same. Show respect for your fellow shelters. Be grateful for the help, discounts and goods provided through the community. Choose your words carefully when speaking about open admission or limited admission shelters. Acknowledge the difficult decisions that have to be made and respect the fact that you aren’t entitled to an explanation. Work hard because it isn’t about you, it is about that innocent life that relies on you to do the right thing.
Many thanks to Lisa Reyes for sharing her thoughts and for letting me publish them.