Editorials: Prepare for post-pet overpopulation
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 1995:
Any defunct gas station could become a vibrant example of a new age in animal
care-and-control: a neighborhood humane outpost. Offering easy access and plenty of
parking, ex-gas stations can’t keep lots of animals, but that isn’t what they should do.
Their showrooms can display cats in all the decorator colors; they have garages able to keep
adoptable dogs in spacious runs, and park a van for the night; and they have adequate
office space for a small-scale operation, which could be either a satellite of a larger organi-
zation or an independent entity cooperating with other shelters of differing capabilities.
The van would be not just wheels, but an extension of the job. In normal configu-
ration, it would do animal pickup-and-delivery. A slide-in veterinary module would make
it a mobile neutering-and-vaccination clinic, or a rescue vehicle.
A humane outpost obviously couldn’t receive lots of drop-off litters and other
owner-surrendered animals. Nor could it house animals through a multi-day holding period,
or do any but emergency euthanasias. Those would remain the duties of central shelters.
Likewise, a humane outpost couldn’t do law enforcement. But it might hold drop-offs tem-
porarily, for exchange with adoptable animals from a central shelter. It might also do com-
munity liaison for anti-cruelty and animal control officers working out of a larger office.
A humane outpost would not be an animal shelter in the familiar sense. It would
exist not to collect, keep, or kill animals, nor to deal with pet overpopulation per se, the
main job of animal shelters for the past 120 years, but rather to facilitate responsible pet-
keeping in the post-pet overpopulation milieu, by arranging appropriate placements, help-
ing pets get essential care, and providing referrals for other services. In some towns, a
low-overhead, high-traffic humane outpost might even pay for itself.
Most people in animal work can scarcely imagine a “post-pet overpopulation
milieu.” Most are still busy, tired, and often demoralized by the battle against ignorance,
irresponsibility, the fecundity of unaltered dogs and cats, and the cruelty often inflicted on
“throwaway” animals. An end to pet overpopulation may appear as illusory as the “peace
dividend” that was to erase the national debt when the Cold War ended. During the past
decade, as shelter intakes have fallen by half and euthanasias by two-thirds, most savings
to animal control districts has been eaten by budget cuts and expanded duties, such as han-
dling nuisance wildlife and rabies outbreaks. Savings realized by humane societies have
gone partly back into neutering and humane education, but mostly into expanding long
But coping with pet overpopulation has been much like paying off a mortgage.
Just raising the down payment took from 1957, when Friends of Animals founded the first
low-cost neutering network, to 1973, when Los Angeles opened the first municipal low-
cost neutering clinic. For 15 years more, we paid interest, slowing the rate of increase of
pet overpopulation, without touching the principal, until intakes peaked at around 20 mil-
lion and euthanasias at an estimated 17 million in 1987. As ANIMAL PEOPLE has pro-
jected from the actual intake and euthanasia records of more than 1,000 shelters and animal
control units, intakes are now down to 7.5 million a year, and euthanasias are down to 5.4
million, even though many animal control units have only just begun to pick up cats as well
as dogs. Dog euthanasias are down to 1.5 million a year; cat euthanasias are level at 3.9
million a year.
In eight years we’ve gone from euthanizing one animal annually per 15 Americans
to euthanizing one animal per 48 Americans. During that time, according to separate stud-
ies by the Massachusetts SPCA and the National Pet Alliance, neutering rates have climbed
to 65% for dogs; 85% for owned cats. Most of the unaltered animals are under six months
old. Owned cats now reproduce at only 70% of their death rate; owned cat numbers keep
rising, only because nearly a third of all pet cats are adopted from the feral population.
All of this signifies that no-kill animal control is almost here. It has already come
to San Francisco, where no healthy dog or cat has been euthanized since March 1994. Per
capita shelter intakes and euthanasias in New York City, St. Louis, San Diego, and the
states of Connecticut and Washington are all now at the point where the sort of determined
neutering and adoption push San Francisco SPCA president Richard Avanzino mounted a
decade ago could perhaps bring them to zero non-medically-essential euthanasias by the
turn of the century.
An essential first step, already taken in San Francisco, San Diego, New York,
and St. Louis, is to get humane societies out of animal control. Since 1872, when the
Women’s Humane Society of Philadelphia became the first humane society to take a dog-
catching contract, humane societies have used donated labor and funds to provide essential
public service––and have been taken for granted. Municipal governments, as in New
Orleans four years ago, slash animal control funding in the belief that the people who care
most about animals will pick up the tab. They’ve been right, but that must stop.
Humane work and animal control are parallel pursuits, requiring similar skills and
facilities, yet serve different functions. Animal control solves animal-related problems for
taxpayers and voters. Humane societies promote the betterment of humanity through
encouraging kindness. Public institutions answer to the political majority. Humane soci-
eties answer to the most concerned minority.
To introduce progress, humane societies must proceed beyond the level of service
the average taxpayer will fund. They must inspire pursuit of an ideal beyond the acceptable
minimum. As SFSPCA president Richard Avanzino realized at the outset of his drive to
end population control euthanasia in San Francisco, they cannot inspire the public with a
positive vision for animal care if they are known chiefly as death row for dogs and cats.
That image keeps many kindly people away from humane societies. Instead, they may feed
homeless cats; abandon animals they can’t keep to “give them a chance”; become animal
collectors; and miss the word that their well-meant deeds may be inhumane, being afraid
to open mailings from humane societies lest they see pictures of horror.
Separating humane work from animal control is unpopular with many animal con-
trol people because they don’t want to bear alone the stigma of doing euthanasia. Even rec-
ognizing that humane societies are better able to promote adoptions, screen adopters, do
humane education, provide low-cost neutering and vaccination, and raise funds for such
purposes, animal control staff are often reluctant to accept a division of duties that allows
humane societies to be soft and cuddly while they become even more closely identified with
killing. In San Francisco, and on Long Island, where such a separation has occurred de
facto through the growth of the North Shore Animal League and other no-kills, professional
jealousy sometimes causes the no-kill shelters to get major bad press.
No-kills and animal control as partners
We must not allow anyone to juxtapose humane societies and animal control as
good guys and bad guys. Animal control provides animal policing; humane societies pro-
vide animal social services. Animal control often does the hardest, dirtiest, and most dan-
gerous work. Humane societies should make it easier, by redeeming and placing healthy
animals, and preventing animals from becoming abused or homeless in the first place.
Every time a humane society places an animal picked up by animal control, it
owes animal control a thank-you. Every press release a humane society issues publicizing
successful adoptions should point toward the cooperation of animal control. Every year
when animal control presents a budget, the humane society should help rally support for the
As pet overpopulation subsides, humane societies won’t need as many cages.
Humane outposts or storefront adoption facilities will become more practical for humane
societies to run than large central shelters, which may be turned over to animal control.
Meanwhile, there is growing demand for another kind of shelter, the care-for-life
shelter, to house pets who may be unadoptable due to age, infirmity, or behavioral quirks,
yet may still enjoy living. Just as private no-kill shelters ranging from the gigantic North
Shore Animal League to the backyard-based Pet Search have pioneered high-volume adop-
tion, others have slowly and sometimes painfully learned how to provide care-for-life.
Some failures have been appalling: no one who saw the dead and dying animals the New
York Humane Association discovered at Justin McCarthy’s Animals Farm Home in 1988
can forget them, and many who remember such failures doubt, to this day, that care-for-
life is practical.
Yet there are successes, too, housing from a few dozen up to almost 1,000 ani-
mals. Such successes have established that care-for-life is a different proposition from
either conventional sheltering or high-volume adoption. While other shelters should be
located in populated areas and need only standard caging, a decent care-for-life shelter
must give animals far more space and social opportunities, and is best located in a rural
area. Since third-party funding raised by direct mail either isn’t adequate or siphons money
away from locally based humane work, care-for-life funding is best raised through bequests
and boarding contracts.
Post pet-overpopulation, conventional humane societies will find themselves
moving, willy-nilly, into the various no-kill options. The transition must be well-planned,
using the lessons learned by no-kills. Yet sharing those lessons won’t be easy. The profes-
sional image of no-kill sheltering remains tainted by the failures of animal collectors. The
national organizations most involved with sheltering actively perpetuate the animal collec-
tor stereotype, partly because senior personnel have had direct experience with McCarhty
and others like him, and were understandably traumatized.
Sharing no-kill expertise could be expedited by the formation of a broadly repre-
sentative accrediting-and-helping association, to set appropriate standards for each type of
no-kill, including not only humane outposts, high-volume adoption, and care-for-life, but
also non-sheltered fostering groups. Such standards should be three-tiered, with ‘C’ status
going to anyone who joins; ‘B’ status going to organizations meeting most accreditation
requirements, working to meet the rest; and ‘A’ status to those who meet all standards.
Experienced certification teams should visit new members within weeks, if not days. No-
kills with improvements to make should be paired with mentors from organizations which
have the necessary know-how. Finally, and of utmost importance, the accreditation body
should assume a high profile, so that accreditation helps those who achieve it to win finan-
The No Kill Conference advertised on our back cover, coming up on September
23 in Phoenix, will be the first-ever formal gathering of the no-kill community. The host,
Doing Things for Animals, publishes the No-Kill Directory, facilitating a rapid growth of
communication among no-kills. The sponsor, the Pet Savers Foundation, founded and
funded by the North Shore Animal League but now independently chartered, is planning a
training academy for people interested in doing high-volume adoption, and might provide
the institutional framework needed to form an accrediting body.
Among the early registrants for the No Kill Conference was Warren Cox, execu-
tive director of the SPCA of Texas and the dean of animal care-and-control, with 43 years
in the field––all at conventional shelters. “Maybe old dogs can learn new tricks,” Cox told
ANIMAL PEOPLE. “I’m going there to learn.”