Editorial: No-kills have no cause to smirk
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2000:
“Too many animal control departments and humane societies which still hold animal
control contracts have a vested interest in doing what they have always done,” ANIMAL PEOPLE editorialized in May 2000. “Going a different and more successful way would
mean accepting some of the blame for causing barrels to fill, day after day, with furry bodies.
Complain though many animal control and humane society people might about the stress of
killing, they still find killing animals easier than doing what is necessary to stop it.”
But proponents of no-kill sheltering had no cause to smirk. Unfortunately, even as
too many conventional sheltering organizations resist change, too many no-kill advocates conduct
themselves and their own operations as cases of arrested development––and in some
instances deserve arrest on criminal charges for warehousing animals in filthy, noisy, overcrowded
kennels, where they enjoy neither a good life nor any prospect of adoption.
Those people may be a minority of the no-kill community, but they are a conspicuous,
ubiquitous, and problematic minority, collectively constituting the strongest case that
opponents of no-kill sheltering such as PETA and the Humane Society of the U.S. can make.
They are not doing effective rescue, high-volume adoption, or care-for-life of unadoptable
animals. Neither are they neutering significant numbers of animals. Some, unfortunately, do
not even neuter the animals they adopt out. Their net contribution to stopping pet overpopulation
is thus less than zero: they are part of the problem, not the solution, and are persuading
skeptics by their bad example that no-kill is still an impracticable idea.
This is tragic. Throughout the past decade, the several hundred no-kill organizations
that meet and exceed professional standards appear to have collectively placed in good homes
far more dogs and cats than the several thousand conventional shelters in the U.S.; have funded
the altering of many times more animals; and in some instances have also created credible
examples of how large-scale care-for-life can be done, when and if the dog and cat birth rates
are brought below adoption demand, so that the care of unadoptables can become a priority.
Freelance reporter Todd Foster, a longtime acquaintance of ANIMAL PEOPLE,
gave the no-kill community a resounding heads-up in the July 2000 edition of Reader’s Digest.
Crossing the U.S., Foster visited no-kill shelters all along his route.
Foster began and ended his journey by visiting the two flagships of the no-kill cause,
the San Francisco SPCA and North Shore Animal League, whose operations he highly
praised. In between, he visited other shelters picked more-or-less at random from Lynda
Foro’s 1998 Doing Things For Animals directory, which has always listed almost any no-kill
organization wishing to be included. By luck of the draw, Foster saw mainly mediocre to
miserable facilities, and was justly appalled. Toward the end of Foster’s research, he became
quite concerned that he was seeing only extremes, and called ANIMAL PEOPLE once to
discuss it. But he ended up concluding there may only be extremes out there.
On the one hand, there are the few no-kills which like the SF/SPCA and North
Shore have learned to turn public sympathy for saving animals’ lives into the means to fulfill
their mission. Some conventional humane societies begun in the 19th and early 20th centuries
have amassed more wealth, yet the most successful no-kills have raised comparable resources
far faster––and have reinvested their revenues in their work, including expanding their working
capital. The wealthiest conventional humane societies still have more money in the bank,
but the SF/SPCA, North Shore, and others operating according to their example tend to have
more attractive physical facilities, more volunteers, and much more responsive mailing lists.
On the other hand, there are no-kills whose attitudes are as stubbornly “can’t do” as
the attitudes of old-fashoned “shoot-’em-or-sell-’em-to-a-lab” dogcatchers.
For example, the president and cofounder of one 20-year-old no-kill recently boasted
to us, in a letter soliciting emergency fundraising help, “We are not on the ‘net,’ have no
‘fax’, do not hire publicity specialists etc. To do that would by necessity cost money that we
felt would be better used on and for the animals. Does that make sense?”
No. As we told this person, it makes no sense whatever to deliberately deprive
one’s organization of the capacity to raise funds, place more animals in homes, and grow into
the ability to serve all of the homeless animals in a community, not just a token few.
This organization boasted of helping 300 animals per year for 20 years. Many other
humane societies we are familiar with, in closely comparable locations, now help thousands
per year, because they have had the foresight to intelligently invest in self-promotion.
Boasting of not being on the Internet, moreover, goes beyond just being derelict in
self-sustenance, into direct dereliction of duty toward homeless animals.
Everyone in sheltering-and-adoption should be aware by now that approximately
one third of all rehomings (returns of lost pets plus adoptions) of dogs and cats in the U.S. are
now Internet-assisted. Most of these are reclaims and adoptions that would not have been
accomplished 10 years ago, before it was possible to cheaply and almost immediately electronically
distribute photographs and descriptions of every animal in a shelter.
If a sheltering and/or adoption organization is not on the Internet, with an effective
web site and links to the major electronic lost pet location and adoption promotion networks,
it is just plain not working with the best tools available to do the job. Such organizations exist
today as lamentable relics of the pre-Internet era, when the U.S. shelter killing rate was three
times higher, in part because shelters generally resisted learning how to effectively advertise,
so as to outcompete the breeders and pet stores.
Incidentally, having a tight budget is no excuse whatever. At least two major online
adoption networks will give shelters the computers and software they need to participate, free
of charge beyond the shelters’ obligation to post a weekly list of animals on hand.
Commented Lynda Foro, “If I hadn’t run into similar, such self-sabotage would be
hard to believe. I recently got a phone call from someone with an organization in business for
25 years, begging ideas for fundraising and outright support. North Shore Animal League
director of fundraising Barbara Bucovetsky, who is responsible for raising more than $30 million
a year, had already given this woman 20 minutes worth of suggestions, having each idea
shot down because, ‘We couldn’t do that.’ They had survived on local donations, but now
they need a fence. Barbara suggested that they ask people to build them one. ‘We couldn’t do
that,’ she was told. ‘We asked our neighbors for help last year.’ I asked about their mailing
list. They didn’t have one. I shouted, ‘After 25 years, you don’t have a mailing list?’ The
woman got flustered and said they were too busy caring for animals to compile a mailing list.”
Apparently they were also “too busy caring for animals” to pay any attention at all
to any of the free information sent to them over the years by DTFA, ANIMAL PEOPLE,
and other organizations which offer self-help advice.
Twenty to twenty-five years ago, people who wanted to work with animals in a nokill
milieu often had to start their own organizations. Enough developed the management skill
to succeed that one of the biggest problems the no-kill sector has today is hiring enough quality
help and finding enough volunteers to keep pace with growth. There would no longer be a
need, in most of the U.S., to found new no-kill organizations if the existing no-kills were all
growing as vigorously into their mission as the successes. Those not keeping pace would be
doing a favor to the animals and their communities if they were to take on new leadership,
merge into stronger organizations, or just close and get out of the way.
Time will do much of that, as the founders of substandard no-kills pass on, often
without finding successors. But the process could be expedited, to the animals’ benefit, if a
respected accreditiation program for no-kills existed, promulgating separate sets of standards
appropriate to the different specialized functions that no-kills perform.
Indeed, a primary function of an accreditation program should be to encourage nokills
to focus on performing a core mission well, typically in partnership with other organizations
(conventional as well as no-kill), instead of trying and failing to replicate the usually
unworkable ideal of the “full-service shelter.”
Whether or not an accreditation program ever exists, no-kill organizations must
learn to differ from conventional shelters in much more than just not killing healthy animals.
For example, as ANIMAL PEOPLE has often pointed out, high-volume adoption
sites need to be in high-traffic locations. They should not house large numbers of animals,
just a good selection, and should never be used to house animals for more than a few days.
Instead, animals who are not quickly adopted should be rotated to more spacious
sites on “rest-and-recreation” leave, where ideally they should also receive daily obedience
training if necessary to increase their adoptability when they go back on display.
Long-term care facilities, conversely, need to be remote––and large enough to
allow animals to run, climb, hide, bark, and otherwise behave in a natural manner without
Conventional cell-like kenneling is not appropriate to either high-volume adoption or
care-for-life. Animal control facilities may be unhappily stuck with it, being perceived and
funded by the public as jails for canine and feline vagrants, but donor-supported humane societies
of every kind should be doing away with conventional kennels, and small local no-kill
organizations as well as the giants of the field should be at the forefront of developing and
showing off innovative alternatives.
The statistic that matters
There is, finally, one point we cannot make too emphatically: there is no virtue in
not killing animals if instead an organization condemns them to neglect, or drains away
resources from neutering and adoption efforts which are not just saving some animals’ lives
but are also actively lowering the numbers of homeless animals. Successful no-kill sheltering
means that all shelters in the community are receiving fewer animals, year after year, and are
killing fewer, because animal birth control and rehoming efforts are ever more successful.
ANIMAL PEOPLE is utterly unimpressed by comparisons of individual shelters’
so-called euthanasia rates: possibly meaningful back when most shelters claimed more-or-less
the same mission, they mean nothing since the advent of specialization. As pet overpopulation
diminishes and nonprofit humane societies increasingly focuson saving the animals who
can be saved, animal control euthanasia rates will go up, especially relative to those of
humane societies, not because they are killing more animals but rather because everyone is
killing less. If there was no pet overpopulation whatever, all humane societies were no-kill,
and every healthy and nonvicious dog or cat found a home through a no-kill humane society
instead of going to animal control, the animal control euthanasia rate would be 100%. Yet
that would mean only that animal control, in partnership with the no-kill humane societies,
was doing a first-rate job.
The dog-and-cat sheltering statistic we value is the number killed by all shelters in
the service radius combined, per 1,000 human residents of the community. Where euthanasia
rates purport to measure individual performance, disregarding the importance of the role of the
shelter being measured, dogs and cats killed per 1,000 residents measures the accomplishments
of the community animal protection team––and clearly shows whether the animal protection
organizations of each community have effectively taken on the various specialized missions necessary
to properly serving companion animals.
The current range, among major U.S. cities, is from 3.9 in San Francisco to 70.0 in
Mobile. The national average is 18.1.