Editorial: Shelter killing & regional values
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2003:
On page 17 of this edition ANIMAL PEOPLE presents our tenth
annual casualty count in the 131-year-old battle by humane societies
against dog and cat overpopulation.
For the first 100 years after the Women’s Humane Society of
Philadelphia became the first U.S. humane organization to take an
animal control contract, there was no visible progress. Even after
the numbers of dogs and cats killed in U.S. shelters and pounds began
to fall in the early 1970s, there was little recognition of
improvement. The numbers everywhere were still higher than almost
anyone could bear to study in any kind of depth.
As recently as 1993, the American Humane Association,
Humane Society of the U.S., and PETA still erroneously asserted that
the shelter killing toll was going up.
ANIMAL PEOPLE has subsequently demonstrated that the toll is
markedly down throughout the U.S. and continues to drop.
Yet regional disparities that were not evident when pet
overpopulation peaked have gradually become glaringly obvious.
Among other disparities of note, the entire Northeast from
Pennsylvania to Maine is on the threshold of achieving no-kill animal
control, killing just 5.5 dogs and cats per 1,000 human
residents–about the same number as San Francisco when it officially
became the first U.S. no-kill city in April 1994.
Conversely, shelters in the South kill 22.6 dogs and cats
per 1,000 residents, and shelters in the West kill 21.9, far above
the current national average of 14.8.
The Midwest kills 16.6 dogs and cats per 1,000 human
residents, while the West Coast states kill 14.0–but the West Coast
average is somewhat misleading. Broken down further, West Coast
cities and counties which touch the Pacific Ocean kill just 8.8 dogs
and cats per 1,000 people, while the inland communities of the same
states kill 35.8.
Half of all the dogs and cats killed in Alaska, California,
Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington shelters die in communities with
under 20% of these states’ human population.
An only slightly less striking discrepancy is evident in the
South. Florida, Maryland, and Virginia collectively kill 15.3 dogs
and cats per 1,000 people, only slightly above the U.S. norm. The
rest of the South kills 27.1 dogs and cats per 1,000 people.
Except in the Northeast, where the rates of shelter killing
are uniformly low, the communities most successfully preventing pet
overpopulation tend to be the largest. All seven of the largest
Midwestern cities and counties on the 2003 ANIMAL PEOPLE chart plus
seven of the nine largest West Coast cities and counties are killing
fewer animals than the regional medians.
Obviously the biggest communities offer animal advocates the
most opportunity to raise the resources needed to sterilize and
rehome shelter animals.
But community size alone does not fully explain why Thomas
County, Georgia, and Valencia, New Mexico, kill 10 times as many
dogs and cats per human resident as are killed in same-sized
Missoula, Montana, and Lawrence, Kansas.
In most regards these are closely comparable communities.
The most evident demographic difference is that Missoula and Lawrence
are university towns. Their residents are younger, better educated,
and therefore much more likely to perceive the lives of animals as
having intrinsic moral value–enough that a companion animal whose
presence is no longer convenient cannot be killed without social risk.
Fresno, California, however, is also a university town.
Located just a two-hour drive from San Francisco, whose shelters
killed just 2.5 dogs and cats per 1,000 residents in 2002, Fresno in
2002 killed 80 dogs and cats per 1,000 humans, for a total of more
animals killed than New York City, and only 500 fewer killed than
every shelter in Oregon combined.
Obviously not enough people in Fresno know or care what
becomes of homeless animals. Thus there is inadequate funding for
low-cost and free dog and cat sterilization, rehoming, and humane
One might also speculate that the people running the Fresno
shelters have inhaled too much carbon monoxide while killing animals
in such appalling numbers, thereby sleeping through the lessons of
the past 30 years. A regime change appears to be decades overdue.
A deeper answer, also applicable to most other laggard
communities, is that Fresno is a rural hub rather than part of a
megopolis, separated from San Francisco less by miles than by a deep
Similar cultural distinctions separate the major Midwestern
cities from the rural Midwest, and distinguish the intensely
cosmopolitan Washington D.C. area, Richmond, and the developed
parts of Florida from the rest of the South.
Clinical psychologist Sue Ellen Brown, of Hatchechubbee,
Alabama, contemplated these distinctions in a March 2002 ANIMAL
PEOPLE guest column entitled “Shooting animals in the rural South:
animal abuse or cultural norm?”
Disturbed that “Shooting animals appeared to be a culturally
approved activity here in the rural deep South,” Brown found a
partial explanation in American Attitudes Toward and Knowledge of
Animals, published in 1980 by Yale University professor Stephen
Kellert, based on interviews done in 1977 with 3,107 randomly
Kellert found that “The South was characterized by the least
interest and concern for animals, and the most utilitarian
orientation,” followed by the Midwest, which were in turn the parts
of the U.S. whose populations were most involved in animal
Rural residents favored “utilization, subordination, and
control,” Kellert wrote.
Summarized Brown, “Farmers, the elderly, and Southern
respondents had the highest scores on the utilitarian scale. In
contrast, people like myself–single, female, with graduate school
education, and from urban areas–had the least utilitarian
Kellert identified but made relatively little of a
generational shift away from utilitarianism, as fewer Americans come
from farm backgrounds or have parents who at any time worked in
Nearly 15 years after Kellert published the data, the late Franklin
Loew pointed out that it not only predicted the rise of the animal
rights movement but also prophesied an eventual cultural
transformation, as the holders of utilitarian views die out.
Loew wrote before the rise of the no-kill movement, but
lived long enough to extend his point in direct discussion with
ANIMAL PEOPLE. Loew suggested that his generation–he died at age 63
in April 2003–may be the last in the U.S. to consider killing
homeless dogs and cats even transiently morally acceptable. Loew
described the eventual success of no-kill animal control as a
cultural inevitability, given the continuing rise in U.S. levels of
income, education, and contact with animals as companions, coupled
with ever greater distance between most Americans and economically
motivated animal husbandry.
A little noticed but very important transition occurred, he
speculated, when a few years ago the numbers of Americans who keep
livestock and poultry as pets for the first time exceeded the number
who raise them for slaughter. Even though the people who keep
livestock and poultry as pets usually keep just one or two animals,
while farmers raise hundreds of cattle, thousands of pigs, or even
millions of chickens, more Americans now are personally acquainted
with cattle, pigs, and chickens as friends than know them as “live
A mirror in Japan
From Kobe, Japan, courtesy of Animal Refuge Kansai founder
Elizabeth Oliver, comes data demonstrating how quickly shelter
statistics can change when community values begin to shift away from
Reviewing the post-World War II evolution of Japanese
attitudes toward pets, Oliver and Yoshiko Seno of AnimEarth in
side-by-side November 2002 ANIMAL PEOPLE guest columns described
attitudes and conditions that in many respects paralleled those
prevailing in the U.S. and European cities as recently as 1990.
Although an enormous attitudinal shift had already been
underway in the U.S. and Europe for at least a generation, the
momentum of social change began visibly and dramatically overtaking
public policy only after 1994, when San Francisco officially became
the first U.S. no-kill city. Public expectations of animal control
departments rose almost overnight, and animal advocates were quick
to convert higher hopes into legislation and funding.
Commented ANIMAL PEOPLE in response to Oliver and Seno, “The
rapid transformation of U.S. and European treatment of homeless
animals in recent years, still underway, gives hope that Japan too
can achieve a rapid turnabout.”
Never did we imagine, however, that just six months later
Oliver could present newly updated Kobe animal control statistics
showing a 47% reduction since 1998 in the total numbers of dogs
impounded; a 52% reduction in the numbers of stray dogs; a 45%
reduction in the numbers of owner-surrendered dogs; a 51% reduction
in the numbers of puppies found as strays; a 60% reduction in
surrenders of puppies; a 59% reduction in the total numbers of
puppies received; a 34% reduction in the number of identifiably
owned dogs found running at large; a 53% reduction in the numbers of
dogs and puppies killed; a 32% increase in licensing compliance;
and, in only one year, a 494% increase in puppy adoptions.
We do not yet have updated Kobe cat data. Typically, dog
numbers drop before cat numbers, partly because feral cats–if not
sterilized at the same time as dogs–tend to take over habitat
vacated by street dogs. Then the cats breed up to a carrying
capacity of about three cats in place of each dog. Because we do not
have the cat data, we cannot be certain that the total numbers of
animals killed at the Kobe pound have fallen. We can say, however,
that Kobe has achieved a degree of progress within five years, as
regards dogs, that took even the most progressive U.S. cities
approximately from 1970 to 1985 to accomplish.
We may also predict that as Americans and Japanese move away
from allowing animal shelters to operate like slaughterhouses, ever
more will also become uncomfortable with slaughter for meat. The
attitudes and values which today are merely “rural” may within
another generation become “anachronistic,” as the rural attitudes of
the future are brought into line with the cultural expectations and
demands of the urban majority.
Some of the transition will occur through “humane labeling” programs,
and some by legal mandate, but most will likely come through the
largely unconscious and chiefly voluntary process of acculturation.
Most of us do what is expected of us. Within a society which
expresses strong humane expectations, most people will try to be