Spay/USA founder Esther Mechler critiques the California “white paper”

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  September 2013: (Actually published on October 8,  2013)

We are extremely concerned about the implications of the recently published California “white paper” formally titled Charting a Path Forward: Achieving California’s policy to save all adoptable and treatable animals. The paper never even pays lip service to the prevention of unwanted litters. In addition,  shelters are encouraged to turn away even healthy,  friendly cats rather than run the risk of ever having to euthanize any.   Recommends the white paper on page 29:  “Best practice:  No healthy cat,  regardless of temperament, should be admitted by an animal shelter if the admission of that cat would cause the death of that cat or another cat in the shelter…This recommendation also applies to private humane organizations that take in animals.” &nbsp; Of course it is good to work with people to keep cats in their homes––if the cats are wanted.  And of course if lots of good foster homes can be found, that is great.  However,  although there are a few good “new” ideas in the blueprint, they have made such a huge omission by ignoring birth prevention that it just boggles the mind. Two successful decades of work to reduce the numbers of homeless animals are going down the drain.  I hear some shelters and rescues are again handing out puppies and kittens like candy,  as in the old days,  “free to a good home,”  unfixed. In 1985 we were euthanizing 17.8 million animals annually in U.S. shelters.  By 1990 it was 12 million.  Today it is about three million. Birth prevention worked. I do think if we kept the emphasis and support on prevention for a few more years and focus heavily on cats and pit bulls,  we could imagine and realize a virtually no-kill nation––but we are not yet at that point. Diluting our focus and momentum is going to slow down progress. The entire ethos of spay/neuter that we worked so hard to spread is being drowned out by shelters’ fear of being seen as killers. It is disheartening to see how little credit is given to spay/neuter for the reduction in numbers.  The steepest decline in shelter intakes and killing came in the early 1990s,  when the Spay/USA hotline was ringing fifty thousand times a year,  as it continued to do for 20 years.  During those 20 years,  hundreds of dog and cat sterilization programs and clinics sprang up all over the country.  These local and regional programs worked hard to ensure that all cats and kittens,  dogs and cats were altered before adoption––and a movement is now starting up to ensure that young cats and dogs be altered prior to first heat to eliminate the development of problem behaviors and eliminate the possibility of unwanted litters.   A petition to encourage the American Veterinary Medical Association to endorse this policy is available at My guess is there will always be some animals euthanized at shelters.  I have asked many people in the field how many,  and virtually all of them give the same estimated bottom line:  about a million,  a third of the present volume.  Perhaps some of those could be saved too, but I personally think that if an animal is incurably sick,  in pain,  vicious,  or just plain too old and infirm to live a quality life,  it is a kindness to put the animal down.   Many of us have had to do this for our own pets,  though it is always an agonizing decision. If  we can get shelter intakes down enough,  without throwing all the unwanted cats out on the streets,   especially by spaying/neutering cats prior to first heat––and work on humane education––we could go a long way in the next three to five years.  As public policy,  mass killing did not work.   But,  like it or not,  there are still not enough good homes for all of the cats and dogs born.  That leaves birth prevention as a necessity,  which has been working and needs to continue.  We need to hear from the people who understand this principle––and we need to intensify those efforts,  not abandon them. ––Esther Mechler, Marian’s Dream P.O. Box 365, Brunswick,  ME 04011 Phone:  203-293-7729 <> <> [Involved in animal advocacy since 1974,  Esther Mechler either founded or helped to cofound nine organizations of  national prominence,  eight of which either still exist or have active descendants.  Founding Spay/USA in 1990,  Mechler retired as executive director in 2008.]

Turning animals away from shelters merely hides the killing

The logic of the California “Blueprint for Ending Euthanasia of Healthy Companion Animals,”  seeking to end shelter killing by recommending that shelters should refuse to accept surrendered animals,  would not hold up if applied to human services:  we learned as a society,  long ago,  that closing soup kitchens and rescue missions does not prevent hunger and homelessness. The “Blueprint” recommendations are especially ominous for cats,  and ignores the tragic outcomes already seen where closed-door policies or high surrender fees are in effect,  and have encouraged people to simply dump unwanted animals.  Why would we adopt policies leading to more of this behavior? Too many no-kill activists seem to think that the former pet cats who are found starving,  the cruelty often inflicted on cats who never learned to hunt and try to beg on the wrong doorsteps,  and the huge number of hoarders who prey on these animals are incidental collateral damage and an insignificant aside to all the good they feel they are doing. To suggest that healthy animals who have had homes are better off on the streets than entering a shelter ignores the reality that animals on the streets are obviously unable to access a safety net on their own if things go wrong.  Any plan that leaves domestic animals without care and without a safety net is missing a big part of the equation. An obsessive fear of death has turned the need to develop infrastructure for animals upside down by claiming that animals are better off with no infrastructure at all.  This is especially odd to hear at this point in time,  when shelter killing has steadily decreased over the last four decades,  parallel to exponentially increasing numbers of sterilization clinics,  shelters,  adoption centers,  and volunteer rehoming networks. To fulfill the “Blueprint” recommendations,  cats would need to be exempted from the protections of abandonment statutes.  Even the need to improve law enforcement response in neglect and abandonment cases would be brought into question.  This is not progress for animal welfare. Slamming the shelter door in the faces of animals who have no one to care for them does not prevent killing;  it merely hides it,  and allows the suffering and deaths of these animals to be prolonged and significantly more gruesome.  Any number of cats starving is not acceptable,  especially after an alternative was sought and denied to the cats.  There are no checks and balances once animals are turned away,  taken and dumped somewhere out of sight and out of mind of the shelter personnel who congratulate themselves for preventing the cats from dying in a shelter. We would not close battered women’s shelters on Saturday nights and blithely claim to be reducing domestic violence. Denying victims open access to a safety net does not resolve the need for one. ––Ruth Steinberger, Director,  Spay First Inc. 7949 S. I-35 Service Rd., Oklahoma City,  OK 73149 Phone:  580-326-4100 <> <>

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