Jumping back into the river does not stop the flow of homeless animals

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  November/December 2013:

Concerning “Ethicist addresses making euthanasia decisions in a no-kill context,”  in the October 2013 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE,  I find it bizarre that Jasper the Staffordshire’s fate boils down to a football score set of numbers.  I’m no ethicist,  but as someone intimately and actively familiar with animal shelter euthanasia for the past 43 years,  it is clear to me that our industry’s spay/neuter efforts have resulted not only in fewer surplus animals but also in an unexpected but positive consequence of making the lives of dogs and cats more valuable.   Your article makes me wonder if in the future euthanasia decisions will get crunched in a computerized algorithm. I had my own brain-powered decision-making process back in late-70s – early-80s when I was shelter supervisor at the Multnomah County Animal Control center outside Portland,  Oregon.  We were putting down 70+ dogs and cats nearly every day.  I was the one who decided who lived and who died.  I crunched the numbers that predicted the likelihood of the animal being reclaimed or adopted:  incoming date and age,  plus health,  temperament,  breed,  sex,  even the color of the animal’s fur.  Then I marked a large felt pen “X” on the kennel card for those who would be killed during third shift.  More often than not,  the length-of-stay number trumped everything else,  as we were always crammed full.   The cages made available each day on the third shift were always refilled during the next two shifts.  During those years in our community there were no rescue groups,  no inter-agency cooperation,  no limited admission shelters,  nor any ethicists working on animal issues.  But,  fortunately,  spay/neuter clinics were just starting up. I’m heartened that animals are more valued—they always have been valued to me.  And I’m encouraged that our job of killing unwanted surplus animals is nearly finished,  meaning “nearly” within the context of the past 50 years.  But I am saddened and frustrated at the polarization within our industry that has driven a wedge between caring,  compassionate individuals and the solution (S/N + time). This brings me to comment on your September 2013 editorial “Successful neuter/return must recognize reality,”  and the two commentaries that followed it,  “Spay/USA founder Esther Mechler critiques the California Sheltering.org ‘white paper’” and “Turning animals away from shelters merely hides the killing,”  by Spay First founder Ruth Steinberger. In George Orwell’s classic dystopian fairy tale Animal Farm,  a founder of the new society declares “all animals are equal,  but some animals are more equal than others.”  This seems to be the trend in the new millennium world of animal sheltering,  where stray cats are declared better off fending for themselves on the streets and only the young,  cute and easily rehomable are given shelter.  Because killing animals is not an option,  the public is told there is no room for animals they wish to surrender,  and to take their animals elsewhere to an uncertain fate. In the mid-1970s,  a keynote speaker at a humane society conference inspired me to discover that my personal and professional raison d’être was to help animals––not just a select few animals,  but all of them.  My reason for existence was clear and the animal shelter was the vehicle that would carry my passion these past 43 years.  And in those terrible years of overpopulation,  millions upon millions of dogs and cats were put to death in animal shelters every year.  This horror inspired me to write an allegory about endless human babies floating down a river.  The compassionate human,  I wrote,  would immediately leap into the river to save them.  But as they rescued one from the river a thousand floated to their doom.  So the compassionate human got out of the river and went upstream to find out where and why they were falling in. Due to the tireless efforts of compassionate individuals and groups,  that endless flow of dogs and cats has been slowed to a trickle by high volume,  high quality,  low cost spay/neuter programs. It has taken forty years and we are nearly at the point where shelter intakes of healthy animals equal live exits.  But alas,  in this new millennium,  many of my colleagues have jumped back into the river:  they save a few,  close their eyes and their minds,  and let the rest float to their fate.  Any life is better than death they say.  We dare not take every animal into our shelters,  they say,  lest we be forced to put a dog or a cat to death. One consequence of restricted-admission animal shelters is that pet keepers who no longer want their pet and who are refused at the local animal shelter resort to any and all other options to rehome their pet,  including online venues like “Craig’s List,” and posting and cross-posting desperate pleas for someone to take their animal,  or delegating the job to shelterless rescuers––and when “someone” offers to take the pet,  the people desperately trying to rehome the animal may not look closely at the new home. Another consequence is that animals accepted by limited admission facilities are now all too often given a life sentence in a cage,  kennel,  home room,  or habitat––call it what you want.  These cages are missing the element that companion animals need for their well-being:  a home with a loving and caring human being. In this age of marketing,  we are told there is a home for every animal,  that animal shelter killing is unnecessary unless the animal must be euthanized due to intractable injury or illness.  Even truly dangerous animals are being rehomed,  with and without liability waivers.  And when they attack a member of their new family,  we shrug our shoulders and our responsibility.  We are told that adoption,  not spay/neuter,  is the solution.  We are told that if we can just increase our adoption market share,  then no animal need ever be killed. Spay/neuter work is not finished.  There is still an oversupply of the types of animals being killed in shelters,  and until supply and demand get into sync,  the killing will continue. ––Doug Fakkema Charleston,  South Carolina <dkfakkema@aol.com>

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