The “no-kill” movement was an idea born on the right side of the tracks. Its ethos is certainly sound enough; almost everyone agrees that shelter animals who are not irremediably suffering in some way should at least have the right to their very lives. After all, a lot of these animals (some would place the estimate near 50%) were once someone’s loyal companion, and for the most part, the rest of them never really did anything to anybody.
Unlike many other animal rights issues, the no-kill concept of sheltering has a swelling wind of public support at its back. Good people don’t condone killing defenseless companion animals, even if they haven’t quite figured out where they land on the ethics of killing defenseless domestic animals of other species.
And like the growing number of shelters that are taking on no-kill characteristics, the public is expressing a willingness to do anything it takes to end the killing of healthy shelter animals in their communities. Anything but take physical possession of animals who aren’t highly-adoptable.
A recent survey released by Best Friends Animal Society indicates a significant disconnect between the way people feel about shelter animals, and the ways in which they’re willing to help them:
“Approximately 95% of Americans believe shelter animals are lovable and sweet (86% are very likely to recommend that someone adopt an animal companion from a shelter). However, 1/3 find shelter animals to be less desirable than those from breeders or pet stores – including almost half of young adults,“ Best Friends says.
It turns out that a lot of companion animals may have attributes that are counterproductive to the no-kill mission, at least in the eyes of the public. According to the survey, “six in ten Americans still feel that shelter animals are poorly behaved, malnourished and unhealthy.”
Which might explain the growing trend among no-kill shelters to establish ways of limiting their admissions. No-kill shelters always have the option of limiting their admissions to control their euthanasia rates, unlike open-admission municipal shelters that take any and all animals upon presentation. No-kill shelters that accept municipal contracts to handle a community’s strays, might not be contractually obligated to take owner-surrendered animals from the community. Limiting the intake of owner-surrendered animals is almost always in a no-kill shelter’s arsenal, and when it comes to keeping their euthanasia rates low, they’re not afraid to use it.
In February of 2013, the city of Austin issued its quarterly report, stating that things were looking good for Austin Animal Services. As America’s largest open-admission publicly-funded no-kill shelter system, Austin Animal Services claimed that shelters were serving the jurisdiction’s animals, and that Austin was still on-track as a no-kill community. When June came, Austin announced that its shelters were over capacity by at least 100 kennels, and for the first time in their no-kill history, shelters were closing their doors to owner-surrendered animals. Last week, Austin Animal Services issued a statement that Austin is buckling under the strain of its sheltering thousands of kittens and cats, and until further notice, the city’s shelter doors are closed to owner-surrendered cats and kittens.
And if ending the euthanasia of healthy animals is the goal, then limiting intake makes a lot of sense. But there are certainly more responsible ways of doing it than closing shelter doors to vulnerable community animals. In fact, history tells us that the single most effective method of reducing shelter intake, and euthanasia by default, is providing community access to affordable spay and neuter services.
According to statistics gathered by the Humane Society of the United States, animals entering American animal shelters today have a 90% greater chance at survival than animals entering shelters in the 1970’s:
“In the 1970s, American shelters euthanized 12-20 million dogs and cats, at a time when there were 67 million pets in homes. Today, shelters euthanize around 2.7 million animals, while there are more than 135 million dogs and cats in homes.” This staggering decline coincides with the advent of the low-cost spay and neuter clinic, private veterinarians promoting spay and neuter as part of general wellness programs for animals, and growing public acceptance of the procedure.
The math is pretty simple. While the number of companion animals in American households has nearly doubled, the percentage of companion animals in American households has remained fairly constant. Meaning, people aren’t adopting more animals, fewer animals are entering shelters in the first place–because of ease of access to affordable spay and neuter programs. And comprehensive spay and neuter programs don’t just keep unwanted kittens and puppies from being born to enter shelters, altering adolescent animals helps keep animals who already have homes, in those homes.
There’s a method to the genius, of course. “Spay and Neuter” campaigns need to become “Spay and Neuter Early” campaigns, to prevent even single unwanted litters. And identifying and serving the portion of the population that doesn’t consider the current spay and neuter offerings either “accessible,” or “affordable,” is vital.
Which is exactly what some animal protection organizations have been doing for years, even before the no-kill movement underscored the writing on the wall. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals implements community-based programs that identify and serve pockets of the Hampton Roads region that are typically unaccessed by conventional spay and neuter outreach. By way of three fully-staffed mobile spay and neuter clinics, PETA’s Community Animal Project staff and volunteers take spay and neuter into the communities themselves, even providing animal carriers and transport to and from mobile clinics, when necessary. And they’re highly successful at it. So far, the organization has spayed almost 96,000 animals in free and low cost clinics.
So while out-of-touch no-kill proponents are planning the next surreal phase of the movement; finding ways to store unwanted animals into perpetuity (seriously folks, they’re talking about going there), PETA and a lot of other amazing activists are fighting companion animal homelessness at its source.
“I ask for the privilege of not being born; until you can and will assure me of a safe, loving, lifelong home and a human caretaker who will love me, protect me, keep me healthy and safe from harm, and never forfeit or abandon me; until you can assure me a right to live as long as I am able to enjoy life; until my body and heart are precious and men have ceased to exploit, neglect, abuse or discard me because I am cheap and plentiful, I beg of you, please, not to be born.” Anonymous
A request we have both the capacity and moral obligation to honor.