The “no kill” movement’s insistence on making euthanasia statistics the supreme measure of an animal shelter’s worth is misguided and dangerous, and has yielded some inhumane consequences. Under extreme pressure to lower euthanasia numbers, shelters have begun turning away owners seeking to surrender pets, or have drastically raised turn-in fees. This has led to an increase in animals simply abandoned in parks or on the streets. Callers on our hotline have even reported being told to release strays back where they found them.
On the adoption side, pressure to increase live release rates leads to lowering standards. Screening is relaxed. Animals are given away for free or at very low cost, as if valueless. Desperate to improve their numbers, shelter staffs sometimes ignore obvious warning signs of animal hoarders posing as rescuers, and release pets to lives of immeasurable suffering and neglect.
“Community Cat” programs, where unowned cats are sterilized and returned to where they were found, may make sense in areas where they are welcomed by residents and have people committed to feeding them and providing medical care when necessary. Without these accommodations, this type of program is simply abandonment.
Yes, shelters can, and should, do everything possible to find good homes for their charges, to educate the public on animal issues, to provide a safe environment and proper care to each animal that comes to them, to protect them from suffering. These things are within their power.
It is not, however, within their power to control how many animals will show up at their door each day, week, month and year, or the condition they will be in when they do. The societal changes needed to create a community where every companion animal born is valued and cared for take time, but they are happening. Focusing on enforcement of Long Beach’s progressive spay and neuter laws, providing affordable pet sterilization, and increasing humane education efforts at every level are key. Meanwhile, it is wise to remember that there are fates far worse than euthanasia.