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How ‘Saving’ Animals at All Costs Can Be a Dangerous Proposition

Written by Ingrid Newkirk | September 11, 2013

All across the country, people are hearing calls to raise the “save rate” at animal shelters. But beware: As warm and fuzzy as that sounds, a shelter’s high “save” rate does not reduce by one puppy or kitten the number of unwanted animals born every minute in private homes, in puppy mills, in breeders’ kennels and catteries, on the street or under a porch. In fact, it can increase that number, to the detriment of dogs, cats, taxpayers and law-enforcement officials.

Shockingly, pressure to raise shelter “save rates” actually increases the “pet” overpopulation crisis. How? To reduce the number of animals it euthanizes, a shelter must reduce the number of animals it takes in by charging high “surrender” fees, putting people on waiting lists, sending unsterilized animals to “foster” homes and more. Many people cannot afford high fees, and those evicted from their own homes or entering a women’s shelter or nursing home can’t wait for weeks or months for their animal to be admitted.

Cities learn the hard way that to play the “high-save-rate” game, something has to give. Because the number of homeless animals far exceeds the number of available homes, no matter what is done to try to conjure up more adopters, facilities are always full. Sick, injured, old, aggressive and other “unadoptable” animals are turned away – since accepting them would hurt the “save” statistics.

Shelter operating hours are also often reduced to decrease intake, leaving anyone who can’t take time off during the day out of luck. Elderly people on a fixed income and others who cannot afford the fees charged by veterinarians for euthanasia are left with nowhere to take their old and ailing dog or cat for a merciful release.

In San Antonio, Texas, where the shelter has gone “no-kill” and many strays are left to fend for themselves, animal wardens report that thousands of stray animals are breeding, forming packs and dying on the streets, with more than 28,000 dog and cat bodies scraped up in the last year alone.

Shelters trying to achieve a high “save” rate invariably stop requiring verification that previous animal companions have received veterinary care and stop conducting even basic home checks – vital safeguards that prevent animals from falling into the hands of people with evil intentions. And animals are handed over to anyone who can “foster” them, including to animal hoarders who stack cages in their house, basement or garage. This situation creates nightmarish scenarios, such as the recent Florida case in which 100 cats burned to death inside individual plastic crates, unable to flee as the plastic melted onto them, and the Angel’s Gate “animal hospice” in New York, where police found caged animals who had died in agony without veterinary care. Every week brings news of more little houses of horror.

Shelters that cram more animals into runs and cages than can safely be accommodated become so severely crowded that the dogs fight and injure themselves, the cats contract upper respiratory infections and disease outbreaks sicken healthy animals, as has happened in Washington, D.C., and is happening in Hillsborough and Miami-Dade counties in Florida now. In Austin, Texas, the city shelter stopped accepting cats and then, two weeks later, dogs. Where do they all go? In parts of Oregon where shelters have stopped accepting stray cats, they go into the woods or into a bucket of water.

There are literally hundreds more unwanted animals born every minute of every day. Once every available home or basement has been filled with animals from the shelter, where are all the new animals and their litters going to go?

What’s a community to do? To truly save dogs’ and cats’ lives, let’s reject this shelter “save-rate” nonsense and get to the root of the problem: the population explosion. Open-admission shelters, solid animal-control services, community education and reduced-cost spay-and-neuter programs are the keys to a real “save” rate.

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  • Ann Carter says:

    My dog was just days away from being euthanized. She had been at that shelter for four years and only made it that long because the staff advocated for her life. Unfortunately, they had a new director and he decided that it was time for her to go. After reading this article, I looked over at my sweetie and wondered if she would have rather been put down than stay those years at that horrible shelter. I really wonder if she would say “Yes, I would have rather died” or “No, because even though I was stuck in that terrible place, I had a chance because I was still alive”. I totally understand being euthanized when they are in too much pain or too sick and the only merciful thing to do is end their suffering but I am not sure how to feel about this. I completely understand the reasoning of this article and in many ways I agree however, I feel that the fact that they want to save these is a great start. I think that if these organizations want to save them we need to look at ways that we could make their quality of life better but I have also seen the horrors of some these shelters, so like I said, I don’t know…

  • Elizabeth welty says:

    I share and sign petitions cause that the only thing i can do to help animals until i get off my feet and go back to work. I look at my cats and cyr for the animals who suffer to death cause the world don’t listen to post or scare of the images . Moat people feel like they are being attacked when i tell them their not better then the people who cause the suffering . If they don’t help sign petitions , donate , and share animal cruelty post. It makes the mad and sad cause i can’t say more to get them to help and nightmares of the images i see after signing the petitions. All i can do is pray and sign .

  • Nora Marasco says:

    I DO NOT KNOW OF ANY SHELTER THAT DOES NOT SPAY OR NEUTER THE DOGS AND CATS IT TAKES IN AND THEN ADOPTS. IF A SHELTER DOES NOT HAVE THAT AUTOMATIC SPAY AND NEUTER POLICY,THAT IS THE PROBLEM.NOT THE LESSER NUMBER OF DOGS AND CATS “EUTHANIZED” WHICH IS A TERM THAT SHOULD NOT BE USED FOR ANY ANIMALS THAT ARE GASSED TO THEIR DEATHS, AS THAT IS NOT “EUTHANIZING”. GET INFORMED AND WAKE UP TO REALITY WORLD.

  • James Noe says:

    Well said. I have a background in animal sheltering, and am appalled that shelter administrators are taking the easy road of no-kill while turning their backs on the animals they are supposed to care for. It’s easy to conclude they don’t give a damn or they would open their doors and get back to the basics, even if that includes euthanasia, and finding donors who will fund affordable spay/neuter programs. Their boards of directors are equally at fault, and should review their charters and by-laws to see why they were formed in the first place.

  • Oscar says:

    Well, as always, ethics become muddied by politics. I do agree that assisted dying for sentient beings in pain (whether it’s dogs, cats or humans) is the ethical thing to do. But the question is, who has which interest and what to gain (we have to accept that we do not live in a perfect world where everybody behaves ethically, but in fact most people are horribly unethical). Basically, by a similar motivation that a greedy person might be inclined to be biased against their elderly relative when it comes to euthanasia, there might be incentives for some people to aggressively “clean the streets” by broadening the definition of suffering. For the former (in countries where euthanasia of humans is legal if done to alleviate pain) we have sophisticated safeguards in place (firstly, the medical personnel and ultimately the legal system). Of course these are not perfect, but there are some. My question is, what safeguards are in place in the case of non-human animals (or if there are none, which do you propose)? Thanks, Oscar

  • Julia Jones says:

    Thank you for the education! This is NOT helping the innocent animals. As I look at my three rescued cats, I can’t help but think how incredibly lucky they are. Life with no quality is no life at all. You changed my mind completely.

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