To hear proponents of “no-kill” talk, one would conclude that the only reason why animals in shelters are euthanized is because open-admission shelter workers just haven’t closed their eyes, clicked their heels, and wished hard enough. They hold up so-called “no-kill communities” around the country as “models,” but are these communities really as successful as “no-kill” proponents claim? The answer again and again is a resounding no:
• After the Hillsborough County, Florida, shelter adopted a “low-kill” policy, it became so crowded that dogs and cats started getting sick and dying. “If someone from Animal Services came to my home and inspected my home and my dogs lived in the conditions that exist in this county [shelter], they would confiscate every one of my dogs and shut down my rescue,” said a man who runs a local bulldog and boxer rescue group.
• Things got so bad at the “no-kill” Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary in Kent County, Delaware (where pro–”no-kill” legislation was passed in 2010 with disastrous results for animals and taxpayers), that the county government revoked its dog-control contract. “The problem is your business model. It doesn’t work. It’s not going to work,” one county commissioner told Safe Haven. The head of the Kent County SPCA, the state’s largest open-admission shelter, said, “The expectation of our community is that every animal will be saved, but there’s not enough money to pay for it.”
• In San Antonio, thousands of stray animals are suffering and dying on the streets, a predictable result when “no-kill” shelters turn away animals because they are full or refuse to accept strays—a common limited-admission “strategy.” San Antonio Animal Care Services (ACS) is documented in a PETA video exposé; turning away a desperate visitor seeking shelter for a pit bull she could no longer keep. After the visitor explained that she had visited ACS several times but had been turned away at the door and that other area shelters wouldn’t accept her dog, an ACS representative told her that “there’s nothing that really that I can do for you. We’re not taking owner surrenders right now.” Animal Care Officer Thomas Stowers reported, “Public Works scrapes over 30,000 dogs from the sidewalks and streets because they’ve been hit by cars … this is euthanasia by proxy, and it’s cruel.”
To keep their euthanasia numbers low, “no-kill” shelters choose to take in only adoptable animals, turn away most other animals, charge exorbitant surrender fees, require appointments weeks or months in advance to surrender animals, and refuse to offer euthanasia services for gravely sick and injured animals whose guardians can’t afford to go to a veterinary clinic. It’s easy not to euthanize animals you’ve turned your back on. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t die—they do, just somewhere else, often in a prolonged, painful way after suffering and experiencing some kind of trauma.
Many “no-kill” shelters warehouse animals in cages and crates (not really a life at all) indefinitely—sometimes for years—which makes animals depressed, withdrawn, aggressive, and even less adoptable as well as causing disease outbreaks. “No-kills” also put animals at risk by doing whatever they can to get animals out the door—waiving adoption fees, eliminating screening procedures, and passing off animals to disreputable “rescue groups,” unscreened foster homes, and hoarders.
This is not a humane or even a nonlethal solution. The animals are still dying—they’re just not being allowed to die peacefully and with dignity.
The answer, of course, lies in prevention. Instead of focusing on the end result—euthanasia—we need to focus on how so many animals get to this point in the first place. Instead of putting thousands of dollars and full-time care into helping one dog who is injured or ill, we must save far, far more by aggressively targeting breeders, puppy mills, and pet stores—;as well as the people who buy from them, only to decide weeks, months, or years later that their purebred dog or cat is “inconvenient.” We must make it nearly impossible not to spay or neuter every dog and cat so that there are no more “oops” litters, no more unwanted puppies and kittens, fewer animals who will need homes. We must make it unthinkable to do anything else but adopt an animal from a shelter. That is how we will solve the homeless-animal crisis—by focusing on their lives, not on their deaths.