How Many Animals Died For ‘No-Kill’ Law

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3 min read

Lawmakers who are considering legislation based on the philosophy of the bogus “no-kill” movement should look closely at the disastrous results of California’s Hayden Law, as Phyllis M. Daugherty details in the first of a series of articles for Opposing Views about limited-admission (“no-kill”) shelters.

Dangerous overcrowding is a common
problem at no-kill shelters.

Making Matters Worse

As Daugherty makes clear, the Hayden Law was put together by lawyers and aides with no experience running animal shelters. And it shows: The bill did nothing to curb breeding (the real cause of the animal overpopulation crisis); instead, it took away shelters’ ability to make the critical decisions needed to keep the animals healthy by controlling the spread of contagious diseases and to give the most adoptable animals the best chance of finding a home through necessary means, including euthanasia of less adoptable animals.

Under the Hayden Law, shelters couldn’t euthanize the animals they took in unless the animals were already to the point of death—even if that meant enduring prolonged suffering from diseases or injuries that made them unlikely prospects for adoption. Fortunately, this constraint was recently suspended but not before wreaking havoc on animals, shelters (along with their staffers and volunteers), and state budgets.

California’s animal shelters continue to be required to surrender any animal scheduled for euthanasia—no matter how aggressive or otherwise unadoptable—to any group claiming to be a “rescue” organization upon request, which forces them to continue to house the animals until they are claimed (up to two weeks later) and puts adoptive guardians at risk from animals with a known tendency toward aggressive behavior. Daugherty describes how 20 percent of one animal shelter was occupied by pit bulls awaiting pickup by one such organization, leaving less room for animals who might have had a good chance of adoption but instead were euthanized because of a lack of space.

A Terrible Toll

It is tragic and ironic that the law cheered on by misguided “no-kill” advocates like Nathan Winograd ended up costing animals their lives; Daugherty reports that the North County Times, in an article titled, “Too Close for Comfort: New State Law Is Killing Animals,” explained how the law was “increasing the number of animals destroyed and reducing adoptions …”

While this is sad, it isn’t really surprising. As Daugherty notes, “no-kill” is a misnomer, since the refusal of limited-admission shelters to accept the responsibility of euthanasia means that they fill up quickly, leaving the turned-away animals to be taken to open-admission shelters (merely shifting the burden of euthanasia) or, worse, to be simply abandoned to face disease, traffic, starvation, predators, and other dangers.

Limited-admission shelters also tend to attract animal hoarders who take in far more animals than they can possibly care for. PETA’s undercover investigation of South Carolina’s now-defunct Sacred Vision Animal Sanctuary—which was really just a front for a hoarder—produced evidence that finally prompted authorities to rescue hundreds of caged cats who had been suffering through a living nightmare of constant filth, disease, and injuries.

Avoidance Won’t Fix the Problem

We all want to see the number of euthanized animals decreased, but the Hayden Law debacle shows that this goal can’t be accomplished just by making it nearly impossible for shelters to use euthanasia to address the current crisis. As one former shelter volunteer explained after visiting a shelter overburdened because of the restrictions imposed by the Hayden Law, “As I passed the kennels, each crammed with too many dogs and puppies, many of them sick or diseased, I was reminded again that euthanasia is not the worst thing that can happen.”

To become a truly no-kill nation, we must first become a no-birth nation by mandating spaying and neutering of dogs and cats to stop the flow of unwanted litters into our shelters. If you are concerned about euthanasia, you’ll do far more good by adopting a dog from an open-admission shelter or sponsoring a spay/neuter procedure for a cat than by supporting a limited-admission shelter. 

California Gov. Jerry Brown has announced plans to completely repeal the ill-advised Hayden Law, and let’s hope he succeeds—for the animals’ sake.

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