How smart animal shelters aim for zero kill.
December 23, 2015 8:59 PM   Subscribe

How smart animal shelters aim for zero kill. Some shelters are euthanizing far fewer animals than others, and it's not because they have more funding: they're adopting different, smarter practices, including feline Trap-Neuter-Return, emphasizing spay and neuter in communities, encouraging owner retention, and making adoptions easier. Initiatives like Target Zero and The Million Cat Challenge help make it possible for cities achieve greater live-release rates. "In five years, Jacksonville’s shelter went from saving less than 30 percent of its animals to saving 90 percent, including many more dogs than before."
posted by Violet Hour (10 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
My local dog warden chose last week to cease testing for "resource guarding" behavior, after finally determining that no, a dog not cheerfully surrendering his dinner is NOT enough to render him unfit for adoption.

Alas, it's too late for Bubba, who would have been called George if he had been allowed to join our family. He had been turned loose by a vengeful ex, we found him hanging out by our gate, snuffling and snorgling with The Hounds. We kept him for two days, plastering the neighborhood and Facebook with found dog notices. For two days, he slept in my bed with my Hounds, my husband, and me. He romped and wrestled and bounced and was so sweet! The husband insisted we turn him in, to give his person a chance to claim him. We would fetch him out after the 3 day hold expired.

On Day 2, his person contacted us. We pointed her to the dog warden. She didn't have the money to pay the fine for his retrieval and the unlicensed dog fee. We offered to give her the money, but she had signed the surrender papers, making him county property. On Day 3, we contacted the dog warden to arrange to adopt him. On Day 4, our request was denied. Bubba had failed the resource guarding test. We pleaded for his life, he had spent two days as part of our pack, we had only been trying to do right by both his person and our Hounds, so the three dogs would not bond, then be separated.

Bubba, who would have been George, a charming white APBT with a black eyepatch, was destroyed on Day 5, because he wouldn't willingly let the stupid human have his dinner. It was a shitty test. I am glad more shelters are jettisoning it.
posted by MissySedai at 10:01 PM on December 23, 2015 [27 favorites]


That is such a sad story. And infuriating. You are so right, It was a shitty test that only illustrates how incredibly dull witted and narrow minded humans can be sometimes. Poor George. I am so very sorry for you all.
posted by chance at 10:06 PM on December 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'd like to see an effort encouraging landlords to allow pets (with reasonable deposits) to live in their rental units. In tough markets like the Bay Area, moving too often means giving up a pet.
posted by cman at 11:23 PM on December 23, 2015 [9 favorites]

I'd like to see more than encouragement, I'd like to see legislation. It's been proposed in some places, but I don't know anywhere that it's actually passed.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:50 PM on December 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have no sympathy for Feral Cats - they have decimated the native wildlife in Australia and New Zealand. And it all seems rather absurd to me to care so much about some feral animals given the numbers of other animals that a killed on a daily basis for food.
posted by mary8nne at 2:50 AM on December 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

Totally agree with mary8nne. I LOVE cats, but feral cats are a blight and need to be caught and humanely euthanised. I guess spay-and-release is better than nothing but it just seems like such a waste of time and effort.

In fact, all of the obsession over no-kill and zero-kill seems like a direct result of the human urge towards anthropomorphising animals. Pretending dogs and cats have the same emotions and motivations as humans is foolish and doesn't serve to make the animals' lives better. Cats and dogs don't sit around in the shelter pining over the life they are going to miss out on if they are euthanised. They can't conceptualise their own mortality in a way that leads them to fear impending death at some nebulous time in the future. They're not children in some Dickensian orphanage trying desperately to impress potential parents. They are dogs and cats who live their own experience, which is not a human experience, and what they often do in no-kill shelter is live caged and lonely, for years on end, because they are too old, unattractive, or pit-bull to get adopted, or else they're passed on to standard shelters (kill shelters?) which are understaffed, over-subscribed, and where euthanisation is often anything but humane, due to some combination of ineptitude, apathy, lack of proper equipment, lack of training, etc.

Once a reasonable effort has been put into finding out if an animal is wanted (either by finding the owner who lost the animal, or through adoption - and believe me, people who work at shelters know which animals are adoptable and which are not), the animals should be given a treat and a scratch behind the ears and euthanised. Money, time, and effort saved should be directed towards the ideal of making shelters unnecessary, through regulation and education.
posted by cilantro at 5:03 AM on December 24, 2015 [9 favorites]

cilantro: "Money, time, and effort saved should be directed towards the ideal of making shelters unnecessary, through regulation and education."

I recently went to a talk by the Washington Humane Society here in DC (not affiliated with HSUS) and a lot of how they reduced their euthanasia rate is actually through doing exactly this. I was pretty impressed. They made the switch about ten years ago over from erring on the side of seizing animals to erring on the side of providing education about how to properly care for pets. Which, no surprise, mostly affected the same low-income black communities in DC that get screwed over by the city's government in every other conceivable way. WHS is now pretty committed to letting them keep their pets, and providing free/low-cost services to those communities. And anyway, more pets staying in homes = fewer pets in shelters. They do also do trap/neuter/release programs for cats but that's only a part of what changed.

(WHS also does a lot of our local animal control, so a zero-kill rate is completely inconceivable.)

Just anecdotally and unrelated to the shelter orgs' efforts, I've also seen a grassroots effort toward more pit bull adoption within DC's communities, and I see a lot more pit bulls and pit mixes around town than I ever used to (INCLUDING A TINY PUPPY THAT I GOT TO HOLD AND PET) so I really believe the stigma toward them is slowly eroding.
posted by capricorn at 6:00 AM on December 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

capricorn, I didn't realize there was an organized effort behind it, but now I think about it I've definitely been seeing more smiley friendly pitties around DC lately. They're always SO HAPPY to see me, it's great.

Also, I vaguely recall that there is, actually, sound logic behind trap-spay-release vs. euthanasia-- something like, if you trap-spay-release those cats compete with the unaltered cats for resources, limiting their ability to have more litters, but if you put them down the breeding rate just increases to replace them. Am I remembering that right?
posted by nonasuch at 7:02 AM on December 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

My understanding with the spay and release is definitely that they end up displacing the reproducing feral cats, and it's much better for everyone (except wildlife) to have a pool of spayed and human-tracked feral cats in one area. Wikipedia goes into a lot of detail about this policy.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:26 AM on December 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Nathan Winograd is also required reading on no kill. His book Redemption gives an overview of no kill policies and practices and how they've been implemented in different types of communities. He also addresses a lot of the arguments you'll see about no kill, including some of those about feral cat colonies that have come up. Some of the statistics you see about domestic cats vs. native wildlife are a little bit misleading, but I don't have the book in front of me to summarize.

The No Kill Advocacy Center also has a lot more information, including a simple introduction to the no kill equation, which is essentially just a collection of policies that are designed to reduce or eliminate shelter killings.

PETA hates no kill, predictably, but a lot of people in sheltering are pretty critical of it too, because it sort of flies in the face of some really fundamental premises and policies that they've internalized. One major problem is that there's a real sense of misanthropy that pervades a lot of animal welfare advocates. They're often more animal people than people people to begin with, and then, working with abused and abandoned animals, they see the worst in people.

I was talking about someone about that just a few weeks ago at a shelter I volunteer at. We have had exactly one case where an adopter ended up doing something stupid so we had to take the animal back in, and there was some discussion of taking measures to try to prevent that from happening again. But we've adopted out hundreds, maybe thousands of animals, and that's one who came back for bad reasons. Easily 99% of them go on to live long, happy lives with their new families, but we usually never hear about those ones again, because they're busy living their happy, fulfilled lives and all. It's easy and understandable, though, to react to the situation in front of you and to forget about all the things that aren't.

It is understandable that people get protective of the animals and tend not to trust people, but ultimately, that attitude ends up hurting everyone. Advocating for domestic animals IS advocating for people. You need education and resources to find and keep homes for animals. To find rentals and services for people so they don't need to relinquish their pets, to educate and help out new adopters to adjust, and to encourage volunteers and other assistance. Some shelters make it difficult or even impossible for community members to volunteer to help out. Lots of people can and want to help, but they get turned away.

You'll never get far if you feel like your mission is to separate people and pets, and for no kill to mean anything, it has to be a community thing, not just an individual shelter. As long as you've got a facility in your community that is killing animals you don't have room for, being no kill is almost meaningless.

Unfortunately, there's been a lot of smearing of no kill policies from PETA and a few other entrenched organizations, so it's difficult to even find shelters talking about it. The Asilomar accords are a fairly good measure of shelter killing for shelters who keep those records, but most organizations avoid actually using the term "no kill" because of the smear campaigns.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:23 AM on December 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

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