Friday, August 22, 2014

The Shelter Epidemic

 The numbers are an estimate. I literally can't provide the facts, because the U.S. doesn't keep track of this, but here are the numbers according to the Humane Society:

Over half of all the animals are adopted, but still, those are some pretty grim numbers. They aren't even accurate within several million. Think of all the pets in your life whom you have loved. Now multiply that a million times. This is the number of healthy, adoptable pets put to sleep in shelters, including many puppies and pregnant dogs put down in shelters because they have no system in place, and the killing is completely arbitrary and chronological.

This is the data; the question that is raised is, how will you look at it? I have made a commitment to being positive in any situation. Every thing which seems negative only serves to teach you a valuable life lesson you use later on down the line. However, it is truly a challenge to view a massacre like this and stay upbeat.

Experience teaches that positive views breed positive results. In this spirit, let's begin by examining the most positive perspectives first.

Best Friends Animal Society tackles the issue with calm, positive professionalism. They realize that not everyone in the world is committed to this issue, and some people and shelters don't even care. Instead of being outraged by this, they continue showing leadership, guidance, support, and most importantly, results. They prove that no-kill works, let the results speak for themselves, and assist people and shelters in achieving the goal. Here is a quote from their website:

“The problem is a big one, no question...but we believe it’s possible to make this senseless killing a thing of the past.”

Here is the Facebook page of BFAS.

Meanwhile, another group represents a bizarre blend: positive encouragement and self-admitted public condemnation of the organizations they are opposed to; powerful strategies to encourage shelter reform and shock value which may scare people away from adopting or volunteering with county shelters, period; intense, accurate information on the problems at hand, and pages of unsubstantiated hearsay of the “Oh God I hope it isn't true” persuasion. 
This is the No Kill Advocacy Center, and I pray that they meet new success in shelter reform, but I also really wish they would give factual information on the things they post on their Tour page. As it stands, it's nothing more than a list of complaints with no attribution for the photos, which are likely sourced from various image search engines. I could just as easily write down a list of the good things I've seen in shelters. With 3,500 county shelters alone, and many more private ones and rescues, obviously there are going to be people and entire shelters in the good, bad, and “Satan incarnate” categories. 
At any given shelter, you have a workforce of apathetic workers who just need money bad, caring workers who want to make a difference for animals, volunteers who want to help animals in need, and volunteers who are just happy not to be in jail instead.

The NKAC Tour page also provides links to videos on the processes of euthanasia used by animal shelters. I won't provide the links directly, because I'm not man enough to click on them. Someday I'm going to have to, if I want to have first-hand knowledge, or else I'll just rest content just believing what people say, that it perfectly painless and humane.

Here is the Facebook page of NKAC.

Finally, you have the negative perspective, endorsed by the No Kill Coalition. They seem to be entirely web-based, and they are supportive of the frameworks put in place by the NKAC. However, instead of focusing on success stories, adopted pets, pets available for adoption, and shelters which do want to improve, they often slander kill shelters on Facebook. 

It is indeed true that many shelters deserve only condemnation; however, expressing hatred serves to deter the public from having any interest in adopting an animal from a public shelter. It deters potential volunteers and fosters who would rather have nothing to do with an organization like that... which in turn could result in losing the lives of shelter animals, rather than saving them. I don't fully understand how a popular group like NKC can believe that behaving in such a non-professional, jejune manner will help them win any support for no-kill. Here is an excerpt from their Facebook page today:

“Rather than taking simple steps that would save them - foster programs, working with rescues, off-site adoptions, etc... The kill system would rather hold them for a few days with minimal care, and then murder them when their time is up.

The No Kill Equation WORKS, yet the killers refuse to consider it. They resist reform efforts and continue killing indiscriminately.

We have to force them to change. For the little ones.


Well. I'm glad they are promoting the NKAC and their useful toolkit and no-kill and all, but, really, how is this helping anything? 

They have no rational reason to pretend like the majority of shelters eagerly want to kill animals. Many public shelters do want to reduce the kill rates, but most don't have any idea how to. This posting completely ignores that. It doesn't motivate more people and more shelters; it enrages more people and more shelters. It doesn't promote reform; it attracts hate and derision. 

As far as the shelters that fit this description are concerned, imagine, for a moment, that you are a shelter director who has no passion or sympathy for animal life. Would you even care about the silly ramblings of a random group on Facebook? Or, for that matter, the government. Does anyone seriously expect them to get this mess cleaned up by tomorrow? Unless you're thinking of a political tomorrow, as in, ten years from now, maybe, the proposed policies will be admissible and no-kill will be endorsed, pending further analytical review and however many years it takes to draft and pass a bill. 

The right action is to motivate, inspire, lead, and pave the way with a foundation of no-kill public shelters, rather than with flung stones. Yet, despite their passion, the NKC fails to do this. They just debase and hate. This doesn't make people like them or their cause, however good it is, and it results in losing supporters rather than in winning them.

Personally, I'm overwhelmed that it's possible for all shelters to become no-kill. I didn't realize that even Las Vegas and Austin, two places I sincerely don't see allotting very much money or media attention to their animal services department, have dropped down to the no-kill ranks, and with severely limiting budgets (in part because no-kill is actually more cost effective. It just takes more effort and work.) I mean, I've got to be honest. As outspoken about animals as I am, when I think of Vegas, I don't automatically think of the homeless pets who die there daily, playing their own lottery, which is currently rigged in their favor.

Just over a hundred years ago, society was perfectly comfortable with animal pounds beating, starving, choking, drowing, shooting, and neglecting animals. There were few regulations. Many shelters were piled with waste, the cages literally crammed full of animals with nothing to sleep on but concrete, and if they didn't get along in those conditions, they were allowed to tear each other apart. It was just like in Lady and the Tramp, only with all the G-rated censoring taken out. 
Through the efforts and passion of animal lovers worldwide, things have changed. In America, the Animal Welfare Act was passed, but I'm not alone when I say that it's outdated. It's time for reform. No kill is not a pipe dream. Shelters don't have to kill animals because of overpopulation. It works, and it's more effective than mass euthanasia.

I won't be able to assess the claims made until I have more personal life experience, but it would seem that the real reason why no kill isn't practiced is because it's too much work. Killing the animals saves time and energy. It doesn't require being active and marketing the animals. It doesn't require much more than giving them the federally outlined housing, food, and exercise requirements, and then killing however many the shelter administration sees fit, without even a system in place. No federal law prevents a disgruntled shelter worker from arranging to have a noisy dog put down because it is annoying. Public shelters don't have to put out the time and energy to become no-kill, and so some don't; it has nothing to do with overpopulation.

Thankfully, many shelters aren't like this. The administration and staff do work hard, every day, to keep the place open longer hours, reaching out through simple social media posts and e-mailing to a network of fosters and rescue organizations, making sure the special-needs dogs, the ones who have suffered at human hands, aren't put down first but are put in the right home first, and spending the effort required to get more pets adopted.

One thing is absolutely certain: If the laws change in favor of no-kill paradigms, then there cannot be any more infamous high-kill shelters in America. 
Here is the Declaration of the No-Kill Movement of the United States.

Thank you for reading my blog, and God bless.

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