People get a certain satisfaction from adopting their pet from a “kill shelter.” It congers up some notion of a last-minute reprieve from death. It gives the person something to feel good about themselves. Unfortunately, it also gives in the impression that animals are safe in a no-kill shelter. That is not the case. Many shelters are understaffed and overcrowded. Many modern-day shelters are little more than hoarding facilities. The lives of animals border on inhumane. Shelter managers are faced with a hard decision about whether it is better to house animals in inhumane conditions or euthanize them. Either decision will bring public criticism.
I was once referred to as being old school. I suspect that meant that I adhered to the notion that public safety was our first priority in providing animal sheltering. I suppose that is true, I always believed that humans had to come first, but not at the expense of our treatment of animals.
During the no-kill movement, public safety has and still does take second place. Animal Control programs have geared themselves toward saving the lives of animals ahead of providing public safety. This is manifested in shelters closing their doors to public animal intakes and encouraging officers to stop picking up stray animals on the streets. Communities are less safe now.
In Virginia, the notion of saving all animals caused animal shelters and rescue groups to start lying about the behavior of their animals so as to overcome any potential objection that an adopter might have in obtaining a potentially dangerous dog. The problem got so large that the Commonwealth of Virginia had to legislate laws that prohibited shelter personnel from lying about an animal’s previous history. In Fairfax Virginia, shelter personnel were put at risk because they were forced to care for dangerous animals that the shelter refused to euthanize. From an “old school” perspective, the no-kill movement turned us all stupid.
After all of these years in the “business,” it looks like they haven’t taken the old school out of me. As I watch news coverage of shelters being investigated for animal abuse, I think it is time that the animal welfare profession begins to put some old school back into their policies. We need to do everything that we can to save as many pets as possible, but not at the expense of the animal’s welfare or public safety.
Animal shelters are committing animal cruelty and neglect, believing that they are doing it for the good of the animal. If we are going to save an animal, we need to provide that animal with a humane life. Animals need to stop being statistics and start being cared for.
My personal philosophy was to treat each animal as if it were my own pet. As a shelter manager, you need to decide that if you cannot do that, then you are probably overcrowded and should look to methods of controlling your current shelter population. Find the number of animals that you can care for and do everything you can to maintain that number. Prepare contingency plans for the day that your animal control officers uncover an animal hoarder and need to find room for an additional fifty animals.