No-Kill Confusion

I recently watched a YouTube video that demonstrats the confusion that people have about no-kill.   The author of the video, Kitten Lady, wrote, “Did you know that baby kittens can still be killed in a “no-kill” shelter? Watch my video to learn about how the standards in the Asilomar Accords fail to protect the tiniest and most vulnerable felines. It’s important for the public to know that even in “no-kill” communities, kittens still need our help and protection! ”

For the most part, Kitten Lady was right on about the struggles that animal shelter faces in trying to find homes for all of their animal guests, but she really missed the boat with she described the Asilomar Accords as an insurance policy.  The Asilomar Accords is a system to describe the health of an animal at intake and disposition.  Its intent is to provide a better understanding of decisions that are made toward an animal.  The shelter makes its euthanasia decisions based on the animal’s health, as well as overcrowding conditions and resources.  As I mentioned in the previous post, kitten season, the decision to euthanize kittens is the result of all of these factors.  The Asilomar Accords only provided a definition as to the kitten’s health condition at the time.  Being no-kill has little to do with whether an animal shelter kills kittens; it is about reducing their euthanasia to 10% of their total intakes.  Many shelters have programs that provide for the fostering of infant kittens.  Many kittens pasted through my home and I’ll be damned if anyone was going to euthanize them.

I suspect that video bloggers “stretch” their story to get people to watch their videos.  If they stretch it far enough, it becomes fake news.  It may also be a teaser for an new book that she is writing.

No Kill Announcement

One of the greatest desires of an animal shelter is to announce that they have met the criteria to call themselves No Kill.  It is a feel good moment for the shelter.  But there is often a backlash to such public declarations.

Many years ago, a shelter in northern Florida announced that it had gotten to the place where all healthy (without medical or behavioural problems) animals were being adopted.  The public misinterpreted this to mean that the shelter was no kill.  This misinterpretation lead to an increase of owner surrendered animals.  Owners are relieved of their guilt my surrendering their pets to a no kill facility.  We became overwhelmed.

The City of Austin experienced problems early on when they announced that they were no kill and all of a sudden they were being overwhelmed by people bringing in animals from surrounding countries.  So the tax payers in the City were taking on the expense for animals that were coming in from outside their jurisdiction. 

Sometimes we are so eager to announce a joyous occasions that we forget to prepare for its impact.  Many animal shelters announce that they are having an adoption event and frequently they will intake more animals than they adopt because people see an adoption event as a good time to surrender their pet guiltfree. 

The Problem with No Kill

It is a noble cause to find homes for the homeless pets in our communities.  I would never attempt to hinder the adoption of adoptable animals.  In the completion between animal shelters to declare their organizations as no kill, we have created hostilities between organizations.  The No Kill Movement has caused an isolation between adoption organizations.

The dynamics of becoming no kill is quite simple: increase adoptions or decrease animal intakes.  In Florida, our humane society wanted to declare that they were no kill, so as to access grants that are only available to no kill organizations.  In order to accomplish their no kill status, they chose to stop taking in stray animals.  The intakes increase at the public shelter at a time that the shelter was already beyond capacity.

The No Kill Movement is ineffective unless it is viewed from a big picture view.  One organization in a community claiming to be No Kill is worthless if all of the other organizations in that community are overwhelmed.  I am always amazed at the criticism that a public shelter receives from local no kill shelters that refuse to accept animals.

The admission status of a shelter seems to get lost in the condemnation that public animal shelters receive.  It is easy to be a no kill shelter when you can control what animals that you are willing to accept.  It is more difficult to be an open admission shelter in which you are expected to accept any animal that shows up (at any time).  It is easy to become overwhelmed in an open admission shelter.

The pressure on open admission shelters is great and has caused many of them to try no kill tactics.  The most common tactic is to attempt to reduce animal intakes.  They first started by trying to reduce owner surrendered animals.  Pet owners soon saw that in order to give up their pets, they would need to claim that their pets were strays.  Shelters then began to require that people had to make an appointment to surrender an animal.  When appointments were weeks or months out into the future, people saw that it was unreasonable to even attempt to surrender a stray pet.  People were left with releasing the pets in the parking lot of the shelter. 

This strategy takes an odd turn.  Although the shelter refused to accept the animal, they would quickly prosecute an person releasing the animal in their parking lot, charging them with animal abandonment.  All the while, the animal shelter views themselves as the good guy.  The purpose of a public animal shelter is to house stray animals, to keep them from being a nuisance or a danger to the community.  The No Kill Movement has caused communities to have more animals running loose.  It is a sad day when animal control officers have to turn a blind eye to the stray dog that runs out in front of their vehicle, because there are no open kennels in the shelter.

The No Kill Movement has forced people to turn a blind eye to the community problems that created public animal shelters in the first place.  Up until now, the No Kill Movement has only pitted one shelter against another.  The Movement is ineffective until it can announce that an entire community has become No Kill.  However, becoming a No Kill Community is not the end game; when the City of Austin announced it had gained no kill status, all of the surrounding communities began to flood Austin’s shelters with animals from adjacent countries.  Our end game is to become an No Kill Nation.

The bottom line is that the no kill movement can only supply temporary fixes to a problem that demands a permanent solution.  Austin Texas is a good solution of an organization that is in constant crisis as it attempts to hold on to the title of being a no kill city.  Every attempt to throw money at their problem of pet overpopulation just delays the inevitable decision that they epiphany that they will have in discovering that they do not have enough fingers to hold back their leaking dike.

You simply cannot become a no kill city until you gain the cooperation of your community.  Every time that you get to the point of boasting that you have reached the 90 percent save rate, you have signaled your community that they can be conscience free of dumping more pets at your shelter.

As much as the no kill movement wants to decry that the euthanasia is a “shelter problem,” they foolishly overlook the role the role that bad (breeding) pet owners play in the equation.   It is so much easier to blame the small group of animal shelter staff than to take on the entire community or bad pet owners.

No kill has only been successful on a permanent level in communities that embrace each individual’s obligation to perform their responsibility of being good pet owners.  Animal Shelter can pull it off for a short time, if provided sufficient funding and staff to hold back the growing crisis that they face within a community of irresponsible pet owners.

Oddly, the No Kill Movement is offended that animal shelter staff would speak to the source of the problem.  It is easier for their movement to blame the folks who are deal with pet overpopulation problem.  It gets tiring to listen to falsehoods that there is no pet overpopulation; they want everyone to believe that the euthanasia in our animal shelters is a result of lack of imagination on the part of the shelter’s staff.  All the while, pet owners keep beating a path to their doors with the litters of puppies and kittens brought into the world as a result of their negligence.

Adopters in Harms Way

A current trend to increase adoptions is for animal shelter personnel ignoring the aggressive behavior of an animal as reported by the animal’s owner or keeper.  Shelter personnel wish the animal to have a clean slate and treat the animal as having no background information; they are confident that their own evaluations are sufficient to determine the animals fitness for adoption.

It is not uncommon for various factions in a shelter to view an animal in different light.  One of the most common problem that my last shelter faced was our volunteers posting glowing comments about animals on social media that were not consistent with the staff’s evaluations.  The volunteers felt that they knew better because of the behavior that they witnessed when walking the animal, even though the previous owner and staff assessed the animal differently.  They didn’t realize that they were observing the animal from a very small window.  People would come in to the shelter and discover that the volunteers lied to them so as to facilitate the placement of the animal.  Fortunately for the community, our shelter staff had the integrity to report the correct information or refuse to accept the adoption application.

This trend of passing marginal animals or animals with aggression in their history is getting animal shelters in trouble.  I frequently read about cases in which an adopter is subject to a serious incident and then finds that the animal’s history of aggression was not shared with them.  It became so commonplace in Virginia that laws were drafted to force adoption organizations to give out the animal’s history, good or bad.

Many shelters have placed their animal placements ahead of public safety due to the pressures of being no kill.  Not only have people been harmed, but many shelters have been sued for their callous actions.

No Kill Equation

Those associated with the No Kill Movement have created a number of elements that they have identified as necessary for an animal shelter to become no kill.  They view this as an all or nothing arrangement; you either commit to every element or you will be declared as a lazy uncompassionate shelter director.

The equation is pretty simple: to reduce euthanasia at your shelter, you must reduce animal intakes and provide for more positive outcomes.  But, getting there becomes a little more complicated.

Reduce Animal Intakes

The first order of reducing the pet overpopulation is to reduce the breeding of pets through low-cost sterilization programs.  As the number of unwanted pets in the community are reduced, fewer will find their way into your shelter. 

Pet retention programs provide resources to pet owners to show alternatives to the dumping of their pet on the shelter when they lack financial resources to care for their pet or wisdom to deal with behavioral problems associated with their pet.

A few shelters are so committed to becoming no kill that they have resorted in shutting their doors to the intake of animals.  People finding stray animals are force to keep the stray until such time as it is convenient for the shelter to receive the animal.

Increase Placements

In my experience, I have found that creating rescue partners is the most successful avenue for the placement of pets in the shelters that I have directed; however, it is critical that a watchful eye is on those rescues to prevent them from getting into a hoarding situation.

Mobile adoptions are a project for volunteers.  The idea is to take animals from the shelter and deliver them to a highly visible area of your city to be viewed by the public.  Petsmart is always open to using their stores for adoption events.

Adoption Ambassador programs allow foster parents to screen potential homes for the animals in their care.  The main problem with this program is similar to a foster to adopt program where the animal is in a permanent home, but is on the shelter’s records so the shelter has to flip for the medical expenses on the whim of the person keeping the animal.  Also, people who foster animals tend to have stricter standards for giving up their “babies” to a new owner.  Be prepared for a lot of complaints from potential adopters that want a foster animal.

When all else fails, you can offer free adoptions.  Since people purchase on impulse, you should create strict guidelines for those who adopt a free pet.  It is critical that person has sufficient income to support day to day care for the animal and necessary medical needs of the animal.

No Kill: What Could Go Wrong?

On the surface, no kill seems to be the right thing to do. Under the surface, we begin to understand that most shelters do not have the cage space to humanely house animals long term, until they are adopted. Many animals cannot hold up to long term confinement.

The best way to see how No Kill can fall apart is to go to: https://www.peta.org/issues/animal-companion-issues/animal-shelters/no-kill-policies-slowly-killing-animals/. PETA has been monitoring the failures of No Kill.

When an animal shelter makes the announcement that they are going No Kill, the first impact it that people considering the surrender of their pet feel they can down give up their pet guilt free. Animal shelters begin to see an increase in intakes. With a new No Kill shelter in the area, people from outside the area will make the drive to the shelter to surrender their pet.

The most effective way to go No Kill is to reduce intakes. With increasing intakes, the shelter will either be forced to throw funds into increasing cage space, or find ways to decline intakes. The City of Austin Texas, had to spend millions of dollars in an effort to try to maintain their No Kill status. Other shelters begin to turn people away due to overcrowding. Most shelters are obligated to take in stray animals, so pet owners report that their own pets are stray so as to surrender them.

The worst part of No Kill is forcing animals to remain in cages for long periods of time. It is tragic that volunteers will put countless hours into trying to maintain the socialization of an animal, only for the animal to become eventually cage crazy and be euthanized.

The pressure to become No Kill is so great, many animal shelters have been accused of doctoring their disposition statuses to give the appearance of a higher live release rate.

The natural evolution of society is sending us down the path to lower intake rates.  We are eventually going to become a humane community.

No Kill and Volunteers

The No Kill movement has discovered shelter volunteers as the new infantry for its army to bully shelter employees. The first salvo is launched when shelter volunteers create clone Facebook pages that so closely mimic that of the animal shelter, that people querying the animal shelter is likely to bring up the clone site. Since Facebook provides no regulations as to who can create Facebook pages, it is likely that one or more additional Facebook pages could exist for the animal shelter without the shelter knowing who created them.

Usually the fake Facebook page will begin highlighting the animals that have been euthanized and attempt to shame shelter staff for having committed those deaths. When the pages first appear, they give the appearance that they are a support arm of the shelter and then they begin their slow trend to turn the community against the shelter.

Even though a shelter can have a high release rate, the volunteers running those clone Facebook pages decide what live release rate is necessary to satisfy themselves… it is usually much higher than that of the shelters.

The Facebook pages will create false narratives of the animal’s behavior that unsuspecting people will think that shelter personnel are killing perfectly healthy and adoptable animals; not knowing that most of the animals have health or behavior issues that prevent a sound adoption.

Balance

The greatest challenge facing animal shelters is the balance that must be made to protect people and to protect pets. Animal shelters must face the decision to put people first or to put pets first. In 95 percent of the time, it isn’t an issue. But in those remaining 5 percent, it becomes the battleground that creates the most media carnage for animal shelter personnel.
Should animal shelters release potentially dangerous dogs back into their community? On the surface this seems pretty simple, until you begin to fight the battle as to what determines a dangerous our an aggressive dog. Dog held for long periods of time can become aggressive as a result of their long confinement. Where along that process does a dog move from being adoptable to being unadoptable?
Is it worth euthanizing one “potentially” aggressive dog to prevent a future worry of the dog injuring a child? This is the constant worry that all animal shelters face. Many shelter personnel take the easy road and don’t question the adoptability of an animal: if the animal has a potential home, then let it leave the shelter. Many shelters that have taken this road become faced with the lawsuits of their careless actions.
Many dogs that have displayed aggression in the shelter eventually reassimulate into society to become perfect pets. We cannot look into the eyes of these animals and determine their behavior in the environment that we are sending them. Every adoption is based on a gradient from low risk to high risk.
The community that we serve seems to see only in black or white. Many people claim that we should give EVERY animal a chance and many believe that NONE of the high risk breeds should ever be released to the public. Although animal shelters conduct behavior tests, the tests run the failure of the bias of the evaluator. But the biggest hazard is the adopter.
No matter how much adoption staff empathizes the need for responsible pet ownership, the greatest failing point is the pet’s owner. It is amazing the number of new pet owners who call to report that their new pet ran away during the period of the car and the house because the owner didn’t think the dog should be on leash. One of the most common phases from dog owners prior to a dog bite is, “Don’t worry he won’t bite.”
When pet owners fail to act responsibly, it furthers the risk of a failed adoption. When an animal gets into trouble as the result of a bad pet owner, it is usually the animal shelter that gets into trouble for failing to have the foresight in seeing a bad combination of a questionable dog and a bad adopter.
Many shelters have taken a beating in the media as a result of not being physic. Every adoption presents a risk. The shelter is forced to decide if they will weigh the balance toward protecting people or saving a pet. Wherever you find that balance, you can be sure that someone will be under constant pressure to move that line one way or the other.