Many organizations create a mission statement. Some reduce the mission statement down to a few-word motto. Like the police, “to protect and serve.” In the animal welfare business, I used the motto, “protecting pets and people.” Over the years, that motto has taken on different meanings.
Early in my career, our mission was clearly weighted towards protecting people from the dangers of animals and protecting animals from cruelty. In that mission balance, people were given first priority. Our primary mission was to remove stray animals from our streets. It was a common practice to euthanize animals when the shelters became overcrowded. We accepted that as necessary.
Our mission began to change during the no-kill movement. Animals started becoming our first priority and, in an effort to become a no-kill shelter, many shelters stopped patrolling the streets for stray animals and eventually began refusing to accept animals at their shelter, just so that no animals were killed.
Once animal shelters had met the definition of no-kill, by reducing their euthanasia death to 10%, the shelters were pressured to go beyond 10%. Animal shelters were pressured to keep alive animals that were clearly not adoptable. Shelters began keeping animals for much longer periods of time. Animal shelters were no longer able to provide their animals quality care.
Then the pandemic struck. People started abandoning animals at a higher rate, and shelter staffing hit an all-time low. Overcrowding became commonplace and the quality of care dropped further.
Anyone who has ever seen the layout of an animal shelter will realize that shelters were never constructed for long-term care. The cages are too small to preserve the spacing needed to keep an animal sane. I recently saw an animal shelter come under fire for failing to put dog beds out for their animals. Pictures of the kennels clearly show that a dog bed would take up the entire floor space of the kennel. Shelters were constructed back in the time when animals were kept only for days, not months. Now with overcrowding, many animals have to be doubled up in those small kennels. It is surprising that more shelter managers are not charged with animal cruelty.
Following the pandemic, we were hit with inflation. With the rising costs of caring for an animal, we are witnessing an ever more increase in shelter overcrowding as people abandon their pets because of an unsure future. All the while, the shelter mindset is still to preserve the life of every animal even while the quality of care continues to further erode. It is a time in which we have lost our ability to protect either pets or people.
As a profession, we have given up on the notion of managing our shelter population. We are in the era of managing our shelter overcrowding.
It is necessary that animal shelter management make difficult decisions and stop being afraid to do the right thing for the animals in our care. The bullying that shelters take to save all of the animals is putting those same animals at risk. You have to ask yourself; can you save them all? If you said, “Yes”, then you need to ask yourself, at what cost?