The Great Debate

When you read this blog title, what did you imagine the controversial topic would be? To be fair, the options are seemingly endless.

I want to talk to you today about something that I can almost guarantee all of our readers will not agree on. The No-Kill Movement. This is a topic that came up during my time at the AFF Internship, and the conversation was an especially deep one, given that we had individuals present from both No-Kill and Municipal/Open-Admission Shelters. I appreciate that AFF takes a neutral stance on all controversial issues, but it was also eye-opening to hear the perspectives from individuals who are in the ‘pits,’ so to speak. Let’s start with the background…

Another photo from AFF!

Another photo from AFF!

The No-Kill Movement

Nathan Winograd is the advocate of a comprehensive movement for animal-shelter reform. Winograd and his supporters believe that no animal should ever be killed for any reason other than to alleviate the animal’s suffering or because the animal is so vicious as to be uncontrollable.

Private Shelters

A private shelter is funded by private donations. The primary purpose of these shelters is to find homes for lost or displaced animals, and provide them with a safe haven until such a home may be found. While specifics may vary, these organizations typically do not euthanize animals for reasons other than health or quality of life. However, no facility is limitless. Because of this, they often only admit animals that would be considered highly adoptable.

Animal Friends, a private animal shelter that is local to our area

Animal Friends, a private animal shelter that is local to our area

Municipal Shelters

A municipal shelter is run by a city, county, or other such public entity. These shelters are funded by taxpayer dollars. They are staffed by government employees, who may or may not have a background or education in regards to animals. Most often, these facilities are required by law to take in any unwanted animal that is brought in, regardless of available space or the animal’s condition.

Manhattan's Animal Care & Control, which is infamous for its conditions

Manhattan’s Animal Care & Control, which is infamous for its conditions

My Perspective

By now you should know that while I always strive to share authentic truths in this space, it would be dishonest of me to claim that the things I write are always without opinion or bias. I am not a journalist, reporting facts for the nightly news… this is my creative space where I attempt to share information that will interest others with similar passions and morals.

You also know by now that I adore my pets more than life itself. There is nothing that I wouldn’t do or give up to make their lives better. More importantly, I believe that the animals sitting in shelters are just as “special” as the ones who sleep soundly, curled up at my feet now, as I type this out to for all of you to read. I believe this so deeply that I reserve much of my life (financially and so far as my time and emotions) toward this cause. For anyone to say that my efforts are not made with the animals’ best interest at the forefront of my mind would be incredibly misguided.

Of course, I would love it if one day, all animal shelters were able to have 99%+ rates of release (meaning, that 99% of the animals that come into the shelter are released into loving homes, as opposed to being euthanized). With all of that being said, it might surprise you that I am not entirely in support of the No-Kill Movement. There. I said it. Now you wanna know why, right?

There are worse things than death

The reality of our world, is that many municipal and open-admission shelters are working with minimal budgets and mediocre facilities. They may operate with a miniscule staff or volunteer base. From experiences shared with me directly from employees in such shelters, animals are often kept in small cages (think of the stacked kennels you see in your veterinary office) and may or may not be walked a few times per week. Yes, you read that right… they are certainly not guaranteed even a daily walk, much less multiple times per day. There are no toys or blankets in their kennels, and kennel enrichment is a non-event. Can you imagine how quickly the dogs’ attitudes decline in such an environment? As for health care, it is procured by the local government worker, who has worked his way up, but boasts no prior experience with animals, and certainly not with veterinary care. This all may sound bad, but can I say that it is not anywhere close to one of the worst shelters in our country? If I told you which shelter it was, you would be astounded.

Don’t forget, these facilities are required to admit any animal that walks through their door. Young or old, sick or healthy, well-trained or aggressive, surrendered or ‘found’ as a stray… any animal must be accepted. Most importantly, these requirements are made regardless of space. There are only so many open kennels in any facility, and if adopters do not come through their doors, difficult decisions must be made. There is truly no other option.

None of us want to see photos like this, but they are a grim reality. This dog is available for rescue in CA.

None of us want to see photos like this, but they are a grim reality. This dog is available for rescue in CA.

It is a community problem

You may have read the above, ready to lay blame on the employees in that facility. But in reality, that does nothing. Those people are performing a thankless task, with endless stress and emotional strain, nights, weekends, and holidays, for very little financial return. Believe it or not, most of them are there because they can’t imagine walking away, and they want to make a difference for any animal they can.

The larger problem exists in our community. This large group of people who still believe that animals are disposable. This isn’t to be blamed on those of a certain ethnicity, in a specific zip code, or of a particular socio-economic status. If there are animals being killed in your community due to improper facilities, lack of homes, or lack of space, then it is a problem we are all responsible for. To me, the biggest problem with the No-Kill mentality, is that if a community has a shelter that claims to be No-Kill, what do they do when they run out of space? Regardless of a shelter’s social designations, each one is simply a collection of rooms in a building, with kennels or runs that end at some predetermined number. There is no magic button to add space! When a No-Kill shelter runs out of available room, they must turn animals away at their door. There is no other option for them, just as there is no other option for the municipal shelters. In this way, they are the same.

The difference is that when a No-Kill shelter turns away an animal, they do not know what happens to it. If it is an animal being surrendered, the owner may find another home for it or reconsider their decision. However, realistically the shelter is their last option, and so all others have been exhausted. Perhaps they take matters into their own hands, and find a way to ‘get rid’ of it, one way or another. If finances are the issue, maybe the animal starves or is neglected and denied medical attention. More positively, they may turn the animal loose or run it off, in hopes that someone will take it in. But most likely? If the animal is not admitted to the No-Kill shelter, the one that usually boasts extensive funding and eye-catching marketing tools, the animal somehow finds its way to the municipal shelter, who will not turn it away. To make room in the shelter for this new dog, space, and difficult decisions, must be made. Do you see how this comes full circle?

Because of this, I believe that until all shelters in a community, both private and municipal, are simultaneously able to boast high release rates and open-door practices, then no shelter should be able to call themselves No-Kill. Maybe these shelters don’t practice euthanasia within their walls, but if it is happening to animals in their community that they have turned away or are not able to accommodate, then they need to recognize that until they are part of the solution, they are still a part of the problem.

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A Pittsburgh night walk that raises money for local shelters

Conclusion

I am not suggesting that the No-Kill Movement is a pointless one, or that it is misguided. We have to start somewhere, and their objectives are admirable. Furthermore, I am certainly not suggesting that municipal shelters have it all right, and that euthanasia is our only option. What I am suggesting, is that instead of labeling shelters in this way, taking sides, and pointing fingers, why don’t we all start working toward the same common goal? Let’s stop labeling each other… shelters should not be designated as Kill and No-Kill. These so-called ‘No-Kill’ shelters should not be advertising themselves as such until they are able to pull all At-Risk dogs from the municipal shelters. And perhaps instead of continuing to argue advocate our own missions, we should focus on marketing our adoptable animals, as well as Spay/Neuter programs and other practices that support the eradication of unwanted pets.

I would love to hear from readers on this subject. Did you have a strong viewpoint on this subject before you read my own? If so, what was it, and has it varied at all after you read my thoughts? Are there any facts that I have missed? I look forward to input from you all!

This is the Animal Rescue League of Pittsburgh, our area's only Open-Admission shelter. They admirably claim not to euthanize for space reasons, and advocate very hard for the animals in their care

This is the Animal Rescue League of Pittsburgh, our area’s only Open-Admission shelter. They admirably claim not to euthanize for space reasons, and advocate very hard for the animals in their care