Part 2 in a series about making a paradigm shift in our thinking about animal welfare.
Here's the scenario: You walk into an animal shelter as a volunteer, an employee or a potential adopter. You see all those adorable faces of the animals looking at you and you think "All these poor, poor animals - there are so many of them, we need to find them all homes. They are homeless, unwanted, unloved." STOP! REWIND! DO-OVER! BIG MYTH!
The vast majority of animals in shelters come from two sources. Strays and surrenders. In Wisconsin, we receive a lot of transfers from other shelters. But the initial reason for the animal coming into a shelter was the same. It was a stray. Or it was a surrender. (Occasionally some will come from a cruelty case or a commercial breeder surrender. I'm not talking about those - they rightfully belong in a shelter until a new home can be found.)
Instead walk down that aisle and think about where that dog or cat came from. How could you have stopped him or her from coming through the door? I admit, my mind used to work the old way. I thought shelters should be just big adoption facilities - cranking them out as fast as they were coming in. But then the reality hit me. Most animals don't belong in shelters. Now when I walk into a shelter and see those faces the words of that old Jackson Browne song runs through my head "She Must Be Somebody's Baby - She's So Fine."
If you are only thinking about how to get the animal adopted, you are just putting a bandaid on the problem. A lot of these animals don't need new homes. They had perfectly good homes to begin with. Animal shelters should be operating like good doctors - focusing on wellness and prevention rather than treatment.
Does your shelter operate like a pet store? That's a big red flag to me. Now don't get me wrong - I have no problem with shelters that use good marketing techniques and make their shelters happy, friendly places with convenient hours and policies for people to come and adopt.
What I do have a problem with is is the attitude - "We'll find them a better home", instead of getting them back into the home they had. I've blogged on this twice before once concerning the poor and once concerning the elderly. A shelter should be a a safety net for the animals who have no guardian or owner to advocate for them. Most pets DO have somebody to advocate for them and you have to do a little homework to find them and make it all work out.
Maybe they weren't perfect homes, but then whose is? But maybe they were good homes. And we've got to get off this kick that every pet needs a fluffy bed and fancy toys. Pets need kindness, food, shelter, water and basic veterinary care - not a six figure income and a big house in the suburbs.
If the shelter or rescue is not spending a great majority of it's time and resources on programs which promote "reducing intake" then it is only putting it's finger in the dike.
Strays are lost pets who should be returned to their homes. It's called Missing Animal Response or proactive redemptions. It should be a major focus of every shelter and animal control agency in this country. Bill Bruce, Director of Animal Bylaw Services in Calgary, Alberta; and Mitch Schneider, Director of Animal Control Services in Washoe County, (Reno) Nevada are leading advocates of proactive redemptions and guess what? Both of these communities are saving over 90 percent of the animals.
Mitch Schneider summed it up simply and brilliantly: “By returning the dog home, we don’t stress the dog, we don’t stress the dog’s owner, we don’t stress the staff at the shelter, and we don’t stress the other dogs in the shelter. Everyone wins. Even the taxpayers win: we spend less of their money.”
Surrenders are dogs and cats who are brought to a shelter that with early intervention could have probably been kept in their homes.
Does your shelter or rescue have an animal help desk? Do they have resources for people that need to move, need behavior or training advice, need pet food? Or do they accept every animal no questions asked? Then as soon as the person walks out the door after surrendering, the judgements and accusations start to fly behind the counter. (How could they dump their pet like that? What horrible people! They don't deserve to have a pet!)
Does your shelter provide high volume, low-cost or no-cost spay/neuter with no hoop-jumping income or residency restrictions?
If a pet does needs to be rehomed - does your shelter have a rehoming link on it's website? Then the pet can be rehomed by it's present owner. These pets get into a new home without ever entering a shelter. Without the risk of stress, disease and death that entering a shelter brings.
Does your shelter have a Trap Neuter Return program for community (feral) cats? Because these cats should never be in a shelter to begin with (except for the snip and eartip). They live and belong outside.
Notice the 'Making a Difference" links on the side of my blog. These are all local organizations aimed at reducing shelter intake. Yes, rescue and adoptions are important. But let's start keeping the animals out of the shelter in the first place.
What is the number one cause of death in companion animals in America? It's not puppy mills, or dog fighting or cruelty. It's shelter deaths. So, how do we reduce shelter deaths? We don't let them go there. If they don't enter a shelter they can't be killed!
Will it work out every time? Of course not. But by starting to make a paradigm shift towards reducing intake you will begin to give yourself the breathing room to truly rehabilitate and rehome those animals who need it.
It only took a few paragraphs and I covered four steps of the No Kill Equation: Trap Neuter Return, Proactive Redemption, Pet Retention and High-Volume, Low-Cost Spay/Neuter. And not one mention of warehousing or hoarding. Hmmm. Maybe that is a myth too.
"A leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, surveys the entire situation, and yells, 'wrong jungle!'" - Steven Covey