I hope over the last few weeks that you've had the courage to ask about your shelter's intake reduction policies and their outdoor cat policies, the two topics I blogged on previously. Shelters can dramatically decrease their kill rates by focusing on returning lost pets back home; providing animal help desks and low/cost spay neuter; and supporting TNR and barn buddy programs for cats. This gives them more "breathing room" on the health and behavior issues. Less animals in the shelter means they have more time and resources to spend on the animals that truly do need rehabilitation and new homes.
It is important that your shelter uses some type of a matrix to evaluate animals. Here is a copy of the No Kill Advocacy Center's Life Saving Matrix. Your shelter should also have a document called their Euthanasia Policy. Both of these documents should be available for donors to see (preferably on the shelter website). If it isn't - it certainly brings up concerns about what is going on behind closed doors. This is called a lack of transparency.
If you can't find your shelter's matrix or euthanasia policies; either on the website or in print, then your shelter director should be willing to sit down with you and explain their policies and philosophy. If they aren't, I'd suggest closing up your checkbook and running the other way as fast as possible to a shelter that DOES value its donors enough to let them know what is going on.
Remember - a shelter that says they are saving all "healthy and adoptable" animals could be playing the smoke and mirrors game. Shelters are creating their own definitions of "healthy and adoptable" to defend their killing.
A shelter doesn't have to perfect. But it does have to be transparent. Then you have a baseline to work from.
The biggest "gray area" is in the definition of healthy and adoptable. That's why the 90% save rate bar has been set for No Kill status. The remaining 10% gives plenty of leeway for those dogs and cats that are truly unhealthy or dangerous. And in reality, this number should probably be more like 95 %. (but more on that in a future blog).
Fox Valley Humane Society in Appleton, Wisconsin has their criteria for "adoptable" on their website. Click this link to see their criteria for adoptable dogs and cats. Note that it says a dog must be reasonably housebroken to be adoptable. So when this shelter proudly announced that they placed 100% of "adoptable" dogs, there is a lot of room for interpretation.
"Adoptability" is highly subjective, but it shouldn't be. That is why it is important for your shelter to use a matrix to help. Here are some questions to ask your shelter director about their adoption criteria for behavior issues:
1) May I see your Euthanasia Policy or Matrix that you use to determine which animals are going to be determined adoptable? The answer should be yes. Anything else is a fail.
2) Do you have programs in place to help shy dogs and cats and resource-guarding in dogs? The answer should be yes. There is a wealth of good information out on these subjects now. These are no longer acceptable reasons for killing. Volunteers can be trained to read to shy dogs, socialize shy cats, and hand-feed resource guarders.
3) Do you have a sufficient network of trained foster families that can accommodate animals that need extra time, care or an environment away from the stress of the shelter? The answer should be yes. Developing a sound foster home program should be a major priority of any shelter.
4) When and how do you temperament test? Temperament tests should not be a pass or fail, black and white evaluation. They should be used as an assessment of what a dog needs to get him onto the adoption floor and into a home. Here is an excellent article on the shortcomings of temperament testing. http://www.nokillnow.com/TemperamentTestingDirtyLittleSecret.pdf
Ask the tough questions. Remember, No Kill advocates don't want their local shelters to fail. We want them to succeed. Success will come when shelters become transparent, implement all eleven components of the No Kill Equation, and regain the public's trust and support. Donations will improve and animals' lives will be saved.
Isn't that what we all want?
The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.
- Alan Watts