An End to Animal Suffering

March 30th, 2018 | Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized

A while back I reached the conclusion that the “No Kill” Contingent (capital N, capital K) essentially had it right when they philosophically paraphrased Ronald Reagan: Animal shelters aren’t the solution to our problems, they are the problem.

The once radical premise that shelters aren’t to be pitied, let alone applauded, for being the ultimate doom of millions of animals, fundamentally changed our approach to animal welfare. Shelters and their management became personally responsible for the lives in their hands and could no longer point a finger at “society.”  Shelters that did not save enough were failures.  The ones that did, were successes.

Humane Pennsylvania is a success. Over ten years ago we killed our last healthy animal for space.  Over the past ten years we’ve diminished the number of animals killed in our shelters so that even sick, injured, and behaviorally challenged animals now have over a 90% chance of leaving alive.  By the arbitrary “No Kill” formulas, we are a success.

But an organization which claims to be an “animal welfare” agency declaring victory because most animals leave its cages alive is like a prison claiming success over social ills because it has a high prisoner release rate. Prisons and shelters are the response to failure.  Our claims of success are like a chef who serves tainted meat and then wants to be congratulated for getting you to the hospital before you died of botulism.

The animal welfare world has tip toed around targeting the causes of animal intake at shelters over the years. Humane education was supposed to make people love their pets.  Increased cruelty law enforcement would stop animals from being abused.  By far, the most successful has been sterilization campaigns and the change in public attitude about having litters of puppies and kittens.  To a lesser degree (the first two) and greater degree (the last), efforts like these were targeted at stopping animals from entering our shelters in the first place.  That is true success.

In the past decade there has been an increased focus on relinquishment prevention. These are too often based at the front counter and assumes that there has already been a breakdown in the pet/caretaker relationship which has resulted in the animal coming to a shelter, even if it is successfully returned to its home with targeted counseling and supports.

Humane Pennsylvania began focusing on some core reasons for the break in the pet/caretaker bond back in 2006, by targeting preventable health issues and delivering affordable, high quality vet care to at risk communities. Yes, before there was HSUS’ Pets for Life, there was us.  This approach worked and it has changed the lives of thousands of animals and their families in our communities.  We believe it will prove to be the most successful “humane education” program ever because children in families who never experienced animal health care services as a normal part of life now see it as the proper way to care for pets.  They will grow up to believe, rightly so, that animals need and deserve that care, and they will know how to access it.

Despite this, we know that we are still receiving animals, as are other shelters in our communities. Can’t we take the lessons we learned about getting animals out of our shelters successfully by targeting approaches to suit specific populations (different breed, species, feral, stray initiatives) and merging that approach with intake prevention efforts?  Isn’t it time to have a goal where no animal enters our shelters because no animal needs to?

Too lofty a goal? So was a 97% save rate for healthy and treatable dogs 13 years ago, but we did that.

If we break down intake by shelters by major cause in our region (these causes vary around the country) we see some specific groupings:

  • Kittens
  • Stray cats and dogs without identification
  • Young adult dogs with health and behavioral issues
  • Animals with acute injury or illness, or mere hunger, which pose a financial burden on caretakers
  • Animals needing temporary short to medium term housing that are relinquished because caretakers can’t find an alternative
  • Lastly, animals entering because of the need of appropriate end of life euthanasia support

Just these six intake categories account for 80-90% or more of shelter intakes. How much more successful would we be if we could eliminate the causes and stop these animals from entering our shelters?  What if we could very nearly eliminate litters of unwanted kittens by providing universal, on demand sterilization for every cat in our community?

We can.  We don’t, but we can.

What if we provided every single cat and dog in our community with microchip identification so that strays could be identified in the field and returned to caretakers without coming to a shelter? Or if they did come to us, they’d get returned immediately?

We can.  We don’t, but we can.

What if every pet caretaker could receive all medically appropriate vaccinations, sterilization, and veterinary engagement and guaranteed access to a proper diet, which we know decreases the likelihood of current and future health and behavioral problems?

We can.  We don’t, but we can.

What if we had a means of providing emergency short term foster care for all animals, during a disaster or just for a week while someone is in the hospital or between houses?

We can.  We don’t, but we can.

Community expectations have changed. Demographics for companion animals have changed nationwide.  Wanting to be a “no kill shelter” is a laudable goal but, it’s not only easily possible, it’s fundamentally not enough.  Even declarations of being a “no kill community” are hollow. Not dying isn’t a good enough yardstick to measure ourselves against.

We need a no suffering animal community. We need a 100% thriving and safe animal community.  We need to build it brick by brick and the time to do it is right now.

I listed a string of things that we could do but don’t do. Humane Pennsylvania intends to start doing them.  We are going to build the very best community in which to be an animal and an animal caretaker anywhere.  Period.  We are going to show that it can be done anywhere.

And we are about to announce how, where, and when. Watch this space….

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