I get forwarded lots of animal articles. Pretty much daily I can count on getting at least one which involves some agitating reform group condemning some animal shelter somewhere. Inevitably the condemnation revolves around the animal shelter in question euthanizing animals which shouldn’t be euthanized. It is rare that I see one of these articles and don’t shake my head at the shallowness of the attacks.
Don’t get me wrong. I think the states of most shelters in America and the entire U.S. animal welfare “system” are archaic and deplorable. I routinely state that I think half the people in animal welfare should find other work because they are, at best, ill equipped and, at worst, very nearly criminally unqualified to do their jobs. I think management of the majority of shelters is terrible, that health and welfare programs within most are sub-par, and that a culture of secrecy, defensiveness and cronyism blocks most meaningful change.
However, that doesn’t mean these “death row dog” groups, No Kill acolytes, and candle light vigil holders are correct in the reasoning of their attacks. Nathan Winograd, the Dumbledore or Voldemort of animal welfare, depending on your personal view, beats the drum loudly that it is simple math and he is correct, in the most simplistic way.
He uses some simple math to show that there are more pets needed by the public than there are in shelters. Therefore, simple math shows that no animals should be euthanized. The death row acolytes then highlight all the animals euthanized for what they view to be questionable reasons: non-life threatening illnesses, behavioral problems, or even just no space. Heck, you can even count on someone to protest if an animal is slated for euthanasia after killing a person.
Taken together, one could believe that there really is no reason for any animal to be euthanized in a shelter. The logic goes that badly run shelters are euthanizing adoptable pets when simple math shows us there must be more homes looking for pets than there are animals needing homes in shelters. Just do the math, stupid.
Except the math isn’t that simple. People and animals aren’t numbers.
The simple math tells us something very different. More animals enter shelters than are adopted, leading to lots of animals euthanized. Some of these animals- some– face euthanasia due to entrenched, old school, better-dead-than-adopted-to-a-renter-or-at-Christmas, shelter thinking. But most are euthanized for a simple reason.
People don’t want them.
People don’t want older pets. They don’t want ones which pee on the furniture. Or growl. Or are this color or that color or this size or that size. Math may be simple but people are complex. You can do all the equations you want: Ten people in a community need dogs. Eight dogs enter a shelter. 10 – 8 = all the dogs adopted with room for more!
But the word problem is a little less simple: Q: Ten people want to adopt a dog, all prefer a puppy, preferably not a pit bull. Eight dogs enter a shelter. Four are pit bulls, seven are not puppies, four have behavioral or health issues. How many dogs get adopted? A: Depending on which one is the puppy and which ones have the health or behavioral problems, between one and four of the eight get adopted. The rest get euthanized.
These advocates would say, “They should work more with rescues, make it easier to adopt, have more outreach.” Yes, they should. But HSBC literally gives away pets and we don’t have 100% adoption. We pay for adoption billboards, have tons of outreach, have “One Penny Stray Adoptions”, give away free health care to adopted pets, have adoption retention programs, and we still can’t get every animal adopted. Would we do more with more resources? Yes! Would it be better? Yes! But better wouldn’t mean all and it never will.
People are fickle. They want what they want and the reality is they don’t always want what’s in a shelter. Don’t believe me? Think about the amount of out of date food that gets thrown away in grocery stores. The manufacturers have mathematicians, accountants and huge advertising budgets and they still have food which rots on shelves.
Or how about the simple fact that there are hoards of people wanting to adopt children yet there is still an unending supply of brown skinned non-infants sitting in orphanages and foster care for no other reason than those people want white or Asian infants, not a twelve year old black boy. We leave orphan children to rot in America. Why do death row dog advocates think we won’t do the same with a dog?
When these passionate animal advocates spend their time claiming simple math and working on absurd legislation rather than advocating for legal and animal health care service reforms which would allow us to be more like Great Britain and other nations which don’t have our animal euthanasia crisis, they just prolong and defer implementation of the solution. They are well intentioned. But so are the old guard sheltering people they demonize.
I don’t claim to have “the” solution. I just know that most of “the” solutions being put out there aren’t as easy as 2 + 2 = 4. People and animals aren’t numbers and the answers aren’t that simple.