In 2013, I got booted off a local Facebook yardsale page because I used the term “kill shelter” in a comment. Admins of that group advised that it was an “offensive” term and that I would have to find a euphemism if I wanted to remain active. Well, I just didn’t feel that “put-to-sleep shelter” did the situation justice, so I left the group and never went back.
It’s amazing how ignorant such large numbers of people remain to the realities of the American sheltering holocaust. It’s a dirty secret in the Land of the Free, truth to be swept under the rug, concealed, and kept from the public eye. This tells me that at some level, the vast majority of our population understands the shameful implications of mass killing as a solution. Yet apparently it’s much easier to hide this truth than it is to stop engaging in the practice.
It’s also startling that so many animal welfare agencies and sheltering assistance groups persistently ignore the fact that not as many no-kill inroads are being made into rural areas of the U.S. as they like to claim. Bragging up statistics about their “wins” is wonderful (see Target Zero’s “measuring results” page HERE.) but if you’ll notice, no mention is made anywhere on their page about the failed efforts. It seems to me that, once a group like Target Zero identifies a problem that persists outside their current M.O., they would take steps to figure out why, and change their strategy accordingly.
In 2015, Cameron Moore and Sara Pizano of Target Zero came to Tazewell County, Virginia, and met with personnel from the local municipal shelter. They held a “town hall” meeting, to which barely twenty people showed up. They then got back on their jet planes and flew away, and nothing else was ever heard from them again. The local municipal shelter continues to kill dogs wholesale, no community awareness initiatives are launched or endorsed by county officials, and very little has changed.
What went wrong? First of all, Dr. Pizano and Ms. Moore came to Tazewell County determined to work with local shelter officials to the exclusion of all front-line rescuers in this community. Neither I nor any other non-profit directors or volunteers were allowed “behind closed doors” in their meetings with salaried county employees, even though I was personally responsible for Target Zero representatives being here in the first place. I’ve seen this same focus on the wrong community resources over and over with these national “big city” groups, rinse-lather-repeat ad infinitum.
Also in 2015, I had several lengthy email exchanges with Lisa Starr and Kathryn Destreza from the ASPCA. Ms. Destreza reached out with an offer of free furthering education for shelter personnel or a scholarship to training of their preference. Again, although I was responsible for establishing this connection, I was swiftly cut out of the loop, and just as swiftly, all discussions about this with county officials stopped. I’ve had lengthy conversations with Matthew Gray, regional HSUS (Humane Society of the United States) about the problems we face in Central Appalachia. To date, he hasn’t set foot in Tazewell County…or if he did, he didn’t contact any of the boots-on-the-ground rescue organizers working tirelessly here to make things better.
In a previous post I talked about grantmakers who will only approve grants for municipal or brick-and-mortar private shelters. In truth, most no-kill or low-kill shelters have gotten really good at playing the numbers game. They can manipulate statistics and spout rhetoric like nobody’s business, and it pays off for them in spades.
Tricks of the trade.
“Limited intake” shelters have the option to cherry-pick only the animals they consider highly adoptable. Many of them can (and do) turn away less desirable breeds like pit bulls and hounds, elderly dogs, sick dogs, and nearly all cats. “Limited intake” is considered the gold standard among no-and-low kill sheltering. It’s taught as strategy. If you never intake them, you don’t have to warehouse them or kill them. Your intake-to-adoption rate soars, and that is very good optics for the no-kill revolution.
Managed intake can also consist of pre-intake counseling for owners looking to surrender their pets. Now this is one innovation that actually works, when done correctly. The Nevada Humane Society has implemented an “animal help desk” that averages around 400 phone calls or emails per week.
While we’re all familiar with the reasons why people bring animals to shelters or abandon them, what many people don’t realize (or believe) is that many of these situations can be resolved in such a way that will keep the animals out of the shelter. After all, shelters are stressful places for animals and should be places of last resort, not a readily available dumping ground.
One other bullet point listed by this Washoe County group for intake reduction and no-kill sheltering is “get the right people on the bus.”
In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins explains that the most successful businesses and organizations invest significant time in ensuring that they have “the right people on the bus.” Clearly, people are the heart and soul of any organization, so we set out to find a team of managers and staff members who are committed to the organization’s mission and goals, share our lifesaving values, and have a strong work ethic. We also sought out people who had proven skills and a track record of success.
This is a callback to my earlier remark about salaried county employees. What many national “big city” humane groups fail to realize is that in rural areas, especially those that are economically depressed, animal shelter jobs are considered bottom of the barrel. Working conditions are often miserable and the pay is insulting. Almost never is a shelter director hired for their track record in animal care and welfare. Shelter directors typically inherit that position because no one else will take it, and it’s for darn sure the salary isn’t attractive for any industry professionals looking to make a move.
What’s the consequence of this? You get people in charge of living creatures who may not even like animals. You get people with zero scruples about sterilization, many of whom actually let backyard breeders and hunters swap intact dogs in and out of the shelter until they find one that suits their purpose. You get managers who are quite proud of their shelter because it “passed inspection seven years in a row," completely oblivious to the fact that it boasts one of the highest kill rates in the state. You get ACOs who dilute jugs of Fatal Plus so they don’t have to ask for a bigger budget. And you also get reports from people living near the animal shelter of gunshots and unearthly howls of pain from dogs in the wee hours of the morning, because bullets cost less than the sedation drugs and fatal compounds required by state law.
These are the people that national animal welfare organizations want to work with, and who grantmakers want to give money to. In my opinion, it’s a complete dereliction of logic. And it’s an absolute, incontrovertible fact that as long as the M.O. of groups like Target Zero, HSUS, ASPCA, and Best Friends fails to take these factors into account, America will never become a no-kill nation, and thousands of innocent animals will continue to die every year, every month, every day.
Examples of No-Kill Rhetoric
“Was brought under control???” Past-tense, as if this has actually happened?
I’m not sure if Ms. Houser is a time traveler from the year 2090, or if she’s just that far out of touch. But from where I sit in this Central Appalachian rescue drowning in unwanted pets, it doesn’t seem to me that a single aspect of this problem has been “brought under control.”
Okay, so let me make sure I understand: this is that “new math,” right?
29-million people are hoping to get a pet. 2.4-million pets are euthanized in shelters in every year. If the average shelter kill rate is twenty percent, that means 12-million animals sit in shelters around the U.S. needing adoption. Think that number is manageable? Okay, here's the rest of the story. The generally accepted number of puppies and kittens born every day is 70,000. (Just Google it. The sources of that information are too voluminous to cite.) That means per year, 25,550,000 new animals are added to that 12-million. Now we're up to 37,550,000. And 37.5-million minus 29-million is a hell of a lot of animals needing homes that apparently don’t exist.
So the entire Commonwealth of Virginia has an 80% save rate? Well, how ‘bout let’s reconcile that with this map showing actual statistics by county:
Now, I haven’t done any of them “new math” equations on this here pittcher yet, but maybe you really could average all those numbers together and come up with a 20% kill rate. Tell that to the 605 pets killed at the Russell County Animal Shelter during the year represented by that map. Also tell it to the thousands upon thousands of animals who suffered horrific abuse at that shelter over the years prior, according to this report by activist and shelter investigator Eileen McAfee. The numbers don’t add up. And neither does the rhetoric.
The high cost of being honest.
Rescue and animal sheltering is a nasty business. Mentally, physically, and emotionally, it can be downright brutal. This takes a toll on animal welfare workers, many of whom succumb to compassion fatigue at some point during their career. How serious is this? Well, let’s see—the national suicide average for American workers is 1.5 per 1 million. In 2009, the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reported that animal rescue workers have a suicide rate of 5.3 in 1 million workers. Seems pretty serious to me.
Combine this with the fact that all too often, front-line volunteers are gaslighted by ambitious animal welfare groups or shelter employees looking to divert attention from their own malfeasance. I’ve been the victim of this myself. There isn’t much you can tell me about the phenomenon that I don’t already know. Yet I’m in too deep to quit. The only solution I can come up with at this point is to do what major animal welfare organizations refuse to consider—an end-run around corrupt or just plain apathetic municipal shelter management and officials who literally could not care less about any of it.
There is an answer.
To rebalance the warped ratio of supply and demand for pets, no laws have to be broken. No communities need to be disrupted. No picket lines or public protests must be staged. No salaried employees at high kill shelters need to worry about losing their jobs.
We simply need to raise worldwide awareness that despite the rhetoric, “no-kill” has stalled out in many regions of the U.S. While celebrity activists and major animal welfare organizations refuse to acknowledge the problem, front-line animal rescue veterans know exactly how to solve it and are eager to do so. All we need is solid financial backing, and this not even a fraction of the amount raked in every month by the ASPCA with their multi-million-dollar “Arms of the Angels” campaign.
So what is the solution? SPAY and NEUTER. Tried and true, an old standby that hasn’t once failed to reduce intakes at municipal shelters. Never, not in all the years that spay/neuter programs have been implemented as a means of pet population control, has this method not worked.
However, the service is not free. Even at low-cost clinics, surgery has a price tag. Who should be responsible to pay? It’s clear the owners won’t step up. If that were the case, they would have done so already. No. We need to raise the money from citizens of the most prosperous nation in the world and take whatever international help is offered to sterilize owned animals in rural, economically depressed communities, no questions asked, no co-pay required, no application to fill out, and no involvement from municipal shelters or government officials at any level. I would rather spend the rest of my animal welfare career shuttling animals back and forth to the nearest spay/neuter clinic than take in one more homeless animal that no one but me is willing to love.
If you’re interested in getting behind this movement, either financially or by agreeing to participate in a massive, worldwide social media push, please let us know in the comments or message me privately on Discord.