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How ‘saving’ animals at all costs can be a dangerous proposition

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By Ingrid E. Newkirk

All across the country, people are hearing calls to raise the “save rate” at animal shelters. But beware: As warm and fuzzy as that sounds, a shelter’s high “save” rate does not reduce by one puppy or kitten the number of unwanted animals born every minute in private homes, in puppy mills, in breeders‘ kennels and catteries, on the street or under a porch. In fact, it can increase that number, to the detriment of dogs, cats, taxpayers and law-enforcement officials.

Shockingly, pressure to raise shelter “save rates” actually increases the “pet” overpopulation crisis. How? To reduce the number of animals it euthanizes, a shelter must reduce the number of animals it takes in by charging high “surrender” fees, putting people on waiting lists, sending unsterilized animals to “foster” homes and more. Many people cannot afford high fees, and those evicted from their own homes or entering a women’s shelter or nursing home can’t wait for weeks or months for their animal to be admitted.

Cities learn the hard way that to play the “high-save-rate” game, something has to give. Because the number of homeless animals far exceeds the number of available homes, no matter what is done to try to conjure up more adopters, facilities are always full. Sick, injured, old, aggressive and other “unadoptable” animals are turned away—since accepting them would hurt the “save” statistics.

Shelter operating hours are also often reduced to decrease intake, leaving anyone who can’t take time off during the day out of luck. Elderly people on a fixed income and others who cannot afford the fees charged by veterinarians for euthanasia are left with nowhere to take their old and ailing dog or cat for a merciful release.

In San Antonio, Texas, where the shelter has gone “no-kill” and many strays are left to fend for themselves, animal wardens report that thousands of stray animals are breeding, forming packs and dying on the streets, with more than 28,000 dog and cat bodies scraped up in the last year alone.

Shelters trying to achieve a high “save” rate invariably stop requiring verification that previous animal companions have received veterinary care and stop conducting even basic home checks—vital safeguards that prevent animals from falling into the hands of people with evil intentions. And animals are handed over to anyone who can “foster” them, including to animal hoarders who stack cages in their house, basement or garage. This situation creates nightmarish scenarios, such as the recent Florida case in which 100 cats burned to death inside individual plastic crates, unable to flee as the plastic melted onto them, and the Angel’s Gate “animal hospice” in New York, where police found caged animals who had died in agony without veterinary care. Every week brings news of more little houses of horror.

Shelters that cram more animals into runs and cages than can safely be accommodated become so severely crowded that the dogs fight and injure themselves, the cats contract upper respiratory infections and disease outbreaks sicken healthy animals, as has happened in Washington, D.C., and is happening in Hillsborough and Miami-Dade counties in Florida now. In Austin, Texas, the city shelter stopped accepting cats and then, two weeks later, dogs. Where do they all go? In parts of Oregon where shelters have stopped accepting stray cats, they go into the woods or into a bucket of water.

There are literally hundreds more unwanted animals born every minute of every day. Once every available home or basement has been filled with animals from the shelter, where are all the new animals and their litters going to go?

What’s a community to do? To truly save dogs’ and cats’ lives, let’s reject this shelter “save-rate” nonsense and get to the root of the problem: the population explosion. Open-admission shelters, solid animal-control services, community education and reduced-cost spay-and-neuter programs are the keys to a real “save” rate.

Ingrid E. Newkirk is the president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

‘No-kill’ is no solution to animal homelessness

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By Teresa Chagrin

Last year, a family called PETA seeking help for their dying cat. The cat was elderly, rail thin, cold to the touch, moaning and too weak even to lift his head. Despite his hopeless condition, a local “no-kill” shelter had refused to help him because the family could not afford the mandatory 40-dollar surrender fee.

That’s just one example of how “no-kill” policies—which some people are pressuring animal shelters across the country to adopt—make shelters’ euthanasia statistics look good but leave desperate animals high and dry.

PETA and other open-admission animal shelters are there for thousands of local animals like that dying cat. A Virginia official speaking of PETA’s euthanasia rate acknowledged to USA Today, “PETA will basically take anything that comes through the door, and other shelters won’t do that.” Turning away animals might allow “no-kill” facilities to boast that they “never euthanize,” but it takes a certain lack of conscience to slam the door in the face of an animal in desperate need.

If a community becomes “no-kill” before first becoming “no-birth,” consider where tens of thousands of cast-off animals each year will end up. Animals who are turned away by “no-kill” shelters don’t vanish into thin air. They are dumped on the streets, sentenced to a miserable life on a chain or in a dirty pen in the yard of someone who doesn’t even want them or cruelly killed by people who are desperate to get rid of them.

This scenario plays out wherever communities become more concerned with statistics than helping individual animals. In Easton, Pennsylvania, the homeless cat population exploded after the local shelter became “no-kill” and was perpetually too full to accept strays. The town’s exasperated mayor commented, “The no-kill killed us. That’s what did it.”

Even animals who are accepted into “no-kill” facilities are far from safe. This month, a Humane Society of North Texas investigator found 91 sick and emaciated cats inside a feces-strewn trailer run by a self-professed “rescuer.” The cats had been handed over to the hoarder by the city of Fort Worth as part of a push to reduce its euthanasia rates.

At Florida’s “no-kill” Caboodle Ranch, a PETA investigation found nearly 700 cats in moldy trailers that reeked of ammonia and wooden sheds that were strewn with vomit, trash and waste. Cats suffering from severe upper-respiratory infections gasped for air and struggled to breathe. One cat was left to languish for months with a perforated cornea and eventually died.

Animals need more than a roof over their heads. They need a committed guardian who will love and care for them for life. Every animal born can have such a home if we concentrate on the right end of this tragedy.

As many readers know, PETA has led the charge against animal homelessness in our own community by sterilizing—for free or a token amount—more than 80,000 animals in the last decade. To solve this problem without harming animals in the effort, we must all work together to implement mandatory spay/neuter laws, outlaw animal sales at pet shops, sterilize our own and our neighbors’ animals, and visit less fortunate areas to help those who do not have the resources to sterilize their animals. Turning away unwanted animals or handing them over to unregulated “rescues,” which is inevitable in a “no-kill community,” will only increase animal neglect and deaths in our neighborhoods.

Teresa Chagrin is an animal care and control specialist in People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) Cruelty Investigations Department, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

December 27, 2012 at 5:57 pm

This October, ‘fall’ for a dog from a shelter

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By Lindsay Pollard-Post

I walk my dog, Pete, every day, and people are always stopping us to ask me, “Where did you get your dog?” Pete looks like a common breed, so I guess many people just assume that I bought him from a breeder. It’s fun to see the surprise on their faces when I smile and say that Pete is a mutt and I adopted him from the local animal shelter.

October is “Adopt a Shelter Dog” Month, and for people who are ready to commit to caring for a canine companion, I can say from experience that there is no better place to find your new best friend than a shelter or rescue group. I wasn’t sure what to expect when my husband and I adopted Pete almost eight years ago, but now I know that we will never look anywhere other than a shelter for our animal family members.

At shelters, you will find all kinds of dogs. We were thrilled when, on our very first visit, we found a dog who had all the qualities that we were hoping for in a canine companion: large size, long hair and lots of energy. Of course, if we had wanted a small, short-haired dog who loves to snuggle, the shelter had plenty of dogs who would have fit the bill. As we walked past cage after cage, dogs of all ages, personalities and sizes—mutts and purebreds alike—poked their noses through the bars, wagged their tails and watched us with pleading eyes, as if to say, “Please pick me!”

I would have taken every one of those sweet dogs home if I could have, but with the help of the shelter’s adoption counselor, we were able to narrow down our decision. She walked us through each step of the process, asked us questions and told us about Pete’s personality and background to help ensure that our lifestyle, activity level and experience would make us a good fit. Then she showed us to a private visiting room and gave us plenty of time to get to know our potential new family member one-on-one.

It didn’t take long to fall in love with Pete, and after considering the decision for a day or two (adopting is a lifelong commitment, after all!) we signed the papers to make him a part of our family. For a nominal adoption fee—hundreds less than what breeders typically charge—our new addition came home neutered, vaccinated, dewormed and microchipped. The elated shelter staffers hugged and kissed Pete goodbye and offered us follow-up support and classes to ensure that his transition to a new home would be a success.

Pete has become such an important part of our life that it’s difficult to think about what might have happened if we had not adopted him. Every year, open-admission shelters across the country are forced to euthanize up to 4 million dogs and cats. Breeders, pet stores and people who don’t have their animals sterilized put shelter workers in this heartbreaking position because they bring more animals into a world that is already tragically short on good homes.

But you can help change that this October, by ensuring that your animal companions are sterilized and, if you are ready, opening your heart and home to one of the many lovable dogs waiting in a shelter. Just get ready to have lots of people ask you where you found that smart, sweet, one-of-a-kind dog of yours.

Lindsay Pollard-Post is a staff writer for The PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

October 12, 2011 at 4:59 pm

Adopt, don’t shop, for your four-legged friend

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By Paula Moore

Several years ago, I added a Siamese cat to my family. Mochi had been picked up as a stray by a local animal control agency. When no one claimed him, he was turned over to a Siamese cat rescue group. The first time I took him to my veterinarian, a man at the vet’s office peeked into Mochi’s carrier and then said to his wife, “He’s a Siamese.” “I just adopted him from a rescue group,” I explained. Incredulous, the man responded, “Siamese cats don’t need rescuing!”

June is Adopt a Shelter Cat Month, and for people with the energy, resources, patience and love to devote to a feline companion, it’s the perfect time to save a life by adopting a cat from an animal shelter or reputable breed-rescue group. Whether you have your heart set on a rambunctious kitten or a more sedate “lap cat,” a regal Persian or a sassy tabby, animal shelters are overflowing with cats of every stripe.

I’ll never understand why some people still turn to breeders, classified ads or pet stores—all of which contribute to the animal overpopulation crisis—when animal shelters and rescue groups are filled to the brim with lovable, affectionate cats (and dogs) who would make wonderful companions. With so many more animals than there are good homes, shelters have no choice but to euthanize many healthy and friendly cats. Every year, 3 to 4 million cats and dogs are euthanized in animal shelters.

If you’re determined to have a specific breed of cat, you can still rescue an animal in need of a loving home. Having a pedigree doesn’t protect cats or dogs from being tossed out like old furniture when they’re no longer wanted. I recently adopted a second Siamese cat who, like Mochi, was a stray. Romeo had been neutered and declawed, so obviously he was once someone else’s companion, but no one had come forward to claim him.

The rescue group from which I adopted Mochi is currently caring for several Siamese cats who were left to fend for themselves when their owners moved away. One cat was stuffed into a box that was taped shut and left outside an animal shelter.

Another older Siamese was given up because his owner didn’t want to spend the money to find out why he was sick. Then there are the Siamese kittens who were born homeless because someone didn’t bother to spay or neuter his or her cat and an unwanted litter was the result.

These same sad scenarios are repeated time and time again all over the country, and they affect mutts and purebreds alike.

There are other reasons to visit an animal shelter or rescue group rather than supporting breeders and pet stores. Pre-loved cats are more likely to be litter box-trained, and they’re pros at sharpening their claws on a scratching post instead of your favorite sofa. Shelters screen animals for specific temperaments and behaviors, and most have trained adoption counselors available to help you find the perfect fit for your family. Animals in shelters and rescue groups are also checked out by a veterinarian when they arrive, and they leave spayed or neutered, microchipped and vaccinated.

Mochi and Romeo went from life on the street to a loving home where they lounge on windowsills on sunny days, playfully chase each other up and down the hallway and snuggle in bed with me at night. If you’re ready to share your home with a feline companion, why not give a homeless cat—or two—a second chance at life? Your new best friend could be as close as your local animal shelter.

Paula Moore is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

June 9, 2011 at 5:09 pm