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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’ nightmare: When an animal ‘sanctuary’ isn’t

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By Dan Paden

Acquiring an animal means making a lifetime commitment. But what if illness, economic hardship or some other unforeseen circumstance forces you to give up a cherished animal companion? Many well-meaning people unwittingly turn to pseudo-sanctuaries that promise loving care for their animals, but as a new PETA undercover investigation reveals, giving animals away to strangers—even those who make big promises on polished websites and national TV and have celebrity endorsements—is never an acceptable option.

Caboodle Ranch, Inc., was a self-proclaimed “cat rescue sanctuary” in Florida that claimed to give cats “everything they will ever need to live a happy healthy life.” PETA’s investigation found that the “ranch” was essentially a one-person “no-kill” operation that subjected some 500 cats to filth, crowding and chronic neglect.

Cats at Caboodle were denied veterinary care for widespread upper-respiratory infections and other ailments. Obviously ill cats with green and brown discharge draining from their eyes, noses and mouths were allowed to spread infection to other cats. During the course of PETA’s investigation, some cats died of seemingly treatable conditions.

Some cats, like Lilly, whose iris protruded through a ruptured cornea, were left to suffer month after month. PETA’s investigator offered to take Lilly to a veterinarian, but Caboodle’s founder refused, apparently scared that he might “get in trouble” if a cat in Lilly’s condition were seen by others. Lilly eventually died after months of neglect.

Cats are fastidiously clean animals, but at Caboodle they were forced to use filthy, fly-covered litterboxes. Maggots gathered in cats’ food bowls and covered medications and food kept in a refrigerator inside a dilapidated trailer teeming with cockroaches. Cats frequently escaped the ranch, putting the surrounding community’s animals at risk of disease. Prompted by PETA’s evidence, officials seized Caboodle’s animals, and its founder and operator faces cruelty-to-animals charges.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of this case is that it is not an isolated incident. In 2011, a PETA investigation revealed often fatal neglect of disabled, elderly and ailing animals at Angel’s Gate, a self-proclaimed animal “hospice and rehabilitation center” in New York. Our investigator documented that animals were allowed to suffer, sometimes for weeks, without veterinary care. Paralyzed animals dragged themselves around until they developed bloody ulcers. Other animals developed urine scald after being left in diapers for days. Angel’s Gate’s founder was recently arrested and charged with cruelty to animals.

In another case, in South Carolina, some 300 cats were kept caged, most for 24 hours a day, in an unventilated storage facility crammed with stacks of crates and carriers. PETA’s investigator found that the operator of this hellhole, Sacred Vision Animal Sanctuary, knowingly deprived suffering cats of veterinary care—including those plagued with seizures, diabetes and wounds infected down to the bone. When Sacred Vision’s owner was asked if sick animals could be taken to a veterinarian for help at no cost to her, she refused, instead attempting to doctor the suffering animals on her own. The cats in that case were seized by authorities, and the owner, who was in the midst of sending about 30 of her cats to Caboodle as authorities closed in on her, now faces cruelty charges.

Our animals count on us to do what’s best for them at all times. Unfortunately, there will always be purported “rescues” and “sanctuaries” that deceive people into giving them unwanted animals, who are often left to languish and die, terrified and alone. PETA’s files are full of letters from people grief-stricken over having left animals at these hellholes.

If you truly have no choice but to part with your animals because of circumstances beyond your control, try to enlist trusted friends and family to care for them temporarily until your situation improves. If no other suitable arrangement can be made, taking animals to a well-run open-admission shelter is the kindest option.

Whatever you do, never, under any circumstances, simply hand off unwanted or sick animals to a smooth-talking stranger and hope for the best. The animal companions you love so dearly will pay for it with their lives. And you will be left with a broken heart full of regret.

Dan Paden is a senior research associate for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA); 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

March 16, 2012 at 7:14 pm