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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.

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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

This Labor Day, remember animal shelters’ unsung heroes

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By Lindsay Pollard-Post

Labor Day means a carefree long weekend for many nine-to-fivers, but some laborers can’t just close up shop and forget about their jobs, even for a day. For animal shelter workers, the work never ends because the stream of battered and bruised animals in need of refuge never ends. Few people have a more emotionally wrenching job than those who punch in every day knowing that they will likely have to euthanize the animals they’ve devoted themselves to helping.

We can all help ease shelter workers’ burdens by doing our part to slow the stream of homeless animals. That means always having our cats and dogs spayed or neutered and adopting animals instead of buying them from breeders or pet stores.

As someone who has spent years volunteering at my local animal shelter, I know that animal shelter staffers are some of the hardest-working people around. They scrub down poop-strewn kennels, comb animals who are matted and crawling with fleas, and give belly rubs to dogs who have never had a bath because they’ve been kept chained up like old bicycles their entire lives. They get peed on, slobbered on and covered with muddy paw prints and cat hair every day.

They heft heavy dogs onto examination tables, unload vans full of 50-pound bags of food, get bitten by petrified dogs who have known nothing but cruelty from humans, and get scratched by cats who are frantic after having gone from the home they’ve always known to a cage in a roomful of other crying felines. They cuddle cats, throw balls for dogs, slip treats through cage bars, speak kind words and give many scratches behind the ears. They do their best to make the animals’ stay at the shelter as happy and full of love as possible.

But because shelters don’t have a magic wand that they can wave to create loving homes for all the animals who so desperately need them, those who work in open-admission shelters must also perform the thankless, gut-wrenching task of holding the animals they’ve played with and loved in their arms while the euthanasia needle slides into a vein and the light in their eyes softly flickers out. These people are heroes for doing the right thing for animals even though it takes such a toll on them personally.

Breeders, pet stores and people who haven’t had their animals spayed or neutered put shelter workers in this tragic position. Every new puppy or kitten who is intentionally or accidentally brought into the world will take the chance for a home away from one of the thousands of animals waiting in shelters. Some of them will end up homeless themselves. Every new puppy or kitten means an animal in a shelter will die. And every new puppy or kitten means another broken heart for a brave shelter worker.

Shelter workers’ jobs will never be cushy, but if more people commit to spaying and neutering their animals before that first litter and if more people open their hearts and homes to the many loving, eager-to-please dogs and cats waiting in shelters, we could dramatically reduce the number of animals shelter workers must euthanize for lack of a good home. We could save thousands of lives—and make shelter workers’ lives a little bit easier too. 

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

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

August 31, 2011 at 5:42 pm