Smart ways for shelters for homeless dogs and cats to achieve “no kill”


Credit: “Why Everyone Should Rescue: Inside the Life of an Unwanted Dog,” Daily Beast

Not all homes deserve a dog or cat, but all dogs and cats deserve a loving home. Unfortunately, with nearly 3 million homeless companion animals euthanized each year in the United States, reality falls distressingly short of that ideal.

To reverse the trend, several cities are now trying out counter-intuitive measures — with impressive and promising results. As The New York Times reported, the city of Jacksonville, Florida, used to kill 23,000 animals per year but now puts down fewer than 1,000; San Jose, California, boosted its rate of shelter cats saved from 30 percent to 86 percent; and Waco, Texas went from euthanizing 6,000 dogs and cats annually to 900.

The recipe for the success of these animal shelters is the following:

The keys to saving animals are reducing the intake into shelters and getting them out as quickly as possible. The two biggest levers are subsidized spay and neuter programs and community cat diversion programs like the one pioneered in Jacksonville. (It’s crucial to sterilize pets as soon as possible. Many people don’t realize that sterilizing a pet before it is sexually active — typically before seven months of age — dramatically reduces the risks for cancer in both males and females.)

A range of other practices can keep animals out of shelters or move them out quickly — but often it means rethinking longstanding assumptions. “We make it very easy for people to leave animals in shelters,” said Pizano. “But we impose all these barriers to get them out alive.”

For instance, when an animal owner comes into a shelter to surrender a pet, it’s rarely a light decision. Often, it’s a matter of economics. Sometimes people can’t afford veterinary care or to pay for pet food. “You’re surrendering your pet and you’re sobbing,” said Pizano. “Why don’t we ask: ‘How can we help you?’”

When shelters reach out to animal welfare organizations for assistance, they get it! In Jacksonville, after Trebatoski’s team began doing this, they found they were able to help a third of the people who came in to surrender pets retain them. And the reason they were able to focus on this was because they weren’t spending all their time euthanizing cats.

These policy details and new approaches matter, for both saving adoptable animals and conserving public dollars. But a major barrier remains: spreading the innovative ideas and getting more local officials to be simply aware of them. For more information, see “Pet Statistics,” ASPCA; “How Smart Animal Shelters Aim for ‘Zero Kill’,” The New York Times (2015); and Clear The Shelters.