Successful no-kill strategy more than one tactic

I’ve read several articles recently that deconstruct no-kill policies and practices into categories of activity – adoptions, shelter-surrender intervention, transports and spay/neuter – and then attack each as inadequate as if no-kill communities or those on the path to no-kill are one-trick ponies unable to walk and chew gum at the same time.

For example, they portray shelters that employ appointment-based owner surrenders as slamming the door in the face of people looking to relinquish their pets. High-volume adoption programs are pulled apart as inadequate, stand-alone strategies (there are no stand-alone strategies to achieve no-kill), and transports are vilified as just moving the problem around from region to region.

In fact, serious no-kill campaigns include all of these approaches, and then some, toward the goal of ending shelter killing, and the people who write this stuff tearing apart individual strategies should know better. It leads me to conclude that they are intentionally ignorant and living in their own echo chamber, or they are pushing their own agenda.

One of the favorite lines of many of these critics is “you can’t adopt our way out of shelter killing,” and their hobbyhorse is that spay/neuter and only spay/neuter can get the job done. The suggestion here is that no-kill communities and campaigns divert too many resources to adoptions, foster networks, neonatal kitten nurseries, return-to-owner efforts, transports, shelter-surrender intervention and other lifesaving tactics rather than throwing all of their energy, funding and volunteers behind spay/neuter.

This is a strange and rather myopic perspective given that the success that no-kill has enjoyed has been based on the implementation of a suite of programs and policies tailored to the unique needs of the target community, the role and nature of the lead agency, and the demographic and economic profile of the jurisdiction.

Austin is a particularly pointed example of this. In 1999, prior to devoting her energies to Austin Pets Alive (APA), Dr. Ellen Jefferson founded and operated Emancipet, a free and low-cost spay/neuter clinic in an effort to have an impact on reducing shelter deaths at the Austin Animal Center. The first few years demonstrated laudable results, but then positive outcomes flat-lined, and after nine years of operation, in 2008 Ellen handed Emancipet over to able successors and offered her services as a volunteer executive director to APA, a respected rescue that had devolved from its heyday to low-key operation. She complemented the continuing work of Emancipet with a re-born APA and full-bore adoption and foster network operation that transformed Austin into a no-kill city in a little over two years. Ellen told me once that she knew that her spay/neuter work was an unquestionable good, but she couldn’t make a direct correlation between a spayed animal and a shelter life saved. On the other hand, a shelter adoption of an animal scheduled for euthanasia offered a one-to-one correlation between adoption and lives saved. Additionally, she pointed out that since every animal adopted from the shelter is fixed before placement, there is a litter-prevention component built into high-volume adoptions. Her decision to switch gears from a spay/neuter-only approach is well documented in this Maddie’s Fund interview.

There should be no conflict and no argument here, but dogma often trumps pragmatism. The bottom line is reducing shelter deaths, and no credible no-kill advocate downgrades or dismisses the importance of widely available, free or affordable, and easily accessible spay/neuter as a critical component of no-kill. It’s an investment in gradually reduced shelter intake and a sustainable no-kill future, but there is also a very real daily reality of animals dying today that must be dealt with and that requires community engagement, foster networks, trap/neuter/return (TNR), neonatal kitten nurseries, shelter-intervention programs, lots and lots of adoptions, and any other element that proves it’s worth of saving lives. The lives of shelter pets are too important to allow dogma to get in the way.

Read about Best Friends initiatives to Save Them All.

Francis Battista