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7 hard-learned lessons about animal shelters, euthanasia, and the No Kill movement

My 5th lesson: There are no responsible breeders

Monday June 6th, 2011

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Chantilly, a beautiful Chihuahua is available at the Espanola Valley Humane Society in New Mexico.

by Leslie Smith, DogTime editor

March, 2011

Last week a tiny Chihuahua was left in the “after hours drop box” at our shelter. Many people are appalled that such thing as a drop box even exists, but our staff assures them it’s essential. For example, when a stray is found in the middle of the night, a person can leave the animal in the drop box, knowing he’ll be brought inside first thing in the morning.

The drop box, really more like a tiny closet, is heated in the winter with a bowl of water and a toy inside. About three times a week, a dog or cat is waiting there in the morning when the first staff member arrives. It’s impossible to know whether the animal’s been there an hour or five hours or twelve hours.

There are other, more critical reasons for the drop box, but we don’t advertise them. Like the fact that it reduces the number of animals who are simply discarded somewhere. The drop box saves owners from having to pay a relinquish fee and shields them from what they think will be the scorn or judgment of an in-person surrender. Sadly, some people are more likely to abandon an animal than to face the possibility of disapproval.

So while the idea of it breaks my heart, I’m grateful that we (and other shelters) provide a drop box. I feel much worse for the animal abandoned on the highway median. Or for the dog left tied up in the back yard when his owner is evicted. And for the kittens collected in a rubber-banded pillowcase and deposited on the snowy shelter steps in the middle of January.

Why DogTime lists “kill” shelters

Open-admissions shelters (see sidebar) exist for one or both of two reasons:

  1. There are not enough homes in a particular area willing or wanting to adopt animals in need.
  2. There are not enough effective shelter administrators or human or financial resources in these areas to match up would-be owners with homeless animals.

Either way, this is not the fault of the animal. So it’s our obligation, to try every way we can, to find homes for these dogs and cats (birds, ferrets, rabbits, etc.). And yes, in some cases, this assistance is to the benefit of substandard shelters.

As frustrating as that fact is, it is not our goal to put open admissions shelters out of business. (We need open-admissions shelters to ensure all animals have a safe place to go should their owners no longer be able — or want — to care for them.)

As for breeders…

So with that logic, why doesn’t DogTime list breeders? Don’t those animals also deserve a happy home?

Indeed, they do. The difference is, breeders are actively adding to the number of animals in need of homes. Not only that, they’re profiting from the venture. While we are still euthanizing millions of dogs and cats each year, there is no reason to increase the companion animal population. And there’s no reason to help breeders stay in business.

Even responsible breeders who genuinely love and want the best for their animals you ask? I know this statement will raise some hackles, but it needs to be said: There are no responsible breeders. At least not now, while our shelters are full and perfectly adoptable animals are dying (some of which came from breeders).

It doesn’t matter that you’ve grown up with Collies or that a German Shepherd once saved your life. I don’t care what breed you love above all others. Your passion for wanting to see that breed proliferate is irrelevant when it comes to the welfare of a single animal. Breeding is a hobby for humans. It’s morally intolerable to value the worth of a breed over the worth of an individual. No exceptions.

Pit Bulls are my favorite kind of dog. I see one on the street and I have to fight the urge to race over and nuzzle him. I look at a Pit Bull’s photo and I burst into tears at her beauty. But I’d rather see the breed go extinct than for one more to be euthanized in the name of pet overpopulation.

Next installment: We can’t continue to rely on adoption any more than we can kill our way to No Kill

This just in: Check out the writer's response to readers' comments.

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No-kill, kill, open-admissions, and limited-admissions shelters — what's the difference?

Within the No Kill movement, people classify shelters as either “kill” or “no-kill.”  The first term refers to shelters that euthanize animals largely because they don’t have the space to house them all; more dogs and cats are brought in to the shelter than get adopted out. The second term refers to shelters that euthanize only when the most extreme behavior issues are manifest or when an animal is suffering without hope.

Others prefer to classify shelters as either “open admissions” or “limited admissions.” The first refers to shelters who will take in any animal, regardless of behavioral issues or health conditions. The second refers to shelters that only take in certain animals (usually those they deem most adoptable) and therefore do not euthanize animals.

I used to think these were two sets of nomenclature to describe the same thing. A kill shelter meant you were open admission: You took in any animal that arrived on the doorstep, even if it meant eventually euthanizing him. A no-kill shelter meant you limited your admissions: You turned away certain animals, but you never needed to euthanize due to space limitation.

Before I started writing this piece, I was adamantly opposed to the terms kill and no-kill. It seemed limited admissions and open admissions much more accurately and fairly described the types of policies. After all, wasn’t turning away an animal in need on par with euthanization? But here’s what I’ve learned: The terms kill and no-kill are not interchangeable with the terms open admissions and limited admissions. The No Kill movement says shelters can be both open admissions and no kill — "all" you need are competent, forward-thinking administrators.

That said, the vast majority of the nation’s self-described “no kill” shelters are indeed “limited admission.” And since refusing to admit an animal guarantees no better a fate for him than could an open admissions shelter, I will use the term “open admission shelter” instead of “kill shelter” for the remainder of this article.

So, while No Kill is completely appropriate for the name of movement, it’s not altogether fair as a label for a shelter.  I don’t have a good solution as to how these two types of shelters should be differentiated — my hope is that one day we won’t need to: All shelters will be open admissions and no kill. 

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