By Nathan & Jennifer Winograd
Pit bull adoption bans do not reduce dog bites or dog severity, but they do kill a lot of dogs (and, according to an article in the Washington Post, are likely motivated by racism). They are, however, supported by Merritt Clifton. Indeed, a columnist for The Huffington Post called Clifton “the academic impostor behind the pit bull hysteria”.
This summer will mark 16 years since the achievement of our nation’s first open-admission animal control shelter for all animals, including cats, dogs, rabbits, reptiles, birds, hamsters, gerbils, horses, mice, rats, and others; 16 years since a kinder, gentler and more effective form of animal sheltering was created that not only upended half a century of conventional wisdom in the animal protection movement, but in so doing, sparked a revolution that has since spread like wildfire across America.
From the heartland of Texas where dozens of cities now claim live release rates between 90% to 99%, to the shores of the Great Lakes where over 50 of Michigan’s 80 sheltered communities have likewise done the same, causing killing to plummet and adoptions to skyrocket, and all points north and south, east and west and in between, virtually all marks on the compass now point in the direction of an American shelter which has replaced the killing of nine out of 10 animals with humane, life-affirming alternatives. In doing so, these communities are relegating to the dustbin of history, as never before, the tired cliches and disproven dogmas that once schooled us to believe that the best we can ever do for our nation’s neediest of animals is to adopt a precious few and simply kill the rest.
Before this profound and life-saving innovation began to touch the hearts and inspire the imaginations of a generation of shelter directors, not a single American could claim the honor of living in a community where over 9 out of ten dogs, cats, rabbits, and other animals at their local shelter were protected rather than harmed. Today, over 10 million Americans can claim that privilege. Sixteen years ago, the average shelter director turning to our nation’s large animal protection groups for guidance on how to best serve the animals in their care would find neither encouragement, nor motivation, nor lifesaving innovation, but rather lessons on the necessity of killing, classes on how to perform that killing, and Orwellian talking points on how to deflect blame for doing so. But that was another place and another time. It was another America.
Today as never before, the animal protection movement is increasingly rejecting its historic enabling of shelter killing. Gone is the stalwart resistance to programs that replace killing. And disappearing forever under the crushing weight of evidence and experience are the myths and misperceptions that formed its foundation: pet overpopulation, or the notion that there are simply too many animals and not enough homes; and that because of this imbalance, shelters cannot adopt their way out of killing. Today, not one, not two, not three, nor even a handful of cities have proved just how wrong this calculus is, but many, many hundreds of cities, and the numbers continue to grow. In fact, the millions of lives saved and the inspirational stories by shelter directors who threw off the twin shackles of dogma and defeatism to radically transform their shelters for the better are enough to excite and warm the heart of any true animal lover. Looking to our nation’s best performing shelters for reassurance and inspiration, it is no longer naive, wishful thinking to imagine a not-so-distant-future in which shelter killing will be remembered as a cruel anachronism of a less compassionate but thankfully bygone past.
Yet not everyone who claims to be a part of the animal protection movement celebrates this good news or the hope that it represents for the millions of animals still entering shelters that have yet to embrace a culture of lifesaving. Not everyone who claims to be a part of the animal protection movement wants our shelters to move boldly into this better and brighter future. Tragically, motivated by a superannuated ignorance and a deliberate desire to mislead others, there are still those who cling to and perpetuate the dead language of the past that enables shelter killing. In a desperate bid to drag us back into the isolated darkness where they continue to dwell–a place where facts hold no power, experience no relevance, and the lives of animals no value but where their reputations remain unthreatened by a movement that has since left them behind and rendered their “expertise” irrelevant–there are those who don’t want an end to the killing, who continue to argue to other activists, to public officials, and anyone else who will still listen that saving animals instead of killing them is the darker of the two options. Merritt Clifton is one of these people.
Like clockwork, Merritt Clifton–who a columnist for The Huffington Post called “the academic impostor behind the pit bull hysteria”–has recently published his annual article claiming “we can’t adopt our way out of killing.” Just like last year’s, the new one is once again making the rounds. This time, perhaps tired of people pointing out the obvious: that when it comes to evidence, Clifton is a pioneer of what Stephen Colbert once called “truthiness,” well before “fake news” and “alternative facts” came onto the national consciousness, he enlists Jeff Young, a surrogate to do his dirty work in order to remind all of us who have forgotten him that he is still there and believes his dated and disproven views on this issue still matter.
Rather than data, rather than experience, rather than any kind of evidence, we’re treated to a series of circular arguments, ad hominem attacks, cliches, and verbal tantrums straight out of a time machine, dragging us back to the 1990s when “No Kill” was in its infancy and the large, national groups were threatened by its power. No Kill shelters mean “being warehoused” and “can be far worse than death!” Rescue groups are “set up by self-gratifying little chieftains” and nothing more than hoarders (“collectors”) in disguise. Spay/neuter is the one and only answer. And of course, that we can’t adopt our way out of killing. As to the latter, how do we know? Because Young and Clifton say so: three times, with exclamation points, instead of evidence, following each statement to corroborate their apparent veracity.
We’re told in the title: “We cannot adopt, warehouse or rescue our way out of dog & cat overpopulation!”
We’re told in the text: “First, you must understand that you cannot, and I repeat, cannot adopt, warehouse or rescue your way out of overpopulation!”
And we’re reminded again later in the text: “We cannot adopt, shelter, warehouse or kill our way out of dog and cat overpopulation.”
If you are waiting for the actual reasons why–the actual evidence–you’ll be disappointed. This is received wisdom. It is so because they say it is so. And because they repeat that they say it is so. And then repeat it again. And again.
The tragic thing about Clifton and Young’s desperate bid for relevance is the consequences. Anyone wanting it to be true, any pound director needing absolution for killing in the face of readily available lifesaving alternatives they simply refuse to implement, any official who wants to justify the wanton killing of pit bulls as a matter of policy, will find in Clifton a ready resource for their deadly policies. And lives will be lost.
Of course, while not providing facts to buttress an argument may not in itself be proof of their falsehood, facts which contradict such claims certainly are. So here, for the umpteenth time and in the service of any animals whose very life might depend on the decisions made by anyone who might be misled by Clifton and Young’s errors of fact, judgment, and ethics, is a point by point refutation of each of their erroneous claims. But for those who have read it all before, are working at shelters that have achieved lifesaving success, or live in such a community, and do not want to join me in my time travel back to the 1990s, suffice to say that the bottom line to Clifton’s latest salvo is two-fold.
First, for Clifton and Young to be right, they must prove that there are not enough homes for the number of animals who enter shelters that need them. The evidence is overwhelmingly to the contrary. In fact, something cannot be impossible if it has already been achieved.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, is the timeless admonition that those like Clifton and Young who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are busy doing it.
We cannot adopt, warehouse or rescue our way out of dog & cat overpopulation!
Putting aside that warehousing has nothing to do with No Kill sheltering, yes, our shelters can adopt out and work with rescue groups to replace killing, and many hundreds of shelters already have. Something cannot be impossible if it has already been achieved. And not only do the experience of shelters that have done precisely that prove the viability of such a statement, so does the math, math that proves is that there is no pet overpopulation.
Roughly seven million animals enter shelters every year. Can we find homes for that many shelter animals? The good news is that we don’t have to. Some animals need adoption, but others do not. Some animals, like unsocialized community cats, should never enter shelters in the first place and should simply be sterilized and released. Others will be reclaimed by their families. Some animals will go to rescue groups. Others are irremediably suffering or hopelessly ill. And many more can be kept out of the shelter through a comprehensive pet retention effort. About 2.6 million dogs and cats will be killed in pounds and shelters this year, of which 2.57 million will be killed for lack of a new home. Can we find homes for those animals? Yes we can.
Using the most successful adoption communities as a benchmark and adjusting for population, U.S. shelters combined should be adopting almost nine million animals a year. That is over three times the number being killed for lack of a home. In fact, it is more than total impounds, and of those, almost half do not need a new home. But the news gets even better. There are 10 times that many potential adopters each year.
In fact, there are communities with extremely high per capita intake rates which have achieved live release rates as high as 98% and 99% and it didn’t take them years to do it. The majority of communities achieved it in six months or less and some did it overnight. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the other programs and services of the No Kill Equation aren’t crucial. They are. Some, like foster care, keep animals alive long enough to be adopted because, quite simply, some animals are not ready for adoption when they first arrive at the shelter. But, in the end, all these animals found loving homes.
Even, assuming for the sake of argument that we really can’t adopt our way out of killing, shelters nationally are killing roughly 40% of all incoming animals. If I can borrow from an overused sports analogy: that puts us at the 40-yard line. And although the evidence is overwhelming to the contrary, let’s say that we can never cross the goal line because of “pet overpopulation.” What is wrong with moving the ball forward? If all shelters turbocharged their adoption programs and achieved the kind of success that communities saving 98-99% of the animals are saving, we can save millions of additional lives nationally, regardless of whether we ever achieve an entirely No Kill nation. Even if people do not believe, as I do, that a No Kill nation is inevitable, that is worth doing and worth doing without delay. Because every year we delay, indeed every day we delay, the body count increases. It is indefensible for anyone to rail against a programs that would dramatically lower death rates because they lack the belief, despite all evidence to the contrary, that those programs can eliminate killing entirely.
If humane groups are truly interested in solving overpopulation, then their primary focus must be on spay/neuter.
I am an advocate for sterilization, it is a core program of the No Kill Equation I champion, and when I ran shelters, we performed a lot of it. But sterilization ignores the needs of the animals that are already in the shelter and under an immediate death threat, leaving them with no protection from killing of any kind. To be sure, sterilization continues to play a very important role in sheltering and is one of the reasons the No Kill movement has been so successful. In the 1970s, for example, shelter intake was estimated at well over 20 million and as high as 26 million. It is as low as six to seven million today thanks, in large part, to a significant investment in sterilization. Clearly, the availability of high-volume, low-cost sterilization was a game changer. But we may be facing the law of diminishing returns regarding sterilization. In fact, several studies have shown that even years of high-volume, low-cost sterilization within a community have less of an impact on shelter death rates than other programs of the No Kill Equation.
Second, continued promotion and availability of high-volume, low-cost sterilization is a means to help a community reach stasis in its shelters where adoptions equal intakes, making the achievement of No Kill even easier. This is important because the lower the intake, the easier it is for even unmotivated, ineffective, and uncaring directors (in short, your average kill shelter director) to replace killing.
Moreover, if sterilization allows a community to drop intakes significantly enough so that local demand for animals can no longer be met, the community can begin importing animals from high-kill rate jurisdictions, saving those lives, too, as some shelters in No Kill communities are currently doing. Until all communities become No Kill, this is yet another means of reducing shelter killing.
In the end, however, the most we can say is that sterilization reduces intake rates, but not necessarily rates of killing. That depends on other programs. In fact, a comparative study of North Carolina shelters found that the primary factors accounting for the decline in death rates were partnerships with rescue groups, increased emphasis on adoptions including offsite adoptions, quality of the staff, marketing and public relations including use of social media, and improved operating procedures. In other words, the programs and services of the No Kill Equation that Clifton and Young downplay. In short, neither the problem of, nor the solution to, shelter killing is as simple as “spay/neuter” and communities with high per capita intake rates, and without comprehensive sterilization programs, have been able to achieve save rates well in excess of 95% and as high as 99%.
Lastly, spay/neuter does not address the needs of animals already in a shelter, and without alternatives in place to killing for these animals, they will continue to lose their lives. Shelters are supposed to be the safety net for the neediest animals in a community, and given the inherently uncertain and changing nature of life, there will always be a need for animal shelters in the same way there will always be a need for public service agencies that care for orphaned abandoned or needy children, regardless of how many spay and neuter surgeries are done in a community. The No Kill Equation as a whole addresses the needs of existing animals already in shelters, not just those who have yet to be born.
To continue to reduce every issue to a failure to sterilize is exactly what the regressive shelter director which fights No Kill want animal activists to do: point the finger of blame anywhere but on those who are actually doing the killing. Those who love animals must stop giving them the luxury of this out. We don’t need animals to disappear from the Earth before we can do right by them. Instead, we should be demanding that those we pay to care for homeless animals with our tax and philanthropic dollars provide them the care, kindness, and a loving home that is their birthright.
For more info: The Lie at the Heart of the Killing. See also The Spay/Neuter Solution Has a North Carolina Problem.
I believe ‘no-kill’ shelters are the most inhumane trend in animal welfare. The trend toward every shelter trying to become a ‘no-kill’ shelter has allowed for hoarding, collecting, and warehousing sick and dying animals to become widespread norms.
At the open admission No Kill shelter I oversaw, the average length of stay for animals was eight days, we had a return rate of less than two percent, we reduced the disease rate by 90 percent from the prior administration, we reduced the killing rate by 75 percent, no animal ever celebrated an anniversary in the facility, and we saved well over 90 percent of the animals (over 95% using comparative save rate calculations). In short, we brought sheltering into the 21st century. Many other No Kill shelters have similar lengths of stay. The average length of stay at open admission No Kill shelters is roughly 14 days or the length of time a dog or cat might spend at a boarding facility while their family is on vacation. But even if it was longer, it doesn’t matter. A few months or even a year in a shelter that offers nutritious food, medical care, socialization, and plenty of love and attention, is a small price to pay (and often no price at all) for a lifetime of love.
By denigrating the movement to end shelter killing as akin to warehousing and abuse, and by ignoring the protocols of shelters which have truly achieved No Kill, these naysayers not only do so to provide political cover for their own killing but in order to embrace a nation of shelters grounded in killing—a defeatist mentality, inherently unethical and antithetical to animal welfare. To imply that No Kill means warehousing, therefore, is a cynicism which has only one purpose: to defend those who fail to save lives from public criticism and public accountability by painting the alternative as even darker.
For more info: No Kill 101.
Practicing ‘no-kill’ sheltering while either neglecting animals or turning away animals in need does not mean you love animals.
No Kill shelters can be public or private, large or small, humane societies or municipal agencies. A No Kill shelter can be either “limited admission” or “open admission.” And there are plenty of No Kill animal control shelters and thus No Kill communities which prove it. Said one: “We figured out how to save over 97% of ALL our animals in an open admission city pound. By doing so, we have tons of donations, tons of volunteers, and tons of happy adopters… In my experience, animal advocates arguing that we ‘have to kill’ animals (followed by the usual excuses…) is false… Kill shelters are on the way out. Modern, high achieving shelters are going to make sure of that.”
An “open admission” shelter does not have to—and should not—be an open door to the killing of animals. In fact, using the term “open admission” for kill shelters is misleading. Kill shelters are closed to people who love animals. They are closed to people who might have lost their job or lost their home but do not want their animals to die. They are closed to Good Samaritans who find animals but do not want them killed. They are closed to animal lovers who want to help save lives but will not be silent in the face of needless killing. And so they turn these people and their animals away, refusing to provide to them the service they are being paid to perform.
Ironically, kill shelters are so enmeshed in their so-called “open door” philosophy that they are blind to any proactive steps that might limit the numbers of animals coming in through those doors, like pet retention programs, or that might increase the numbers of animals adopted, like comprehensive marketing campaigns. “Open door” does not mean “more humane” when the end result is mass killing.
For more info: Wish You Were Here.
There’s more in the article to debunk, such as the ad hominem attack against rescuers, but I’ve addressed them before and my response is already bordering on a book (for more information, see the links throughout). Suffice to say that while it is the animals who pay the ultimate price when they are killed, but they are not the only ones who suffer. Many rescuers do what they do out of sheer love and concern for the well-being of animals. When animals are killed, it can take a heavy emotional toll on that rescuer, leading to feelings of anger, helplessness and despair. As a society, we owe a particular debt of gratitude to people who voluntarily offer a helping hand to the needy and that includes our nation’s homeless animals. Animal rescuers and shelter volunteers are compassionate people who open their hearts and homes to provide a safety-net for animals others may have abandoned and whom our dysfunctional shelters betray even further by killing. And yet those who should be celebrating them as heroes, like Clifton and Young, instead denigrate and malign them, paradoxically equating them with some of the cruelest people there are. That in itself is cruel.
For more info: The Sheltering Crisis Hurts People, Too.
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