Two Steps Forward, One Step Back


The times they are a-changing. A stakeholder group made up largely of kill shelters throughout California and national groups like HSUS and the ASPCA which have long defended them (and continue to do so in many states) have written a white paper where they concede that,

  • “Open admission” is not better: That shelters should not take in healthy cats only to kill them. If they are going to kill them, it is better not to take them in. That shelters should switch to an appointment-based surrender system, rather than make surrendering animals a free-for-all.
  • That shelters should provide humane care and treatment, an admission that this is not the norm. In other words, the stakeholder group implicitly acknowledges that shelters do not treat animals kindly and they should.
  • That shelters should work with rescue groups rather than kill those animals.
  • That shelters should provide necessary medical care so that animals are not left in their facilities to suffer.
  • That shelters should embrace of neuter and release for cats as an alternative to catch and kill.

Overall, what is most encouraging about this paper is its philosophical orientation away from the notion that in order to reduce shelter killing, we must reform the public rather than those who are actually doing the killing. Because the No Kill movement has so successfully changed the terms of the debate, these groups are finally  admitting that the problem lies with the shelters themselves—a literal about-face from the positions that these groups have unequivocally and historically advocated.

The white paper can be found by clicking here.

While we should celebrate this change in rhetoric as evidence of the incredible pressure these groups are now under as a result of our efforts, these proposals are rendered paper tigers. As has been historically been the case, these groups continue to act as lobbying organizations for shelter directors, rather than for the animals. Though the will and desire to end shelter killing already exists among the California public, a love and compassion that HSUS and the ASPCA should be harnessing to codify No Kill into law and thereby save the lives of millions of animals every year, these groups continue to ignore that potential and its inherent mandate, choosing instead to perpetuate the fiction that the way we reform our shelters is not through the force of law as every other movement for social justice has done, but by merely suggesting to those who are harming animals that they stop doing so.

In fact, the group turns around and tells shelters they are free to ignore their program recommendations; that they “remain at the discretion of each community to choose whether and how to implement.” Our shelters are already run on the honor system: these alternatives to killing are already available and are being widely ignored by most shelter directors in California. To save lives, we must work to remove the discretion that allows shelter directors to avoid doing what is in the best interest of animals and to kill them needlessly, not allow that discretion to continue. In addition, the groups continue to ignore the hundreds of No Kill communities across the county and the model they use to achieve it. Pretending otherwise, the groups cherry pick which programs they like and ignore others, even though No Kill success, their alleged goal, is not possible without comprehensive implementation of the missing programs.

A critical assessment of this issue and the other ways in which their white paper falls short written by the No Kill Advocacy Center can be found by clicking here.

Moreover, while they advocate working with rescue groups, neuter and release, and public disclosure of kill rates for California, HSUS and the ASPCA continue to fight similar provisions in other states. Why? HSUS and the ASPCA have local reps in different parts of the country who are given free rein to pursue their personal, regressive agendas while receiving little to no oversight from their organizational leaders. Wayne Pacelle and Mike Markarian of HSUS continue to be absentee landlords, at best (in reality, they are harmful empty suits).

Finally, the report focuses almost exclusively on limiting intakes. Except for neuter and release for community cats and working with rescue groups (which is already the law in California), they ignore what to do with the animals once they are in their custody. Specifically, they fail to focus on two of the most important programs to save lives: increasing adoptions and getting more lost animals home, through proactive reclaim efforts.

Ironically, in one area, they swing the pendulum too far. While I have long advocated for a bifurcated holding period for stray animals—where animals are held for reclaim during a short period of time, and then reclaim, adoption or transfer for the remainder, during which period they cannot be killed—the group called for allowing shelters to skip a reclaim period altogether and allow shelters to adopt or transfer even stray animals right away. In other words, if a dog or cat comes in as a stray, and he does not have identification, he can’t be killed which is good, but he can be adopted to someone else immediately without giving his family any time to reclaim him. This is unfair to families who deeply love and will lose their animal companions. Coupled with the fact that California’s holding period is already among the lowest in the nation, there is no reason why families cannot be given a reasonable period of time to reclaim an animal during the first part of the holding period, before the animal is then held for reclaim, adoption and/or transfer. Accidents happen; animals get lost and end up at shelters. Since the choice presented—immediate adoption or sickness/death—is a false one, breaking up families by having them lose all rights in their animal with no reclaim period of any kind is draconian.

But to pro-killing holdouts like PETA, to shelter directors who still peddle clichés to justify the killing while refusing to implement readily-available lifesaving alternatives, and to those who put their allegiance to these groups even when they betray the animals, the change in rhetoric is a harbinger of things to come. The veneer is peeling off the edifice of shelter killing as never before.  As such, the white paper is an important step in the right direction.

That it is still too many step backs from what the No Kill movement has already achieved simply means they still have a long, long way to go to catch up. But the message this paper sends to all of us in the No Kill movement is crystal clear: we are winning and must continue to mount the pressure that has so obviously left these groups with no choice but to try and evolve.

Read the California Shelter Report by clicking here.

Read the No Kill Advocacy Center’s response and alternative by clicking here.


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