PETA recently argued in Long Beach, as they have elsewhere, against shelter reform and the pursuit of a No Kill city. They claimed that the only goal worth pursuing is a “no birth” nation. Here’s why that argument is simply not true and what is behind the deceptive claim.

Spay/neuter and limiting breeding are important for all kinds of reasons, which is why sterilization is a core program of the No Kill Equation model of sheltering I champion. In fact, when I ran shelters, we performed a lot of it: over 10,000 surgeries every year, over 80% of which were free. We offered free sterilization of all cats, no appointment necessary and regardless of income. We paid community cat caretakers $5 for every “feral” cat they brought us to sterilize for free. And we offered various incentives, as much as $20 per dog, brought to us for a free sterilization.

Moreover, advocacy for animals requires that we reform shelters for the same reason we should work to limit commercial breeding: both harm animals. Puppy mills, like poorly performing shelters, provide minimal to no veterinary care, lack of adequate food and shelter, lack of human socialization, and cause neglect, abuse, and the killing of animals. It is why I support laws banning the retail sales of commercially-bred animals in pet stores, why I think puppy and kitten mills should be legislated into oblivion, and why (among other reasons) I believe adoption and rescue are ethical imperatives. But sterilization is not an alternative to shelter reform. Why?

Sterilization 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 most vulnerable companion 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. The No Kill Equation, comprehensively implemented, also results in immediate lifesaving success. The vast majority of communities with placement rates between 90% and 99%, including those with very high per capita intake rates, achieved it in six months or less; many overnight, before a sterilization program was put into place. By contrast, the impact of sterilization takes time – time animals entering shelters now do not have. And in the end, the best we can say is that sterilization reduces intake rates, but not necessarily rates of killing. That is why we need both.

So why does PETA suggest the two approaches are mutually exclusive? Why does it try to derail shelter reform efforts? For the same reason it also betrays animals by killing thousands of them every year, lobbying against adoption for dogs classified as “pit bulls,” and calling for the round up and killing, rather than sterilization, of community cats (indeed, rounding up and killing community cats themselves).

For PETA, the real “evil” happens not when dogs and cats are killed (so long as that killing is done with a lethal dose of barbiturates) but when they are born, with killing being a perfectly acceptable tool by which to “correct” the “wrong” of birth. It’s a dark, dystopian, and deeply perverse view of life which anyone who believes in the rights of animals, as I do, is morally obligated to utterly repudiate.

Imagine an analogous situation in which it was discovered that a public agency tasked with caring for orphaned children was found to be taking poor care of those kids or even killing them. Imagine also that a so-called “child advocacy” organization was telling officials and advocates who were speaking out in defense of those children that nothing should be done to reform the public agency failing those children, but instead, that all efforts should be focused solely on sterilizing the parents who brought those children into the world. Such a message would gravely betray those children by giving the agency political cover, and a free ride, to keep harming and killing children. This is precisely what PETA is doing to animals when it suggests to activists and government officials that reform efforts to hold our animal shelters to the highest performance standards should be abandoned.

No Kill advocates are fighting to ensure that when animals in their community end up at the local “shelter,” they are cared for with compassion, dedication, and in line with the most humane and progressive policies in the nation. The animals of Long Beach should enjoy the same protections, the same high level of care, and the same second chance being given to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of other animals entering shelters across the nation that have already embraced progressive programs and services. There is, in truth, nothing controversial about the reasonable, compassionate, and common sense demands of No Kill advocates despite PETA’s unrelenting efforts to sow confusion and derail No Kill by suggesting otherwise. Long Beach Animal Services, for example, does not offer animals for adoption directly to the pubic. Such a policy is not only ludicrous, it is deadly.

Any groups that suggests (or, in the case of PETA, says so outright) that it is counterproductive to fight to make sure the local shelter is the best that it can be is no friend to the dogs and cats who will enter that pound today, tomorrow, and the day after that and face the very real possibility of receiving neither a helping hand, nor a new beginning, but a fatal dose of poison instead. In a cruel irony, such a view also benefits puppy mills by allowing shelters to remain regressive, hostile, and even abusive places that the public feels uncomfortable visiting and therefore, adopting from.

When it comes to shelter practices, it is well past time to stop listening to PETA.

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