I am pleased to announce that DACC has adopted the term “Socially Conscious Animal Sheltering” (SCAS) to describe its animal care philosophies and procedures. SCAS is a new term being used by forward-thinking animal welfare organizations in a response to the misleading terminology and negative consequences of “no-kill” philosophies and practices.
The term “no-kill” is poorly defined and misunderstood by many members of the public. The term itself implies that a 100% live release rate (LRR) of animals is achieved, but that is not accurate. “No-Kill” proponents proclaim that a 90% LRR means an animal shelter can be labeled “no-kill”, but there is no data to support this as a justifiable measurement. It is simply a number chosen by “no-kill” proponents without any basis in meaningful and objective longitudinal studies of animal shelter statistics. While one national organization recently released a “dashboard” of statistics for animal shelters throughout the country, it is fraught with errors and cannot be relied upon. People investigating this topic must be educated readers who closely analyze the information provided.
The “no-kill” movement’s use of the LRR for animals as a measure of success fails to consider various key factors. These include, but are not limited to:
- The adoptability of incoming animals such as aggressive dogs, feral cats, and irremediably suffering or terminally ill animals;
- The resources of the animal sheltering agency to provide intervention and rehabilitation services;
- The household income and population transiency of pet owners in the community, including the increasing numbers of pet owners experiencing homelessness;
- Pets that are at the ends of their lives and whose owners surrender them for humane euthanasia because the owners cannot afford to seek this service at a veterinary hospital;
- Low cost resources available to assist pet owners.
Blaming or shaming animal welfare agencies for circumstances beyond their control is unreasonable and has caused great disharmony in the animal welfare field. However, using the “no-kill” label have been an unbelievable fundraising success for both national and local organizations. Adopting “no-kill” has also been used as the easier response by both local government agencies and private organizations to community activists, rather than doing the difficult work of delving through the multifaceted issues surrounding the care for unwanted animals. Like any social cause, animal sheltering is a complex issue that cannot be explained away with a polemic slogan.
Many “no-kill” practices have created a number of negative consequences in order to meet the artificially established 90% live release rate of animals established by its proponents. These include:
- Refusing admissions to animals they cannot subsequently offer for adoption, thereby denying these animals a safe haven from abandonment or neglect. This practice results in animal abandonment and suffering, and threats to public and animal safety because dangerous animals are not removed from the community;
- Delaying admission through waiting lists for space availability or reduction of hours of operation, intentionally making it difficult for the community to bring in stray or owned animals, resulting in animal abandonment;
- Refusing to accept cats that are unwanted in the community, or re-abandoning the cats to fend for themselves. While trap-neuter-return programs can be successful in the context of saving cats’ lives, they require intensive management to maintain humane conditions for the cats. Simply abandoning cats without thorough and consistent support is inhumane and possibly illegal. There are also significant negative consequences for native wildlife that are preyed upon by outdoor cats. We should care about ALL animals in our communities, including wildlife, and not dismiss their well-being to serve a statistic.
- Refusal to euthanize animals in the shelters, creating severe overcrowding, behavioral trauma, disease outbreaks, animal attacks, and complaints of animal abuse and neglect. A number of “no-kill” shelters have been cited by local authorities for failing to provide humane environments for their animals. Some have been taken over by national organizations to resolve serious disease and neglect situations.
- Releasing dangerous dogs for adoption into the community in order to meet the statistical live release goals, seriously jeopardizing public and animal safety. It is a sad reality that some dogs, through genetics or other factors, simply cannot safely coexist in our society. Many of their victims are other animals. Don’t we care about protecting these potential victims from horrible and violent deaths caused by dangerous dogs?
- Increased budgetary needs of more than five times the original budget in order to pay for staff and programs to strive for a no kill status. In a time where government budgets are stretched thin and nonprofit donations are dropping, finding the gargantuan resources to respond to this demand is not sustainable.
Many animal welfare organizations, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have expressed deep concern over the negative results of “no-kill” practices. The Colorado Veterinary Medical Association has taken a strong opposition to “no-kill” because of the harm its practices have caused.
For these reasons and others, the Department of Animal Care and Control (DACC) has instead adopted the SCAS term for expressing its operating principles. SCAS strives to create the best outcome for all animals by treating them respectfully and alleviating their suffering. The mission is to maximize live outcomes for animals, while also balancing animal well-being and public safety. Fundamental goals of SCAS are provided through DACC and its seven animal care centers to:
- Ensure every unwanted or homeless pet has a safe place to go for shelter and care. DACC care centers will not turn away animals in need of protection and care.
- Making every healthy and safe animal available for adoption. DACC will not offer for adoption animals that are irremediably suffering or dangerous to the community. Shelters that do so create a public aversion to homeless pet adoption, making it more difficult to achieve our missions.
- Assess the medical and behavioral needs of homeless animals and ensure these needs are thoughtfully addressed. DACC, through its medical team and its animal behavior and enrichment team, provides a holistic approach to ensuring each animal’s needs are properly addressed.
- Align DACC policy with the needs of the community. DACC recognizes its responsibility to the public trust, and ensures its programs and policies reflect and support this obligation.
- Alleviate suffering and make appropriate euthanasia decisions. DACC often accepts animals that are irremediably suffering and cannot live without experiencing severe, unremitting pain or other serious health challenges. In these situations, it is most humane to relieve an animal’s suffering with compassionate euthanasia.
- Consider the health and wellness of animals for each community when transferring animals. DACC participates in many animal transport programs where animals are taken from DACC’s care centers to areas of the country that are experiencing a shortage of shelter animals. These win-win programs save thousands of animal lives each year. However, it is also important that animals transported through these programs do not suffer from physical or behavioral defects that could endanger animals or people in their new communities. DACC transferred 7,763 animals last fiscal year to low-intake animal shelters.
- Enhance the human-animal bond through thoughtful placements and post-adoption support. DACC works with potential adopters to ensure animals they select are suitable matches for their lifestyles, the adopter is able to properly care for and handle the animal, and other factors to make certain the placement is successful. DACC provides post-adoption support to adopters to ensure the placement thrives.
- Foster a culture of transparency, ethical decision-making, mutual respect, continual learning, and collaboration. DACC remains committed to upholding the highest ethical standards in meeting its mission of protecting people and animals.
DACC’s live release for dogs is 88%, and cat live release has increased from 26.5% to 50.5% in the past five years. Through collaboration with strategic partners, especially the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), DACC has been able to greatly improve outcomes for animals in its care.
Solely relying on the LRR as a measure of success ignores many other factors. For example:
- As animal ownership improves in a community, fewer adoptable animals will be surrendered to the animal shelter because they are all spayed or neutered and in permanent homes. The only animals entering a shelter will be those that are truly unadoptable (vicious, untreatable, etc.). In this scenario, the LRR will drop to nearly zero because the only animals that arrive will in fact require humane euthanasia. For this reason alone, using the LRR is chasing a false target that will actually drop as the community solves its unwanted animal problem.
- When we drive our cars, there are many measurements that are important to ensure a safe journey. Simply checking the fuel gauge ignores the oil level, tire pressure, and other important indicators. Relying solely on the LRR ignores the health of the animal population in the shelters, the average length of stay for animals in the shelters, number of bites and attacks in the community, and number of animals that died on the street. All of these, and more, are important to evaluating a community’s approach to solving its animal welfare issues.
The term “no-kill” initially served a good purpose several decades ago to bring to light the crises of animal euthanasia in our nation’s animal shelters. However, animal sheltering has evolved tremendously since that time, and the phrase “no-kill” cannot be used to describe or measure modern day animal welfare best practices.
DACC is committed to continuing our efforts through Socially Conscious Animal Sheltering to save animals’ lives and protect our communities. Are you with us?
For more information about Socially Conscious Animal Sheltering, please see: http://colovma.org/category/of-note/
For more information about no-kill concerns, please see: https://www.peta.org/issues/animal-companion-issues/animal-shelters/no-kill-policies-slowly-killing-animals/
For an insightful commentary by spcaLA president Madeline Bernstein on this topic, please see: http://spcalapresident.blogspot.com/