When applied to anything, especially animal shelters, this slogan sounds so right that we cannot imagine anyone living in Western Civilization being against it. For those of us in Southern California – and many other areas of the United States – who have dedicated our energies to saving shelter pets No Kill is certainly the goal, but it is a Sisyphean task. There are too many unaltered pets procreating in our streets and backyards, and there are too few adopters and fosters in our communities. You don’t have to accept this as being morally correct, but you cannot ignore the reality that until the number of pet births equals, or is less than the number of adopters, rescues and fosters, municipal open admission shelters will continue to be pet killing facilities. It sucks, but it is the cold hard unvarnished truth.
The problem is that no matter how much we dream and crave that all shelters truly become “No Kill” we can’t trust the No Kill movement. Nathan Winograd and his well-funded No Kill coalition decided to redefine the phrase ‘No Kill’ as a 90 percent live release rate. Apparently the other ten percent – the pets who were killed – do not count as having been killed. I may not be an expert on the English language but to me saying you are “No Kill” when you kill ten percent, is like saying “I am a vegetarian – I only eat meat on the weekends.” It is disingenuous at best and downright fraudulent at worst. If a facility kills only one pet, they cannot honestly claim that they are ‘No Kill”.
There are many national fundraisers promoting the No Kill cause. With religious zeal they sell t-shirts and books, erect billboards, take money for speaking engagements and solicit donations. Some of the money is used to save shelter animals but where does the rest of it go? Kim Sill’s outstanding documentary Saved in America shows that all too much of this money goes to salaries, lobbyists, advertising and fundraisers, who raise even more money so they can increase the organizations’ salaries, secure even more lobbyists and buy even more advertisements soliciting funds.
So what does this all mean? Should we give up trying to save shelter pets’ lives and working to improve the lives of the stray dogs and cats? Absolutely not. However we have to do so honestly and transparently. The only way we are truly going to become No Kill is for spay/neuter laws to be enacted and rigorously enforced with significant fines levied against offenders. Revenue from dog licenses needs to be increased by having canvassers in the field checking to see if residents’ pets are licensed. In the city of Los Angeles it is estimated there are one million dogs kept as pets, yet there are only 100,000 dog licenses. Fines for failing to alter and license pets should be used to fund not only the shelters themselves, but to also operate low cost spay/neuter clinics. We cannot leave packs of feral and unaltered wild dogs on the streets to starve and freeze to death as Brenda Barnette, Los Angeles City’s head of Animal Control, does to keep her euthanasia numbers down and make it look like her giveaway of a Los Angeles shelter facility to a national fundraising organization has had any salutary effect.
Having the available revenue is not the solution in and of itself. Municipal shelters need to change the fundamental way they think. They need to stop being secretive government agencies who kill animals and then carefully manicure their statistics to make it appear that they are improving. The only way to escape this never-ending tragedy is for the shelters to be inclusive, embrace their constituency and work in cooperation with them. Volunteers, rescues and the general public need to be included in the decision making process so that we can transform the shelters from being pet warehouses to becoming pet adoption centers. Laws need to be changed to allow residents to have pets based on the amount of land they have and their ability to care for them, rather than a strict three pet per household limit. Landlords need to be motivated to allow renters to have pets.
I doubt I’ve met anyone – including Marcia Mayeda and “Google Me” Claerbout – in the Los Angeles metropolitan area who is against true No Kill. But I’ve never met a head of animal control who has either the balls or the insight to actually implement it. It’s time to stop believing and parroting slogans printed on t-shirts and be honest with ourselves. Pets are being killed in our municipal shelters – and we are all seriously drinking the Koolaid if we think that anyone is “saving them all” – we haven’t come even close – and as long as pets are dying in our shelters we have not only failed as a society – we’ve also allowed someone to get rich off of it.