Both national and local media have historically done a poor job reporting on pet related stories. While sensational stories about animal hoarding, puppy mills and cruelty frequently attract media attention, journalists working for national outlets often rely on soundbites from groups like HSUS, ASPCA, and PETA – all of whom have sketchy records when it comes to actually saving pets’ lives. In the case of PETA for example, the group saves such a tiny percentage of the pets it records as being taken into its “shelter”, the state of VA reconsidered its shelter license in 2010. The PETA “shelter” is little more than a pet slaughterhouse and the state of Virginia’s records prove it. Members of the national media however are quick to ring PETA for comment when reporting on a pet related story, never apparently researching as to whether the group’s record actually reflects “ethical treatment” for pets.
Journalists who don’t do their homework but merely regurgitate the info provided by killing apologists – whether from national groups or local shelters – continually allow those responsible for the killing to frame the conversation. This is not only irresponsible but this type of reporting misleads the public into believing that shelter pet killing is a necessary evil. Let’s look at some specific examples.
It’s not uncommon to come across local and national variations of this sentiment in media: There are X number of pets being killed in shelters every year. Here’s what you can do to help. This is typically followed by a to-do list of pleas including such mainstays as neuter your pets, donate, volunteer and “adopt, don’t shop”.
This is kill shelter speak. It implies that the needless killing of pets in shelters is your fault if:
- You can’t afford to neuter your pet, lack transportation to get your pet to a spay-neuter clinic or simply do not want to neuter your pet at this time.
- You don’t want to donate money to a pet killing facility.
- You don’t want to volunteer at a pet killing facility.
- You chose to get your pet from someplace other than a shelter.
While promoting spay-neuter, shelter donations and adoptions are all very good things, they are not the reasons why healthy/treatable pets are being needlessly killed in shelters. The truth is, friendly pets are being killed in shelters because shelter workers are killing them instead of doing their jobs to shelter and protect these pets from harm.
In this sad piece detailing an 88 year old NC man’s forced separation from his 11 year old dog due to housing issues arising from poverty, the paper sought comment from ACO Belinda Harper, who picked up the gentleman’s dog – named Koal:
Shelter policy allows an owner-surrendered dog to be euthanized right away, but Koal stayed at the shelter for more than a week until someone could rescue him, Harper said.
Rather than expressing outrage that a healthy, owner surrendered pet can legally be killed without even being offered for adoption, the paper paints the shelter staff as heroes because they allowed Koal to live for a whole week before a local volunteer stepped up to save him. Again, this is kill shelter speak. Making an exception for a dog they could have killed immediately is hardly praiseworthy. Instead, there should be questions as to why any healthy/treatable pet would be immediately killed without being offered for adoption. The journalist should be asking, when there are proven lifesaving programs being utilized to save more than 90% of shelter pets in other communities, why is this community still stuck on the old catch and kill model of sheltering?
The Boston Globe offers the Massachusetts SPCA all kinds of outs for their needless killing of thousands of shelter pets each year in this recent article. Instead of inquiring as to why the MSPCA has a paltry 56% live release rate, the journalist offers to take a sizable chunk of dead animals off the top, explaining them away as “either wild animals or sick animals brought in by their owners to be euthanized”. No questions are raised as to whether a veterinary consultation confirmed any of these animals were medically hopeless and suffering – and therefore in need of euthanasia – or if alternate options such as treatment and/or foster care were exhausted before killing was considered.
Carter Luke, president of the MSPCA was interviewed for the article:
In the end, not every animal can be helped and some will be euthanized, Luke acknowledged.
“Not every animal can be helped” is kill shelter speak. It implies that the pound tries to help every animal but some are beyond help. With a live release rate of only 56%, the MSPCA is clearly not on par with communities like Reno, NV and Austin, TX where they truly are helping – and saving – better than 90% of the animals at their shelters. The journalist has an obligation to raise these questions in my opinion instead of simply accepting the platitudes offered by the group’s president. Even the title of the piece, “Pet shelters struggle with glut of cats, dogs” gives readers the impression that shelters are going above and beyond the call of duty when in fact, those such as the MSPCA are failing to perform even the minimum requirements of their jobs. Their job being of course to shelter and protect pets from harm.
The next time you across a news item about pets in which the journalist doesn’t appear to have performed due diligence, call him out. It’s not necessary to be mean-spirited about it, just send him a brief note advising him of a question you wish he’d asked (e.g. “Why is this shelter killing 44% of its pets instead of saving 90% like many other shelters?”) and include one helpful link (e.g. a link to this no kill primer). If we begin to ask the questions, we might prompt members of the media to seek out answers. After all, they have inquiring minds!