Throwing Out the Bell Curve in Shelter Pet Advocacy

No kill is not a sliding scale.  I don’t determine whether I should advocate for any particular shelter pet based upon the idea that some other shelter pet is facing worse circumstances.  Every shelter pet deserves an advocate, whether that person is demanding that the animal not be put into the gas chamber or that she is given a soft bed in her cage.  Just because the former barbaric act is happening elsewhere does not mean that the latter circumstance should be ignored.  In fact, I would argue that it is just as important to advocate for compassionate care for every shelter pet as it is to advocate for their right to live because the two go hand in hand.  When we foster an environment of comfort and care, we instill a sense of value in the lives of shelter pets.

I believe that no kill is about much more than saving the lives of an arbitrary percentage of pets at a shelter.  To me, it’s about advocating for every shelter pet’s right to live, to receive the best veterinary care possible, to be handled humanely, to have social needs met, to be provided a clean, comfortable and appropriate living environment and to be placed in a permanent, appropriate home environment as soon after the pet becomes adoptable as possible.  It also includes advocating for the right to bring a humane end to suffering for medically hopeless pets through euthanasia, although this applies only to a very small percentage of shelter pets.

I am not fighting for a world where shelter pets live in less than satisfactory conditions so long as they live.  It matters not to me whether the sub-par environment rises to the level of a prosecutable crime or if it’s minor neglect attributable to mere laziness.  Shelter staff are trained animal professionals and have an obligation to lead by example.  They are the ones raging against the “irresponsible public” in the media when they take in neglected animals and they are also the ones issuing citations when people fall below acceptable standards of care.  Where I might be inclined, depending on circumstances, to give Joe Average a pass if he claims he didn’t know better or couldn’t afford to take better care of his animals, that is not a courtesy I extend to shelter staff.  They are paid by our tax dollars to know better and to do better.  I hold them to the highest possible standard of pet care.

Catina (ID #870825) was pregnant and had rescue coming to pull her from the Regional Center for Animal Control and Protection (RCACP) in Roanoke, VA when she was needlessly killed for “exposure” to panleukopenia.  She was reportedly one of dozens of cats needlessly killed at that time for the same unjustifiable reason.  Killing Catina was a choice made by RCACP and in so doing, they caused the suffocation deaths of her unborn kittens.

Catina, a pregnant cat, killed by RCACP.

Catina and every one of her unborn kittens deserves to have an advocate, even in death.  Likewise, had she been allowed to live and have her litter at the pound, they deserved to have someone advocating for a clean, comfortable and appropriate living environment while a foster home was actively sought.

I use Catina as an example because she represents multiple facets of advocacy.  It’s easy for people to see the importance of advocating for her because she was killed with rescue on the way.  This is an obvious injustice.  It becomes less clear to some when bringing up the issue of advocating for her unborn kittens.  And the waters are further muddied when the issue is advocating in general for mama cats and kittens living in sub-par conditions in the shelter.

Why should we worry about unborn kittens being killed when there are so many other kittens already born who are in need?  Why should we speak out about a shelter’s failure to provide soft bedding or an appropriate cage size to a nursing mama cat?  Other mama cats in shelters are stuck in filthy cages with moldy water and some, like Catina, are killed.  Why spend time advocating for relatively small comforts when other shelter pets are enduring worse conditions up to and including death?

Because no kill is not a sliding scale.  I don’t grade on a curve.  Advocacy is not reserved only for the most obvious cases of abuse and needless killing.  I advocate for every shelter pet – whether a dog is not getting walked, a mama cat is being housed inappropriately, an unborn puppy is killed during a spay surgery on the mother, or a feral cat is put into a gas chamber.  Every soft bed, every off leash play period, every microchip scan, every beneficial photo, every life is worth fighting for.  There is no daylight between our shelter system being the best it can be in every detail and saving every healthy/treatable pet within that system.

8 thoughts on “Throwing Out the Bell Curve in Shelter Pet Advocacy

  1. I very much like what you said. What I (and many others) have experienced is that the sense of urgency somehow disappears as soon you declare your shelter as No Kill shelter. People start thinking that “the animals are safe” and don’t worry that much anymore, which is a big mistake. A open admission No Kill shelter always is under the pressure to move animals as fast as possible in order to keep space open. This means that the adoption rate has to be as high as possible but also to find Rescues to pull animals. From the emotional stand point, some rescues more likely will pull from a high kill shelter (“will die tomorrow” label) and don’t worry that much about No Kill shelter. Other rescues on the other hand don’t care that much about kill vs No Kill shelter and pull whatever they can adopt out them self quickly which is good.

    1. I can see that – the loss of the sense of urgency.

      But you have two things going for you – one, you don’t have the “shelter is scary and needs to be avoided because it’s a deathhouse” mentality and two, you can remind people that for every pet they adopt from you, another in need gets to be made safe. So not only are they providing a much needed home, they are providing space for another in need.

      As for the blog post, sounds like Shirley wants shelters to shelter in every sense of the word – safety, comfort, health. I don’t know where compassion got lost in the process, but in so many places, it clearly has (or was never there to begin with). But evolution is happening. There are more good people than bad and they’re starting to demand change.

      1. And also, Peter, you don’t have shelter officials who intimidate, harrass and retaliate against the public for trying, whether in a big-deal way or a modest way, to help. Not to say it’s easy — if anything, no kill shelters always have staff and volunteers working HARDER, I think.

  2. Very well said. No kill should not just be about statistics. If animals are falling through the cracks (i.e. caged for weeks and months in shelter basements, languishing without proper monitoring and good vet care), we have a moral obligation speak out on their behalf and demand proper and just treatment for them, and to insist on changing the flawed shelter policies the lead to these failures.

  3. Couldn’t agree more with this post. And at the end of the day, not only is shelter care important when it comes to safety/comfort/etc, but to me, an animal dying in its cage because a shelter worker didnt give it the proper meds/food/etc is just as bad as sticking a needle in them to begin with. It’s preventable. And dont even get me started on the gas chamber.

  4. Thank you. Especially after hearing about how community volunteers are being mobilized to save Parvo puppies and feed and care for orphan bottle babies, it’s all the more difficult to tolerate a “shelter” that kills rather than protecting and saving.

  5. Yes. Except. (Why do I feel obligated to play the devil’s advocate here?!)
    Okay. I do rescue. I have a bunch of dogs that some (Animal Control, as well as the general public) would consider *unadoptable* some are old, some have medical issues, some have behavior problems.
    Could I do a better job? Heck yea! But frankly, if you were to come to my kennel and point out that one of my animals was lacking in soft bedding, or complain that I wasn’t spending enough time with each individual animal, one of my basic responses would be, “well, if I’m not doing it good enough, I guess I’ll just have to kill that animal.” Because really, many of them have been available for adoption for YEARS, and the last person who was interested in adopting a couple of my behavior cases ended up shopping elsewhere and saying *your dogs like you too much…I couldn’t stress them by taking them away from you.* (I think that is part of this No Kill is Safe thing…she wanted to rescue an animal, and I’d already done that!)
    Sometimes compassionate care is just letting an animal be alive and safe in their own space. Many people shop for an animal that can help them. Maybe they want a playmate, or a show-piece, or a working pet, or maybe they just want to save a life.
    I believe EVERY life has value. They don’t have to be cute, or smart, or capable. But I don’t have the time or the money to save them all, and I don’t have the energy to market them endlessly when the adoptable homes for some of my *special needs* animals are few and far between.
    One of the things I hated about the Petfinder Adoption Options seminar I went to was when the vet gal was talking about herd health, and how EVERYTHING had to be vaccinated IMMEDIATELY for the best outcome for the most animals. Never mind that over vaccinating might be bad for this individual animal at this time.
    The Shelter Industry is really into herd health (I think!) I’m into life.

Leave a Reply