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 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.