“Nobody wants to euthanize pets.
Nevertheless, Virginia’s city and county pounds, private shelters, humane societies and rescue agencies put down 91,146 cats and dogs in 2010. In 2009, the number was 93,285. In 2004, according to the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ online database, 103,327 dogs and cats were killed.
Some were euthanized because they were sick or dying. Many were simply unwanted.
In any case, the math is depressingly simple: There are too many animals and too few homes. Too many pets aren’t neutered. Too many people take pets they can’t care for or afford.
The solution seems equally simple: Find them all homes.
That principle undergirds a national movement to end the euthanasia of abandoned and surrendered pets.
But animal welfare issues are seldom as simple as slogans. Start with “no-kill,” the inelegant phrase used to describe shelters that don’t rely on euthanasia to control the number of pets in their facilities.
Generally speaking, the threshold at which a shelter can describe itself as “no-kill” is when it euthanizes no more than 10 percent of its admissions. That means a shelter must find homes for the other 90 percent.
There are only a few ways such numbers are possible. From a public policy or animal welfare perspective, few of them represent ideal alternatives.
According to its website, Norfolk’s SPCA, which is a no-kill facility, requires at least 10 days’ notice for surrendering an animal. It has a waiting list for adult dogs, cats and kittens. “Surrender appointments” and a $40 fee are required to guarantee an animal’s admission.
Contrast that with the city’s shelter. Norfolk’s municipal facility, according to its website, charges pet owners $15 to surrender an animal. As a city department paid for by taxpayers, it accepts animals only from Norfolk residents. It routinely receives between 400 and 600 animals per month because it accepts all “animals in need.”
The difference highlights a difficult and unpleasant dynamic in the animal welfare world: No-kill shelters can claim that distinction only because there are facilities that continue to euthanize animals. No-kill shelters can pick and choose which animals to take. In order to maintain their numbers, they are often forced to reject animals that have a more difficult time finding homes.
A municipal facility, as Norfolk points out, can’t. Without the people and money to care for 5,000 new abandoned animals each year, euthanasia is the only alternative.
Nevertheless, as The Pilot’s Jillian Nolin reported last week, the unpleasant realities haven’t stopped some city leaders from advocating a philosophical shift to no-kill principles at the city shelter.
The first step, those advocates argue, would be to change the city code and state law to permit a program to trap, neuter and release feral cats. City ordinance now bars releasing cats after the procedure. State laws require pet owners’ consent for medical procedures, and they don’t allow animals to be released into the urban wilds.
There’s also disagreement on whether it’s humane to release untamed cats into the city, where their lives will be short and difficult. From a public policy perspective, feral cats spread feline diseases and disrupt bird populations, but they also help control rodents.
Such issues tend to be lost when the choices are shortened to “kill” or “no-kill.”
No one’s first choice is euthanasia. But no-kill is fraught with its own practical difficulties.
Last year, Austin became the first major city in Texas to end routine euthanasia. According to the Austin American-Statesman, despite a new $12 million facility, the city’s facility last weekend was 18 percent above capacity. The shelter itself warned that it would have to euthanize animals if Texans didn’t help.
Norfolk’s shelter has struggled with conditions and crowding in the past. Nobody would want those problems to return.
The way to end euthanasia in municipal and private shelters is to end unwanted pets. To end the irresponsible practices and behaviors by human beings that lead inexorably to thousands of unwanted pets roaming Hampton Roads.
A trap/neuter/release program might help to reduce the feral cat population, which is critical to reducing the number of euthanizations in Norfolk.
It is a discussion worth having. But it is not near the answer to ending euthanasia in the city or the region.
Hampton Roads, as a community, would need to reduce the number of people who abandon their pets every year. It would need to reduce the numbers of animals born.
Otherwise, Norfolk runs the risk of shifting the burden of euthanizing pets to other municipalities.
To end euthanasia, pet owners across Hampton Roads will have to change how they own animals. Cats and dogs could not roam or reproduce except under specific conditions. Licensing would be required. Spaying and neutering would have to be routine.
To protect the pets of Hampton Roads, the region must be willing to make those changes.
Nobody wants to kill pets. Everyone wants to live in a community that can call itself “no-kill.”
But actually ending euthanasia requires more than a slogan. It requires the will to do it, the money and the commitment of the entire community.”
© May 20, 2012
via: Sara Felmlee