Friday, March 15, 2013

No-Kill Nation

Can someone explain this to me?  I see shelters killing animals simply because there are not people knocking down their doors to get pets, and they do not have the time, the space or the money to care for them.  We do not kill animals because we want to (as a whole, yes there are exceptions to that but lets pretend those don't exist for this discussion) we put them down because to allow them to remain alive is... well inhumane.. when there isn't space, time or money to care for them.

If we simply chose not to kill them, where would they go?  There are people who will not be convinced to get an animal from a shelter no matter what.  There are people who are not ready for an animal now for what ever reason.  I can easily say I want another pet because I so totally do.. does that mean I add to the "demand" column even though I am in no position to take on another pet??

I want a no-kill nation badly.  I so want to believe.  I live in an area where our open admission shelter (aka a kill shelter) is using the no-kill model and is doing a fabulous and amazing job getting pets into homes.  Even with all the wonderful work they do, many pets don't get to stay in their homes and are returned to the shelter.  I also constantly see pets outside of this shelter looking for homes and not being able to find them.

So I metaphorically stand at the threshold of an open admission shelter and wonder where these people are.  Nathan Winograd says thousand of people want pets.. why then do we have to convince them to come get a shelter pet?  If what he says is true, why do we not hear the communal outcry for the need for more adoptable animals?  Why do pets on community bulletin boards sit and never find a home and end up a the shelter?  Why do pet store puppies and kittens outgrow their adorable youth stages and go on sale or go to a rescue? Why do free to good home kittens and pups not find homes?  Why is it the cat or dog on the local news that survived some tragic situation have thousands of people wanting to adopt it while every other animal in the shelter just sits there and wonders why when that one pet is adopted they don't get to go home too.

Nathan says all of these people are looking for pets.. but are they looking for pets like smokers are looking to quit or the couch potato would like to exercise?

Sometimes 1+1 does equal three.. (for very large values of one) but on the whole, that is not how the world is working.  Should we strive to change it? ABSOLUTELY!! but to imply that everyone can do it RIGHT NOW! seems to me to be cruel.  To imply that shelters are killing pets that could easily find a home just hurts.  Too many pets can not find homes. There are *thousands* right now in the US waiting for one, and a thousand more being added all the time..

I am totally open to being wrong.  If you think you can explain the dichotomy to me with serious discussion, I am so open to that..


  1. I am not a fan of this Nathan Winograd human and his fuzzy math. The numbers just don't add up - it is HARD to find good homes for kitties (and yeah, I guess dogs too). What are shelters supposed to do? Strongarm these on-the-fence humans and force them to take a pet they aren't emotionally or financially ready for? The answer to pet homelessness is way more complex and will take a whole lot of time. Believe me, I DO want a no-kill nation and I do want all kitties to find homes - but I am also realistic.

  2. This is a difficult subject. I too wish we could be a no-kill nation, but I'm not sure how that can happen right now. Look at dogs, for instance. The majority of people I know get a specific breed from a breeder instead of adopting a rescued animal--they don't even explore that idea. This means breeders are making more animals and shelters have more animals that don't get adopted. :-(

  3. it is a problem,you canot force people to go to a shelter for a pet if they want a specific breed,plus some people think a pet from a shelter will have lots of behavioural problems that they don't want to deal the math doesn't add up I say the bloke is a complete tool!

  4. You’re right & the math is wrong. There are more pets than there are families that want them & to claim otherwise is ridiculous. A nation-wide low cost spay/neuter program is a realistic goal. Slowing the numbers of the next generation of cats seems to me to be the only hope in my small corner of CA. TNR is where I’m putting my time, my money and my hope.

  5. There is no explaining that math but it isn't what we see with paws on the ground.

  6. We certainly see animals going without homes. In our area, sadly, it is more likely to be cats than dogs.

  7. I don't understand it either. I would love to see us be no-kill.....but I honestly don't see how we get there. Until the public gets behind spay/neuter and TNR and adopting from shelters (and getting over their preconceptions of shelters) and STOP puppy/kitten mills, we aren't there. This is more about EDUCATION of the general public. As animal advocates, we see it.....but until everyone else buys in, I don't see how we get there.

  8. I don't understand it either. I think people want puppies and kittens and somehow imagine getting "damaged" animals from shelters. Now that I have rescued, I will never not rescue!

    Thanks for this graphic. It makes the problem so clear.

  9. I think a big part of the problem is when people get a free kitten from someone whose cat had kittens or from the Internet or Craig's List or a pet store instead of from a shelter or rescue group where they are all spayed/neutered before adoption. I think the answer of course is making spay neuter surgery affordable, accessable, and easy for people. If all the rescue groups work together toward this goal instead of criticizing each other, the animals will be the winners. We all need to support TNR to help reduce the feral cat population humanely. OK, off my soapbox now.

    1. Pretty sure there are soap boxes for everyone on this post :)

      I hope you don't think I was criticizing.. although maybe I was in some respects but more so I do not understand this way of thinking and I do not see the demand that is talked about. I want to understand, I just can't. I was looking for people to talk about this.

      From what I've read on Nathan's site (and I haven't been able to find it again, so I don't know what happened to it) he does not believe we need to get behind spay/neuter.. yes, it is one aspect, but it isn't as important as we all believe it to be - which is when I went off the deep end regarding his philosophy. I've been wanting to do a post about since I found his website and started surfing but I couldn't wrap my brain around how to address just how far out in left field he was. This image I found on Facebook which directly linked back to the "No-Kill Nation" is just one aspect of the whole thing and something I could talk about with out getting into the whole major discussion I really want to have but can't seem to get into a cohesive argument/post

      Anyway, feel free to stand on any of the soap boxes around and have at it.. I am so very open to learning..

  10. After reading your post, I hopped over to his site & noticed a lengthy ramble on the horrors of spaying a pregnant dog. Attaching pro-life language to the spay/neuter discussion is divisive and unhelpful. This kind of language is meant to separate people into camps. It does not education anyone on the overpopulation problem. Of course, with no over-population problem, there is no need for terminating a pregnancy. Personally, I think he built a solution (see, there are enough homes for all pets) to his real problem: early termination of pregnancies.
    Thanks for the box, I'll get down now...

    1. I am glad I am not alone on this. I've been seeing people support this movement - which in theory is awesome - and I really couldn't understand why if it were the truth he claimed it to be why those in the trenches just weren't seeing it. If the demand is there as he claims, there shouldn't be a free pet on the planet.. every pet would command a price and there would be frenzies when puppy and kitten season starts..

      Is it possible? I don't know. I'm guessing at the moment it isn't. Should we strive for it, absolutely!!

  11. I know I am entering this discussion quite late. I am quite behind in reading posts. I don't know if anything has changed since this post.

    I am a huge supporter of Winograd. It really helps to read his books. They really give the complete picture. What he advocates is the whole thing - TNR for ferals, affordable spay/neuter, fostering, volunteers, support to guardians to be able to keep pets, having more hours available for the public to adopt, marketing and getting available pet info out there, etc. His idea is that if our communities and municipal shelters do all these things then no-kill is possible. And in fact, many communities are going no kill using these techniques way and more are all the time. From big cities to small towns. And all open admission. It can work, but his point is that it takes a real huge paradigm shift in the whole idea of how we take care of pets.

    In addition, Winograd also challenges some of the assumptions that we make about what our shelters are actually doing. For example, we are told that shelters 'run out of space' and therefore must kill animals. But it is very common to find empty cages in shelters. Often the employees don't want to clean cages or they want to 'prepare' for the animals they assume are coming. This is not true of all shelters, of course, but many.

    What Winograd is saying is that it is too easy to just kill animals and then blame the public. He challenges their expressed commitment to take care of these animals and says if they really were then the above things that I listed would be done by all shelters. But so many - so many! - do not. Many shelters don't offer pets for adoption. Many shelters don't have hours easy for people to come to try to adopt. Many shelters kill ferals on intake. Many shelters won't allow rescues to take animals. The list goes on.

    Winograd is trying to challenge our assumptions about our shelters and the organizations like HSA and ASPCA and PETA about their true commitment to saving these animals.

    It was very hard for me at first to believe what he had to say. But I kept reading his books and his blog as well as other places and I have been shocked at what is going on. Now I agree with him. This is not to say that it is easy. It is hard work. But I would rather work hard and save lives than not.

    Sorry for the length and the lateness of this post.

    1. I understand the thought.. and since the open admission shelter I volunteer for has near non-kill stats I know it can be done


      Winograd's logic is too emotion based. I read what he has to say and it makes no sense and I find myself yelling at him for playing heartstrings and not using actual logic. I also abhor that he is putting the blame on shelter workers.. yes, they 'kill in anticipation' but that is because they know full well that more are coming and having to kill because someone else walked in the door is emotional. Who do you pick? how do you decide? When you take the emotions out of it, it helps the staff to keep from having to make emotional decisions and keeps the staff from burning out.

      There is a failing in that people are not getting their pets from the shelter, but it is not the open admission shelter's fault. (and as I mentioned the above numbers are not based in logic) No-kill shelters have a hard time finding homes for pets, and thus they are not able to bring in more animals. Open admission shelters have no choice but to euthanize.

      To blame the shelter staff is just wrong. They are doing what they can with what they have. To tell people to avoid open admission shelters, to not support them, and to shun them only reinforces the problem, and then by blaming them for killing adds more fuel to the fire.

      Be part of the solution, support those shelters that are killing. Get in there and give them money, adopt from them, don't blame them, support them.

    2. Thank you very much for your response. I appreciate the opportunity to continue this discussion. I have a huge respect for you and what you do and I rely on your experience. I also wanted to apologize - I did not realize that this would show me as 'unknown'. This is Charlotte. Not sure if you remember me, I had asked you for a bunch of advice last year when I started fostering and I really appreciate your help. And sorry for the delay again, I had a busy weekend.

      I am posting this in 2 pieces since I wrote too much for the system to take this all in one post.

      I will agree with some of the things you say about Winograd. While I admire his passion, I am not sure he is the greatest communicator of the no-kill movement. You are right, he goes for the emotions and does not explain very well how no-kill can be achieved. When I first encountered him, I would read what he wrote and think - 'ok, but HOW can it be done?' He was so sure it could be done and it drove me nuts that I did not understand his logic as you mentioned above.

      I had to do a lot of reading. I read old entries of his blog, I read all his books, I looked up other references, I read other similar blogs. And I finally found what I was looking for. His prescription is actually pretty simple and is what I listed above - TNR, affordable spay/neuter, fostering, volunteers, support to guardians to be able to keep pets, having more hours available for the public to adopt, marketing and getting available pet info out there, etc.

      And most of all - the goal of being no-kill. Between what I was reading and what I experienced in my own community, I really came around to his way of thinking. While I agree he is not the greatest communicator, I do support him.

      What got me the most was what you talk about above - how the emotion has been taken out of killing these animals. How easy it has become, how it is almost a culture of killing. The county where I live is high kill. At the local SPCA, they kill 2 out of 3 animals they get in. They are open admission. The municipal shelters kill 8 or 9 out of 10 of the animals they get. I volunteer for the only no kill rescue in the county and they are not open admission. It is tragic. Recently the local SPCA got a huge $10 million dollar grant, completely redid their facilities, had larger accommodations, looked great. And STILL killed 2 out of 3 animals they take in. They have many great programs, lots of volunteers, but their hours for adoption are limited. They have some support for people to help with behavior issues, but not much. They do have a good inexpensive spay/neuter program for ferals, but their cost for non-ferals is not cheap. And what got me the most is that they have several empty buildings they are not using. Yet they are killing animals 'for space'.

      End of part 1.


    3. Part 2.

      A few friends of mine volunteer there and I heard a story about one cat that had come in, was friendly, but stopped eating. After a week, the director had the cat killed for 'failure to thrive' rather than fostering or even contacting any volunteers who had been working with the cat to figure something out. Turns out the director is a 'dog person' and really does not like cats much, so they don't get much support. Another friend of mine who volunteers there regularly looks out for cats that are on the verge of being killed for minor issues and takes them home when she has the space.

      It was seeing these things and hearing about them and reading articles about how common abuses are in shelters and how the national groups like ASPCA and HSUS support these shelters rather than support no kill that changed my mind to supporting Winograd. So yes, he is putting the emotion back in killing animals. He is wanting killing animals to be hard, and I agree with him. I want it to be heart wrenching and difficult and I want shelter employees to have nightmares about it and dread going into work. I think it should be hard and I want it to be so hard that they stop doing it.

      Then, like you say - if it is open admission - then what? What do you do? Well, necessity is the mother of invention. If killing is not an option, then they have to come up with something else. And that is where the fostering, and volunteers and all the other stuff comes in. It can happen, it does happen right now. Berkeley CA is open admission and no kill, Austin is going that way, 300 communities are that way now, from big cities to small towns, east and west, north and south. It can and does work. But it requires a dedication to getting there.

      There is more I want to respond to, but I think this is good for now. Thank you again for this opportunity.

      End of part 2.


    4. Hi Charlotte!
      So glad to see you are still stopping by, I hope that fostering is going well for you.
      I agree, open admission CAN be done with better success rates.. I'm pretty sure I've mentioned that the shelter I work with has done the things you have mentioned and has higher adoption rates because of it..


      My whole point is the emotional blackmail on the shelters that aren't able to do it at this point and using fuzzy logic (such as above) to do it. Which would convince you to look outside the box.. the emotional blackmail and near threats that you are being cruel that Winograd and his website is spouting or the calm facts that you (meaning you Charlotte and anyone else who wants to dig them out) have found and the easier steps you have laid out. For example.. STOP KILLING! There are people to adopt these animals!! Or if you were able to switch the hours of adoption to later in the day when more people could come in, chances are you would have more adoptions and you wouldn’t need to kill as many..

      Everyone needs to remember that the shelter is a BUSINESS.. and as such they need to work within the confines of what they CAN do - not necessarily what they want to do - either due to finances or lack of personnel. Yes, it stinks when you have shelter managers or workers who have a strong preference for one species over the other.. but sadly dogs do tend to bring in more money, more people and more support.. and generally they get the lion's share of the attention.

      But anyway, back to the whole business thing.. While we would all love to run a shelter on hopes and aspirations and ideals, there generally isn't the money to implement them. You say that these cats who are failing to thrive can go into foster care.. very true. but how many foster homes are there out there?

      For example, the shelter I work with - that has near no-kill adoption rates, and has a huge network of foster homes and an abundance of community good will, constantly runs out of them during the summer. There are also many homes that can do little more than take healthy kittens that are just too small. Sick kittens, sick adults, adults that need medication or socialization or fluids or injections are just not skill sets they have nor do they have the time or ability to be able to take on more than what they can do - or they just don't want to. Just as there isn't the great demand of people to adopt at shelters, there isn't that many people who can open up their hearts and homes to sick or not thriving cats or dogs.. (not to mention to do so also puts their own pets at risk)

      I am by no means saying that we shouldn't try.. We absolutely need to try and keep trying; but we need to stop the emotional blackmail, the emotional arguments meant to rile people up and get them so upset at open admission shelters that they will no longer support them. Without the support there is nothing they can do BUT kill even more animals.. but if he were to change the way he approaches this.. if we could motivate people to walk in those doors by the hundreds (heck thousands) imagine the real change..

      Basically, you shouldn't have to work so hard to find what to do to make real change.

    5. as for taking the emotions out of killing, for those on the front lines I am all for it. I have talked to those people. Hugged them, thanked them, brought them chocolate.. anything I can do to make their job easier when it HAS TO BE DONE, I am all for it. Management doesn't have to insert that needle into those animals.. but they do have to work side by side with the people who do. When they don't take the emotion out of it, staff gets burned out quickly and as a result they have incredibly high turnover rates, and THAT is not good for the animals who are still alive.. It should be emotional for everyone one else.. but the solutions to stop it from happening need to come from a happy emotional place, not from the guilt or the shame..
      I don't want to stop the conversation, I just want to make it more logical and more concrete for shelters to see they can adopt even small changes fairly easily that will make things easier not harder and save lives..


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