As recently as 30 years ago, 17 million pets were euthanized each year in animal shelters. This common practice was done simply to control the pet population. About 20 years ago, the “no-kill” movement began in San Francisco, California. This community committed to finding a home for every pet that entered its shelters. Their campaign promoted adoption and used spaying/neutering as a better way to control the cat and dog population. Fortunately this idea soon spread throughout the US! It’s estimated that over 13 million companion animals are saved each and every year because of these practices.
Many, but not all, animal shelters today are considered “no-kill”. These facilities will only euthanize a pet for extreme medical necessity, when no amount of care will help the pet to lead a happy life. These facilities can euthanize up to 10% of their pets, due to temperament or health, and still be considered “no kill.” These shelters range from very small to quite large, employing staff and volunteers who are among the best people on the planet.
Though it seems like “no-kill” animal shelters should be the only shelters that win our support, it isn’t always that simple. No-kill shelters are in reality “limited-admission” shelters, because they can be selective about which animals to take in. There are sometimes age limitations, behavioral requirements and health standards which must be met in order to surrender an animal.
Open-admission (or “kill”) shelters have no such requirements. They are required to take in all animals, regardless of health, temperament or even available space. Therefore they are sometimes forced to euthanize a pet sooner, rather than later, in order to protect the health and safety of the rest of their pet population. These shelters are usually government run, led by people who clearly love animals and often consider this job to be their calling. Theirs is a tough, tough job.
Having worked directly with individuals at both types of shelters, it’s clear that empathy, caring and an intense love for all pets is abundant in both. Support for both open-admission and no-kill shelters should be the least we can do. Other helpful ideas include turning away from puppy mill pets (most-often bought in pet stores), always spaying and neutering our own pets and encouraging our local lawmakers to support legislation to help companion animals and to enforce the laws already in place.
Currently there’s no government agency that is responsible for tabulating statistics on the pet population or for tracking animal shelters. Anecdotally we know that the policies which began in California are saving lives across the country. Today there are 70 million dogs and 74 million cats which live as household pets. These are the lucky ones. By supporting all shelters which touch the lives of companion animals we may just change the luck for the homeless pets, as they wait for their own forever family.