With the dawning of a new year, we have the chance to reflect on the ideas of the past and take a serious look at what has worked and what hasn’t. It makes sense that things that aren’t working get ditched – though this is often easier said than done. Some of our most unhelpful mantras are so pervasive, so ingrained, that we do not even recognise them as on the table for change. Here are my top shelter mantras that we should all chuck out in 2011.
“As a society, we can no longer accept that thousands of animals in need of homes are being euthanased while profit-driven breeders continue to churn out puppies”
Pet shops are located in convenient places, where people go. Being visible the community attracts potential customers, while the animals are presented in clean, well lit and well ventilated enclosures, all at eye height to maximise impact.
They offer convenient opening hours, 7 days a week 9-5 and ‘late night trading’ nights where they stay open 7pm and later. These extended hours attract customers who work, who have families (and money to pay for lifetime care!) and who are looking for a pet.
But even if pet shops stopped selling pets tomorrow, we wouldn’t see a surge in adoption – with the hurdles of of the way locales of most pounds, the inconvenient opening hours, shelter environments that are loud and confrontational and the difficulties in getting pounds to work with their communities, rather than against them – it’s a wonder that any pets get adopted at all.
Banning pet shop sales isn’t going to lead to more adoptions – people looking for a pet will just move to other, convenient sources of pets; newspapers, the internet and BYB. The only thing that can increase adoptions and reduce the killing of pets in pounds and shelters is, is shelters acting more like pet shops. And whether or not this happens, is in no ones hands except the shelter management.
Rescue groups also have a part to play in attracting and retaining potential adopters;
“… brick and mortar shelters quickly adopt out the highly adoptable, small fluffy dogs. Small dogs languish in rescue organizations longer than shelters – mostly because of the restrictive adoption policies imposed by the rescues on the adopters. The rescue groups still don’t seem to understand how this perpetuates the cycle. Denying adoptions and/or overly restrictive adoption policies drives people to the very same pet stores that the rescuers abhor. Many dog rescuers are pet store protestors on the weekend. This doesn’t make sense to me.”
~ Wisconsin Watchdog ~
If a potential adopter is not suitable for a particular pet, spurning their ownership capabilities, or simply ignoring their application is not helpful. In fact its counter intuitive to our mission to get pets out of shelters and into homes. Have a list of high-volume local shelters on hand that you can return mail, so that these potential owners aren’t lost and can visit to find a suitable pet.
Finally, there are a lot of good, ethical reasons to ban pet shop sales. But their existence does not prevent No Kill. Nothing will change in pounds and shelters, unless we change the pounds and shelters. Right now in some organisations, if you send them 100 pets, they’ll kill 90 – if you send them just 10 – they’ll still kill 9… it’s not about numbers, but a belief that the best and most appropriate response is to kill.
There are changes that could and should be made TODAY that would make our community pounds a safe place for animals. And its about pound and shelters taking on responsibility and accountability for their performance.
“Every year, people leave the unwanted animals they have received as Christmas presents. An influx of abandoned or unwanted animals over the Christmas period has put a strain on the shelter.”
While shelters harp on about ‘unwanted presents’ every year, despite there being little evidence that gifts are at risk of abandonment, a much larger issue continues to be ignored.
Chief executive of RSPCA ACT Michael Linke said the shortage of short-term accommodation was causing major problems for the Canberra organisation.
”We’ve seen a tremendous increase in the number of animals being surrendered over the last few weeks,” Mr Linke said.
”This problem will probably go until mid to late January.”
”We definitely need more [suitable pet accommodation in Canberra] at this time of year,” Mr Linke said.
”It would stop people giving up animals.”
The same problem is national – running a pet hotel in the off-season can be unprofitable, and then suddenly during the holidays there is a rush of bookings. Simply saying “you should have booked earlier” does little to help owners who have Christmas commitments make other arrangements.
So there’s the problem – what’s our solution?
“A kitten abandoned for playing with decorations is among those pets dumped at shelters since Christmas. And the excuses are flowing in almost as quickly as the animals themselves, as frustrated shelter workers predict more animals will be dumped on their doorsteps by the end of January.”
‘Shelters’ should be a place of safety for pets; the giveaway is in the name, an animal shelter. In Australia we also call them ‘pounds’, but the premise is the same – a place where pets go, where they are cared for, while we work out what we should do with them next.
If a women’s shelter said “our shelter is full because of ‘irresponsible’ women”, there would be an uproar. “These women should have made provision to not end up at the shelter, they should have made different choices, they should have cared more”. These kinds of beliefs run counter intuitively to the shelter’s mission as a place of safety for victims.
It seems crazy to us now, but it wasn’t so long ago that women were blamed for domestic violence as ‘they brought in on themselves’. The approach of offering judgment instead of compassion, blaming clients for their situation, rather than working to empower them to find a better future is Victorian and desperately unhelpful. And yet, animal shelters – the place we beg people to take their pets if they can no longer care for it – offer condemnation, describe the reasons people give for surrendering as ‘excuses’ and work to alienate their public by painting everyone who uses their services as simply and arbitrarily ‘dumping’ their pets.
One of the key differences, however, between open-admission shelters that continue to kill animals in high numbers, and those that dramatically reduce shelter killing, is that the progressive shelters don’t waste time blaming anyone for anything; they find it isn’t productive, and it certainly doesn’t solve the problem.
Instead of looking for someone to blame or shame, they look for a way to help.
Instead of shaming a local resident who brings in kittens from her cat, progressive shelters convince them to bring in the mom so they can spay her for free. Instead of castigating the public for failing to spay or neuter their pets, progressive shelters offer free and low-cost spay neuters. Instead of punishing someone whose dog escaped from his or her backyard, progressive shelters knock on doors and talk to neighbors in order to return the animal to its owner without removing it from the neighborhood and subjecting it to illness and stress at a shelter. And instead of embarrassing someone who considered surrendering a pet to an animal shelter, progressive shelters offer solutions to common pet problems and seek out positive ways to help keep animals in homes.
~ Ryan Clinton ~
And if all efforts to keep the pet in the home have failed and the animal must be surrendered, then that owner must be acknowledged as doing exactly what we asked them to – bringing the pet to the shelter. Not letting just turning it loose or giving it away free in the newspaper. I’ve even heard shelters say that owners should be made take the vet to have the pet killed themselves to ‘teach them a lesson’ – how incredibly unhelpful to be of the belief that an unwanted pet should be immediately killed, rather than offered a second chance at an animal shelter.
“It seems inconceivable that as a society we have come to accept the killing of thousands of healthy companion animals for whom no homes can be found—rather than demanding proactive solutions by government to stop the unrestricted breeding and selling of companion animals.”
If shelters were full of puppies and pet shops couldn’t sell a pup, then ‘there are too many puppies bred’ would have some credibility. But this isn’t the case. The dogs entering shelters go there for many reasons, just off the top of my head;
The owner can’t find pet friendly accommodation – the owner can no longer afford the pet – the owner can’t find a solution to issues like digging, escaping, barking or inappropriate toileting – the pet needs vet care the owner cannot afford – the owner has holiday commitments and cannot find a pet hotel – the owner doesn’t really like the pet – the owner got the wrong kind of pet for their lifestyle – the owner’s relationship has split – the owner has a new child – the owner has less time for the pet – the owner moves to a place where less pets are allowed – the owner loses their house/job/spouse – the owner gets sick and goes into hospital – the owner dies – the owner doesn’t realise the importance of pet desexing and has an unwanted litter/behavioural issues – the owner neglects to go to complete basic training/socialisation – the owner’s circumstances change and the pet is no longer wanted – the owner’s neighbours are making it hard to keep the pet – the owner had unrealistic expectations of living with the pet type they choose – the owner has lost interest in the pet – the owner tried to fix a behavioural problem with or without professional assistance and made the problem worse – the owner thought it would be more like in the movies – the owner took the pet from a friend/relative and it was the wrong match…
Notice I’ve framed all of these as ‘owner’ problems – which they all are – so as not to be seen as ‘letting owners off the hook’, but by realising that all of these are issues with different solutions, we can see how naive the idea of shelters being full because of ‘too many pets being bred’ really is.
Solutions include pre-purchase education on choosing the right pet, early intervention with good training options, after purchase support, taking in pets in crisis situations, recognising that 15 years is a long time and sometime things just come up and other times people make bad choices (just like in human relationships) and that the relationship between pet and owner is never going to work.
But the biggest reason pets enter shelters? Because they’re lost. Surrenders make up just 15% of dogs entering shelters, with 85% entering as strays. Proactive redemption strategies including; putting photos of impounded animals up on the internet, returning animals with identification directly to owners, and eliminating hurdles to collection like breed bans, high impound costs and fines and inconvenient opening hours, are vital to reducing shelter killing. Getting pets home is core – reducing surrenders is very much a secondary role.
“Only by eliminating the indiscriminate breeding of cats, can we stop the the annual destruction of tens of thousands of unwanted cats and kittens by animal welfare organisations.”
Contrary to popular belief, it is not a “cat breeding problem” causing high levels of killing in shelters – it is a cat shelter intake problem causing high levels of killing in shelters. Presently, the only option we have for unowned and undomesticated cats is death in a shelter. Until we’re willing to provide services which keep cats out of shelters we will always see high kill rates. Why? Because without these programs (TNR, semi-owned cat desexing and free-roaming cat programs) which give options other than death for these cats, we will not see a reduction in killing. With enormous numbers of undesexed, unowned cats breeding in the environment, the only solution to cats being killed in shelters, is finding other solutions for these animals.
“If people were responsible, then perhaps we would need shelters less, and they would truly become safe havens.”
We cannot aim to ‘fix’ the community to the point where we will not need shelters. Nor should we aim to. What we can do is change the wider community’s regard for us and our animals. We can become a resource for pet owners needing assistance. We can change our policies to be proactive, rather than reactive. And we can follow the path of others who have found success by embracing their public.
If anything, pounds and shelters need to play a larger part in their communities. Shelters should be a place of refuge and help, providing a safety net for animals. Our mission, to serve our communities, and our community’s pets.
Yes, there will always be deadbeats and jerks, and yes, sometimes people could have done something sooner, or harder, or better. Who the hell cares? That’s just the reality of the world we live in. Our communities need to help people and animals as they ARE, not as we think they should be.
~ Christie Keith ~
… dropping unhelpful mantras and replacing them with progressive solutions?
I guess we’ll wait and see!