Last week, there was a news story out of Springfield, MO about their successful, 19 week run, at being a "no kill" shelter. While, there are many good points about the story, it did highlight for me maybe one of my biggest pet peeves in animal sheltering that I feel like I'm seeing a lot more of these days.
First, a little about Springfield, MO's shelter. The shelter itself is very small and very old -- and was very much designed as a catch and kill facility (like many old shelters were). The shelter is less than 4000 square feet in size, serving a population of more than 200,000 people. It has 34 cages/runs. The Springfield, MO shelter does not even attempt to adopt animals out of their shelter. And as recently as two years ago, roughly 2500 (out of a total of 5,000 impounds) animals were killed in the city shelter.
However, many rescue groups began working with the city to pull more animals out of the city shelter. And these groups have had tremendous success pulling animals, getting them healthy, and getting them into homes. And for 19 weeks, all "adoptable" dogs from the Springfield Shelter have been saved.
This is a huge testiment to the work being done by the rescue groups -- and to a degree, the city for working with them.
On the flip side, I have an issue with the city hiding behind the word "adoptable".
Back in 2006, Springfield passed a law that required insurance, certain types of enclosures and muzzles for all 'pit bull' type dogs. In the process, the city also retained its policy to not allow rescues to pull 'pit bulls' dogs from the shelter. So, once a 'pit bull' got into the shelter, it could be reclaimed by its owners, or it would be killed. No other options. In the first 5 years of the ordinance -- Springfield killed more than 1500 pit bulls (of 1700 impounded) -- so an average of nearly one every day for 5 years.
These dogs were declared "unadoptable" -- not because they were sick, or injured, or agressive. But because of what they looked like.
So essentially, if the law of averages plays out - -in the past 19 weeks while Springfield has been declaring itself "no kill" of "adoptable" animals, it has killed roughly 133 'pit bulls' that they just declared "unadoptable". Incidentally, this is the same shelter that for the first 7 months of 2010 put out a presentation that declared 37% of their entire shelter intake as "ill or injured euthanized" -- and 19% "healthy euthanized".
Now, let me note, that I'm familiar with how shelters work - -and there absolutely are animals that enter open access shelters that need to be, and should be, euthanized. They are untreatably ill or aggressive -- and euthanasia is the best policy for them. This is why you hear No Kill groups talk about the importance of achieving a 90% save rate as reaching true "no kill" -- because they expect about 10% of the population to be untreatably ill or aggressive. And even then, some very progressive shelters, like in Austin, are now working to do more to help the "last 10%".
This post isn't meant to belittle anyone who is really making an honest effort to achieve no kill wherever they are in the process - -whether you're still working hard to achieve a 90% save rate, or have achieve that and working on the last 10%. It's also not an effort to belittle the efforts of the rescues in Springfield who are truly saving all the animals they can.
But this post is about being honest. It's about being honest about how many animals are still being killed in the shelter because illness abounds, or the resources don't exist to treat them (yet), or rehabilitate their behavioral issues or because a blanket policy exists to not even try with dogs of certain breeds. It's about not hiding behind the word "adoptable" -- and pretending you're doing everything you can do and saving them all and creating a false-sense of "success" while declaring 37% of the animals at your shelter as too ill to be treated and a whole grouping of dogs as "unadoptable" because of how they look.
That's not transperency. That's not honesty. And that's not No Kill.
We've all seen shelters that do this -- that report figures based on "adoptable" animals -- but with no real clarification of what "adoptable" really means -- and then, systematically, weeding hard to adopt dogs out of the program by declaring them "unadoptable".
It's wrong. And the animals deserve better. And the public deserves to know the truth. From the shelter, and from the media that covers the shelter.