Every year, between 4 and 4.5 million pets are killed in our nation's shelter system.
That's a lot. But it's not an insurmountable goal to think that we can save all of the healthy, treatable and non-aggressive dogs and cats that enter our shelters. In fact, the math shows we could do it almost over night if every shelter and rescue in the country got on board with no kill policies.
But let's break down that 4.5 million number a little more.
Of that number, according to some figuring from Best Friends (and others), roughly 2.5 million of these animals are cats -- about 1/2 of which are feral. Adopting TNR programs could dramatically decrease the number of cats killed in our shelters over-night.
Meanwhile, that leaves about 2 million dogs that are dying in our nation's shelters every year. Based again on estimates from Best Friends based on the percentages from many high-kill shelters around the country, roughly 40% of all of these dogs killed are classified as 'pit bulls' -- so roughly 800,000 of them.
Some have used this information to try to justify breed-specific policies. However, one of the major reasons this number is so high is BECAUSE of breed specific policies.
Obviously one problem is the problem of breed-specific legislation. There are still far too many cities like Denver, CO who's breed ban has led to the deaths of more than 3500 'pit bulls' (warning, distrubing photos at the link) since 2005. Until about a year ago, Toledo, OH, had a similar policy under dog warden Tom Skeldon which led to the death of nearly 1000 'pit bulls' each year -- which sadlyt also included a contract that incentivized the killing.
But possibly even a bigger problem are the number of shelters that have breed-specific policies of refusing to adopt out pit bull type dogs, or even transfer them to rescues. This essentially creates a mandatory death sentence for any pit bull type dog that enters the shelter.
But fortunately, some of this is finally changing.
Last week, the Central Missouri Humane Society (Columbia, MO) began adopting out 'bully breeds' for the first time. For them, this breed classification included 'pit bulls', mastiffs, Boxers and Boston Terriers. This new policy will lead to hundreds of dogs having the potential for a new life instead of just showing up at the shelter being a death sentence.
Detroit Animal Control has a similar policy. However, after a dog named Ace, who had multiple people try to rescue him from the shelter, and a court injunction preventing him from being killed, the city is now listening to rescue groups who want the death sentence policy changed.
Still, many other communities have similar policies -- including Springfield, MO (where more than 1500 pit bulls have been killed); Houston, TX; and Milwaukee, WI (to name just a few). By creating more humane systems that would allow these dogs to find new homes, we could dramatically lower the number of dogs killed in shelters across the country.
People's opinions are changing. Slowly, but changing. And this is a crucial step in creating more humane communities across the country and ending the killing of healthy/treatable animals in our shelters. But it's changing not by creating breed-specific policies, but by eliminating them.