DEAR DR. FOX: I would like to clarify the "no-kill equation" referenced in your recent column.
The very noble and attainable goal is to ensure the successful placement of at least 90 percent of the pets entering the animal control system. Even the staunchest animal advocates realize that not all animals can be saved -- the sad truth is that some are too severely abused, ill, injured or aggressive for rehabilitation.
Applied correctly, "no kill" never requires or advocates the suffering of terminally ill or injured animals; the home placement or indefinite caging of aggressive animals; dumping cats; or refusing assistance to animals in need.
The shelters that are applying no-kill inappropriately are in desperate need of community involvement and additional resources. Criticizing the no-kill movement by using examples of poor implementation helps no one. On the other hand, encouraging the public to volunteer, foster and donate benefits the entire community. In reality, the basic tenets of the no-kill movement are: adoption, spay/neuter and compassion. Who can argue with that?
Animal lovers: Let's fight the problem, not each other. -- C.F., Sterling, Virginia
DEAR DR. FOX: I take exception to what Dr. Larson says in your recent column about no-kill shelters piling up dogs, not checking temperaments, etc.
Our own Charlottesville-Albemarle Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which has won many awards, does extensive work with the animals. It is also our local pound, so it has no choice about which ones it takes.
No-kill shelters are not 100 percent no-kill. They have to euthanize a few animals who are too sick or injured or whose dispositions cannot be rehabilitated. I am familiar with other no-kill shelters, and they all do the same thing. I don't know what Dr. Larson is talking about, but it sure isn't one of the many shelters I know. -- P.A., Keswick, Virginia
DEAR DR. FOX: I have volunteered for, worked for and adopted from Save-A-Pet in Grayslake, Illinois, and I can personally vouch for its animal care.
Its cats are given a nice big room full of toys and soft things to live in. Newcomers are temporarily put in "isolation" rooms (nine to 15 cats, each in its own cubby) until their medical work comes back. If the animal is clean, it's moved to a kitty condo in the general cat room, where it stays for a couple of weeks to get adjusted to life in the shelter. Finally, each cat is let out into the room at large, where I've never seen fewer than three volunteers in there at a time, petting and playing and calming and talking to potential adopters.
Save-A-Pet is nonprofit and no-kill. However, I believe that it follows a no-kill principle in the same way that any deeply caring pet owner would -- I remember a cat with late-stage cancer and seizures being taken to be put to sleep while I was working there, and just about everyone was crying and saying goodbye to her. -- P.A., Grayslake, Illinois
DEAR C.F., P.A. and P.A.: I have received many letters on this subject and have shared yours to add to the debate.
With all due respect for this laudable ideal, a "no-kill" flag over an animal shelter holding adoptable cats and dogs (ideally in compatible social groups) is possible only if there is some other nearby shelter where unadoptable and incurably suffering animals are killed. This could be the wave of the future and is already evident in some communities, where there is a nexus of people providing foster care for adoptable animals along with humane (no-kill) shelters. (These shelters should be licensed and inspected to prevent cruel animal hoarding.) These shelters take in animals from a community/municipal animal receiving facility (the old "dog pound"), where there is an effective quarantine, behavioral assessment and rehabilitation, full-service veterinary and animal care staff, and animal control officers. I prefer the term "animal welfare officers" for these latter-day dogcatchers and cat trappers, trained in animal rescue, first aid and cruelty investigations with police powers of entry, arrest and animal seizure in cases of neglect and cruelty.
Housing compatible cats and dogs in small groups can facilitate their recovery and adoptability. Being kept in separate cages during quarantine and assessment is essential, but prolonged separate caging can be stressful and may lead to over-attachment to caretakers. When adopted, such animals may be more prone to separation anxiety.
In my opinion, the term "no-kill" should be dropped and replaced with "humane shelter," even though I have sympathy for it. It has become part of the lexicon of animal rescue and protection in reaction to the municipal animal pounds that became high-kill dog and cat extermination and recycle operations. They used inhumane killing methods, including mass killing with truck exhaust fumes, gas and decompression chambers, and even electrocution and injections with the curare-like drug succinylcholine chloride, which paralyzes animals so they cannot breathe, then suffocate to death.
Until regional pet overpopulation, abandonment and surrender (notably during periods of economic hardship and homelessness) are rectified, thousands of cats and dogs will continue to be killed every week across the United States, and this is indeed a national disgrace. So support your local animal shelters!
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