Guest Column: ‘No-kill’ can mean ‘no help’ for animals

Daphna Nachminovitch

In the United States, 6 million to 8 million animals enter shelters annually, and about half of them are euthanized. Despite this sobering statistic, some advocates of the deceptively named “no-kill” movement deny that there is an animal overpopulation crisis.

Tell that to the millions of unwanted animals left at shelters every year.

At an animal shelter in West Virginia several years ago, a man trying to surrender two kittens was turned away by a worker who said that the shelter was over capacity and had no room. The man left with the kittens, and a few seconds later, screams were heard. They came from children who saw the man toss the kittens from his vehicle and intentionally run over them in the parking lot before speeding off. One kitten was killed instantly, and the other had to be euthanized.

A new expose by PETA reveals how animals like these kittens are put in peril because of dangerous “no-kill” policies that make it difficult — and often impossible — for people to surrender animals to shelters. Video footage shows workers at more than two dozen facilities refusing admission to animals in need by citing long waiting lists, charging exorbitant admission fees, saying their facilities are experiencing disease outbreaks and overcrowding and giving other excuses.

“There is a waiting list, between six months and a year, to come into the facility here,” a worker at Brother Wolf Animal Rescue in Asheville, N.C., said. “We’re referring people to the public pounds. We’re not going to take dogs that have problems — we want to move them and find homes. We’re a private shelter, and we pick and choose,” confessed an attendant at Little Shelter Animal Adoption Center in Huntington, N.Y. At Web of Life Animal Outreach in Chesapeake, Va., a staffer admitted that animals may spend the rest of their lives in the shelter: “We’re a ‘no-kill.’ If it doesn’t get adopted, it lives its life out here. And it may not get adopted. It may be here for 10 years.”

Keeping animals out of shelters may keep “no-kill” shelters’ euthanasia rates low and make for effective fundraising, but it spells disaster for animals. Few people are willing or able to drive to another shelter, pay fees or keep and care for an animal until a space opens up on a waiting list.

What happens to rejected animals? They don’t just disappear. A lucky few may end up in open-admission shelters, but many are dumped on city streets or on desolate country roads, where they get injured or killed in traffic, starve, succumb to the elements or reproduce — creating even more homeless animals. Others are chained up or relegated to a lonely kennel in an isolated backyard. And some, like the kittens described earlier, come to a violent end at the hands of cruel or uncaring people.

Despite “no-kill” failures nationwide, proponents still push for reducing services, keeping needy animals out of shelters by restricting intake hours, charging high admission fees, having waiting lists for admission and transferring animals to unscreened “rescues” (which make up one-quarter of the estimated 6,000 new hoarding cases reported in the U.S. each year). They promote impulse adoptions, fail to screen adopters, leave cats on the streets to die slowly without veterinary care or comfort — and worse.

The words “no kill” sound appealing to donors and politicians, but they are just words without substance and without a real solution. We can turn our communities into places where no cat or dog has to be euthanized for lack of a home — but not by turning away animals in need. The key is to cut off the supply of homeless animals at its source by spaying and neutering. Each of us can help by always having our animals sterilized, never buying animals from breeders or pet stores, supporting and adopting from open-admission shelters and encouraging our friends and family to do so, too. Together, we can make our communities no-kill the right way — by first striving to make them “no-birth.”

Daphna Nachminovitch is the senior vice president of the Cruelty Investigations Department for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.