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I am writing because I witness the continual pressures working against local cats that cause great suffering. These pressures include: (1) shelters falsely claiming to be ‘no-kill;’ (2) prolonged build-up of feline overpopulation; (3) insufficient availability of low-cost spay/neuter programs fully-funded by animal shelters to curb overpopulation; (4) abandonment of cats by owners that are often unspayed/unneutered; (5) lack of understanding of cats’ sexual maturity by owners/caregivers; and (6) community indifference.
Definitions: Euthanasia: terminating a feline’s life to stop irresolvable, untreatable, end-of-life suffering. Kill: terminating a feline’s life for reasons other than the previously stated.
False Claims of Being ‘no-kill’ by Shelters
Two weeks ago a woman walked into our building and stated she wanted to use our traps. She said “We just got a property and the previous person left behind many cats. A Bend shelter told me they would take the cats if we can get them there. They said they are ‘no-kill.’
A pickup was waiting outside and the temperature was in the 90’s.
I responded “They will kill those cats. Bend has its own cat overpopulation, so why would they want Klamath Falls cats? Many shelters claim to be no-kill, but those claims are often false. You have been misled by the shelter. This is craziness! You cannot borrow our traps to do that.”
She responded “I never thought about that.” She continued to say she did not want the expense to feed and wanted them gone…..without feeling badly about doing that. A person making decisions based on ‘not wanting to feel badly’ often searches for ‘no-kill’ shelters and asks no further questions. The act of removing cats also satisfied an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ goal with no method or even interest to hold a shelter accountable for what will happen to the cats once delivered
Over A Million Cats Are Killed in Shelters Every Year.
People taking cats to shelters for similar reasons helps explain why over a million cats are killed in shelters every year. People take them there, including owners, to end their cat problems and avoid responsibility. The slogan ‘no-kill shelter’ makes it easier for them to do it.
The mistake begins when much of the public innocently believes the term ‘no-kill’ means shelters do not kill at all. That is very far from what actually happens.
And because the public is naïve, unsuspecting, as well as determined to solve their personal problems, hundreds of innocent cats are taken to shelters, many of which are routinely killed.
What Does ‘No-Kill’ Actually Mean?
Generally the slogan is used to describe shelters that accept animals into its adoption program after passing a behavior test, remain healthy and are easily adoptable. Those that are not accepted into the program are killed but then are excluded from the overall calculations of numbers of entries.
Sadly, the slogan ‘no-kill’ in many cases, only means the shelter is not going to kill those it has decided not to kill on that specific day. With a daily influx of pets which can result in over-crowding, some that were ‘safe’ one day are killed the following day. The term ‘no-kill’ basically has been broken down to a meaning of little value to the public.
I directly experienced this process twenty years ago when I made an appointment to present five dogs at a large shelter claiming 90% no-kill for dogs. I was not told in advance of the required behavior test before making the long drive. Once there I learned that if the dogs failed the shelter’s behavior tests I then had a choice of taking the dogs back home or the shelter would kill them with approval of my directions to do so. The deaths would not count as a ‘kill’ by the shelter.
Because the public does not have access to shelter data and a shelter is not required to reveal its full statistics, the public is most often left in the dark about how they operate, as I was. It can be difficult to scrutinize a shelter when trying to make a fair and informed decision about a pet’s future.
The Definition of ‘No-Kill’ Has Radically Changed Over Time
Thirty years ago ‘no-kill’ groups started popping up in reaction to the horrible numbers of pets routinely and thoughtlessly killed in shelters. This dramatic new approach required the commitment to euthanize only to stop end-of-life suffering, a non-treatable illness, or acts of excessive aggression such as biting and fighting.
With this dramatically different no-kill approach, public financial support started waning from humane societies and going to the new no-kill groups. That is when leaders of humane societies created a different definition of no-kill, which was: If a shelter saved ‘9 out of 10 lives,’ or 90%, then it could claim to be no-kill.
The problem with this approach was shelters began selecting which animals would be admitted into the adoption program to be counted towards the 90% save rate. The remainder were killed and excluded from the calculations or sent to a different facility.
Other methods used to keep a shelter’s status at 90% save rate include: (1) sending pets to Animal Control or to other shelters in different towns or states, despite the fact the other towns have their own pet overpopulation problems. It is noted that some animals can react strongly against stresses of transport and risk killing at the new facility as a result. (2) staff falsifying documents on pets’ illnesses or behaviors to obtain an otherwise unjustified killing; (3) focusing on accepting only healthy, easy to re-home animals into the adoption program; (4) placing of pets at lowered- or no-fee without evaluating the quality of adoptive home. (5) or, use any means to ‘save 9 out of 10’ to be able to claim the no-kill slogan.
Based on an overall perspective, I must seriously question if killing rates by shelters have lowered much over the years. The numbers of animals handled are just figured differently, in that, those pets that fail are not counted.
Taking Cats to Shelters Is Not The Answer
We work continuously with cats and experience all of the personality, behavior and health issues that become evident after arrival. Cats most often do poorly in shelters. For this reason, we do all we can to keep cats out and ask the public to step up and do more to help. Often they do!
Cats’ problems which make them non-adoptable in many shelters, resulting in their deaths:
1. Cats that are fearful, do not easily transfer trust, or have difficulty adjusting to a new person or situation.
2. Cats that are territorial and easily upset if stressed or crowded.
3. Kittens/cats that enter with injuries, disease, or infestation, such as nasal discharge, sore eyes, diarrhea, ear mites, fleas, ringworm, physical injuries or disabilities, etc.
4. Cats or kittens that develop sickness after arrival.
5. Cats that become depressed or withdrawn due to the stressful environment.
6. Cats that dislike the presence of other felines, cannot adjust to confinement, not accustomed to being inside a building, or are feral.
The Mortality Rate of Kittens and Cats in Shelters.
The mortality rate is a looming problem in all shelters but seldom discussed with the public. The estimated mortality rate of kittens going into shelters ranges between 55% and 70%.
The cause of death is commonly the distemper virus which begins fast replication at the onset of fear or shock, such as abandonment or loss of its family. Kittens are the most vulnerable because they have no developed immune system to fight infection and are commonly infested with parasites (worms), which further weakens them.
We believe some cats become so heartbroken at the loss of those who they thought loved them that they become depressed and die.
No shelter can avoid these realities if working with cats and strays. Most shelters do not talk about this. Friends of Pets does….continuously.
Policies of Friends of Pets (FOP):
Our primary focus is supporting effective spay/neuter programs to offset the growing overpopulation of cats. Since our formation in January 2001, over 24,000 cats have been altered with our help. Each month about 100 cats are spay/neutered. Our greatest efforts are dedicated to this important duty.
As a side effort, FOP also maintains a true no-kill adoption program. Those entering our program normally arrive through our Spay/Neuter Programs or are abandoned cats. All must be tame. We cannot accept ferals. We normally do not accept ‘owner-cats’ because our efforts are dedicated to the most desperate cases, which are ‘street cats’ or people who are also helping strays. Most of these felines arrive sick or very stressed.
We euthanize only to stop end-of-life suffering, a non-treatable serious illness, or irresolvable aggressions such as biting or fighting. Every life is important. Unlike other facilities, FOP counts all felines crossing our threshold into our total numbers. We do all of this work, including all organizational expenses, for about $80,000.00 per year. Our veterinary costs for cats and dogs average about $6,000.00 per month. We are completely dependent upon individual contributions for all of our support. We have no connections with government other than mandatory licensing.
Our goal is to accept no more than 60 cats yearly into our adoption program. The reason is nearly all are strays arriving with health problems or require time to adjust. Weeks of care are required for many before even coming up for adoption. We treat all illnesses.
It is with grief of the heartfelt losses that we announce a 30% mortality rate….a rate we could not prevent despite our greatest efforts. Some cats will die after entering any shelter environment, which is our very reason for keeping them in homes and out of shelters, including our own.
.....Not After Holding Kittens Crying-Out in Their Final Lonely Moments for Their Mothers:
Because we count all cats, combined with our 30% mortality rate, our success can be no greater than 70%. For FOP to attain the ‘90% saved’ claim sought by other shelters, we would have to pretend, to serve our own self-interests, that cats which died did not cross our threshold or never existed. Or, in other words, we would have to fake our numbers or forget about the deaths. We simply cannot do that…..not after holding kittens crying out in their final lonely moments for their mothers, or hearing them purring to calm themselves before death. To us, cats and kittens came to us in desperate need for help and it is unethical to blot them out all for a now near-meaningless slogan to try to impress the public with ‘no-kill.’
The Public has the Right to Know Each Shelter’s In-Take and Kill Numbers:
We believe shelters are an accurate reflection of its own community. If shelters are unwilling to be honest about the numbers entering their buildings and the death rates, this dishonesty blocks the public from coming to grips with local animal welfare problems. When shelters make false claims of being ‘no-kill’ then the public is encouraged to make wrong decisions about their pets and take them there. The shelters know all the while what will happen after a pet arrives.
It is apparent that shelters want the public to think favorably of them by claiming ‘no-kill’ to keep financial support. It is likely that some shelters take in millions of dollars annual largely based on marketing itself as no-kill.
Our Local Cats Are in a Painful Plight
In our sprawling, economically challenged community, local cats are in a tough spot. Abandonment by owners seems common place. Sometimes it seems that a cat-hoarder or cat-feeder is on every street, also refusing to spay/neuter even though the procedure is free. FOP is the only local animal welfare organization that has an effective spay/neuter program in place and is willing to help cat-owners with health care, if needed.
The present plight of cats can improve but it will take more dedicated individuals who can step up and help. This includes individuals who are willing to help strays in their neighborhoods, animal shelters that will offer more services, and veterinarians who are willing to lend extra help when possible.
During our much interfacing with the public on this matter, we are grateful to the many, especially veterinarians and staff, who have a caring commitment to stay to the task of extending a kind hand. Cats cannot help themselves. Humans are required. Hopefully all of our collective actions tomorrow will bring hope for a better day for our local cats. Please help them.
And please do not take them to shelters out of misinformation about how shelters truthfully operate.