Expanding Lifesaving Editorial

2012 by Rich Avanzino

Audience: Executive Leadership, Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

The recession has hit animal welfare organizations hard. Donations are down for many, and major budget cuts at city and county animal shelters are commonplace. With fewer tax dollars available for the services that people and animals have benefited from in the past, the safety net of care for companion animals is in peril in many communities.

It's not that the government doesn't care about animals; everyone is taking a hit. State parks are closing, fire and police services are being cut, retirement programs are getting reduced, and state tuitions are skyrocketing.

Given this new reality, I believe it's time to take a fresh look at the way we do business. In this time of economic crisis, we have to narrowly focus our scarce resources on saving lives. The American public is with us on this. In a recently published Associated Press poll, respondents were asked to select one of two statements as representing their view:

  • Animal shelters should only be allowed to euthanize animals when they are too sick to be treated or too aggressive to be adopted = 71%
  • Sometimes animal shelters should be allowed to euthanize animals as a necessary way of controlling the population of animals = 25%

Shelter workers don't want to kill animals, either.

Now is the time to look at options we wouldn't have considered in the past, and search for ways to expand lifesaving in spite of slashed budgets.

WHAT IF...

...we put a ban on taking community/feral cats into shelters?

This isn't as radical as it may seem. For example, most animal shelters have refused to take wildlife for years. There is no outcry over this. People realize that in this day and age, the government can't do everything. Similarly, in a time of economic crisis, shelters can't afford to take in, process, and kill community cats, nor should they for moral reasons. If the cats can be trapped, neutered and returned to their habitats, that's great, but if the budget doesn't allow for it, there is still no justification for bringing ferals into the shelter only to kill them at the taxpayers' expense.

WHAT IF...

...we prohibit animal control agencies from taking owner surrenders if the shelter is at capacity?

We have got to ask animal lovers to help us do the heavy lifting now. Taking care of the animals in our communities must be a shared responsibility. And if precedent is any guide, people will accept it. The City of San Jose Animal Care Services has been following this policy for nearly ten years. Says Director Jon Cicirelli, "Our legal obligation is to the stray animals in our community; there is no requirement that we take in owner surrenders, and so if we're full, we don't. We provide a list of other shelters that may take the animal and we suggest folks try us again in a week or so. Some people may not be happy, but they understand. When faced with limited resources and space, our priority is to help the homeless animal first."

WHAT IF...

...we change the law so that cats picked up as strays could be turned over to rescues immediately as long as pictures and descriptions were posted on the Animal Care and Control website?

In the state of California, only 2% of cats are reclaimed by their owners; only 30% are adopted. It's costing shelters a fortune to hang on to cats for days while waiting for an owner who never arrives, and it's costing cats their lives. We have got to engage the rescue community and the general public in saving these animals as quickly as possible.

I'm sure these suggestions will cause push-back from those who don't want to change our current paradigm, and there may be flaws in this approach. But the alternative is to either euthanize in large numbers or overcrowd our shelters, a situation that leads to disease, suffering and greater expense.

We are in a crisis. The cards we've been dealt are unacceptable. We need to reshuffle the deck and start fresh.

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