Seventy One Percent Favor No Kill Editorial

February 2012 by Richard Avanzino

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

Should shelters save all their healthy and treatable pets? Americans think so by a 71% majority.

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%

Those exact numbers may be news, but in the shelter world we've long known that people want to see shelters as safe havens for homeless pets.

Now, many animal lovers are asking for statistical information to see how close their shelters and communities are to achieving that goal. Frankly, they're entitled to know. Whether a shelter runs on taxpayer or donor dollars, public and private institutions should report their results to the public who pay their bills.

Some shelter leaders are forthcoming with statistics and are outspoken about the need for transparency. By and large, however, a veil of secrecy exists in our movement. Under-performing shelters in particular worry about the embarrassment of poor report cards or comparisons to higher performing shelters. Even some of the best shelters are reluctant to report for various reasons.

In lieu of offering statistics on intakes and outcomes, some shelters hide behind spin-heavy reporting to try and satisfy the public and their donors: "We saved all of our adoptable animals last year." "We did 5,000 adoptions." This kind of reporting does not allow for any real understanding or judgment on performance. (For instance, what is adoptable? 5,000 adoptions compared to how many deaths?)

The deeply ingrained impulse for secrecy counters lifesaving progress. The community needs to be engaged to help us fulfill our mission. If a shelter is doing well, transparency will generate more financial and volunteer support. If a shelter is not doing well, it's an opportunity to ask for help and get the public on the shelter's side to improve performance. By keeping everyone - donors, animal lovers, elected officials and reporters - in the dark, shelters miss the opportunity to take advantage of gains that could be made. Unless we engage the animal lovers in our communities, animals are going to die needlessly, and that's just wrong.

That so many shelter leaders continue to defend secrecy is a real disappointment to me. Instead of supporting the growing thirst for more information, they continue the traditional shelter mentality of "us" (shelters) versus "them" (the public).

Here's an example: a group of prominent animal welfare executives is planning to ask agencies to submit their individual statistics to a national shelter database to track lifesaving progress nation-wide. However, they have initially agreed to keep individual and community statistics hidden. All the public will be able to see is data aggregated regionally or nationally, unless individual agencies give permission to reveal their numbers.

It's hard to believe so many industry leaders are still willing to protect their peers at the peril of the animals we are supposed to serve.

Leadership is about stepping out in front and taking bold moves, not giving in to peer pressure. Leaders try to change the status quo, not maintain it. And when maintaining the status quo costs more lives, that position is unjustifiable.

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