Is Pet Overpopulation Really Killing Our Cats and Dogs? Part I
An estimated 6 – 8 million homeless animals, primarily cats and dogs, enter animal shelters across the U.S. every year. Approximately 4.4 million of these innocent creatures are euthanized. But the rate of euthanasia is not the same in every community. While one city saves the lives of 90 percent of its homeless cats and dogs another town euthanizes 60 percent of their abandoned pets. Have you ever wondered why some communities are more successful than others? The No Kill Advocacy Center says they have the formula to save every healthy and treatable pet languishing in every animal shelter in the country and they want to share it with you.
I’ve always had a gut feeling that putting a stop to the euthanasia of homeless animals was possible. And after interviewing Nathan Winograd, director and founder of the No Kill Advocacy Center, I am certain the goal is achievable.
In the first part of this story, I hope to share the basic concept of the No Kill program and the simple changes shelters and rescue groups can make to drop their euthanasia rate. In the second part of the story I will discuss the infrastructure changes that must be made for communities to bring their adoption rates to 90 percent or more. Cities such as Reno Nevada, Richmond Virginia, San Francisco California and Charlottesville Virginia have already achieved this goal and Kansas City is well on its way.
Winograd is a graduate of Stanford Law School and the author of two books on the animal shelter system: Redemption and Irreconcilable Differences. He left law to write animal protection legislation and in 2001 he became the Executive Director of the Tompkins County SPCA. When he left that job in 2004, Ithaca “was the safest community in the nation to be a homeless dog or cat.” In 2004 he started the No Kill Advocacy Center, dedicated to the concept of a No Kill nation for healthy and treatable pets.
Winograd wasted no time getting to the point of the No Kill movement. His first sentence was to dispel the myth that pet overpopulation is responsible for the killing of 4.4 million cats and dogs. He said instead it’s a combination of municipal animal shelters that do not have a primary goal of re-homing pets and a lack of marketing skills. Winograd said, “Shelters must get their share of people looking to adopt a pet.”
Winograd: “It’s kind of a numbers game and most animal shelters and rescue groups are not getting their ‘market share’ of the large number of people looking for a new pet. There are 17 million people that add a new pet, or replace a deceased pet each year. There are 8 million animals that enter the shelter system. This should translate into a home for every healthy animal. But 80 percent of the people do not get their cat or dog from a shelter or rescue group.”
Winograd: “Shelters must focus on marketing and adoption. If they increased their adoption rates by only 3 percent, all of the savable, healthy and treatable pets would find a new home. This is why HSUS and Maddie’s Fund have started the Shelter Pet Project. They understand how important it is to increase awareness and get homeless pets adopted.”
How does a shelter begin to attract more potential adopters?
Winograd: “They need to be more customer-friendly. They have to make it easier for people to adopt new pets and reclaim lost pets. The shelter in Reno used to close its doors at 4:30p.m. Then they did a study and found that most people worked until 5:00p.m. Now they stay open until 5:30p.m. and their adoption and reclaim of lost pets skyrocketed to 93 percent.”
Reuniting lost pets is a big part of the No Kill movement, isn’t it?
Winograd: “When Reno decided to stay open for an extra hour a day, they found that many of the animals believed to be strays were actually lost. They currently reunite 60 percent of the pets in the shelter with their owners.”
Winograd: “Lost cats are an even bigger problem. Missing Pet Partnership.org says that it takes two-weeks for most lost cats to get caught and sent to a shelter. They hide until they are practically starving and when they are finally caught by Animal Control; most owners have stopped looking for their pet. And to make matters worse, many frightened pet cats act like wild feral cats and are euthanized before they ever get near the adoption area.”
What other concrete things can shelters do to increase adoptions?
Winograd: “They can do two specific things: bring adoptable animals closer to where people shop and live and simplify the adoption process. Most shelters are on the outskirts of town. It’s hard for people to get to them. People are more apt to adopt if the pets are in retail areas that are easy to find and pleasant to be around. That’s why stores like Petsmart and Petco are great. They let shelters adopt from their stores.”
“The next part is something rescue groups could change. They need to rethink their adoption policies. Some groups make it so tough to adopt that they scare people away.”
Part II of the No Kill story will discuss the infrastructure needed in a community to lower euthanasia rates.
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