What’s the shelter myth I hate the most?
That’s an easy one. “No one wants to kill.”
It’s so easy for people who are not deeply and personally involved with rescue to believe this. You want to believe that people who get involved in shelters are there for the right reason. You want to believe that they have good hearts. You want to believe that no one wants to kill.
And you’re wrong. Shelters kill because it’s the solution they’ve embraced. They kill because it’s become easy for them. They kill because they are so accustomed to the deaths that they have caused that – well, what’s one more? And sometimes, worst of all, they kill because they want to. Because it gives them power, control, authority. It keeps the rescue groups in line who are banging on their doors, desperate to save animals – you see what happens when you don’t toe the line?
This is a story about a shelter that wants to kill. And they’re not alone. They’re not even unusual.
I was proud to take part in Pets Alive’s most recent mass rescue, the Itty Bitty Kitty rescue. Over the course of two weeks, Pets Alive took in 108 cats (plus 4 dogs!), mostly kittens and nursing mothers from New York City Animal Care and Control (NYCACC) at the height of kitten season. I transported them all in my car – on one trip I took 44 cats and 2 dogs in a Honda CR-V. The cats and kittens were distributed between Pets Alive’s two New York locations and met with an outpouring of support and help from staff, volunteers, and fosters who stepped up to save some of the youngest bottle babies.
Many of the cats had issues we’ve come to expect when pulling from NYCACC, most of which relate to poor medical care and misdiagnosis – the sort of thing that has unfortunately become routine in their facilities which lack trained and caring personnel and suffer from a chronic shortage of qualified medical staff. But on the final transport, there were two very special – and unusual – cases.
This is Tiger as she broke out of her box during transport. A fun and feisty young cat of about one year old, she was the only one in all of the transports to chew through her box and poke her head out to take a look at the world.
Tiger came in to NYCACC pregnant on 5/22 – she was noted to be pregnant upon intake and the owners who surrendered her gave the reason as “cost”. Perhaps they didn’t think a cat so young could get pregnant and they couldn’t afford the litter, perhaps they thought they were doing the right thing by turning her in.
When Pets Alive was contacted about taking Tiger, her pregnancy was disclosed and Pets Alive said they would take her pregnant and give her a safe place to have her babies and stay with them until they were old enough to be adopted. They were very clear that she was to be released to them in her pregnant state.
Once Pets Alive had made the decision to pull her, NYCACC did a spay/abort on her and killed her litter.
Kerry, the Executive Director of Pets Alive, wrote a great blog about this, and I agree with her – and I think most No Kill people do. I really can’t support spaying a cat who is visibly pregnant, but that goes double when there is a No Kill rescue ready and waiting to take her and her kittens and provide a lifesaving alternative. There’s just no sense in that. If you don’t want to kill, you don’t kill.
When they decided to kill her litter they evidently faced a problem. Eternally short staffed, they apparently lacked the available staff to terminate Tiger’s kittens. Fortunately, they had assistance: they turned her over to the ASPCA’s mobile spay neuter unit in their parking lot who killed Tiger’s kittens for them. They were nice enough to not even charge for the service, the deaths paid for with donor money. NYCACC was so determined to kill that when they lacked the available resources to do so they reached out to an outside group to help them get the job done in the face of an easy alternative: all they had to do for the kittens to live was to box her up and put her in my car when I pulled into their parking lot. Tiger came in on the 22nd, had her spay/abort on the 23rd, and was picked up on the 24th.
This is how determined they are to kill. Most people who support No Kill would be shocked to know how common support for spay/abort is in some organizations like the ASPCA and other national orgs who claim to stand on the side of life. Among the old guard it’s not even an issue: they believe that even though they (mostly, sometimes) stand on the side of life for animals who are already here, it’s justified to kill animals even if they would be viable if born that day due to “pet overpopulation”. What claptrap. Puppies and kittens are by far the easiest animals to adopt out and command the highest adoption fees in most places. In most cases it’s simply an excuse to not have to do the work – puppies and kittens are quite labor intensive – justified by a lie.
Kerry makes reference to the second case in her blog, to the three kittens that Pets Alive had spoken for but were euthanized by NYCACC instead. We now know what happened to them. They came in with a litter of five and a mother cat, but the mother developed mastitis – an inflammation/infection in the breast tissue. She could not nurse her kittens. We don’t know why three were slated for euthanasia – perhaps two made it out somehow, or perhaps the infection left two available nipples for nursing. What we do know is that three of her kittens who were only a few days old were killed for convenience, the euth code being “no mother” (“no mother” by the way, is considered an untreatable illness there – NYCACC claims to have zero healthy deaths). This isn’t a particularly difficult problem to solve, especially during kitten season. You have lots of nursing mothers in house and many will accept and raise a kitten from another litter. You have bottle feeding. You can turn the kittens over to a bottle baby foster program. Or you could reach out to Pets Alive, the rescue that already had a rescue hold placed on these kittens and was coming to get them, and you could explain that you were in a bind and didn’t know what to do and Pets Alive would have transported them out immediately and had them in foster care being bottle-fed that very day.
But all of these options would require a commitment to saving lives, and that’s hard. It’s work. It’s stuff to do. And an easy solution was already there.
These three kittens were killed instead, even though they had a place to go. They were killed by NYCACC because it was the easiest option for them. They were killed because they wanted to.
There is a bill being voted on this Thursday, May 31 in the New York State Assembly called CAARA. Among many other improvements in shelter conditions it would make it illegal to kill animals without giving them every possible opportunity for life, guaranteeing the access of qualified rescues to shelter animals in danger. Please help us pass it and end conduct like this in New York State forever.