Considerable media coverage recently has suggested that the solution to dog and cat overpopulation lies with so-called "no-kill" animal shelters. If this were true, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals would be their strongest proponent. But people engaged in real sheltering work know that "no-kill" creates even more problems for animals and that "no birth" is where our attention must be focused.
That's because in the United States, 6 million to 8 million animals enter shelters annually, and about half of them are euthanized because nobody wants them.
Open-admission shelters -- those that, unlike "no-kill" shelters, take in every animal brought to them -- are left to deal with animals that, through no fault of their own, are not adoptable because of sickness, injury, old age or aggression or, no matter how "perfect" they may be, are simply not adopted.
"No-kill" advocates have vilified open-admission shelters, pressuring them to abandon any requirements that prevent animals from going to bad homes or into hoarders' basements so as to shuffle the animals out. But this is not a realistic solution to the multiple tragic problems associated with easily acquired -- and just as easily discarded -- "pets." It's a shell game.
They have also focused on PETA's euthanasia statistics in a truly perverted way to try to make people angry at what is actually a dignified, merciful release from suffering. They use inflammatory language and labels such as "puppies" and "kittens" even if the animal was a 17-year-old dog who was unable to walk and gasping for breath because of a heart condition.
PETA openly publishes its euthanasia figures each year and simultaneously calls on the government and citizens to implement sterilization programs and laws to reduce the homeless-animal crisis. We'd love for the "no-kill" people to join us in working for such a real solution.
"No-kill" proponents do not tell the public that most "no-kill" shelters turn animals away; send unadoptable animals to open-admission shelters like PETA's so that they can keep their own euthanasia rates low; charge exorbitant admission intake fees; require appointments that are far in the future, making it impossible for people to turn in animals; give animals away for free without screening adopters and otherwise turn their backs on the very animals who need them. It's easy not to euthanize animals if the shelter won't accept them to begin with. And it's easy to have a high adoption rate when a shelter chooses to take in only adoptable animals.
The "no-kill" movement is also responsible for the spike in hoarding cases nationwide. "Rescue" hoarders make up one-quarter of the estimated 6,000 new hoarding cases reported in the United States annually. In June alone, 856 animals were seized from "rescue" hoarders across the country.
PETA's shelter helps -- because no one else will -- animals whose guardians can't afford veterinary care or a dignified death for their beloved companions, animals who have been kept on chains in backyards and have never been socialized and animals who are at death's door, often with broken bones, cancerous tumors and rotted eyes, or are otherwise unadoptable. We have published many blog posts about our caseworkers' heartbreaking work over the years, and they can be seen at PETASaves.com.
At PETA, we transfer or refer most adoptable animals who come our way to other adoption facilities in order to take in animals who have been rejected by their "owners" or other shelters, even though this lowers our adoption numbers and raises our euthanasia figures.
PETA saves more animals' lives than most of the "no-kills" put together, by stopping animal homelessness (and the resulting need for euthanasia) at its source. We've sterilized nearly 94,000 animals in our no- to low-cost clinics in order to prevent puppies and kittens from being born into homelessness in the first place. We enlist celebrities to advocate spaying and neutering and adopting instead of buying. We treat -- for free -- animals like Missy, a dog whose hip was dislocated after she was hit by a car, and Patch, a cat whose bleeding and punctured eyeball had to be removed. The free services that we offer have prevented countless animals from being surrendered to shelters and euthanized.
We will always consider and respect animals for who they are and what they have been through and do what is best for them as individuals.
"No-kill" advocates don't mention any of this, and instead throw stones at shelter workers, which deflects attention from the need for personal responsibility. Blaming shelters won't solve the homeless-animal crisis. It's up to us to do that by always adopting and never buying from pet stores or breeders and by having our animals spayed or neutered.
Ingrid E. Newkirk is president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (www.PETA.org).