This is the final installment of a three series piece on “No-Kill” animal sheltering and what it means. You can read the entire piece in a PDF document here. You can see the first installment here and the second installment here.
Regardless of how you answered the question of whether MHS is a no-kill shelter today, the problem is that’s the WRONG question!
The question should be: Is metro Detroit, and bigger picture, the entire state of Michigan as a whole community adopting out all its healthy and treatable animals? Are shelters and agencies working together in their communities and across the state to collectively achieve this goal? And, have we ensured that we are not overlooking organizations where overcrowding and substandard conditions are hurting animals in the name of saving them? Have we ensured that we are not permitting organizations to refuse to alleviate the suffering of animals that are dying or whose medical prognosis is extremely poor, but that they must “save” at the animal’s expense? Equally concerning, are we allowing the adoption of animals that have given a clear indication they will cause harm to people and/or other animals, because it improves one shelter’s “no kill” statistic? Are we ensuring that the standards of care for shelter animals are not being sacrificed? Can we ensure that those shelters that are taking on the discarded responsibilities of other more limited focus shelters are not blamed or vilified for doing so?
The programs and policies of any organization are theirs to set, and rightfully so. However, how do we evaluate the success of each individual organization? What if Shelter #1 is very selective in the animals they take in, focusing on the adoptability and popularity of the animal as its primary admittance criteria? Shelter #2, conversely, takes in many animals that others turn away, adopting out the healthy and treatable dogs and cats, but also doing right by those animals that can’t be adopted. Both shelters are saving lives and performing critical work within the community, but is one “better” than the other? Aren’t they BOTH acting together to achieve a goal? Any other answer can easily incentivize groups to make decisions that ultimately don’t maximize the lifesaving impact of the community and often overlook the animals who need the most help!
We must not turn our back on citizens and their animals in need of help. We must not evaluate the prognosis, quality of life and behavior of an animal based on a percentage, but rather towards a principle. We must not make decisions for an animal based on public perception rather than the reality of what is best for that animal. Animal shelters should actively and accurately report their work and progress, BUT must strive for more than just numbers. Placement rates are absolutely a great metric, but we must balance the true effectiveness of an animal organization holistically with the standards and conditions of their care facilities, their community programs and services, commitment to public safety, and, of course, their resources. It is our collective progress that should be the ultimate barometer on the work we do on behalf of the animals.
It is reasonable that people be extremely emotional and passionate about animals; they are living, breathing, feeling creatures. We have an obligation to defend them. We have an obligation to celebrate all they do for us. The principles, the “equation”, if you will, are admirable, achievable, and appropriate. To the extent that they can, every shelter should strive to end the euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals. We do, however, have to take off the blinders and recognize that there are other factors impacting animal welfare – the standards of care in shelter and the safety of our citizens to name just two.
Implementing comprehensive placement, redemption, retention and education programs are vital to the ultimate success of animal welfare organizations, but the operational philosophy will also need to consider the standards of care provided in addition to understanding what impact our decisions will have on public safety and our partners in animal welfare. Shifting the burden, burying it somewhere else, is not addressing or solving any core issues.
At MHS, we are committed, with conviction, to ending the euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals. We are steadfast in our belief that every animal is a life and warrants a chance at life and the respect it deserves. We believe that we are part of a community and are unwilling to let anything take us off course from what is best for the animals of Detroit and Southeast Michigan.
Animal shelters do not create the issues. The conditions of the neglected, abused, sick or injured or animals they take in are the result of what takes place in our communities. Shelters like MHS not only care for the communities’ animals, but help address our communities’ problems and challenges. We must expect more from our animal care facilities than just a placement rate – we must demand good outcomes along with high quality care and compassion!
So, let’s put aside any label for just a moment. Let’s look at what MHS does, in addition to the programs identified previously:
1. We evaluate, behaviorally and medically, every animal that enters our facility. It is not an arbitrary “guess” at what should happen. It is a formal evaluation program that is vetted and evaluated by external experts, including the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. It is a program that is scrutinized, reviewed and updated regularly and is a part of our “Visit, Share, Learn” program for other animal welfare organizations throughout the country.
2. For animals deemed to be healthy or treatable, MHS delivers tremendous lifesaving success – especially considering the number of animals we care for: More than 17,000 animals are brought to MHS each year and we adopt out 100% of the healthy dogs, 100% of treatable dogs, 100% of healthy cats and currently 68% of treatable cats. Those are more than numbers…those are lives. In addition, we continue to research and employ measures to address the remaining hurdle of reaching 100% placement of treatable cats.
3. Our mission is not confined to our physical buildings. MHS investigates 5,000-plus cases of animal cruelty and neglect every year, removing countless animals from abusive situations. We also extend our resources and professional experience to animal welfare organizations throughout the state through the Michigan Partnership for Animal Welfare (MPAW).
4. We have a dedicated shelter veterinarian in each of our three facilities to ensure that every animal is provided the medical care it needs and deserves.
At the Michigan Humane Society, our success is defined by what we make possible, and that is nothing short of extraordinary. Every animal, without exception, is treated with compassion, respect, and love…every one has a chance at life.
The “no-kill” philosophy is founded in compassion and it is this focus that we must move forward with, not the counterproductive anger and blame. I believe that the principles, the goals, are those that ALL shelters should adopt. Setting aside labels for this shelter or that, the future of animal welfare is the ending of the euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals. Collectively, the nation is most definitely headed in this direction. Consider the following information from The Humane Society of the United States (The HSUS) as published on their web site:
1. From 1973 to 2007, the number of cats and dogs in U.S. households more than doubled and animal shelter euthanasia rates dropped by more than 60%.
2. Animal welfare expenditures have increased over the past few decades. In 1972, American shelters spent approximately $800 million on animal welfare versus around $2.4 billion in 2007.
Amazing progress, but we still have work to do; work that must transcend labels.
At MHS, we are confident in our core beliefs, in our values, and know that we make a difference. The Michigan Humane Society is committed to doing what is right. That is not always what is popular. Because what is popular is not always right.
So – what do you get with an organization like MHS?
1. You get an organization that, top to bottom, believes they make a difference; that values life and pours their hearts into every animal they care for – regardless of why it is there and regardless of its outcome. Every animal is treated with the respect it deserves and compassion it needs.
2. You get an organization that is committed to ending the euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals.
3. You get an organization that provides the highest level of care and compassion to every animal they house.
4. You get an organization that understands that animal welfare isn’t just something that happens in its shelters, but in our neighborhoods as well, and employs strategies and programs to address the issues at their core.
5. You get an organization that knows they are but one part of “animal welfare”. That it takes active citizens, collaborations and commitment to create a more humane environment.
We are hopeful that we can call you many things: among them friend, supporter, adopter or volunteer. What you label MHS, should you choose to do so, is your choice. That said, labels aside – we save lives.