By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
CRITICS OF AHS'S high kill rates say the organization has been reluctant to adopt new trends in animal welfare that have dramatically reduced euthanasia in other states. Several open-door shelters nationwide—starting in 1994 in San Francisco and most recently in Tompkins County, New York; Charlottesville, Virginia; and Reno, Nevada—have been able to reach save rates for dogs and cats in the high 80 and low 90 percentiles, using the no-kill model put forth by Nathan Winograd, author of Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America. Winograd's formula for success includes increased community involvement, close partnerships between welfare agencies, and specific programs such as high-volume, low-cost spaying and neutering and a controversial trap, neuter, and release (TNR) effort targeting feral cats.
It is the responsibility of every animal welfare organization to use all the tools available to save animals, says Winograd, who refers to shelters with high kill rates as "assembly lines of death." We are a nation obsessed with pets, the former criminal defense attorney and shelter director argues. Every year Americans spend $40 billion on their pets and millions more donating to animal welfare charities. Yet "the reality is that 70 percent of cats and 40 to 50 percent of dogs nationwide end up in landfills instead of in the loving home of a family," he says . "It doesn't make sense."
Last October, Winograd came to the Twin Cities to discuss his program. His visit, sponsored by Animal Ark, was a day of hope for many animal activists, who cheered his solution to a problem they have grappled with for years. The crowd of well over 100 gave him two standing ovations.
"I see euthanasia as my personal failure," says Holly Ailts, shelter director of the Heartland Animal Rescue Team in Brainerd. Inspired by Winograd's successes, she is constantly striving to be a no-kill, open-door shelter. By implementing much of the model and working closely with other area rescue groups, HART has dropped its dog euthanasia rates to less than 20 percent. Ailts is still working on the cat problem.
"It's our responsibility to be open-minded to any program or policy that will save more lives," she says. "Philosophically, humane shelters have to be on board to be good stewards for the animals."
But philosophically, everyone isn't on the same ship. Sitting primly at a round table in a large, window-filled office in Golden Valley, Dixon is quite frank. "We are not moving toward, nor do we have an intention to be a no-kill or limited-admission facility," she says. "We always have at the top of our mind the welfare of animals and reducing euthanasia so that all adoptable animals get placed, [but] absolute no-kill doesn't exist. There are animals that will always be euthanized, and there will always be animals that cannot be safely and appropriately placed in homes."
Shelters like AHS open their doors to thousands of animals, says Dixon, who was at Winograd's presentation but has yet to read his book. Moving to a strict no-kill policy would mean wait times for people needing to drop off their animals, she says. "If you turn them away they are not going to keep the animal. They are going to find something else to do with it," she says, alluding to the large numbers of animals that are dumped.
No-kill isn't without controversy, says Daphna Nachminovitch, a vice president at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA has gotten complaints about overcrowding and unsanitary conditions at some of the sites Winograd claims as successes, she says.
Like abortion semantics, even the language categorizing welfare groups into "high kill" and "no kill" shelters is polarizing, says Dixon. To her, a no-kill operation means "closing your doors when you're full, screening for health and behavior at the time of surrender, and turning animals away that you don't think are a good fit for your programs, so you don't have to deal with some of the euthanasia decisions that an open facility does."
Many animal rescuers understand AHS's position. "It's really hard for a shelter to go to no-kill," says Erica Sutherland, a lawyer who serves on the board at All Dog Rescue, a local no-kill, foster-based group. "It is a lot more complicated than people realize. An impound cannot say no. We have the luxury of saying, 'All our foster homes are taken right now and we're not going to take any more dogs.' We close our doors and that's it. And when people contact us, we say go to the Humane Society. If you are in a hurry and you can't wait, go to the shelter. But no-kill is possible. It's just a lot of work."
The divisions in the animal welfare community have been frustrating for some. "In a way the no-kill movement is hurting us," says Marilou Chanrasmi, president of Pet Haven, one of the largest no-kill foster groups in the Twin Cities. "It's putting a wedge between groups. All the rifts, the bickering, to me it's wasted energy. Unless you believe [in the no-kill model] and can get everyone to rally behind it, it won't happen. We need to work together."