No Kill Shelters

No Kill Shelter Concerns

The National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) wishes to draw attention to this issue in the context that all the facts may not be to hand when the No Kill Society issue arises. This might lead to allocating funding to “no kill” organisations without being aware of the broader picture or possibly being lured by the emotive terminology and implied “pro-life” or conservation stance.

At the outset, we shall be sufficiently transparent to state openly that organisations like the SPCA practise euthanasia, from the Greek meaning “a kind or painless death”.

This does not mean we are “pro-death” – far from it.

However, it does mean that when there are sick, terminally ill or badly injured animals whose quality of life has gone and who stand no chance of recovery to full health and animals which cannot be adopted to responsible owners – then someone has to take responsibility and do it.

A great deal has been said about the “no kill” organisations in the USA and that if they can do it, we can do it here. We have forged close links with the Humane Society of the United States, the largest animal welfare organisation in the world. They tell us that there are indeed organisations in the USA that do not kill animals, the flagship being the SPCA in San Francisco.

But they are selective intake organisations. If they have too many ginger cats to ensure adoption of all of them, they turn the next potential admission away.

Admission criteria are set and adhered to. Incoming animals are screened for homing suitability. Health, age, colour, temperament, toilet training, general socialisation and behaviour are all factors taken into account before the decision is made whether an animal is accepted or not.

SPCAs May Not and Do Not Refuse Admission to Any Animal

What strikes us is that animal welfare organisations should prevent cruelty and suffering. The fate of the animals turned away is of critical importance. Are they abandoned? Are they taken to an alternate animal shelter where they are welcomed but where perhaps funding is low because it does not have the reputation of “no kill”?

That is the unfortunate situation certain organisations find themselves in – the “no kill” attracts legacies and Trust Fund income whilst the organisation taking in all animals unquestioningly fails to acquire the reputation or funding but effectively carries out humane and compassionate work.

There is also the “someone has to do it” syndrome which has already appeared in our own country. An organisation calls itself “no kill” but recognises that there are situations when, for the animal’s own sake, euthanasia has to be carried out.

They do not do it themselves for fear of tainting their own reputation so they take animals for euthanasia – you’ve guessed it – to the nearest SPCA or shelter that will perform this function. We know of a “no kill” organisation in our own country that continues to boast publicly of its record of never having killed an animal but SPCA employees have let it be known that workers at this organisation have brought their animals to an SPCA for euthanasia.

Kittens in a Shelter

Having dealt with the issues of euthanasia and selective admission, we come to the matter of these organisations being, quite literally “shelters” for animals – a long-term holding of them or perhaps permanently. These are the animals for whom suitable and responsible homes cannot be found.

We ask if it is in the interest of any animal to be held at an organisation indefinitely or for an excessively long period because animals do become kennel-stressed and overcrowding does affect temperament and behaviour. Sufficient human-animal interaction simply cannot take place nor can adequate exercise be given. Kennel stress is a known syndrome. Where animals are kept in “free-runs” indefinitely, we ask at what point over-crowding (with its attendant stresses and behaviour problems) is recognised and what remedial steps are taken.

It has been known for us to visit a “no kill” organisation and for us to find inadequate conditions due to over-crowding.

Where crowding is coupled with failure to sterilise the animals, then the problem is magnified. The usual excuse is that funding is unavailable to sterilise. Where offspring are handed out unsterilised, then the whole cycle or vicious circle continues over again. But who ends up with the unsterilised offspring when they too are in the reproduction mode or have reproduced?

The SPCAs, of course.

The “no kill” syndrome sounds good and within the parameters, we have described, it works in the USA. We believe the title “Limited intake” or “Restricted admission” is more reflective of how they operate in the USA. We do not approve of conditions of entry nor do we approve of keeping animals incarcerated for long periods or indefinitely. But be that as it may, the fact remains that South Africa is not the USA.

The NSPCA’s Outreach Unit works in areas where there are no SPCAs, no veterinarians and no State Veterinarians. Needless to say, such areas have indigent populations. Sterilisation and education projects are carried out in these areas but we are reaching only the tip of the iceberg.

Often, people in these situations request euthanasia for their animals and for many reasons, not only because of sickness or injury but because they recognise that vast numbers of animals simply cannot find homes. Without euthanasia, the people are left with no alternative but to use other methods to “kill” the unwanted or “excess population” animals – methods that are inhumane and inherently cruel.

It is noteworthy that the “no kill” organisations tend to work and operate close to or in centres of population with infrastructure and services. Tending to animals country-wide and giving attention to areas where welfare is most needed involves accepting that a holistic approach has to be made. It is of no use “saving” and hoarding unwanted or stray animals in an urban area to the detriment of stray, unwanted or sick animals in an indigent or rural area.

Perhaps in closing, we might draw attention to an underlying issue – sterilisation. In the past, the NSPCA has not only called upon the government for a moratorium on breeding (backyard breeders, puppy farms and so forth) but every animal adopted from SPCAs is sterilised and we have nationwide sterilisation projects. All sterilisations of animals are with the consent or at the wish of the owner.

We trust that we have been able to give an overview of the issue and we trust we have motivated why long-established animal welfare organisations like the SPCA have not moved in the direction of “no kill”.