Every day animal shelter workers around the country are making the decision to kill healthy, treatable and adoptable cats and dogs. That responsibility is the number one cause of stress, job turnover, depression and even suicide in shelter workers. The suicide rate of animal rescue workers is the highest in the U.S., at the same level as firefighters and police officers at 5.3 per 1 million. The average overall in the U.S. is 1.5 per 1 million. Most animal welfare workers do not want to kill animals, but every day, their job requires them to do so. The percentage of cats killed in shelters is much higher at an average rate of 70% of the cats that enter a shelter versus 50% of dogs are killed in shelters, according to HSUS.
So, why are so many cats being killed in our shelters every day? There are many reasons why a cat or dog will be selected to be killed in any one day. The Primary reasons they are selected to be killed are age, behavior, health and space. Space? Yes space is among the primary reasons that animals are killed every day. What does that mean? In some cases, literally every spare kennel is in use within the shelter and the next cat that is brought in through the door is taken in and causes the shelter select a cat to kill that day to make space for the new cat that has been taken in that day. Of course even that situation is not as black and white as it may seem. Some shelters are quite creative and in that situation, they might have cats in offices, they may have foster families to contact to take a cat and they might have other resourceful alternatives so that taking in cats that day does not mean you kill cats to make space for them. By the same token, some shelters rigidly adhere to the number of cats and occupied kennels that they have set for themselves and any cat entering the shelter in any one day, will result in killing other cats to make space. This does not necessarily even mean that all the kennels are occupied. A shelter may set aside a number of kennels that they keep empty at any time in reserve and cats may be killed although there are some kennels sitting empty.
If we focus for now on just that one reason, killing cats (or dogs) when there are spaces available, are we really doing what is best for the animal or not? Let’s start with killing cats based on age when there is space available. Cat lovers know that’s just ridiculous! Cats live so long now and have so much energy even at ages of 16-20 years, cat people will laugh if you think of killing a cat based on age. And frankly, whether you are talking about cats or dogs, there are people who love to give an animal a loving home for its final years. What is more rewarding than making sure the last years of their life is full of love and happiness. It just may take a bit more time to find that person, but if you have the space, it’s worth the time. It’s worth noting that older cats are also great candidates for office cats, nursing facility cats and seniors for seniors programs. If you are resourceful, it can be done.
Now, let’s look at killing cats (or dogs) for behavioral issues when you have open space. For every person that says, “Well, if it has behavioral issues and it will not likely be adopted, it is better for the animal”, you will find at least one other person who has a story about a cat (or dog) that showed behavioral issues in one environment and thrived and flourished in another environment, in a home or a shelter. In fact, shelters are the worst place to try to determine temperament and predict animal behavior. The physical environment is so abnormal and stressful, that no animal is going to show its best behavior. So really, would it be right to kill a cat for behavior issues as long as there is space available for it? Isn’t it reasonable to work with it or take the time available to find foster care for it? Sometimes just moving it from its current location to another space in the facility solves the problem…a room with a view is always nice!
What about killing for health issues when there is space available? Well, first let’s exclude the situations where the cat (or dog) is terminally ill or is irremediably suffering. For animals in those situations, euthanasia would be humane and relieve them of their pain and suffering. However if the animal has a treatable illness and space is available to hold the animal, including in isolation if necessary, this would be a reasonable path to pursue to allow the animal time to recuperate or heal and still be adopted. Shelters worry about the cost, but if you reach out to your supporters, people are usually happy to help with medical costs.
So what do we do about the fact that cats (and dogs) are being killed every day even when there is space available for them? I hope that what you will do is to sign our petition and then forward it on to as many people as you can to advocate for cats (and dogs) by advocating for legislation that makes it illegal to kill a cat or dog in a shelter if there is space available unless that animal is terminally ill or has irremediable suffering.
Please take just a minute to sign the enclosed petition or go to our website at www.straycatalliance.org and sign the online petition to make it illegal to kill shelter animals when space is available.