shelter cat

The rise of no-kill animal shelters has had a profound impact on the number of animals put to death each year.

Nobody goes to work at an animal shelter with expectations of glamour, high pay and a leisurely work schedule. 

For these workers, the motivation is a love and compassion for animals, particularly those who, by no fault of their own, have been marginalized, neglected and abused. When asked, many workers say that they want to make a difference in the lives of these animals.

Have they? The answer, on a nationwide basis, is a resounding yes. Statistics indicate that the direction is positive. It has been estimated, by the ASPCA, that approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter shelters each year, and that number is pretty much equally divided between cats and dogs. They estimate that since 2011, that number has dropped from 7.2 million, with the greatest decrease being in the number of dogs entering shelters.

The ASPCA further estimates that approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized annually. This number is down from approximately 2.6 million in 2011. This is in large part due to a greater number of dogs being adopted or returned to their homes.

A game-changing concept was introduced by the San Francisco SPCA when it initiated the “no kill” movement. This is essentially a shelter policy to find a home for every adoptable shelter animal. There are debates about the title, because even a “no kill” shelter can euthanize up to 10 percent of its animals for reasons including health and temperament.

Through the hard work of shelter organizations across the country, the number of animals euthanized in shelters has dropped by greater than 90 percent. While this is an incredible success from a percentage standpoint, it still means that a huge number of animals will be euthanized — on average about 85 dogs or cats in every state, every day.

So, one can only imagine that all of this “success” might not feel too successful to someone who got into this business to help but now works in an underfunded and overcrowded shelter that cannot possibly operate on a “no-kill basis."

Most of these shelter animals owe their circumstances to the irresponsibility of people.

Sleepy was one such animal. She had landed in a back country South Carolina shelter for unknown reasons. She was a hound mix and, as such, had no hope that a particular breed rescue would intervene. Her time was up. They took her from her kennel. She was frightened but offered no resistance. 

The shelter veterinarian entered the room to perform the deed. He looked at Sleepy as she sat on the table. He abruptly paused and refused to put her down because she looked too much like his own dog. Sleepy was returned to her kennel. The next day, my (Henri Bianucci) clients came to the shelter looking to adopt. Something kept drawing them to this little brown, nondescript dog.

Today, years later, this dog is in my clinic with her proud owners who describe her as the best dog they have ever had.

This dog was spared because someone saw her as an individual. Her similarity to a dog he knew revealed her to be special and deserving of compassion, of life.

The truth is, they all look like someone’s dog. They are all special and deserving of life. We have come a long way, but we have a long way to go, because the even the death of one innocent dog or cat is one too many. They need our help, so please support your local shelter. Adopt, don’t buy, and spay and neuter your pets.

Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to petdocs@postandcourier.com.