Discover more from Nathan Winograd
It’s déjà vu all over again
Cat kill rates are going up for the first time in decades and dog killing is on pace to double
You don’t lose if you get knocked down; you lose if you stay down. — Muhammad Ali
Since its onset in the mid-1990s, the No Kill movement has been tremendously successful. By changing the climate of public opinion in which “shelters” and their directors have to operate and forcing them to embrace the No Kill Equation — the programs and services that make No Kill possible — there has been a 95% decline in U.S. killing. It has been called “the single biggest success of the modern animal protection movement.”
But just because killing has been steadily declining doesn’t mean it will keep declining until it ends, if shelters abandon the effort to do so. And unfortunately, that has happened. In 2021, for the first time in decades, the killing of dogs increased. This was tragic and preventable, but not surprising, given that 2020 saw “shelters” across the country close their doors during the pandemic, abandoning animals to the streets. You can’t kill dogs if you don’t take them in. When they (partially, as explained below) opened in 2021, more dogs came in, and more dogs went out the backdoor in garbage bags. But as 2020 was an unusual year, the increase in 2021 was still well below pre-pandemic levels.
Then, in 2022, “shelters” took in 17% fewer dogs than in 2019 but killed 2.3% more than the prior year. Despite headlines across the country that people were returning their pandemic pets in droves, the narrative was false: the total number of pets surrendered continued to decline.
If three straight quarters of economic decline (falling GDP) constitute a recession, three straight years of increased killing constitutes far worse — and 2023 is on pace to be much worse. For the first nine months of the year, dog deaths are up 31% from 2022 and a staggering 85% from 2021. At this rate, the killing of dogs will double. Cat deaths are also going up for the first time, increasing 8.4% compared to 2022. Hills Pet Nutrition released a “State of Shelter Adoption Report” that documents an “18% increase in non-live outcomes for cats and dogs combined compared to 2022, which are now 33% higher than 2021.”
Why is this happening?
Backed by Austin Pets Alive, Best Friends Animal Society, the National Animal Control Association, and other regressive organizations, “shelters” have made pandemic-era policies permanent. Not only are some “shelters” refusing to fully open to the public, but some — like the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control — have announced that they never will. Many of them are refusing to re-launch the No Kill Equation programs they scuttled during the pandemic: foster care, marketing and promotion, high-volume sterilization, offsite adoptions, and other robust adoption campaigns, including being open when people are off work and families are together, such as on weekends and evenings. These programs resulted in 95% - 99% placement rates, even with higher intake rates.
For example, a Grand Jury investigation into conditions at Orange County Animal Care in California found that despite operating in a 10-acre site built for $35,000,000 that includes a “two-story, approximately 30,000 square-foot main building, six stand-alone kennel buildings, multiple dog play yards, a barnyard, and a rabbit housing area” — making it “the single largest municipal animal facility in the western United States” — adult cat killing has risen dramatically and killing dogs for behavior, including puppies, has increased 187%.
Despite enormous resources, the Orange County pound is killing despite empty cages, killing instead of sterilizing community cats, killing instead of socializing dogs (having eliminated their dog behaviorist positions), and turning away adopters by requiring an appointment to visit. For animals, visitors mean stimulation, walks, getting played with, and finding homes. Even those with appointments cannot play with the animals: “The kennels are still off-limits to all visitors.”
Orange County is not unique. Similar findings have been documented in Austin, Los Angeles, New York City, and elsewhere. Is it any surprise that these pounds reach capacity more often, adopt out fewer, and kill more?
We’ve entered the dark ages.
Tragically, many of these practices are defended by long-term regressive organizations — like the National Animal Control Association and the ASPCA — and newly corrupted ones — like Best Friends Animal Society. As such, there is very little external pressure to do better, which drove declining death rates in the past. (Nationally, The No Kill Advocacy Center stands alone in continuing to push for No Kill Equation programs and, thus, an end to systematic killing.) And not only are organizations like Best Friends encouraging these “shelters” to stay closed and turn animals and adopters away, but they are also working with them to fight efforts that would force them to do better.
For example, the same day rescuers expressed interest in Bowie, a little 10-pound terrier surrendered to the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care & Control, the “shelter” killed him. Instead of a new beginning, the little dog who should have had his whole life ahead of him, who never tried to bite, who posed no threat to anyone, was injected with an overdose of poison and turned to ash. He was barely 15 weeks old. In response, AB 595, Bowie’s Law, was introduced to ensure that animals like him, who have a place to go, would be spared by requiring California shelters to notify rescuers and the public before killing an animal. And given that such notifications are possible through shelter software already used by these facilities or available for free, complying would have required nothing more than a stroke on a keyboard: one click to notify rescuers that a life needed saving.
AB 595 was such a simple, commonsense law it was astonishing that anyone opposed it. But it was opposed by these organizations. And because of that opposition, it died in the California Assembly — and animals continue to die needlessly along with it.
Yet, despite obvious reasons for increased killing, the “experts” that Hills Pet Nutrition relied on for its “State of Shelter Adoption Report” claim that there is “no discernible solution in sight.” Instead, they say inflation is causing people to surrender their pets. It’s a lie. Cat and dog surrender rates have not increased. In fact, dog surrender rates are decreasing, and both are still well below pre-pandemic levels. Moreover, a Morgan Stanley report showed that spending on animal companions continues to be one of the fastest-growing segments of the retail economy, proving “inflation-proof”: “Consumers may trade down for themselves in tighter economic times, but not when it comes to their pets.”
A second study also found that people do not surrender their animals during economic uncertainty and economic downturns. Instead, they adopt more of them:
The researchers found that the proportion of child-free U.S. households with companion animals increased by 13% in response to the 2007-2008 financial crisis… Additionally, they found that U.S. households continued spending more money on companion animals following the crisis.
A third study — analyzing five years of actual intakes — confirms that financial reasons are not a significant or common reason why people surrender animals. Indeed, it consistently ranks as the least important cause.
Hill’s Pet Nutrition and its so-called “experts” are not only wrong about the cause of increased killing, but they are also wrong about the lack of a solution. Who are these experts? Jim Tedford, Patty Mercer, Nancy McKenney, and other old-guard voices who not only killed animals when they ran “shelters,” but some are still killing. Many of them are also long-time opponents of the No Kill philosophy. Tedford, for example, historically argued that sterilizing feral cats — instead of impounding and killing them — was “inhumane” and “abhorrent” and that caretakers ought to be jailed and prosecuted for violating abandonment laws — the same claim made by bureaucrats at the Orange County pound today for why they kill these cats.
In the end, we know why “shelters” are killing more animals, and we know how to stop it: managers must reject the bad advice from men like Tedford and organizations like Best Friends and must fully (re-)embrace the No Kill Equation. That they haven’t shows that they don’t care enough to want to stop killing. At the very least, it shows that they find killing easier than doing the work necessary to stop it.
And yet, as it is true that society moving in one direction doesn’t mean it will continue in that direction, we can turn things around and force a No Kill renaissance. Not only can we, but we must.
How do we bring it about?
There is a poem by Rudyard Kipling about what it means to be a man. Of course, in an age of moral relativism, a culture of victimhood, and a rejection of classical virtues such as stoicism, personal responsibility, and courage, poets like Kipling are seen as outdated and have fallen out of favor. But the poem “If—” is worth reading because it offers insights to keep our heads high during difficult times. More importantly, it provides a solution. As you “watch the things you gave your life to, broken,” Kipling compels us to “stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools.”
Those of us still committed to the animals need to pick up the worn-out tools — shelter reform advocacy, legislation, and litigation — we used to fight them with great effect and once again force “shelters” to do their jobs. We did it before, and we can do it again.
Indifferent “shelters,” uncaring voices, and corrupt organizations might have used the pandemic as an excuse to knock our movement down, but they did not knock us out.
To receive future articles and support my fight for the animals, please subscribe.