In short, because they are safe and you want to clear the way for the next animal to enjoy that safe spot.
There is a heightened awareness these days about the clear connection between the way we choose to spend our dollars and the character of our communities. Whole Foods started out catering to a fringe market of label-reading, organic-sprout-buying folks in Austin eager to acquire their food a different way. You know what happened next. There was a tipping point at which enough of us decided that we cared about the issues that they embraced to make Whole Foods parking spaces like The Grail.
We proudly talk about shopping local, buying organic and preferring Mom and Pop over a chain. The fact that we have made these choices has certainly influenced the options open to us as patrons and purchasers. Consumer choice has brought about everything from safer cars to organic food options. We understand that the model we support is the one that thrives.
What does it have to do with animal shelters?
If you are like this writer, you have reasoned, ‘I must get my next animal from a high kill shelter to save them from death. But when I find kittens who need care, I’m heading over to that No Kill place for sure!’
That (seemingly) compassionate logic makes sense. But here’s the long game: the spot you free at the high kill shelter moves another animal into exactly the same razor’s edge position. The animal you adopt from a No Kill shelter opens a safe slot for the next animal – whether they are a senior, a pit bull, or a tiny kitten weighing less than 2 pounds.
Think about that for a second. Yes, it is certainly possible that the animal you don’t choose at the kill shelter may die there. But if that shelter model remains dominant, millions die. If a different model grows, millions live. It begins with choices that each of us make as individuals. I am reminded of the early feminist slogan, “the personal is political.” Each individual decision we make is like plucking the threads of a web.
It ripples out.
The problem we thought we needed to solve is not the problem we actually have.
An argument often heard in this discussion: there are simply too many pets and not enough homes. Is that true?
Years ago, Nathan Winograd published research on the “overpopulation myth.” The research showed that if only a small percentage of the people adding an animal to their homes would adopt from a shelter, the number of adopted pets would eclipse the numbers killed in shelters.
The author argued that what shelters face is simply a marketing problem. If we can convince a greater portion of people to adopt instead of buying an animal, we could literally adopt our way out of the killing.
Winograd was brutally denounced. One of the loudest voices working to discredit him at that time was the Humane Society of the United States. Fast forward to 2014. In a move nothing short of a stunning reversal, HSUS acknowledged what many of us have believed for years:
“At their national sheltering conference in 2014, HSUS’ Vice-President for Companion Animals admitted that pet overpopulation is a myth; that there is a huge market for shelter animals that vastly exceeds the number of animals killed for lack of a home (17 million homes vs. 3 million killed); that we can adopt our way out of killing; and we should.”
Watch this 1-minute video excerpt from the HSUS VP for Companion Animals: http://www.nathanwinograd.com/?p=14244
So when a conservative, traditionally anti-No Kill organization acknowledges that killing is not necessary and No Kill is possible, how long do we have to wait?
Some of that answer is up to you.
That brings us back to the question: “Why adopt from a No Kill program?”
There is certainly pain in knowing that we will lose many animals in today’s kill shelters. That pain can strengthen our resolve to create a system where nobody has to “save an animal from a shelter.” Together, we can create such a system.
So we invite you to think about the power you have as a consumer (donor, volunteer) to create opportunities for shelters to change. If you want them to change the old model, stop buying into the old model. Force the conversations to happen in shelter boardrooms that re-examine business as usual.
And trust me, those conversations are happening.
The tipping point is coming
A few years ago “No Kill” was fringey discussion. In recent years, the idea that “shelters must be accountable to a higher standard that preserves life, not destroys it” has become a benchmark. Mainstream discussions have begun to include terms like “live release rate” and “treatable. We have begun to question definitions of “adoptable” that exclude entire breeds, the old, the young, the shy and those needing medical treatment.
Today, there are 200 open admission shelters (representing 500 cities/towns) that are saving 90% or above. They serve a combined population of 9 million people. Those communities made the choice about the kind of shelter model they wanted.
Soon it will be as unimaginable to think that shelters killed the beings in our care as that we once owned other people. Or that women couldn’t vote. This is nothing less than a social movement grounded in the way we want to relate to the weakest and most powerless among us.
We are poised on the edge of a tectonic shift in the animal sheltering industry. It is not overstating it to call it a revolution in the way we think about how shelters should relate to animals.
Ed Duvin coined the term “No Kill” in 1989, calling shelters “the last line of defense for millions of vulnerable beings.” Help us advance the line.