by Margaret Anne Cleek and Ruth Steinberger
Wrote Jeff Young, DVM in his ANIMALS 24-7 guest column We cannot adopt, warehouse or rescue our way out of dog & cat overpopulation!, “Large humane societies waste far too much money on housing animals, building expensive facilities…People think they can help by donating to tangible things like brick-and-mortar projects to give animal shelters “nice new buildings.”
“The truth is that large shelters are simply a waste of money. I cannot argue they don’t do some good, but large shelters, whether they are “kill” or “no-kill,” are not cost-effective for what society gets in return.”
Young struck a nerve with two ANIMALS 24-7 readers, Margaret Anne Cleek and Ruth Steinberger, who in different ways and places have been addressing both dog and cat overpopulation and human rights issues for decades.
Cleek, a northern California industrial psychologist, is also active on behalf of homeless humans.
Steinberger decades ago relocated from Philadelphia to Oklahoma as a reporter covering Native American affairs, but soon found a different calling as founder of SpayFIRST, a pioneer both in extending spay/neuter services to remote reservations and in developing and validating non-surgical dog and cat contraceptive methods.
Their commentaries about the bricks-and-mortar issues follow.
How can people NOT understand?
by Margaret Anne Cleek:
I am struck by the irony that all the intelligent discourse on human homelessness points to the fact that the solution is brick and mortar shelters, transitional housing facilities adjacent to needed services, such as mental health services and rehab facilities and subsidized housing.
I am involved in my community on a human homelessness task force. We have NO shelter for homeless people, although this year there was a migrating faith-based Winter Sanctuary.
Meanwhile, the county built a $35 million pet palace a decade ago. At the time we had an animal control director who would not work with rescues because she needed pure bred “stock” in the shelter to attract “customers.” I told them they could not afford the operating costs and in five years would be asking the SPCA to take it. They were asking the SPCA to take it within a year.
The county also bought mobile spay/neuter clinic which went unused for nearly a year because they could not staff it when every local strip mall has a vet office. Now, no surprise, it is used almost exclusively to house pit bulls and Chihuahuas, often for months and months.
Pit bulls & Chihuahuas
Currently my city wants to stop using the county shelter and build a brick and mortar animal shelter of its own. I can guarantee it will warehouse pit bulls and Chihuahuas. I have a meeting about this scheduled with city personnel this week.
I was not on the citizens’ committee that recommended these costly and ineffective measures, I believe, because they did not want a dissenting voice against those who wanted a no-kill shelter and adoption services, although they told me I was not on the committee because I was active in other aspects of city government and they wanted to involve new people. So they had people with no knowledge or background.
Humans need shelters. Dogs & cats need fixing.
How can people not understand that brick and mortar shelters and services are needed for homeless human beings, while spay/neuter services are needed for those animals who will produce unwanted offspring (and please leave the rest alone and don’t make us all adopt pit bulls)?
NOT needed are fancy facilities to house the surplus pets whose conception was likely due to the inability to afford its prevention.
Public institutions are geared toward collection, not prevention
by Ruth Steinberger
Dr, Jeff, thank you for spearheading the grass roots movement to humanely address the issue of homeless dogs and cats in a big way, and for empowering others to do likewise. You have been a guiding light for many people, especially those who help animals in chronically poor areas.
Missed the boat
Of the many “I coulda’ had a V-8” moments in humane work, none are more glaring than how both governments and animal welfare organizations have missed the boat by supporting the collection and/or dispersal of homeless animals, instead of focusing on preventing their births with a true sense of urgency.
Sheltering (and now throwing them out in the cold) remains the first course of action, with spay/neuter taking a back seat.
Shelters are needed, however, not as a band-aid for overpopulation.
“Sheltering is a financial black hole”
Municipal budgets in the U.S. largely fund animal shelters, while nonprofit organizations operate spay/neuter programs. This means that the public overall infrastructure, and public resources, are geared toward collection, not prevention. This is sad, since spay/neuter programs are largely financially self-sustaining, while sheltering is a financial black hole.
Can you imagine if the government insisted on operating hospital wards for polio victims, while expecting dedicated volunteers to hold bake sales to pay for polio vaccines? When it comes to dogs and cats, we tolerate a situation that is actually that absurd.
We discuss no-kill, low-kill, and how to lower euthanasia rates by driving animals all over the country, or by letting them starve on the streets, while ignoring the proverbial elephant in the room: that all unwanted dogs and cats started out as puppies or kittens whose births should have, and could have, been prevented at a lesser cost than properly sheltering and rehoming them.
How we define “affordable/accessible”
At Spay FIRST! we loosely define “affordable/accessible” as costing no more than one full day’s pay on minimum wage (around $52), available within 40 miles of someone’s home, and with access within one month of requesting an appointment.
Whether programs refers to a spay/neuter clinic or subsidized services at private clinics, most states have at least a few spay/neuter programs with year-round access.
However, fewer than 20 states have statewide contiguous access to affordable spay/neuter services using the above parameters for access and affordability.
Revamp the model
The model whereby collection (sheltering) is the publicly funded response and affordable spay/neuter services are privately operated urgently needs to be revamped.
Placing spay/neuter clinics at the locations of animal shelters (either by public/private partnerships or under municipal services) would maximize the use of space already zoned for and funded for animal use. Placing spay/neuter clinics into shelters or on the same property would increase the number of locations for affordable spay/neuter services without capital campaigns for acquiring space.
This is not happening not so much through lack of ability on the part of the sheltering community as through a lack of interest in changing the paradigm.
Bashing the issue
Failure to use property that is already dedicated to animal use for spay/neuter significantly increases the labor and financial burden required to operate spay/neuter services. Having a “spay space” in every shelter would make these services just a matter of hiring a veterinarian and support staff.
Until subsidized low-cost spay/neuter is as widespread as collection of unwanted animals, and until it is augmented by ordinances that mandate responsible care through differential licensing and leash laws that are actually enforced, many portions of the U.S. will continue to bash this issue with a haphazard combination of collection, transport, and animal hoarding that leaves many animals eating dust.
Dr. Jeff, thank you for having the vision and compassion to take this issue out of the box!