“Peak dog” also means “Fix the problem before it gets worse.”
LOS ANGELES, AUSTIN, SAN ANTONIO––City of San Antonio Animal Care Services did not mention “peak dog,” pit bulls, nor even spay/neuter in a September 1, 2022 bulletin lamenting that “Just this week, 26 dogs have been humanely euthanized due to our shelter’s capacity restraints.”
But “peak dog,” pit bulls, and lack of targeted spay/neuter to drastically lower the incoming pit bull population were what the City of San Antonio Animal Care Services bulletin was all about, admit it or not.
Los Angeles & Austin in same crunch
Neither did Los Angeles City Watch blogger Phyllis M. Daugherty nor Austin Chronicle environment and labor reporter Lina Fisher so much as mention “peak dog” and spay/neuter, in recent in-depth examinations of why “no kill” animal sheltering is failing in their respective cities.
Fisher, writing all around the issues pertaining to “behavior dogs”, illustrated her article with photos almost exclusively depicting pit bulls and pit mixes.
Yet Fisher did not even mention the editorially dreaded words “pit bull,” which tend to trigger pit bull advocates much as the sight of other living beings triggers pit bulls themselves.
Daugherty did extensively discuss the pit bull glut choking animal shelters, both no-kill and otherwise, but very likely neither Daugherty nor Fisher considered “peak dog.”
After all, though others have been quietly discussing “peak dog” for some time, ANIMALS 24-7 only introduced the term “peak dog” to much of the humane community on August 29, 2022.
If ever fully accepted, understood, and integrated into animal care and control strategies, recognizing “peak dog” may save the viability of efforts to achieve no-kill animal control.
But that is a big “if,” with every major player in the pet industry, animal care and control industry, and humane sector long since wholly committed to the fallacy of ever-expanding market demand for dogs.
No more elasticity in the system
“Peak dog” in just two words conceptually summarizes the current incarnation of the problem traditionally described as “too many pets and not enough homes.”
“Peak dog,” though, is not quite the same idea. “Not enough homes” includes the increasingly futile implication that maybe more homes can somehow be manufactured.
“Peak dog” recognizes that there is a point, probably already reached in recent years, at which all potentially available homes for dogs are saturated, to the point that no amount of additional adoption and fostering promotion can stuff another dog into a home even sideways without another dog dying or otherwise losing a home to open a habitat niche.
Recognizing “peak dog” means that the whole community must face the same reality confronting animal shelter personnel every time all the cages are full, which these days is every day. There is no more elasticity in the system for absorbing additional dogs––especially pit bulls, the hardest dog to rehome, for reasons including behavior, size, and simple overabundance due to a spay/neuter rate consistently running at 25% to a third of the rate for all other dogs.
Market for family sedans will not absorb pickup trucks
Killing dogs can be avoided only by reducing reproduction of each dog type to meet the existing demand for dogs of that type. This requires recognizing that dogs of different breed characteristics are no more in equal demand than demand for different types of cars. Someone who needs a family sedan might take an SUV instead, but definitely not a pickup truck.
Much as the somewhat more familiar term “peak oil” is defined as the moment at which extraction and use of petroleum begins to permanently decrease, “peak dog” is the moment at which the owned dog population begins lastingly trending downward.
Like it or not, the U.S. as a whole appears to have reached “peak dog.”
Especially, the U.S. has reached “peak pit bull,” the breed type most visibly overcrowding shelters for most of the present century, in ever greater proportions. Just about half of the shelter and rescue dog population now are pit bulls, who make up under 6% of the total U.S. dog population. No breed type could be absorbed into the owned dog population if offered in comparable excess relative to existing homes.
Clearly this is an unviable situation if “no kill” animal control is to be achieved, soon or ever.
“Peak cat” already reached, but hidden from recognition
Almost unnoticed, the U.S. had already reached “peak cat” before reaching “peak dog,” but the declining number of adoptive homes for cats was disguised for a time by tactics such as “return to field,” which in effect “rehome” cats who are neither intractable nor feral to the streets, on the pretense that they can find their own way home, even if their former homes abandoned them.
“’No Kill’ Has Failed,” Phyllis Daugherty bannered on August 29, 2022, pointing out that the Best Friends Animal Society, known for arguing “We can save them all,” itself acknowledged in a June 7, 2022 media release an “Increase in number of dogs and cats killed in U.S. shelters for the first time in five years.”
Best Friends Animal Society chief executive Julie Castle attributed the increase, however, not to “peak dog,” but rather to the COVID-19 pandemic of the past two and a half years, the current all-purpose excuse for almost anything gone awry.
“8.1% increase in intake”
“Unfortunately,” said Castle, “the setback in lifesaving is largely due to the historic decreases in pets entering shelters in 2020,” when COVID-19 quarantine restrictions allowed many shelters to avoid overcrowding, and consequently having to euthanize animals, by simply not taking animals in.
This meant that thousands of animals were dumped to run at large instead. Fatal dog attacks, not surprisingly, especially by unowned or unclaimed pit bulls running loose, soared to new heights.
“As shelters began to reopen in 2021 in increasing numbers,” Castle continued, “so did the number of pets entering their facilities. Over the course of 2021, shelters saw an 8.1 percent increase in intake,” Castle admitted, “and sadly, the number of pet adoptions could not keep pace with the increased intake.”
Dog intake increased at three times the rate of dog adoptions
Noted Daugherty, “The shift was even more dramatic for dogs than cats, as dog intake increased by nearly three times the rate of dog adoptions. Despite this, cats remain the most at-risk animals in shelters, being killed at twice the rate of dogs.”
Daugherty predicated her claim that “No Kill Has Failed” in part on the Best Friends Animal Society retreating from a decade-long adoption promotion partnership with Los Angeles Animal Services.
“The last extension of the Best Friends Animal Society’s $1-per-year lease of the Los Angeles Animal Services Mission shelter has ended with no fanfare,” Daugherty wrote, “barely noticed by the media, and its final announcement lacked any celebration of L.A. being a ‘No Kill’ city.”
No kill, Daughterty assessed, “has been a cruel experiment in keeping animals that are unadoptable, including known dangerous dogs, alive in cages and kennels for months—and sometimes years.
“Best Friends has also concentrated,” Daugherty charged, “on ‘saving’ aggressive pit bulls, and received unfavorable publicity as a result of lawsuits filed by victims of attacks,” some of which are still before the courts, while others are believed to have resulted in five, six, and perhaps even seven-figure payouts to victims.
Daugherty then heralded Lina Fisher’s August 5, 2022 Austin Chronicle article, “Austin’s Animal Shelters Struggle to Uphold No-Kill Reputation in the Face of Overcrowding,” as “a must-read for anyone who wants thorough investigative information on why no kill does not work.”
The catch is, the Lina Fisher article is not really about “why no kill does not work”; it is about why “Save them all!” does not work, as opposed to preventing enough births of the most problematic animals arriving at animal shelters to give no kill, low kill, and even traditional animal sheltering a decent chance to work.
Pit bull influx prevents shelters from doing the rest of their jobs
No animal shelter of any philosophy can function safely and efficiently when half of the dogs it receives are highly reactive pit bulls of problematic behavioral history, who must be singly housed, and cannot even be safely walked by volunteers, let alone be safely rehomed.
Regardless of whatever issues are occurring on the cat side of animal shelters, the omni-present reality that the dog side is filled with ticking time bombs tends to distract energy, effort, and budget from doing everything else that a shelter––no-kill or otherwise––exists to do.
Returning to the bygone era of high-volume shelter killing is not the answer either, any more than it was the answer then.
Killing each and every dangerous dog just piles up dead bodies, until and unless the shelter––and the community––face and address the source of the seemingly unending volume of dangerous dogs, the overwhelming majority of whom are pit bulls.
Pit bull breeding, selling, rehoming, and pit bull promotion by humane societies hellbent on trying to rehome pit bulls, rather than kill them all, have to stop. Popularizing dogs already arriving in over-abundance will never stop or even slow the breeding.
What has to be done instead
What has to be done instead is fixing the problem: mandatory sterilization of pit bulls until and unless the volume of pit bulls arriving at shelters descends to approximately their numbers as a percentage of the U.S. dog population as a whole (about 5% on average in the 21st century.)
Just accomplishing that would reduce the U.S. shelter dog population by almost half.
Opened Fisher in “Austin’s Animal Shelters Struggle to Uphold No-Kill Reputation in the Face of Overcrowding,” “For more than a decade, Austin was the largest city to designate itself a no-kill sanctuary for animals. That came to an end in 2021 when Los Angeles joined the club, but the animal services system in Austin still prides itself at its save rate of over 95%,” even though the Austin Animal Center, the city animal control agency, “is operating at 145% of capacity for dogs and 171% of capacity for cats.”
Reduced intake has not relieved overcrowding
This situation persists even though policies discouraging intake have reduced the influx of dogs at the Austin Animal Center from “150 to 250 nearly every week” pre-COVID-19, to fewer than 150 in all but two weeks of 2022.
“One of Austin Animal Center’s responses to overcrowding is transporting dogs to other shelters, which it calls ‘a vital piece of the no-kill equation,’” wrote Fisher. “The largest of these is Austin Pets Alive!, which occupies the facility that the city shelter used to, the 60-year-old Town Lake Animal Center.
“The city’s contract with Austin Pets Alive! from 2008,” Fisher explained, “included an agreement for Austin Pets Alive! to take 3,000 animals a year, mostly for medical care, including 60 behavior dogs [translation: dangerous pit bulls].”
But Austin Pets Alive! forced a February 2022 contract revision allowing it to accept fewer animals.
Despite that, Fisher wrote, “Austin Pets Alive! feels it has become a “flush valve” for dogs who would otherwise be euthanized.”
Austin Pets Alive! founder Ellen Jefferson, according to Fisher, further complained that Austin Pets Alive! is bearing “the brunt of government-shelter unnecessary intake and euthanasia.”
Reality, though, is that there is no such thing as “unnecessary intake” of dangerous dogs who might otherwise be dumped to run at large.
Consider that as recently as May 14, 2022 a homeless man whose identity has not been officially disclosed was fatally mauled by a free-roaming dog at about 2 a.m. near the intersection of East Ben White Boulevard and Burleson Road, South Austin.
“We put them on the euthanasia list so they [no-kill shelters] can say no”
Jefferson, however, continues to import dogs she believes to be adoptable “from shelters beyond Central Texas,” Fisher reported, filling the finite number of Austin-area homes to the alleged disadvantage of hard-case dogs at the Austin Animal Center.
“Some at the Austin Animal Center worry that sending dogs with significant behavioral issues to Austin Pets Alive! might also raise the city’s euthanasia rate,” Fisher summarized.
Said Austin Animal Center director Don Bland, “There are dogs we absolutely know Austin Pets Alive! is not going to take. So we put them on the [euthanasia] list so they can say no, and then we can put out a notification [to other shelters].
“Our enrichment program has now evolved to include handling more difficult dogs,” Bland added, “as we have seen an increase in long stays and our partners have diminished capacity to pull behavior dogs.”
Eileen McFall, founder of Final Frontier Rescue, “which specializes in rehabilitating and placing behavior dogs,” Fisher continued, “alleges that ‘Don Bland and the people around him want the option of killing for convenience, and they want to create the impression that that’s necessary. With the number of people moving to Austin,” McFall contended, “there are plenty of adopters in Austin for these dogs.”
Had McFall listened to herself, she might have recognized that her statement implies that “the number of people moving to Austin” who might want dogs includes many who have abandoned the dogs they had elsewhere.
If these people amount to “plenty of adopters,” it is only because they have already swelled the number of dogs needing homes wherever they were before.
“No kill” must begin with preventing births
The McFall argument is the classic denial of “peak dog,” and “peak pit bull,” that has left shelters everywhere stuffed with pit bulls they cannot rehome; has sent “rescue hoarding” cases through the roof, as under-funded, under-staffed, and inexperienced volunteers try to pick up the slack for an animal control system that has abdicated protecting the public in favor of trying to achieve a 90% “live release rate”; and has seen at least 83 rehomed dogs participate in killing 51 people in 15 years, up from five rehomed dogs killing five people in the preceding 150 years.
“No kill” animal control is not an impossible goal, if it begins by recognizing that the only realistic response to dangerous dogs and feral cats is to sterilize our way out of the surplus, meaning no dangerous dogs at large and no feral cats in problematic habitat where they may be killed for menacing wildlife, or simply being there.
Only then can trying to “save them all” be accomplished without jeopardizing public health and safety.