Talking about euthanasia is a touchy subject, especially for high-intake, open-access shelters. When I say “high-intake” I generally mean shelters that bring in more than 5,000 animals per year. And when I say “open-access” I mean shelters that take in all animals regardless of breed, age, weight, behavioral issues. They take in strays and owner surrenders, all day, every day.
It’s not an easy job and that’s something that isn’t debatable.
Many of these shelters are what have been negatively labeled “kill” shelters (though some open-access, no-kill shelters do exist). When I say no-kill, I generally mean shelters who have a “save rate” of over 90%, those shelters who do not euthanize healthy, adoptable animals. No-kill shelters still do euthanize, but they euthanize in the traditional sense, as a mercy. They euthanize for illness that can’t be treated or have a poor prognosis and animals whose behavioral issues are so severe the animal is a danger to the public.
No-kill shelters tend to be very transparent about their euthanasia statistics, because they’re proud of them. But what about the other guys?
It seems like open-access shelters seem to fall into two groups – those who are open with the public about their kill statistics and those who try to pretend that they aren’t killing behind closed doors. Despite the way I worded the latter, there are actually reasons for shelters to hide their euthanasia statistics. The most important being, it’s bad for the shelter’s image.
I’ve seen first-hand what can happen when a shelter gets torn apart by the media because of its euthanasia statistics. All shelters euthanize animals. Let me say that again. ALL. OF. THEM. But it’s different for open-access shelters that kill for space because they are killing healthy, adoptable animals, and that doesn’t go over well with animals lovers (myself included).
So when the media picks it up and the public gets involved, what usually happens is that people boycott the shelter. They refuse to give their adoption fee to a place who is killing healthy, adoptable animals. Donations, both monetary and physical, stop coming in. Rescues, who are afraid to lose their support base, stop supporting the shelter in question. All of this leads to a downward spiral which is very bad for the shelter and the animals in its care.
With that in mind, it’s easy to see why shelters who kill for space may be hush-hush about the fact. But in the long run, at least in my opinion, it’s bad policy.
Which is where the open-access shelters who publicly display their euthanasia rates come in. In my community, I’ve noticed that the most progressive, most open-minded, open-access shelters are the ones who post their euthanasia statistics. They are the ones who will hold adoption promotions throughout the year, try to partner with as many rescues as they can, have affordable spay/neuter options, enrichment programs and have off-site adoption events and centers. They’re open about all that too. They’re working their butts off and try to save as many pets as they can, even if they aren’t able to save them all.
These are the shelters which typically have “urgent” pages that share their euthanasia lists (sometimes called “E-Lists” “kill lists” or “PTS lists”). They are often held in higher regard than the shelters who have hush-hush policies, and their pets are often given more attention.
Because the public likes honesty. We’re constantly being lied to. The media is lying to us, the advertisers are lying to us, the politicians are lying to us, our partners and family members and friends are lying to us. It’s refreshing for us not to be lied to. And we like that. Do we like the killing of animals? No. No we don’t, and we want it to stop, but we need to know it’s happening to help stop it in the first place. So the shelters that are open about it and ask for help are more likely to get it.
As for the shelters who do have hush-hush policies, when the community finds out (and the community will eventually find out), there will be outrage and political turmoil and backfiring. Staff will be fired, board members will resign, good people will potentially lose their jobs in the upheaval. And the animals will suffer for it. Which is why the old saying is true, at least in my mind:
Honesty is always the best policy. At least when you’ve got nothing to hide.