New no-kill policies are saving hundreds of stray pets.
Thursday, December 16, 1999
It''s been four months now since the winds of compassion swept change through Monterey County''s animal shelters.
July 1 ushered in the Hayden Bill, which extended an animal''s stay in a shelter from three days to six before facing death, and established a state policy declaring that no "adoptable" pets should be killed. The first of July also kicked off the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals'' own "no-kill" policy, under which only sick, injured, or behaviorally unsound animals sheltered by the SPCA can be euthanized.
"The definition of euthanasia is ''good death to end pain and suffering''," says Dr. Priscilla Stockner, executive director of the Monterey County SPCA. "Anything else is killing."
For all the philosophizing, are the county''s stray pets better off? The numbers indicate that, if you measure animals'' well-being in terms of avoiding death by lethal injection, pets are indeed benefiting.
Overall euthanasia rates for Monterey County are down. For the quarter ending Sept. 30 of last year, the SPCA euthanized 69 percent of the 3,807 animals it took in. Compare that to this year--Monterey County, Salinas, and the SPCA euthanized 56 percent of the 3,696 animals they took in--and it''s evident that fewer pets are being killed in local shelters. Moreover, adoptions are up from 17 percent in third quarter 1998 to 24 percent this year.
The SPCA''s no-kill policy explains part of the improvement. For the third quarter this year, the SPCA''s euthanasia rate decreased dramatically, to 26 percent. This October, the SPCA euthanized only 9 percent of the pets it took in.
However, in order to reach its no-kill goal, the SPCA dumped its city and county clients as of July 1, opting only to take in owner-surrendered animals and essentially leaving the unwanted strays for the county and local cities to deal with. While the SPCA enjoyed the luxury of not accepting strays, critics say it has effectively pushed off the dirty work onto other agencies.
Indeed, for third quarter, Salinas euthanized 490 of the 888 animals it took in, whereas as the county put down 1,259 of the 1,860 animals they received, mostly because they simply didn''t have room.
"We just don''t have adequate space," says Kathy Prew, interim program manager for the Monterey County Animal Control. "If we did, our euthanasia rates wouldn''t be what they are."
Monterey County opened its own shelter in July, renovating a former Army dog kennel on Marina''s portion of the former Fort Ord, where all stray animals picked up in the county are taken, except for the cities of Salinas and Marina, which have their own shelters. Salinas reopened its antiquated Work Street shelter. Marina has maintained its own shelter for a number of years.
While adoptable animals are still killed at other shelters, Stockner points out that, with more shelter space countywide, there are more places for animals to go, biding time for animals on death row. The county''s facility adds 115 more pet cages, and the new Salinas shelter on Hitchcock Road, expected to open the first of the year, has about 180 runs and cages. Proposed satellite shelters in North and South County will also add more space.
"Last year about 2,500 adoptable animals were euthanized because we didn''t have room," says Stockner. "If we have more spaces to hold animals, those 2,500 have the chance of being adopted."
The SPCA''s decision to go no-kill dovetails with a growing movement spreading throughout California and the rest of the nation to end the killing of healthy stray pets. Regionally, the no-kill movement was given a boost--both financially and politically--when Silicon Valley entrepreneur and PeopleSoft founder Dave Duffield set up the $200 million Maddie''s Fund, with the goal of taking the nation no-kill.
No-kill is an ambitious goal, and some say unrealistic. As one source puts it, "There''s no such thing as no-kill, it''s just somebody-else kill." Others have criticized the motives behind it, suggesting that no-kill is a sexy position to take for fundraising purposes, but not necessarily what''s best for animals or taxpayers.
The Monterey County SPCA also has received criticism for failing to go no-kill on July 1 as was promised. In July, 227 animals were euthanized at the SPCA''s shelter on Highway 68. However, Stockner explains that no-kill doesn''t happen overnight. That, coupled with an outbreak of kennel cough, she says, delayed implementing the policy.
"July 1 wasn''t any magical kind of day," says Stockner. "The shelter was filled to capacity. We woke up July 1 having to do what we had done everyday--deciding which 30 animals had to be euthanized.
"People expected us to be no-kill on July 2. We just couldn''t. I think they were disappointed."
The no-kill strategy goes beyond the shelter. No-kill, explains Stockner, is a phased program, in which, eventually, not even ill, injured, and behaviorally unhealthy animals who are treatable will be killed.
The key to making it successful, she says, is a community-outreach program to educate current and prospective pet owners. The SPCA also plans educate pet-unfriendly landlords, and even bosses, on the benefits of having pets around.
"We''re looking to the whole community," says Stockner. "Everybody has a role to play in this."