When people think of animal shelters, they have an idea that animals are killed there, but usually they think it’s only after the shelter staff made a good-faith effort to find the pet a new home. That’s what they do at a shelter, right? Well, not in Montgomery County, NC, where they kill 99% of the pets that come in, making no effort to promote them for adoption. (Montgomery County pound adopted out just 12 dogs out of the 1,199 dogs and cats that came in during 2011.)
Animal shelters in North Carolina play by their own rules for the most part. There is an Animal Welfare Statute that mandates licensing and inspection of shelters. There is an administrative code that’s primarily concerned with structures, sanitation and record keeping, but does not mandate that shelters or their employees try to save the lives of the animals they are supposed to be “sheltering.”
- NC “shelters” are free to withhold animals from public viewing and adoption for whatever arbitrary (and often unjustified) reason. (Among the reasons shelter volunteers tell me they have heard for killing animals rather than offering the public the chance to adopt them are “too old,” “there are too many black dogs,” “there are too many labs,” “it looks like a pit bull,” “it barked at other dogs.’)
- NC “shelters” are free to turn away volunteers who would like to help save animals lives and provide them with care for free. They are also free to retaliate against volunteers who expose what goes on in the shelter.
- NC “shelters” are free to kill animals even when there is a rescue group ready and willing to save them.
- NC “shelters” are free to ignore proper and proven disease-preventing protocols only to have outbreaks of diseases like parvo and distemper. They are also free to deal with the outbreak by killing all of the animals in the facility if they choose (and most choose it because killing is far cheaper and easier than saving lives).
- NC “shelters” are free to kill pets even when there are plenty of empty cages. NC shelters are free to kill all the pets so they can be closed over a holiday.
- NC “shelters” are free to impound and kill feral cats even though it has proven to be a very ineffective method of controlling the feral cat population compared to neutering them and returning them to their habitat, where they can live long, healthy and happy lives.
- NC shelters are free to kill pets using the barbaric and inhumane gas chamber, which has been denounced by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians , the National Animal Control Association, and the American Humane Association. Use of the gas chamber has been banned in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Maine, Maryland, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming. Louisiana’s ban will go into effect in Jan. 2013.
- NC “shelters” can get away with not reporting their intake and outcome (adoption, reclaim and kill) statistics because there is currently no penalty for failure to report, aside from ineligibility to receive spay/neuter reimbursement funds.
These examples (and many more that I cannot publish here because the volunteers and rescuers who shared the stories are afraid they will be banned for speaking out) illustrate why North Carolina needs a Companion Animal Protection Act.
A growing number of communities across the country are demonstrating that it’s possible to save all but the most hoplesssly ill, injured or vicious animals that come into shelters. These shelters and communities have leaders committed to running shelters consistent with the programs and services that turn them into safe places for animals to be reunited with families or adopted into new ones. Basically, they are committed to following a blueprint for success.
In North Carolina, however, most of our shelters are reliant on killing, following the same roadmap to failure that has resulted in high kill rates for years. Meanwhile, they manage to convince the public that “there is no other way.” There is no accountability or oversight, and whether an animal lives or dies is often subject to the caprice of a director or staff member.
Rather than letting the fates of our shelter animals be subject to whim and personality, our shelter pets need to be afforded protections by law. We need regulations over shelters similar to those that govern hospitals and other agencies which hold the power over life and death: a Companion Animal Protection Act.
A CAPA law would:
— Establish the shelter’s primary role as saving the lives of animals
— Declare that saving lives and protecting public safety are compatible
— Establish a definition of No Kill that includes all savable animals including feral cats
— Protect rabbits and other animals, as well as dogs and cats
— Require shelters to spay/neuter animals before adoption
— Make it illegal for a shelter to kill an animal if a rescue group or No Kill shelter is willing to save that animal
— Require shelters to provide animals with fresh food, fresh water, environmental enrichment, exercise, veterinary care, and cleanliness
— Require shelters to have fully functioning adoption programs including offsite adoptions, use of the internet to promote their animals, and further mandate that animal control be open seven days per week for adoption
— Prohibit shelters from killing animals based on arbitrary criteria such as breed bans or when alternatives to killing exist
— Require animal control to allow volunteers to help with fostering, socializing, and assisting with adoptions
— Ban the use of the gas chamber
— Require shelters to be truthful about how many animals they kill and adopt
— Require shelters to notify people surrendering animals about the likelihood their animal will be killed
— Provide free spay/neuter for all feral cats and for the pets of qualified low income households
–Allow citizens to sue the shelter and compel compliance if shelters fail to do so
A statewide CAPA is clearly needed in NC, but while we are working on that, advocates can work to pass similar versions affecting their own shelter at the local level.
For a PDF CAPA brochure suitable for printing or sending to officials and legislators, click here. For the full text of a model CAPA law, click here. More resources on advocating for CAPA can be found here.