Editor's note: Last week syndicated pet advice columnist Dr. Michael W. Fox published a letter from a writer, R.A. in Anne Arundel County, that was highly critical of no-kill principles and shelter operations. Dr. Fox's response contained further disparaging statements about no-kill shelters. Our Chief Executive Officer Robin Robertson Starr wrote and submitted the following letter in response to Dr. Fox.
Dear Dr. Fox –
I have read your recent Washington Post column in which a reader criticizes no-kill principles of sheltering and, in so doing, makes many statements that are totally inaccurate and misleading. Then, your reply to that reader is whole-heartedly supportive of what the reader said and even goes further to denigrate no-kill sheltering. Neither of you provided any data whatsoever to support your statements and you even go so far as to say that every local investigative reporter should “look into” the no-kill movement, suggesting that there is something nefarious going on. Nothing could be further from the truth and it is a disservice to animal welfare to spread this misleading information.
The reader said that to be no-kill a facility must “agree” to euthanize less than 10 percent of the animals in its care. Nothing supports this bizarre statement. He or she also says that no-kill shelters are keeping dogs that pose a risk to human safety while well behaved dogs are being killed in “high-kill” shelters. Nothing is offered to back this up and, in fact, it is organizations such as ours that are saving animals from those shelters where their lives are at risk.
It is crucial to understand that “no kill” does not mean “no euthanasia” when “euthanasia” is used accurately in accordance with its true definition instead of inaccurately as it is regularly used with regard to homeless animals. “Euthanasia” is taking the life of an individual who is terminally sick or injured, not susceptible of treatment and suffering such that there is no appreciable quality of life.
Organizations such as the Richmond SPCA which is no-kill must meet the standard of saving the life of every healthy animal in its care and also the life of every sick or injured animal in its care whose condition is treatable. In 2015, we had more than 4,000 animals in our care of which we provided veterinary treatment to about 3,000 and we euthanized fewer than 1% of them, each of those euthanized being untreatably ailing and suffering. In fact, city wide in Richmond in 2015, inclusive of the animals in both our City operated shelter and the Richmond SPCA, the euthanasia rate was only seven percent. Richmond is a city with considerable challenges of poverty and there is no reason why these standards would be any easier to meet here than in any other community in the country. These results are achieved because the Richmond SPCA has provided our community with the essential programs and resources to avoid the use of lethal approaches to issues of homeless animals.
Both you and your reader lead people to believe that no-kill shelters keep animals in cages for life and deprive them of stimulating, rewarding lives. This is simply not the case. Responsible no-kill organizations, and that is the vast majority of them, ensure that pets are placed in permanent, loving homes within reasonable periods of time and that, while animals are in our care, they have enriched environments either in the shelter or in foster homes where they are loved and given plenty of activity. Our hundreds of volunteers as well as our professional training and animal care staff members ensure that the animals in our care benefit from human attention, play groups with other animals, and numerous walks each day.
It is a total misrepresentation for your reader to say that trainers, volunteers and staff members are leaving the shelter system owing to the no-kill movement. In reality, all of those groups of people remain committed to no-kill organizations for many years because they can feel good about the morality of what they are a part of and they feel comfortable that the animals in whom they are investing time and love are safe in our care and will go on to a good life.
The most troubling aspect of your column was its utter failure to address the ethical issues regarding killing homeless animals for expediency whose lives are of value and could be saved. Most communities that are killing a high percentage of their homeless animals are doing so because it is easier and cheaper, and that cannot be defended morally. Richmond is one of more than 200 communities in this country that are documented (see maddiesfund.org) as saving the lives of all of their healthy and treatably sick and injured homeless animals. This lifesaving success is achievable with the right combination of leadership, supportive programs, commitment and energy.
I would hope that you would provide your readership with a fuller and more accurate perspective on no-kill sheltering which has been spreading to more and more communities nationwide over the last decade because it is ethical and saves lives. The reason it may cause an increase in donations is simple – people know it is the morally right thing to support.
Robin Robertson Starr
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