Recently I’ve seen several shelters and their supporters reach out to rescues to pull animals. While working with rescues is a key part of the no-kill equation, I do not think asking for rescue help alone is very effective in making New Jersey a no-kill state.
Clearly, these shelters are competing with each other for limited foster homes through local rescues resulting in little to no net saved lives. Rescue help can make a huge difference in other places where one local shelter exists. In these cases, the rescues would have to travel great distances to go to another shelter so this likely results in net saved lives. However, New Jersey is a densely populated state with many local animal shelters rescues can choose from. Also, many local rescues pull easier to adopt animals from out-of-state leaving relatively few rescues to save pets from New Jersey’s large number of animal shelters. As a result, rescues pulling an animal from one local shelter likely causes another animal to not get pulled from another nearby shelter.
The rescue market is much different from the adoption market. As discussed on a previous blog, shelter killing is largely a market share problem where shelters need to modestly increase their share of the market where people obtain pets. In my view, the rescue market is much less expandable. For example, fewer people are willing to take care of an animal and then adopt it out. Even fewer people are likely willing to do so with rescues which often have stringent requirements for adopters.
The most powerful tool for expanding foster homes are urgent pleas saying the animal will die if not pulled within a short period of time (i.e. 24-72 hours). These pleas typically attract those involved with animal welfare and likely cause someone to take on an additional pet temporarily. Unfortunately, many shelters are unwilling to make these pleas as they perceive it is bad for public relations to put a face and number on their killings. As result, these urgent pleas are generally not made public and when they do occur it’s mostly through rescues/volunteers who sometimes do not name the shelter.
Organizations with vast resources over-relying on rescues is not very efficient. In an ideal world, rescues would only pull animals needing extraordinary treatment or who cannot live in a shelter environment. However, even in these cases a well-run foster program administered by the shelter can successfully place these animals. In fact, one New Jersey shelter, which takes in millions of dollars of revenue a year, refuses to put a volunteer foster program into place and instead relies on rescues to pull neonatal kittens when volunteer foster programs may be more effective. Additionally, rescues often have very limited financial and human resources making it difficult to oversee large numbers of foster homes. Thus, the notion of expanding the rescue market significantly is not likely.
The reason why shelters rely on rescues is simple – it requires little work and saves money by passing the cost of care to the rescue. The shelter simply makes a few phone calls or sends an email and the turns over the animals forever to the rescue. In fact, we know of one shelter which takes in millions of dollars in a year who charges pull and spay/neuter fees to the rescues on a per animal basis. This is particularly troubling when you consider most rescues are financially strapped and the rescue is saving the shelter on the cost of care and/or euthanasia.
In reality, rescues should focus on shelters with limited space and financial resources who cannot hold animals for long. Many local shelters are pretty much old school pounds who lack the space to hold animals for any significant amount of time. While the lack of investment in shelter facilities is a huge problem, it is time-consuming to remedy due to the high cost of building/expanding animal shelters. Additionally, the governmental bureaucracies running these pounds make foster programs difficult to implement. Also, some pounds adopt animals out without being sterilized which poses the risk of additional animals entering the shelter system. Therefore, rescue efforts should be focused on facilities where few practical alternatives exist.
In the end, we need our well-funded animal shelters to shape up and stop wasting precious rescue resources. Our rescues are overburdened and overworked. Given the massive under funding of New York Animal Care and Control (i.e. New York City’s animal control shelter), many New Jersey rescues must help out in New York. Add the many pound like shelters in the state and you have high demand for rescue resources. Our well-funded animal shelters need to stop diverting scarce rescue resources and start doing the following:
- Improve customer service
- Conduct off-site adoption events several times a week with same day adoptions
- Implement volunteer foster programs administered through the shelters
- Stay open a few evenings a week so working people can adopt
- Proactively seek owners of lost pets instead of casually dismissing such animals as “dumped”
- Work with struggling pet owners to help them find solutions to problems so they can keep their pets
- Rehabilitate dogs with medical and behavioral problems
- Offer real low-cost or better yet free spay/neuter services to economically disadvantaged pet owners
- Practice trap-neuter release for impounded feral cats and work with shy cats to make them adoptable
Open admission animal shelters, such as Nevada Humane Society and Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA, place approximately 96% of the animals sent to private homes through direct adoptions. These shelters accomplish this despite taking in several times more animals per capita than New Jersey shelters and saving over 90% of impounded animals.
Remember you are paying for these well-funded shelters through your taxes and/or donations. You should demand they spend your money wisely and put it to good use. Don’t let them get away with taking the easy way out.