The answer should be YES. But is it?
The current animal sheltering model, backed and pushed by our largest national organizations, puts a strong emphasis on community partnering. In theory, when shelters create, nurture and grow connections with other organizations and the communities that they serve, animals would benefit. My concern is this does not represent the current animal sheltering model and this concern is compounded by the number of shelters following this model.
In years’ past, shelters operated in isolation. By current standards, they killed a lot of animals unnecessarily. Today, shelters have developed partnerships with their communities that should benefit animals. For example, instead of killing an animal for space, shelters work to transfer animals to rescues. On paper, it’s a perfect marriage. In reality though, too many rescues are expected to be an extension of the shelter, representing a top option for animals taken in. Some shelters have transfers (and transports) as their number one outcome.
If a shelter is doing more transfers (transports) than adoptions, there is an issue. This says that the number of animals coming to the shelter doors is more than the shelter can handle (or, in some cases, chooses to handle). Instead of addressing that huge issue through a targeted and aggressive spay/neuter program to humanely reduce those numbers, the choice is made to focus instead on improving live outcomes by transferring/transporting animals to somewhere else. I talked in an earlier blog about how shelters transfer the operating costs to the seriously underfunded, struggling rescues when they transfer animals. These transfers also work to manipulate and increase live release rates, making it about the numbers and not the animals.
Another way sheltering should extend beyond its’ walls is with trap-neuter-return (TNR), also known as shelter-neuter-return (SNR) and return-to-field (RTF). For our purposes here, we will consider these all the same.
The current animal sheltering model promotes that cat intake should be limited. (1) Cats can live outside on their own and thrive. (2) Don’t bring a cat into the shelter because it may be lost and will have the best chance to be reunited with its owners when left outside to freely roam. (3) Leave kittens where you find them because the mother is probably nearby. (4) Cats are stressed out in shelters (dogs aren’t?). Let me be clear, I do not agree with any of these. Cats have become The Unchosen Ones in animal sheltering.
Too often, only lip service is given to fixing the cats the shelter has dictated will live outside - no second chance for the possibility of a loving home. Many communities have stepped up to TNR the unowned street-dwelling cats. Smaller animal organizations and individuals (not associated with or funded by a shelter) do the bulk of TNR. Where are the shelters? To be fair however, many shelters do have spay/neuter clinics and offer TNR services to the community at a greatly reduced price.
But, in the spirit of community partnering, all shelters need to be doing TNR themselves as well. Shelters have funding capabilities that rescues and individuals don’t. They also have the bandwidth to do it. Since TNR involves a rabies vaccination, shelters (especially public ones) should be a participating community member because it addresses public health concerns. Shelters have the ear of the public, the city officials and the state departments of agriculture. In other words, they have the clout to make TNR a statement and solve much of the overpopulation in their communities.
In a recent analysis of 60 leading US shelters done by Proactive Animal Sheltering, 31 (52%) did some amount of TNR themselves. This ranged from a high of 27% TNR (compared to total intake) to a low of 1.5%. If the number of cats being “diverted” to the streets by shelters limiting intake is greater than the amount being TNR’d by the shelter, the shelter is, in essence, breeding cats. (Yes, this is a big statement but the numbers tell the story.) Since shelter data is so obscure now, we just don’t know.
Community partnering isn’t about what the community can do for the shelter. It’s about what we can all do for our animals.
Beth Frank is founder/president of Community Cats United, Inc, Fixfinder and Proactive Animal Sheltering. Beth has spent endless hours researching animal sheltering and analyzing shelter data from all over the US, including over 400 shelters. Click here to follow Proactive Animal Sheltering on Facebook.
Community Cats United, Inc. is a CommUNITY of over 90,000 including in all 50 US states and 127 countries.