Dear No-Kill opponents and skeptics: Please look up the word "tautology" before you trot out the "since we are killing millions of pets in shelters, it proves the existence of pet over-population" argument.
See, here's the thing. I believe I can make the case with data alone that "pet over-population" doesn't exist, let alone serve as a justification for anything, but that's irrelevant in this particular discussion. The reason? Because there's an intrinsic logical problem with the "shelter killing proves pet over-population" argument.
To demonstrate that flaw of reasoning, I'm going to walk you through an example.
Take a hypothetical town that has 10,000 pets entering its shelter system each year, where, except for the 100 who are reclaimed by their owners, they all die because the "shelter" does not do adoptions, resulting in a save rate of 1 percent and a kill rate of 99 percent.
Are those pets all dying because of "pet over-population," or because the shelter has no adoption program?
Say the shelter decides to try one day a month where it does adoptions, on Tuesdays from 11 AM - 2 PM. They manage in the first year to adopt out 100 pets. Their save rate is now 2 percent, with a 98 percent kill rate.
Did they kill 100 fewer pets because of a reduction in "pet over-population," or because they started doing some adoptions?
Now, imagine the shelter decides to try to improve its pathetic 1 percent return-to-owner rate, and manages to increase it to 500 pets being reclaimed by their owners each year. They also participate in a regional adoption event four times a year, and do 400 more adoptions than the year before. Now they're saving 10 percent of their pets, and killing 90 percent.
Did they save 900 more pets because of a reduction in "pet over-population," or because they improved their adoption effort and return-to-owner program?
A few years pass, and they get a little better. They do adoptions every weekday afternoon until 5 PM, and their return-to-owner rate is stable at 10 percent. Since they're not killing all the pets after the mandatory holding period anymore, they're starting to lose some to illness, but overall, they're now saving 35 percent of those 10,000 animals.
Reduction in "pet over-population"? Or improvement in shelter management practices?
One day, they hire a new shelter director, who is a committed animal lover as well as a veterinarian. She implements a small shelter medicine program, starts vaccinating on intake, and recruits a few friends to foster some of the orphaned kittens and puppies who come into the shelter. She gets their save rate to 65 percent in her first year.
Did she do that by reducing "pet over-population," or by implementing the bare-bones-basics of a shelter medicine program?
The next year, she decides to try to get more foster homes and volunteers, and also starts a fundraising campaign to build a new shelter where disease control won't be so difficult.
Within two years, they have a new shelter, and have also improved their return-to-owner and adoption numbers, raising their save rate to 88 percent.
The vet is now hired to run a failing shelter in another community, and to the horror of all the shiny new shelter volunteers and foster homes, the new director isn't committed to maintaining the changes she made.
The next year, with their volunteer and foster programs in tatters, their save rate drops to 70 percent.
Did "pet over-population" get worse, or did their sheltering practices get worse?
The following year, a group of former shelter volunteers mounts an effective public advocacy campaign, and gets the director replaced by an ex-Marine who has run a no-kill animal control agency in a similarly-sized town. He restores the volunteer and foster programs, then expands them, and hires a marketing whiz to run the shelter's adoption, outreach, media, and fundraising departments.
That year, they save 94 percent of the pets who come into their shelter, officially joining the ranks of the nation's no-kill communities.
Did they reduce "pet over-population," or did they become a no-kill community by implementing modern, proven, progressive sheltering practices?
Maybe you deny that any community can do what this hypothetical one did. Maybe you've investigated every one of the communities that has documentation that they save more than 90 percent of their homeless pets, and determined it's all lies.
That still wouldn't change the fact that on the basis of logic alone, your argument is a tautology, "a series of self-reinforcing statements that cannot be disproved because they depend on the assumption that they are already correct."
That's because it's plainly absurd to suggest that this hypothetical community's starting point couldn't be improved on by implementing better sheltering practices. No one, no matter how opposed to no-kill, could deny that.
So where is the "line in the sand" past which you would claim that improving sheltering practices wouldn't be enough to save all our healthy and treatable homeless pets?
And if you don't contend, or can't demonstrate, that those communities haven't really accomplished that, then what? If they have crossed that line without waiting for some magic future day when their shelter intake goes down to zero -- indeed, in some communities that were particularly hard-hit by the recession, where it has even gone up -- doesn't that fact alone disprove that shelters kill because of pet over-population, while proving that they do so because of a failure to adopt successful sheltering practices?*
Because that's the true sticking point, isn't it? If there is no "pet over-population" to blame, why the hell are the shelters killing? It's either due to a lack of innovation, leadership, and adaptability -- which certainly no one wants to believe about themselves or their management skills -- and/or denial due to fear, grief, and shame that they've been killing pets unnecessarily.
This is why the assertion of the no-kill movement that there is no "pet over-population" is so threatening. It's why no-kill opponents keep coming up with argument after argument, including but by no means limited to the tautological "pet over-population must exist because shelters kill millions of pets every year," because accepting there are enough homes for our nation's homeless pets means those millions of pets are not being killed because of some huge, insurmountable "pet over-population" that can only be solved in some distant future time, but for no good reason at all.
*This whole debate becomes even more absurd when you take into account that two of the cornerstones of the No Kill Movement are trap-neuter-release for unowned/stray/feral/community cats and accessible, low-cost or free, spay/neuter -- both of which will, if appropriately targeted, reduce some segments of a shelter's intake.
But that's another post for another day.