This is the third in a series of posts examining the comments made by No-Kill opponents in public discussions of the movement to save all healthy and treatable pets in our nation's shelters.
There's a new "talking point" popping up with orchestrated frequency wherever people gather to discuss the No-Kill Movement online. I call it "WILL NO ONE THINK OF THE STRAYS?!?!??" (All-caps and multiple exclamation points and question marks are required to really express the hysteria that underlies this particular talking point.)
Because it's new, a lot of No-Kill advocates aren't quite sure what to make of it -- which is exactly why they thought if up in the first place. It's certainly not because it's true.
To save all healthy and treatable homeless dogs and cats in our nation requires we find homes for around 2.5 million additional pets out of the pool of approximately 27 million households that get a new dog or cat each year.
This simple piece of math puts a huge crimp in the habitual contention of No-Kill opponents that there are "too many pets, not enough homes" and therefore slaughtering homeless pets in shelters is unavoidable.
The other problem with their old math is that communities all over the U.S. are routinely and sustainably saving more than 90 percent of their homeless pets without divine intervention, billions of dollars, or the laws of nature being turned on their heads.
They are doing it by implementing the No-Kill Equation:
- Targeted, free/affordable, accessible spay/neuter services, return-to-owner, and pet retention programs
- Good relations between animal control agencies and private shelters, rescue groups, and the community to maxmize foster homes, other adoption outlets, and volunteers
- Improved adoption programs and customer service, including better hours at shelters, off-site adoptions, and creative marketing
- Compassionate leadership
All of which has left No-Kill opponents in search of something, anything, to change the math. So they came up with strays. I'm sorry; I mean, "STRAYS!!!!!"
What they're contending is that no matter how well shelters perform in saving the lives of the pets who come in their doors, it won't matter nor spell success because there are uncountable quadrazillions of stray dogs and cats all over the country, and if we add them into the equation, there really are "too many pets, not enough homes," just like they always told us back in the days before we learned to count.
The beauty of using this "gotcha" point to argue against no-kill is that it's a sensationalistic, vague, unquantified concept. Advocates of shelter reform could point to success in reducing intake and increasing lifesaving until literally every community in the country was saving more than 90 percent of the pets who enter its shelter system, and No-Kill opponents could still go, "It's all a lie because STRAYS!"
Are they right? No.
First, by their own admission and the best estimates of both feral cat advocates and enemies, the vast majority of unowned, unsheltered pets in this country are feral cats.
Feral cats are not "strays" and they're not "homeless." They are no more or less a matter for shelters to deal with than racoons are, and that is a simple fact we have to grasp if we're ever going to have a reasonable conversation about a humane approach to free-living, unowned cats in our communities.
Second, while there are a few areas with a "feral dog" problem, that's all there are: a few. I live in the Detroit metro area, where there are an estimated 20-50,000 free-roaming dogs on the streets. This is widely acknowledged to be the greatest density of such dogs in the United States. Detroit Dog Rescue fonder Dan "Hush" Carlisle estimates that 80-90 percent of them are recently abandoned pet dogs rather than feral dogs.
Nor are all these dogs homeless; many are currently owned dogs being allowed to run loose by their owners. That's also true in rural areas where dogs run loose. They are also not homeless.
Yes, there are pockets of truly feral dogs in junkyards, remote areas, and abandoned urban neighborhoods, usually running in mixed packs with free-roaming owned dogs. And while no one knows the exact number of truly homeless, free-living, feral dogs in the United States, no credible source contends the number is so large that it significantly alters the bigger picture of canine homelessness and sheltering.
Which is to say, it can be addressed by the No-Kill Equation, ie, targeted spay/neuter, rehabilitation, sanctuary, and adoption when the dog can be safely housed, or killing for the safety of society when the dog cannot be safely housed.
Of course, these facts won't do one damn thing to convince a "THINK OF THE STRAYS!!!!!" devotee to change his or her mind. That's because they didn't come up with it because of facts, they don't post it on Facebook dicussions because of facts, and they aren't even interested in facts. (Which is painfully clear, since they haven't got any.)
This is nothing, really, but baseless goal-post moving, and a reassuring (to us) sign that we have pretty much proven our contention that there are enough homes, and that communities that adopt the No Kill Equation can adopt, return-to-owner, spay/neuter, TNR, and embrace our fellow humans out of shelter killing.
Which is good news for the animals, even if the No-Kill nay-sayers will never admit it.