Can Long Beach Lead in No Kill? Yes, we can
– Patricia Turner, Ph.D.
Mahatma Gandhi famously said “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” This quote is compelling because it contains a truth – how we treat animals is important, and no California city believes this more than Long Beach.
Last week, P-T columnist Tim Grobaty asked whether Long Beach can become a No Kill city – his response was a resounding “no.” As an animal welfare group that advocates for lifesaving programs at our shelter, we have to say we respectfully disagree.
But first – let's talk about where we do agree.
We agree that people should spay and neuter their pets, should adopt, rather than buy, and shouldn't breed. We agree that irresponsible people contribute to the problem of animal homelessness. If there's any disagreement, it's on how to deal with the problem.
It has become an unquestioned truth in animal welfare that the “irresponsible public” is to blame for shelter killing and that little can be done to stop it until the public has fully embraced spay/neuter. Unfortunately, irresponsible pet owners will always be with us. That doesn't mean we can't and shouldn't educate, but blaming people rarely changes hearts and minds. It simply alienates the very people we in the animal welfare community most need to reach.
To be sure, blaming the public is easier than rolling up our sleeves and solving the problem, but in no other area of civic life do we do this. Imagine if all neglectful or abusive parents were required to become model parents before we could help the children who suffer neglect. The results are unthinkable. So we put programs and laws in place to protect children. Yet in sheltering, we blame rather than help. And it's the animals who suffer.
In our lifetimes, we will not see the complete elimination of irresponsible pet ownership.
Realizing this, we have to take a different approach - our shelter has to be a place where animals can have a real chance to be placed in homes. This chance is provided through planning, programming and policies that save lives. No Kill's approach is to put effective programs in place at the shelter that reduce intake and increase placement of animals into good homes. Mr. Grobaty says it's about keeping animals for long stays in the shelter – a common misunderstanding. Instead, it's about reducing the time an animal spends in the shelter and engaging in problem-solving to get animals into homes. Programs that do this are low-cost spay/neuter, but also a strong adoption and foster program, medical and behavioral rehabilitation, community outreach (like a help desk to help people solve the problems that lead them to surrender their pets to the shelter), and public-friendly adoption policies.
We advocate for these programs at the Long Beach Animal Care Services animal shelter because many of them don't exist now. This month, Sacramento Animal Care Services adopted out 200 animals during a 4-day adoption event. Long Beach took 6 months to adopt out that many last year. We believe if Sacramento can do it, Long Beach can do it, too. But it will require changes to the policies and programs at our shelter.
Over 3,200 animals were killed in our shelter in 2014; most were healthy or treatable. Many could be saved if we had a strong adoption and foster program at the shelter. This is what Stayin' Alive advocates for. We think that Gandhi had it right – and Long Beach can be great.
Patricia Turner is the spokesperson for Stayin' Alive Long Beach, an initiative that advocates for lifesaving programs at the Long Beach Animal Care Services animal shelter. She worked in animal welfare in Long Beach for over a decade and holds a professional certificate in Animal Shelter Management from the University of the Pacific.
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An initiative to make Long Beach a No Kill community.