Shelter euthanasia reporting...good or bad?

A proposed Florida bill would require shelter operators to produce monthly and annual euthanasia reports. The reported goal of the effort is to "reduce euthanasia of unwanted animals." But how? The idea has various pros and cons.

Potential good points

More transparency: Euthanasia rates are often considered the "dirty secret" of the shelter world. In reality, it's not the shelters' fault that animals are being euthanized. It's society's fault because of overpopulation. Shelters should be reporting these numbers (and ensuring they are accurate), not as part of a "we kill fewer than you do" competition, but to highlight the challenges, increase public awareness and to work toward improving the shelter system.

More data: The more we understand the epidemiology of adoption, euthanasia, disease and other events in shelters, the better. Knowledge helps us figure out better ways to run things.

Potential bad points

Animal welfare: Will shelters resist euthanizing sick or injured animals that would otherwise be euthanized to keep their rates lower? If an animal is very sick, will there be the temptation to let it die rather than euthanize it, if deaths are not reportable but euthanasias are?

Overpopulation in shelters: If shelters try to avoid euthanising animals because the rates are reportable, there will be more animals in the shelters - likely more than they can actually handle.  More animals in a shelter does not mean more adoptions. Overcrowding leads to many problems such as increased disease risk, deceased quality of care, decreased human contact and increased shelter operation costs.

Outbreak potential: Yet another issue related to overcrowding is when you cram in as many animals as possible (often using carriers and other temporary housing stashed anywhere there's spare space) and decrease the time you spend with each animal, you create great potential for a disease outbreak. The more animals are present, the more likely the outbreak will take hold and the harder it will be to control.

Needless transfers: Will shelters try to transfer animals that are unadoptable to areas where this law is not in effect, simply to be euthanized outside of the recording system? Beyond the humane aspects of putting the animal through the stress of a transfer for no real reason, shipping shelter animals is notoriously high risk for shipping diseases along with them.

Cherry-picking: This already happens with some shelters, but one way to keep euthanasia rates low is to refuse to admit animals that are not likely to  be adopted. Turning them away doesn't help the animal or society (and may result in more animal suffering, among other things, if the animals are simply abandoned), but it keeps euthanasia numbers low. 

Will this work?

Shelters don't euthanize for fun. They do it because there is a finite number of homes available and the number of animals coming into shelters (especially cats) is way beyond that. This bill will not magically create millions of new homes for shelter animals. So, how will it "reduce euthanasia of unwanted animals"?

A representative of a group working to reduce shelter euthanasias added "We do not believe that it is the conscious will of the people of the state of Florida to kill over 50% of the lost and homeless shelter pets each year."  It's not their conscious will but what can/will they do about it? Euthanasia numbers might help spur interest in adopting from shelters, and if so, that would be great. But the fact is that if 50% of animals in shelters are being euthanized, it's because they don't have homes.

Probably a well-intentioned but poorly thought-out approach to the pet overpopulation problem.

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Comments (2) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Tegan - February 18, 2013 7:25 PM

Many of your arguments are only true if you believe that there is an overpopulation problem - something that is debated. Below is a link to one of my favourite articles on the subject: http://www.doggedblog.com/doggedblog/2012/10/why-shelter-killing-has-nothing-to-do-with-pet-over-population.html

EAW - February 26, 2013 2:39 PM

"This bill will not magically create millions of new homes for shelter animals."

I'd like to suggest that there are more reasons for animal overpopulation other than simply "not enough homes" - this is a multi-factorial issue, and none of the other animal welfare-oriented bills that I've seen proposed will "magically create homes" either, so decrying the bill on those grounds seems a bit simplistic.

Getting a grip on the excess shelter population in the USA is difficult in part because of a lack of data on total population, where the animals come from, and where they end up. While I agree that measuring only euthansia rates is but a part of the total picture, some data is better than none.

This bill does have some appearance of attempting to "shame" open-admission shelters into becoming "no-kill" (or, rather, "make-some-one-else-kill") shelters, but is it possible to have good come of this bill anyway?

My suggestion would be to not oppose this bill, but to urge lawmakers to also have all shelters and rescues report not only euthansia rates, but also report source (owner surrendered, transfered, stray) and all dispositions. That way the state could have a better idea of the size of the problem it has on its hands, and where its worst issues are.

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