Worms and Germs Blog
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.
University of Guelph
Guelph, Ontario, N1G2W1, Canada.