There are a number of animal shelters across the country which have the word “Ark” in their names. This is fitting when we consider THE Ark which housed animals to save them from The Flood. An Ark is also often referred to as something that provides safety and protection. When I think of animal shelters I see them all as Arks in some form and more generally, I see them as much like boats.
Every animal shelter has a finite capacity, much like a boat. Only so many animals can be housed there at any give time. In a perfect world, those shelter are places which provide safety and protection. Also much like boats, shelters are not intended to house individual animals long-term; the hope is that the shelter is used as a transition location to get animals from their former lives to their new lives. It is a temporary place to stay.
I realize the most animal shelters in our country were designed to destroy animals and not to save them. A few short decades ago, millions upon millions of animals were destroyed in our nation's shelters. It is estimated that in the early 1980s, about 17 million animals died in shelters each year. Yes, 17 million. That number has gone down drastically as our culture has changed in our country and as we have become smarter and more progressive about how we house animals who are lost, found running at large, seized by law enforcement authorities or who are just in need of a new home for some reason. While many tax funded animal shelters have no legal obligation to take owner surrendered pets, many do because it has become a public expectation that they will be safety nets for animals and because shelters want to be seen not as places of death, but as places of hope and new beginnings.
I often but heads with people in the rescue community and with shelter volunteers regarding my criticism of shelters which continue to destroy healthy and treatable animals while failing to fully embrace programs to stop that outdated practice once and for all. I have been told that I do not have a right to criticize my local municipal animal shelter unless and until I have met certain criteria such as volunteering there X number of hours per week, fostering Y number of dogs or adopting Z number of cats. I simply do not agree. I have a right to speak out about how my tax dollars are used by municipalities without some litmus test to determine if I am worthy of free speech. One of the most common things I a told is that unless I am in my local shelter doing the same things rescuers do, I am only a keyboard warrior and my opinion has no value. News flash. I do volunteer for my animal control agency in the county where I live. Just because I am not active in all shelters does not mean that I do not support any animal control agencies and that I don't work to help animals find new homes. Even if I was not doing those things, I still think there is immense value in political advocacy for the sake of shelter animals and I know from a decade of experience that it is incredibly difficult work.
I often lament that there are some in rescue who are so focused on A dog or B cat that they cannot see the bigger picture. I applaud those who rescue animals. They are some of the hardest working people I know and they are not compensated for their time. Most are so busy that they rarely do anything for themselves that others take for granted. Read a book. See a movie. I realize that time is short and we all pick how we spend our time. I just wish that those in rescue who have not taken the time to learn about No Kill programs and philosophies which save the lives of shelter animals would do so. Saving A dog or B cat is absolutely to be commended. But to me, it is like scooping water out of a boat that is sinking because there are holes in the boat. Those holes are created by our failure to implement programs to both reduce shelter intake and increase shelter output. Do we need rescuers to get animals out of shelters? You bet. One of the 11 elements of the No Kill Equation is rescue partnerships. But if all we do is keep focusing on getting out individual animals, and we don't take time to stem the flow of those animals into the system, we are doomed to repeat the process over and over and over.
A shelter is a boat with finite capacity that we use to house animals temporarily to get them to safety. When our boats are taking on water, let's please stop long enough to find ways to just fix the boat. We can continue to rescue animals. But by plugging those holes with the programs which keep so many animals from getting in our boat in the first place and which get those animals out of the boat as fast as possible, we can save so many more and make better use of our time and our resources.
Please think about it.
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson