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The Shelter Voice: Can’t We All Get Along?

dogbehindfenceBy Darlene Duggan

I have written before (here, here, and here) explaining the various types of animal shelters: open door shelters, animal control facilities, breed rescue groups, and no-kill organizations. We are lucky that society has recognized the need to care for the homeless animal population, and that in most communities today, there are many groups doing good things for animals. In fact, in the Chicago area alone there are over 200 animal welfare organizations!

But, one thing plaguing this industry is cooperation. With each of these different types of organizations comes a different approach to managing the problem. And with such a highly emotional subject, feelings run deep.

Some may think the lack of cooperation stems from a competition to adopt more animals, but that’s not the case. The lack of teamwork and feelings of disrespect among animal rescue organizations exists because of the different approach to managing the pet overpopulation problem. At the heart of this disagreement are the traditional shelters and the no-kill organizations.

Traditional shelters (whom most often accept any animal in any condition) see euthanasia as a necessary evil and one  tool for managing their population. On the other hand, no-kill organizations (whom most often accept only some animals based on population they are already housing) will go to great means to ensure the survival of each animal in their care, even if it requires reducing intakes to lavish resources on the current population.

Traditional shelters accuse no-kill shelters of hoarding, and no-kill shelters accuse traditional shelters of euthanizing adoptable animals. No-kill organizations feel traditional shelters mislead the public about what an “Open-Door” policy really means, and traditional shelters feel the public is deceived by the “No-Kill” movement. At times, the hostility gets so out of hand it feels more like the week before a political election than a discussion about homeless animals. And recently, the debate has reignited with this blog post rom PETA denouncing the No-Kill approach.

There are strong feelings on both sides of the fence, and after more than 12 years working in this field, I am just as astounded at the strenuous relationship between some in the industry as I was when I first started. If any industry can benefit from the cooperation of all organizations involved, it is the animal welfare industry. Yet in some communities we do not see this approach. It is certainly understandable there will be differing opinions about animal population management and sheltering practices, but certainly we can find the common denominator: saving animals’ lives. After all is said and done, increasing adoption rates and decreasing shelter relinquishment are at the heart of any organization’s mission.

At the risk of sounding too negative, just as I have seen first hand the lack of cooperation with other organizations, so too have I seen great examples of organizations working together to save more lives. Many communities across the nation are coming to realize that one shelter alone is not going to solve the homeless animal problem and thus are forming “community coalitions.” These coalitions come in many shapes and sizes, but follow the same general pattern: they exist to bring together all organizations in the community in an effort to save more animals’ lives.

I have seen incredible success from both traditional and no-kill shelters, just as I have seen incredible failures from both camps. The fact remains: the right way to manage the homeless animal population in a community is by working together, tolerating our differences, and celebrating the successes we all produce along the way. Animal sheltering is an evolving field, and no “one size fits all” formula will make it work in a community without the assistance of everyone.

Darlene Duggan worked for many years behind the scenes at The Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago overseeing volunteer programs, problem solving shelter issues, and laboring tirelessly for the welfare of animals. Her bi-weekly column, The Shelter Voice, explores the complex concepts surrounding animal rescue and welfare usually reserved for discussions amongst those at the very front lines of the industry. 

Related:

10 Things Every Shelter Volunteer Should Know

The Shelter Voice: My Career in Animal Welfare

The Shelter Voice: A Returned Adoption is Not a Failure

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