Is Spay Neuter the Key to Ending Shelter Killing?

If we examine the shelter systems that actually publish statistics—and I am aware of only a few who do so on their websites—we can see that the best save-rates for large systems runs only a bit over 52%, such as in LAAS. Philadelphia supposedly had a 90% kill rate two years ago. Who knows what the kill rate is now—there are no statistics.

A friend of mine who ran Sonoma County’s shelter system—about the same size at Tompkins County—said 50% was consider a very good rate of saves nationally. Barry’s bane was feral cats. Fully 35-40% of his kills were ferals. Had feral kills been eliminated, his save rate would have been 70%+. Sonoma is a rural County, LA is not, so it is difficult to draw comparisons.

San Francisco has stopped publishing its statistics as has Tompkins County. I assume that if they were as good as they published four years ago, they would still be posting them. It may well be that their kill rates have trended upwards again towards the national norm since Winograd left. I wish Winograd would publish the stats for all the shelter systems he has consulted with to see if his methods really work and are sustainable.

We think we have the concept that having a large—stand alone—private SPCA-type New Hope shelter supposedly works and was instrumental in massively decreasing SF kill stats. Of course, SF has a much different geographic and demographic configuration more conducive to both lowering impound rates and increasing save rates of those animals impounded, for various reasons.

But does it work? The SFACC/SFSPCA defines saves as adoptable and treatable. We don’t know what percentage of the total impounds that those numbers would constitute, nor whether SF overall stats ignore the non-adoptable and non-treatable.

I suggested Winograd be brought in, not to consult with LAAS, but to head a side-by-side SPCA-like shelter. This tactic purportedly brought success in SF and in Tompkins County. Why does this tactic work there, or does it? It appears that it expands the capacity for holding animals during the kitten season, and also to expand the outlets for adopters to see the “merchandize. Would a Walmart shelter help in LA?

In LA, New Hope partners adopt about ½ what LAAS does by itself. Would a separate massive shelter turn LA’s save rate improvement soaring once again? I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not.

In fact, the new LAAS increased shelter capacity may serve as the required Winograd-style private shelter. I don’t know. Anyone who says they know is only speculating without proof to back their musings.

So, the accepted theory of diminishing killing is to decrease the impound rate by spay neuter, including TNR. It sounds logical, but how to do it, and how much has to be done to really impact the number of animals impounded? NO ONE KNOWS! The thought is, just do as much as we can, and impound rates must drop.

I have not seen any analysis to support this hypothesis with regard to the 2001 to 2006 drop in LAAS impound numbers from 62,000 to 47,000. Did spay neuter do it? I don’t know. If it did, was it due to feral vouchers or housed cat vouchers? Was it due to the Spaymobile? I don’t know.

Was is due to raising public conscience and taking more responsibility for keeping or placing pets after they find out about the atrocious kill rate in the public shelters? That is, raising the guilt level? I don’t know.

Was it due to an expanding circle of compassion?

Will pouring more money into tactics that have sort-of-worked in the past, work better? I.e., are the new shelters going to really cut the kill rate? Time will tell.

Don’t you see, no one really knows. No surveys of owner attitudes have been made. Would people adopt pets is the landlord would allow it? How many feral cats are there in Encino? How many vouchers are slated for that area vs, South Central or do vouchers just flow to areas where there is the most demand for them? Would educational programs really raise the conscience level there? I don’t know.

So, what to do?

It is my intuition that spay neuter is not the Golden Key. There are too many reasons why people do not S/N their animals, one of which is the suffering the animals endure. What is for the good for all the unborn cats and dogs may not be a persuasive argument for some people. And ferals? How many cats have to be caught before there is a downturn? I have heard it is 70-80%. Those numbers would require and amazingly effective TNR program.

What about something else? Why not pass a law that 50% of all cat and dog food sold in California have contraceptive ingredients so that feral feeders, and those with dogs they refuse to neuter, who would not have sterilized their pets/charges anyway due to expense or dis-ease doing same, may have a contraceptive alternative? Using contraceptives in food is an accepted way of stabilizing and reducing deer and ground squirrel populations in the wild.

One might argue this would encourage feral caretakers from getting their cats neutered. Maybe, but perhaps seasonal sterilizations brought about by treated pet food may much outweigh the impact of not spay/neutering a colony.

Is it spay/neuter what has caused the impound numbers to go down 22% over the past few years? I don't know but I have an intuition that there are other major factors perhaps more important; that is why I am raising the question of causation. My gut feeling is that it has more to do with a raising of consciousness and expanding compassion which means people are better minding their guardian role. This is why I appreciate Boks' sermonizing. He is right.

Conscience might stop people from turning in unwanted pets to public shelters if they knew what the death rate was. They would think ahead before letting their pets multiply. They would spay/neuter their animals despite their own felt pain at the thought, because it is best medically for the animals and prevents more unwanted animals in the world. They would take them more often to a vet, etc. In this scenario, spay/neuter, TNR, vouchers, mobile spaymobiles, etc., would be adjuncts to consciousness raising, not the alpha-omega solution.

If this is true, then a major approach to ending shelter killing would be a greater emphasis on raising consciousness through dramatically increased education, establishing the guardian concept as being politically correct and having ministers raise the issue to their congregations. More mainstream media article would help. This would be especially important in certain ethnically “challenged” areas of the city.

Even ADL-type tactics--if well thought out regarding their targets, as opposed to misguided acting out of rage--may be as effective as adding new shelters because they bring the problem to the public’s attention. By this, I mean using Gandhi-like civil disobedience or rather civil "non-compliance" when it comes to people harming animals.

There may be "Compassion-spillover effects" from PETA-type actions against furriers that might indirectly increase adoptions, and decrease the eating of animals. Similar impacts could be had on farm animals if movies of their slaughter were published and broadcast in the mainstream media.

I think it is time to rethink the entire problem of stopping animal killing in LAAS’s shelters. I think the answer lies in increased consciousness and conscience.


Anonymous said...

One way to see if spay/neuter works is to check the number of service calls and compare year to year. There are factors that affect this as well such as empty ACO positions, etc. But if service calls are going down and the impound numbers are going down then spay/neuter is working.

Bird Advocate said...

You speak of rethinking the problem of animal killing in LAAS’s shelters, you think the answer is in increased consciousness and conscience?
I think it is time to rethink the ethics of trap, neuter, abandon in its entirety. Your treatise on Trap, neuter, spay seems superficially to be well intended and thought out. Yet it ignores facets most citizens deem vital.
Where do you explore the quality of life your domestic cat victi... err, patients might have? Will they die within a couple of pain-filled years after multiple fights with each other, dogs, traffic and other hazards?
Nowhere in your treatise do you mention our ecology and ecosystem, and the billions of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians feral cats slaughter each year.
You also do not mention your concern for your fellow man, and whether he or she may object to the presence of feral cats or the odor of cat urine and excrement being increasingly present in his/her life.
Would you please give some thought to those results of your agenda and the actions you take?

Anonymous said...

If you look at you would find 5 years of statistics of spay neuter efforts across Montana, and a bit more searching shows this same concept (and some of the same vets) in Oklahoma and SD. These vets do 20 or more a day, in a temporary setting, sponsored and with the community. Over and over, you see a drop in intake, a drop in dog bites, a drop in shelter euthanasia and killing.

If that doesn't do it for you, Purina, I read, did a survey in which they said the most common reason for no spay and neuter was "I just haven't gotten around to it." For those, you may in fact need an advertising/educational effort. We could copy the work of anti-drug, anti-cigarette, anti-litter campaigns. Do telephone surveys, 250 to 500 people in an area, determine some animal ownership, attitudes, and influence their awareness.

Do some marketing and spay/neuter, and then repeat the surveys with the same number of people, but different ones.

Those two strategies could stop the killing of adoptable animals.