When you have a 60-70% kill rate, as Stockton does, then killing is your preferred method of animal control. There is simply nothing good about killing as a preferred method of animal control. It is bad all around.
First, it is expensive, in terms of disposal of the bodies, and in terms of the unrecovered cost of housing, vaccinating, and treating animals, only to kill them later.
Even though dead body disposal via a rendering company is pretty darn cheap, it’s more expensive than recovering some costs through adoption fees and making up for others through fundraising and the grants and donations available to real shelters that inspire the trust, loyalty, and admiration of their communities.
Second, it is bad for the employees involved in the killing. Employees involved in “euthanasia” at animal shelters are subject to high levels of guilt, job stress, work-family conflict, and somatic complaints. Furthermore, and understandably, these employees adopt blame-displacement strategies to protect themselves psychologically. At this point, those employees don’t concern me overmuch, but high kill is bad for everyone, employees included.
Third, it is bad for taxpaying citizens, because in the end they are left with no answer to the simple question: “Where can I take this stray dog or cat and not have it put down?”
Fourth, it is bad for the community, because it is an activity firmly rooted in hopelessness. To believe that killing is the only solution is to give up hope for a better way. Circus trainers know that you can keep a baby elephant from wandering off by tying it to a stake in the ground. The baby is too weak to dislodge the stake. Over time, the baby elephant learns to be helpless, and stops trying to pull up the stake, even as it grows into a powerful adult. This is what happens in animal shelters that take in so many animals day after day, and don’t develop the tools to save those animals. The place becomes one of lost hope and helplessness.
Fifth, it is bad for the animals. Yet, these animals are domesticated over thousands of years. They are our friends and companions, and, more often than not, they lay down peacefully and trusting in the shelter euthanasia room, to give up their lives to the shelter staff, which is a cruel business indeed.
Killing is bad for everyone, and as shelters demonstrate when they transform themselves through new leadership and lifesaving programs, saving lives is good for everyone. There are now about 100 communities with open-admission no-kill shelters, meaning that only hopelessly suffering animals and vicious dogs with a poor prognosis are put down. The No Kill Equation is a set of programs that, comprehensively implemented, leads to save rates over 90%, and even if you don’t believe it’s possible to save every healthy and treatable animal, if private fundraising and volunteers make up the new resources, isn’t it worth trying? Sacramento’s Front Street Shelter improves its save rate every month, and while it is not yet saving every healthy and treatable animal, its mission and motto, “We save lives,” has made it a source of pride for the city and a hub of community partnerships. Stockton residents, tell your City Council member you want a real shelter in Stockton, one that saves lives.