I was touched and honored to receive letters from administrators at several animal shelters in support of my recent post about the need for the rescue community to stay positive. I respected the desire of some of these letter writers to remain out of the public eye. Animal politics can get rancorous and shelters have important work to do; they don’t need the distraction and hassle. That said, I’m pleased that I got permission to share this powerful letter from the Humane Society of Tacoma & Pierce County.
Thank you for your Open Letter to Nathan Winograd. As someone who has been in the animal welfare movement for 16 years and has seen dramatic changes, I really appreciated your perspective. I loved the video you posted, and am pleased to say that our shelter is doing all of the things in the equation – we could do more and better at some of them, but we at least have them in place. But I just really, really hate the term “no kill.” Most of us who do the work of sheltering and caring for animals every day know that there is no such thing. Anyone who has ever operated a rescue or shelter has had to make the decision to euthanize an animal, even if just by sending it down the road to the animal control facility.
The real heroes in my world are the people who come to work every day, week after week, at animal shelters across the country. They have to euthanize pets that other people have abandoned, and they are vilified for it, and yet they continue to struggle thanklessly year after year to create a better world for animals.
Sixteen years ago, when I started working at this shelter, we took in 73 animals a day, six days a week. And every day, 46 animals were euthanized. Most of them were perfectly healthy, many of them were puppies and kittens. Let me tell you, that will give you some nightmares. But it also gives you a determination to make things better. And not by pointing fingers at other people.
We spayed and neutered like crazy – thousands of pets a year, then several thousand a year. We handed out free spay vouchers to people who brought in litters, we pushed for food bank donations, started a pet behavior helpline, fostered underaged litters, took carloads of cats to offsite adoption events, advocated for pet-friendly housing, worked with the military bases, partnered with rescue groups. We started feral cat programs, raised money to build a low-cost spay/neuter clinic, and started an enrichment program for the animals in the shelter. We kept learning, growing, taking risks, making changes. We took a lot of abuse and were called a lot of names by people who never had to do our jobs. Every animal adopted was a cause for celebration and every animal that died chipped away at our hearts. But we kept going.
Every year, it got better. Then much better. Fewer animals came through the door, fewer litters were left in the parking lot. And now, sixteen years later, we receive half the number of animals we used to. For the past three years, we have been able to find a home for every dog we receive, unless it is aggressive or has severe medical problems. We still euthanize healthy cats and kittens, but in far fewer numbers. It won’t be long before we will be able to find homes for all the adoptable cats we receive, too. And we will do it without turning away any animals. We will do it as a community, not by being a “no kill” shelter, but by having the integrity and courage to provide a painless, quick death for pets that no one wants, while we work tirelessly to create a world where it isn’t necessary.
Marguerite Richmond, Director of Development