Sunday, February 10, 2013

Do The Math - The Real Math

The core premise of the No-Kill Movement is that overpopulation is a myth.  That if shelter workers just work harder, euthanasia would be a rare occurrence that would only be needed when animals are suffering or extremely aggressive.  Unfortunately, most on the front lines know that is not the case. Despite the fact that there are more shelters and rescues today providing more space for animals, and despite more money being spent today than in years past, according to various estimates we are still performing euthanasia on 3-4 million animals a year.
The number of animals euthanized each year has decreased dramatically over the past four decades, from some 20 million in 1970 to about 3 million in 2011. Meanwhile, the number of pets has more than doubled since the 1970s, to about 160 million dogs and cats, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. - Christian Science Monitor
According to this same article it's noted that low cost spay neuter contributed greatly to the large drop from 20 million to 3 million. Despite this knowledge, there are some that think spay neuter should take a back seat to scrambling animals out the door, no matter where they might end up.  They've even tried to codify that scramble in the form of rescue access laws like CAPA.
"While spay neuter is important, our goal has never been no more births, even though reducing birth rates might help. Our goal has been and is, and has always been no more killing. And when you focus on the no more killing part, spay neuter actually takes a backseat to all those other programs like foster care, and adoptions, and helping people overcome the challenges they face that cause them to surrender their animals."   - Nathan Winograd on AnimalWise Radio 4/22/12
Unfortunately, one only needs to watch the national news to realize that we have an epidemic of rescues and individuals providing poor conditions for animals, and in some cases are even hoarding situations.  While the majority of rescues are performing a valuable service to the community, it is concerning that we are seeing more and more stories about rescue failures in the scramble to get animals out of shelters.

On a bright note, there are still some that promote spay neuter as the first tool in the arsenal, affordable  and accessible spay neuter.  Ruth Steinberger's recent article Animal Shelter Numbers Tell Only a Part of the Story on the Huffington Post, points to the part of the animal population that the No-Kill Movement appears to ignore - the animals obtained from friends, family members, or strays.  The population of animals accounts for the largest percentage of animals obtained by Americans.
According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA) the world's leading pet products and manufacturers trade association, the largest source of household pets is not the local animal shelter, a breeder, or a pet store. A 2012 APPA poll revealed that while 21 percent of dogs are obtained from shelters and 26 percent from breeders, 39 percent are from the combined random sources of friend, family member or stray -- sources that typically reflect impulse decisions, not planned adoptions. The number of cats obtained from a friend, family member or stray is reported to be 75 percent. And for both dogs and cats, the number obtained as a stray is greater than the number coming from pet stores. These figures represent the cycles of pets in poverty; pets obtained from these sources are at risk of producing even more unintended litters that are also likely to join the ranks of the invisible homeless. - Ruth Steinberger

No-Kill's Flawed Math

Here is a screenshot of a promotional picture that the No-Kill Movement has posted all over the internet and their various Facebook pages.  The issue is that it misrepresents the supply side of the equation.  Shelter animals are not the complete source for animals obtained in the U.S.  While there is no substantiation to show that 23,500,000 animals will be acquired by Americans in a year, I will use No-Kill's assumptions.  Since the numbers would be based on surveys from previous years, then it's logical to conclude that if there were 23,500,000 animals obtained, and 4,000,000 animals were left behind and killed, then ultimately the full supply of animals from all sources using their numbers would be 27,500,000.

No-Kill Graphic

So if 27,500,000 is the supply of animals in a year, and there are only homes for 23,500,000 of the animals, there is an overpopulation of 4,000,000 million.  So why would the No-Kill Movement be less than transparent by listing the supply as 8,000,000 shelter animals versus the 27,500,000 of animals from all sources.  Because then it would become apparent to their followers that the central theme of their movement, that overpopulation is a myth, is a sham.

So isn't the image below a more accurate depiction of the that supply and the fact that overpopulation does exist?  It may not be done by a professional like theirs, but most shelter workers and rescues on the front lines who work hard to place animals, but still finding their operations full, already know this to be true.

A More Accurate Interpretation of the NK Graphic

The No-Kill graphic implies that there are 17,000,000 homes to market shelter animals to, in a hope that shelter animals will obtain a larger market share of animals acquired.  Where the logic fails, is that it doesn't address what will happen to the animals from other sources.  If a breeder cannot sell the animals he bred, those animals will end up in a shelter.  But more importantly, since the majority of animals are acquired from friends, family and strays, any animals pulled away from this source will most certainly end up in the shelter to replace the additional shelter pet that was placed.

Given that all Americans that chose to acquire an animal did acquire one, the only solution at that point would be to find 4,000,000 homes that were not looking to acquire an animal.  That very premise could explain why hoarding cases are increasing.  Many of the No-Kill communities regularly lament that they are becoming overcrowded, and then beg for the community to come out and adopt to alleviate the overcrowding. Unfortunately gaining that 4,000,000 additional market share comes at a price as residents and rescues take on more than they can afford or care for properly.  Just look at the costs that shelters across the country have absorbed in handling the large number of hoarding cases in recent years.

This shows that lowering the animal population through prevention should take center stage when it comes to lowering euthanasia rates.  The math is simple.  Overpopulation exists, and lowering the supply side of the equation with affordable and accessible spay neuter is a far more cost effective and fiscally responsible solution for communities.  So I will continue to believe in the logical numbers that animal welfare advocates like Ruth Steinberger and Peter Marsh put forward, because leaving those animals that come from other sources out on the streets or warehouses in a boarding kennel, like we've done in Delaware, is not a solution.