Last month, the Portsmouth Humane Society (PHS) in Virginia—a shelter touting its “no-kill” goals—was busted for “adopting” some 300 feral cats and then quietly abandoning them in the woods and on the streets. One employee who released six cats in her neighborhood at her boss’s urging later found two of the cats dead, hit by cars. The areas where many cats were dumped border a busy highway and working railroad tracks. Of the more than 90 cats who were abandoned there, staffers could only account for about 20. It’s anyone’s guess what has become of the rest of the cats.
These cats depend on humans for shelter, food, water, and veterinary care. When left to “fend for themselves,” feral cats suffer and die from exposure, untreated broken bones, infections, parasite infestations, and contagious diseases (including rabies, which is no longer rare in outdoor cats). They are routinely poisoned, shot by cruel people who don’t want them on their property, hit by cars, attacked by dogs, injured in car engines, and worse.
PHS’ abandonment of these defenseless cats is a chilling example of how, in the quest to become “no-kill” at any cost, many shelters fail the very animals who should have been able to count on them for help. As PETA president Ingrid Newkirk points out in a new video, this is a growing—and troubling—trend.
Many “no-kill” shelters simply shut their doors when their cages fill up, leaving animals on the streets or in the hands of people who don’t want them. Since becoming “no-kill,” the only local animal shelter in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, is “chronically overcrowded” and is essentially closed to animals in need. The county’s sheriff described “policemen spending entire shifts trying to locate dog owners and driving [dogs] to shelters that will take them, in some cases a couple of counties away.” As of September, the “no-kill” Nova Scotia SPCA in Canada had more than 1,000 cats on a waiting list to be admitted. Shelters across the U.S. face similar situations.
On the other end of the spectrum, some “no-kill” facilities avoid euthanasia by hoarding animals or sending them out to bad homes and abusive “foster” homes without checking them first. In September, authorities found more than 200 dogs in deplorable conditions at Mission Desert Hills Dog Sanctuary in Chaparral, New Mexico. Several of the dogs had severe internal injuries indicating that they had been sexually assaulted. One volunteer said that she had to step over dead dogs to get to live ones who were “living in hell, in their own feces, no water, no food, [and] emaciated.” Dozens of similar cases have made headlines.
Every caring person wants an end to the cat and dog homelessness crisis and animal euthanasia. But simply implementing “no-kill” policies without stemming the flow of animals puts cats and dogs in danger of fates far worse than a painless death. We need to stop the problem at its source, by spaying and neutering every animal we can reach (helping our friends, family, neighbors, and community get their animals spayed or neutered) and working to stop puppy mills and animal breeders from bringing more puppies and kittens into a world that already has too many animals and too few good homes. Once we become a “no-birth” nation, “no-kill” will follow as a matter of course, without putting animals in danger.
Written by Lindsay Pollard-Post