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Open-Admission or No-Kill (Limited Admission) Shelter?

During the past 10+ years in North America, a change has been steadily occurring in the animal protection/welfare field. Many organizations are turning to a sheltering/animal welfare policy of claiming that their groups/shelters/philosophies are "NO-KILL." Other agencies remain "open-admission," meaning that their facilities are open to provide care to any animal in need. Unfortunately, open-admission facilities must still euthanize animals. Some of these animals have severe health or behavior problems; others are too young or too old to be satisfactorily re-homed.

Population studies of companion animals suggest that approximately 4-5 million animals are euthanized in the U.S. each year. Ten years ago, the number was believed to be a staggering 12-15 million! Today, nearly 64% of all shelter animals lose their lives in animal sheltering facilities across the US.  Dogs fair better than cats -- 56% of shelter dogs are euthanized; 71% of cats are euthanized.

No data is yet available on the outcome of a relatively new population of shelter animals รข?? rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, mice, rats, ferrets, birds, etc.  For example, in the Northeast, small animals and birds (cockatiels, parakeets, parrots, etc.) are being relinquished to open-admissions shelters at an alarming rate. At the Western New England MSPCA Adoption Center in Springfield, the number of small animals and birds being surrendered now exceeds the number of unwanted dogs entering their center. The reason for the large numbers of small animals at this animal shelter lies in the fact that no other area "limited-admission" shelter will accept them into their care, thereby relocating the animals to the only regional facility that is "open-admission."

"NO-KILL" is a strong assertion and sounds good to members of the community. Most people don't really take the time to understand the nature and the complexity of sheltering unwanted animals. Regional variations in animal population are vast. For instance, one "open-admission" shelter in the South frequently receives close to ONE HUNDRED dog and puppies each day! The feral (wild/free-roaming pack) dog population in the South is similar to the feral cat numbers in the Northeast. The MSPCA and TJO routinely admit a combined total of well over 200 unwanted and surplus cats per week from our region during the summer months. The community in turn provides 40-50 homes per week to these cats during the same period. Where do we stack the extras? In larger cities, animal control agencies are taking 50,000 or more animals off the streets each year. Many owners simply can't be bothered to take their unwanted companions to the safety of an animal shelter where their animal will be given every consideration and opportunity for a second chance; the animal is simply turned loose to fend for him or herself on the streets.  Animal control centers like TJO that pick up free-roaming animals from the streets do not have the luxury of health or behavioral history of our animals.  We don't even know their names or their true age.

There are many, many websites devoted to the no-kill movement. Some of these groups do not actually house animals, but encourage donations so they may 'further the cause.' Strong accusations of "animal slaughter" and "the killing of innocent animals" are in abundance. Other groups do accept animals, but by invitation only. Rarely can a link be found on their sites if one seeks to relinquish a companion animal. Typically, these groups provide care and housing to far fewer animals than open-admission or animal control facilities, yet receive abundant financial backing from well-meaning donors. Animals that the no-kill shelter turns away likely end up at one of the nearby open-door animal sheltering agencies. 

Unfortunately, a great divisiveness is now occurring in the animal welfare/sheltering field. Those facilities that accept any animal in need regardless of history, health, age or appearance are the same facilities that need the resources the most. The no-kill movement has succeeded in entering the minds of the American public and diverting donations away from the agencies that are assisting the most animals.

If they are honest, even the most vocal "no-kill" shelter will admit that animals ARE euthanized while in their care. Disease can still spread, and animals will still deteriorate behaviorally over time in a non-enriched environment. The term "ADOPTABLE" rings loudly in the no-kill mission statement. The true definition of "adoptable" has yet to be discovered. What about the animals that are turned away? What becomes of them? To be truly 'no-kill,' one must be able to say that every adoptable animal (and every species of animal) in your community would be guaranteed a home if displaced. If honest, most limited admission animal shelters cannot make that claim.

The problem of euthanasia doesn't lie within the definition or philosophy of the animal shelter. Whether open-admission or limited admission, the fact is that there are still more unwanted animals than homes. The ultimate responsibility for the numbers of euthanized animals lies at the hands of the public. Lack of commitment, lack of education, lack of investment in the animal all contribute to a community's euthanasia rate. No animal shelter is the 'cause' of euthanasia, but rather the sad 'result.'

The staff and volunteers of the Thomas J. O'Connor Animal Control and Adoption Center work tirelessly on behalf of our communities' animals.  Whether it's our animal control officers working to educate animal owners while in field, adoption counselors finding responsible and committed new homes for unclaimed animals at our center, or our wonderful core of dedicated volunteers simply providing the best care possible to an injured or aggressive animal during his or her stay at TJO; we are all dedicated to our region's many homeless animals. 

No matter if the animal is cute and fluffy or aged and arthritic, our entire community should remain committed, each and every day, to doing everything we can for the four-legged residents among us who have no voice. Animals are not concerned about the philosophical banner posted at the shelter's front door; rather, the quality of commitment and concern is what will affect them most. We will only achieve the desired result of becoming a true no-kill community by continuing to adopt shelter animals, spaying and neutering our own animal companions, educating our neighbors, and supporting our local hard-working (and often overwhelmed) animal care centers.

We're happy to report that all of the TJO animals pictured on this page were placed into new homes!

Thomas J. O'Connor Animal Control & Adoption Center, 627 Cottage Street, Springfield, MA 01104