No animal shelter is an island, and the reduction of euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals is an ongoing, community-wide effort. There are many pieces to this lifesaving puzzle from increasing adoption rates to spay and neuter efforts to community cat programs.
Lifesaving is more about what happens outside the shelter walls than what happens at the shelter.
When community members come together with local animal shelters and rescues to take part in this lifesaving puzzle, it is possible for whole communities to become No Kill communities. A No Kill community is one in which all healthy and treatable animals are able to be saved thanks to a variety of factors, and high adoption rates play a critical role.
How the No Kill model is working for our community
Utilizing Fosters to Save Lives
Fosters increase lifesaving by giving neonate kittens and young puppies the round-the-clock care and ideal environment they need to grow up healthy and well-socialized. They are also able to create space at the
shelter by allowing shelter pets to live in their care until adopted.
Volunteers Increase Adoptions
Volunteers not only improve the quality of life of animals at the shelter via walks, socialization, and playtime, they also help the shelter pets find homes faster by helping them learn good behaviors. A dog that has just been on a nice, long walk and has learned to “sit” and “wait” is more likely to be adopted than a dog that hasn’t. And that shy cat who spends time with volunteers each day may come out of his shell and become more sociable around potential adopters.
Community Cat Programs to Reduce Shelter Intake
Feral cats live in our neighborhoods, and experience has shown that euthanizing these cats is not an effective way to reduce the population. Currently, community cat programs aim to have these cats spayed and neutered, vaccinated, and placed back in their cat colonies. An ear is tipped during the process to indicate that the cat has been altered and vaccinated. People in the community provide these colonies of cats with food, water, and outdoor shelter; they also monitor the cats to assure they stay in good health. Euthanasia rates of these feral cats has been drastically reduced in communities that have community cat programs.
Affordable Veterinary Care
The cost of veterinary care is one of the many reasons a pet owner may choose to surrender his or her pet to a shelter. When affordable veterinary care is available, more pets live healthier lives and fewer face being surrendered to a shelter due to financial hardship caused by the cost of veterinary care. Affordable spay and neuter surgery also plays a roll in reducing the number of animals entering our shelters. The SPCA Veterinary Care Center is able to offer affordable, full-service veterinary care to the public.
Transporting animals out of the community to areas with smaller homeless pet populations is another way to create space in overcrowded shelters. However, transport also requires significant resources and the cost can make it unfeasible for some organizations.
A Community that Chooses to Adopt
At the end of the day, it’s you, the members of our community, who ultimately save the lives of these animals by choosing to bring them home to be beloved family pets. No matter how much fostering we do, no matter how much we train the dogs or socialize with the cats, adoption is how they’re getting out alive.
We see our community, both the City of Aiken and Aiken County as a whole, utilizing all of these lifesaving methods and we are so thankful to everyone who plays a part in these efforts. It’s because of these efforts by community members that we’re becoming a No Kill community.
Of course, being a No Kill Shelter does come with its unique challenges and limitations.
During times when adoptions are slow it creates two serious problems for the SPCA Albrecht Center as we work hard to remain a No Kill shelter (by maintaining a live release rate of over 90%).
One problem is that we must turn owner-surrendered pets away when every room in the shelter is full. When there are no rooms left in the shelter, owner surrendered pets cannot be admitted until a space becomes available and these pets are put on a waiting list.
Low adoption numbers create problems for the shelter pets as well. When an animal, especially a dog, lives in a shelter environment for an extended period of time, it can lead to high stress levels, illness, and even behavior problems. Our hardworking staff and volunteers try to mitigate the effects of shelter stress by providing daily walks and enrichment, but after months in a shelter, many of the dogs will begin to feel the negative effects of long-term sheltering.
Even though the pets in the SPCA Albrecht Center don’t face euthanasia, that doesn’t mean that they can live here forever. They need to find homes too and waiting for months and months to be adopted can have truly detrimental effects on their well-being. Currently there are 47 cats that have been at our shelter for more than 100 days. There are 29 dogs that have been here for more than a month and some have been here as long as 6 months. Please consider adopting one of these long-stay pets – they've been waiting far too long.
Jessica Gladkowski is the Director of Community Relations at the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare. Jessica received her Bachelor of Arts in Japanese from The University of Vermont, and over the next several years she traveled to Japan and South Korea where she taught English and immersed herself in different cultures. Jessica is inspired to combine her passion for helping animals, teaching, and serving a diverse community through a career in animal welfare. Jessica lives in Aiken with her husband David and their rescue dogs Django and Ollie.