A Not So Transparent Road

Animal shelters are supposed to be safe temporary havens for companion animals, livestock and small pets. But, when leadership plays the victim card with the public, speaks in circular language, or fails to comply with the law, that safe haven quickly turns into a dumping ground of secrets that leadership will bury deep in the damp corners of the shelter, right alongside our taxpayer money.

While the waste of taxpayer money is nothing new, the extreme measures that are taken to lead taxpayers in believing that “it’s all good” are on the ascendancy. I think of the lesson learned as a small child about lying. Your lie starts off as a little white lie, and before you know it you are lying to cover up your lie. The only difference is that the leadership has the budget (typically in the millions of dollars), resources, and technology to make the average citizen’s head spin while trying to get a straight answer.

How does this apply to animal shelters? Leadership has figured out some magical math in order to claim better live release rates. Simply stated: “No kill“ without the “NO KILL.” Here is how they can deceive:

  • Not counting animals that die in their cages. Under pressure by the public, to decrease killing,  there are, unfortunately, cases of shelter leadership allowing sick/injured animals to go without food and medication in order to a) save money b) encourage their deaths so they won’t be counted in reported statistics.
  • Not counting animals that are surrendered for killing (euthanasia) by their families. In fact, some shelters go further by requiring anyone who surrenders an animal to sign them over as “owner requested euthanasia” that way the ones they kill- even the healthy and treatable– do not get counted.
  • Killing, but not counting, late term puppies and kittens by spaying the mother before she gives birth. Not only is this very risky for the mother, but…. I will let you research this horrible process if you so wish.
  • Counting entire litters of kittens or puppies killed as one animal. Some shelters count a litter of kittens or puppies killed as one animal and the resulting deaths as one outcome, rather than counting each puppy or kitten killed as an individual. Worse, if the mother is also killed, they count the whole group – mother and children – as one outcome.
  • Double counting foster animals. Some organizations report animals sent into temporary foster care as “live-outcomes” even though they are still, technically, in the custody of the shelter. When those animals are then adopted, they are then listed as “adoptions” but without removing the foster outcome. That way, one animal has two live releases.
  • Transferring animals to another “shelter” which kills them. Sending animals to other facilities that are not No Kill may technically qualify as “live release” as the animals were alive when they left the facility. Yet, the resulting data is misleading and falsely suggests that the animals did not ultimately lose their lives. And even if they were not killed, they displace other animals that were.
  • Calling themselves “No Kill” simply because they claim a 90% live release rate. This is how a shelter in Florida claims a No Kill despite a pit bull ban that condemns dogs based on their appearance. In a Michigan shelter they claim No Kill while asking people to submit a “euthanize card” whenever they surrender healthy, community cats who are not social with people. In California there are shelters that kill healthy animals so long as the live release rate does not fall below 90%.
  • And lastly, many don’t report and continue to kill in high numbers; livestock, rabbits, gerbils and other non-dog/cat species.

Leadership is continually coming up with new ways to deceive the public so they can continue on with business as usual. After all, why would they want to change their way of doing things? It means more work for the same amount of paycheck…often a six figure paycheck at that!

Now say you want to go about proving any of the above listed ways a shelter can cheat.  The obvious would be to look at the reported stats. This is typically a one page standardized document with only the raw data, an easy read.

A California shelter recently posted their end of the fiscal year stats in a 46 page highly filtered document, making it nearly impossible to get to the real numbers, but at the same time gives the illusion that they are doing great at saving lives. Clearly if a shelter was doing amazing life saving work….it would be as simple to read as A, B, C.


Or another way to go about it is a public records request. You will have your answer in 10 days. That is if they even bother to respond to you (which they are legally required to do). Recently a citizen in California submitted a request for policy and protocols of the animal shelter, clearing up any confusion on by who and what services were offered to the public, and, what steps get taken when something goes south. Well, they got no response to either request. Leadership not complying with a Public Records Request is NOT an option. Every citizen has a right to request information (with some limitation) when tax payer money is flipping the bill of their six figure salaries.

I dream of they day when this type of leadership in animal shelters is taken over by young, energetic, compassionate, and those who are not afraid to think outside the narrow box their predecessor left them in.

I dream of the day when this type of leadership in animal shelters is taken over by young, energetic, compassionate men and women – those who are not afraid to think outside the narrow boxes their predecessors left behind.

Janis Rosenberg is President of Unleashing the Possibilities, Inc., a non-profit corporation dedicated to raising funds to build Yolo County a new, state of the art animal shelter. Learn more by visiting their website at https://unleashingyolo.org and you can also find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/UTPYolo/.

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