No-kill shelters are not all equal

No-kill shelters such as SPCA of Wake County differ from facilities that call themselves “no-kill” but are really little more than hoarding centers.

If you decide to surrender your animal to a no-kill shelter, visit it first.

How many animals are on-site? What are their living conditions? Is the facility licensed? The Haven, which has been operating without a state license for nearly five years, houses upward of 1,000 animals, many of them living in small crates (see story).

Ask to see state inspection reports. These are also online at the N.C. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Welfare Division.

Ask about the shelter’s adoption policies to ensure it doesn’t sell animals to laboratories or testing companies. Ask for these policies in writing.

If the shelter is a nonprofit, you have the legal right to inspect its tax documents, which will show its financial statements.

If you feel uneasy about the shelter or if shelter officials aren’t forthcoming with answers, reconsider surrendering your animal to the facility.

June 30 was a monumental day in the life of the SPCA of Wake County. Nearly six weeks ago it became a no-kill shelter, which means “we are making a promise to save all the healthy or treatable animals in our care, as well as over 1,800 needy animals transported from other area animal shelters,” said Mondy Lamb, SPCA marketing director.

The SPCA can euthanize animals that are ill and suffering.

The procedure for how the organization accepts and adopts animals has undergone some changes. For example, the SPCA operates by appointment only, which means people delivering animals to the shelter must go through counseling before they can leave their pet. In addition, it limits the number of admissions to the shelter and relies on a network of “Good Samaritans” willing to provide foster care and temporary housing to animals the shelter doesn’t have room for.

“If you want to get an animal into our system, we’re going to ask that you hold on to that animal [if only temporarily]. In return, we’ll help you out with neutering and things like that,” said Lamb. “It’s the assurance that if they play their part, we’ll play ours.”

In switching to this system, “the community has become our extended shelter,” she added.

The foster parent system helps address fears that the animals could be euthanized if there is not enough room in the shelter.

“It’s not just a ‘dumping ground for animals’ scenario,” Lamb said. “People are forced to go through counseling and resources, the same that the Good Samaritans are going through. You talk to these fabulous people armed with all of these resources.”

The chronic problem for county shelters, no-kill shelters and rescue groups is pet overpopulation. There are numerous low-cost spay and neuter programs in the Triangle, but pet owners continue to allow their animals to breed. After years of planning and resource management, the SPCA’s Saving Lives Spay/Neuter Animal Clinic opened in 2009 and treated more than 6,000 animals.

In conjunction with the clinic, the shelter had adopted out and spayed or neutered a record number of animals in 2009. Yet it wasn’t enough. Animals were still euthanized.

“You have to change the status quo, and this was the next step to making it a place where no adoptable animal is killed,” Lamb said. “We believe that euthanasia is not the answer to pet overpopulation. We completely rely on donors, on this community that believes in the mission.”

The SPCA of Wake County has partnered with the Wake County Animal Center and plans to receive about 40 percent of its animals from the public and 60 percent from local government shelters. As of July 1, all animals in Wake County will be taken in by the Wake County Animal Center, where pet owners can more easily find lost animals. This new arrangement also allow the SPCA to focus solely on animal treatment and euthanasia prevention.

Nathan Winograd, executive director of the No Kill Advocacy Center, based in Oakland, Calif., said about 8 million animals enter shelters each year in the U.S. Half of those are returned to families or adopted out; half are killed. Of those euthanized, 75 percent could have been adopted.

“We’re essentially looking for homes for 3 million dogs and cats to zero out the killing,” Winograd said. “Every year, 21 million people add a dog or cat to their home. Of those, some are already committed to getting their pet from a shelter, but there are 17 million who have not decided. If we can just convince 3 million of those 17 million people, then we can zero out the killing.”