With the recent highly publicized attacks on the management of the Kauai Humane Society, we've been seeing a wave of letters to the editor from folks who are upset that the shelter is euthanizing dogs and cats.
About 70 percent of the animals that go into the shelter never come out. They're not claimed by a worried owner, or placed into a forever home. Instead, their lives are ended by shelter staff — the very same people who love animals so much that they accept poor pay and tough working conditions to help them.
Euthanasia is the hardest part of the job at KHS, and only a fool would imagine that they are putting down any more animals than they absolutely must. Last year, KHS euthanized 2,599 animals — most of them feral cats. That's about seven per day, which is an unimaginable number for folks on the outside.
But that's the reality of KHS, which is located on a small, remote island where too many people still don't spay/neuter their pets, certain breeds are overbred, the human population is transient and feral cats have no predators save cars.
Yet some folks seem to believe there's a magical solution that will ensure all of these unwanted animals can live out their natural lives. As Lihue resident Robert James wrote in a letter published yesterday in The Garden Island:
There is no “rescue” for an animal if the survival or adoption rate is 30 percent or less. Where are the funds going? Where are the priorities? Why are our county tax dollars supporting this inept, insensitive management? Each of the board members need to take a good look at their mission statement and decide if they are honoring it appropriately.
Has our Humane Society turned into a crematorium and not a sanctuary? Please, someone in authority, help us understand!
It's actually a pretty simple concept to understand, and it boils down to this: With just 23,000 occupied homes, most of them already housing at least one pet, Kauai does not have enough people to adopt all the unwanted animals it produces. Even sending some off-island for adoption isn't enough to stem the tide.
As for where the money is going, the shelter took in 4,380 cats and dogs in 2014. It costs a lot to fulfill the duties of its county contract, which include picking up strays and providing them with shelter, food and sometimes veterinary care; responding to complaints about animal abuse and barking dogs; educating the public; and maintaining the facility and vans.
Nobody is getting rich, and the priorities are the same as they've always been: reuniting animals with their owners, promoting spay-neuter and trying to get as many animals adopted as they possibly can. These priorities are sound, and they've resulted in a slow, steady decline in euthanasia rates.
While a no-kill shelter is a great romantic fantasy, let's get real. Can you imagine the size of the facility that would be needed if they took in even 2,599 animals every year? Within five years, they'd be up to at least 12,000 animals, since they'd encounter the same barriers to adoption as KHS. Do you have any idea how much it would cost to provide shelter, food, veterinary care, exercise and companionship for 12,000 animals? Especially when some of them are unweaned kittens, aggressive or fearful dogs, or animals with serious behavioral problems.
Even PETA is down on no-kill policies, which they say fail to address the human causes of companion animal over-population — breeders making money off puppy sales, and people who fail to spay-neuter their pets. Often times sanctuaries are just covers for animal hoarders, who can't possibly care for all the critters they've taken in. On a web page entitled “the deadly consequences of 'no-kill' polices,” PETA wrote (emphasis added):
Many groups striving to go “no-kill” use limited resources to provide temporary care; ship dogs and cats across the country (even though every state struggles with the same crisis); close their doors to the neediest animals—those who are in danger of abuse or are injured, sick, elderly, or aggressive; and even attack open-admission shelters that must euthanize animals.
These attacks are what we're seeing now on Kauai, and they're most frequently leveled by the folks who support programs that allow the feral cat colonies to continue. These TNR (trap-neuter-return) programs call for trapping feral cats, having them sterilized and then returning them to the place where they were trapped. Sometimes the colonies are also managed, which means the cats are fed.
While these programs make people feel good, the cats still face disease, flea infestations, hunger and death by car. Feral cats also have been documented killing endangered native birds, and the taxoplasmosis parasite in their feces has been linked to monk seal deaths.
In a letter to the editor today, Joyce Ogmundson of Lihue advocates for TNR as “a solution to kill our island cats in masses. Please check out TNR. There are a gazillion websites to help us all learn more.”
So again, I looked at a PETA website, and found:
PETA has in the past trapped, neutered, returned, and monitored feral cats (and still does, in favorable situations) but not without hesitation and serious concerns. Our experiences include countless incidents in which cats suffered and died horrible deaths because they were forced to fend for themselves outdoors, whether “managed” or not, and have led us to question whether these programs are truly in the cats’ best interests.
Moreover, free-roaming cats also terrorize and kill countless birds and other wildlife who are not equipped to deal with such predators.
Having witnessed firsthand the gruesome things that can happen to feral cats and to the animals they prey on, PETA cannot in good conscience oppose euthanasia as a humane alternative to dealing with cat overpopulation.
Why, then, do folks still promote TNR? And how does it jibe with recommendations from the Kauai Feral Cat Task Force? I'll delve into those questions more deeply in my next post on this topic.