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  • Mike Fry

No Kill Battle in Twin Cities, MN: It's [Almost] Over

It was nearly exactly twenty years ago that I first began advocating for No Kill shelter policies in my home Twin Cities towns of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota. Back then, it would be easy to describe the situation in nearly all of the shelters here as a yearly massacre.

According to the very first shelter survey I put out at that time Minneapolis and St. Paul animal control were doing quite badly, each showing live release rates (LRR) of only 49% each. The local nonprofit “humane societies” were not doing much better, with most of them having save rates of just over 50%. Collectively about 20,000 dogs and cats lost their lives every year in these shelters, and often in horrific ways. Back then gas chambers were still in use, and were the primary method shelters in the area used to destroy pets.

Between then and now a lot has changed. During a time when I and several other animal advocates fought hard for important reforms at the shelters, often times needing to very publicly battle with the animal shelters themselves. Given that humans and organizations tend to resist change, it is not surprising, in retrospect that every step of the way the shelters that needing reform were the same agencies that resisted the reforms the most.

Take, for example, spay/neuter programs: Twin Cities area animal shelters refused to even surgically sterilize pets prior to adoption. They had all kinds of excuses for not doing so, like, they could not afford it, or that they would be wasting resources if they did. They refused to acknowledge they were sending a mixed message by failing to sterilize pets before adoption. On one hand, they were telling people spay/neuter was critically important. On the other hand, they were not bothering to spay/neuter their animals themselves, even when they could have done it at a fraction of the normal retail cost at the vet.

Ultimately, getting them to change their spay/neuter policies prior to adoption required them to be publicly shamed into doing so. A similar pattern could be observed with nearly every reform. As much as you might hope that animal shelters would not resist banning gas chambers as means to kill pets, the opposite was true of shelters here. Even though such chambers are widely regarded as inhumane, and even though they had been outlawed elsewhere, shelters here continued using them until about the year 2000. They gave them up only after the Animal Rights Coalition was staging protests, and a local news agency aired video of dogs and cats being gassed in a carbon monoxide chamber. After that, they finally gave up the gas chamber for lethal injection.

Pick the recommendation by No Kill advocates and the response from the shelters has been the same year after year… Resist. Resist. Resist.

Not only did shelters in this area not offer trap, neuter, release (TNR) services for free-roaming cats; when cats came in they assumed were “feral” they frequently killed them on arrival in violation of State law.

To put an end to that, a group of us threatened a lawsuit and filed complaints with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health (which oversees animal shelters). Blogs were written. The press was contacted. Only then did some local shelters stop illegally killing “feral” cats on arrival, and begin, instead, embracing TNR.

Suffice it to say that it has been a long, hard slog for No Kill advocates in the Twin Cities area. Recent shelter reports, howevershamed, indicate the battle is nearly over, with No Kill advocates having prevailed in nearly every battle. The war is about over. Pardon the expression… but, that larger-than-average, female opera singer is warming up her voice. And, the finale is about to start!

Though the Twin Cities metro area is not yet No Kill, the 2015 shelter reports for the area are music to the ears of those of us who have dedicated our lives to ending the killing of pets in shelters here.

For starters… the numbers of pets entering shelters has continued dropping as shelters have implemented key programs, like TNR, spay/neuter, pet retention and others. At the same time, the number leaving alive has increased as other programs have gone into place, like proactive redemption, cooperation with rescue groups, and creative adoption campaigns.

How much difference have these efforts made? In 2015 exactly 3,060 animals lost their lives in animal shelters. Those numbers include animals that either died, were euthanized because they were terminal and suffering, or that were killed in spite of being healthy or treatable. To put that number in perspective, it is down by nearly 90% of the starting point of about 20,000. Additionally, since this number includes animals that could not be saved (died) and those that needed humane euthanasia, the number actually killed, that could have been saved, is down to just over 1,000. The overwhelming majority of the remaining improvement is split between two shelters: Animal Humane Society and Minneapolis Animal Care and Control, both of which have made great progress, but still have areas where continued improvements could save more lives.

Animal Humane Society specifically lists just over 700 animals they classified as “healthy/treatable” but that were "euthanized" in their annual report. Had those 700 animals left AHS alive, and had Minneapolis Animal Care and Control increased its save rate to match that of its counterpart in Saint Paul, the greater Twin Cities Metro area would be the largest No Kill community in the USA, serving a population of more than 2.8 million people.

Reflecting on all of this, it is shocking how far we have come. The tens of thousands of lives being saved now, because of No Kill programs and advocacy, make the effort worth it, in my opinion. That being said, those 1,000 lives currently being lost are worth fighting for, too.

It is my sincere hope that after 20 years of battling, these shelters will make the final transition by declaring that every life of every pet they handle matters, is worthy of care and deserves to be protected.

We have come so far. Just a little way to go… “Woo Hoo!” and “Stay tuned!”

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