Dear Shelters: Healthy Free-Roaming Cats Don't Need Rescue
A regular parade of healthy free-roaming cats visit the catnip plants in my garden every day. These felines are happy and content and don't need animal shelters to "rescue" them.
While No Kill continues gaining momentum across the country, some opponents keep arguing against it. One of the most unusual, and in many ways dishonest, arguments against No Kill comes in the form of equating No Kill to “limited admission.” People who use this approach to cast disfavor on No Kill say, in effect, that there are two kinds of animal shelters: “open admission” shelters and No Kill shelters. The reasoning goes that if a shelter is an open door to any and all animals, then they have no choice but to kill animals. They usually go on to say that No Kill shelters limit their admission, and, thereby push the killing on to the “open admission” shelters.
This argument might sway some of the general public, namely those who have little or no experience working on behalf of animals. But, with even a small amount of scrutiny from someone who works in the field, that argument falls flat on its face and proves to have no merit.
For one thing, there is no such thing as an “open admission” shelter, at least not in the way opponents of No Kill describe them. All responsible shelters limit their admissions in some way. Some draw relatively arbitrary geographic boundaries around the animals they will serve. Nearly all limit the species they will accept. Some require an appointment to drop off a pet, and then limit the number of appointments they will schedule in a day. Some charge a surrender fee, which can very much limit intake.
From every perspective, the “No Kill” vs. “open admission” argument is pure straw man that is brought up frequently by No Kill opponents. They are quick to complain if a No Kill shelter stops accepting healthy stray cats. If a shelter does not take in healthy stray cats, the argument goes, it is easy to become No Kill, they say. They also say shelters that don’t impound healthy stray cats are no longer “open admission.” There are, however, massive holes in that argument, too.
In most of the United States, it is perfectly legal to allow your pet cat to roam outside, and many people do. Regardless of whether or not anyone believes they should do that, they do, and they do it perfectly legally. Additionally, there is strong evidence that these free-roaming felines provide valuable benefits to their communities.
I, for example, have begun planting catnip in my garden in order to attract the neighborhood cats - some of whom have been "working" the neighborhood for more than a decade. They help keep down the number of rodents (especially rabbits) that are eating the garden. And, frankly, there are insufficient native predators in the area to do this naturally.
The photo at the top of this blog post is of one of our neighborhood cats paying a visit to a catnip plant in early spring. From the time the catnip begins to grow new green leaves there is a steady stream of neighborhood cats that visit my garden that lasts until the leaves are dried and gone. All of the felines are robust and healthy. Some are super-friendly and wear collars. Some are wild and cautious and only visit when no humans are outside. There is an Orange Tabby who has been in the neighborhood nearly as long as we have lived here, which is about twenty years. There is a cute little Manx who I first met when I had to climb our oak tree several years ago to rescue her. She was just a youngster then, had climbed too high and was afraid to come down. There are two black and white cats: the one in the picture, who acts like he owns the place, and the other one that is shy and tries to sneak into the catnip when none of the other cats are around. Each of the cats is very different. However, they have one thing in common: None of them need rescue. None of them have any need to be hauled off to an animal shelter, especially one where their lives would be at risk.
When animal shelters encourage people to scoop up cats like these and haul them to the shelter, the shelters aren't doing anyone a favor, especially not the cats or the cats' owners.
A key part of the No Kill Equation is getting shelters to keep animals that don't need to be in the shelter out of the shelter. In fact, I would go so far as to say that taking animals that don’t need sheltering into a shelter is irresponsible. On the other hand, intake policies that keep them out of the shelter is humane and responsible.
People who advocate taking healthy free-roaming cats to animal shelters under the label of "open admission" and then who chastise shelters who won’t are truly advocating irresponsible intake policies. Note to animal shelters: These healthy free roaming felines don’t need you. And, that is a very good thing.