Paradigm shift at HSI

I won’t pretend to be an expert in the No-Kill movement in animal sheltering. I hardly think anyone else could be more disturbed by the notion of euthanizing unwanted animals simply because owners are too irresponsible to consider caring for a pet for life, including preventing litters being born. But this breaking news from the Humane Society of Indianapolis (I don’t even see it on their website yet, though I’m on a mailing list that alerted me tonight) announces that in two weeks, the private shelter that has been Open Admission for thirty years is going to require “reservations” to surrender an animal. They are NOT using the term No-Kill, I should note, and I am not trying to put words in their press release. But I have some concerns from the fallout of these decisions, and wonder if certain popular points with No-Kill (namely the ability to claim most or all of your intakes go home with someone) drive this change in policy.

“Open Admission” is currently described on their website:

We accept animals regardless of their temperament, health status, origin, age or breed. There may be times during the week when we have limited space for a specific type of animal (for example, our cat areas may be full). During these times we will not turn animals away. We will, however, make the surrendering patron aware of the limited space. The more space available, the more time we have to work with an animal that may arrive with behavioral or health issues. At that point it is up to the patron to decide whether to surrender the animal on that day, or keep the animal until more space is available. We will also advise patrons if the only option at HSI, based on the animal’s history or observed behavior, is euthanasia.

Reasonable idea, right? Well, the new plan:

HSI will accept the surrender of owned cats and dogs by appointment only. This “Reservation Required” system is designed to help pet owners make an informed decision before they give up their pets due to destructive or aggressive behavior, an inability to be housetrained, living arrangements, health issues or because the animal does not get along with children or other pets.

I am ALL FOR personal responsibility. But you know what? I’ve been doing rescue for a few years and a few hundred animals now, and 95% of the time someone contacts us to surrender their rabbit, they have an excuse, and when we offer to help them solve the behavior, health, or living arrangement issue, they balk and just want an easy out. These are not the people you are going to convince to keep their cat who pees outside the litterbox by sending them handouts and websites. These are the people who will drive their cat to Animal Care and Control, a city organization that must accept all animals, or who will set their cat free to die of disease, hunger, or being run over by a car, or it will survive and reproduce to be an ongoing plague of kittens, kittens, kittens.

Why? Because people want convenience and an excuse. We are a busy, self-centered culture and we don’t like to make appointments, just like we don’t want to think about how much a vet bill will cost or how the dog might live 15 years when we purchase a very cute puppy on impulse. Sure, there are organizations who can help rehome some of the unwanted animals. And I’m not saying HSI isn’t on the right philosophy track to help people keep their pets. But I am willing to bet most people are not going to see the light and keep Fluffy.

I hope I’m wrong. But what I see here is pushing a community problem onto an even more resource-strapped government agency. When you take the stray you find or your own pet to ACC, who will be there? A large number of the 4000 animals HSI took in and euthanized in recent annual totals. Let’s assume they now won’t accept them in the first place, knowing they’ll have to kill them for space, medical reason, temperament, what have you. ACC will bear the brunt of those thousands of unwanted animals. And people will set many pets free, further strapping ACC resources to capture strays, not to mention the public nuisance and the absolute tragedy each pet will face being homeless.

HSI can do whatever it pleases because it is a private organization. Lacking a comprehensive plan on the part of ACC, though (and the press release says that details of a joint plan to deal with this change in the city are coming soon), I think HSI is failing to serve our community by pushing the burden back on government, at least for the short term. The lofty goals of placing adoptable animals in forever homes have to come with a commitment to high-volume, low-cost spay and neuter (HSI has not historically wanted anything to do with that in Indianapolis) and willingness to partner with the community, not just to hand-select which cute animals will join the shelter after the educated white people willing to go through interviews and education before being allowed to surrender their energetic lab who they just don’t have time for have the chance to drop him by for a pre-scheduled evaluation.

I think No-Kill is an admirable goal (and again, that’s not what HSI is saying they’re doing), but it takes a plan. I don’t see one yet–I can’t wait to hear about the “joint plan,” though it’s one for the transition. Does that mean it’s just to get us through, and not a comprehensive solution? Meanwhile this (from the press release) burns me:

(S)tray animals are best handled by municipal animal control facilities whose officers are on community streets looking out for animals that may have gotten away from their owners.

HSI has been a safer, more comfortable place to take a stray for a long time. Ever been to the city pound? It’s so loud I can’t believe any dog can stand it in the kennels. Surrendering a stray seems like a criminal activity with the buzzer and locked doors and smelly intake and staff resigned to the depressing fate of many of the animals. I always thought of HSI as a real chance for a stray to find a home, because they’d be less stressed and adopters actually like going there. I didn’t mind paying a surrender fee and often offered an additional donation because I believed they were doing good and necessary work. And forget the idea that we have enough animal control officers to safely and humanely round up strays to get them home. They are rounded up in a jail-like vehicle to go to a jail-like facility. I think ACC does the best they can with what they have, but that’s exactly why HSI filled a niche for a better option, taking the burden off intakes at the pound.

I can’t think of anything sadder than the last moments of the 15,000 animals Indianapolis euthanizes each year. Who is making a difference? Groups like F.A.C.E., who meet the community where they are: in the urban areas with low-cost services for alteration and vaccinations. And a mandatory spay/neuter law in Indianapolis would help a hell of a lot (are you listening, city government?). I really want HSI’s plan to work, but it can’t work in a vacuum. There are too many cast-off animals who won’t fit their pretty mold. We need a community plan to solve pet homelessness, not fundraising for the few. HSI has the ability to be a powerful force for change and solution in Indianapolis and I hate to see that thrown away to have their high percentage of quality adoptions when our city suffers from a quantity problem, affected by socioeconomic forces and a selfish population.

3 thoughts on “Paradigm shift at HSI

  1. I understand where you are coming from and I, too, have “reservations” as to the efficacy of the IHS new “Reservations Required” policy for surrendering pets.

    There is no one single, across the board “cure” for the animal over population issues that plague, not only Indianapolis and Indiana but the entire country.

    Educating the masses is a beginning and getting government to accept that there IS a pet over population problem are two things that would go a long way in reducing the problem. But until people learn to respect life, in all it’s forms, which is the real problem, no real headway will be made.

    I hope this new policy works, but as with any other policy it will only work as well as all the PEOPLE involved want it to work and do their part to MAKE it work.

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