Very few people would defend that position, but it can still be hard to change old, entrenched ways of thinking, especially when we believe they're in the animals' best interests.
But what if animal shelters hadn't evolved the way they had? In fact, what if animal shelters had never existed, and you were creating the first? Would you automatically assume that every single shelter needed to take animals in literally around the clock, 365 days a year?
And if you did, how would you implement that policy? Would you have 24/7 staffing? Unattended drop boxes? Veterinarians on call for sick or injured animals?
How would you handle such admissions when the facility was full, and there not only was no more housing space, but not enough money to pay to feed the animals, or get veterinary care?
What if that admission policy meant you could only take in animals around the clock, no questions asked, if you routinely killed other animals who had been there longer?
Those are the challenges of an unmanaged admission system, that puts no restrictions on when or how animals will enter the facility. Either care suffers, or animals lives are lost, or massive resources are needed to provide space, time, veterinary attention, food, water, enrichment and adoption opportunity for a large numbers of pets who might come in at a specific time.
Now, imagine a different system. Imagine you asked community members to schedule non-emergency surrender for their pets. Imagine you had publicized this policy, and most -- not all, just most -- people knew about it and accepted it.
Would your intake level out, allowing you to avoid the peaks and valleys of kitten season, or a hoarding bust, and still keep some capacity for emergency intake for pets whose families couldn't or wouldn't wait?
Or would animals just be turned loose in the parking lot, to suffer an unknown fate, or taken to nearby shelters that kept the old, unmanaged admission policy?
Shelters that have turned this from a thought experiment into a real one have found, often to their own surprise, that the results have been overwhelmingly positive.
Most community members accepted the change. Many people were able to overcome obstacles to keeping their pets during the waiting period, often with resources made available to them through the shelter. Sometimes, all that was needed was help with spay/neuter or vet bills, or a little pet food to tide them over while they sought a new job. In those cases, the cost to the shelter was usually far less than if the pet was admitted.
Additionally, other facilities in the region didn't see increased intake, and the number of stray animals and those found dead in the road did not go up.
Is it possible that, by managing admission in some way, animal shelters can actually serve more animals, and serve them better?
If that question intrigues you and you'd like to know more, visit our Manged Admission Learning Track. While you're there, pay particular attention to Managed Admission: Giving Shelter Cats Their Best Chance at a Great Outcome, a recent webcast with Barbara Carr, Executive Director of the SPCA Serving Erie County, NY, and Kathie Johnson, Senior Director of Operations at the Animal Humane Society in Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN.
Then ask yourself: Is what we're doing now really the best we can do? Or is there a better way?