St. John’s metro does not have a no-kill shelter, but one woman is determined to change that, and she’s reopening the controversial debate on animal euthanasia. Shawn Hayward looks at the issue from both sides.
Kelly Ann Molloy loves animals, and based on the response to the Facebook group she started, so do a lot of Newfoundlanders. More than 4,900 people have joined her group calling for a no-kill animal shelter in St. John’s.
Molloy wants to start a shelter that could hold 300-400 animals comfortably and would be supervised by volunteers 24 hours a day. She hopes to fundraise $500,000 to build the shelter, and she says she’s already gotten offers of money and land from people who have seen her group.
The first step, she says, is to be recognized as a non-profit organization by the City of St. John’s.
“If I can prove I can raise the money, I think that I can get the city’s support,” says Molloy, who is a business marketing student at College of the North Atlantic.
No-kill animal shelters have spread across North America since the City of San Francisco adopted the policy in 1994. Specifics vary depending on the shelter, but most shelters claiming to be no-kill don’t euthanize animals that are healthy and well-behaved enough to be adopted, while traditional shelters will only hold adoptable animals for a certain amount of time before putting them down.
“Any animal like that deserves a chance,” says Molloy.
The term “no-kill” can be misleading, because no-kill shelters do euthanize animals that are sick or have behavioural problems.
“It’s not rational to say you can keep every animal alive,” she says. “Any animal that is suffering, or has had such a hard time that they have temperament problems, if it costs so much to keep them alive and rehabilitate them where they can go back to a home healthy and safe, then a no-kill shelter has to step back.”
When the proposed no-kill shelter has to step back, the SPCA, along with Humane Services of the City of St. John’s, step in, being the two organizations that euthanize animals in the city. The SPCA alone euthanized 827 animals in 2008, providing homes for another 1061.
Debbie Powers, executive director of the St. John’s SPCA, says she supports anyone who cares about animals, but is sceptical about the no-kill policy.
“I’m sorry, but I think it’s unrealistic,” she says. “But that’s not to knock anybody that’s trying to do anything that’s good and well-run.”
In Powers’ mind, spaying and neutering is the answer to animal control. She told The Scope that in June the SPCA, in partnership with Humane Services, will unveil a new program for low-income families that will pay 25 per cent of the cost to spay or neuter cats, a procedure that can cost between $200 and $250.
In a telephone conversation, Powers advised Molloy to visit the province’s only no-kill animal shelter in Stephenville. The shelter has faced repeated court action from the provincial government and SPCA, claiming it’s overcrowded and run-down, and that animals are getting sick as a result.
In September, the Department of Natural Resources ordered the shelter to reduce its population of 23 dogs and 82 cats by half. In an interview with CBC’s Radio Noon on May 22, shelter manager Gwen Samms reported they now have 90 animals, a 15 per cent reduction.
Stephenville is typical of shelters that hold animals indefinitely, according to Powers.
Molloy says she’s been in contact with the manager and takes away a different lesson from Samms’ experience running the shelter.
“I learned that I’m going to have resistance,” she says. “I learned that there are people in this province that just don’t like the words ‘no-kill.’”
There are no-kill shelter success stories. The Tompkins County SPCA in New York State became no-kill in 2002 and achieved a 92 per cent adoption rate a year later. Powers says a no-kill shelter in St. John’s would only work if the animals were given lots of room. And more room costs more money.
“If it’s going to be that they’re going to have all the space in the world, how can you knock that?” she says. “But how can you keep an animal in a confined cage for the rest of its life? That is inhumane, as far as I’m concerned.”
Both Molloy and Powers feel another shelter would take the pressure off the SPCA and Humane Services, but Powers says she’d only consider releasing animals into the care of another shelter if it was large enough to ensure a good quality of life—something Molloy says she’d demand of her shelter.
“I wouldn’t want to build something too small,” she says. “If I’m going to have a building, I want to make sure we’ve got ample room.”
The SPCA gets $50,000 a year from the provincial government, a contribution the province only started making two years ago, and $12,000 from the City of St. John’s. With an annual budget of $350,000, the SPCA relies heavily on private donations, and another shelter could divert precious dollars from the organization.
While humans debate the ethics of animal euthanization, cats and dogs continue to end up abandoned on animal shelter doorsteps. Powers estimates the SPCA gets 15 to 20 cats a day from owners who can’t or don’t want to care for them, animals Molloy says deserve more time than is now being given to them.
“They’re more like an accessory than a part of the family for the most part,” she says. “I know some people consider animals as their children, but I’ve never seen people dispose of their children so quickly.”
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