When we talk about shelter animals being adoptable, we are talking about them being able to love and be loved by a family who would give them a home. By this definition, only those pets who have been deemed medically hopeless and suffering by a veterinarian or in rare cases, dogs who have been deemed behaviorally hopeless by qualified parties after all rehabilitative efforts have failed would qualify as unadoptable. All other animals in shelters are adoptable. That is to say, there’s someone for everyone. And it’s the shelter director’s job to find that someone for every one of the pets in their care.
In the case of feral cats, “someone” is the community – usually volunteer colony caretakers who feed and monitor free living neutered, vaccinated cats. In other cases, “someone” might be an adopter, rescuer, foster or owner of a pet who’s gotten lost and been picked up by animal control.
Shelter directors encounter a wide array of pets and temperaments – from adorable toy breed dogs to large, strong dogs who don’t play well with others to cats too scared to interact with humans in a shelter environment. Some pets will appeal to a large swath of the public, others to a narrower market. It is the shelter director’s job to find that someone.
No pet is unadoptable due to age. That is simply an excuse for killing, invented by lazy shelter directors who don’t feel like doing their jobs. No matter how young or old, there is someone out there willing to love and be loved by that animal – in some cases, it’s the owner who has lost their beloved pet It is ignorant and cruel to deny this. Imagine if we applied the same standard to babies abandoned at hospitals or elderly people living on the streets. Would we find such a person in need of care and tell them that due to their age, no one could ever possibly love them? That there is no possibility anyone is looking for them due to their age and that death is truly the kindest option? It sounds absurd because it is, no matter what group of sentient beings we are talking about.
Likewise, with the rare exceptions noted in the opening paragraph, no shelter pet is unadoptable due to health or behavior. Like age, this is another excuse for killing invented by lazy shelter directors who won’t do their jobs. Pregnant animals are adoptable. Coughing animals are adoptable. Pets with broken legs are adoptable. Cats who hide at the back of the cage are adoptable. Ninety pound dogs who haven’t yet been trained to walk on a leash are adoptable. And again, there may be owners looking for any of these animals which is why that possibility can not be ruled out during the holding period and why shelters must make all their animals accessible by posting photos of all animals online immediately upon impound.
Granted, these special needs animals are not going to appeal to that wide swath of adopters and rescuers. That’s why they call it work. And why it’s so important that shelter directors have established relationships within the community, so they know how to best market pets with particular needs and who to call when they need help with certain animals. Simply branding all, or any, of these animals as unadoptable and sending them to the kill room has become the standard protocol in too many so-called shelters in this country. Shelter directors do it because they can. And when they do it, they feed into the negative perception held by some that shelters only have broken animals. That you shouldn’t adopt from a shelter because, as is often heard, there’s a reason those animals are there. Their lives have no value – even the shelter director agrees because otherwise, why would he spend so much time killing them? Nobody wants to kill animals, right?
The Companion Animal Protection Act is model legislation which takes away the discretion of shelter directors to kill randomly and in secret. CAPA requires transparency and accountability from shelter directors. It forces them to do their jobs by giving every animal in their care a chance to live and love and be loved. For every animal advocate lamenting the arbitrary killing of pets by their local shelter director whom they believe will never willingly embrace the work of saving lives, getting CAPA passed in your community is an alternative worth exploring.