From No More Homeless Pets Movement out of Best Friends, in Utah 
and the guest moderator this week is Clifton Merritt of Animal People.

Question from Barb in ID:

We live in a rural area and are working towards getting a shelter built. We
have no humane society here at this time in this three-county area of about
60,000 people. There has never been a spay-neuter program or feral cat TNR
program of any kind here. We have no idea how many animals to figure on
getting in when we get our shelter open, but we know it will be a lot!
Especially cats. How can we even begin to try to be a no-kill shelter,
knowing we will be inundated as soon as we open our doors? The thought of
having to euthanize all these animals makes us sick! Any suggestions?
Merritt's response:

Under these circumstances, building a shelter is a completely
counterproductive measure. 

It is senseless, mindless, and literally the very last thing you ought to
be doing--and you should not even think about doing it until and unless
someone leaves you the land and money to do it. 

Until then, putting money into shelter-building makes less sense than
saturating hundred-dollar bills in tuna oil and using them for feral cat

The most successful approach to preventing rural dog and cat overpopulation
that ANIMAL PEOPLE has ever seen is the "No-kill, no-shelter" concept
pioneered in Costa Rica by Alex Valverde, DVM, Gerardo Vicente, DVM,
and Christine Crawford, founder of the McKee Project.

"DJR" is an honorary title I just conferred that stands for Doing the Job

Everything they do in Costa Rica can and should be done in rural parts of
the U.S. as well, for all the same reasons.

Vicente, who is a policy advisor to the Costa Rican Veterinary Licensing
Board and is the former board president, is very proud that Costa Rica has
had no animal control shelters in many years, closed and demolished those
it once had long ago, and does not want or need any more.

As Vicente points out, shelters of any kind take a lot of money to buildand run. Even the U.S., spending $2 billion a year on animal sheltering,
between public and nonprofit investment, does not yet have complete shelter
coverage of every community. 

After more than a century of energetic shelter-building, half of the rural
counties in the U.S. still have no shelter, public or private--and
shelter-building has meanwhile proved to be a completely ineffective
response anyway to the problems associated with homeless dogs and cats. 

All shelter-building does is divert funding and public attention away from
really solving the dog and cat overpopulation problem, while creating the
illusion that institutions are taking care of it.

Enough shelter space can never be built to contain every dog and cat without
a home, so long as dogs and cats breed freely. 

Nor is it possible to lastingly reduce dog and cat overpopulation by killing
the surplus. The U.S. amply demonstrated that during the 20th century,
catching and killing more dogs and cats in shelters, several times over,
than the probable sum of all the dog and cat purges undertaken during all of
the Middle Ages and modern China combined.

No matter how many dogs and cats are killed, as the Italian mathematician
Fibonacci demonstrated nearly 600 years ago, the fertile remainder can
always breed rapidly up to the carrying capacity of the habitat, somewhere
between becoming a public nuisance and suffering starvation.

Poor areas, rural areas, and developing nations, Vicente emphasizes,
cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the rich. 

Animal shelters will always become death camps and slaughterhouses, Vicente
points out, if dog and cat reproduction is not controlled BEFORE the
shelters are built. 

If the population is controlled, the role of animal control shelters in
housing the relatively few animals who require quarantine or special care
could be done as efficiently by shelterless nonprofit humane societies,
using fostering networks. 

This is most especially true of rural areas, where the distances to be
traveled to use a centralized shelter tend to become an incentive to dumping
animals instead. Rather than spending money to run a shelter, animal
rescuers need to set up a network which enables the nearest rescuer to
collect any animal who is being surrendered, and then deliver the animal to
the most appropriate foster home. The coordinating office needs no more
than a desk, a telephone, Internet service, and the fundraising capacity
to help the fostering volunteers cover their costs, including the costs of
sterilizing and vaccinating the incoming animals.Adoption placements can be arranged in four different ways:

#1 - By using the offsite adoption programs of PETsMART and Petco,
if they exist in the community.

#2 - By arranging frequent offsite adoption events around the

#3 - By using a web site with photos to help advertise the
availability of the animals.

#4 - By setting up a working agreement with a nearby big-city
shelter which can place any overflow of puppies and kittens and otherwise
easily adoptable animals. These days many and perhaps most big-city
shelters have a shortage of highly adoptable animals, but rural
organizations are still getting lots of them. As a result, literally
hundreds of rural organizations are now successfully providing animals to
big-city shelters, who are better situated to compete against pet shops and
puppy mills in placing animals in homes.

If you really want to solve the homeless dog and cat problem, eliminate
strays, and eliminate all the problems that go with them, you need to
start by providing low-cost or free sterilization and vaccination. 

In a rural area, you do not even need a fixed-site clinic, which is often
a necessity in inner cities. Neither do you need a mobile clinic, in most
cases, although having one can be handy.

What you need are veterinarians who participate in your program as partners
and are appropriately compensated, including with subsidies for all the
low-cost sterilizations and vaccinations that they do for people you send to

You also need a transportation pool to relay animals to and from the clinic
for the rural elderly, disabled, and poor people whose access to
transportation may be limited.

Being able to provide feral cat trapping help is also a good idea. If you
provide the traps and the trappers, you can be sure that the job is done
right and that no animals are harmed. If you merely loan out traps, or
provide no practical help at all, mistakes will be made.

Vets, wheels, and feral cat-catchers are the necessities. 

Later you can add an adoption center if the region seems likely to support
one, and a care-for-life sanctuary if you inherit the money to do it. 

If your sterilization and vaccination program is successful, meanwhile,you will never need conventional animal control shelters and so-called
full-service humane societies that kill most of the animals they purport to

You need a good low-cost sterilization and vaccination program first,
because whether or not pet owners are able to afford sterilization and
vaccination, or are responsible enough to do it, it still needs to be
done, for the benefit of the entire community, including the animals.

Shelters evolved from pounds during the late 19th century, and the whole
purpose of pounds was to prevent animals from running at large. 

We have better technology for doing that now. We have not really needed
pounds in 80 years, when the conventional sterilization surgical procedures
were first approved as safe by the American Veterinary Medical Association,
soon after the principle of preventing rabies through vaccination was
approved. Building a pound these days makes about as much sense as building
a crystal set in order to listen to the radio or buying a manual typewriter
to handle high-volume correspondence.

You may encounter great resistance from some directions to the idea of
"rewarding" so-called "irresponsible" pet keepers by sterilizing and
vaccinating their animals for them, instead of trying to find some way to
punish them. 

It is often said that these people should not have pets. 

That may be true, but such arguments are irrelevant to reality. 

The fact is, people in need of help to get their pets sterilized do have
dogs and cats, and those animals do need sterilization and vaccination.
Merely impounding the animals does not serve the need or solve the problem.

Ignoring that need is like ignoring that your neighbor's house is on fire
just because you happen to know that he smokes in bed. Whether or not your
neighbor is a fool, the fire must be put out to reduce possible harm to
your own house.

After you have a successful sterilization and vaccination program,
establishing a pet adoption center might make sense, depending on the
traffic patterns of your region, because in order to find homes for
adoptable dogs and cats, you need to have them in a convenient location,
where it is easy for them to attract people's attention, where the animals
can be happy and healthy and comfortable, and where they can get whatever
training they may need to succeed in a home while they await adoption. 

None of that can be done effectively in dreary rows of steel-and-cement
cages out beside the town dump. Placing these animals in good homesrequires treating them as if they have value. Treat them as if they have
value, and people will want them--and the way you treat animals, as humane
representatives, will be perceived as the appropriate standard of pet care.

Let me briefly point out here that dogs do not go kennel-crazy from being in
a shelter too long. Rather, they go kennel-crazy because conventional
animal shelter design couldn't be better designed if they were put together
by mad scientists whose sole object was to drive dogs insane--and, by the
way, if you have in mind building any kind of so-called "shelter" that
resembles the usual, you are not just doing something that will be

You are also committing an offense against animal well-being, for which the
penalty ought to be five days of living on bread and water in the typical
"shelter" cell. 

The standard cement-floored, cement-and-chain-link walled, tin-roofed dog
run is an atrocity, which thoughtlessly evolved from the layout of horse
stalls in the Middle Ages. Humane societies copied the manner in which
hunting packs were kept, in spare horse stalls, without giving the
slightest consideration to the behavioral differences between dogs and

Dogs need compatible companions, they need room to run, they need security
from being stared at from a close distance by strange dogs, they need
outdoor air and light, and they need to be able to dig. 

Give a dog what a dog needs, and it is very easy to keep dogs happy and
healthy. Deprive a dog of any of these things, and you will soon have sick
and despairing dogs. 

Teach a community to deprive a dog of these things, and you will have a
community full of maladjusted dogs being surrendered to shelters or dumped
on the street--which may be exactly what you already have, partly because
of the past 125 years of humane societies setting a piss-poor example.

Cats need to be able to climb--and they prefer a quiet environment. There
is no animal easier to care for than a cat. Even great apes in zoos often
keep pet cats successfully--and so has at least one now deceased grizzly

Unfortunately, great apes and the occasional bear in zoos often have a
better sense of what a cat needs than humane society shelter directors. 

Too often I visit humane societies full of nervous, panic-stricken, and
diseased cats, who are kept in cells the size of a microwave oven, where
they have to listen to 100 kennel-crazed dogs barking all night and all day.
That is not a humane way to keep a cat; it is a kitty torture chamber, and
if the ancient Egyptians were right that human beings will face a cat on
Judgement Day, many a shelter director may be passing a very hot eternity.

If you keep dogs and cats in a facility that looks like a jail and smells
like a cesspool, dogs and cats all over town will be treated like prisoners
on a chain-gang, because the condition of your facility sends the message
that you think this is okay. 

If you treat dogs and cats as if they are honored guests, the community
standards will rise to your standard. This too has been proved time and

Finally, after you have a very effective outreach sterilization and
vaccination program, and after you have an adoption program that places
every animal who can be quickly placed, and after the resources become
available as result of your inspirational effect on your community, it is
worthwhile to start a care-for-life sanctuary as a backup to the rest of
your system, for the animals who cannot be adopted out, because many
people will not surrender a dog or cat to a humane organization if they
think the animal might be killed. Instead, they will abandon the animal
somewhere "to give him a chance," or "give her a chance." That animal may
then contribute to the breeding population of street dogs and feral cats.

People give up pets for all sorts of reasons. Whether or not we think the
reasons are "valid," giving up pets is a fact of life which must be
accommodated. It must be understood that many of these pets are given up
not because they are not loved, but because desperate people feel they have
no choice: they have lost their job, lost a home, an animal has bitten or
scratched a child, the spouse hates the animal, the landlord is
threatening to evict them, or someone has died and the pet-keeper is so
depressed he or she just can't cope. 

If these people feel the pet is going to either find a home or be well
looked after at a sanctuary, they will bring the animal into the
adoption-and-care network. The animal will not end up having "accidental"
litters out on the streets, further contributing to the homeless animal

Animal control agencies that can respond immediately to nuisance animal
complaints and act as a dog-and-cat lost-and-found are very nice to
have--but they are not what it takes to end pet overpopulation and shelter

Full-service humane societies that can provide emergency veterinary care,
do humane education, do animal rescue, and investigate cruelty complaints
are also nice to have. 

Yet they are also not what it takes to end pet overpopulation and shelter

A community placing the first emphasis on developing animal control agencies
and full-service humane societies, in short, is just plain going in the
wrong direction. It needs to slam on the brakes, turn around, and go back
to what really needs to be done.

Go the right way, and you can get to no-kill animal control while solving
all the community animal problems very quickly.

Go the wrong way, and you will spend the next century repeating all the
same dimwitted mistakes that the U.S. humane community made throughout the
last century.