“If only I had the money, I’d open up a huge sanctuary for all homeless cats and dogs!” I’m sure you have heard this idea expressed as a possible solution to the homeless dog and cat crisis. Over the decades, I’ve found that these comments usually come from those who haven’t really ever given a thought, an hour, or a penny to solving companion animal overpopulation. They love some dogs and cats, but often, they haven’t been exposed to the horrible realities faced by homeless animals and do not yet understand the true causes of—and solutions to—the problem.
Many organizations have been formed to prey on this kind but impractical notion. Some are run by well-intentioned—but misinformed—people; others are simply started by hoarders or hucksters who find it easier to scam money from people by showing pictures of sanctuary dogs and cats than to raise funds for spay-neuter programs or improve an existing open-admission shelter.
What are my concerns with sanctuaries? After all, surely most of the sanctuary founders care about animals?! Why criticize sanctuaries for dogs and cats? Wouldn’t it be better to spend time and effort on going after the thoughtless people who buy animals from breeders and pet stores only to discard them later without a second’s hesitation?
Here’s the unfortunate truth about many “sanctuaries.” PETA’s caseworkers get calls every week from concerned individuals who report terrible crowding and suffering of animals in canine/feline “sanctuaries.” And every week, they get calls from sanctuaries that are about to run out of money and close and don’t know what to do with the animals in their care.
Last week, a friend who runs a spay-neuter clinic at an open-admission shelter received a call from a woman who stated that she ran a tax-exempt sanctuary for cats but could not afford the clinic’s $30 spay-neuter fee. She went on to mention that the cats in her “sanctuary” were breeding and that she is running out of space and needs the clinic’s help.
This woman couldn’t even determine the gender of the kittens and had no idea that kittens could be safely altered. And yet she’s accepting donations to “help” cats and using her Web and print materials to condemn “kill” shelters! Of course, the “kill” shelter that runs the spay-neuter program did the right thing by providing her with the needed assistance as well as educating her about proper cat care. Thankfully, the “kill” shelter cares more about ending breeding, the true cause of the overpopulation problem, than making a point.
It is her “no kill” claim that causes the greatest harm. She is helping to convince the public that having more space—rather than ending breeding and educating people (about where to obtain a cat or dog, when to spay or neuter, and how to provide proper care for their entire lives)—is the only way that we’ll end companion animal overpopulation.
I’ve run shelters with hundreds of animals in them, and we provided the highest level of care. But even the best sanctuaries and shelters are never a proper substitute for a home. Unfortunately, “no kill” sanctuaries for dogs and cats divert funding and volunteers from spay-neuter programs and open-admission shelters that desperately need help. They give the public the wrong impression that the overpopulation crisis can be solved if we simply had more space. And worst of all, they leave thousands of homeless cats and dogs to suffer on their own when they turn away animals at the door.
Given all this, would you really want to open a sanctuary? I know I would rather spend my time and efforts ending the suffering of all homeless animals by supporting spay-neuter programs and open-admission shelters.