We are sometimes asked why we are not a “no-kill” organization or are chided for not being one. Simply put, the term no-kill doesn’t typically mean that animals are not euthanized. What it “may” mean is that euthanasia is limited to animals that are truly suffering or are aggressive to the point they pose a threat to public safety. For shelters that only take in “selected” animals, more often non-profit organizations, low euthanasia numbers are much easier to attain. This is due to the fact they have no obligation to accept animals that are not adoptable. They can refer aggressive, unhealthy, or old animals to open access shelters, like us. So, in the interest of honestly and transparency, we are trying to move away from using “no-kill” to describe any shelter and to using “high live release” instead. And that is the direction we are heading.
Another point deserving of clarification is the 90% goal that many shelters have in order to consider themselves “no-kill” or high live release. There was never a study conducted anywhere to support the theory that 90% is the magic number that all shelters should strive for. It is entirely arbitrary and meaningless when it comes to day to day life in an animal shelter. For example, some shelters may get a larger number of truly unhealthy, medically challenged animals than another shelter. Perhaps a large number of very ill hoarded cats are seized at one time from one location. In spite of best efforts, sicker animals may not be medically recoverable and therefore may be euthanized. Is that shelter “not as good” as the shelter that simply doesn’t receive many severely ill or injured pets? And who is to say that every day, month or year, every shelter in every part of the country should be able to achieve a 90% live release rate? Is that reasonable when the number and type of animals coming in varies widely from region to regions, state to state, and shelter to shelter? And why not 95% or 88%? Again, there is no reason for 90% other than someone said it and it stuck. The goal should always be to save as many lives as possible without compromising public safety and becoming a high live release shelter.
So what does all this mean for Osceola County Animal Services? In short, we have implemented many programs and services over the course of the past 5-6 years that have increased our live release rate from an estimated 25-30% in 2012 to 74% for 2018. We expect our live release rate to be higher in 2019 and will continue to improve until we know we have reached the pinnacle without allowing animals to suffer unnecessarily or animals to be adopted that threaten public safety. We want to reach a point where we no longer euthanize for reasons other than severe medical conditions where animals are not responding to treatment or where injury or illness is so extreme, the animal has a poor prognosis not only for survival, but for having a reasonably good quality of life. Quality of life matters for animals and should be taken into consideration when making difficult decisions. And at some point, when quality of life is compromised enough, suffering begins.
And animals, dogs in particular, that pose a risk to the safety of public should not be released either. In Osceola County, we have had many serious bites just this year and we certainly do not want to knowingly add to those numbers. Most often the victims of serious bites and attacks are children or the elderly. In Osceola County, at least for this year, young children are most often victims and attacks have occurred without provocation. It is important to note that statistically, stray dogs account for the minority of bites and owned pets that are known to the victim account for the lion’s share.
So, where will we end up? The honest answer is we don’t know. We do know we have much room to increase our live release rate and are committed do doing the work to make that happen. By becoming a high live release shelter, the end result is to never have to euthanize any animal unless it is for severe medical issues or aggression. The high release status will only be attainable as we grow, learn and adapt to the needs of our ever changing community.
We hope you will join us in the fight to help the pets and owners of Osceola County by getting involved through becoming a volunteer, being an adopter, a foster parent, a donor, or social network promoter. Osceola County Animal Services is Your community animal shelter so please help us make it the best it can be. Thank you.