The Myth of Pet Overpopulation

In light of a number of groups who once championed the No Kill movement, like Austin Pets Alive, abandoning that mission and attempting to revive debunked arguments that rationalized and excused killing — including the canard that killing healthy animals is a kindness performed by kind people — we need to get back to basics. I will be posting a series of articles and podcasts explaining the No Kill philosophy, the programs and services which make it possible, how it is to credit for the rapidly declining death rate over the last two decades, and why expanding on those efforts — rather than abandoning them — is the key to achieving and sustaining a No Kill nation.

Why do animal shelters kill?

For many people, the answer to that question is because there are too many animals and not enough homes or pet overpopulation. If only everyone would spay and neuter their animals, goes this argument, then there wouldn't be so many animals and shelters wouldn't have to kill.

In other words, it's not the fault of animal shelters when they kill animals. It's the fault of irresponsible people. Over 25 years ago as a law student, a rescuer, a community cat caregiver, and a humane society board member, I believed in pet overpopulation, too. And why wouldn't I? Not only was the idea of pet overpopulation the one and only narrative given to explain shelter killing when I entered the movement in my early 20s, but every animal protection group from the very small to the very large and every size in between repeated it again and again and again. 

So woven into the cause of companion animal protection was the notion of pet overpopulation that to even conceive of challenging it's existence, to claim it is in fact a myth, as I later did and still do, came to be viewed not only as heretical, but absurd. What made me question the very foundation upon which virtually all shelter animal advocacy and killing had rested for better than half a century? Why do I now view a belief in pet overpopulation not as the key to understanding and solving our nation's crisis of shelter killing, but the very thing that has enabled it and in many communities allows it to continue? 

Four things:

  1. My experiences as a shelter director who ended the killing in my community.

  2. The experience of other shelter directors who have subsequently done the same.

  3. Doing top-down assessments for shelters all over the country, indeed all over the world and seeing how poorly they were run and all the alternatives to killing they failed to implement.

  1. The numbers; specifically, supply and demand.

Let me explain. 

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