Lessons Learned From Spay TN Meeting

In an effort to learn more about the pet homelessness crisis in the Volunteer state, I attended a meeting of “Spay Tennessee” yesterday. The organization, founded by Julie Jacobsen, is a diverse yet tightly knit group of professionals and volunteers dedicated to seeing pets get spayed and neutered in the state.

  1. There is no such thing as a “no-kill” shelter.

The biggest myth the public has regarding animal shelters revolves around the term “no-kill.” Many think this means shelters branding themselves with this term manage to find forever homes for all pets coming in their doors. This is a falsity.

The reality is that some pets do need euthanasia, particularly those that are terminally ill or those who come in after being deemed arbitrarily by government officials “a threat to the community.”

Right now there are groups using a “balanced definition” of “90 percent release to the community.” However the majority of spay/neuter advocates refrain from using the term “no-kill” because it does not reflect reality.

2. Current spay/neuter laws on the books in Tennessee are unenforceable.

“Alter before adoption” is the best way to describe the current law in Tennessee regarding shelter policies. Before you can adopt a pet, you’re supposed to have that pet spayed or neutered.

Unfortunately, the current laws enforcing this are crafted in a fashion where many shelters can look the other way when adopting pets. Allowing pets to remain intact before adoption may be well meaning, and some areas might not be able to provide for spay/neuter services lacking a veterinarian to perform the surgeries. Unfortunately this only leads to more homeless pets.

3. Every pet spayed or neutered prevents four homeless dogs or cats.

This is what’s called the “factor of four.” Every altered pet means there’s four less homeless pets seeking a forever home. Keep that in mind before you make a decision to keep your pet intact.

4. The “development districts” in Tennessee need to support spay/neuter programs.

Right now Tennessee has nine “development districts” committed to seeing their areas grow and improve. The people sitting on the boards of these development districts are municipal officers, like mayors or clerks.

To date, no development district has devoted funds to spay/neuter services in that district. Improving the quality of life for the district would arguably include reducing the number of homeless pets. Why do the districts not allocate funds to spay/neuter services?

5. Terminology is everything to spay/neuter organizations.

Most of this revolves around grant writing for funding spay/neuter services, not censoring or suppressing terms. Words matter, and the most successful spay/neuter organizations know how to play to their audiences.

A couple of examples: Most organizations refrain from using the term “feral” when describing certain dogs or cats. The preferred term is “community” since “feral” tends to play on a person’s negative emotions. Similarly, the term “reckless pet ownership” is preferable to “irresponsible pet ownership” because none of these organizations want to demean the people they serve.

6. The road to true “n0-kill” is enforcing “alter before adoption.”

Every pet that leaves a shelter intact contributes to more homeless pets, not matter the intention of the shelter or the adoptive family. That intact pet runs the risk of producing four new homeless pets. If we as a state are to really see “no-kill” come close to its literal definition, we must begin enforcing a strict “alter before adoption” policy for humane societies, and make sure pets leave shelters either spayed or neutered.

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