Oct 15, 2020 Two Book Reviews on Animal Sheltering
Prodigal Pets: A History of Animal Sheltering in America and the Origin of the No Kill Movement (2018) by Susan K. Houser
Replacing Myth with Math: Using Evidence-Based Programs to Eradicate Shelter Overpopulation by Peter Marsh, Town and Country Reprographics, Inc.
There are very few publications that provide detailed accounts of the significant changes and developments in animal sheltering in America over the past 70 years. Peter Marsh’s book, Replacing Myth with Math: Using Evidence-Based Programs to Eradicate Shelter Overpopulation, appeared in 2010 and was the first such analysis. It covered the period from 1970 to 2008. Susan Houser’s book, Prodigal Pets: A History of Animal Sheltering in America and the Origin of the No Kill Movement, published in 2018 is the second and contains a rich history of the movement. It extends the Marsh analysis both backwards and forwards. These publications fill an important gap in animal shelter literature as they both do an excellent job of documenting changes in animal sheltering and public attitudes over time.
Peter Marsh’s book makes greater use of charts and tables to demonstrate how shelter intake and euthanasia changed from 1970 to 2008. He argues that there is a very strong relationship between total shelter intake and total euthanasia whereas there is only a weak relationship between intake and adoption. In other words, adoption has played only a small role in the big reduction in shelter euthanasia from 1970 onwards. Therefore, he argues that the most effective policy approaches should be focused on initiatives to reduce intake rather than attempts to increase adoptions. However, his analysis (and charts) only go up to 2008 and there are indications that increases in adoption have been more important in reducing euthanasia over the last decade (2009-2019).
Houser’s Prodigal Pets is not as focused on developing arguments for specific initiatives but rather she aims to provide historical context for the changes that have taken place. The book is divided into six parts – the first part discusses the beginning of animal sheltering in the US with a chapter each on Philadelphia, New York and Boston. The second part (three chapters) discusses the traditional animal shelter of the 20th century but is mostly focused on the period covered by Marsh and includes a chapter on euthanasia and another on pound seizure. The third part addresses the pet overpopulation crisis (basically the period running from around 1973 to 2000). The second half of the book then deals with the history of the No Kill idea and movement and how it has been thoroughly incorporated into current-day thinking about animal sheltering and rescue. It includes chapters on the North Shore Animal league and their focus on marketing to increase adoptions, the San Francisco SPCA (2 chapters) that was a pioneer of the no-kill idea, of the development of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) for the control of outdoor cats, the role of Lynda Foro in the movement’s development and the impact of the Best Friends Animal Society over the last twenty years.
In her Epilogue, Houser states that the number of cats and dogs taken into shelters may have been around 22 million in 1970. At the time, there were around 60 million pet dogs and cats in the country so shelter intake was equivalent to around one third of the total pet dog and cat population. Today, there are around 140 million pet dogs and cats in America (based on the survey by the American Veterinary Medical Association carried out over five years) but total shelter intake is only around 8 million. Of these, 1.4 million are stray dogs (700,000 of which are returned to their owners) and 1.8 million are stray cats (100,000 of which are returned to owners). As is evident from these numbers, there has been more than a 90% improvement in shelter intake. In addition, the number of puppies and kittens entering homes as pets has also declined in the last thirty or so years.
However, America still has much higher rates of shelter intake and euthanasia than some other developed countries. Sweden, for example, has no dog shelters and no euthanasia of dogs in shelters but they also have one-third the rate of dog ownership compared to US. The UK euthanizes less than 0.1 dogs per 1,000 people in its shelters compared to around 2 dogs per 1,000 people in America. While progress over the last fifty years has been very encouraging, it is not yet time to rest on the shelter community’s laurels.
Prodigal Pets: A History of Animal Sheltering in America and the Origin of the No Kill Movement – By Susan K Houser is available at no cost for download of the ebook from the WellBeing International Studies Repository.
Replacing Myth with Math: Using Evidence-Based Programs to Eradicate Shelter Overpopulation – By Peter Marsh, published April 2010 by Town and Country Reprographics, Inc. and is available to download by chapter at no cost on the Shelter Overpopulation website.