Nathan Winograd’s Loaded Pet Overpopulation Survey (And Why You Should Take It)

“If you are one of those people who believes you “love” animals but continues to defend killing based on a belief in pet overpopulation, I want to understand why it is that—when the very thing which you have publicly lamenting all these years as the “tragic” cause of animal killing turns out NOT to exist—you do not celebrate, but rather, go on the attack in its defense, even as HSUS—the flagship of the killing establishment—has abandoned you in the belief. Here is my survey for you:”–Nathan Winograd

Nathan Winograd wants to know why you still don’t trust him. I mean, you love animals, right? You hate that they die in shelters–right?  Didn’t you hear? The numbers just don’t add up. There is no companion animal overpopulation crisis. There are more than enough homes for all of the animals who are needlessly dying in shelters–so why aren’t you celebrating? What’s wrong with you?

According to Winograd, the data supports his claims that there are 17 million potential homes for the 3 million animals who are currently dying in shelters’ revolving doors, thus proving that companion animal overpopulation is a myth. Winograd says that shelters all over the country have adopted his patented shelter reform principles and literally ended their euthanasia of adoptable animals–overnight. Yet there are holdouts within the animal protection community who say it’s just too good to be true and Winograd wants to know why. And now he’s asking. Sort of.

Nathan Winograd is challenging naysayers to refute his evidence–in survey form. And while his survey reads more like a cry for help than a pet overpopulation survey, you have to admit it’s an interesting way to frame his argument. So, let’s take the bait. Let’s take his survey right here, right now, together, where our answers may actually count for something. As we go through each question, think about how you would answer it.

The Survey:

QUESTION ONE:

I believe that there are too many animals (“supply”) and too few homes (“demand”). The latest data says three million dogs and cats are killed but for a home. I believe demand exceeds supply because my data shows demand is___________________ [fill in number of homes annually, please state whether this includes replacement homes (a pet dies or runs away), new homes (a first pet) and expanding homes (a second, third, etc. pet), as well as your source].

Answer: No one really knows how many animals (“supply”) are entering our shelters and being euthanized there. While some states require animal releasing facilities to report their intake and disposition of animals to state agencies, others don’t, and there is no centralized national agency counting animals. The National Council on Pet Population Study & Policy identified and mailed intake and disposition surveys to over 5,000 shelters that handled a minimum of 100 animals per year in 1994, and repeated the survey for the following three consecutive years. While the endeavor was remarkable in its ambition, the results were disappointing. With only 20% of the polled shelters responding (even after reminder cards were issued throughout the year), the NCPPSP abandoned the collection of data using survey cards, with the following disclaimer:

It is not possible to use these statistics to estimate the numbers of animals entering animal shelters in the United States, or the numbers euthanized on an annual basis.  The reporting Shelters may not represent a random sampling of U.S. shelters.”

The NCPPSP is conducting new research, tracking the intake of animals and their disposition in eighteen US shelters and weighing the data against the human populations of the communities each shelter serves. The NCPPSP is hopeful that the formula will be useful in developing hypothetical annual and quarterly shelter population tracking trends that will allow them to estimate the number of animals entering shelters in other areas, in the future. Until all shelters report their numbers to their respective states, and each state reports its data to a centralized agency (like the USDA) , we can only guess at how many animals America’s shelters handle every year, even with sophisticated hypothetical tracking formulas.

The Asilomar Accords has designed a comprehensive standardized annual statistics table to track shelter trends, but like the NCPPSP survey, shelter participation is completely voluntary, and fewer than 200 shelters are currently participating.

Estimates for combined shelter euthanasia numbers range from 3 million to 10 million, but no one really knows for certain how many animals are dying in shelters, not even Nathan Winograd. And while Winograd limits the discussion of pet overpopulation to shelter animals, adoptable animals entering shelters account for only a portion of all homeless animals (“supply”). A study published in 2003 puts the number of homeless feral street dogs (“supply”)  in America at 33 million animals. In his book “Introduced Mammals of the World: Their History, Distribution, and Influence,” John L. Long writes that several American cities have homeless feral street dog (“supply”) populations of as many as 50,000 animals. Long estimates that feral cat (“supply”) populations in the US are as high as 70 million animals.

I should probably discuss why I’m answering this question backwards.  Nathan Winograd clearly asks about the “demand” end of the equation in his survey, not the “supply” end. Well, I’m not disputing that there are 17 million American households that may potentially be persuaded to adopt a shelter animal rather than acquiring an animal elsewhere. I’m not disputing it because it’s a pet products industry survey statistic, and purchasing the data ranges in cost from several hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on which marketing research firm you purchase it from. We’ll just have to take Winograd’s word about the 17 million potential homes for now. Some of us have bills to pay.

When and only when the discussion includes all homeless animals, those who enter shelters and those who make a hard living on the streets, can  we even begin to discuss “supply” and “demand” ratios.  So the companion animal overpopulation crisis is officially back on. In anticipation of this startling new development, Nathan Winograd issued the following statement on the online survey form:

“* Even if “pet overpopulation” was real, shelter killing would still be immoral. Advancing a practical over an ethical argument has long been the safe haven for those who want to justify untoward practices. Even accepting the sincerity of the claim, even if the practical calculus was correct, protecting life that is not suffering is a timeless and absolute principle upon which responsible advocates must tailor their practices. Every action they take must be subservient to preserving life. Ethics will always trump the practical and the two are seldom so inexorably linked that an untoward action must follow some fixed practical imperative.”

Let’s move on now.

QUESTION TWO:

“There are roughly 70 communities representing about 200 cities and towns across the U.S. that achieved No Kill, many of them overnight simply by changing the way the shelter operated. Some of these communities are small, some large taking in over 20,000 animals a year and they cover the demographic spectrum (urban, rural, liberal, conservative, affluent, impoverished, municipal shelter, private shelter). They are not “turning animals away” as they are open admission municipal shelters. Animals are not sitting in cages and kennels for years (see No. 5, below). This is logically inconsistent with pet overpopulation since they adopted their way out of killing, many times before a comprehensive spay/neuter program was in place. Yet I can prove that pet overpopulation is real in spite of these successes because ________________________________________________.”

Answer: Let’s talk about shelter admission policies first. “Open-admission” shelters take all strays and owner-relinquished animals on presentation. Many open-admission shelters utilize “drop boxes” that make it possible for persons finding stray animals, or those wishing to surrender owned-animals to relinquish those animals outside of normal shelter hours. “Limited-admission” shelters limit their intake of animals in any number of ways. Shelters that restrict their intake to specific species or breeds are limited-admission shelters. Shelters that restrict their intake based on space availability, or that use scheduling and waiting lists for admitting animals, are limited-admission shelters. Shelters that restrict their intake to healthy animals only, excluding animals who may require humane medical euthanasia, are limited-admission shelters. Shelters that require owners surrendering their animals to pursue all alternatives prior to their relinquishment, or to pay exorbitant relinquishment fees, are limited-admission shelters. Shelters that do not take all strays and owner-relinquished animals upon presentation, are limited-admission shelters.

The “70 or so communities representing about 200 cities and towns” (0.06% of the 35,000 cities and townships in America) that Nathan Winograd refers to in this question, are shelters that have “live release” rates of 90% or higher. “Live release” rates include animals who have been adopted and who have been relinquished to rescues and fosters. “Live release” rates also include animals who are transferred to other shelters and holding facilities, both inside and outside of the community. There is no data supporting Winograd’s claims that shelters are “adopting their way out of killing animals.” Many shelters are simply transferring their way out of killing animals.

I recently polled dozens of the shelters Nathan Winograd claims are “not  turning animals away,” and many stated that they do in fact limit their admissions. Some decline to accept owner-surrenders for medical euthanasia, and many limit their admissions due to space constraints. Some schedule admissions, or have waiting lists that are weeks and months long. Several accept either stray animals or owner-surrendered animals–but not both. A few limit their admissions to animals who fit their established adoption profiles, or require a medical screenings prior to admission. All rely heavily on rescues and fosters to make room for new animals. Nearly all of the shelters I contacted were candid about their realities: They limit their admissions so that they can limit their euthanasia. They limit their admissions for the health and safety of the animals who are already in the shelter. Shelters limit their admissions to give the animals they already have the best possible shot at being adopted, but at the expense of the animals they have to turn away.

Shelters that limit their admissions can focus their limited resources on “live release” rates, but the animals they refuse to admit may still go on to be euthanized elsewhere. They are not ending the euthanasia of adoptable animals in their communities, they are simply redirecting it elsewhere.

Shelters are turning animals away, and they’re admitting to it. Over 34,000 cities and townships are euthanizing greater than 10% (the national average is 50%) of the animals their shelters admit, and there are still more companion animals than potential homes for them.

QUESTION THREE

“There are communities with per capita intake rates 20 times higher than New York City that are No Kill, higher than the intake rates in most communities. This is logically inconsistent with pet overpopulation. Yet I can prove that pet overpopulation is real in spite of this information because ______________________.”

Answer: Detroit has fewer human residents than New York City and they are dealing with a homeless feral dog population between 20,000 and 50,000 animals, and a feral cat population that is even higher. These animals aren’t represented in Detroit’s shelter statistics. Tens of thousands of homeless feral street dogs in a single city is logically consistent with companion animal overpopulation.

QUESTION FOUR

“Since puppy mills and pet stores that sell milled animals are only in it for the money, they wouldn’t exist if they weren’t making money by selling animals. And given that they wouldn’t be selling animals if there weren’t plenty of homes available, if pet overpopulation is real, why do puppy mills and pet stores exist? My answer is ______________________________.”

Answer: There are nearly 316 million people living in the United States today, 271 million of whom own cell phones. There are over 700 million operable used cell phones in the US–roughly 2 for every man, woman, and child. The average American cell phone user replaces his or her cell phone every 14 to 18 months, even though with proper care cell phones are designed to last up to five years.  Apple cannot make iPhones as fast as Americans want to buy them. There is no cell phone shortage, yet there are factories churning out new cell phones, and there are cell phone kiosks in every American mall, and in nearly every department and electronics store. Though some consumers may be considering purchasing a used cell phone, new cell phone manufacturers and providers are constantly assessing ways to tap that pivotal market.

There’s psychology behind consumerism, and trends in consumerism are closely studied. Information about our daily consumer choices is collected and sold to marketing research firms, and then resold to retailers throughout the world. But what motivates our choices as consumers?

Motivation has been defined as “a need that is sufficiently pressing to drive the person to act.” In “An Overview of Needs Theories Behind Consumerism,” by By David Ward (PhD), and Marta Lasen (BA), it is explained that our human needs fall into several basic categories; biological and physiological needs, safety needs, belongingness and love needs, esteem needs, cognitive needs, aesthetic needs, self-actualization needs, and transcendence needs, and what we acquire and why we acquire it is based on those needs. The data shows that we consumers acquire goods and services not only based on need, but also based on our incomes and opportunities. Pet stores and breeders give us lots of opportunities to acquire pets, and they breed them with our “needs” in mind.

Americans spent 2.14 billion dollars on live pets last year, according to American Pet Products Association, Inc. The pet industry is clearly a lucrative market, and animal breeders work very hard every year to increase their share of it. If the animal protection movement were matching the pet industry’s marketing budget for promoting live animal sales, dollar for dollar, promoting adoptions, we could still only expect to have 50% of the undecided market. That’s 8.5 million potential homes–for 100 million potential animals. Best case scenario.

Who’s promoting animal adoptions on a national level? The HSUS, and PeTA. Two of the groups most attacked by Nathan Winograd for not doing enough for companion animals.

QUESTION FIVE

“When shelters do a good job, when they keep animals alive long enough to be adopted, when they market their animals, when they have good customer service, when they fully implement all the programs of the No Kill Equation, animals live instead of die. And they are not sitting in cages or kennels for year. Average length of stay runs from 8 to about 14 days, about the time a dog spends in a boarding kennel when his family is on vacation. My response: ________________________.”

Answer: In an important paper regarding shelter cat stays, Dilara G. Parry writes: “At the San Francisco SPCA, where I have worked for the past 6 years, a cats’ average length of stay is 21 days. However, at any given time, five to ten percent of our cats have been in our facility for longer than 90 days, a stay we consider long-term. About two percent of our cats stay past the 120 day mark. And we have had cats stay as long as 240 days. When we analyze those cats who have been here longer than 90 days, we find that 8 out of 10 had presenting behavior problems. Other factors that contribute include serious medical concerns and/or old age.”

And some animals are staying in cages and kennels for years:

“Many of our readers were heartbroken to hear the tale of an 8 year old dog languishing in a rural Missouri pound after spending her entire life in confinement. Our inbox was flooded with your questions after we shared her Petfinder listing recently, and it was apparent that many of you were on a mission to spring Hailey from her kennel at the Dogwood Animal Shelter. We’re happy to tell you that mission has been accomplished.”~ Life with Dogs

Still, many shelters that are limiting their admissions to focus on adoptions are having great success. I applaud their efforts. I get why shelters don’t want to euthanize unwanted animals, and there are many unwanted animals. Open-admission shelters deserve love too, though, because they aren’t turning unwanted animals away, leaving them to fates that may be worse than death. I say this a lot, but as long as people consider animals to be disposable property, euthanasia will be the by-product of their ignorance.

Now it’s time for you to take the survey, on your own, and with your own answers. But instead of answering it on Nathan Winograd’s website (where your valuable insight will fall on deaf ears), answer it on your own blogs and discussion forums, where it may actually do some good. Spread this survey far and wide, and ask your friends to answer it for themselves. Oh, and I encourage you to be as emphatic as you want. Your CAPS LOCK is welcome here.

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