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Guest opinion: Utah must mandate no-kill practices at animal shelters

By Dana Fuchs - | Mar 22, 2024

If you’re famished and a politician signs a declaration that sometime this year hunger could end in your state — would you feel angry or hopeful? And if that representative’s decree was fulfilled a year after your death from starvation: Why did your life matter less than those who were once hungry but now eat?

I felt both frustration and hope after reading Gov. Cox’s declaration that 2024 is No-Kill Shelter Year in Utah. Frustration because he merely “encouraged,” but didn’t mandate, that Utah animal shelters implement no-kill policies. Yet, I was also hopeful because previously it was Gov. Cox’s signature that ended the barbaric use of the gas chamber in animal shelters in his state.

If Gov. Cox is sincere about making Utah the largest no-kill state for homeless animals, he needs specific and immediate policies that all Utah animal shelters must follow under penalty of law.

One potential plan is the Companion Animal Protection Act (CAPA) written by Nathan Winograd, who many credit as the founder of the no-kill movement and who created and is the director of the No-Kill Advocacy Center. CAPA is deemed model legislation because the emphasis is on the highest ethical standard of care for shelter animals, including creative alternatives to killing them.

In a piece discussing CAPA, Winograd writes, “Laws such as CAPA remove the discretion shelter directors now have that allows them to avoid putting in place those alternatives and forces them, by law, to follow innovative, life-saving policies instead: the No Kill Equation.”

People who work in kill shelters emotionally detach and justify taking the lives of adoptable animals. Grave abuse happens. Thus, those that kill defenseless creatures on a regular basis create a culture where death becomes normal and the desire to save lives is ridiculed. How can a person who loves animals stay?

Thus, by Gov. Cox mandating CAPA (or similar policies), he will also be helping recruit a new wave of workers who align with the no-kill modality. Kayla Denney took over an animal shelter in Texas that had close to a 100% kill rate and changed it to 0, according to CNN. In 2023, the city of Ames, Iowa, had a save rate of over 98%. Also in 2023, the Gratiot animal shelter in Michigan had a 99% save rate. Shelter pet advocates must hold Gov. Cox accountable for achieving similar outcomes for Utah ‘s homeless animals.

There is misinformation circulating in the media that no-kill means 90% of shelter animals shall be saved. The other 10% are often falsely declared as suffering or dangerous. In his reference manual (“The No-Kill Companion“) Winograd writes, “By current veterinary and behavior standards, roughly 1% of animals entering shelters are dangerous dogs and irremediably suffering animals.” Each creature that enters a Utah animal shelter should be given every opportunity to live and not be written off because a shelter reached their benchmark.

Gov. Cox should also view no-kill animal shelters as a systems issue by funding shelters adequately, ensuring ample space, creating more pet-friendly housing, expanding rescue group access, providing low-cost veterinary care, animal food banks and requiring each shelter to develop an owner surrender prevention plan.

This year, Gov. Cox will reveal whether he is a typical politician who uses animal welfare issues for donations and votes, only to quickly abandon them. Or will he be an empathetic visionary who realizes that the least we can do, given all that animals do to improve the human condition, is to let them live.

Kill shelter hiring managers pay keen attention if potential new hires have the macabre personality to participate in the execution process of adoptable shelter pets. If Gov. Cox mandates a specific no-kill policy in Utah, animal shelters’ future candidates will be evaluated based on their passion to restore, not take, innocent lives.

If “encouraging” animal shelter leaders is enough to create humane change, why did there need to be a law passed — due to decadeslong shelter manager resistance — to end the use of the gas chamber?

Gov. Cox, good words are not enough. In honor of the impalpable suffering of every animal that died in a Utah gas chamber — mandate life. Be our hero, twice.

Dana Fuchs is a writer and animal advocate living in New York. She can be reached at animalwriter25@mail.com.


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