Animals

There Are Better Ways to Handle Unwanted Animals Than Through Government

Private, market-based solutions less likely to end with the killing of animals.

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The last time I was in an animal shelter, I adopted a furry 8-year-old puss named Gus. The shelter was clean but depressing: It was filled with whelping dogs (mostly pit-bull mixes) and terrified cats that, most likely, were not long for this world. It was one of the nicer shelters I've been to, but it had the charm of a county jail.

That shelter had a novel idea. On Fridays, it sold its elderly cats for five bucks. That's a great deal given the cats are spayed or neutered, have shots and come with coupons for a free veterinary visit. That's the first time I recall any shelter offering such a market-based approach. Most people want kittens, and the lovable old fellas go begging.

This jumped to mind after reading about the latest travails at the Orange County animal services department. According to news reports, animal activists and a city council member accused department officials of under-reporting their "kill rate"—the percentage of animals they put down. Official estimates previously put that number at 6 percent, but The Voice of OC reported "it's actually been a far higher rate of around 35 percent, according to data later provided by the county in response to a legal settlement" with an animal rescuer. (In fairness, either kill-rate is lower than what it had been a few years ago.)

County animal officials had no response to the allegations, according to that report. And—big surprise here—the union that represents the animal-care workers defended the agency and argued it provides a "valuable public safety function" because of the many times it refers animal-related criminal cases to the prosecutors. The Board of Supervisors meeting was filled with debate over possible reforms. Let's face it: Nothing will change. The animal shelter has been plagued by problems for many years.

I love commentator Paul Harvey's quotation from the beginning of the Orange County Grand Jury's 2014-2015 report on the state of the county animal shelter: "Ever occur to you why some of us can be this much concerned with animal suffering? Because government is not. Why not? Because animals do not vote."

Animals don't vote. Government agencies don't have customers. They operate for the good of those who work for them. They ultimately are funded through tax dollars. If this were a business, there would be all sorts of promotions to discount less-sought-after merchandise (e.g., old cats and hard-to-place bully dog breeds). They would be open the hours that shoppers prefer. The facilities would be comfortable and cheery.

"The Grand Jury has concluded that the county's lack of leadership, lack of commitment to animal care, and the prioritization of other Orange County Community Resources department functions ahead of Orange County Animal Care are the primary reasons for failure to address the need of new animal shelter facilities," according to the report. Ouch.

An ABC News investigation from May detailed allegations of problems at the agency. A Los Angeles Times article from 2004 is headlined, "Grand Jury Blasts Animal Shelter Again." Shelter officials disputed the report, as have officials during the most recent reports. But last year, the Orange County Register's Teri Sforza detailed the county's long-running animal-control problems. "Red rust eats at kennel frames. Partitions have frozen in place. Wet, black noses poke between what look like prison bars," she wrote, noting the county's "fusty facility" dates to 1941. She quotes a supervisor complaining about it in 1983.

In 2000, the OC Weekly criticized Santa Ana's shelter (e.g., "paperwork screw-ups lead to dead animals…"), which it used to show that private shelters are as bad as government ones. Sure, privatized agencies have many of the same flaws as government (they are funded by public contracts, not by luring customers in a competitive environment), but at least bad contractors can be fired.

Defenders of the current system say the problem lies in the nature of the situation. It's hard to have a true private business model dealing with unwanted animals. Or is it? The grand jury found that the agency "is virtually self-supporting through fees generated from the 18 contract cities." Those are fees from local governments, but it's hard for me to believe no one can come up with a way to buy and sell and treat unwanted animals for a profit.

In my view, we let the government handle such things because we're too lazy—or uncaring—to think more deeply about alternatives. Future boards and grand juries likely will be debating the same problems in the same agency. Those of us who think a cuddly old fellow like Gus should be purring on a loving family's sofa rather than awaiting euthanasia ought to put more effort into finding private ways to solve this endless public problem.


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  3. No, no, markets are unfeeling and sacrifice the animals to the profit motive. Much better they are put down.

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  4. I don’t see the down side of killing cats and pit bulls.

    1. Well, if we’re not making fur coats or oriental food, it seems like kind of a waste.

    2. Dead cats can be quite useful.

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    3. Touch my pussy cat and I’ll be a killin’ ya.

    4. I don’t see the down side of killing cats and pit bulls.

      Certainly not anymore than the mountains of dead wildlife that would line our roadways or the mountains of dead animals that get caught up in power and food generation/storage processing every day. But that’s okay, those were wild animals, they wouldn’t vote anyway.

  5. I think people are too accustomed to getting shelter animals at a subsidized price that it would be difficult to run one for a profit.

    1. No kidding.

      Those are fees from local governments, but it’s hard for me to believe no one can come up with a way to buy and sell and treat unwanted animals for a profit.

      This is one of the stupidest, most self-contradictory sentences I’ve ever read. The free market works because it directs resources toward what people want; which does not include unwanted animals by definition.

      1. The free market works because it directs resources toward what people want; which does not include unwanted animals by definition.

        Unwanted by their current owners doesn’t mean unwanted by everyone. What about thrift shops and such? That’s all unwanted goods. Unwanted by the previous owner anyway. I think there could be a market for “used” pets. But good luck competing with a subsidized government enterprise.

        1. You realize that thrift shops throw out half the clothes that people donate in those drive up bins? For items that are more expensive to dispose of, they only take items that they think they can sell quickly.

          During one of my moves, I invited the Salvation Army truck to my place to take away some of the furniture I didn’t want to haul to the new place. They went over it with a fine tooth comb. They rejected one nice fabric chair that I had offered because they found a little rip on the back that I didn’t even know about. They also rejected an exercise bike because I didn’t have an owner’s manual.

          That’s what the market does, God bless it. If an item isn’t going to sell, it’s destroyed. Unfortunately that applies to animals too.

          1. I never meant to imply that every single pet would find a home.

            1. That is obviously unrealistic, but BD is letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

              Even a 5-20% improvement in the rehousing rate of pets would be a benefit to the animals.

              1. Yes, it would. How is a market based solution going to accomplish that when it needs to make a profit. The government shelter is able to dump the older animals at bargain basement rates, far lower than what it took to process and care for them, because it’s subsidized by taxes and fines. A privately run shelter would probably kill more animals and faster, because most unwanted animals are not going to be profitable. That’s assuming they had to take in every animal in the first place, which private thrift stores don’t; animals rejected by private shelters would presumably end up dead in even less compassionate ways.

                The author of this piece treats the free market as a panacea, which it is not. That’s just as deluded as the way socialists view government.

                1. The government shelter is able to dump the older animals at bargain basement rates, far lower than what it took to process and care for them, because it’s subsidized by taxes and fines.

                  Or, equally likely, just gas the lot of them because it doesn’t have to get any return on investment.

                  1. Which a private shelter would assuredly do because it DOES want return on investment, and housing undesirable animals subtracts from ROI.

                2. The author of this piece treats the free market as a panacea, which it is not.

                  I don’t know about that, but to me the mistake the author makes is thinking unwanted pets are the problem when they are actually the symptom.

                  As you say, the free market would quickly and easily treat the symptom; it’s the government-run shelter that is actually treating the symptom so badly (and expensively) that the symptom doesn’t actually subside at all. And this is how government likes it – nothing succeeds like failure.

          2. You realize that thrift shops throw out half the clothes that people donate in those drive up bins?

            Um, no. At least not everywhere. Items that are wearable but not good enough for resale (missing button, small rip or stain) end up with bulk clothing resellers who buy by the pound and ship them to third-world countries for resale.

            1. Then why is there no similar reseller for unwanted pets? Buy old one-eyed cats by the pound and ship them to third-world countries. Maybe there’s a law against it?

        2. “But good luck competing with a subsidized government enterprise.”

          Yes just look that historical business failures like Fedez & UPS.

          Good grief.

      2. I used to complain about my town’s “pet tax”. But I came to realize that this reduces the number of suddenly-unwanted pets. The tax really isn’t enforced hard. I’d wager that most of the animals in shelters came from multi-pet families, they are the ones that suddenly can’t afford all their animals and get rid of some of them.

  6. Well they have a market for unwanted dogs in China I hear. I don’t know if dog loving Americans would be down for serving up fido but I am sure there are some down on their luck citizens who could use the protein.

  7. Before we pat the market’s back too hard, remember that the conditions those dogs and cats live in at that government shelter are hundreds of times better than the conditions that the source of your hamburger or chicken sandwich endured during its brief existence in a privately-run factory farm.

    1. OH MY GOD, HOW COULD I NOT SEE THIS?!?!?!

      *embraces statism and becomes vegan*

      …or not.

      Pssst – ever hear of consumer demand for “free range” chickens and the like? I guess you can’t find that in a Venezuelan food line, hmmm?

      1. Yes, I’ve heard of free range chicken. It’s a luxury item and a tiny fraction of the market.

        Not advocating for statism, just pointing out that the market doesn’t give any more of a crap about animal welfare than the govt does. Animals don’t vote, true, but these kinds of animals also don’t buy things or produce wealth, which is what the market cares about.

        1. Should I feel guilty for caring little about the quality of life of animals that are destined for my dinnerplate?

          1. That’s up to you. But if you don’t, then don’t pretend you care about animal welfare when you fret about old cats in government shelters.

            1. Deal. I don’t give any thought to them, either.

        2. The existence of things like free-range chicken does indeed prove that there is a market for that. A niche market, but still a market.

          1. the triumph of advertising/marketing over common sense….HA

    2. This is basically the equivalent of the ERMAGERD KROO-SADES! rebuttal when you mention violence done in the name of Islam.

      1. If the Antipope Francis had any balls, he’d be calling for a new one, and founding a knightly order to carry it out.

      2. Q: What do you call someone who reflexively opposes a hypocrite?

        A: A hypocrite.

    3. Before we pat the market’s back too hard, remember that the conditions those dogs and cats live in at that government shelter are hundreds of times better than the conditions that the source of your hamburger or chicken sandwich endured during its brief existence in a privately-run factory farm.

      This chicken tastes like suffering…

      How delightfully succulent.

  8. “In my view, we let the government handle such things because we’re too lazy?or uncaring?to think more deeply about alternatives.”

    Or it is forbidden by the people with armed men who will obey their every order.

  9. My slave orphans need to get their protein somewhere. Those blood diamonds aren’t going to mine themselves.

  10. How many of those people buying clearance cats are Satanists or Michael Vick types?

    1. I buy live mice to feed my kid’s snake. At the pet store I am required to sign a form pledging that I will not abuse or neglect the precious creature prior to feeding it to the snake. Often the snake refuses to eat. I have given up on keeping the mice for more that a day or two because they are vile and odorous creatures. Don’t tell Petco, but I throw the mice into the yard to either freeze to death or be eaten by hawks. I would gladly sell them to Satanists for half price.

      1. No, Mr. Exterminator, I have no idea where this massive neighborhood vermin infestation started….

        1. I’ll let you know when I see an infestation of white mice in an area that has a housing density of 1 per 50 acres.

          1. Ah, I was assuming urban or suburban. Nevermind. 🙂 Still, on my ranch, we have mice and other small, furry vermin all over. They’re attracted to the grain storage room big-time. My cat is never short of game.

    2. Animal abusers are a problem. Also, people who buy animals for research laboratories. Even if you support animal experimentation, isn’t it a little cruel to take an animal that has been someone’s pet and torture it to death? Wouldn’t it be just a little less icky to use animals that never developed expectations of human kindness? Just a little?

      Roger, the reason this should matter to you is that people who enjoy killing and torturing humans often start with animals. Hope this never happens to you, but if you ever find yourself bound and being slowly filleted remind yourself that this is the result of your lack of caring for other beings.

      1. Animal abusers are a problem.

        People abusers are a larger problem. Why not solve that one first?

        1. Why not solve both? Especially when you realize that people like Ted Bundy and Albert DeSalvo got their start with small-scale animal cruelty.

      2. I don’t know if that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever read but Tonio, you’re close.

  11. And?big surprise here?the union that represents the animal-care workers…

    They’re unionized? You know what wouldn’t unionize? Slaughterbots.

    1. The union will lobby the government to get pre-programmed kill limits set on slaughterbots so that they will be more expensive than even themselves.

  12. I believe we call this a first world problem.

    1. In the Third World, they either let dogs and cats starve in the street or round them up and massacre them. Oh, and rabies epidemics are still not uncommon.

      Not such a great alternative.

  13. I believe we call this a first world problem.

  14. They would be open the hours that shoppers prefer. The facilities would be comfortable and cheery.

    A couple of years ago I took in a lost stray wandering around my house for a few days – it was obviously someone’s dog but I couldn’t find out who – but couldn’t keep it so I called our local dog catcher. He said he wouldn’t be around for another two days (there’s not enough work so he’s only on duty for 3-4 days a week) and reccommended I take it to the local government shelter myself if I didn’t want to wait.

    Got to the local shelter and they tell me they don’t take in strays from my area.

    So I take the dog back home and await the dog catcher and tell him this and he is puzzled – *he’s* going to take the dog to the same shelter because that’s where all the dogs he picks up go. Apparently they just wouldn’t take the dog from *me*.

    On the plus side – their facility was comfortable and cheery.

  15. Whats wrong with euthenasia (or free range dogs/cats)? Theyre just animals. Maybe we need a cultural change. Find a way to utilize unwanted animals as a resource. We can eat the meat, or feed it to pigs for bacon.

    We also need to nip it at the source, people letting their pets breed when they cant take responsibility for them. I hate to propose laws, but if ferral cats and dogs are impacting my personal liberty, then we should probably prohibit breeding.

    1. Whats wrong with euthenasia (or free range dogs/cats)

      Actually, many communities choose to do this with their feral cat populations. Private animal advocacy groups will raise money for spay/neuter surgeries, then return the cats to the wild, who live very successfully in their little groups. But dogs that pack can become dangerous to livestock and people. Breeding laws do no good. At least not in my community. But that’s the crux of the problem, for sure: people who breed indiscriminately, or who can’t handle Fluffy or Muffy once they realize the animal costs money to care for, needs training and daily commitment, etc.

      Euthanasia, while not “cruel” in my opinion (although don’t say that to a person with True Feelz for the Animalz) is a waste of resources (it costs to kill, and those costs fall on the taxpayer).

      1. That’s right, Rena, mock people who care about suffering. That’s the mark of a psychopath, Rena. And Rena, I’m one of those people who do indeed care about animal welfare, and I don’t have a problem with euthanasia for unwanted animals. How’s that fact-free stereotyping working out for you, Rena? Is it increasing your stature as a commenter? Or are you simply embarrassing and discrediting yourself?

        1. I’m not mocking anyone who cares for animals. I’m mocking those radical True Believers who attach themselves to the No-Kill movement in a misguided attempt to prove just how “caring” they are, all the while calling people who advocate euthanasia in certain circumstances monsters. The No-Kill movement does animals, communities, and shelters more harm than good, and leads to the warehousing of animals, which is cruelty. So, no, THAT view doesn’t make me a psychopath, but your vitriolic response to my comment sure makes YOU sound unstable.

          1. Care to back those assertions about the no-kill movement with citations and stats?

            1. Stories like what recently happened at a North Carolina shelter, for one. And it’s not a one off.

              Also, if municipal shelters are under pressure from no kill groups not to euthanize healthy animals for space, but are mandated by law to take in all animals that comes their way (remember, muni shelters were not originally established to protect and adopt out animals but to round up strays and unwanted pets in order to protect humans), then how is no kill possible in municipal shelters? They either have to be amazingly adept at adopting out as fast as they take in, or they have to deceive the public. My own city shelter is under constant scrutiny for that, and they are failing to provide evidence that they are NOT euthanizing for space.

              So the public gets to feel good, animal rights groups get to feel good, but the reality is often very different . . .

              Private non-profit shelters have the potential to do the most humane work. If well established and funded, they are able to take in only those animals they can adopt out, and help animals stay in the homes of owners who are considering giving up their pets, via counseling and training, etc.

              No one who has spent any time in animal welfare wants to kill shelter animals. We domesticated dogs and cats (among others) as companions and helpmeets, and for all our so-called progression as a species, we are failing terribly at keeping up our end of the relationship bargain. But no kill is not taking care of the problem.

        2. I don’t know what mocking and stereotyping you see in that comment. I think that you are the one embarrassing yourself.

      2. A pet tax solves a lot of this. If you tax something you get less of it. Euthanasia costs are covered by the tax.

        Notice that in rural areas people with too many pets either euthanize them, or they simply don’t have too many pets to begin with. If you let the thing loose, it’s just going to hang around within 5-10 acres or so. Urban dwellers don’t mind that because 9.75 of those acres are someone else’s so the stray animal is mostly someone else’s problem.

      3. Where I live, in a rural area, coyotes are always in season and there’s no bag limit. The law is silent on cats or feral dogs, but if I started having a problem with them, I’d use the same solution I use for the coyotes.

        1. Let me know how that works out when hantavirus hits and the exterminators can no longer control the rodent population the way the coyotes used to.

          1. We are so far from exterminating coyotes in the area it’s ridiculous.

            Are you one of those people who doesn’t understand judicious hunting to control populations? As long as they’re off eating moles and groundhogs, I don’t mind them at all.

            I only kill the coyotes that start coming close enough to the farm to engage my dogs or endanger chickens and baby goats.

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  17. … it’s hard for me to believe no one can come up with a way to buy and sell and treat unwanted toejam for a profit.

    Does that explain it for you?

    You can’t demand that there be a supply for your goods.

    1. They should used the private industry model of the horse racing and dog racing industries to eliminate all the unnecessary killing of animals.

      That shelter had a novel idea. On Fridays, it sold its elderly cats for five bucks. That’s a great deal given the cats are spayed or neutered, have shots and come with coupons for a free veterinary visit. That’s the first time I recall any shelter offering such a market-based approach.

      Sorry to break it to Mr. Greenhut, but that does not sound like a profitable business model.

  18. The down side of cheap/free adoption is buyer’s remorse and bait animals. When people are enticed to get an older pet cheap, with health/behavioral/integration issues they can’t deal with, they are usually too embarrassed to return it, so it ends up dumped on the street again or worse. While I’m all kinds of don’t tread on me libertarian, our society at large is making infantile and potentially horrific decisions about pets. Working as a and with animal rescue orgs, I can say that people are monsters more than most would believe. I question myself from a “live free or die” perspective when I say this, but I think more laws like mandatory spay/neuter and breeder limits and licensing are key to reduce the suffering <shudder.

    1. I agree with you about plenty of people being monsters. One very large problem, though, is the question of just who will enforce those laws. Apathy and inertia seem to characterize all too many animal control employees. This is why I found myself agreeing with the author to some degree–private volunteer organizations sometimes (not always, but sometimes) tend to feature more of an emphasis on passionate individuals who got into animal rescue out of personal devotion rather than a desire to secure a pension. Nathan Winograd’s thought-provoking book “Redemption” drove these points home rather well.

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