While the no-kill movement is increasingly popular, it is no guarantee that animals in need will survive or be in good care, a Call 6 investigation revealed.
Generally, no-kill shelters have a goal of adopting at least 90 percent of their animals. About 1,200 of the country's 6,700 shelters and rescue groups, more than one in six, identify themselves as no-kill.
No-Kill Shelter Checklist
But regardless of how shelters label themselves, a Call 6 Investigators/Scripps Howard News Service examination found that shelters' performances and policies are as mixed as a mutt's pedigree, RTV6's Kara Kenney
Call 6 recently rode along with no-kill advocate Jo O'Keefe as she pulled animals from Indianapolis Animal Care and Control, which is what some refer to as a "kill shelter."
IACC euthanizes about half of the 17,000 animals that come into the city shelter every year, mostly because of lack of space and money.
"The reality is, we are euthanizing for space, and that's something we want to try to avoid doing at all costs," said Adam Garrett, community outreach coordinator for IACC.
"My constant thought is, 'I wish I could take them all,'" said OKeefe, who volunteers for the rescue group ReTails. "I typically pull the ones that are sick or hurt. Our rescue tries to take the ones the other rescues wont."
ReTails has pulled more than 1,500 dogs and cats out of Indianapolis Animal Care and Control, the state's largest shelter.
In 2011, more than twice as many animals left the city shelter with rescue groups than with families.
"The more we can get the animals into no-kill situations, it will open up cage space for those that are coming here," said Garrett.
On the day Call 6 rode with O'Keefe, she pulled four animals, but just five days later, IACC officers confiscated 36 dogs from her east-side home, including two she had picked up while with Call 6.
Officers snapped pictures of what they called urine-stained carpet, pee pads covering the floors, feces smeared around the house and other unsanitary conditions.
When the Call 6 Investigators arrived at O'Keefe's home after the raid, she said she's saving the animals from the needle.
"I definitely fear for them at animal control, because theyre in danger, which is initially why I took them," she said.
Standards for shelter and pound operations are voluntary in most places, with virtually no accreditation or oversight. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says 25 to 30 percent of animal-hoarding incidents it probes each year involve sites that started as no-kill shelters.
Warren Patitz, perhaps the most vocal no-kill advocate in central Indiana, told RTV6 the movement is controversial.
"The no-kill term has a bad connotation with it, because it's often associated with hoarding and animals languishing in a facility for an extended period of time," said Patitz. "No-kill really means healthy adoptable animals are not killed for population control."
While the no-kill label signals good intentions, the Call 6 Investigators found operations don't have to comply with any uniform standards or reporting requirements.
The Madison County Humane Society is one of about a dozen no-kill operations in central Indiana.
"The only time we have to euthanize is when there are aggression problems, or a dog is sick or unhealthy," said Assistant Director Jennifer Bridges.
But unlike government shelters, which often have to take in every animal, no-kill shelters can turn animals away.
"Our shelter runs full all the time," said Bridges. "It breaks our heart when we can't take their animal. Theyre crying. Theyre sad."
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Both privately funded and government-run shelters say they struggle to find room for all the animals, and despite their best efforts, thousands of dogs and cats will die in shelters each year.
The no-kill concept is growing around the country, but it's been adopted by less than 17 percent of shelters nationwide.
The country maintains a kill rate of 50 percent, which means one out of every two dogs and cats living in a shelter will be euthanized.
In 1994, San Francisco became the nation's first community to stop the city's pound from killing healthy dogs and cats by introducing a radical combination of adoption outreach and companion animal birth control.
Now, those and other no-kill tactics are being embraced across the country. The chain stores PetSmart and Petco no longer sell dogs and cats. They host shelter adoptions.
The supply of animals available for adoption far outweighs demand. Although the American Pet Products Association survey shows 20 million households look for a new companion each year, just 30 percent of new pets come from shelters.
"It's an embarrassment to our humanity," said Patitz. "Central Indiana can become a no-kill community. Its a matter of all the parties coming together and having all the energy synchronized to make that happen."
Patitz is helping to organize a no-kill day on June 11 called "Let Them Live, Just One Day."
"If we can do it on one day, we can do it two days, then three days," said Patitz.
Animal Care and Control has asked O'Keefe not to keep animals in her house anymore, and half of the confiscated animals are now in foster care.
"I dont want this to set back anything that we've been trying to do, which is save animals," O'Keefe said.
O'Keefe and ReTails are scheduled for a May 16 hearing, when a judge is expected to determine what will happen to the confiscated animals.
IACC is still working with more than 100 other rescue groups to get animals out of the shelter alive.
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