Polk County is a 238 square-mile rural area tucked away in the southern aspect of the gorgeous Western North Carolina mountains. Its 20,271 residents are divided among six townships, and according to the county’s 2012 US Census report, its citizens reside in 8,937 2.24-person households with median incomes of $43,332. If Polk County is keeping up with the national average, 6,077 of its households are caring for at least one companion animal.
Polk County’s community animals are being served by just one animal shelter, a “no kill” facility that claims the shelter is “open-admission” in one section of its website, and that the shelter’s “full” and allowing adopters to name their own adoption fees, in another. A phone call to the shelter on Tuesday revealed that there’s a waiting list for owner-surrendered animals that’s “months and months long." To qualify for the waiting list, persons needing to surrender their companion animals to the shelter must be able to provide documents proving Polk County residency, and of course, they must be able to wait several months to surrender their animals.
According to the No Kill Advocacy Center website, Polk County is a “successful no kill community,” even though its one and only animal shelter is full and has a very long waiting list for owner-surrendered animals. Just recently, the NKAC tweaked its recipe for success, the term “open-admission” disappearing from the language that describes what exactly constitutes a “90% Club” “success" story. No kill shelters no longer have to be “open-admission” to be considered successful by the list’s standards, a convenient adjustment considering that more and more “no kill” shelters are having to limit their admissions to maintain their 90% or better “live-release” rates.
Investigating Polk County’s plight wasn't very challenging: the county has only one animal shelter, so determining which shelter qualifies its six townships as a “successful” “90% Club” “no kill community” was pretty easy. The challenge lies in determining which shelters qualify the other “90% Club” communities as “successful”--because none of them are specifically named--and of course, determining what “successful” really means.
Although it makes verifying the true success of the “no kill” movement challenging, there may be good reason behind listing “successes” in terms of “communities” rather than specifically naming the individual qualifying shelters, at least according to Out the Front Door--a blog that collects and publishes no kill shelter data, but states it has no affiliation with the No Kill Advocacy Center. The shelters themselves may not want to be listed:
I’ve been told several times by officers of highly successful shelters that they do not want to make their success public because they are afraid of having people from other jurisdictions drop off animals in their jurisdiction or try to surrender animals to their shelter. The unfortunate effect of this is that there are many highly successful shelters that are not getting the recognition they deserve.”--Out the Front Door
Defining the “success” of no kill movement at the shelter level seems to make a lot of sense: if shelters limit their admissions and focus their resources on animals who won’t have to be euthanized, it seems reasonable that those shelters would consider their mission to not euthanize “successful.” Where the debate heats up is whether or not shelters that limit their admissions are truly serving their communities' animals. According to Nathan Winograd, the head of the No Kill Advocacy Center, if a shelter turns away animals that may go on to be euthanized elsewhere, those animals rightfully belong in the turn-away shelter’s euthanasia statistics--at least with respect to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ shelter:
If the animals transferred to kill shelters were themselves killed, or displaced other animals who were then killed to take in the ones from PETA, the death toll could be as high as 96%.”--Quote attributed to Nathan Winograd
PETA has been an outspoken opponent of no kill shelters’ limited-admission policies, because according to the animal rights group, when shelters turn animals away, they’re turning their backs on those animals:
Ironically, many ‘no-kill’ shelters refer unwanted animals to high-intake, open-admission shelters—which take in all animals and must therefore euthanize some to make room for the steady stream of newcomers. Yet in their fundraising materials and public statements, many ‘no-kill’ advocates and facilities condemn shelters whose workers must carry out the heartbreaking, inescapable work that ‘no-kill’ shelters refuse to do. This siphons public support away from the facilities that help the vast majority of unwanted animals in need.”--People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Interestingly, the shelter PETA refers and transfers its adoptable animals to, the Virginia Beach SPCA, is an open-admission shelter that accepts animals from all jurisdictions and never euthanizes animals for space. During our recent interview, Sharon Q. Adams, the shelter’s director stated that the VBSPCA has been able to find homes and foster homes for 90% of the animals they've received so far this year. Because the shelter focuses more on serving the community’s animals appropriately than maintaining a low euthanasia rate, the Virginia Beach SPCA does not consider itself to be a “no kill” shelter.
Spartanburg Humane Society, in neighboring Spartanburg County, South Carolina, accepts owner-surrendered animals from Polk County. The Spartanburg Humane Society is an open-admission shelter. The Spartanburg Humane Society euthanized 28.62% of the animals it received in 2012.