Angie's List pet stories on no-kill shelters and PAWS Chicago

Cattle dog at PAWS Chicago

I had the good fortune to work on two stories — one podcast, one print/online — for the first Angie's List magazine pet-themed issue, which is out now. The first story, "No-Kill shelters spur controversy", was written by Amy Mastin (moving to South Carolina soon — I wish her the best of luck!) with some reporting by me, and is all about the debate between traditional and no-kill shelters. (Admittedly, "no-kill" shelters are a bit of a misnomer, as vicious or terminally ill animals are euthanized. But no matter what true no-kill shelters call themselves, the terminology is besides the point: they simply use "no kill" as words to define the movement to stop killing as a form of population control for adoptable pets.) Some heavyweights in the animal welfare industry were interviewed for the story, including Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, Ed Sayres, president of the ASPCA, and Nathan Winograd, director of the No Kill Advocacy Center.

The debate is quite the controversial topic, but it was a fun story to report on.

Also, I had the pleasure of visiting PAWS Chicago, a no-kill shelter in — you guessed it — downtown Chicago. Executive director Rochelle Michalek took Jay, a local photographer, and myself on a tour of both the Lurie Family Spay/Neuter Clinic, and the Pippen Fasseas Adoption Center in trendy Lincoln Park (also the happy home of a Goose Island brewpub.)

The arrangement PAWS (which stands for "Pets Are Worth Saving") has set up is quite amazing, and they're on track to save a lot more animals this year than last. Check out the video of the visit on the Angie's List podcast site — as you'll see, there are definitely some super-cute animals for adoption!

PAWS Chicago takes its animals from the city of Chicago's Animal Care and Control division, which I didn't have the chance to visit. But by comparing my day's worth of filming at PAWS Chicago and a half-day's worth of shadowing a tech (thanks, Sara!) at Indianapolis Animal Care and Control I recently did, I can tell you the differences between traditional animal shelters and proper "no kill" are stark. IACC is located on Harding Street in a heavily industrial area of Indianapolis, which often stinks and is an area far from pleasant to visit. PAWS' adoption center, on the other hand, is located in a heavily trafficked (car, bike and foot) area, with big, attractive windows used to showcase the animals. I strongly believe IACC should spend just a little cash (they might even be able to do this for free) and rent out a small retail space in a place like Mass Ave., Broad Ripple or the Carmel Arts District (which would be especially effective for IACC, since it has no presence on the north side, save for stops at PetSmart) to feature some of their adoptable animals — especially the older ones, or those who've been available for adoption for a long time but are at risk of being killed for space.

Walking into the IACC kennels is almost like looking back in time at an older way of thinking, with the rows of stereotypical dog-pound steel-barred cages filled with oft-scared, barking dogs or timid, meowing cats. Walking into the kennels at PAWS, however, is more like walking into a spa: many of the rooms look posh enough to relax in and maybe even have a massage. They feature their own air systems, relaxing music, elevated beds, and no bars, only glass doors. And plenty of natural light, as well — much more pleasant than the typical harsh fluorescent bulbs.

I could go on about the differences, but comparing a traditional animal control agency with a progressive no-kill one is kind of like comparing apples and oranges: they seem to have the same basic structure or purpose, but have some major differences as well. And honestly, it's not quite fair to say PAWS is better than animal control — after all, in Chicago, they're working together, which is great. And PAWS doesn't have to take in all of the city's tens of thousands of strays, as animal control does in Chicago, Indy, and most other cities. However, I think the most important fact about places like PAWS is that they offer a hopeful future: if more animal shelters and control agencies took some cues from places like PAWS, they could be well on their way to saving thousands more dog and cat lives annually, and would also be well on their way to saving thousands more dollars and bringing thousands more in. Saving lives not only saves money, but also generates goodwill from the public, who are more than willing to donate their hard-earned cash towards agencies they see as doing good for animals.

It's getting late, I'm tired, and I could write plenty more about this subject. But instead, I'll let Bob Barker's words — which hit at the heart of one of the most important elements in animal welfare in America today — sign off for me in the same way they did every episode of The Price is Right:

"Help control the pet population. Have your pet spayed or neutered."

Update 8/7/08: I forgot to mention a resource for those looking to adopt. This page on Angie's List magazine's site lists a variety of terrific sources for animal adoption. If you're looking for a purebred, please remember that roughly 1/4 of all dogs in animal shelters are purebred, and there are plenty of breed rescue organizations in the United States who would surely be glad to help you find your perfect pet!