I am not Pollyanna. I don't change the world to fit my view of it. Instead, I see the possibilities. I recognize that in many large cities, and small ones too, too many animals come into the shelters and not enough go out again. In many cities this means that for some animals to live it is necessary that others die. But that's right now.
Nationwide, the number of animals killed in shelters per year has actually decreased over the past fifteen years from fifteen million to five million. Five million is still a lot but doesn't this change suggest that no-kill is possible? Let's look at what the first group says:
Warehousing. They say that no-kill shelters lead to warehousing of animals. Animals are kept in crowded conditions and lead miserable lives. Warehousing so many animals means other animals in need of shelter have to go elsewhere because the no-kill shelters run out of room. Many of these animals are simply killed elsewhere or stay on the streets.
Living on the streets. Animals that are not brought in to shelters stay on the streets. They live lives frought with danger, they contribute to overpopulation, they spread disease. It's better to bring them in and bring them to a "humane" end.
There are answers to both of these charges.
Good no-kill shelters care for the animals humanely.They treat the sick, they work with the unsociable, they give them a place to live that is not crowded and that meets their needs. The animals may not have a life with their own humans but they have good lives. If you doubt me, go visit Best Friends sanctuary. Overpopulation doesn't have to happen. The good shelters offer adoption programs, finding homes for the animals who are socialized adequately for living with people. They also educate, helping spread the word on how to take care of the animals and assuring that potential adoptive families understand the true costs (and rewards,of course) of taking in these animals. The help educate the public and public officials about the need for low-cost spay and neuter programs and for mandatory neutering at shelters. Finally, of course these animals are neutered. They are not going out there to reproduce.
Animals - particularly cats - left on the streets can live happy lives too. When populations of feral cats are overseen by groups that practice Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR in the trade) they do not overpopulate, they are healthier, they often do well. Of course they are still subject to the dangers of being outside, but so are the millions of cats let outside by their human companions on a regular basis. I worked with a group that captured feral cats in Mission Plaza in downtown San Luis Obispo for a few years. I captured some cats, brought them to vets who had agreed to examine, neuter and vaccinate them, and I returned them to the plaza. More often (others did most of the capture and release part) I simply filled the feeding stations once a week. Some of us took feral cats home with us after bringing them to the vet. I had one for a while who adjusted to my home and my love, but never completely left behind her amazing feral attributes. The remaining cat population gradually diminished, through death and adoption. Some of the cats were lucky enough to move into businesses in the plaza, where they found terrific companions. One was the mascot of a jewelry store and used in its advertising. A good source of information about feral cat populations and control is the Alley Cat Allies. Right now they are launching a campaign against bringing homeless cats to Animal Control. Subversive, yes. But until that shelter is no-kill it's worth paying attention to this group. Fortunately, Alley Cat Allies maintains a list of local organizations that trap-neuter-return. You can probably find one near you.