Fact check: Is crowded SLO County animal shelter really killing healthy kittens?

The ads posted on Craigslist could bring animal lovers to tears: They claim the San Luis Obispo County Animal Shelter is so crowded right now it could doom adoptable dogs and cats to unnecessary deaths.

“Unfortunately because there is no more space, they are having to euthanize kittens and cats to make room,” one recent ad warns.

Another says dogs could meet the same fate — implying their blood will be on our hands if we don’t adopt them.

Not true, according to Animal Services Manager Eric Anderson, who says his department is not responsible for the Craigslist posts, which appear under “pets” and include listings for dozens of animals available for “rehoming.”

The site is popular with Central Coast residents looking to acquire pets.


The ads warning about overcrowding at the shelter typically are put up by anonymous individuals who “think they’re trying to help out and motivate people to adopt. ... It’s sort of alarmist language people are using.” Anderson said.

Their intentions may be good, but it’s rotten to falsely claim the county is putting down healthy, adoptable animals because it lacks space. That reflects badly not only on the shelter, but also on the entire county of San Luis Obispo for supposedly allowing such a callous practice.

Besides, do we really want to pressure people into adopting pets that may not be a good fit for them?

It is true that the shelter has a limited capacity, and it’s common knowledge that the facility is way past its prime, which is why a new shelter has been approved.

But when intakes exceed capacity, the shelter finds ways to make things work; it once put up a large white tent outfitted with kennels when it rescued 50 dogs from a hoarding situation. It’s also called on volunteer fosters to take animals into their homes and turns to animal rescue groups, including Woods Humane Society, for help.

And while euthanasia was a common practice at animal shelters at one time, the number of animals destroyed has been steadily declining, from 2.6 million in the U.S. in 2011 to 1.5 million in 2017, according to the ASPCA. (Yes, that’s still far too many.)

According to the county budget, over the past four years 93 percent of cats and dogs that come in to the San Luis Obispo shelter were adopted, reunited with owners or are taken in by other rescue organizations.

Any shelter with a “live outcome rate” of at least 90 percent qualifies for the “no kill” shelter designation, though Anderson is reluctant to use that label. He finds it arbitrary and often misunderstood.

The SLO County shelter does euthanize when an animal is too sick or injured to save, or when it’s dangerous and unmanageable.

There also have been occasions when very young kittens were put down because they were unable to eat on their own and there were no volunteers available to take them into their homes for round-the-clock bottle feeding.

Anderson says he does not believe that’s happened so far this year, though shelter employee Holli Hargrove recalls that a litter of day-old kittens may have been put down.

And an online chat room for shelter volunteers warns there’s a desperate need for fosters right now.

If you’re interested, fill out an application on line at https://www.slocounty.ca.gov/Departments/Health-Agency/Animal-Services.aspx.

Finally, a word of warning: If you come upon a litter of kittens that appear to have been abandoned, Anderson advises that you leave them alone. The mother may be off hunting.

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