Paternalism at the Pound

We here at the RBC are generally opposed to good news or anything vaguely heart-warming, but I found this story, despite its happy theme, to be policy-relevant. The idea is that the DC humane society has set a goal of eliminating euthanasia for all adoptable animals in five years. This is interesting because the Washington humane society seems to be transitioning from a traditional non-profit organization orientation, as a provider of a discrete service, to a more entrepreneurial mode where they define their mission as a change in outcomes (here the outcome being eliminating euthanasia, which is really an indicator of the change in the world they want to produce, not the goal itself). The article notes that to get to this goal, simply increasing adoptions is insufficient: the organization’s CEO observes that “we can’t adopt our way out of the situation. We really have to reduce the pet population…” Especially in the case of cats, the problem seems to be that whatever the humane society does in terms of adoptions is swamped by the growth in the cat population–to deal with that they are engaging in a large-scale fundraising campaign for spaying and neutering. The other interesting story here is that the Society is actively trying to increase the supply of potential homes for cats and dogs, in part by encouraging landlords to allow pets, but of the greatest interest, by starting an “innovative pet retention program to help owners deal with problems that might cause them to give up their pets…” I’d be interested in the details of this, since it sounds vaguely like a behavioral approach to the problem. Instead of simply assuming that the role of a non-profit is to provide resources, they’re acting as if the competence of adoptees and their ability to cope with the social problems that pets create is also part of their remit. These behavioral dimensions of social interventions are increasingly a part of poverty policy, but does this show that a more aggressive style of social intervention is also becoming a part of non-profit ventures beyond (or perhaps, in a poor city like Washington, connected to) poverty? Please send us examples of “paternalistic” non-profit ventures not directly linked to poverty-reduction, and I’ll write up a blog entry soon summarizing them.

If you’d like to make a donation to the DC Humane Society, go here: http://www.washhumane.org/donations.html. I would note that the Humane Society’s campaign described above has a bunch of different discrete components, which would easily lend itself to specific, directed donations (that is, allowing people to direct their money to spaying or neutering), but at least on the website, there’s no facility for this. Perhaps one of our MBA-type marketing-trained readers should volunteer to help the society pump up their website: http://www.washhumane.org/donations.html.

Author: Steven M. Teles

Steven Teles is a Visiting Fellow at the Yale Center for the Study of American Politics. He is the author of Whose Welfare? AFDC and Elite Politics (University Press of Kansas), and co-editor of Ethnicity, Social Mobility and Public Policy (Cambridge). He is currently completing a book on the evolution of the conservative legal movement, co-editing a book on conservatism and American Political Development, and beginning a project on integrating political analysis into policy analysis. He has also written journal articles and book chapters on international free market think tanks, normative issues in policy analysis, pensions and affirmative action policy in Britain, US-China policy and federalism. He has taught at Brandeis, Boston University, Holy Cross, and Hamilton colleges, and been a research fellow at Harvard, Princeton and the University of London.