No Kill Defined

I was recently reading an article in the local newspaper where one of our resident rescue organizations was enlightening the media and local residents that the term “no kill” was used incorrectly. It dawned on me that the term no-kill has been around so long that few of us remember when the term was first drafted. So let us go back more than a few years when the term didn’t exist.

Euthanasia used to be the end-all solution to animal shelter problems with keeping communities safe from dangerous dogs and surplus pets. Most animal shelters reported that they euthanized 70% of their animals. Even back then, it was a dismal statistic. For those who don’t remember kindergarten math, that is a 30% live release rate.

Someone suggested that shelters should stop killing animals. As much as that had a good sound to it; the question was raised as to how do you deal with dangerous, sick, injured, or aged animals? It was obvious that a 100% live release rate was impractical. So after many years of discussion, it was decided that a 90% live release rate was a wonderful number to strive for. It is the number that still exists today. So? Is no kill practical? Or better yet, is no kill the correct term to use? The answer is: It depends.

Through the years animal shelters’ mission got lost to the no-kill movement. We stopped caring about keeping our communities safe or providing a humane shelter environment; we cared only for our no-kill status. Above all else, we had to stop killing animals. We performed that duty by adopting aggressive animals into homes with children and introducing overcrowding into our shelters. Our mission was to keep animals alive at any cost.

Today, the 90% live release rate is more commonly reported in shelters. We reached that goal through poor adoption practices, shutting our doors to intakes, and pet sterilization programs. We successfully stopped providing a service to our communities and focused solely on our statistics; a noble cause to be able to call ourselves a “no-kill shelter.”

The people who object to 90% are the private rescues who don’t take in animals from the public. They don’t have to deal with the people who surrender their pets because medical costs are too high to save their pets. They don’t take in pets who have been hit by cars and are in pain. They don’t live in the reality of what it is like to be a public animal shelter.

I’ve always thought that we should have done away with the no-kill term and stop providing for pets as individuals and go back to our original mandate to serve our communities by providing safe streets and humane TEMPORARY sheltering.

There is a reason that I make a point of saying that shelters should provide temporary shelter. Looking at the size of cages and kennels, it is clear that animal shelters were not designed for the long-term holding of one animal, let alone three or four. And yet, we began stockpiling animals in inhumane cages.

We should celebrate the no-kill status of our shelter, but we need to look at the cost to the health and well-being of our communities and the animals themselves. Every time I hear about someone lambasting no-kill as being a lie, I want to ask them what they are doing to keep the lie alive.

The truth of the matter is that animal rescue groups find advantages in having a public animal shelter killing animals in their community. They have someone to point at with the notion of claiming that they are better than that shelter; you just need to donate to us. It is not uncommon for a rescue group to bring their sick and injured animals to the public animal shelter so that they can claim that they were not the ones that euthanized that animal. All the while still pointing that finger of disgust at them. It didn’t take long for the no-kill movement to make ugly monsters of animal rescue groups. The fact is that someone has to kill animals and the public animal shelter takes on that task so that the rescue groups in their community don’t have to. And yes, taking on that task hurts our statistics.

So, the next time someone starts pointing a finger at the public shelter’s no-kill rate, it is that way because the shelter takes in injured animals from their owners and the public. They decide that a dead dangerous animal is better than an adopted dangerous animal. They decide that the kennel space is too small for one animal, let alone three or four. They do it because it is still the humane thing to do.

To compound the issue, rescue groups like to “rescue” the most adoptable animals in public animal shelters, leaving the marginal ones behind. When I left the profession, I was directing an animal shelter in which 70% of our dog population were pit bulls. More than any other breed, pit bulls are one of the hardest to get adopted. Our neighborhood humane society felt it was necessary to bring in dogs from out of State because we didn’t offer an acceptable variety of adoptable breeds. I can’t blame them; they too were worried about their statistics and couldn’t care less for the pit bulls that remained in the public shelter.

So, one of the most contentious issues was about that 10%. Questions arose as to whether they were “adoptable animals.” It became necessary to “grade” the animals. That grading came about as the Asilomar Accords. I decided to cheat and asked an AI to explain what the Accords were:

“The Asilomar Accords are a set of guidelines and principles that were developed in 2004 by a group of animal welfare leaders in the United States. The purpose of the Asilomar Accords is to promote collaboration and transparency among different animal organizations and to reduce the euthanasia of healthy and treatable dogs and cats in shelters.
1. The Asilomar Accords provide standard definitions for categorizing the health and behavior of shelter animals, as well as a common format for reporting shelter statistics and calculating live release rates.
2. The Asilomar Accords are voluntary and not legally binding, but many animal shelters across the country have adopted them as a way to measure their progress and impact on saving animal lives.”

So, the notion was to keep healthy and treatable animals off of the euthanasia list. The Asilomar Accords were an important part of record keeping and were used widely by organizations dishing out financial grants.