What Does No-Kill Mean? And is it even possible?

In 1974 more than 17 million dogs and cats were being killed in shelters every year.  That is almost 46,000 animals A DAY!  Pets had become as disposable as a used paper towel.  The first documented meeting of the animal welfare leaders of the time (Humane Society of the United States – HSUS, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – ASPCA, and the American Humane Association -AHA) was held in Chicago to discuss the overwhelming number of stray dogs/cats.  Their conclusion? “Owner-less animals must be destroyed.  It is as simple as that.”

Two years later they met again to discuss whether to support low-cost spay/neuter programs, such as the one that the Mercy Crusade started in Los Angeles in 1971.  Even though shelter intakes and death were dramatically reduced by this program, it was decided not to officially support the concept, due to possible loss of revenue for local veterinarians.

Many people weren’t happy or satisfied with the stance these organizations had taken and change started coming to Animal Welfare.  People began to question the belief that animals were better off dead, and started looking for ways to make a difference.  Seemingly unrelated events occurred that started to set the stage:

  • 1984 – Rich Avanzino (long considered the Father of the No-Kill movement) is president of the San Francisco SPCA and gives notice that the society will end animal control services for the city in 1989.  The city forms the Department of Animal Care and Control (DACC) and focuses on making San Francisco a no-kill city.
  • 1984 – The founders of Best Friends Animal Society break ground on what will become the nation’s largest no-kill sanctuary.
  • 1989 – Ed Duvin writes a revolutionary article “In the Name of Mercy”. This article, which questioned conventional wisdom sets the stage for the no-kill movement.
  • 1990 – Allley Cat Allies is founded by Becky Robinson and Louise Holton.  ACA is the first organization to champion feral cats and support Trap, Neuter and Return as the best possible way to deal with this issue.
  • 1994 – New Hampshire launches the first publicly funded statewide spay/neuter campaign.  Shelter intakes drop by a third in the next 6 years.
  • 1995 – Doing Things for Animals hosts the first no-kill conference in Phoenix, Arizona.
  • 1995 – Craig Brestrup, director of the Progressive Animal Welfare Society writes the book “Disposable Animals”.
  • 1999 – Dave Duffield, the CEO of People Soft, establishes Maddie’s Fund to promote no-kill communities naming Rich Avanzino as President.
  • 1999 – Mike Arms launches the first nationwide marketing campaign for pet adoptions: “Home 4 the Holidays” and several million animals in shelters find homes.
  • 2007 – Nathan Winograd writes the book “Redemption” to educate the public about animal sheltering in America.
  • 2011 – Dozens of communities across the country make a declaration of intent to go No-Kill
  • 2012 – Best Friends Animal Society, in partnership with dozens of local rescue groups, launches No-Kill LA (NKLA), an initiative designed to bring America’s 2nd largest city to No-Kill.
  • 2012 – More than 60 communities in the US achieve the 90% benchmark save rate of no-kill

Today, 30 years after the movement for No-Kill launched, shelter deaths are down to about 4 million a year.  While that is vastly better than the previous 17 million, it is still too high.  But every day more and more communities are deciding to stop the senseless killing.  However, you can’t just stop euthanizing animals….you need to have a plan in place to decrease the number of animals coming in to shelters and to increase the number that are going out.  Without a comprehensive plan in place, you are doomed to fail. I’d like to look at some of the programs that have been proven to help reduce the number of animals dying.  Best Friends simply refers to the metrics as “Noses In, Noses Out”.

Noses In:  the number of animals coming in and dying in shelters has to be reduced, drastically.

  • Spay/Neuter programs.  The very best way to decrease the number of animals that require shelter is to keep them from being born in the first place.  Low-cost or free programs aimed at low-income neighborhoods can drastically reduce the number of animals coming in to the shelter.
  • TNR.  There have always been feral cats, or as we call them, community cats.  There will always be community cats.  If you trap these cats and take them to the shelter the only possible outcome for them is death.  And more cats will move it to the territory that was just vacated.  Trapping, fixing, ear clipping, vaccinating and then returning the cats to a colony that is monitored and supported by local volunteers is the only solution that makes sense for all involved. Neutered cats can’t reproduce. Vaccinated cats don’t spread disease.
  • Inexpensive and easily accessible puppy socialization, dog training classes and behavior consultants.  Many dogs lose their homes when they out-grow the adorable puppy phase, and start displaying behaviors that are less than endearing.  By offering classes in basic obedience and socialization, we can help keep dogs in their homes.  Trained behavioral consultants can work with families to provide the guidance a dog needs to be a valued family member.
  • Food Banks.  Although most communities offer Food Bank services for humans, not all of them offer the same benefit for furry family members.  Local humane organizations can hold food-drives, and offer free food to people with animals, who are temporarily in need of assistance.

Noses Out – more animals need to leave the shelter alive.

  • Microchipping.  Animals who are mircrochipped are much more likely to be reunited with their families.
  • Adoption. Shelters need to make adoption an attractive proposition.  Schedule hours when working families can visit.  Offer adoption campaigns.  Have visitation rooms where people can interact with potential family members, away from the noise and energy of the shelter floor.
  • Breed Rescues.  Identify and build relationships with breed rescues in the area and across the country.  Up to 25% of shelter dogs are pure-blood breeds.
  • Foster Network.  Recruit, train and utilize foster placement for some of your more adoptable dogs/cats. This frees up shelter room to save more animals, and allows animals to settle into an environment which is much less anxiety producing.  Happy animals are much easier to adopt out.
  • Utilize volunteers.  Volunteers are the lifeblood of any organization striving for no-kill status.  The work is too large for just a small shelter staff to deal with.
  • Form a “Pit Crew”.  The vast majority of dogs dying in shelter are pit bull terrier type dogs.  A crew of volunteers who concentrate on training, enrichment and socialization can help get these dogs off the floor and into homes.
  • Partnering.  Network and build relationships with other shelters and rescue groups.  You can work together, share information and resources, plan events together.
  • Best Friends Network Partners. Apply to become a BFAS Network Partner.  Best Friends shares information, advice, resources and marketing materials with their Network Partners.  In addition, there are grants available each year, which only Network Partners can apply for.  In 2012 BFAS gave out $915,000 to other groups working to become No-Kill.

If you would like to help your community to go No-Kill, you don’t have to start from scratch.  Others have already blazed a path for you.  You can visit the links below to get more information about creating a culture of life instead of death.

Can No-Kill become a reality?  I believe it can.  But it is a commitment that we all need to make.  As my favorite t-shirt says: “Adopt.  If you can’t adopt, Foster.  If you can’t foster, Volunteer.  If you can’t volunteer, Donate.  If you can’t donate, Share (information, pictures, stories)”.  Yes, we can become a No-Kill Nation. Look how far we have already come.




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