Going No Kill – Do We Have What it Takes?

by Mary Haight on September 20, 2010

A ChicagoNow blogger Chris Dignan had asked me in a comment if I thought it was possible to go no-kill in Chicago, given the 25,000 animals dumped at Animal Care and Control yearly.  Some have expressed disbelief in the possibility. Even though a small percentage of animals will be euthanized for mental/physical health, or other compassionate reasons, when a city eventually hits equilibrium through proven best practices, and adoptable (treatable, rehabilitatable) pets are no longer being killed at the local ACC, you’ve got success.  Here’s a recent report from Australia’s Saving Pets:

Austin, Texas has its highest save rate in August ever, thanks to the firing of the ASPCA-backed director and the move toward a No Kill Equation-based system: almost 8 out of 10 animals were saved.

The Nevada Humane Society is breaking its own adoption records by doing the same.

A shelter director in Australia which was saving 93% of all dogs and saved all baby kittens this year in the Australian Capital Territory takes over the shelter system in Tasmania, immediately dropping the kill rate by 38%.

And an open admission shelter in New Zealand is on track to finish the year with a stunning 99% rate of lifesaving.

The answer is yes, and there’s already a successful working model – no wheel reinvention necessary. To clarify, no kill does not mean never kill. It’s not a religious movement.  It is a serious program that has worked in municipal and other high kill rate shelters in the US and abroad - that’s what makes it noteworthy. Yes, it can be done, and it does ”take a village”.  Here’s a short video by Brie of Paws4Change showing the elements that make it work:

One item not mentioned in this formula but which can be useful is Sanctuary placement. While not something any group should rely on given the space considerations for sanctuaries, it can be very helpful to develop a supportive relationship with several in your area. 

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Brie
Brie

I often quote Nathan Winograd because I believe in the equation and I believe in the message (even if some become so blinded by the messenger that they stop listening). One of my favorites is this: "More importantly, in communities which have ended the killing of savable animals, it is the public which has made the difference: in terms of adoptions, volunteerism, donations, foster care, and other community support. These communities have proved that there is enough love and compassion to overcome the irresponsibility of the few. So we need to put to bed, once and for all, the idea that dogs and cats. . . need to die in U.S. shelters because people are irresponsible and don’t care enough about them. People love animals. And if we give them an opportunity to express that love; if we introduce laws to end the killing. . . people will support them because the public is already on our side."

veryvizsla
veryvizsla

Thanks for the awesome post! I like the idea of no-kill but it's just not possible without a shift in the attitude regarding responsible pet ownership. You can spay/neuter and release all the feral cats you want, but what happens when an owner dumps their intact cat in an alley when they have grown "tired" of it? Or how about the people that didn't do their research and the cute german shepherd puppy they bought grew into a 100 pound energetic dog? Or my favorite, the new baby/no time excuse. Public education is the key. For 30 years Bob Barker gave his little spay/netuer PSA at the end of the Price is Right and I don't think that anyone listened :(

Animal Defender
Animal Defender

GREAT post Mary!!!! I want to give my perspective coming from the animal control side of things if I may. Is ultimate no kill a great idea to have? YES! Trust me, I pray for the day I will never again have to look in to those sad eyes before I have to inject a dose of pentobarbital. However, I am a realist. A good deal of AC's have significantly (Chicago ACC included) lowered their euthanasia rates. In the past where it may have been 80-90% of animals ultimately meeting their doom in euth rooms, the numbers are now in the 40's and 50's. And it can get lower with better enrichment programs, good behavioral assessment, good shelter medicine practices, good shelter management. But I am sorry, I cannot see a day where it is almost if not completely zero. Just not realistic or even possible. ACC's get animals that are truly adoptable. Sick, very injured, or highly aggressive animals are not adoptable, no matter what you do...there they are. Yes, more education of the public is KEY, but even at the best of times, you still have ignorant humans doing bad things to their animals. You will never erase human ignorance. I do believe we need to better educate the public as to what no-kill really means. A good deal of the public believe that it means to NEVER euthanize an animal. We need to be open and honest with what we say and do, and hope the public can follow suit.

Claire
Claire

We are really proud of our save rate here in Austin. I think we are currently around 84% and we are on track to be a no-kill shelter once our new facilities are built. Austin couldn't have made it without the citizens that absolutely love animals in this city and our foster partners like Pets Alive. Overall, I think it was easier for our city (though it is very hard to do) to get the community and organizations behind us. (There are a lot of vegetarians in Austin! ;)

Steve Dale
Steve Dale

Wow - this is terrific. The goals should be the 10 steps here (and others). Call it whatever you like, no kill is fine by me. No kill was a GREAT marketing buzz word, and captured attention and imagination. However, it's somewhat misleading to be taken literally, as Brie points out. Right now, there's a facility I know that had been keeping (and may still be) a surprising number of kittens with feline distemper, and then adopting them out (as one example of an issue there). They may not be showing symptoms, yet, when adopted, I realize. The emotional expense, and real out of pocket expense to that new owner is compelling. I know of one instance for sure where other cats in the home became ill and died as a result, as well as the adopted kitten dying. Unless animals with infectious disease are quarantined and being treated, in their best interest and the interest of others, sadly euthanization is best.. Sadly. Of course, some of this can't be avoided in over-crowded, underfunded shelters...but perpetuating the problem is shocking. Note - there is no mandate listed among the 10. And I agree with dogtidbits, it's about education. Mandates simply have not worked. In fact, in places counterproducting http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/steve-dale-pet-wo... ....So, how do you affect social change? I don't really know, and only know what experts on social change tell me. One thing I am pushing for is for animal welfare people to better learn, and better understand how to impact social change by enlisting help from experts. I have, so far, not found an expert who would agree that mandates succeed to change cultural beliefs in general, unless people are rewarded (which is something Chris Dignan, who commented here, is working on). There are people all over America who want the same thing...it saddens me though that some are so entrenched in their beliefs they go full steam ahead, leaving others to sometimes deal with their messes that they leave behind - even if they achieve positive PR and raise money. Without collaboration, success - defined as fewer animals in shelters killed - will come much slower. But for some, that success seems secondary to 'running a business,' even if it is called a non-profit. I agree, the non-profits must remain stable but not at the expense of their mission. This is a minority, a minority that often attacks others also, yet because they are loud, and do have money, they receive attention which makes it appear as if they are getting it right. Sometimes they are, often it's smoke and mirrors. Again, thanks to Brie for the video, and to Mary for this excellent post as well as to others who commented. I will post the video on my blog, but out of fairness to Mary direct people here.

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

Hey, Steve, welcome and thanks for your considered comment. Thanks for posting the video on your blog - I think this is so well done - it should have the broadest possible audience, and I hope others pick it up too. Thanks for mentioning the blog! You're welcome to anything you think is useful - it's fun to share ideas, exchange perspectives across blogs. It is unbelieveable that a facility would choose to callously adopt out cats with feline distemper - you would think a health certificate would mean the cat was actually seen and cleared by a vet. Very cavalier with the public's emotions, budget, and of course the lives of other household cats. I could not agree more that the PR smoke and mirrors often misleads the public to believe something is true that simply isn't. Thanks for adding your thoughts to this conversation!

dogtidbits
dogtidbits

This was a great post -- very thought provoking. But it seems to me that most of the examples were in urban areas. Does this model also work in rural areas? I'm not so sure it does. I live a rural area in Tennessee whose county population is 96,472. The largest city has around 38,000 people. The municipal shelter, which is run by the city and county, kills 7000 animals a year -- an 88% kill rate. (The animal is put down if no adopted within 3 days.) Many, many pet owners here don't believe in neutering their animals. The few no-kill shelters we have send a lot of their dogs North to be adopted because they can't find homes for them here. I think people living in rural areas need to devise a marketing & PR program (educational program) to help pet owners see the need for neutering their animals and for having a no-kill shelter. That would be a tough sell here, though. But only then will the people running the city and county support a no-kill municipal shelter. Does anyone know of any successful marketing & PR or educational campaigns that have been successful in rural areas?

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

Thanks for your perspective, Dan. Smart upbeat marketing is a great motivator, but it's very costly. Incentives may help some make the decision to snip. Wanting the best for dogs is the best way in. Roadkill is a sad fact of life for roaming dogs, as are vet bills from injury or worse. The need to put a dog down due to severe injuries or inability to pay for extensive medical intervention is heartbreaking. But I too would like to hear if there's anyone out there who could add to this aspect of the conversation.

Brie
Brie

Thanks to Brent for letting me know my little project was posted here and thanks to you, Mary, for posting it. I wanted a way to get the elements "out there." So many people are not familiar with the equation or the concepts, falsely believing that the phrase "no kill" is literal. I hope this helps in some way. May we all live to see the day when the needless killing becomes part of our shameful past and no longer something we simply accept. Or avoid thinking about at all.

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

I was very happy to find this, Brie, and now glad to meet you! And a "thank you" to Brent too! The video is a great way to clarify what can get really very muddied in people's minds and certainly it is far easier for people to learn from a well presented video than from words on a page. Quicker, easier - very useful! Thanks:) I second your sentiments, especially regarding avoidance. Whether it's thinking or talking about an issue, avoidance only makes things much worse. Thanks for your comments and for lending your talents to this effort. You're helping a lot of people get some clarity on the no kill movement.

Brent
Brent

The numbers certainly suggest that it is possible, but here's the thing, even if it's not, the solutions are all the same. High volume/low cost spay/neuter Foster programs off-site adoptions TNR reliance on rescue groups heavy PR efforts, owner retention efforts etc None of these are really even controversial in terms of generating success and all of these are necessary to essential to maximizing the number of animals that are successfully placed in homes. Even if you (wrongly) believe that no kill isn't possible, it still doesn't excuse not doing all of the programs in order to save as many lives as possible.

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

Well said, Brent! I look at this list and wonder who wouldn't want to do this? It's what many private shelters have done. The days of cleaning til noon and killing til five should be over. And what a relief for the people who work there. As long as programs are understood and effectively managed in transitioning, no animals should suffer. It's when they are not under stood and populations grow beyond capacity that trouble starts. It's a problem here. Thanks for stopping by!

fearfuldogs
fearfuldogs

What does proactive redemptions mean?

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

Hi Debbie! Instead of sitting around waiting for people to reclaim lost dogs watching their time tick away, get creative. You could ask private shelters to include a lost dogs page on their Petfinder accounts and well as on their own websites llsting where the dog was picked up. A countdown counter to adoptability can attract interested parties. They can come and meet the pet when holding time is up. Basically it's a get thinking mandate of what will help return the most dogs to their owners. Educating owners in the first place is proactive.* Licensing and microchipping is proactive. Thanks for your question! Oh, and Mel just sent a note about an article she saw suggesting handing out a bag of food w/ free spay/neuter, because as the post says, not everyone is educable*, many don't care, just get the job done and don't worry if someone can afford to pay and they go for a low income perk. That's a solid creative example of cutting to the chase even if in another area of the program!

Rod@GoPetFriendly
Rod@GoPetFriendly

Great explanation of what it means to be a no kill shelter. I could not download the video due to limited internet connection ... so I don't know if this was mentioned. But another part of reducing adoptable population would be reducing/eliminating retail sales of pets - which you have written about in the past.

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

Sorry you're having trouble, Rod! You can check http://www.nokillnation.org and search for "no kill equation" and you see all the points covered on the video. Thanks for your comment and hope you get to a good web reception area soon:)

EdieJ
EdieJ

Thanks for this common-sense presentation of the no-kill mandate. What you say about this not being a religious issue with special dogmas that must always be observed is spot on. It's when people get bent out of shape trying to conform to "always" that problems occur. It's sad when some animals have to be euthanized -- but that's the case in homes too. It's even sadder when healthy animals are routinely sacrificed because of willful misunderstand of the no kill mandate to be an impossible dream.

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

You're welcome, Edie! Exactly. No kill has been misused by some as per my response to Chris. In fact, when Avanzino first did the carrot/stick thing with shelters nationally (play together nicely to save animals or no possible funding for you!) it was very much "save the adoptables" period. Treatables would come later, which is where they are now. Thanks for your two cents!

KenzoHW
KenzoHW

So all it takes is good planning and management of a number of key areas.Nothing is easy, but (very) far from impossible. The government could also monitor that all areas in the No Kill Equation are met. We should not allow any less.

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

Hi Kenzo! I understand your BSL problem in Denmark, but how are your government-related sheltering practices doing:) I know, I'm always asking you about what's going on in your part of the globe! Thanks for stopping in.

jan
jan

What is takes to go NO Kill is a determination to stop killing. The public doesn't want shelters to kill. Instead of blaming them for the situation, well managed shelters can work with them as shown by your examples.

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

Hi Jan, Yep. That whole blaming thing need to be put to rest! Management is key in this reform. Thanks for stopping by!

Chris Dignan
Chris Dignan

Good Stuff Mary. An easy to follow blueprint for success. It's one thing to have a good game plan but you have to have the players to execute it properly. This is not a critique but is the climate right here in the city to support such a goal? My hope is yes but my fear is no..at least not yet. I have some personal experiences with animals that were suffering and behaviorally damaged as a result of a twisted view of the No-Kill philosophy. I would truly love to see a No-Kill city and will research other successful models to try to offer solutions instead of just asking more questions:) Thanks for the post!

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

I tried to keep this as clear and focused as possible so all readers can better understand the essentials. Many know all about this, others don't. This is a decision cities will be making and implementing. You underscore the point of my reference post nicely when you say any plan has to have the right players to implement it successfully. This is no small item. Specific to your question re Chicago, people don't want ACCs to be killing factories. What you can't do is keep the fact of going no kill a secret from the public and other agencies when you're operating a tax-payer funded city department, or mistake the no kill mission as a save them all mission. This is not a road to zealotry, and unfortunately some agencies have misused the moniker and taken it as such, adopting out the unadoptable, the chronically ill and the vicious. Unleashing this on the public is not the purpose of ACC reform. Neither is abusing animals to "save" them. What you can do is put all the necessary programs in place, enlist your employees, use your contacts, make new contacts and build bridges to get the job done. Thanks for your comment, Chris!

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