Saturday, June 19, 2010

No Kill By Any Other Name is Still No Kill

A few weeks ago I was sitting in an animal shelter waiting for a friend. I heard one of the front office staff answer the phone. I only heard one half of the conversation but I assumed that the caller was asking if the shelter was "no kill" and was trying to surrender a pet. The staff member went into a long explanation of how no kill shelters were horrible places - they were warehouses, run by animal hoarders.  Obviously, this staff member has not picked up an animal welfare magazine or been to any kind of conference or staff training in the past five years. Even mainstream magazines, available in your local grocery store, such as BARK and Cat Fancy have recently run articles conceding to the fact that a No Kill Nation is not only possible, it is probable.

I am not going to go into the whole no-kill controversy here. There is plenty of reading material on the subject, email me if you would like me to steer you towards some of the more relevant articles.

I do want to talk about the the definition - which is highly misunderstood. Nowhere in the definition of no-kill does it say that dangerous dogs or untreatable medical conditions should be saved. Many shelters in Wisconsin may already be falling into the parameters of "no-kill".  But the words have stirred up such controversy and negative connotations that it has not been until this past year when the Humane Society of the United States and Maddie's Fund started to openly use the term, that it is losing it's "dirty word" image. These two groups, along with the Ad Council started the Shelter Pet Project - an ambitious advertising campaign to sing the praises of shelter pets. (As a side note, I do find it amusing that the HSUS, who had not been a big supporter of no-kill in the past, saw a parade and decided to get in front of it. But hey, I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. As far as I'm concerned, the more the merrier.)

To avoid the "no kill" controversy, shelters and organizations have come up with catch phrases which mean the same thing - "low kill" and "adoption guarantee" are two that come to mind. "No More Homeless Pets" is another - what a mouthful that is when you try to say it fast.

No Kill - Just say it!  When you are saving all the healthy and treatable animals in your care you are a "no-kill shelter or rescue". Who doesn't want to be that?  What we would like to see is "no-kill communities". So that the burden of the killing does not fall to other organizations.

Can it be done? Of course it can. Yesterday NASA moved two people into the space station - we have the intelligence to deal with this.  It is being done in communities in every part of this nation. Today. Regardless of the economy, the geography, the demographics, the climate, the politics, the number of street lights in town or whatever other lame excuse gets thrown in.

One more definition: euthanasia. Euthanasia is death to end the suffering of pain. Most shelter animals that are put to death are not euthanized.  They are not in pain, thus, they are killed.  Using the "k"  word freaks shelter staff out because they don't like to feel guilty about the job they have to do."Putting to sleep" is an even more pathetic phrase. You put children to sleep (bedtime). Are we going to say that next to take away the guilt? I'm going to put Fluffy to bed now because he doesn't have a home.

So, I'm going to take the blame away from the shelter staff who do the actual deed. They don't do the killing. The killing is done by the shelter directors and the Boards of Directors of shelters who refuse to update their policies and implement progressive animal welfare practices that are working elsewhere.

Some people believe change can happen overnight. I believe there is a lot of work to be done, most of it being a paradigm shift by the people in charge. But even small steps make huge differences. Logistics and inventory are our big ones right now. And keeping the animals out of the shelter in the first place! If they don't come in, you can't kill them!

Shelters and rescues that will be successful in the future are those that are striving to achieve no-kill status now and are proud to say so. I just checked the numbers. The No Kill Nation on Facebook has 54,165 fans; Best Friends Animal Society has 90,943; the Humane Society of the United States has 263,776; Maddie's Fund has 3562; and the Shelter Pet Project has 13,794. Sure some of those may be duplicates.  Nonetheless, that's an awful lot of people that are getting the message that no-kill is not only possible but probable. Shelters that "trashtalk" no-kill on the telephone to their customers are looking pretty foolish.


  1. YES, YES, I love your blog....So happy No Kill Nation on Facebook posted it. I am going to share it with all my friends on my page.
    I am from Milwaukee, WI myself but live in Los Angeles. I have 4 dogs and I constantly try to educate everyone around me that we need to help animals from these pounds.
    I recently helped a doggie that I found on the streets. Puppy. Took him in, got him to socialize with my doggies, got him neutered and found him an amazing couple who treat him like a baby.
    Thats exactly what I wanted for him. :-)))
    I also have a page on Facebook:
    I try to give good information.
    Thank you for all your dedication and hardwork.
    There is a lot to be done out in LA, lots of irresponsibility.
    xx Emily

  2. Wonderful article and straight to the point. Now, when are we going to archive a no kill nation - five years from now? I don't beleive this will be a no kill nation to my conclusion it will be a no more animals to be killed because their population has decreased so drastically that no more animals can be killed. I understand it won't happen overnight, but at least if nation wide the reduce of killing is archive, then it will a no kill nation, but it is not happening yet. Shelters are camp of concentration of mass killing and it just makes me sick to think how many healthy animals are killed for no reason: GAS, HEARTHSTICK, insane. It seems pet lovers and animal rescue are not enough. Another one is animal abuse, law has to change and apply the same one as child abuse. There should be a law to remove animal from abuser, register them that they can't ever adopt an animal and in the mean time until that animal finds a home, rescue or shelter, he/she will be responsible for paying expenses incurred during that period of time. I believe there is still too much talking and not enough done done. I am an animal lover and help whenever I can, but can't do much. I also stopped my help to HSUS because I realized that I was paying employees pay check instead helping an animal. I have decided to contribute that money in chip in when is needed

  3. I keep learning about the numerous complexities and issues in regards to the relationship between humans and animals. To me the broad term "civilized" comes to mind. We are still working towards becoming a civilized society. Because of people like you we are making progress.

  4. Kathy - keep up the fight - thank you for your post - JM Rump (Nebr)

  5. Kathy, let's make Wisconsin the first No-Kill state in the nation. Why California? Why not us? Let's schedule a No-Kill Wisconsin Summit in early 2011. I'd love to talk with you.

  6. see, I'm NOT the only one who objects to the word play that "no kill" uses. Where in the definition? Why, it's in the word NO itself!

    Except for the no kill advocates themselves, everyone expects "no" to mean "no", hence the confusion you describe.

    Of course people don't want animals to suffer, and accept that the humane solution to suffering is sometimes to kill the animal. But even if you call it "euthanasia" so staff/public doesn't "freak out", it's still killing.

    The movement truly would be more understandable (especially in separating itself from the hoarding/warehousing freaks) if it used a term that is more accurate. The goal is to save every "adoptable" animal, in which "adoptable" includes all animals regardless of size/color/breedtype/minor health or behavioral issues. The goal is NOT to never kill an animal.