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Regressive Shelters Have Killed 60 Million Animals Since 2001

Updated: Jun 7, 2019



60 million. It is a number so large that the average human mind cannot really comprehend it. Measured in lives, it is more than the combined population of America’s 25 largest cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose, Austin, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, San Francisco, Columbus, Fort Worth, Charlotte, Detroit, El Paso, Memphis, Boston, Seattle, Denver, Washington, DC, and Nashville), which collectively house only about 50 million human residents. To get all the way to 60 million humans, you would need to add nearly 20 additional cities to this list. It is a really, REALLY big number, shockingly big, in fact, especially when you realize it also represents the number of animals killed in American animal shelters since 2001 – the year it was first definitively proven that killing healthy and treatable pets is not necessary in animal shelters.

June 11, 2001 is the day Tompkins County SPCA made that community No Kill, not by limiting admission, not by pushing animals to other shelters, not by manipulating the outcome figures. On that date, Tompkins County SPCA in Ithaca, NY welcomed a new director who vigorously implemented the 11 programs needed to save animals at the shelter, and who did not accept less than that from the staff. That created the dramatic increase in life-saving experienced there.

Setting the year after which animal shelters could have/should have deployed these No Kill programs to save all savable pets to 2001 is, therefore, reasonable, especially given the fact that they were originally articulated in San Francisco in the Mid 1990’s. Though that city never did achieve No Kill status, it got closer than any others had before, and with much publicity and fanfare for doing so. It is, therefore, reasonable to conclude that shelters concerned with saving lives would have begun implementing these same programs after learning about the success in Tompkins County.

Of course, some shelters did, and a growing list of shelters across the USA has been following suit, resulting in more communities achieving No Kill. The number of shelters whose leadership has fought No Kill, on the other hand, has been downright devastating, and has been responsible for the needless killing of 60 million pets, nearly all of which were savable, since 2001.

Let that sink in for a minute: Since at least 2001 the majority of animal shelters in the United States knew or should have known there was a model that would help them end the killing of healthy and treatable animals, and they ignored it. The situation, however, gets worse than that, because during these years agencies like No Kill Movement, No Kill Advocacy Center, No Kill Learning and others, have offered free and low-cost resources to help shelters transition to No Kill. A great many have taken advantage of these tools. Too many have not.

The difference between those who have either made the transition, or, at minimum, begun the transition and those who have not was clearly articulated in a blog written by No Kill Learning. It said:

In fact, I would go so far as to say that the relative lack of disagreement about killing in animal shelters prior to the 1990’s was a clear indicator that the animal sheltering industry had, in effect, become stagnant, and had been for decades. Too many animal shelters were far too comfortable killing 30%, 40%, 60%, or, even in some cases, 80% or more of the animals they took in. Rather than taking responsibility for the killing it was doing, it was an industry that blamed “the public” for it. Animal sheltering was an industry badly needing a shake-up. The No Kill movement has delivered that shake-up well.

No Kill is effectively separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. It is identifying the shelter leaders who hold true to the vision and purpose of an animal shelter (i.e. saving animals) and separating them from those who won’t. It should go without saying, but that is critical distinction and goes right to the central core of why animal shelters even exist. For far too long, it was a distinction that was not being made. Now that the distinction is being made, some shelters are clearly uncomfortable about it.

This year, an unprecedented number of workshops, conferences, online events, and more will be available to animal shelters to help begin the transition. In the coming weeks and months, we will let you know about as many of them as we can, starting with this one. We encourage you to share all of these resources with your local shelters. Whether they take advantage of them or not will let you know which side of the divide they are on, and whether or not they will participate in the needless killing of another 60 million pets in the coming years.


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There are currently hundreds of communities across the USA whose shelters have stopped killing healthy or treatable pets. The shelters in your community can do that, too. If your community is not already No Kill, your shelters need to hear from you and your friends.... please get involved to save lives.

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