top of page
  • Writer's pictureAubrie Kavanaugh

Getting Back to Basics: The No Kill Equation

In the summer of 2006, I experienced the unwelcome epiphany about a disease running rampant across our country: the killing of millions of healthy and treatable animals in our nation’s animal shelters using our money and in our name while we are blamed for the process. I probably should have known what was happening, but like so many Americans, I just didn’t. It got upset and then I got mad and then I channeled my anger into action as I learned all I could about this incredible betrayal of the public trust. Thankfully, I learned about the cure to the killing the following year: The No Kill Equation.

In 2007, Nathan Winograd published a book that was a game changer for animal lovers, animal advocates and the animal sheltering industry: Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America. (He released a second edition in 2014). Reading Redemption quite literally changed my life and has change the lives of countless other people. The book has proved a vital resource to animal welfare advocates across the country, like me, who were struggling to understand why so many animals died in shelters. It was also a wake-up call to the animal sheltering industry that it had essentially been doing animal sheltering wrong for decades, and that it was time to change. Shelters were part of a system that was mired in the past, and that had failed to keep pace with public values.

The book was controversial when it was published, although it is less so now. Just the name Redemption made some people uncomfortable. The shelter industry had destroyed millions of animals over decades, and the conventional wisdom about why was twofold: Because lots of animals entered shelters, there must be the “irresponsible public,” and because animals died in shelters, we must have a “pet overpopulation” problem.

Neither of those excuses have proved true. Redemption was the first time someone wrote openly that while some people are irresponsible, most people care about the welfare of animals, and we can harness the compassion in every community to save lives. Redemption was also the first time someone wrote openly that animals were dying in shelters not because we had too many of them, but because the sheltering industry had become calcified and complacent, and would fight with all it had to protect the status quo.

Redemption is both a history book and a how-to book. It helps us understand how we got from 150 years ago, when Henry Bergh (the founder of what we now refer to as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) was able to bring about radical change in New York, to the present day, when animals are destroyed for no good reason in places called “shelters.” Redemption was also the first time when someone dared to write that animal shelters were using words such as “adoptable,” “heathy,” “treatable” and “untreatable” in ways that were inconsistent with how the public uses those words.

Winograd did not "invent" the no kill movement. He took some programs he turbocharged at the San Francisco SPCA in California (to eliminate the killing of whole categories of animals like neonates) and other programs he implemented in Tompkins County, New York, and put them forth in equation form so that any (and every) animal shelter could stop the archaic practice of destroying healthy and treatable animals.

I believe Redemption is compulsory reading for anyone who cares about how our society treats animals. More important, it is compulsory reading for those in the rescue community and shelter industry. To best help animals, rescuers need to understand from where all the animals who need help are coming. Rescuers must look at the bigger picture beyond X dog or Y cat. Rescuers have told me time and again that they don’t have time to read a book about animal sheltering. I say that if they want to be part of the solution, they must make the time. They can also watch the documentary film based on the book, for free to begin their education. The film is called Redemption: The No Kill Revolution in America.

As far as shelters go, if they are ever going to end the outdated practice of destroying healthy and treatable pets, they must stop calling the killing euthanasia and must embrace proven programs that can save lives. It is not enough to say that people who run and work in shelters care about animals. They must put those words into actions to prove that the life of every animal in the shelter has value.

There are a variety of animal sheltering methodologies out there, put forth by a number of organizations to save the lives of shelter animals. All methods being used to save the lives of shelter pets are obviously a good thing.

Nathan Winograd was the first person in the no kill movement to present the programs necessary to save lives in equation form. He created what many people consider the blueprint for no kill success in any place in the country. And therein lies the genius of the equation; we do not need Nathan to come to each of our communities and rescue us from ourselves. We need only learn about the No Kill Equation; evaluate our existing resources, challenges and programs; connect with those who have used the equation before us (to learn from their successes and mistakes); and then mold and shape the equation to fit our communities. It helps to network with places who have already walked this path, for sure. As long as lives are at risk, we cannot delay. We owe it to the animals at risk, and to the communities served by animal shelters, to act with a sense of urgency to change the course of history.

The reason the Equation works is because it is dual-purpose in nature. It keeps animals from entering the shelter in the first place (the “keep them out” elements) and gets those animals who do end up in the shelter out quickly (the “get them out” elements). This combination means the animal shelter is just that: a shelter. It is a safe haven, a safety net, a temporary place to house animals until they are returned to their home or are rehomed. When shelter intake is reduced and shelter output is increased, fewer animals are in the shelter at any given time, so costs are decreased.

You can learn about the elements of the No Kill Equation from a variety of sources. The most important is the website for the No Kill Advocacy Center. The Equation is set out in detail on this page. The NKAC also provides a host of information packets on the No Kill Equation (and related to the Equation).on the Toolkit page. You can also learn about the No Kill Equation here on the No Kill Movement website, from No Kill Learning and from websites like those I manage for my Paws4Change platform and for No Kill Huntsville.

It is possible to end the outdated and unnecessary practice of destroying healthy and treatable animals. It is possible to stop this ongoing betrayal of the public trust by those who operate shelters with and are paid by our tax dollars. The No Kill Equation provides the foundation to do just that not decades from now or years from now, but right this very minute. As Nathan Winograd has said many times, “with each day we delay, the body count rises.”

Stay tuned for more blog content which relate to the elements of the Equation as we at No Kill Movement work to help advocates, rescuers, shelters and the general public bring about change in their own communities.


bottom of page