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  • Writer's pictureAubrie Kavanaugh

No Kill Opposition – Please Know Your Facts Before You Offer Your Opinion

Updated: Nov 20, 2019


I read an article today which raised my blood pressure. It was yet another article in a long line of articles seeking to discredit the No Kill movement – a social movement which seeks an end to the killing of healthy and treatable shelter animals using our tax dollars and donations while we are, for the most part, blamed for that process. The article was published on the VIN (Veterinary Information Network) News Service yesterday. It is entitled, “Has the no-kill movement increased animal suffering?” It was written by two veterinarians - Jennifer Woolf and Julie Brinker.

The No Kill movement is a noble social movement born of compassion, the foundation of which is our values as a society. Given the choice between keeping animals and alive and destroying them, there is a public expectation that they will be kept alive. Most people think it should be illegal for shelters to destroy healthy and treatable animals. If animal shelters had never killed healthy and treatable animals using our money and began doing that now, people would be outraged. They should be outraged that it happens now. Thankfully, the solution to end the killing is known and has been for almost two decades. The solution lies in the programs and services of the No Kill Equation which can be molded and shaped to fit the resources in, and challenges of, any community. That’s the good news that people like the authors of the article side-step as they focus on the message of doom and gloom saying such inflammatory thing as, “the no-kill movement has a dark side of unintended consequences.” As I type this now, I honestly wonder what they hoped to accomplish with the article

I decided to channel my annoyance about the article into this rebuttal. I do not address every statement in the article. These are my highlights.

Understanding that there will always be some animals that require humane euthanasia, the benchmark of a no-kill facility is to have 90% of its animals leave the facility alive.

This is false. The 90% rate was an indicator of progress about a decade ago; it was a byproduct of saving more lives. The benchmark of a no kill facility is that no healthy and treatable animals are destroyed regardless of the statistics. With improvements in veterinary medicine, shelter programs and the participation of the public, some shelters are saving as many of 98% of the animals.

The live-release rate is calculated by taking the total number of animals leaving a facility alive and dividing it by the total number of animals leaving, whether alive or deceased, not including those presented for euthanasia by their owners.

This is false. The live release rate does include animals who are euthanized at the request of their owner (ORE). A death is a death. To not include those lives in the calculations presents an inaccurate picture of the outcomes and cannot be overlooked.

Because a shelter's reputation with the public and its ability to obtain funding often depends on this target measurement, a shelter's goal may become to keep an animal alive, regardless of its welfare or its risk to society.

This is false. Shelters which follow proven No Kill programs do not compromise the welfare of animals and do not release animals into the public which create known safety risks. Do to so would be unethical and not at all in keeping with the No Kill movement.

Limited-admission organizations can artificially adjust their live-release rates by limiting the number of and kinds of animals they admit. Such organizations are often nonprofit shelters and rescues.

This is false due to the way the first sentence is worded. Shelters run by nonprofit and animal rescue groups are inherently limited admission because they are not funded by tax dollars. They are funded by donations and often have no paid staff. It is not an artificial adjustment of the live release rate for these shelters to behave responsibly by only taking in as many animals as they can actually care for and place. To do otherwise would be unethical.

Another technique is to deliberately choose specific types of animals for the shelter. If a shelter obtains animals from a facility with a higher euthanasia rate, as is common, they may drive past local shelters and through multiple counties or states in a search for desirable animals like small, fluffy dogs.

Nonprofit rescue groups and shelters have absolute say over the animals they help for the reasons stated above. It is a sweeping generalization to state that rescues only seek small, fluffy dogs. Many rescue groups focus on particular breeds to facilitate the public finding an animal of that breed more readily. Other rescue groups focus on special needs animals or animals with behavioral issues. To make this sound like this is some tactic used by non-profits is disingenuous because it has nothing to do with the No Kill movement this article seeks to criticize.

Open-admission organizations take in all animals [and] must develop other methods to achieve a 90% live-release rate. They do this typically by some combination of holding animals longer (which does not count in the live-release rate) or by transferring animals to other organizations. Another method, utilized less often, is to decrease intake by reducing the effort to round up strays, or refusing animals outside their contracted geographic region, even if those areas have no safe place for unwanted animals to go.

These statements are false as a group. Open admission animal shelters are tax-funded facilities operated most often by municipalities or on contract for municipalities. They focus on a geographic region by nature based on jurisdiction. A shelter in City A is responsible for animals in that city. It has no obligation to help animals in City B. Those animals are the responsibility of City B. Some well performing shelters do take animals from outside their jurisdiction as an act of good-will, but are certainly not obligated to do so. I would argue that if City A helps large numbers of animals from City B, there is no incentive for City B to improve its own operation and be good stewards of tax dollars. Tax-funded shelters which use No Kill programs hold animals only as long as necessary to place them and are very much focused on limiting the length of stay. Placing animals with rescue groups is one of the programs of the No Kill Equation. To make this sound improper is disingenuous.

When an animal is passed up by adopters for whatever reasons, it may be transferred to another shelter. While working to improve their live-release rate, some facilities may feel pressured to get animals out any way they can, especially if they cannot control how fast they are coming in. Therefore, they may be lax about first ensuring any secondary shelter or rescue group is caring for their current animals appropriately, much less has the capacity to care for more. As such, when the first shelter transfers an animal to a different shelter or rescue, it may be unintentionally enabling an animal hoarder.

These reaching statements do not represent the No Kill movement. Shelters using proven No Kill programs do not transfer animals to substandard rescue groups simply as a means of getting animals out of the facility. To imply rescue groups are managed by animal hoarders is beyond the pale. There are certainly rescue groups which do not function consistent with public values. Shelters need only network with those rescues of which they approve. In the event a non-profit rescue functions inappropriately, that behavior can be reported to the board of the organization and in some cases to law enforcement authorities, where appropriate.

In the extreme, some organizations may send an animal that should be euthanized to a facility that does not claim a "no kill" philosophy, knowing it will be euthanized there.

This statement is false. No legitimate No Kill shelter would ever do this. Ever.

Some shelters and rescues become hoarders, believing that any existence is better than euthanasia. Oftentimes, this happens because those in charge of such secondary, limited-admission shelters and rescues find it difficult to say "no" to requests to take less-adoptable animals. For instance, they may feel pressure from constant requests from overcrowded shelters, social media and donors to take "just one more." If it goes too far, they ultimately agree to possess more animals than they can care for, and they become overcrowded themselves.

These statements do not apply to tax-funded animal shelters. The authors, again, appear to point to rescue groups which function inconsistent with public values and about which actions can be taken to remedy the situation should animal welfare be compromised.

Overcrowding and long-term kenneling at any shelter. . .can result in a failure by personnel to provide for even the basic needs of the animals in their care.

This statement does not apply to shelters which follow No Kill programs and philosophies. The basic needs of animals are of primary concern and are not compromised under any circumstances.

The term "no-kill" should be dropped since it is inflammatory, inaccurate and causes division between groups that share a goal of helping animals.

I could not disagree more. The phrase No Kill is on the public radar. It is used by shelters, rescue groups, the public, the media, elected officials and presidential candidates. It means that we do not kill healthy and treatable animals. There is nothing inflammatory about that. The phrase is certainly no more inflammatory or harmful than is killing healthy and treatable animals and using the word euthanasia to describe that very permanent act which is not done as an act of mercy.

Just as different types of tools serve different purposes, we need to recognize that different types of shelters serve different purposes, as well.

This statement is true. The authors of this article would have done well to consider those very words before publishing this article which tries to make the functions of tax-funded and nonprofit shelters the same, when they are not, which implies that rescue groups cannot be trusted, and which paints an entire social movement in a negative light using a few scant examples. Examples of those who use the phrase No Kill inappropriately and which do not focus on the welfare of animals are all around us. As our society undergoes the growing pains of social change, it is up to all of us to call out those operations when we become aware of them. Using them as examples of an entire social movement is not helpful to bringing an end to the needless destruction of healthy and treatable animals in our society.

I challenge the authors of the article to educate themselves about the No Kill Equation and about the values of the No Kill movement. Information can be found on a variety of websites including, but certainly not limited to, the website for the No Kill Advocacy Center, No Kill Movement, No Kill Learning and my Paws4Change website. If reading those websites involves too much research for them, I will gladly share a copy of my book for free. They need only ask.

Hopefully, the authors of the article do not practice veterinary medicine with the same "logic" shown in the article which is tantamount to making a diagnosis without seeing the patient or running any tests.

1 comment

1 Comment

Nov 29, 2019

Excellent article! Thank you for putting into words what I struggle with daily. The spin needs to be addressed, and I will be referring to this article often.

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