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Why should shelters become “no kill”?

Thoughts on the No Kill Conference

A strange piece to the No Kill Conference that I attended last weekend was how person after person told me “I didn’t tell my shelter I’d be here.”

A woman from Georgia said she would definitely be fired if her shelter director knew she attended. A woman from Louisiana said the same. Others agreed. Personally, I also did not announce to any of my local rescue groups or shelters that I would be attending the conference.

Why are those of us who oppose shelter killing viewed as crazy, wrong or extreme? Wouldn’t any sane person want to stop the needless killing of healthy, adoptable dogs and cats?

The No Kill Movement has made significant progress, but there is a lot of work ahead, mostly about shifting attitudes.

No kill is based on the idea of ending the systematic killing of healthy, adoptable animals in U.S. shelters, according to the No Kill Advocacy Center.

Note that killing a healthy animal due to a “lack of a home” is not the same as euthanizing an animal that is truly suffering.

Existing no-kill communities

About 200 towns and cities in the United States are saving at least 90 percent of all shelter/pound intakes, according to Nathan Winograd, author of Redemption and executive director of the No Kill Advocacy Center. These towns and cities make up at least 50 no-kill communities. has documented a list of these 50 U.S. communities (and growing!) with open-admission shelters that save 90 percent or more of the animals they take in. The site lists these communities on its right-hand sidebar, including Austin, Texas; Reno, Nev.; Duluth, Minn.; and Brookfield, Wis.

The steps to achieve no kill are very basic (although not easy), and they are the same no matter where you live. No kill has already been achieved in a large variety of towns, and any community can do the same by following the same steps.

According to the No Kill Advocacy Center:

The basic steps that make no kill achievable for any community include:

  • an extensive Trap/Neuter/Release program for feral cats
  • high-volume, low-cost spaying/neutering
  • working with rescue groups
  • fostering dogs and cats
  • comprehensive adoption programs
  • pet retention (helping pet owners work through problems)
  • medical and behavior prevention and rehabilitation
  • public relations/community involvement
  • volunteers
  • proactive redemptions (reuniting lost pets with their owners)
  • a compassionate shelter director

Slowly, more and more communities will shift until every shelter in the United States is no kill. It’s only a matter of time.

Why do shelter directors still reject the idea of no kill?

Many are still clinging to the “pet overpopulation” myth.

If you do the math, you will see that “pet overpopulation” is the biggest lie in the animal rescue world.

I know, it’s hard to get past the overpopulation myth. We’ve all been told over and over our whole lives that there just aren’t enough homes. When roughly 3 million pets are killed annually in U.S. shelters, we naturally assume there aren’t enough homes.

But there are enough homes. More than enough.

Winograd often refers to a study done by the Humane Society of the United States and Maddie’s Fund. The study showed that each year, roughly 23 million people in the United States obtain a new pet.

Some of those 23 million people will obtain a pet from a breeder or other commercial source, and some will obtain a pet from a shelter or rescue, the study said.

The study also showed that 17 million people out of the total 23 million will be undecided about where they will get their pet and can be persuaded to adopt from a shelter.

So each year we have about 17 million people undecided about where they will get their pet, and we have about 3 million pets scheduled to be killed.

Simple math shows there are plenty of homes.

We have to let go of the “overpopulation” myth. It’s just not true.

Another myth is the “irresponsible public” myth.

The majority of people are good, and we have to let them adopt.

Those of us who volunteer with shelters see terrible, horrendous abuse cases. We hear about torture and dog fighting in the news and on Facebook. I’ve seen some pretty awful stuff, too.

However, let’s remember there are at least 78.2 million dogs living in U.S. homes, according to the ASPCA.

Most dogs in the United States are thriving. They live pampered, spoiled, happy lives. These happy stories are not reported in the news, because happy dogs are the norm. A well-cared for dog does not make the news.

People who work in animal rescue and animal control see the worst of the worst at times.

If you are the “intake coordinator” for your shelter, of course you are going to see some awful pet owners and some very sad cases. If you see these types of cases every week or every day, it’s easy to lose faith in the general public. But remember, these cases are the minority. Most people love and spoil their pets.

We have to get past our fear of the public, said Kim Wolf, who worked with Animal Farm Foundation at the time, in a presentation I attended on turbocharging “pitbull” adoptions. We have all these dogs in cages and we need to send them home.

I could not agree more.

For more information on the basics behind no kill:

Related blog posts from

The concepts to no kill can be difficult to grasp at first. I too believed in pet overpopulation for most of my life. If you disagree with me, please voice your opinions in the comments below. Animal rescue is an emotional issue, so remember to remain professional.

My mutt Ace and my foster dog Dora - two black labs!

Ace and Dora ask, “What is the main roadblock preventing your city from achieving no kill?”

No Kill Conference 2012
A perfect day for a dog