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Lindsay’s Column: What does ‘no kill’ really mean?

I support the movement to end the killing of healthy, adoptable animals in worldwide shelters. Really, I don’t know who wouldn’t support that idea.

But unfortunately there is opposition to the idea of no kill. This is probably due to some misunderstandings of what no kill really means.

Kill vs. euthanize

In order to understand “no kill” we need to address “kill” vs. “euthanize.” They are two separate things and should not be used interchangeably.

Those who support the no-kill movement believe in euthanizing animals that are truly suffering due to certain illnesses or injuries. Euthaniasia is an act of mercy. My golden retriever Brittni was euthanized because an autoimmune disease was destroying her body. Ending her suffering was an act of kindness.

Killing a healthy, energetic German shepherd because of a “lack of homes” or a “lack of space” is not an act of mercy. It is killing, and it is wrong.

Killing motherless kittens is not “euthanasia.” Killing a pitbull for being a pitbull is not euthanasia. Killing a senior Lab because she’s old is not euthanasia. Killing a cat with ringworm (a treatable fungus) is not euthanasia.

Killing is not kindness. It is not an act of mercy.

My two goldens and I

“But let’s face it, there aren’t enough homes.”

The most common opposition I hear to no kill goes something like, “But how can we save them all when there aren’t enough homes? How can we save them all when people keep breeding more dogs?”

Those are difficult questions, but in reality there are far more available homes in the United States than there are homeless pets. And I’m not talking about homes in general. I’m talking about 17 million U.S. households that will obtain a new dog or cat this year but are undecided about where they will obtain that pet, according to a study by the Humane Society of the United States and Maddie’s Fund. Meanwhile, 3 to 4 million dogs and cats are killed annually in U.S. shelters.

The demand is higher than the supply, which is why pet overpopulation is a myth. It is used as an excuse to kill healthy animals.

We can save them all, with the exception of a small percentage of dogs and cats that are truly suffering and should be euthanized as well as a small percentage of dogs that are truly dangerous and should be killed for the safety of humans.

“But living in a kennel for months or years is no life for a dog.”

I agree.

No kill is not about housing dogs in kennels for months or years. No kill is more than ending the killing. It is equally important to increase adoptions so dogs can leave the shelter alive – and quickly.

We are getting closer, with at least 233 documented no-kill communities in the United States. Here are some examples of what a couple of these specific shelters are doing.

How do we do even better?

There are two important steps:

1. Believing no kill is possible.

When you make the decision “My shelter is not going to kill any more pets,” you can make it happen. People are extremely creative and resourceful. If we put our minds to it, we can accomplish nearly anything. Plus, when we need ideas (and who doesn’t?) there are 233 U.S. communities who have done it and would be glad to share their advice on how a city can become no kill.

2. Absorbing the blame.

I’m pretty good at blaming the shelters for killing pets, but it’s not fair to place the blame on one organization or one person. Sure, I can pat myself on the back because my little rescue group has not killed any animals (do any rescue groups kill animals?), but if the shelter a mile away is still killing dogs and cats than I am also at fault. It’s a community’s responsibility as a whole to save the animals.

For example, if a shelter director is not compassionate, then it’s the community’s job to get her out of there. If the local government doesn’t care, then it’s the community’s job to stand up and make some changes. If the community members don’t seem to care, then it’s the shelter workers and rescue groups that need to go out into local neighborhoods and business areas and find a way to reach them.

If a community is killing animals, everyone is to blame. No kill is more than just maintaining a tiny, closed-admission “no-kill” shelter. It involves expanding the idea of community to include an entire county, an entire state, region, country and eventually the world.

What are some ways your community is working to achieve no kill?

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Monday 20th of January 2014

I volunteer for a no-kill, we are foster only. We do not have a shelter but we rent a space that the volunteers bring their foster dog(s) on Saturday and Sunday from 12-4 so possible adopters can meet the dogs. I feel this works very well. Most of us have at least one dog and/or cat(s). I myself have 5 dogs and 3 cats and 2 kids. My home is in my opinion the ultimate testing ground for how a dog will react in multiple areas. We can give the adopters a good amount of info on things such as how they are with other animals, children, if they are housebroken, barkers, chewers and so on. I had taken on a sheltie mix that came from a kennel life. He had multiple issues with trust and was a fear biter. He had been microchipped 3 times which means he had been bounced all over in his six years of life. After a few months of training he has found his forever home and has come a long way. I don't think if he had stayed in the shelter environment he would've been adoptable. He was one of the smartest dogs I have come across and I feel if he went to a "kill" shelter he wouldnt have survived with some of his initial issues. Some dogs do terrible in this environment. I learned a lot from him and I like to believe he did from us too. We have euthanized do to severe health issues because I do believe it is the compassionate thing to do, but as a no-kill I don't think people understand in some instances even a no-kill has to do this. I think they assume we never kill. Thank you for your blog I think it is very informative. Keep up the great work!

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 20th of January 2014

I really enjoyed hearing your point of view on this. Foster homes are such a great way to help the dogs. You really have a houseful with 5 dogs, 3 cats and 2 kids! :)


Friday 17th of January 2014

Thank you, Lindsay - great post! I also like the idea of fostering. Surprisingly, a lot of people never heard of it (me including). Spreading the word could be a way of involving the community more and stepping in the right direction of becoming no-kill.

Lindsay Stordahl

Friday 17th of January 2014

Yeah, it didn't really occur to me that people may not have heard of dog or cat fostering. You're right, more awareness on this could go a long way.


Thursday 16th of January 2014

Great post, Lindsay! I also wonder when I see pets being put up for adoption after a year or so because "they turned out to be too big" or "we are having a baby and won't have time". I think part of the issue is the mentality that dogs and cats are disposable when inconvenient - disposable not in the sense that they should be killed, but that the owner's commitment to them is conditional. Once the pet is not convenient, it can be put back up for adoption, live in the garage or outside etc. The same is true with behavioral issues, as Michelle above mentions, a very complex issue for no-kill shelters, rescues and many pet owners, but it can be addressed (although maybe not as conveniently as some people may like!).

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 16th of January 2014

If more dogs were trained to begin with so many would not lose their homes. One thing I love about Fargo is it has affordable obedience classes. I love how Red River North runs as a nonprofit, and $55 or so for seven weeks of classes is a steal. I'm sure that's made a big difference for the community. I can't find anything like that around here.

Michelle Simeone

Wednesday 15th of January 2014

Thank you for this amazing article! I volunteer at a small no-kill shelter in Washougal, WA. WE STRUGGLE EVERYDAY! The downside to being no-kill is that we sometimes get in dogs (through animal control) that have issues. Currently, we have four dogs that have been with us for too long. One has been with us for two years. He's a great dog (Amstaff) but he is not good with other animals. There is no reason to euthanize him so we carry on daily trying to keep him happy and healthy. We do not have the resources for training him. We have a trainer who volunteers some of her time but Cutty needs more intensive training to make him less reactive. I do feel like the no-kill movement is hurting these dogs in a way, yet I am not a fan of the alternative. So what's a little shelter like us to do with dogs that are tough to rehome? We currently have four dogs that are what we call our "residents."

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 16th of January 2014

Yes, that is so hard. I'm sure you've put out many calls for help through social media and your local news media? Maybe asking for a volunteer training or at least a strong, experienced dog walker to come work with him? There are people out there who love to help the tough cases, but I agree it can be hard to find them. I wish you the best of luck and keep up the good work.

Do you have a lot of Kong type toys and other interactive toys? People love to donate toys when asked.

Amy Tomlinson

Wednesday 15th of January 2014

Fantastic article! I love the way you think! I volunteer at a local humane shelter which recently transitioned to a "no kill" shelter. I am absolutely thrilled about it but am constantly bombarded with questions and judgments by those that know I am involved there. You are exactly right -the major issue is a lack of public/community awareness. The public is not provided with enough information to be well informed on the matter before passing judgement. As someone involved within the shelter, it is easy for me to witness the benefits of a no kill community. On the other hand, I can understand how a non involved person would be confused and upset. I feel that there has been some "negative" impact since the transition, at least at my particular shelter. The intake of animals has decreased substantially due to the increased need of non existent funds to support them. That is always the first complaint I hear from people... WHY AREN'T THEY TAKING IN AS MANY ANIMALS AS BEFORE?.. They see only the negative and don't give a thought to how much work, time and money goes into running a shelter and saving lives. I wish financial information was made readily available to the public and they could see first hand that the funds necessary to take in countless animals are just simply not there. Most of these organizations are non profit and run mostly through donations and primarily by volunteers. Those that have time to complain need to step up and help out! I'm tired of the mindset that we are a dumping ground for unwanted animals. We aren't REQUIRED to run shelters. It's not MANDATORY that we save any of these animals at all.We do it out of love and compassion and we need more help. What I always tell people.. "BE the change you want to see in the world." There isn't always going to be someone there to do it for you.

Also, random comment.. Have you ever thought of doing an article on Tia Torres from Animal Planet's Pitbulls and Parolees? She is an immense role model in my life. EVERY time I watch an episode, I am inspired to my core to get out there and make a difference. Perhaps spreading the word of her show to those that have never heard of it, would help to inspire thousands more!

Thanks for doing what you do! -Amy

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 16th of January 2014

Thank YOU for all the hard work you're doing. You know, I have never actually watched Pitbulls and Parolees. The ads for it have never interested me. I'll have to check it out.