Responsible Rescue Part 3: "No Kill"
What does “no kill” really mean?
I’m starting with an overview of what “No Kill” means from a very reputable source, Best Friends Animal Society. I’ll explain how that organization defines this term, and then I’ll explain why and how I think it gets misunderstood, and can even become dangerous for animal welfare.
Best Friends Animal Society
One of the biggest names in the rescue world is Best Friends Animal Society (BFAS). Best Friends started as a sanctuary in Utah with the goal of rescuing and rehoming adoptable animals, and giving otherwise unadoptable animals a place to live out the rest of their lives. It has since become a movement in the animal welfare world, with No Kill becoming an overarching goal. There are No Kill programs in place in multiple cities (including Austin, LA, and New York, in addition to the original Utah program). Their motto is Save Them All. This is an incredible goal, and one that has surely had a huge impact on the animal welfare community. For more on how BFAS got started and on all their great work including education initiatives, visit their website.
What is a “No Kill” community:
Here is an excerpt on how BFAS explains what a No Kill Community is:
“ In our view, for a community to be considered truly no-kill, it means that no healthy or treatable animal is killed. The community’s focus should be on saving as many lives as possible through positive outcomes (adoption, transfer to rescue groups, etc.), not solely on reducing the killing to achieve a numerical goal.
However, we also understand the importance of having a quantitative benchmark, as it gives communities a goal to aim for and generates accountability for no-kill program efforts. Generally, the no-kill threshold for a community is considered to be 90 percent…
It is important to note that a 90 percent save rate is not necessarily defined as no-kill. This is because a community with a 90 percent save rate could still be killing animals who are not cases of true euthanasia. It is also possible that the opposite could be true — that a given community may achieve no-kill even if the save rate isn’t 90 percent.”
I want to take a second to call out that last part- that even if a shelter has a live release rate lower than 90% it could still be considered No Kill if that’s the percentage of animals that are considered adoptable.
So how do we define “adoptable”?
Since “adoptable” is and will always be somewhat subjective as a measure of analysis (BFAS provides some units of measure on their website but also states that there will always be some level of subjectivity), it’s relatively impossible to give an objective set of data to measure if a city is in fact No Kill. Here is their definition of “healthy and adoptable”:
“*such as: ringworm, upper respiratory infection, mange, need for amputation, resource guarding, ear infections, aggression issues, dental disease, urinary tract infections. Please note that this list is just a small sample of the kinds of manageable conditions that should be treated.”
I agree wholeheartedly with BFAS’ goal: that no adoptable animal is killed for space or otherwise fixable reasons. No animal should be killed for the lack of a home. My heart aches with how much I want that to be true. However, there is a problem when it comes to the implementation of Save Them All, and with the goal of No Kill by (insert year). The problem is how. How do we get from here to there?
As explained, since “adoptable” is often a subjective unit of measure (ringworm is easy to diagnose but aggression issues that are or are not correctable or manageable is extremely subjective) and since every community’s “no kill” rate will be different, many shelters and community members use a shelter’s “live release rate” as a way to measure success. That includes any dog released to a rescue, returned to owner, adopted by a member of the public, or that otherwise left the shelter alive. In theory this is a great way to measure. But the problem comes when you begin to stratify the outcomes beyond “live” or “not live” release. The problem is when we choose to believe that “alive” is always better than “not alive.” Because unfortunately, there are fates worse than humane euthanasia.
The external factors beyond healthy and treatable when defining “adoptable”
No Kill means the percentage of healthy, treatable, adoptable animals who are released from the shelter is 100%. You can define healthy, and you can likely take a good stab at estimating treatable. Where we need to give a long hard look at ourselves is in “adoptable.” If a dog itself is considered adoptable by defintion, but there are not enough homes for all the adoptable dogs, are these dogs really still considered adoptable?
People need to truly understand that not all euthanasia is avoidable. That No Kill ≠ no animals die. And that screaming into the internet to “save” “misunderstood” dogs (often with bite histories or aggressive shelter/surrender behavior) does nothing but jam up the works of rescues working on the more adoptable dogs. In the case of pit bulls with these issues, it does a disservice to the breed every time one of these dogs bites. I know this is an unpopular opinion but I would rather an aggressive dog be humanely euthanized by a shelter or rescue than placed in a home where it hurts someone or another animal, or spend the rest of his or her life in a boarding facility. Stay tuned for the blog post on hoard and board rescues.
Maybe one day we can truly save them all. That is not the time we live in right now. We need to operate responsibly, and we need to stop blaming shelters and focus on the real problems behind the animal shelter crisis we’re facing. If there are not enough homes for them out there, then unfortunately not all healthy and treatable animals can be considered adoptable. And that is the problem with the implementation of No Kill in the current landscape. I believe we can get there one day. But we need to work on both a macro and micro level to accomplish legal change (ending BSL, better breeder regulation and ending puppy mills, decreasing dog fighting, increasing penalties for animal abuse) and social change (better education about rescue, better education and access to low cost vet care including spay and neuter, as well as to training) before this goal can become a reality.