Poll: How do you define “no kill”?

Added:  Please keep in mind that the poll design allows for limited space for the choices.  I had to make each choice as concise as possible and could not include an essay for each.  The choices are intended to be generalizations and not meant to include every possible circumstance which could arise within a shelter.

36 thoughts on “Poll: How do you define “no kill”?

  1. I voted A, but I recognize that B is pretty darn good. I’m OK with B commonly being called “No Kill” because you can’t achieve it without serious dedication to not killing.

  2. My understanding is that the 90% or higher figure is meant as a QA threshhold, not as a definition.

    That is, if an entity is NOT achieving the 90% figure, it is evidence that they are not following through on a no-kill commitment, and their actual practices should come under serious scrutiny.

    There might be temporary circumstances under which a shelter comes in short of 90% and is legitimately no-kill, but dropping below that threshhold invites enhanced inquiry.

  3. I voted A because I do not believe healthy dogs should be killed. I think that dogs should not be kept in a shelter for months and months either. The shelters should work on getting these dogs in foster homes or to a rescue. I have received e-mails recently where a couple of dogs were in a shelter for over a year and the shelter was begging for them to be adopted. I do not understand why they were not trying to find a rescue for them.

    1. Why do you think finding a rescue would solve those dogs problems? I volunteer at a rescue that has had dogs for over 5 years. They live good lives considering they are not in a home, but a rescue does not equal a foster home or a quick adoption.

  4. I voted A. I’ve been on the outside of some discussions on the 90 percent qualifier and how the math is computed. For me, it really isn’t about numbers although I recognize the value of that. I think the 90 comes in due to simple statistical probability. In 2010, 69% of the intake at the local “facility” were destroyed or died. 84% of those destroyed were healthy and treatable. As for Jennifer’s comment, I’ve been presenting the no kill equation to my local advocacy group as being dual purpose: keep ’em out, get ’em out. No kill for me doesn’t mean animals languish in a shelter for months and years. We prevent them from going there through elements like spay/neuter and pet retention. We get them out through elements like foster and comprehensive adoption programs.

  5. It doesn’t seem like anyone who voted “neither” has opted to explain their definition in the comments. I wish they would. I’m truly interested.

    1. I voted “neither” and here’s why: a true proper no-kill shelter is one that only euthanizes animals who are medically suffering and not treatable, but ALSO deals with behaviorally challenged dogs. Saving all of your healthy animals is great, but euthanizing for behavior is only acceptable under one condition (in my opinion): the condition that the shelter does NOT have the resources to work with that animal or to keep it in a happy/healthy sanctuary setting, and has exhausted the options of other rescues/groups taking ownership of that animal for them.
      I volunteer at a shelter where no-kill means only animals who are so ill that they are suffering and are NOT treatable are euthanized. We have plenty of serious behavior cases- both dogs and cats- but we do not euthanize them. I wish our location and funds would afford us to provide a happier environment for those with such behavior problems that they will likely not be able to go up for adoption, but while we do not have that, we DO work with those dogs to mentally stimulate and enrich their lives in their time with us.
      All that being said, I would tolerate- even accept- euthanasia of dangerous or aggressive animals if it meant a 90% save rate AND that the shelter in question would not, under any circumstances, euthanize for space or for TREATABLE and or minor medical conditions.

  6. I opted C because it should include the implementation of the no kill equation. Ive seem self proclimed no kill shelters with disgraceful standards but dont kill and have kept animals in cages for too long.

  7. I voted A. No killing means you don’t give up unless the animal does. If an animal is suffering with no hope of saving them, or they pose a real danger, there is no choice but to let them go from this world. The problem is, who is going to define “medically hopeless” or “dangerous” as even experts have different opinions? A “dangerous” animal for example, might just be scared and need some love and affection over time to build trust.

  8. A comes the closest for me, but I have a problem with “qualified person”. I know too many shelters with “qualified people” who kill dogs for problems, such as fear, when in reality they are fine when removed from a kennel environment. Very few animals are so truly vicious that they must be killed – but I do know that some exist.

  9. I chose A, but in hindsight, I didn’t think about the real definition of the word “treatable”. Sometimes that word can be loaded. For example, is the treatment extremely expensive and/or invasive? That’s where I am on the fence… I understand that many shelters and rescues in the case of expensive treatment being needed, will ask for help from the community and that’s great, but I wouldn’t want to see a shelter spend so much on one animal’s treatment, that they run out of money for the basic needs of the other animals in the shelter.

  10. I have voted neither because there is something missing from the first option – that animals that are transferred out must also go to a shelter with that same philosophy. There is no point to having a no-kill philosophy if a small no-kill shelter transfers to a high-kill shelter. That shelter may as well be killing those animals themselves but by transferring they are not including those ‘kills’ in their own numbers. So – the first option with a qualifier on transfers only being made to other rescues/shelters with that same philosophy.

  11. As a person who voted “Neither”–my reasoning is that 90% is too arbitrary a number. It’s a good start, but why not eventually 100%? If an animal is not terminally ill and suffering, we should (in a perfect world) be able to save all of them. We as a society created the conditions that produced the unsocialized, aggressive animals. Yeah, I’m a dreamer…..

  12. In the general sense of the term, I vote A, but in my mind, No-Kill includes all animals, not just shelter animals… No animal should be killed for recreation/entertainment(hunting), or human consumption or usage(clothing).

  13. I didn’t pick A because I have questions about who is deemed “qualified”. Some animals with health problems are adoptable. They are “special needs” animals, and there are people out there who will open their hearts and homes to these pets. Also, what determines a “dangerous dog’? It’s breed? It’s demeanor? A breed doesn’t determine anything, any more than does a person’s race. And demeanor? Really? Many animals have been abused and mistreated. By some people’s reasoning, this makes them only deserving of death. Nice, huh? Abuse them, rescue them, and then kill them. Makes sense. Many animals can be helped and taught to trust again, to be free of fear. There are some excellent programs out there that put war veterans suffering PTSD together with animals that are going through much the same thing. They heal each other. This is what “No Kill” means to me. At the same time, I do want to add that if an animal is suffering, sick, in pain, and cannot be medically helped, there is a time and place for euthanization. I would never condemn someone for making this heartbreaking decision under these circumstances. But NEVER for convenience, or for some misguided ideology, or because of (disgust), fiscal efficiency.

  14. Please keep in mind that the poll design allows for limited space for the choices. I had to make each choice as concise as possible and could not include an essay for each. The choices are intended to be generalizations and not meant to include every possible circumstance which could arise within a shelter.

  15. I selected “neither” because it would depend on whether you were talking about my own personal definition or a public policy definition.

    “Treatable” is not a black and white term. We all know that shelters kill every day for eminently treatable conditions like ear mites or fleas or thyroid problems, and in those cases, saying “treatable” is a subjective term is just an excuse for killing.

    But nonetheless, what is “treatable” for my own dogs may well not be “treatable” in even a well-run, well-funded shelter. For instance, is a cat “treatable” if she could live a good life if she had a kidney transplant that costs $15,000? Most of us would not insist a shelter do a kidney transplant to qualify as saving all treatable pets, but what about a bilateral hip replacement?

    That’s why, from a public policy standpoint, I believe we’re best off using a number, because it’s tangible and hard to “fudge.”

    I agree with Heather as well, that 90 percent is your QA threshold. If you are saving 90 percent or more, I’ll call you a no-kill community, but if you fall below that threshold, then I won’t. But it’s still possible to save less than 90 percent and be saving all healthy and treatables (not likely, but still possible), or save 99.9 percent and still kill some treatable pet.

    We can’t build public policy on least-likely scenarios and highly subjective terms like “treatable” or “adoptable” or even “healthy.” And all the programs I’ve seen that aim to define those terms are so cumbersome and so unable to adapt to different situations in different communities, and so prone to political “spin” and compromise, that they can’t fix the problem.

    So again, for me, the true definition is saving all healthy and treatable, but for purposes of public policy, I use 90 percent+. As our movement grows and we get better at this, I think we should up that to 95 percent+, but for now, 90 is acceptable to me as the threshold.

    1. It’s not even as simple as $15000 for a kidney transplant is too much money. I was told my cat was a great candidate for a kidney transplant but I said no because the after care would be too much for him. He hated getting medicine with a passion and when I had to medicate him everyday for a month he started hiding when I got home because he dreaded it so much. I wasn’t going to make him go through that the rest of his life – not when being loved was one of his favorite things. To me that was not a quality life – even though he might have lived another year or so. So even if we could come up with a metric that this is the cut off expense and so worth it still won’t work because each individual animal would respond differently.

  16. one person’s medically hopeless could be another persons friend for life. would it just be up to ONE person to make that determination? dogs and cats that can live with disabilities might be put down. i am not comfortable with that. i guess if the ‘medically hopeless’ was defined in print i could see if i agree or disagree. i have had dogs with disabilities and they were a joy for as long as i had them. i am hoping that senior hospices like the one at ‘Leave No Paws Behind’ becomes common place. Thanks for listening.

    1. While there certainly are shades of grey in these matters, I would hope that “medically hopeless and suffering” as deemed by a vet would have less greyness to it than some of the other issues. If the shelter’s vet lacked compassion, I could imagine cases where “medically hopeless” might translate to “This animal came in at 5pm and I’m not staying one minute over to treat him.” But ideally a no kill shelter is going to have a vet who shares the shelter’s vision and commitment to saving lives.

    2. Medically hopeless and/or suffering significantly is just that. There’s no real treatment, no real hope of recovery, or to try and save them causes even more pain/suffering. Having a disability is a whole other ballgame, although I’m sure some shelters (NYC ACC and MAS come to mind) put them in the medically hopeless category. Case in point is Robert, on the kill list at NYC ACC, rescued just in time by Pets Alive, and is not only recuperating from his injury, but learning to get around with wheels (http://petsalive.com/blog/2012/03/27/robert-rocks-and-rolls/).

  17. I voted for #3. I agree with #1 up until the point of the “dangerous dogs.” Many shelters have proven this is a behavior issue that can be changed. So for me, a no-kill would have behavior management in place to deal with these. A no-kill also would not trade animals with a kill shelter as many have been known to do. They would also have socialization of feral cats. It can be done with time, patience, and understanding.

    1. If I had unlimited space in the poll, I would have included that dogs deemed dangerous would only be euthanized after behavior modification had failed and the prognosis for additional rehab efforts was poor. I would have also added that the qualified party determining the dog’s dangerous status would be a behaviorist (or preferably more than one) or judge (as in a court ruling which the shelter is bound by).

      1. YAY Shirley!! Thank you for saying this. It is something I was trying to formulate, but hubby was in a hurry to go off for lunch. Add this to my ‘BUT’ concerning the evaluation process in my comment.

      2. I voted “Neither” and one of my concerns, as others have noted, is who would be considered a qualified party. Sorry, Shirley, but I disagree about judges being qualified parties. Judges are a problem; they are the ones who condemn dogs to death on the basis of Dangerous Dog legislation. They appear uneducated about dog behavior and about sanctuary options. In dog bite cases, a dog can be killed simply by a judge’s ignorance and rigid thinking.

        I do think the 90% figure is an important benchmark, not just for public policy planning and as a QA threshhold, as Christie and H. Houlahan point out, but also for talking about No Kill with regular people. When I tell other pet-owners about No Kill, I always explain that it’s not some vague ideal, that there is a benchmark of at least 90% save of all the animals in the shelter, not just those whom the shelter director condescends to deem “adoptable.” I always add that many if not most open-admission No Kill shelters save more than 90% (that is, every single animal that can possibly be saved) and that’s the real goal . . . but there needs to be something clear-cut and accurate that people can easily picture, and for me, the 90% figure is it.

      3. I agree that judges make stupid decisions sometimes regarding dogs. Shelters/owners can fight those decisions in court, if desired. Otherwise, they are legally bound to follow the rulings. That makes them a qualified party in the sense that what they say goes (provided it remains unchallenged in the courts).

  18. I ended up voting and commenting at http://polldaddy.com/poll/6236258/ – so I’ve copied/pasted my comment here.

    “A no kill shelter saves every healthy and treatable pet while euthanizing animals who are medically hopeless and suffering as well as dogs deemed dangerous by a qualified party.”

    This is the one I voted for, although maybe I should have chosen the third option. There has to be a good evaluation process in place, the person doing the evaluation has to really know their stuff, AND circumstances, such as an animal that is injured and/or frightened, has to be taken into account. Think about it, how would you react to a plastic hand being shoved in your face after being left in a loud, scary place, or if you are a stray who’s nothing but skin and bones and someone tries to take away the food?

  19. I think we all could discuss/argue (politely, of course) about what terms mean and the shelters that kill treatable pets. We probably all have seen/read/heard of at least one case of an animal on a kill list or actually killed because the shelter refused to treat a treatable condition. NYC ACC does it pretty much daily. I really don’t want to even guesstimate how many cases I’ve come across over the past year.

    However, I think we can all agree that what it comes down to are shelter directors, staff, supervising boards, volunteers, and community who, as a whole, are all committed to saving as many lives as possible regardless of the shelter’s kill/no kill status. Until they are committed, it won’t happen.

  20. I agree with APAA 100%!!! My fury at the NYCACC is because starting with Bloomberg and down thru the Dept. of Health, Board of Directors, Richard Gentles, Julie Bank, these people (?) lack any basic compassion to even walk in the door of a shelter, let alone run one. Until a high-kill shelter has compassionate, caring staff, they will never be able to function as a no-kill shelter. In the NYCACC’s case, they need to learn how to communicate with people. Hell, they need to learn to answer the phone and be accessible!

  21. To me No-Kill means not to kill for any reason any living being and this includes lower animals like dogs, cats or any companion animal. If your status as a rescue shelter or a forever sanctuary is No-Kill you just DO NOT KILL due to overcrowding and shoul be considered a crime of animal cruelty… This Texas Shelter needs to not only be reprimanded but shut down, their licenses taken away, stiff fines, and even prison for the ones who decided it was okay to change the status.

    That failed shelter who was supposed to be No-Kill just went to Killing instead of farming out the animals to other No-Kill facilites & there are plenty, some private, in that area of Texas.

    I believe the word shelter is loosely used cause a shelter protect these shelters protect no animal and the ones who run shelters are KILL HAPPY… This whole damn country is KILL HAPPY< wildlife, companion animals & so on… We who do not fight this toth and nail are a shameful disgrace….

    In my eyes no Animal Control should kill anything & furthermore, STOP making their own rules that do not resemble those of the state their county shelter is related to… Anima Control people need to stop harassing folks who take care of their dogs because they have several dogs; such animal enforcement is also enticing dogs of such a person to jump their fences so they can fine the owner or worse KILL their Dogs… Do not close your eyes to this as it is happening right under the public's noses…

    I do not believe in euthanasia for any reason other than a terminal medical condition that is diagnosed by more than one outside vets not on the Animal Control or government's payroll… All dogs, even biters (or so a Animal Control claims they are & most of those under threat are pitbull breeds or look-a-likes; such facilities even fake a disease so they can put the dog down) and cats need to be placed in regulated homes that give the dog some socialization before being placed up for adoption; and adoptions need to be strict yet not demeaning to the adopting party, like they are too old so they cannot adopt… BULLPUCKIES!!! However, the facility should (with the monies they should not be spending on lethal injection meds) hire individuals to do home checks before, and periodically to make certain a dog is being cared for well. I also firmly believe you do not adopt out a dog to a family just cause a kid whats a dog, it is only if the parent(s) are the ones wanting a dog and do not expect their child to learn responsibilty of this dog, & when child fails idog is right back in shelter… Such Killing shelters have lousy vets at the bottom of the barrel…

  22. I voted neither as either choice has serious drawbacks. Killing healthy animals is not an option. Killing animals because of “aggressive behavior” should never be an option. What aggression is is purely subjective on the part of the person evaluating the animal. My idea of aggression and others idea of aggression may be worlds apart. Aggression is nothing but the canine stating to leave them alone, or reading the intentions of the evaluator. The only time killing should be employed is for a terminal end of life condition. NEVER done for mere convenience on the part of the human. Animals WILL let you know when they no longer tolerate the life they are leading.

  23. I voted for the first option. Some dogs are too dangerous to be placed with the public. I define a “dangerous dog” as a dog who either 1. Bites without provocation or sufficient warning with no indication as to what triggered it or why and/or 2. Bites for a reason, however the reaction is “over the top” for the trigger (i.e., somebody gets mauled just because they patted a dog on the head).

    The vast majority of dogs do not fit these criteria and can live safely in society. I have, however, met dangerous dogs. I volunteer for a no-kill rescue shelter. This shelter does do some good work, but there are areas in which they could readily improve. They have had some dogs in runs for a very long time. They are the “forgotten” dogs; dogs with normal canine behavioral issues like jumping up, mouthing, pulling on leash and lack of obedience training that are growing worse because these behaviors are reinforced by well-meaning but ignorant volunteers who stuff treats in a dog’s craw for jumping up on them. These dogs need foster homes who will train them properly and get them placed, but nothing is ever done. I wholeheartedly wish I could, but in my current situation I cannot. But anyway, the dangerous dogs.

    There are dogs housed in pens instead of runs who have been there the longest. There is Wally, he has a history of biting unprovoked, and has bitten me when I was on staff and one other staff member FOR NO REASON. I had walked into his pen a million times to change his water and bring him food (I never touched him, I simply walked in, did what I needed to, and left) but one day his hackles went up, he growled and charged in a matter of seconds. Bit my foot and shook it growling. Good thing I had on a shoe, or I would have probably needed a few stitches. This dog was adopted once, and came back for biting a 19 year old girl on the arm and refusing to let go. All accounts were she only patted him on the head. This dog is unpredictable and his attack on me and on the other staff member had no clear trigger or reasoning. After he attacked me, he would sometimes charge the fence at me when I’d walk by to feed the other dogs. I never went in his pen again. There is Goldie the pit bull mix who came out of Hurrican Katrina. She is leash reactive to human beings, and has bitten people because of this. She also is selective of those she will allow into her pen. I can finally scratch her head and butt through the gate, but I haven’t been brave enough to go inside. Goldie is dangerous because her reaction to people walking near her is extreme, I have seen her lunging and snarling and chomping at the bit to get at people who come too close. She probably *could* live as a safe member of society with responsible owners who managed her properly but really, who is going to take a dog who hates strangers, needs to be an only pet and can’t be around kids? There is Timber the black lab who has severe fear issues. He has been placed in multiple homes/foster homes and every time he came back for biting. He’s old now and has trouble walking but seems fairly happy in his pen and IMO should just live out the remainder of his life where he is. Little Rupert, you could call him dangerous in a home. He is a sweetie pie at the shelter, always begging for attention, but in a home he will randomly decide to bite people for no reason. He was even in an experienced foster home for a while with people that own several “problem child” dogs (including an airedale mix who has a lengthy bite history who they manage quite well) and they couldn’t solve his issue. 90% of the time he’s a good dog, and the other 10% he’s biting you for reasons known only to him. Four unsafe animals. However, these are four unsafe animals out of hundreds placed every year. That shows you how safe dogs actually are. I do caution those who place dogs with bite histories. BE VERY CAREFUL how you place them, for these dogs, when they do bite, give rescue dogs a bad name. I have met people who refuse to rescue a dog again because they got one with aggression problems. Nice friendly dogs at your local kill shelter shouldn’t die because well-meaning but ignorant people want to save manbiters.

  24. IDK how many people might be following the comments here but I wanted to pose another question. Let’s say a shelter that kills for space does so by evaluating each animal and choosing for the kill room the ones they feel are least adoptable due to factors such as have been mentioned in previous comments (e.g. cat needs an expensive surgery, dog fights with other dogs). Would anyone consider this shelter to be “no kill”? I would not but I am interested in hearing opinions.

    1. For me the no-kill isn’t just which animals they kill it is the purpose behind the killing. For no kill they are killing animals as a mercy – ones that are so sick or injured that prolonging their life is cruel and nothing reasonable can be done to alleviate their suffering. A shelter that kills only the sick or dangerous might follow the “rules” of no kill but their purpose is not. They aren’t killing because it is the best thing for this animal – they are killing because they want the space and would presumably let them live if they didn’t need the space.

      1. My local shelter actually does evaluate and sort of “triage,” their killing based on adoptability, and they keep a lot of animals for months hoping they will get adopted. But they aren’t that successful and still end up killing more than 60% of the dogs and 75% of the cats. So no, I don’t think doing that qualifies a shelter as “no kill” at all.

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