Ever since coming to understand the myth of pet overpopulation, I have defined killing as ending the life of a healthy/treatable shelter pet and euthanasia as ending the suffering of a medically hopeless pet or behaviorally hopeless/dangerous dog. These definitions make more sense to me since euthanasia, or “good death”, can not possibly apply to an animal who is healthy or has a treatable condition. There is simply nothing good about the death of that animal.
As such, the term no kill to me has always meant no killing of healthy/treatable pets. I’ve never considered no kill as being defined by a percentage of saved pets, even though we commonly refer to the 90%+ save rates of various shelters. To me, the percentage that reflects a no kill shelter’s save rate is somewhat incidental – it is the shelter’s commitment to saving every healthy/treatable animal that is critical. As Nathan Winograd puts it:
[T]he fundamental tenet of the No Kill philosophy is that our commitment is to each individual animal and that each individual animal is entitled to individual consideration.
I believe the one year standard – that is, a shelter must have saved every healthy/treatable pet in its care for 12 months in order to be considered truly no kill – is a reasonable one. Many shelters have shown that it is possible to stop killing animals for a short period of time without putting in place the programs necessary to maintain it long term. Just because a shelter doesn’t kill animals for 2 weeks or 2 months doesn’t make it a no kill shelter. But by demonstrating a commitment to saving every healthy/treatable pet for a year, a shelter has earned the right to call itself no kill in my view.
The label though, does not come with a lifetime membership. No kill is a daily commitment to save animals’ lives much in the way that sobriety is a daily commitment to refrain from the use of drugs and alcohol. To my mind, if a shelter has saved every healthy/treatable animal for more than a year but then kills one or more healthy/treatable animals, that shelter is no longer no kill. You don’t hear people at AA meetings stand up and say, “I’ve been sober for 13 months except for one day last week when I was falling down drunk.” Once the commitment fails, the clock resets.
If a shelter which has saved every healthy/treatable animal for more than one year starts killing healthy/treatable animals for whatever reason, it’s possible there has been a temporary breakdown of some sort. Perhaps a failure of leadership or a faulty system of checks and balances are to blame. Regardless of the explanation, that shelter is no longer a no kill shelter. But it can be again. Shelter leadership can step up and say, ‘We made a mistake. We’re sorry. It won’t happen again. We are committed to the no kill philosophy and would ask the community to support us as we prove that in the weeks and months ahead.”
We’ve all made bad decisions at times. We’ve all been in need of forgiveness. It’s easy for me to hear someone take ownership of a mistake and offer my support going forward. If a former no kill shelter has made a bad decision regarding killing animals, wants to own it and move forward with a renewed commitment to no kill, I will support that unequivocally. I will help in any way that I can.
But without ownership, there is no accountability and therefore, no trust. In the absence of trust, there is no faith in future outcomes. As the saying goes, the first step to getting help is admitting you have a problem. Austin Animal Center – you have a problem.