Shelter pet advocacy is not static in nature.  As the no kill movement grows and evolves, so do we as individual advocates.  As more information and experience becomes available, we may learn better ways of performing tasks and communicating ideas.  While we remain committed to the basic principle that shelter pets have the right to live, our views on the who, what, when, where and why of various details may require reexamination and modification over time.  This is a natural part of the growth of any movement and as challenging as change may seem at times, it’s a good thing.  It means our movement is alive.

For some time, I have been reexamining my view of the 90% save rate which serves as a benchmark for many animal shelters who use the term “no kill” to describe themselves.  Nathan Winograd talks about how the figure became established in a January 2013 post on his blog:

When I worked in San Francisco, we were saving roughly 80% of animals communitywide, but treatable animals were still being killed at the city pound. Because the leadership of the San Francisco SPCA refused to expand the safety-net of care (my plea to the Board of Directors to commit to saving all treatable animals having fallen on deaf ears), I left for Tompkins County to prove that at an open admission shelter could not only save all the healthy animals, but all the treatable ones as well. And while I was there, our save rate hit 93% (about 95% using the methods in vogue today). Reno and then several other communities emulated the model, and, likewise, began posting similar save rates: Charlottesville hit 92% and Reno hit 91%.

But with many communities claiming they were No Kill while still killing half or more of all animals, I promulgated what I called, “The 90% Rule,” arguing that—based on the best performing shelters at the time, along with dog bite extrapolation data and rates of infectious diseases in the cat and feral population—only when a community was saving animals in the 90th percentile range was it likely zeroing out deaths of healthy and treatable animals.

He explains how things have changed in the 10 years since:

We need a language for success, we need a gauge that we can use to help us compare and contrast shelters so that we know what goal we should be striving for, and governments need measurable benchmarks that more qualitative standards like “No Kill” or “saving all healthy and treatable animals” don’t provide. In that sense, giving people a numerical idea of the percentage of animals a community should be striving to save, a benchmark that many other shelters have been able to achieve is important. Before we had such indicators, our mantra was simply “Stop the Killing.” We had no idea, in practice, what that really meant, or how many animals we thought that should apply to. Now we do. But I do not want people to become complacent that it doesn’t matter if a shelter is killing certain animals as long as the save rate for that shelter hovers in the 90th percentile range. I hope that the enthusiasm which motivated people to embrace the 90% benchmark will also embrace the good news that, in fact, experience is proving that that number is not fixed and we don’t have to stop there.

I understand that bureaucrats need hard numbers which can be plugged into colorful graphs and pie charts.  And I’m happy we have these numbers at our disposal on the occasions we need them.  But I am not a stuffed suit in a political office.  I am someone who loves dogs and cats and strongly believes in their right to live.  I can do qualitative.  I can do nuance.

I do not accept that a shelter is no kill based on statistics alone.  Shelters that save 90% or more of their pets are obviously doing very well.  In elementary school, scores of 90% or higher earned us an “A” which was listed on the report card as “Excellent”.  Shelters saving 90%+ of their animals get an A.  I am thankful for them.  I will celebrate them.  But let’s be real:  There is likely very little difference between a shelter saving 89% and one saving 90%.  It’s just that structured benchmarks are required in some areas and so the former shelter gets a B+ while the latter gets an A-.

There are some people who believe that a 90% save rate is “good enough” and that no further information is needed on any shelter which achieves it.  The issue of killing of healthy/treatable pets at such shelters slides into a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell category.   In some cases I think this stems from desperation on the part of shelter pet advocates whose local shelters are little more than pet killing facilities and to whom a 90% save rate sounds like a fantasy.  In fact, like the shelter that is saving 89%, the one saving 90% may be killing a small number of healthy/treatable pets.  The stats alone don’t tell us the shelter director’s philosophy or the level of commitment to every individual animal.

For me, no kill is not a number.  No kill is the belief that every shelter pet has the right to live and is deserving of individual consideration.  Any shelter which in some way conveys to the public a commitment to every individual animal in its care gets my attention.  I will check the shelter’s stats, expecting to see a very high save rate.  To my mind, verifying the shelter’s public commitment to every individual animal along with annual stats which reflect a save rate near 100% is the best an average outsider can reasonably do in performing due diligence.  In order to delve deeper, individual animal records must be examined.

In such cases where more detailed examination is conducted, the key areas which interest me are the circumstances surrounding each animal who was euthanized and whether the shelter appears to be serving its own community first and reaching out to assist neighboring communities second.  The former is simply to verify that animals who are medically (or behaviorally in rare dog cases) hopeless and suffering are being promptly and humanely euthanized and that no healthy/treatable animals are being killed.  The latter is a more complex issue.

My vision for how a grassroots movement such as no kill will spread nationwide is that it begins locally, then extends to the neighboring county and so on.  The reason I see this as so important is that valuing the lives of every individual shelter pet begins at home and is reinforced by helping our neighbors.  This is how commitment to shelter pets as individuals is demonstrated by a shelter.  Animal groups that import so-called high value shelter dogs from hundreds or thousands of miles away while unadopted dogs in neighboring communities are sent to the kill room are ignoring killing in their own backyard.  I do not subscribe to the notion that “A life saved is a life saved” when it is used to justify this practice.

If no kill advocates do not advocate for the right to live of every individual animal, including the challenging-to-adopt pets, who will?  If no kill advocates do not advocate for the animals in their own and their neighboring communities, who will?  It is unrealistic to expect someone else to care about the unadopted pets in our own and our neighboring communities after we have turned our backs on those animals.  And it is inconsistent with no kill.

A life saved is a life saved sounds swell, unless you’re saying it to an unadopted healthy dog in a kill room one county over from a shelter that imports dogs from out of state.  Say it then and the answer as to what we need to do as no kill advocates seems obvious.

Which brings me back to the basic premise that no kill is not a number.  No kill is loving shelter dogs and cats – every one of them – enough to fight for them and to not turn a blind eye when they are being killed.  It’s asking uncomfortable questions.  It’s not giving up regardless of whether you’ve achieved “good enough”.  It’s a willingness to reexamine ideals and change as the movement grows.  No kill is a commitment which does not lend itself to being graphed but shows itself in a community where homeless dogs and cats are truly sheltered and the color of compassion spills outside the pie chart.

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92 thoughts on “Evolving

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful way of putting it. This has been an issue in Sonoma County for a while. We got to the number… whoohoo! In my mind, that’s not all, you have to save all the healthy and treatable animals, including helping others in your coalition. You have to help the others in the community. We have 5 Shelters in the community. Two claim they are No Kill, Petaluma Animal Shelter and Sonoma Humane Society. Instead of helping the ones that aren’t No Kill in our community they are importing animals from outside the community, making our problems worse here. That in my mind makes them not No Kill when they are adding to the rest of the communities problems. This advocate is now pounding on the doors of both of those Shelters to step up and help the County Shelter as good standing members of the community coalition would. As No Kill Shelters would. And especially if they cared about the welfare of the animals that are being killed with their own tax dollars. That is No Kill. That is Love.

    1. It’s why I think we need to get completely out of the mindset of ‘no kill shelters” and into the mindset of “no kill communities”. If you actions are causing harm to animals in other areas of your community, then you should be re-thinking those actions.

  2. It’s not a number, no.

    But that number is damn useful when examining the reverse – is it safe to say that a shelter that saves LESS than 90% is most definitely *not doing its job*?

    1. Using Nathan Winograd’s explanation based on best performing shelters. etc, I can’t see how any shelter saving less than 90% is doing its job but if someone has a case to make for it, I’m open to hearing it.

      1. I would say that this is possible in some circumstances. Our shelter is unlike a lot of shelters in that we don’t really take in a lot of cats (we’re about 70% dogs, 30% cats). As such, the majority of the cats we see from our animal control are ones that were highly sick or injured and that’s the only reason they came to the shelter. Because we don’t take in a lot of feral cats that can be just altered and released, we actually get a disproportionate number (at least compared to other shelter I’ve talked to) number of very sick/injured cats only because we take in so few healthy ones. It’s not the worst problem to have, unless someone wants to beat the hell out of you on statistics. We’ve certainly had months with save rates on cats of 87% or so when we were truly ‘no kill’ in the definition of treating all healthy/treatable — so I can see how this is theoretically possible depending on circumstances.

  3. I agree, and I wish more people would talk about this, because so few people seem to understand that no kill isn’t just a number. Whenever I mention that Austin isn’t truly no kill, people respond as though I’m a moron who can’t do simple arithmetic, or for some reason they accuse me of being *against* no kill. But I have never accepted that 90% necessarily means no kill, and I’ll never accept that killing (or threatening to kill) even one single healthy/treatable animal for space is compatible with no kill.

  4. Great post. I wholeheartedly agree. People do tend to get distracted by the numbers, and while they are useful in their place, we need to remember that living, feeling animals are not numbers. If a “shelter” has a 90% live release rate, we rate it as No Kill, but if even one of the 10% of animals killed is healthy or treatable, the numbers are meaningless.

  5. Absolutely. Encourage your local orgs to save every local pet. When cages come free transfer from the next town or county over, them state if you have to go that far. Saving lives is not ethically geographic. But it is efficient to save all the ones locally first and then help out your neighbor.

  6. Great post and food for thought. The numbers are needed if only in the interest of some transparency but No kill is a cultural shift as well. Possibly that is one reason some shelters and orgs are so resistant to the concept? It’s not just a numbers game, it’s a moral issue as well and that can be frightening to people.

  7. Great post! I have always wondered about the elderly/older animals being killed in shelters. I assume some are owner euth requests but are they really that ill to be killed.

  8. Your best work Shirley… Excellent… In the community where I live in East Tennessee many months the local city shelter our humane society partners with has a 100% save rate (overall rate is 99.8%), including feral/community cats. This is because we believe in the “Every Life Matters” philosophy. Every shelter dog and cat deserves individual attention and effort no matter the circumstances. No shelter pet should fall into the 10% margin just because the shelter thinks it is doing “good enough”. If every pet matters, then “every” pet should matter 100% of the time. Thank you for articulating this belief so well…Steve @ No Kill Revolution

  9. Thanks for yet another heartfelt post, Shirley. As someone who’s taken two shelters to No Kill so far, I can attest that the 90% threshold was very useful in dealing with city management. I think the goal in most cities is going to be attaining the 90% goal, then taking the additional step toward pure No Kill. Since we’re systematically working on taking all of north Texas No Kill, just getting to 90% is a mighty struggle. We’ve now turned our attention to two local shelters. Rowlett, Texas is just as you describe. They’re sitting at close to 90%, but we still haven’t convinced them to stop killing kittens with URI. The other of our primary shelters, Dallas, kills 50 healthy pets every single day. They’re sitting at 30%. I’d be thrilled to get them to 90% anytime in the near future. Then we’ll get them to go the rest of the way.

    P.S. Please don’t pick on Austin. Let’s focus our ire on the shelters who continue to kill with abandon. We have a long way to go before we begin fine-tuning.

    1. Don’t “pick on Austin” as in don’t mention that our main shelter keeps forgetting to plan for kitten season and therefore ends up either killing or threatening to kill for space? Yeah dude, you kinda missed the point of the post.

    2. Oh, and don’t try to tell other people what to feel. I’m allowed to “focus [my] ire” wherever I like, and if I want to focus it on something that actually affects me and everyone else who lives here then that’s my prerogative. It’s like you’re still just looking at numbers and forgetting that these are real issues that affect real people and real animals every day.

      What am I supposed to do when I find a lost/stray pet and can’t locate the owner myself? Most people would say take them to the shelter, because it’s no kill now, it’s safe. But when they’re still killing almost 10% of the animals in their care, that’s not no kill and it’s not safe. In fact Austin Animal Services released an official statement saying the shelter isn’t safe, and they’ve given no indication that they’re doing anything to make it safer. And you don’t think I have a right to be angry about that?

  10. As someone who has helped take a high intake, high kill shelter to a 90%+ save rate, I certainly have a different perspective than I did two years ago prior to engaging in that journey.

    I guess the thing that people don’t seem to get is the vast amount of grey that exists. There is no fine line between “healthy/treatable” and “not healthy/not treatable”. It doesn’t exist.

    In a real shelter environment you get animals hit by cars. Some are minor injuries. Some are completely unsavable and euthanasia is the only real, humane options. And then there is everything in between. Some are shattered legs that require amputation. Some include major internal organ damage, or head fractures and brain damage.

    Many medical conditions are the same way. There is a very grey area between a simple, treatable URI, to parvo, to advanced parvo, to distemper.

    This gets even more muddy when talking about behavior. Every shelter sees a fair amount of dogs that react negatively toward other dogs. This can be as simple as not getting along with all other dogs, or very treatable things like resource guarding — to very extreme case where dogs are truly “hot” and will literally go after any other dog they see (which, in my opinion, outside of sanctuary options, these types of dogs are usually too high of risk to be sent back out into society and we need to be responsible in determining this). However, there is a very grey range in between simple things, and dogs that are too “hot”.

    Based on my experience (and the many others I’ve talked to), the difference between a shelter that is saving about 85% and a shelter saving 90% includes a lot of animals that fall into this grey area. The difference between 90-93% includes even more. Our shelter has literally spent more than $100,000 in outside specialty veterinary services thanks to some very kind vets that provide these services below cost and some angel donors. But with each increasing percent, it is incrementally a LOT more money (literally thousands of dollars per animal) and often, in the case of behavior, never works out to where a dog can work in society.

    I will say that from experience, this is a very grey area and not as simple as people want to make it sound, and I highly doubt that any open access shelter with a 90% save rate is putting down “healthy/treatable” animals. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some that “could be saved” if infinite time/money resources were available….and there is a difference.

    I’m all for the thought process that saving the most animals possible is, and should be, the goal, regardless of percentage. That said, if the expectation is that we should be saving 95% or so then we need to stop with the nonsense that it doesn’t take more money to do it — because it absolutely does.

    1. “I highly doubt that any open access shelter with a 90% save rate is putting down ‘healthy/treatable’ animals.”

      You can doubt all you like, but it’s happening in Austin. AAS knows exactly how many animals they can kill in a given month and still make the 90% save rate.

      1. “knowing how many animals they can kill in a given month” doesn’t mean the animals that are being put down are not unhealthy or not significantly behaviorally challenged. And I suspect that in a city the size of Austin, that they are.

      2. Look at what Shirley just posted. Those are the animals killed during one week in May of last year when the shelter was over capacity, and it’s clear that most of them were actually killed for space. I suspect that the individual records of animals killed by AAS in any given month would also show animals killed “for behavior” when the behavior noted is perfectly normal, just a smaller number of such animals. If it’s even one, then that’s not no kill. And again, they threaten to kill for space every time they get too crowded, which in my mind is not compatible with no kill.

      3. Obviously you’re entitled to your opinion — but as someone who has actually turned around a shelter that serves a very urban community, I will stand by mine.

      4. And as someone who actually lives in Austin, I stand by mine. And in my opinion, AAS relies way too heavily on their “rescue partners,” especially APA, and when APA says no all AAS knows how to do is kill or threaten to kill. In my opinion, Ellen Jefferson should be in charge of AAS.

      5. “Those are the animals killed during one week in May of last year when the shelter was over capacity, and it’s clear that most of them were actually killed for space.”

        Hm. Sounds like sarahjaneb has legitimate concerns, Brent. Dismissing them out of hand seems rather unfair.

      6. And you know, sarahjaneb, why WOULDN’T a shelter benefit from an outside opinion? Surely being close to a situation day after day naturally means a loss in perspective? And having your allies provide constructive criticism is a valuable resource?

        Organizations who shrug off the criticism of their allies end up going to bad places.

      7. Mikken, I guess I understand how this works — especially when it becomes to behavioral issues because our shelter has done the same thing.

        Here’s the scenario. It’s February. Shelter intake is lower, and space isn’t at a premium. A dog comes in. It’s great with people, but pretty terrible with other dogs. The shelter staff, believing in the mission of the organization, decides it wants to see if it can work with the dog and get it over it’s poor attitude with other dogs, and they have space, so they keep it.

        In March, another dog comes in. It has a bite history. It’s doesn’t like to be touched or handled all the time and is selective about who it likes to be handled by. However, one of the people at the shelter decides they want to try to work with it and make it their project dog. Space is not at a premium, and everyone agrees to keep the dog to give it a chance (because that’s what this is about, right?)

        These two scenarios play out a lot over the next couple of months. At a shelter the size of Austin, let’s assume during January, February, March and April we have one dog that fits one of the examples above each week — so over the course of these four months, you’ve now accumulated 17 dogs that need above average behavior remodification.

        The shelter, during these months maintains a 93% live release rate for the four months.

        Now, May hits. Intake has gone up a lot and now space is at a premium. Now you’re looking at these 17 kennels and dogs that were marginal in the first place based on passed behavior, or current behavior. The dogs aren’t making progress in the shelter. A couple of them, as you look back, probably have gotten worse. Two are now showing signs of other types of aggression that weren’t noticed at first. The options for these dogs is about zero. They’re not really safe to send out to a family, or to live next door to other dogs. You’ve reached out to rescue and no one has the resources to take on these projects. There is no sanctuary to send them to. But there are now 10 dogs at the door that need those kennels.

        So staff makes the decision to euthanize (or kill) them.

        Were they killed because of lack of space? Were they killed because they were aggressive in nature and couldn’t be rehabbed? It’s kind of a grey area. Should the shelter have admitted they were aggressive initially an not even tried? Or are they now killers for space?

        I’m not saying I know the answers to these questions. But as someone who has been there and seen this play out I can tell you there are a LOT of these grey cases. And any open-admission shelter that is working in the 90% range of live release is very much working in this grey area.

  11. ” The dogs aren’t making progress in the shelter. A couple of them, as you look back, probably have gotten worse. ”

    And there’s the crux of the matter. If the dogs aren’t improving with the work people are giving them, then the people need to change what they’re doing. Suddenly realizing that weeks/months later you’ve not only made no progress, but are also backsliding is detrimental to the whole program. Clearly more education on behavior/rehab is needed in that area.

    1. And it need not be quite so gray.

      The question, “Is what we’re doing working?” should be asked often. But not quite as often as, “Is what we’re doing working as well as it possibly can or are there ways to improve that we haven’t considered today?”

    2. Mikken, unfortunately, there are some dogs that are simply too damaged to psychologically damaged to be rehabbed. Sometimes you don’t know it until after you’ve spent some time with them. I spent more than a year rehabilitating a couple of dogs from fight busts and had one that once we got over his initial “pancake” fear, started showing other behaviors that made it clear that he was never going to adjust to life in society.

      I’m not suggesting that Austin has been right in all cases. I’m certain my own shelter has made mistakes. I’m just saying that, particularly in cases of behavior “treatable” is very challenging to define and a very, very grey area. It is definitely not as cut and dry as many here seem to want to suggest. If you’re in the 80% or less range, you’re not playing in this grey area. But when you’re in the 90% area, there’s definitely no fine line.

      1. And I’d like to add, that these challenging behavior cases are easily the most challenging part of what we do at our shelter — and that’s with 2 certified trainers, a third person who has the dog handling skills of a trainer that isn’t certified, and a well-developed playgroup program — which is far more resources than most shelters have (and this is because of the challenge of it with the types of dogs at our shelter).

      2. I don’t disagree that some dogs can’t be rehabbed. However, looking at these records, I don’t see anything to indicate that to be the case with most of these dogs. Leash-biting and pulling, while annoying, are not serious, not necessarily indicative of any deeper issues, and can usually be corrected with training and/or management. A dog who seems stressed in the kennel but is described as “totally easy to manage, he’s gentle, he allowed teeth exams, paw handling, liked petting, and he showed friendly, playful behavior towards several other dogs, and seemed housetrained” is almost certainly rehabbable and adoptable. Do these really look like “gray area” cases to you?

      3. I guess I’d caution making too many judgments on behavior based on written records vs analyzing the behaviors of the actual animals in question. I’m certainly not qualified to speak on behalf of the specific animals Shirley mentions, just noting that, from my perspective, I understand that there is a lot of grey area in behavior between “treatable” and “completely not”. And if they’re in the ballpark of 90%, they’re playing in that grey area. I guess I’d prefer that people ask themselves, if they’re local, what can I do to help? Vs deciding to make a public spectacle of a group that is by all calculations doing a well above average job. There are only 2 open-admission shelters in the country with more than 10,000 intake that are saving 90% or more of their animals — and Austin is one of them. The fact that people are turning to public forums to be highly critical of them instead of trying to figure out how they can help makes me sad. When the no kill movement began it was based on the idea that the community and shelter had to work together for success….now it seems that it is more of a “if you don’t succeed I’ll roast you” type of endeavor.

      4. “The fact that people are turning to public forums to be highly critical of them instead of trying to figure out how they can help makes me sad.”

        AAS has made it very clear that they do not WANT help (other than people taking animals off their hands) and they will not accept criticism, constructive or otherwise. You may know what it’s like to run a shelter, but you do not live in Austin and are obviously unaware of the politics involved in the relationship between AAS and their so-called “rescue partners.” The rescues are not true partners with AAS; they are doing most of the real work and are afraid to say anything that could even be remotely construed as criticism for fear that AAS will stop letting them take animals.

        And yes, Austin is doing well compared to how we were doing, and compared to a lot of other places, but that doesn’t make it ok to call killing adoptable animals “no kill.” If they were saving 85-90%, not claiming to be no kill, and actually trying to get to no kill, I wouldn’t be criticizing. But Austin is not no kill, and all the people running around insisting that it is are not helping anyone and are in fact doing a disservice to the people and animals of Austin.

  12. The biggest mistake is dismissing criticism from allies as invalid because they “don’t run a shelter” or whatever.

    We live in the golden age of crowdsourcing. And not just sourcing money, but also *information*.

    The give and take of data, opinions, and ideas is so *available* right now, any shelter seeking to improve their function should be not only data dumping on the community, it should be embracing input (both positive and negative) with open arms. It’s not just transparency, it’s *exchange* that’s required for success. If you’re not open to it, or defensive about your choices, you’ve closed a door to success.

    1. Mikken, I’m not being defensive. Just sharing with you our experience as someone who has taken a high intake, high-kill shelter and turned it into one that is saving 90% of its animals. I will just say that it’s one thing to have an “ideal” of how things should work, and then there is the practicality of actually making it work. And I’ve learned a lot about the difference over the past 2 years.

      On the flip side, the conversation has to be two way. You shouldn’t expect a shelter to take your input (positive or negative) without you being willing to listen to those who have taken the ideal and put into practical application. And yes, it is the golden era of “crowdsourcing”, but not all voices should be heard equally (otherwise PETA should be considered part of the conversation).

      It’s funny, Shirley’s cartoon she posted is starting to become ironic…

  13. “You shouldn’t expect a shelter to take your input (positive or negative) without you being willing to listen to those who have taken the ideal and put into practical application.”

    Exchange, yes. It goes both ways. Hence the data dump on the community. Too many shelters play the “hey, we’re doing the best we can, trust us we’re good people” card rather than telling us what is really going on, what kinds of challenges they’re facing, what challenges they anticipate in the future. The community wants to know because they want to HELP.

    “but not all voices should be heard equally (otherwise PETA should be considered part of the conversation). ”

    Allies. People who embrace your ideal and want to see it realized. There are solutions to your problems out there in the ether, but you have to expose yourself to criticism to get them. Telling your allies that they simply don’t understand the problems because they’re not in the trenches every day like you are is short-circuiting a relationship that could have been beneficial to you. The fact that they’re NOT in the trenches every day like you are gives them a different perspective that, in some cases, could be helpful to you. Sure, they may be too distanced to be anything more than unrealistically idealistic, but *maybe not*. You can’t know if you don’t actively engage them with an open mind and the exchange of information to make them educated enough on the problems to help you with the solutions.

    1. Honestly, I’m not even sure what I’ve said that is so controversial. I just stated that when it comes to no kill, there is no fine line between “treatable” and “not treatable”. It’s very grey and it’s a scale. And from my experience, and my experience talking with others, if a shelter is in that 90% range, they are very much dealing in the grey — and the difference between 90% and 91% may be tens of thousands of dollars in medical/behavioral treatment. If that is controversial then I’m not even sure we’re starting in even close to the same point to have a dialogue. Just giving you the perspective from someone that is actually in the trenches every day — not defending the status quo, but actually making a huge difference in the number of lives saved in my community. It’s no easy task, and one that comes with a lot of criticism from people who are not supportive of no kill in the first place. But when the people who are supportive of no kill seek to say not “how can I help” but “how can I criticize?” it becomes a very different dialogue. And one, in my opinion, is not good for the movement.

      1. “But when the people who are supportive of no kill seek to say not “how can I help” but “how can I criticize?” it becomes a very different dialogue. And one, in my opinion, is not good for the movement.”

        I disagree. If we listen to the criticism of our friends, it stands us in stronger stead against our enemies. It also helps us continue to innovate new methods of working towards the ultimate goal.

        Just because they’re criticizing us doesn’t mean that they aren’t our friends and allies.

      2. One side here has already refused to engage in personal dialogue. I’ll give you two guesses which one.

      3. I’m…not certain about that. As someone who is running up against a wall with the “personal dialog” thing, I can understand the need to bring concerns to a public forum. But if the criticism is valid and addressed constructively, the public forum can work strongly FOR you, rather than against you.

        It doesn’t have to be oppositional. It becomes oppositional when the criticism is either not valid (and the critic is on a personal vendetta for whatever reason) or when the criticism is valid and not addressed constructively. The former can be brushed off as invalid, the latter reduces to a mudslinging match, burning bridges and fixing nothing.

      4. Sarah, I’ll just say that given the tone of your responses to me, and to Michael, both of whom came from a perspective of running shelters in the 90% range save rate, I will say I completely understand why you’re not making more progress in Austin.

      5. My “tone” comes from having my concerns repeatedly dismissed. You have the cause and effect backwards.

      6. Which leaves me with ONE question, Brent. Are Sarah’s concerns valid?

        Because I don’t give a fig about her *tone* if her concerns are valid.

      7. Well first off, if a person’s tone gets them ignored, then they should be concerned with their tone.

        I’m not qualified to speak on exactly what happened in Austin, but above, I laid out how almost exactly what Sarah described happened at our shelter and highlighted, multiple times, how grey the area is between “treatable” and “not treatable” — and that, from my experience, this was, without a doubt the hardest line to draw at our shelter in spite of us instituting playgroups, and having two certified trainers on staff. And that, when you’re an outsider things seem very black and white, but that this was the single biggest challenge our shelter faces.

        And then I raised the question that when the animals are inevitably put down, is it because they were aggressive and not treatable, or because they were put down for space? And would the shelter have been better served euthanizing them immediately without giving them a chance? Or in their attempt at giving them a chance to be rehabbed are they setting themselves up for criticism.

        I know it’s easy to get into the mindset that we should criticize shelters for their decisions because so many of them are simply killing 1/2 off the top. But when you are working with a shelter saving 90%, these decisions are a huge challenge, with expensive (both financially and to society) consequences if you’re wrong. It’s not black and white — even though in Sarah’s mind it is.

      8. If there were concerns beyond what was noted in the records for those animals, they should have been noted in the records. When the records do not show anything that makes the dog seem unadoptable, there is no “gray area.” You cannot tell me a dog like Stewie is unadoptable, because two years ago I adopted a dog very much like Stewie, a big sweet HW+ American Bulldog mix with no leash manners.

        Did you look at the records? Did you read Shirley’s posts? These animals were killed for space, and AAS stated on the record that they were killed for space, and threatened to kill more. They sure as hell didn’t do that because of my “tone.”

      9. Sarah, I’m just saying your tone is an issue and it’s no wonder you’re not making progress in making positive changes. You jumped on both me and Michael here for little to no reason.

        And yes, I read Shirley’s records. And cautioned you about taking them as an end-all-be-all for assessing blame. Four lines of records does not replace days of staff seeing the dog at the shelter and its interactions with staff members and other animals in a playgroup setting. In our shelter, the vast majority of our staff that actually interacts with dogs doesn’t have access to the software to input their experiences (there are a lot of reasons for this). But that doesn’t mean those interactions don’t, and shouldn’t, get considered.

        Again, I’m not defending any of these cases individually, as I don’t know enough about them (and it appears you don’t either). What I’m saying is that from my experience, and the experience of others, if Austin is saving 90% of the animal they care for, it is inconceivable that they are killing a lot of treatable animals. There is a reason that the 90% was set as a general guideline. I’m not saying doing more is not possible, and shouldn’t be a goal, I’m just saying there is a huge grey area of what is “treatable” and the amount of resources it takes gets incrementally higher as the % gets higher. I’m not even sure how that is controversial….

      10. Again: My “tone” comes from having my concerns repeatedly dismissed. You have the cause and effect backwards. Furthermore, trying to tell me how to feel and what to be concerned about in my own community is not “little to no reason” for getting jumped on. You are both extremely condescending.

        I’m not talking about what Shirley pulled from the records and put in the posts; I mean the actual records. There’s a lot more than four lines in there, and a lot of interactions reported. It seems odd that THOSE interactions were reported but for some reason the ones that resulted in the animals being killed were not. Based on what is actually in those records, most of these were not “gray area” cases or even issues that needed to be fixed prior to adoption. You keep saying things that indicate that you think I don’t understand the gray area or the concept of diminishing returns, but I do, and again, from what’s in the records, these are not gray area cases. If the records are incomplete then that’s a serious issue all of its own.

        And again, AAS stated that they killed for space. This shouldn’t even be a question. AAS killed for space and threatened to kill more animals for space, and every time they get too full they threaten to kill for space again.

        Also, acting as though I am somehow solely responsible for making positive changes in Austin is unmitigated bullshit. There are a lot of people trying to make positive changes and they all hit roadblocks with AAS. My tone is not the problem. I am not the problem. AAS is the problem.

      11. It sounds like you have a lot personal issues with AAS. I certainly don’t want to get in the middle of that. I was just sharing my experience. Feel free to disregard. I’ll stand by my point of view and experience.

        I’ll also continue to support those shelters that are obviously working their butts off to try to make a positive impact. When people are really trying, I try to ask the question of “how can I help’ instead of “how can I beat them down?” I can assure you that anyone who is trying to make their community no kill gets more than enough criticism from people who don’t support them to need to also get the shit kicked out of them by people who say they are supportive. If this were easy, everyone would be doing it.

        There are more than enough shelters that aren’t even trying, or are giving 1/2-hearted efforts for me to beat down.

        I’m out.

      12. “It sounds like you have a lot personal issues with AAS.”

        Nope, not personal. I mean obviously my feelings are personal, as feelings are, but the actual issues are not.

        “I can assure you that anyone who is trying to make their community no kill gets more than enough criticism from people who don’t support them to need to also get the shit kicked out of them by people who say they are supportive.”

        Uhh. Yes. I’m fully aware of that. That’s why I have this “tone” that you think came out of nowhere and is somehow the cause of the problem.

  14. I think that the No Kill movement has been so spectacularly successful in such a short time that it is now transitioning from an outsider movement (a totally new idea) to an insider movement (an idea that has been proven to be practical and achievable). As such, some No Kill supporters will choose to push to reform shelters in the most tactically efficient way (citing the proven feasibility of the 90% standard), and other people will choose to stay outside, seeking to redefine No Kill to ever more stringent standards. Both are valid goals, but in my opinion the tactically efficient way is the more important given the fact that only some 2-3% of public shelters are known to have attained the 90% standard.

  15. I also believe that it would help if people would begin using the word “euthanasia” correctly, and stop conflating it and the word “kill.” If we understand what we mean by euthanasia, then we can say that whatever the percentage of animals that are put to death in a shelter, if they are euthanized, in the true sense of the word, then that shelter is No Kill.

  16. I have something of a mixed opinion here. I don’t operate a municipal shelter, but my organization does pull some very damaged animals from the local municipal shelter. We also take a number of animals who would not have received treatment, and would either be left to die in their cages/kennels, or sicken to the point where they would be “euthanized.” I’m going to have to agree with Brent about the resources (and time) required to turn around some of these animals. My group only has a certain capacity to take these challenging cases (some behavioral, some medical).

    That said, my opinion is that I truly believe that in a perfect world, with tremendous resources (monetary and otherwise), we could save 98% of all the dogs in our community (urban and impoverished as much of it is). Barring, that, since the local SPCA and municipal shelter are only saving 65-67%, I would like to just see them hit 90%. That 10% leeway is more than sufficient to appease the powers-that-be that we don’t have to place “aggressive” or dangerous dogs, and it covers animals for whom medical treatment would be far beyond what even most people would do for their own beloved pets. If they get to 90%, then the idea would be to continue to chip away at the remaining 10%, and see how they could save as many of those as possible.

    What I find ironic is that, historically, we’ve made such good progress toward saving dogs, but cats continue to be killed in shelters at an alarming rate. And yet, to my mind, the real challenge is large dogs with serious behavioral issues. But what about cats? I really don’t believe that any cat should be killed for behavioral reasons (well, MAYBE, I could think of an extreme, isolated example that made the cat a true danger, but I’m still thinking . . .). Since cats can be neutered, vaccinated, and returned outdoors, there’s absolutely no reason that feral cats, shy cats, hissy cats, even somewhat aggressive cats (with enough space) can’t live on their own outdoors. Cats with litterbox issues can become outdoor kitties, and live quite enriched lives. And I don’t even believe that cats need human caregivers necessarily, though it is certainly nice. I have seen how resilient and resourceful cats are. And rarely do we see sickness in the cats we trap for TNVR. When we do, we actually try to care for them and nurse them back to health before neuter surgery and return. And I also don’t think that just because a kitty is friendly that it needs to go to a shelter to find a home; friendly cats can live outdoors too — where they are 4 times more likely to find a new home from the street than be adopted from a shelter, if you are to believe some of the recent research on free-roaming cats.

    With our TNVR effort, we have taken in a tremendous number of kittens. And though a local SPCA dedicated to No Kill has only managed to have a 75-80% save rate this “kitten season” among all cats (blaming the large number of neonatal kitten deaths for their poor save rate), my organization has a save rate among neonatal kittens alone (forget adding in adult cats) of 95-98%. I chalk that up to some tremendous volunteers who go above and beyond when one of our little kittens becomes ill. First, they are amazingly attentive and notice it quickly so we can get treatment. Second, they bring the babies home and monitor them carefully, literally nursing them back to health. Have we lost kittens. Yes. Occasionally an entire litter, most often one from the litter, but still losing kittens is a rare event. And it’s not like they are anything special — they came from our TNVR efforts. Not only that, but this year our all-volunteer organization took in more kittens than that same SPCA — an SPCA that employs multiple vet techs, several kennel attendants, office staff, and a Director.

    So, here is the way I feel about it: If you endeavor to see each animal as an individual and you do all you can (within reasonable resource constraints) to give each one what they need, then you don’t even have to think about save percentage because you will have met or exceeded the 90% benchmark. I also can’t say enough about embracing your volunteers to help you in your quest to save each and every one. And just when I think one of those big, unruly, behavioral nut-case dogs can’t find a home — they do. And just when I think no one would take on a particular animal with significant special needs — someone does. And just when we think we can’t work miracles, we do.

    You must guard, at all times, against throwing up your hands and claiming that it is too hard, because then it is a slippery slope to being lazy and to giving in to the easy solution of simply killing them. But 90% is a nice margin. And if you are saving all your cats, it’s even a bigger margin with big, mean, behaviorally-challenged dogs. And even the bureaucrats will believe — especially when you keep inching upward and upward . . . to 93%, then 95%, and even 98%. No looking back.

  17. I stand by my earlier statement. If you live in Austin, by all means, you should continue to make sure your shelter is the best it can be. My point is that an overwhelming number of shelters across the country are in dire need of reform. Arguing with proven No Kill advocates like Brent costs time – and precious lives – in the race to reform the shelters that continue to kill in horrifying numbers.

    1. “Arguing with proven No Kill advocates like Brent costs time – and precious lives – in the race to reform the shelters that continue to kill in horrifying numbers.”

      Wow, seriously? You’re accusing me of killing animals by arguing with Brent? That’s really gross.

      1. And I am of the opinion that having our friends call us out helps keep us honest.

        The argument that some No Kill shelters are doing good enough in light of the fact that others are nightmarishly horrific is a bit…disingenuous. Comparing one to the other is not the matter at hand.

        sarahjaneb says that Austin can and should be doing better. Is she right? And does Austin still threaten to kill for space?

  18. Your story is very familiar in many ways to us here in Fremont County in Colorado! This alleged shelter is the worst possible place (for the most part) for animals. They are murdered in ways so inhumane (heart stick) & done by VOLUNTEERS!!! The so-called director & his wife have now & are presently being investigated for at least the 3rd or 4th time in 15 years! That alone should scream volumes! The “good ole boy” policies here are hopefully going to end! We as a group are attending city council meetings & all meetings pertaining to thistopic. There is an investigation underway by Pafca, & DORA~Dept. of Regulatory Agencies. This is hopefully a good thing!
    Thank you for your story & please keep us in your thoughts. I should say Keep these innocent beings, the animals in your thoughts! Thank you!
    Sincerely, Debby Ledbetter

  19. “Arguing with proven No Kill advocates like Brent costs time – and precious lives – in the race to reform the shelters that continue to kill in horrifying numbers.”

    I have to agree with sarahjaneb on this. Michael, your statement does fall into the “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” and “let’s just all get along” category. When we leave no room for dissent and differences of opinion, we’re treading on dangerous ground and weaker as a movement.

  20. Speaking only for myself, as always, my loyalties are with every individual shelter animal. I will advocate first for them, all else being considered later. I have no loyalty to any specific person or shelter that would ever take precedence over an individual shelter animal.

    The tone of this conversation is unacceptable. Implying or stating outright that someone’s advocacy work is unimportant, invalid or causing animals to be needlessly killed is out of line. Way.

    If anyone has anything new to add to this discussion, please feel welcome. Rehashing and rebashing will not be allowed. I truly value differing opinions and want to hear from everyone interested in the topic. But it has got to be respectful – both of the right to live of every shelter pet and of our fellow advocates.

    1. I think the problem is that sometimes advocacy for the individual animal in that last 10% can clash with the big picture, which is to reform ALL the shelters. In a country where up to 97% of shelters are still killing more than 90% of intake, many advocates, myself included, believe that we need to put forward an achievable goal (90%) that is realistic, rather than a higher goal (95-98%) that is going to be attainable only with a good deal of difficulty and expense. I fear that if we criticize shelters like Austin for not doing even better than they are, then we will discourage non-profits from bidding on animal control/sheltering contracts to start with. If achieving 90% is no longer good enough, they may decide not to even try because they fear they will wind up being criticized by advocates instead of supported. Especially when many people seem to expect save rates of 95-98% to be achieved overnight. Right now we have tremendous momentum for the 90% standard — it’s revolutionizing the shelter world. Do we really want to tear that up and say “we changed our minds and 90% is no longer good enough”? How is that going to go over with city councils and county commissioners? Do we want to save millions of animals by getting every shelter to 90% as quickly as we possibly can, or do we want to divide the movement and our efforts over the issue of the last 10%?

      1. Those are not the only two choices Susan. And it puts me in mind of those who say we must choose between killing shelter pets and having the shelters/streets overflowing with animals. It’s up to us as no kill advocates to challenge these false choices, to think outside the box and to come up with solutions that don’t involve killing animals. I refuse to accept that killing less is ok because it’s better than killing more. I agree that it is better, but will never accept that it’s good enough.

      2. Shirley, can I make a recommendation? Can you go and visit a 90%+ LRR shelter and spend a little time with the animals that end up euthanized (in the true sense of the word) in these shelters? Because I think when you see the resources (time/money) that would be required to save 1-2% more of them, vs the amount of good those resources could do by helping animals at the other 98% of the nation’s shelters that are still not even close, I think you might at least question the opportunity cost of what you’re proposing. You might not change your opinion, but you might question it. And I think proposing the vast amount of resources it will take to be “good enough” in your view will end up taking resources away from those shelters that are need them now — ending in a net lowering of lives saved. I really think that the efforts to “push further” is overall hurting the movement. I really do.

      3. Are you suggesting I spend a day watching animals be killed, at least some of whom could be saved if the resources to save them were available? I can not look at shelter animals sitting peacefully in cages knowing that they MAY be killed, never mind spend a day watching them die. I would not stand by while a savable animal was killed in front of me.

      4. Great grandstanding. I’m actually proposing you go to one of the no kill shelters (by the former definition) you’re critical of and get an idea of the animals who’s lives are being lost there and to understand the challenges of defining “treatable”. I assure you it’s a much greater challenge in person than it is from a computer keyboard. And if we’re defining “treatable” that we must now treat 95-98% of animals, then let’s quit the charade that it isn’t more costly….

      5. I suspect that if Shirley were faced with a medical emergency of a shelter animal that required a lot of money to treat and fast, she would do *whatever* she could to get that money as quickly as possible. Social media would be on FIRE to get those dollars raised.

      6. And I guess I should clarify. At one point is enough enough? Especially right now. Let’s assume we have a dog that we can project will cost $15-20,000 in resources to rehabilitate — and even then, has a 50/50 prognosis for recovery.

        Is that dog “treatable”? Or is it hopelessly ill? Depends on how deep your pockets are.

        Meanwhile, what if that same $15-20,000 in resources could be used to save 20 dogs from a neighboring shelter that is high kill? How should we spend that money? What results in more total lives saved?

        If we live in a world with unlimited resources, then we may not have to make that decision. But that’s not the case. When is enough, enough. When is the opportunity cost of trying to save more actually causing more lives to be lost?

        I think that’s Susan’s point.

      7. How about a less extreme example? I have one from real life. A shelter pet who was so anemic, she was too weak to stand for longer than it took to eat. And anemia was clearly not the only problem. She had obviously been poorly cared for and looked to be in rough shape. She had a bad urine odor about her and was leaking urine. Half her tail had been ripped off, she was missing teeth and toes, her ears were badly infected. Who would adopt a dog in this condition? And should the shelter spend money trying to get her to a condition where she would stand a reasonable chance of being adopted?

        In fact, there was someone who wanted her – as-is. I did. And I spent the money to fix her up. I couldn’t go for every expensive test in the book but my vet worked with me and we fixed her up for hundreds – not thousands of dollars. I am so thankful no one in the shelter decided she might cost thousands to fix up or that no one would want her in her present condition and killed her before I got the chance to make her part of my life.

        I imagine she could fall into someone’s 90th percentile. I imagine someone could argue that the money spent on her could be better spent elsewhere or that she was in such bad shape, she should be killed because no one would adopt her. They’d be wrong.

        And I would not stand by and watch her be killed. No grandstanding.

      8. And that 20K could be used to treat children with cancer. Or feed people in a third world nation. Or help clean up a waste site that is polluting the waterways.

        This is the same criticism that people who choose to spend a LOT of money on their pets (kidney transplant, etc.) get from outsiders who rage that you are *wasting* good money on an animal that only has a *chance* to survive and even then, it may not live another three years. Why do it? Why waste all that good money on your stupid cat who needs a kidney and may not live through the operation, let alone another year or two?

        They do it because they love that animal. Because that animal’s life is important to them. Because they see that animal as an individual and because they feel responsible for that animal’s existence.

        If your donors/supporters are willing to raise the money for that dog to have a *chance* (and you’ve engaged them enough to have an opinion on the matter), then why not? Americans love an underdog. Show them you’re fighting for a good cause, fight hard, and they will fight alongside you.

      9. Shirley, I suspect that most shelters saving 90%+ are saving your dog. That’s my point, but when you get into that 92-94% area, they are extreme cases. And sure for very extreme cases you can find a donor. or an adopter. But can you do it 500x a year? Or in Austin’s case, 1700 times per year – 5x per day?

        I just stated that the word “treatable” is a very blurry line. Sure, we have all kinds of things at our disposal to treat dogs and cats — we can do chemotherapy, and kidney transplants, and even stem cell therapy. Science definitely changes what is “treatable”. And if you want to open a sanctuary, I’ll let you do it all day long.

        I’m just saying that there is a cost in doing this. There’s the cost in terms of time, and money, to make it happen. So if this is the expectation, saying no kill doesn’t cost more money is completely bogus.

        And there are opportunity costs.

        Please keep in mind that you’re talking to a person who’s shelter just saved a dog that had a fractured skull, brain damage, and was left for dead in a dumpster – and that’s what it’s taking for our shelter to get to 91%. It’s not like I’m saying we should kill 50% here. There are no “less extreme cases” when you get into save rates that high — which is why I invited you to actually witness it for yourself (which you apparently have no interest in).

      10. Brent,

        Your suggestion to spend a day in the kill room deeply offended me. You are not a new reader who I might be able to wave off as someone who has no idea of what this blog is about. You know and understand how horrifying it would be for me to see a single savable animal killed, let alone stand around watching it all day long – as if that is a situation I would ever put myself in. I answered you with a sincere explanation of why I would never do such a thing and you responded with a personal attack, accusing me of grandstanding. You followed that with a dismissive “apparently you’re not interested” attack, as if watching savable animals be killed is a thing which should interest me.

        You talk about “the dogs we choose not to save” as if that is in any way, shape or form acceptable. You imply that every animal over the 90th percentile costs $20,000 to save when experience tells me that is misleading, at best. If that were the case, we would be seeing hourly epic fundraising pleas from shelters who save more than 90% of their pets because that would be the only possible way they could be saving them. And the fact that you maintain this is true at your shelter and yet we are not seeing these epic fundraising pleas from you to save these animals tells me you are not even trying to save them.

        I tried to offer a less extreme example which you dismissed. You dismiss my opinions because I’m “behind a keyboard”. You’ve made me feel as if I am your worst enemy when in reality, I want to be your strongest supporter. I’m proud of any shelter, yours included, that has dramatically reduced the killing. I’ve baked peanut butter cookies for the dogs at your shelter. I subscribe to your newsletter and have shared your shelter’s pleas for assistance. I’ve weathered your personal attacks and responded with sincerity in hopes of having a meaningful dialogue.

        But thinking about your words “the dogs we choose not to save” hurts my heart. I am asking you to stop commenting on this post now which I would have done for most anyone else awhile back. I want this blog to be a safe place for no kill advocates where they can come and feel they are among friends, even when there are strong differences of opinion. I want no kill advocates who choose to be a voice for every individual shelter animal to feel they will be free from personal attacks, belittling remarks or ridicule here. Your comments stand in opposition to that so please stop commenting on this post now.

        I am not your enemy. I have long thought the opposite in fact, even if I am wrong. The loyalty I feel towards you and all my fellow no kill advocates is surpassed only by one thing: my loyalty to protecting the right to live of every individual shelter animal. I don’t have all the answers and appreciate that easy answers often don’t exist. I’ve never claimed otherwise. But I will keep fighting for the right of every individual shelter animal to live while I keep searching for those hard answers. To my mind, just because the answer doesn’t present itself now doesn’t mean we won’t find it tomorrow or next month. The only way we will never find it is if we refuse to keep looking. I am going to keep looking.

        In the meantime, I truly wish you and your shelter all imaginable success and will continue to celebrate how far you’ve come while advocating in the strongest terms for the dogs you choose not to save.

      11. Shirley, I’m sure you’re going to delete this, and that’s fine. It’s your blog, you can run it the way you want.

        Yes, you offered a “less extreme” case and I dismissed it. I dismissed it because from my experience, shelters that are saving 90%+ are already saving those “less extreme” cases. For a shelter to get to 90%, they’re going to have to treat parvo, work with neo-natal kittens, treat heartworm, ringworm, aggression issues etc. If they’re not doing those things, they probably aren’t going to get to 90%. What these shelters are doing is AMAZING — they’re performing miracles every single day.

        And it’s hard. There is opposition from the people who don’t support no kill. There is the reality that most cities don’t have compassionate laws, or animal control, and shelters have to work around that. And then, do you see what happens when No Kill advocates such as yourself, and Sarah, turn around and say “you’re not doing enough” and imply that they’re still killing very treatable dogs.

        You say you’re supportive of the no kill shelters, but you allow other commenters the opportunity to blast Austin in a public forum and then DEFEND THEM when others say they’re out of line. So who are you supporting?

        I can tell you that creating a no kill shelter isn’t easy. With the number of shelters that have achieved it, we make it seem common place, but it’s not, not when less than 2% of shelters in this country have achieved it. And there’s a reason for that. And when the no kill movement decides it now wants to call out those shelters that are achieving it for “not doing enough” it, in my opinion, threatens the very core of the movement. Because now, even the ones achieving 90% aren’t compassionate enough somehow.

        I simply tried to offer the perspective on your blog post from someone who by virtually all accounts has been successful in doing what you say you want to promote. I was instantly attacked by other commenters.

        As for the comment of the “dogs we choose not to save”. Let me clarify. Dogs have to be put down because of behavior. And most of the animals we “choose” to put down, are because of severe behavior issues. What level of dog aggression do we tolerate? At what point when a dog is adopted out and we know it’s not an “if” something will happen, it’s “when” are we being irresponsible to the public, to other dogs, for sending them out to the world? At what point are we sending aggressive dogs into the world that eventually attack a person or dog and leads to anti-pet laws that lead to more animals dying in shelters and being removed from homes? At what point in our efforts to save “this one dog” do we put hundreds of others at risk?

        I’m here to tell you, that from someone who was in your spot 2 years ago, but now has to set policy to make that determination — it’s the hardest decision imaginable. And for you to pretend that I’m making it maybe differently than you would makes you more compassionate than me, is highly offensive as well, regardless of what side you say you’re trying to support.

      12. Brent,

        I asked you to stop commenting – really clearly and politely, I thought. I explained why and how I felt about your personal attacks. You didn’t stop and are now accusing me of pretending I’m more compassionate than you. I am again asking you to stop commenting and to cease your personal attacks. I’m not sure how to be more clear or polite about it.

        On Thu, Sep 26, 2013 at 12:37 PM, YesBiscuit!

    2. What are the numbers, Brent? Cost per animal average, say the first 90% cost x amount of dollars, but after that, what? For x+y, could we save 98%?

      Because if it’s simply a matter of fundraising, then why not push to make that happen?

      1. I couldn’t even wager a guess Mikken. It does get incrementally higher the higher the rate. And even then, I know for our shelter, 98% isn’t even in the ballpark of reality.

        And let’s take a shelter like Austin (since they’ve been brought up). Their intake is around 17,000 — so that means 10% is about 1,700 animals. That’s nearly 5 per day. Sure, we can all do a fundraising push to save the astronomical costs of an animal every now and again, but can you do it for 5 a day? Especially when the prognosis for rehab are 50/50 at best? There are not unlimited resources out there.

        And even if we could, is it worth it? What are the opportunity costs of using those resources that could be used to help healthy/treatable animals in the other 98% of the shelters out there that aren’t saving them all.

      2. “And even if we could, is it worth it? What are the opportunity costs of using those resources that could be used to help healthy/treatable animals in the other 98% of the shelters out there that aren’t saving them all.”

        Ok, take it another step. $250 in Austin covers one lifesaving operation for one dog. The dog would recover completely and be healthy and adoptable in 10 days. BUT. That $250 would save six kittens in West Virginia who would be healthy and adoptable right now.

        Is it the economy of lifesaving to do that operation on that dog in Austin or save those kittens in WV?

        If Austin takes in an animal, they are responsible for that animal. They are not responsible for 98% of the crappy shelters out there in desperate need for reform.

      3. If it’s any comfort, the conversation we’re having is an old one in moral philosophy — utilitarian versus rule. Can we at least agree that it’s counterproductive and pointless for No Kill advocates to spend their time criticizing a shelter like Austin? By all means, offer to help Austin raise money and set up programs to help the last 10% — but don’t drag Austin through the mud on social media and don’t treat them like the enemy.

      4. Mikken, the problem isn’t that is $250 vs saving cats in WV. I suspect that in order to get to 90% they’re saving $250 dogs.

        When you’re getting above 90%, at least for our shelter you’re talking about $4-5,000 or more to save them. And the animals that they could be used to help are in a neighboring community 20 minutes away — not 1/2 a continent away.

        And I refuse to believe that we are as a society only responsible for our own animals and that if our decisions impact other shelter’s animals negatively we have to own up to that (see No Kill Sonoma’s original comment). We need to quit thinking about “no kill” on a shelter by shelter basis and on a community basis.

        Susan, I agree with you.

      5. “When you’re getting above 90%, at least for our shelter you’re talking about $4-5,000 or more to save them.”

        So that’s your line, then? Are you actively working to raise money for the next 5K project animal that comes in or are you just crossing off everyone above 4K as too expensive to save? And – I’m not being snarky when I ask this, I’m just wondering how it works, how the decisions are made and what the thought process is. And – is this typically behavioral rehab or medical costs?

        “And the animals that they could be used to help are in a neighboring community 20 minutes away — not 1/2 a continent away. ”

        But…if they choose to not help an animal in their shelter in favor of helping animals in a shelter 20 minutes away, how is that different to helping animals in another state? You talk of community, but surely the first responsibility is to the animals in their charge? Otherwise, it is just all statistics, rather than individuals.

      6. And I guess that was my point to start. From my experience, if you are saving more than 85% you are saving animals that need a fair amount of extra help (you’re definitely treating things like Parvo, URI, broken legs, etc). But it continues to escalate as the percentage gets higher. And there is no fine line. You get into a lot of very grey areas between what is or is not “treatable”. And that is the single biggest challenge we face is making these determinations. In a world where there are infinite time/money resources, is this dog treatable? Maybe. But we don’t live in that world.

        I’ll note that I think medical is far easier (in most cases) than behavior because you generally have a better prognosis for likelihood of success for medical than you do behavior. It’s very hard for most significant behavior issues to determine just how damaged a dog is and what it’s likelihood of recovery is.

        And I guess I’ll say that it’s all a numbers game. We’re in a situation where we’re killing 4-5 million animals in shelters each year as a country. I think we should be looking at what we can be doing to save the maximum number possible given the current resources in order to save more. Is our responsibility to save the animals that our shelter is in charge of? Or is it our responsibility to save as many animals as possible in our community? And how widely do you define “community”? Your shelter? Your town? Your metropolitan area? Your county? A 100 mile radius?

        All I’m suggesting is that when you end up making the decisions every day it gets really muddy really quick. We’re not talking about a true line between “treatable” and “not treatable”. If only it were that easy. And when we make a decision to pool resources to save the next 1%, but it keeps us from helping other neighboring shelters, and it results in fewer net lives saved, I think we need to re-evaluate. I’m not saying we have to make that decision forever, but it is where we are as a nation right now.

        This is why I really think the 90% benchmark is a good benchmark for right now. Not because it’s a number, but because it’s a guide. And I think we can reasonably assume that an open-admission shelter that is saving 90% is run by competent, compassionate leadership that is going to do the best they can day in and day out to do right by the animals in their care — and is actively saving some challenging cases. So if their number is 90, or 91, or 92, then great for them. But when we start throwing numbers like 98% around, I don’t think we’re being realistic. And I think there are negative unintended greater-good consequences to a single shelter making those actions right now.

        Take my opinion for what it’s worth…

      7. BTW, I just thought I’d post a story about a dog our shelter has worked to save over the past 2 months. It had a fractured skull, and a fair amount of nerve damage and was thrown in a dumpster and left for dead. We’ve spent thousands of dollars in saving this dog’s life, and he’s doing great now in his new adoptive home:


        Our shelter save rate for dogs is about 91- 92% right now. So if you think about the dogs we’re choosing not to save, it will at least give you an indication of what we deem “treatable”.

  21. Loved this article, my sentiments, exactly! Every animal’s life counts,and every effort should and can be made to ensure a healthy, happy life for each animal! Goals don’t start at the bottom they start at the TOP!

  22. Consider this:

    There are three precious dogs in Detroit fighting for their lives because of the actions of humans who abused, tortured or starved them. Are you thinking they are not worth the cost of saving? Fortunately, rescues have stepped up and taken on this challenge with the support, both financially and emotionally, of people from around the world. These dogs deserve to live and if people are willing to pay to try and make that happen, then I say good for the people who are showing the world that there are more good people than bad.

    This is like the herd healthy mentality that says if there are too many, just kill off some of them for the benefit of the health of the herd. They stop being individuals and start being statistics. That will never be the way I look at animal welfare.

  23. ” Can we at least agree that it’s counterproductive and pointless for No Kill advocates to spend their time criticizing a shelter like Austin? By all means, offer to help Austin raise money and set up programs to help the last 10% — but don’t drag Austin through the mud on social media and don’t treat them like the enemy.”

    But my question is, is Austin working to save that last 10% or is 90% “good enough” for them? Are they going by the numbers and happy to stick with 90% because that “classifies” them as No Kill?

    I don’t know the details of what’s going on in Austin, but I would think that if they were seriously motivated to get to 98% and were actively working on it, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

  24. I pretty much agree with this blog. My philosophy is that as long as the only animals they put down are just too feral/wild/aggressive to be a pet (and theyve done a TON of training beforehand to make sure this is true) or so sickly that euthanasia is the compassionate thing to do, then I am okay with whatever save rate that happens to be; 89%, 90% or 99%. The problem is that too many shelters today “kill for space” and act like thats okay rather than doing whatever is necessary to get them out of there.

    I certainly hope that this will happen everywhere, from Los Angeles to rural Arkansas to Austin, TX to everywhere in between but I do think it will take a while. With how we treat each other, and mass shootings seeming to happen every other week, I sometimes feel like I should give up on hoping that people will treat animals the way that they should.

  25. If it’s any comfort, the conversation we’re having is an old one in moral philosophy — utilitarian versus rule.

    Um. I don’t think that’s quite it.

    Mind, I do think the argument in favor of continuing to use a 90 percent save rate as a benchmark is based in rule utilitarianism. But I think the critique people are offering is not rule v. act, but rather a much more difficult issue: that utilitarianism, however pragmatic, is neither inherently just nor merciful. As here, given the explicit statements that have been made to the effect that it’s a better use of available resources to promote the welfare of healthy and adoptable pets within a shelter system than on treatment and care for severely injured or ill pets within a single shelter: the few, therefore, through no fault of their own, are sacrificed for the greater good.

    I do understand. But it’s not just.

    1. You’re right, it isn’t fair to sacrifice the few for the many, and that’s always been the criticism (or one of the criticisms) of utilitarianism. But it’s also not fair to sacrifice the many for the few. The easy answer is to say “save them all,” but the problem is that it gets exponentially harder to save the last few percent. And by the way, I did not mean that we were dealing with rule versus act utilitarianism — rather, that we are dealing with utilitarianism versus moral rule (i.e., absolute moral rules that an individual cannot break regardless of consequences). This is a very real dilemma for me personally, because I’m a vegan who would never kill an animal unless I was defending my life or the animal was terminally ill and suffering. Yet logic compels me to support the 90% standard as the fastest way to get to a point where we’re saving the most lives.

  26. Thank you all for your comments and insights. I’m learning lots, questioning myself some, and perhaps heading into a bipolar manic episode. All I know is that every individual is unique—be they human, canine, feline, or other. Taking responsibility for ourselves is a good place to start. In a corporate or community sense, taking responsibility for local Animal Control, or the employees at your shelter is perhaps the next step. If we can take responsibility for ourselves and those humans under our control, then perhaps we can extrapolate through them to the other animals in our community.
    Is it more important to work toward stopping police officers from shooting pets, or support TNR feral cats? BOTH of these things are important and of value in building a more compassionate society.
    EVERYBODY can do better! (Yes, especially me, sigh.)
    But I think it is way more fun to work hard to raise funds for a medical procedure to save a foster dog’s life than it is to argue with local animal control.
    90% is terrific. 98% is AWESOME. I don’t have the time or money to be 98% perfect…sorry, I just can’t see myself there. But I think there are a lot of people in every community that could really get involved with and supportive of that 90% save rate. And they could and should feel really good about it too!
    Yes, there are those who will step up to save the long shot. I have several feral, once feral or near feral dogs in my care. Each is now much easier to handle, but not what any *normal* animal control would likely consider to be adoptable. That’s why these dogs are not AT Animal Control! (My feral cat now sleeps on my pillow…I was hoping he’d hang out in the barn, but no, he’s flunked feral 101 feral 203 and feral 315. Oh well.)
    So, it’s not on paper, but I suppose that I have personally helped to make our local save rate that much better because I keep high-risk animals out of the system.
    Ask not what Animal Control can do for you, but what YOU can do to help the animals in your community. And if you can’t find any animals to help in your community, try helping out some animals in Memphis, or Austin, or L.A. or anywhere else you like!

  27. Detroit Bully Corps
    20 hours ago
    Well it has certainly been a blur of a month, A lot has happened. The reason I say this is because we are so very grateful for all the support whether it be local , or nationwide, even world wide. The mission is to provide resource for the voiceless. The more momentum our mission gains, the more animals find redemption. The more people that join DBC in our march for animal rights, the greater chance there is for real & viable solutions. Without public support, donations & exposure the mission would look very different. We are able to accomplish our goals on a regular basis because so many are willing to give, give to animals that suffer needlessly. We are proud to be the vessel for change & we humbly accept that role on a daily basis. we open our eyes, hearts & souls on a daily basis and reaffirm our path & oath to community, animal & service. it is a blessing to awaken everyday & be sure that this is our purpose in life, to bring about life changing realizations, we as a species can do more, for ourselves, our communities & our pets. Through compassion, empathy & objective focus we can create a better world for both the Human & animal species.


    Sincere Regards,
    The DBC Team

    I am sharing, with permission, the mission statement of the rescue that is taking care of the abused, starving dogs I wrote about before. I know they are not animal control, I know they are not a humane society. But they take the ones that others would kill because of their serious (and expensive) needs. If you go to their facebook page, you will see how many people step up to help DBC accomplish what they do. Maybe we need to stop looking at individual situations and crunching numbers and start working together (it takes a village) to save all those who are able to be saved.

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