A "no-kill" fervor is spreading across the United
States like wildfire. It is advocated by our neighbors in Canada and Mexico
and has found supporters in nearly every continent on the globe. What does it mean? Can shelters
really save ALL animals? What about the sick or vicious?
The term raises many questions and an eager
public, weary of all the killing, wants answers.
The most widely
accepted definition of a no-kill shelter is a place where all adoptable and
treatable animals are saved and where only unadoptable or non-rehabilitatable animals are
See Best Friends Animal
The California Legislature Defines No-Kill Terms
California Law, SB 1785 Statutes of 1998,
also known as
"The Hayden Law" has defined no-kill terms.
What is Adoptable?
"No adoptable animal should be euthanized if it can be adopted into a suitable home. Adoptable animals include only those animals eight weeks of age or older that, at or subsequent to the time the animal is impounded or otherwise taken into possession, have manifested no sign of a behavioral or temperamental defect that could pose a health or safety risk or otherwise make the animal unsuitable for placement as a pet, and have manifested no sign of disease, injury, or congenital or hereditary condition that adversely affects the health of the animal or that is likely to adversely affect the animal's health in the future."
Adoptable dogs may be old,
deaf, blind, disfigured or disabled.
What is "Treatable"?
"No treatable animal should be
euthanized. A treatable animal shall include any animal that is not adoptable
but that could become adoptable with reasonable efforts."
Sick, traumatized, infant or unsocialized dogs
need appropriate medical treatment, behavior modification and/or foster
care to turn them into healthy animals ready for placement. See
What is "Unadoptable"?
"Unadoptable" or "non-rehabilitatable"
means animals that are neither adoptable or treatable. By way of exclusion,
SB1785 defines "unadoptable":
1) Animals eight weeks of age
or younger at or subsequent to the time the animal is impounded;
2) Animals that have manifested signs of a behavioral or temperamental defect;
3) Those that could pose a health or safety risk or otherwise make the animal
unsuitable for placement as a pet and
4) Animals that have manifested signs of disease, injury, or congenital or
hereditary condition that adversely affects the health of the animal or that is
likely to adversely affect the animal's health in the future.
and Animal Control Define No-Kill Terms
A widely accepted definition of "unadoptable" or "non-rehabilitatable"
is set forth as follows:
1) Animals for whom euthanasia is the most humane alternative due to disease,
injury or suffering that can't be alleviated;
2) Vicious dogs, the placement of whom would constitute a danger to the public;
3) Dogs who pose a public health hazard.
Interpretation of the term
drastically between individual municipalities and organizations.
On one end of the spectrum is
MaxFund, which holds, "There is no pre-sorting of animals into
"adoptable" and "non-adoptable" categories, discarding the so-called
"unadoptable." The MaxFund takes every animal it has the space for.
EVERY animal is kept until its owner is found or it is placed in a
new adoptive home. The only reason for euthanasia is when it is in the humane
interest of the animal. No animal is discarded to municipal shelters."
No-kill purists believe that no
animal should be euthanized unless the condition is terminal and there is
extreme physical suffering and no remaining quality of life. They believe that even a
less-than-ideal life is better than no chance of life at all. "We need to
question whether killing animals for population control is compassionate" says Bonney
Brown, currently with Alley Cat Allies. "Is it truly for the benefit of animals or for the convenience of
people? If we asked the animals, I'm pretty sure they would prefer to take their
chance at life."
Maddies Fund takes the middle road
but promises more in the future.
"No-kill means saving both adoptable (healthy) and treatable dogs and cats, with
euthanasia reserved only for non-rehabilitatable animals. When we reach the
point where the nation's healthy, adoptable animals can be guaranteed a home,
Maddie's Fund will then focus its resources on funding programs to rehabilitate the sick, injured and poorly behaved, knowing that when these animals are whole again, there will be a loving home waiting for them."
At the opposite end of the range is
Monterey County Animal
Control in California, who
expands the term 'unadoptable" to any animal it fails to find a home for! "The way the law reads is you can euthanize any unadoptable animal, but it also allows each shelter to come up with its own definition of ''unadoptable.'' We are going to define ''unadoptable'' animals as animals that are not going to a home."
Many would disagree with this extraordinary interpretation which ignores
state law and begs for a legal challenge by shelter reformists.
The term "no-kill" raises a myriad of questions:
Euthanasia vs. Killing
"Euthanasia" means painlessly ending the life of one suffering from a hopelessly
terminal illness or incurable medical condition. Euthanasia does not by
definition mean taking a life because of behavior, impractical medical costs or inability to adopt because of age, disfigurement,
unpopular breed, lack of appeal or dearth of available homes.
Tails A' Waggin' Rescue
will only resort to euthanasia when there is no remaining quality of life
because of extreme pain and suffering that cannot be alleviated by medical
treatment AND only after trying everything possible to try to save it,
regardless of expense. But even 'pain and suffering' can
be subjective. Perhaps the final determination is best left to a committee that includes at
least one veterinarian and several volunteer rescue workers.
Maddies Funds believes, "One way to think about the meaning of no-kill is to apply the same standard to an animal shelter as you would to your own pet. Would you put your cat down if he had a broken bone? What if your dog had kennel cough or separation anxiety? I don't think most people would take their pet's lives for these conditions".
But applying the same standard
most people would use for their own pet would not
fare well for animals. If 150,000,000-250,000,000*
animals were killed in pounds last decade, then the truth is most guardians just don't care.
A huge number of impounded animals are there because guardians bring them there.
Tufts University says 44% of shelter animals
surprising is the number that instruct the pound to kill their
healthy and adoptable pets! Last year 4,873 pets were killed in San Diego
County alone because of 'owner requests'.
And of the strays captured by animal controllers, many were dumped in fields
by their caretakers or pushed out of cars or were never sought after they got out of
the yard. Real estate agents nationwide can attest to how many animals are left
behind in vacant homes and yards when properties are sold and homeowners
move on. According to
Animals Voice, what 'most people'
would do is regrettable. It is conceivable that almost every animal that ends up
in the pound is a direct result of a guardian who didn't make a
life-time commitment of care and protection. Perhaps we need to
start asking people to apply the same standard as they would to their own
child instead of their pet.
Problems arise when killing is
permitted for reasons other than to end extreme physical suffering. Definitions
start adapting to the decision maker's whims, convenience, prejudices and
no-kill targets. Suddenly the opening becomes a floodgate. For example,
San Diego County Animal
Control claimed that out of 17,421 animals killed in 2004, only 15 were
healthy and 8,089 were 'non-rehabilitatable'. So 46.4% of the
total animals killed were labeled 'non-adoptable.' The agency is currently a Maddies Fund recipient and
stands to gain millions of dollars by meeting no-kill goals.
co-founder of Best Friends Sanctuary, believes the way quotas are set is
important to avoid schemes. "Communities and organizations that are truly
committed to saving lives are moving away from the whole notion of rating their
success on percentage of adoptable animals placed. Instead, we focus on the
'live release rate,' a calculation that includes all the animals that come into
our care. [San Diego County Animal Control, supra, killed 33% of its total intake
of dogs and cats].
"The no-kill movement is not a
numbers game or an accounting scam that shifts column headings on the numbers of
animals killed to alter the balance sheet. It is a repudiation of the whole idea
of using mass killing as a means of pet population control. Instead, it calls
for a commitment to the lives of those animals already born, a reduction in the
pet birth rate through spay/neuter, and a dramatic change in the way we, as a
nation of self-described animal lovers, regard our pets."
Killing for Behavior &
The Temperament Test
Killing animals for behavioral
reasons opens a Pandora's box. Some animals have been labeled
"vicious" merely because they growled when a dog-catcher put a tether
around their neck, dragged them to the street and threw them in a dark box
inside a dispatch truck. There is no across-the-board consensus of what
constitutes a "dangerous" animal.
Still, many municipalities, SPCA's
and even private rescue organizations continue to kill based on behavior.
The 'crime' could be snarling at a fake hand used in a test, snapping at a foster
parent or injuring or killing an animal or person. Even in the later scenario there may be
extenuating circumstances such as self-defense, defending a guardian, abusive
treatment, illness, starvation or mistake.
It appears there is no way of
easily assessing temperament and it is
Chihuahua Rescue argues, "There is a "test"
being peddled to shelters across the country. This test is a "temperament test."
It "tests" the dog's disposition by subjecting him to a series of standards such
as being prodded with a stick, slapped with a rubber hand, being teased with
treats, then having it snatched away [and more recently hanging an animal upside.] Kind of similar to the way some dogs are
tormented by abusers. In this case if the dog...even snarls or
curls a lip, he "FAILS" the test and is deemed "unacceptable" so he doesn't
count toward being exterminated.
How many, scared, starved, abused and confused dogs, being thrown in a strange, hostile environment such as a municipal shelter, "fail" these tests? The answer? Most.
But who cares, right? Once these ghastly and unscientific tests are administered, then a shelter can kill 1000's of dogs every year- bid-ness as usual- but now say they're a "no- kill" municipality! Dogs that are unplace-able don't count towards "killing!"
The 'Sue Sternberg
Sue Sternberg created
the " Assess-A-Pet" test, used by 'shelters' and private rescues
across the country to identify and kill 'unadoptable' companion animals. The
test usually lasts about 15 minutes and uses a fake hand to test aggression. The
pound dog, already in a high-stress atmosphere, has a food bowl or toy or bone
put in front of him or her and the fake hand starts poking and prodding the dog
while it is trying to eat. If no reaction is achieved, the prodding continues
and once the dog snarls or growls, the dog is often marched off immediately to
be killed. This test
is one of the most widely used in the country. Sternberg has been quoted to say none of
would pass her test. Her seminar
audience witnessed her state
that 70% of dogs
in the Northeast part of the country are 'unadoptable' and 'should be killed.'
Sternberg reportedly called herself
in her classes, asked attendees not to tell shelter donors about her tests and
killings and has caused
to cry and vomit upon seeing the administration of
her tests. Many claim that dogs that fail her test make
though Sternberg would have killed them. An outcry from her seminar audience can
be found throughout the
of her 'rescue', Rondout Valley Kennels in upstate New York, say she is out of
control and her slaughter is totally unjustified.
Francis Batista, supra, has come
out squarely against Sternberg. He calls these tests "a license to kill"
and only values such tests to evaluate training needs and to select an
appropriate home - not for deciding who lives and who dies.
Batista continues, "Killing animals on the basis of a temperament test is such a horrendous crime that those who do it have to become hardened in their defense of the theory in order to justify their
crime. Sue Sternberg is a lousy trainer who justifies her inability by labeling her students as dangerous and uneducable. Imagine the uproar if this were suggested as a way of sorting students at inner city schools".
Jean Donaldson from the San Francisco SPCA also has problems with
Sternberg's methods. "We couldn't get Sue's test past the reliability issue,
and four of her five unadoptable dogs did fine."
Animal Match Rescue Team believes that testing at the pound site
is a basis for invalidating the test ab initio.
No-kill NOW director
states, "Behavior-killing has become epidemic. It is huge at 'shelters'.
But on a smaller scale, breeders, veterinarians and some rescuers and pet 'owners'
routinely practice it.
"Sue Sternberg tells 'the ice cream' story which I've
heard too many others tell. It goes something like this: 'Willy snarled today so I took him for an
ice cream and then straight to the vet to have him 'put to sleep'. It was a wonderful
last day. I feel so good about it!'
"I know I'm expected to rejoice along with the story-teller but
every time I hear it I feel ill. No medical evaluation, no behavior-modification training, no re-homing. These
poor animals were never given a fair chance. I've heard the same story
when the issue was instead medical expenses that exceed $100.
"Too many innocent lives are being snuffed
out based on convenience, subjectivity, false positives and personal gain. We've
become too comfortable playing God when it comes to companion-animal lives.
"Prior to imposing a death
sentence, at the very least there should be minimal prerequisites to behavior-killing,
a) a pattern of prior dangerous behavior;
b) a demonstration of meaningful remedial efforts, such as extensive training, treatment and/or
finding a new home more
compatible with the animal's personality and needs and
final determination made by a committee, preferably composed of a
majority of volunteer rescue workers, a least two behaviorists and a
veterinarian in conjunction with a thorough
investigation of the facts and a psychological and physical assessment of the animal.
Ideally, these animals would be kept alive in a safe haven where they can cause no
harm and live out their natural lives".
Killing to "Protect the
What poses a "public
health hazard" needs further clarification. A search on the internet finds "ringworm" under this category.
To be a true hazard, the animal's disease must be such that it is incurable,
contagious and life-threatening to humans or other species and that there is no
other reasonable remedy to protect the lives and safety of others. A
volunteer committee with a veterinarian and rescues workers should make this decision.
Killing Weaning Puppies
California law excludes all protections for kittens and puppies younger than
8 weeks old. But many believe they should not be killed and
instead should be placed in foster homes with their mothers and siblings if at
all possible. If a foster is not available, they should be cared for at the
Transferring Animals to
Hugs for Homeless Animals
believes an animal should never be transferred from a no-kill to a kill facility for any
reason whatsoever. Those that are euthanized are entitled to die in a place that
can offer loving and compassionate arms to hold them in their last moments of
life. A no-kill facility is the better choice.
The Lure of Killing
The more clearly the term "unadoptable"
the less likely abuses will occur. There will always be tremendous
temptation for no-kill administrators to manipulate kill rates by mislabeling
animals as "unadoptable" to meet no-kill objectives. Pressure to curry favor
with the public, contributors, board members and superiors will at times be
overwhelming. Deterrents must be put in place at the outset to discourage
fraudulent representations. Remedies may include regular reviews by outside
committees, open-door policies for rescues and visitors, public display of
impound data, published guidelines and procedures and criminal prosecution for
The Differing No-Kill
Here are some examples of entities that apply their own interpretations
and refinements to no-kill terms:
Hugs for Homeless
Friends of Michigan Animals Rescue
San Diego County Department of
When Does No-Kill Mean No-Kill?
When the Cages Are Full?
We may never know the true numbers. Out of
approximately 5,000 animal control facilities in the country (those with more
than 100 animals), less than half report ANY statistics. And it has been stated
that out of those, some don't report accurately. Kill numbers could be much greater.
Why do facilities refuse to report or manipulate kill rates? Donations are
based on the public's perception of how the animals are cared for. Lower
kill-rates translate to increased donations.
Another reason is "image".
People don't like puppy and kitten killers.
From that realization grew a public
relations campaign initiated in the 1990's by the Humane Society
of the United States, the largest lobbying entity in the country for
animal control facilities. The purpose was to give the public a better
image of pounds and make staff 'feel better' about what they do. It was this
image-enhancing propaganda that focused on bringing about new names: "animal control pounds"
became "shelters"; "dog-catchers" turned into "humane officers" and staff
now insists "We don't 'kill'. We 'euthanize'." The tragedy
is that this multi-million (billion?) dollar campaign did little for the millions and
millions of animals killed within 'shelter' walls.