Home Defining No-Kill No-Kill Resources Shelter Law

Adoptable animals are those animals eight (8) weeks of age or older (or, for the purposes of this policy, weaned and eating on their own) at, or subsequent to, the time the animal is taken into possession, have manifested no signs 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, congenital or hereditary condition that affects the health of the animal, or that is likely to affect the animal's health in the future. (Also see Civil Code sec. 1834.4, Food and Agricultural Code sec. 17005, and Penal Code sec. 599d).

"Adoptable" animals may be defined as healthy and well socialized; they need no medical attention or behavioral assistance. They are not dangerous and do not pose a risk of harm to people or animals. Animals that may be old, deaf, blind, scarred, or disabled, but are not in any pain, do not require medical treatment or behavior modification, and are healthy, friendly pets, are adoptable.

Treatable animals shall include any animal that is not deemed adoptable but could become adoptable with "reasonable efforts." (Civil Code sec. 1834.4, Food and Agricultural Code sec. 17005, and Penal Code sec. 599d). "Treatable" animals have a manageable behavioral defect and/or medical condition that is typically responsive to reasonable behavior modification or medical treatment that would enable them to become healthy, socialized pets.

To be considered "treatable," an animal need not be fully rehabilitated within the applicable holding period. It is the reasonableness of the behavior management or medical treatment and the likelihood of remediation, rather than the cost or availability of such resources in the shelter environment that is determinative. Reasonable procedures are generally considered the accepted, prevailing, usual and customary remedial measure for the particular condition among veterinarians or Behavior Specialists (as distinguished from unconventional, untried, or experimental procedures).

While cost and availability may be relevant in deciding whether or not an animal should be treated or euthanized, they are not material factors in determining whether an animal is defined as treatable or non-rehabilitatable. Although saving treatable animals will be limited by budget constraints, such financial considerations do not affect the definition of "treatable." The decision as to whether an animal is "treatable" depends primarily on the condition of the animal rather than other criteria unrelated to the animal's needs.

Treatable is not synonymous with savable. An animal with a remote chance for recovery, or whose condition would require experimental procedures with uncertain outcomes may be savable, but it is not reasonably "treatable."

Behavior-Treatable are animals with some manageable behavioral defect that is typically responsive to reasonable behavior intervention efforts that would enable them to become behaviorally manageable pets. In general, behaviorally manageable animals should not be euthanized except when the shelter animal population exceeds available housing capacity or the ability to provide adequate sanitation, shelter or humane conditions for the animal. Exceptions may be made in cases where the needs of the animal are not readily available or affordable, and the animal's condition or quality of life has deteriorated to an unacceptable level.

Animals that exhibit severe distress in the shelter environment may be candidates for euthanasia. This may take the form of not eating, self mutilation such as lick granulomas, constant vocalization, pacing, or cage spinning, elimination problems, depression, etc. Efforts to minimize stresses to provide relief should be attempted and documented. If we cannot find a way to make the animal more at ease, euthanasia may be the only option to avoid lessening the animal's quality of life.

"Safety" factors focus on the risk of injury to the animal, other animals, staff members/volunteers, a prospective adopter or family, and members of the general public. Assessment is based primarily on the animal's performance in a behavior test, the degree of potential harm, and the likelihood of eventual placement in a responsible, knowledgeable home. The overriding consideration is whether this animal poses an unreasonable risk of harm to people or animals even if housed and cared for in a responsible manner. (See Behavior-Non-treatable).

Behavior-Non-Treatable are animals (other than feral animals) observed to be dangerous or fractious to people or other animals. Animals that at any time subsequent to impoundment have exhibited signs of aggression towards a person or another animal, or at any time have inflicted injury to a person or another animal through biting or severe scratching may be candidates for euthanasia. Each incident should be promptly reviewed and assessed on a case-by-case basis by the Lieutenant, Senior Animal Care Attendant, and Behavior Specialist.

Such animals whose behavior is considered an isolated incident (protecting its litter, response to threatening behavior initiated by another animal, uncertain reaction by young animal to frightening situation, inadvertent contact during play, puppy bites, etc.) may be made or remain available for adoption with supervisory concurrence immediately following any required quarantine period.

NOTE: Aggressive behavior displayed by a dog or cat while in its enclosure, towards another animal (inside or outside of the enclosure) may not be a fair indication of its behavior or suitability for adoption. Since the same animal may (or may not) interact satisfactorily with other animals when out of its enclosure, an animal's behavior should be assessed after it is removed from its enclosure.

Feral animals are animals without owner identification of any kind whose usual and consistent temperament is extreme fear and resistance to contact with people. A feral animal is totally unsocialized to people.

Medical-Treatable animals have some manageable medical condition that is typically responsive to reasonable medical treatment that would enable them to become healthy pets. These animals should generally not be euthanized except when the shelter's animal population exceeds available housing capacity or the ability to provide adequate sanitation, shelter or humane conditions. Exceptions are made if the treatment is not readily available through reasonable effort or has become ineffective, and the animal's condition or quality of life has deteriorated to an unacceptable level. (See Medical-Non-treatable).

Medical-Treatable animals may be classified into one of four medical intervention/treatment levels. To help visualize these levels, consider a pyramid divided in four sections or groups. The base or first level is the largest category of treatable animals and represents uncomplicated, basic medical treatments. As treatments (or interventions) become more complicated, intense, or chronic, there is an elevation in the intervention level and a narrower, smaller group of animals are represented.

The veterinarian will use the guidelines listed below in determining the appropriate treatment/intervention level for animals with a treatable medical condition. Treatment parameters are described by type, intensity, number and/or duration of treatments, as well as route of administration, number, frequency, and duration of medications. (See further discussion of treatable medical conditions in Appendix One of this policy.)

Medical-Non-Treatable are animals that are irremediably suffering from a serious illness or severe injuries, animal with a poor prognosis or protracted painful recovery, or animals that are suffering from or afflicted with some medical condition that is not likely to be remedied with reasonable efforts. Animals that are irremediably suffering from a serious illness or severe injury may be euthanized to alleviate unnecessary suffering without being held for owner redemption or adoption. As a general rule, an RVT or veterinarian should recommend euthanasia for medical reasons.

In cases involving medical emergencies and/or the need to alleviate severe suffering, a Department veterinarian, if available, or Lieutenant should be contacted (by telephone or through dispatch, if necessary) to determine if the animal should be transported for off-site treatment or euthanized.

Examples of conditions that may necessitate euthanasia include: fading/collapsing kittens, organ failure, feline immunodeficiency, chronic debilitation, certain congenital abnormalities or defects, or any serious, chronic illness with a poor prognosis or not reasonably responsive to treatment. A condition that may not necessitate euthanasia on its own, when present in combination with other factors may lead to the decision to euthanize. Quality of life and risk to the health of other animals or people will be considered in the decision.

Neonatal animals are newborns unable to survive without maternal care. These animals may be euthanized without being held for owner redemption or adoption if no maternal, foster or rescue care can be given. Attempts to obtain foster or rescue care will be documented and the unweaned animal(s) held as long as they are not under distress or their stability compromised. (An Outcome Subtype of "Adoptable" [rather than "neonatal"] should be entered for healthy weaned kittens and puppies under 8 weeks of age that must be euthanized.)

In general, healthy and social weaned kittens and puppies are considered "Adoptable," and unweaned kittens and puppies that are healthy or that have some manageable medical condition typically responsive to reasonable medical treatment are considered "Medically Treatable" (NEONATE - MT). Unweaned animals that are euthanized due to irremediable suffering from a serious illness or severe injury should be classified as "NEONATE - NT."

Owner Request Owners may sign a written request for a "fee for service" euthanasia of their animal(s) and, in general, such animals that have a medical condition or behavioral defect may be immediately euthanized. Adoptable animals will normally be held and made available for adoption as relinquished animals. Such requests that involve questionable circumstances, an inadequate reason, or an adoptable animal, should be brought to the attention of a supervisor for review.

Quarantine Where euthanasia for a laboratory (pathological) examination for rabies is appropriate (i.e., for stray, unidentified biter animals held through the required holding period, or where the Quarantine period is not expired, and the laboratory examination is approved by a Lieutenant). Keep in mind that an animal whose biting incident is considered an isolated incident (protecting its litter, response to threatening behavior initiated by another animal, uncertain reaction by young animal to frightening situation, inadvertent contact during play, puppy bites, etc.) may be made available for adoption with supervisory concurrence immediately following any required quarantine period.

Reasonable efforts are documented attempts by the Department throughout an animals' stay in treating or placing an adoptable or treatable animal. These efforts include documentation of contacting rescue groups. If all efforts fail the animal is euthanized as treatable.

Regulated animals are prohibited or disqualified for adoption by law, regulation, or policy. To promote animal and public health and safety, dogs that have been declared "Dangerous" by the Department, or that are subject to "Dangerous Dog" proceedings, are not made available for adoption. Animals that have been declared a "public nuisance", or that are subject to public nuisance proceedings, should not be made available for adoption without a file review and concurrence of a Lieutenant and Regional Director.

Q. What's the difference between a Humane Society and a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA)?

A. The terms are interchangeable. But every Humane Society or SPCA is autonomous and independent. There are no national umbrella organizations or local chapters. The American SPCA was the nation's first, but it has no satellite SPCAs. Neither does the Humane Society of the United States or the American Humane Association. Each SPCA or Humane Society has its own board of directors, its own mission, its own philosophy and its own individual programs and services.

Q. What is an animal control program and how does it differ from a Humane Society or SPCA?

A. An animal control program is a taxpayer-supported service provided by cities or counties for the purpose of providing for the overall community good as it relates to animals. Therefore, the emphasis of animal control is generally on public health and public safety, law enforcement, animal regulation, and licensing. Animal control agencies normally contend with dangerous dogs, pick up strays, arrest and prosecute animal cruelty cases, or respond to animal nuisance calls. Animal control agencies generally provide lost and found services and adoption programs for the stray animals they pick up and for the owner-surrendered animals who are brought in.

An animal control program can be a separate municipal agency or a service contracted out to a Humane Society or SPCA.

Humane Societies and SPCAs usually provide a variety of charitable services in addition to having an adoption program. These might include spay/neuter, humane education, foster care, dog training or animal assisted therapy programs. Many humane societies and SPCAs also investigate and prosecute cases of animal cruelty.

The lines between Humane Societies, SPCAs and animal control programs blur when there is not a separate animal control agency, and cities or counties contract with Humane Societies and SPCAs to perform animal control duties. In these instances, two somewhat different agendas are at work in the same agency: the interests of the community at large and the interests of the animal lovers supporting the nonprofit with charitable dollars.

As a result of these different configurations, income sources will vary. SPCAs and Humane Societies that contract with local governments will receive a portion of their funding from the taxpayer. Non-contracting SPCAs and Humane Societies will receive the majority of their funding from philanthropic sources, individual donors, bequests or grants.

Q. What is a rescue group?

A. Speaking in broad terms, rescue groups are usually small, all volunteer, no-kill, grassroots organizations. These groups are sometimes partial to a particular breed of dog or cat (a purebred rescue group) or to feral cats. Rescue groups generally do not have shelters but use a network of foster homes to house homeless animals until the cats or dogs can be permanently placed. Rescue groups rescue their animals from local animal shelters and also take owner-surrendered pets.

Q. Do national animal groups financially support local animal groups?

A. As a general rule, no. Again, there are no national umbrella organizations that "feed" donations to local chapters. If you give money to the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States, or the American Humane Association, your money will most likely not directly benefit the cats and dogs in your own community (One exception may be disaster relief programs that some national organizations sponsor).

Q. How do you define open-door shelter, traditional shelter, no-kill shelter and limited access shelter?

A. Open-door generally means the Humane Society, SPCA or animal control agency accepts every cat and dog that is brought to its doors, irrespective of age or condition. The animal could be a 17-year-old dog with mange, hip dysplasia and cancer; a vicious fighting dog; a litter of 8-week-old kittens; or a 2-year-old golden retriever. However, open door facilities are generally faced with space constraints and limited resources, and, as a result, euthanasia is used as a means of pet population control. A traditional shelter is generally an open door SPCA or Humane Society. A no-kill shelter (using Maddie's Fund's definition) is one that saves all the adoptable and treatable pets it takes in, with euthanasia reserved only for non-rehabilitatable animals. However, no-kill shelters are generally considered limited access and do not take in animals beyond their capacity to adopt or rehabilitate them.

It's important to know there are myriad variations within these categories. Some agencies claim to be open door but really aren't. Some claim to be no-kill but aren't. In each category, some organizations are exemplary and some are shameful. Your job, as the contributor, is to get beyond the label and find out for yourself which is which.

You also have to weigh and measure your own values against the organization's activities. A lot of organizations are following different paths to get to the common goal of saving lives. For example, some organizations are strictly working to save the animals within their own community. As all of the community's adoptable animals are saved and the organizations begin saving treatables, however, there is a higher cost per placement. This is because treatable cats and dogs have medical or behavior problems that require interventions prior to rehoming and this can be expensive. But more animals from within the community have an opportunity to be placed.

Another approach used by some organizations is to save animals from outside of the community that are easier to place. The purpose of this strategy is to save the greatest number of lives and reduce the lifesaving cost per animal.

Your job is to determine which organizations, approaches and philosophies you feel most comfortable supporting.

These definitions and questions and answers are reprinted and are the commonly accepted definitions and explanations by animal control and rescue communities and are consistent with California's "Hayden Law."

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Home Defining No-Kill No-Kill Resources Shelter Law


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