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25 October 2008


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Hurrah! Great post! Thanks, Christie.


True enough!

Diana L Guerrero

Well said. I'd steer her toward cat only adoption centers...


"She knows she wants those kittens to live, not die. She knows she doesn’t want them killed. It’s really that simple. And that powerful."


Sara Jo

I recall vividly when I learned how touchy the phrase "no-kill" was when I asked on the first day of volunteering at my county's shelter if the shelter was a "no-kill" shelter. Oops. Boy did I inspire a reaction, not a nice one. I asked only because during the tour we were introduced to one of the dogs that had been there for over a year. I read "Redemption" soon after that, which helped me to understand the poor attitude of the shelter staff and why they acted like volunteers were a minor annoyance at best.


Great post!

Groups have always used 'slogans' to represent what they do, and no one ever attacks them for their literal worth.

We have a 'Make a Wish' foundation in Australia who does amazing work helping sick kids have nice experiences, whom I doubt is staffed by fairies. The "Keep Australia Beautiful" organisation is about collecting rubbish - not the elimination of ugly people.

So it's simply ridiculous to spend hours debating whether we can use the words "No Kill" to describe groups who kill untreatable and unrehomable pets. Of course we can - that's not the point!

But this bickering becomes really malevolent when being used to avoid examination of the life saving ideas behind No Kill, or is an effort to actively prevent other people from finding innovative new ways to save the lives of pets.

Long live No Kill!


Not so impreshed by this debate over no kill.

they all say no-kill, then comes the excuses,

(what no one mentioned,and you'l not imangine,

is to keep the cats until you find 'em a home)

spare me the platitudes? why not offer tangable

help? instead of all this stroking of your egos.

if you want to help the cats,keep them until

you find a willing home?

commit to doing what you must,keep looking for homes? you'l find 'em..


Christie, I really admire you when you write with minimal snark and speak the simple truth like you do here. :-) Good blog post.

Sue Cosby

You go, girl!

Christie Keith

Catherine, there is a grey area there for ALL issues, whether behavior or health. The bottom line is that there is a PSYCHOLOGICAL difference between putting animals down because you perceive, rightly or wrongly, they cannot be helped, and simply because you want to teach "irresponsible pet owners" a lesson or because you run out of kennel space.

Certainly we can all talk about where to draw the line in making our evaluations, but that's a separate issue from the use of killing as a propaganda weapon or tool of animal population control.


I'd like to take issue with your phrase about putting animals down "for ... aggression ... and other compassionate issues".

In my experience, far and away most aggression issues (in dogs) are easily solved with patience and work. What's lacking is dedication and compassion.

It is not "compassionate" to put an animal down because he's never been taught better.


"When we know a dog has bitten, bitten seriously and bitten with the intent to harm, I think that animal needs to be put down."

I doubt that this group constitutes the majority, or even a sizeable minority, of dogs that are put down for being "aggressive".

Compassion is a bitch -- if you don't extend it to everyone, it's called "judgment". That's OK, when it's good judgment.

Gina Spadafori

"When you start gleefully advocating the deaths of dogs in the name of “compassion” -- Catherine

No one here has "gleefully advocated death in the name of 'compassion'" or otherwise. No one.

"No kill" is about not killing for population control, and not allowing population control killing to be dismissed with such pretty words as "euthanasia." In technical terms, it's generally defined as having shelter live-release rates as high as 90 percent, the 10 percent remainder of which reflects the unquestionable reality that there will always be some percentage of animals who, by their health or temperament, are incapable of being placed into new homes.

I believe no one would dispute putting a sick and suffering animal who cannot be made well in that category.

I know many would disagree not only with the concept of not allowing aggressive dogs out for adoption, but also with however that determination is reached.

My point, however, is that a dog with the potential to harm someone no matter how "easily fixed" you believe his behavior to be is not worth the risk of taking a chance on, no matter the unfairness of the circumstances that brought the animal to that point.

In my opinion -- and it's not "gleefully reached," you may well trust me on this -- is that a dog who is a threat to others should not be allowed the chance to turn that threat into reality.

And to choose, even in theory, the life of that dog over the face or the life of an innocent child speaks of misplaced priorities on your part.

But that is all indeed a side issue to your lack of understand of the basic, underlying premised of what the no-kill paradigm entails, and I would encourage you to do some reading so that you can understand what we're talking about here.

The place to start, of course, is with Nathan Winograd's "Redemption."


Well, I'm sorry to have hit a nerve. It's obviously too emotionally fraught a subject to discuss here.

When you start gleefully advocating the deaths of dogs in the name of "compassion", we're not having a sensible conversation.


I doubt that this group constitutes the majority, or even a sizeable minority, of dogs that are put down for being “aggressive”.

True. There are shelters all over this country, that do "temperament testing" for the purpose of identifying the dogs to be killed. The point is to "fail" as many dogs as possible, because the real purpose is population control with a "compassionate" face. These are the same people who rail against No Kill.

But Gina's not talking about that; she's talking about genuinely aggressive dogs who have bitten with intent to harm in real situations, not staged tests designed to force a bite from most dogs. Or a "bite" on something the dog knows perfectly well isn't a real human hand.

Gina Spadafori

Personally, I have absolutely, completely and utterly no problem with putting known aggressive dogs down. None. Period. Goodbye.

I don't give a damn how they got that way. And I am not willing to give a second chance to a dog who presents a threat.

As I have referenced in this blog before, I have seen a child's life completely and utterly ruined by a mauling from a family dog who had bitten before. She went from a bright, friendly child to a shy, frightened girl who went through countless surgeries and never, ever looked anything approaching normal.

I have also seen a small dog pulled from his owners arms by a dog who had bitten before. The small dog was mauled to death right in front of his owner.

You write, "in my experience, far and away most aggression issues (in dogs) are easily solved with patience and work."

In my experience, few people who are not professional trainers or skilled and dedicated amateurs have the patience, work or time to "easily" solve these problems. Or the experience to manage an aggressive dog.

I don't think it's worth taking a chance on such a dog. I don't value the life of an aggressive dog over one person's child or one person's pet mauled or killed. Compassion? I reserve it for the victim of a dog who's a loaded gun, not the dog himself.

Now, that said, I don't condemn dogs by their circumstances; by which I mean I believe that even dogs seized from dog-fighting operations should not be presumed to be vicious. (Important to note: Neither of the dog maulings I witnessed involved a pit bull. One was a shepherd mix, and one was a Dobie.)

When we know a dog has bitten, bitten seriously and bitten with the intent to harm, I think that animal needs to be put down.

And I would count the dog who has no realistic chance of rehabilitation in the same category as the dog who is too sick to be rehomed -- neither factor into the "no kill" equation, and neither are being killed for population control.


"there is a grey area there for ALL issues, whether behavior or health."

but apparently you've been exempted to make the only allowable absolute statements?

C'mon. I took issue with a sloppily worded sentence that makes it sound as though putting dogs down for aggression problems is compassionate. You seem to maintain that intent is everything, but that makes little difference to the dead dog.

Gina Spadafori

Yep, compassion is a bitch. Trying showing some for the people (and other animals) who have been hurt or killed by these "easily fixed" aggressive dogs.

Again, most people are not capable of managing an aggressive dog, and certainly not capable of "fixing" one, "easy" or not.

The potential downside of having those animals out to hurt others is too great to risk.

And that's good judgment.

Christie Keith

One day down the road we're going to live in a country where killing as a tool of animal population control is no longer accepted or practiced or supported. Even then, we'll be having this debate over aggressive dogs.

The things is, killing for animal population control has ceased to happen, killing dangerous dogs for our safety or putting them out into the community for adoption are not the only two options.

For example, in a post-killing for population control world, dogs who cannot be rehabbed for behavior problems but who are not suffering can be cared for in sanctuaries. To a small degree, this happens today, as at Best Friends' Dog Town, where dogs who can't fit into the outside world can get care, exercise, sunshine, mental stimulation, and human and canine interaction within the limits of what their particular issues allow.

This would be the norm in a post-kill world. But today, we get into grey area trouble because people argue there are many safe dogs being killed for animal population control, and until they're in homes, the dangerous dogs simply can't suck up resources the safe dogs need.

The main flaw in that argument is that many people who work with dangerous dogs do it out of a sense of mission that is specific to that population. They feel driven to help these dogs, and it's not accurate to think that passion is a "resource" that is being misdirected.

It's also not a zero-sum game. Fostering compassion always helps animals, and while I would never want to work or volunteer with dangerous dogs, the example of those who do inspires me to help the animals I can help, and write about those who do things I can't do. It generates goodwill and donations. It's a positive for ALL animals.

All that said, there aren't enough sanctuaries to care for these dogs today so people, such as Gina believe that those dogs need to be killed in the interest of public safety instead of being placed into situations where they might harm a child or other human being, or kill other pets.

This is a compromise position that's based on, yes... compassion, both for animals and society. It's morally the same as saying, well, yes, we could do a kidney transplant on this shelter cat, at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars, or we could euthanize her because she's suffering and our treatment isn't working anymore.

In other words, there is a treatment available, but it's financially out of reach for nearly all cats, owned or not. This is exactly the same dilemma faced by those evaluating the fate of dangerous dogs.

This is all complicated by the fact that people have a wide variety of motivations and standards that come into play when deciding if a dog is dangerous or a cat can't be treated.

Many people have a "take no prisoners" kind of attitude that results in savable or borderline pets as well as truly untreatable pets being killed, whether for health or behavior reasons.

I believe many groups go too far in deciding what dogs are "dangerous," as Lis described. Dogs are frequently evaluated by bullshit tests designed simply to classify as many animals as possible as "unadoptable" in order to claim success at lowering kill rates in the shelter. I have spoken out against this many times, and I will never stop speaking out against it.

People of good will need to debate this issue, as we're doing here, although we'll certainly never all agree on every dog and every procedure. That's why a general goal of keeping the number of animals who are released alive under 10 percent, as Gina mentioned, is a valuable and workable goal. It leaves leeway for human judgment, individual and community standards and resources, and the reality that not every animal's health and behavior problems can be solved, while simultaneously NOT giving carte blanche to a scorched earth policy of evaluating animals for adoptability.

That ten percent yardstick won't save every animal who could be saved, but it will keep us honest overall, and prevent bad decisions from becoming institutionalized until a new paradigm has fully replaced the old -- a change we're at the early stages of now.

But like all societal change, this one isn't going to happen overnight nor in a linear process. It will happen in a messy, back and forth, leapfrog, patchwork pattern.

There will be efforts made for some dogs by organizations and individuals who are drawn with a sense of personal dedication to help some specific dog or group of dogs overcome behavioral challenges including aggression, such as with the Vick dogs at Dogtown.

There will also be sporadic extraordinary efforts made to treat some animals' health problems, such as funds to save dogs and cats with cancer or who need organ transplants or amputations, and all kinds of treatment some will consider excessive.

At the same time, in other areas even cats with ear mites will be deemed "untreatable," and recently-starved dogs who growl at a fake hand stuck in their food bowls in noisy, stressful shelter environments will be called "dangerous." Sometimes that will be done out of misguided but sincerely good intentions, and sometimes it will be done out of a nasty desire to punish "irresponsible pet owners" and sabotage the no-kill movement.

The intent very much DOES matter here, not in terms of the fate of the animals already trapped in that system, but in terms of policy, of the design of procedure, in terms of setting goals and standards, and in knowing what arguments need to be made to effect change. If someone is just ignorant of options, the argument that will change their behavior is very different from the one that will work on people who are serving an ugly agenda -- or rather, not work on THEM, since they typically can't be changed, but the argument that will work to remove them from power.


Would anyone here advocating for the killing of "aggressive" dogs actually define "aggession"?

Since the vast majority of dogbites are by family dogs biting family kids, with plenty of unheeded warnings on the part of the biter (who contrary to Gina's anecdote, would probably never bite again if its people actually paid attention to it)... are you willing to condemn to death all of those dogs as "dangerous"? And kill them under the "no kill equation"?

How does killing supposedly, or suspected "dangerous" dogs fit into the definition that "no kill" means "any killing except for population control"?

The number of clearly dangerous dogs is miniscule and no one really defends keeping them alive. For example, no serious pit bull rescuer defends keeping a human-aggressive pit bull, or in most cases, an over-the-top dog-aggressive pit bull alive.

While Gina and Christie think they are defending the "words means anything I say they mean" term "no kill" (oh, TECHNICALLY it means 90-95% not killed...), they are actually highlighting exactly the problem with the term (separate from the entirely laudable goal and vision).

Who gets to decide that the "aggressive" dog that gets killed is part of the "no kill equation"?

A year ago, few people outside the pit bull world defended dogfight bust dogs.. they were all assumed irretrievably aggressive and dangerous, however much pit bull people argued that they deserved a chance to be individually assessed.

A year ago, you could kill all the pit bulls and be satisfied that you were covered under the "no kill equation". All those dead dogs.. not dead for "population control", oh no.

Now? Well, kind of a different story, isn't it, "thanks" to Michael Vick.

The problem is NOT the 90-95% goal. Any shelter that comes even CLOSE to saving that percent is doing an incredible job.

The problem is all the word gamesmanship going on, on both sides.

Gina Spadafori

I really would like to turn this back to the folks here, many of whom are trainers:

How would YOU define a dog who is at risk for hurting or killing? How would YOU identify that dog? Behavioral observations? Detailed history? Combination?

Dogs aren't machines, so I recognize that we cannot predict with anything close to absolute certainty which ones will or will not repeat a serious bite incident. And surely, as EmilyS has noted, the Vick dogs have changed everything when it comes to looking at dogs seized from fighting operations. (Hey, I am so in love with Hector the former Vick dog it makes my heart hurt.)

And I DO know more than a few smart, careful and very dog-savvy people who successfully manage dogs who in other hands would be a potential menace.

I don't have the answers here, and I don't think anyone else does for sure, either. But I continue to believe that without a really good system for IDing a dog who may hurt someone, I would continue to prefer that animal not be allowed the chance. (And sure, I'd love for that dog to go to a sanctuary, if that were possible.)

Evelyn Black

Love the article - we shouldn't surrender the power of the words! As you so eloquently pointed out; the public LIKES them and instinctively knows that's what they want!

I'll keep using them! I'm proud to be a NO KILL advocate!

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