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28 December 2009


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You're struggling to figure out a way to make the movement's name SAY what it MEANS. I've made this comment multiple times. Ordinary people think "no kill" means "no animals get dead by our hands". But that is not reality, for any rational advocate of the "no kill vision". Some animals WILL get dead, and we will explain and defend the decision to kill them, because they are truly the best for that particular animal (i.e. suffering from incurable/untreatable illness or irredeemably vicious).

I continue to fear that "No kill" is a deceptive term to most people, who rightly get angry/disillusioned when either animals DO get killed (and people feel lied to) or they're in the custody of some crazy hoarder.

David S. Greene

(uncharacteristically long comment coming)

Before the back and forth begins over definitions, personal experiences and preferences, I'd like to say a couple things from the perch of one who is well versed in creating and analyzing public policy (though admittedly not as expert yet in the pet community, but I'm working on it...).

1) I'd be all in favor of adopting Christie's words, verbatim, as both a local and state template.

2) I've always felt that no-kill is both philosophy and statement of community identity. The devil is always in the details, but the most important element is this

One of the ways communities become no-kill is by working with pet lovers to build safety nets beyond the shelter and animal control agency....And if a community does a really outstanding job of developing and implementing such a safety net, many animals won’t ever enter the animal control and shelter system at all.

It will get tricky there because while some communities will create that critical safety net, with lots of concomitant redundancy, others simply won't (or can't). Mandating the philosophy in legislation opens up a fiendishly thorny pandora's box of competing interests, and that's where it will fall apart. Therefore, it can't be legislated. That'll kill it faster than rat poison kills, well, rats.

To me, the no-kill ethic has to be adopted on an extra-governmental, community basis, as part of the fabric of Who We Are and What Matters To Us. In this cozy forum here, we're largely preaching to the choir. My dear friend in rural South Carolina, who has personally rescued more than two dozen stray dogs with all manner of cringeworthy injuries and bodily insults over the years, would be the first to yell "forget any chance of that happening down here. Dogs and cats are just animals to most South Carolinians, and the concept of no-kill will get laughed out of the room."

My feeling? THAT'S the kind of community where the discussion has to begin.


Having lived in a fairly rural area in Georgia for a few years now, I have to say that I've found attitudes towards animals are a mixed bag everywhere. It is easy to become frustrated and to paint everyone with the same brush, but that results in an inaccurate picture. There were quite a few people who would have 'laughed the concept of No Kill out of the room' in Tompkins County back in 2000. Some of them were on the shelter's payroll. We all know what happened there. Those who are receptive to the concept are the ones who will make it happen, and I do believe that they are everywhere. Those who aren't will eventually have to stop laughing and/or get out of the way.

Ark Lady

"Low Kill" was a term we used at a shelter I was affiliated with and was a better term because it gave few illusions.

The problems in a community remain when the municipal shelter down the road kills a large number of animals because there is no room in the inn.

Long term, I worry about the psychological issues I've seen with some animals that were kenneled for long periods, or that were placed because staff felt it necessary and then returned only to become despondent.

The problem is such a large one due to a wide variety of economic and education influences within a community.

There is hope--I remember when I wrote an article in 1997 about pet overpopulation and the national statistics were 15 million animal euthanized--and now it is somewhere over 4 million?

That is progress and we just need to keep on plugging along.

Gina Spadafori

I'm sorry ... we're going to a MALL?

I think not.

Christie Keith

LOL -- okay. We'll go down to the Cafe Flore.

Christie Keith

Ark Lady: your comments, unfortunately, reflect exactly the kind of perception I'm hoping my definition discussion can change.

If a COMMUNITY is no-kill, which is an essential component of my definition, then there IS no issue of "no room at the inn" or a facility down the road doing the killing -- which is a frame of the opponents of non-lethal animal population management policies. The no-kill movement is about communities and, ultimately, the nation, not FACILITIES. That was my whole point.

Additionally, you have to realize that NO successful no-kill community has reached that goal by warehousing animals. That, too, is a frame of the opponents of non-lethal animal population management policies. No-kill communities can only happen when animals are moved quickly and safely through the animal control and shelter system. Warehousing animals will doom the effort to failure very rapidly. It is literally impossible to have a no-kill community while holding onto your animals.

We who support non-lethal animal population management have to stop feeding those who oppose that goal by using their frames and language. It hurts us, helps them, and, more importantly, it hurts animals.

Christie Keith

Emily wrote:

You’re struggling to figure out a way to make the movement’s name SAY what it MEANS.

No, I'm not. I'm using a term and defining it. I accept and embrace the term "no-kill," because it describes an animal population management policy that does not kill to manage animal population. It has no more to do with whether suffering, untreatable shelter animals are killed than it does with whether any pet owner in the community does the same with his or her suffering pet.

I’ve made this comment multiple times.

And I've disagreed with it every time.

I continue to fear that “No kill” is a deceptive term to most people, who rightly get angry/disillusioned when either animals DO get killed (and people feel lied to) or they’re in the custody of some crazy hoarder.

If you're talking about an entire region, that's all irrelevant. Does your regional animal control and shelter structure manage its animal population by killing homeless animals, yes or no?

If yes, you're not no-kill, if no, you are. It's very simple.


I've always been curious about how those nationwide numbers were arrived at. Could you point me to the studies?

Christie Keith

Valerie, what nationwide numbers? The estimated number of animals killed in shelters every year?

Maddie's Fund has been collecting data from more than 400 shelters for years now, and is about to publish it in a searchable database:


I have, somewhere, a document they published in which they go through all available data on shelter stats and analyze it... if only I could find it, LOL. I'll keep looking...


me: "You’re struggling to figure out a way to make the movement’s name SAY what it MEANS."

Christie: "No, I’m not. I’m using a term and defining it"

But Christie, terms are made up of words, and words already HAVE definitions.

"no" means "none". Always has, always will.

You can't just assert that suddenly, because a certain community wants to redefine a word, that "no" means "some... but we are really trying to make it none... someday.. except we know someday never comes and there will always be justified killing"

The community (whose goals I completely support) will always be sidetracked by what it thinks are semantics until it understands that.

It is not irrelevant, or surprising, that the enemies of the goal and process of "no killing for population control" are using the term to dispute the value and achievability of the goal and process.

Christie Keith

I'll go to the mall this weekend, with Gina who will be visiting, and we'll ask the first 25 people who will talk to us if they think a no-kill shelter wouldn't kill an animal who was in pain and couldn't be saved or helped. Do you honestly think ANYONE will answer that they wouldn't? You're just not giving people enough credit.

Or any.

Gina Spadafori

Thank you. It IS my birthday, after all.


I was asking about the numbers such as the "17 million killed annually in the 1970s, 4 million killed annually these days" stats I've seen quoted in variuos places (exact numbers vary according to the place). How are these numbers arrived at? A group in GA recently surveyed all 159 shelters in the state which receive taxpayer funding. They published a report summarizing the statewide kill stats, shelter by shelter, but had to estimate the overall kill numbers because 28% did not respond. It was monumental task to cover jsut one state.

David S. Greene

(In case anyone was wondering, it'll be Gina's 39th birthday. Again.)


Happy early B-Day Gina!

Gina Spadafori

Nahhhh. I'm over that! I happy to be turning 52 and proud of every gray hair. :)

Susan Fox

In the four years I volunteered at our open admission county shelter, which the director has always described as no-kill, no member of the public that I ever spoke with had any trouble understanding that we were referring to adoptable animals, not those fatally ill or injured or those which were dangerously aggressive.

If they did ask how long the dogs or cats have, the answer I gave was "until they are adopted or unless they start to have problems, in which case they go to rescue." I think that turned the trick in many cases. No one felt that by taking one dog or cat that they were sentencing another to death.

I don't think it really advances the discussion to make blanket statements about what "the people" or "the public" will or won't do or understand.

Christie Keith

Valerie, NO ONE has ever even tried to collect all the data from every shelter in the country. It would be impossible.

But just as direct sampling in the US Census gives a less accurate figure of human population than statistical sampling does, a really good statistical analysis of existing data can give some pretty reliable numbers.

Maddie's Fund has, as part of its mission, the generation of reliable statistics on shelter intake and what happens to those animals. As I said previously, they'll be publishing their data in a searchable format soon.

I asked them about their numbers, which are published in gross form on their site now, and they said that they reflect "rigorous data" they collected themselves from 420 shelters and communities across the country, which represents around 15 percent of the country's total shelters, and that come from all kinds of communities including rural and urban, rich and poor, and all parts of the nation.

That data is then analyzed in great detail by MF.

They also use, as a backup to their own data, numbers gathered by Merritt Clifton at Animal People from various animal control and private shelters in all 50 states, and other figures obtained from state federations of humane societies and similar groups. Those data reflect similar numbers in terms of intake and killing/euthanasia to those Maddie's Fund has reached by their sampling and analysis.

Hopefully the full database will be available soon and we can all decide what we think of their numbers. I'm not aware of anyone else doing anything remotely this thorough and transparent.


It's pretty simple really. No Kill means just that no kill---EXCEPT in the case of an animal being ill, not going to survive and suffering. My animals live in a 'no kill' home. If it's needed it will be done. Then I will second guess myself as to whether I waited too long and caused unnecessary suffering or whether I was too fast and there was a little more time to be had. I do this every time even tho my vet wouldn't do the procedure if HE didn't think it was time.

Christie Keith

EXACTLY, DD! My pets live in a no-kill home, too -- but that doesn't mean I won't put a pet to sleep if I cannot stop his or her suffering any other way.

I really don't know why that is so hard to understand.

Of course I get that some shelters and rescue groups have claimed to be "no-kill" and then created their own personal definitions of the term, using wiggle words like "adoptable" or whatever.

That's the point of defining your terms, and that's the point of a completely objective back-up definition like the 90 percent rule -- to keep organizations from capitalizing on the huge good will and positive public acceptance of the term "no-kill" without earning it.

Susan Fox

Just to throw another rock or two in the pond- one of the "knocks" on no-kill is that it is an excuse for or leads to "warehousing". What do the opponents of no-kill mean by that word, do you think?

Best Friends Sanctuary gets accused of "warehousing" animals.

I remember the Shelter Dog documentary in which Sue Steinberg presented the choice as being between dogs losing their minds from endless confinement or being humanely "euthanized". The latter made sense to me at the time with what (little) I knew. Death seemed less cruel. But of course it turns out to be a false choice.

If there is a legitimate issue of concern, the obvious solution would seem to be, as Christie says, Community.

Christie Keith

When I think of the HUGE efforts the shelter medicine community is putting into developing programs to keep animals healthy and happy while they are waiting for their forever homes -- both in shelters and, whenever possible, in foster homes instead -- statements that "no kill is warehousing" just make my blood boil.

No-kill moves pets rapidly through the system, not into body bags, but into foster and adoptive homes. That is one of the main ways no-kill succeeds and becomes a reality, by improving the carrying capacity of the community by developing foster programs, and by promoting adoptions.

To turn around and say that no-kill is about warehousing animals in cages is so egregious it makes me want to scream.

It's one of the reasons I don't fight for the term "no-kill" to describe individual organizations or facilities, too. Maddie's Fund uses "adoption guarantee," and something like that is, I think, a much better term for a real shelter or rescue group.

Those that provide longterm or lifelong homes to animals unlikely to be adopted, or those who cannot be, are more properly termed sanctuaries, and have an obgligation to create healthy, stimulating, safe environments for the animals in their care. If they can do that, then they can "warehouse" them forever, as far as I'm concerned. I'm sure the dogs at Dogtown are a lot happier than many of the dogs in my neighborhood, actually!


Yawn.. NO KILL should be the goal of EVERY "shelter" everywhere.. the semantics of what NO kill' means are about as important as what "dog fancier" " means

First. eliminate "pet limits" so that anyone can get a pet from the shelter without being intimidated.

Who cares if I have five dogs and want a pet cat? IT IS A HOME for a cat..STOP pet limits.. allow for sale of pets to multiple pet homes to take place.. more people will take pets from shelter if they have another pet.. ask that question in the "mall" .. bet you get an answer that the person who has one or more pets would be willing to take another while people who have NO PETS would be less willing to have even one... say NO to pet limits even if the HSUS supports them


I was asking about the nationwide total figures. Where do they come from? I've seen various numbers quoted, but the scientist in me likes to see references and peer-reviewed studies.

Christie Keith

Valerie, I already answered that. There are NO peer reviewed studies -- there isn't even a complete data set and never will be.


Valerie, California state law requires all public animal shelters to report their statistics to the California Department of Public Health. You can find their annual reports here:


(Annual LRCA Reports, at the bottom)

Multiply by a factor of 10 to get a rough estimate of nationwide animal shelter stats.


One important element of a "No-Kill" community (or whatever you want to call it) is allowing feral cats to live in their natural habitat.

Other food for thought- the concept of a "humane community" where ultimately the "kill rate" would actually be 100% because ONLY animals who are not "savable" enter the shelter system. So animal control intakes would be close to zero because communities would be humanely controling population with spay/neuter programs, TNR, pet retention and sancturary programs.


Chris Gregory

I think the 'No Kill' claim, while admirable, is putting the responsibility for the need to euthanise animals solely on the shelters. If population control fails badly, who gets blamed? The shelters can only do what they can afford to do...I think it's putting the pressure on the wrong part of the system. I also don't want to see animals suffer unnecessarily because of some ideological principle.

Gina Spadafori

Chris, it's apparent that you came in with an idea of what no-kill communities were about, didn't read the post or any of the comments and added your comment without learning anything.

First, adoptable animals aren't "euthanised" -- they are killed. Second, there's numerically no shortage of homes, but a poorly run shelter system that doesn't reach out to animal lovers to place those animals.

The "ideological principal" of building no-kill communities is that an entire community can -- and has -- achieved 90 percent live-release rates from its shelters.

How that equates with "suffering" is beyond me.


I also don’t want to see animals suffer unnecessarily because of some ideological principle.

Comment by Chris Gregory — March 11, 2010 @ 3:33 pm

You'd rather see adoptable animals dead??

Gina Spadafori

PETA does. Year after year after year. Their new shelter kill rate (2009) is 97 percent.

They have claimed these are hopeless animals being relieved of suffering. But they are required to report "adoptable" animals to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Better dead than fed remains PETA's credo.

Yes, the Center for Consumer Freedom, which requested the report PETA is required to provide by law, is funded by industries with a dog in this fight, so to speak. But the numbers and the law speak for themselves.

mary frances

NPR had a call-in show last night from Canada -didn't hear the entire show but the gist was why are Americans so angry? And the Canadian callers' opinions narrowed to one over-riding problem - there is no safety net in regards to health care as they have in Canada.

I think this same anger applies to animal services - if we had a safety net nationally of no-kill shelters think of the peace of mind we'd all have. (Not to mention the lives saved)


Maybe a part of the language/definition confusion is just that people don't feel they know (really know)what goes on behind shelter or rescue group doors.

If PETA can dupe the public, so can any organization. If my no-kill shelter's policy deems hyperactivity as an "unadoptable" trait or parasites as "untreatable", so could yours. And if one rescuer can turn out to be a hoarder, any could.

After all these years, I still honestly have no idea what "no-kill" means. To me, it just depends on who you're asking and how honest they're being with you...and with themselves.

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