People in the animal world — county shelters, humane societies and rescue groups — have the huge job of saving animals. It’s not an easy undertaking, and while different organizations have dissimilar ways of going about saving and adopting animals, we all have the same goal — that is, to save them. It’s heartfelt and gut-wrenching work that we take very seriously in our desire to make a difference for the animals.
The term “no-kill shelter” was coined by a group of individuals from the animal community in order to create an effective way to gather data and set a standard for categorizing animals within the shelter system. The goal was to create a no-kill nation based on the definition of an animal’s adoptability as defined by the animal’s age, health and social temperament. The standards and definitions were set in what is called the Asilomar Accords.
But is no-kill really no-kill?
For me, no-kill means that no animals are killed unless they’re suffering and/or in pain, and nothing can be done to give them quality of life. Then humane euthanasia is a gift that we can give them to alleviate their misery.
Some organizations claim they have a no-kill policy as a means to gain community support by using the no-kill language set by the Asilomar Accords. But unless the organization defines its terms, publishes its statistics and makes the public aware of what they’re doing to save lives, the term “no-kill” is misleading and confusing to a person relinquishing their pet.
Shelters that use the term “no-kill” need to describe what they mean by “no-kill.” I wonder if the general population thinks to Google the definition when they’re considering relinquishing their pet? The Asilomar Accords define what is healthy, what is treatable, what is unhealthy and what is untreatable, but the general public isn’t always aware of the definition. Therefore, there’s a lack of transparency that can result in misunderstanding between the community and animal shelters.
When the average person sees a no-kill policy, the words “of adoptable animals” seems to be left out. Therefore, the person needs to be educated about what no-kill really means. In short, no-kill means an adoptable animal is eight weeks of age or older, healthy and social. If an animal falls short on any of those criteria, it can be killed and the organization can still call itself a no-kill shelter.
Consider this: A litter of newborn kittens arrives at the shelter with no mother to nurse them. If there is a lack of resources, meaning “there’s no human foster and/or money to provide for them until they reach eight weeks of age,” then the litter can be euthanized. That is not no-kill.
If someone turns in their cat that has kidney failure and there isn’t an individual to take it, provide care and treatment, it may be deemed un-adoptable, and under the Asilomar Accords definition, the cat can be euthanized. That is not no-kill.
Cats or kittens with ringworm, a curable fungus, are often euthanized, even though the condition can be resolved with treatment and time, because there may not be an isolated area to put them without the high risk of spreading throughout the shelter. That is not no-kill.
While community standards are different for shelters based on resources, geography and types of animals, it’s still imperative to be up front on policies in a language that people understand. Transparency may make people think twice before they turn in their animals. While many individuals do have legitimate reasons or life changes that force them to relinquish their pets, they may work harder at finding a home for their kidney cat or senior dog if they’re not misled by organizations claiming to be no-kill.
My thought on the subject is this: Be transparent to the public, and forget about the image of being no-kill when you are misleading the public in order to maintain an image to the community. We can’t expect the shelters to do it all, but we can require them to be open and honest.
And let’s not forget the independent rescue organizations that take on the responsibility of many animals that shelters deem un-adoptable by definition. They often exceed the community standard. and frequently can offer lifesaving attention to an animal. Santa Barbara County is fortunate to have several rescues that take on animals that the shelters cannot.
Again, the work of all animal organizations dedicated to saving lives deserve to be recognized for their heartfelt efforts. But wouldn’t it do the public a better service to be more transparent about what no-kill really means, or, better yet, come up with a better term. Because by this definition, no-kill is not always no-kill.
The author is founder and president of RESQCATS, Inc.