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An Unrealistic Ideal?
Two “no-kill” shelters are shut down due to crowding and neglect.

In an ideal world, no-kill shelters are safe havens where homeless animals stay as long as it takes to find their forever homes. In reality, these places are often strained for resources, forcing many to turn away animals that may be hard to place.

Last year, Julia Recently, organizations that resist euthanasia have been in the news due to overpopulation and neglect. 

In January, the Clarksdale-Coahoma County Animal Shelter in Mississippi was shut down after 400 animals were discovered in a facility built to hold 60 dogs. The organization’s numbers quickly grew unmanageable since they did not turn away or euthanize any of the animals brought to the shelter. 

Julie Morris, senior vice president of Community Outreach for the ASPCA, notes that shelter management usually has good intentions, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed. She also says that some shelters can become so fixated on low euthanasia rates that they begin to overlook suffering.

I understand that with proper management, no-kill shelters play an important role in the community, taking dogs off the street and educating potential adopters. But until every person in the world truly understands the responsibility of pet ownership, we will continue to have more dogs than potential homes. With limited resources, particularly in recent economic times, euthanasia seems like a necessary evil. 

Is the concept of no-kill unrealistic?

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

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Submitted by Debbie Jacobs | March 17 2010 |

I would hate to think that the concept of no kill shelters was unrealistic, since it implies that humans are not capable of achieving challenging goals. I do believe that 'where there is a will there is a way', the trick of course is creating that 'will' and find the 'way'.

Most people are naive or ignorant to the reality of what a sad number of no kill shelters are like. We seem to prefer the idea of them, as opposed to shelters where they will likely receive a death sentences though, and that must be a start.

One of my dogs suffered serious behavioral damage by his time spent in a 'sanctuary'. Other dogs at the site died due to the conditions. The outcry of people when this site was discovered was loud and the response overwhelming.

I hope it is not unrealistic to believe that once we have the 'will' that the 'way' will elude us forever. Hope springing eternal on my part perhaps.

Submitted by VZ | March 17 2010 |

To say that "euthanasia seems like a necessary evil" is a dangerous thing. That statement is a small step towards a mass mindset that killing animals is ok because "well, it just has to be done."

I agree with the previous commenter that saying that it's necessary is assuming that humans are incapable of creating a humane solution. The problem is lack of education and awareness about spaying/neutering and about getting pets from a shelter vs. a breeder, lack of support and money for the few caring people who do have well-run no-kill shelters and sanctuaries, and lack of people who are willing to start a real no-kill shelter. Breeders need to stop breeding, people need to start adopting, and everyone should be educated on the huge amount of animals killed each year just because of lack of space.

So the solution is there, we just need to get to it. But I would never EVER utter the words that the taking of a life (the ONE life that creature has) is "necessary." Death is never "necessary."

Submitted by VZ | March 17 2010 |

I agree with the previous commenter that saying that it's necessary is assuming that humans are incapable of creating a humane solution. The problem is lack of education and awareness about spaying/neutering and about getting pets from a shelter vs. a breeder, lack of support and money for the few caring people who do have well-run no-kill shelters and sanctuaries, lack of people who are willing to start a real no-kill shelter. Breeders need to stop breeding, people need to start adopting, and everyone should be educated on the huge amount of animals killed each year just because of lack of space.

So the solution is there, we just need to get to it. But I would never EVER utter the words that the taking of a life (the ONE life that creature has) is "necessary." Death is never "necessary."

Submitted by Kelley J | March 24 2010 |

Death is necessary! It pains my heart to say it.
I do not think no kill shelters are unrealistic, I have seen many that do a wonderful job. I do think that "no-kill" animal world is unrealistic. The moment we domesticated the dog, we took responsibility for it. When life was harder and both dogs and people lived shorter, higher risk lives-- population remained low. Now we live (in the US anyway) less risky, better fed, more reproductively successful, and longer lives. Our dogs do too! Human's have droped the ball when it comes to taking responsibility for our animals reproduction and care. I would like to see more funding go into spay and neuter clinics, and training for those homeless dogs that have a chance of finding a home--- but to think that we live in a world currently where every single unwanted animal can be "saved" from death is unrealistic. Even if we could keep them alive... what is a life in a cage if you don't have a "pack" that you belong to and a stimulating life to live??? Euthanasia is not the worst option.

Submitted by SW Virginia | March 24 2010 |

No-kill shelters - great in theory, but no so great in practice, especially in the more rural parts of this country. I volunteer for the County shelter in my SW Virginia town; we also have a no-kill shelter. The County has to take in any dog that comes in or is picked up. Which means that when there are not enough runs, some dogs will be euthanized to make space. Our shelter volunteer group has gone a long way towards reducing the euthanasia rate, but it happens.

The no-kill shelter, on the other hand, is selective about the dogs it takes in, typically taking the most adoptable dogs. But some of the dogs it has taken in have stayed there - literally for years. Is this humane? I do not understand how any one can think it is better to not euthanize a dog humanely than to allow them to go shelter-crazy.

Until people change (it may happen someday), thinking that all shelters can be no-kill is a far off dream/fantasy.

Submitted by Tarah | March 25 2010 |

First thing is first and that should be the animal. I work in an animal hospital and we work closely with a no kill shelter and the town shelter. We see all sorts if situations arise. It is true, our town shelter does often euthanize but they try to hold onto an animal for as long as they can. However, the animal that is not eating well, pacing, chewing at his body because he is so anxious.How long is it fair to him to have to go through that? AWFUL! You must think about the quality of the animals life. In an ideal situation someone would take him home and foster him, nurture him and actively help find him a home. I think all pet owners should get out there and help, even if its just one life your helping. I actively work with my clients/patients who cant keep their pets. I make flyers on my time off, i post them, i ask around. I don't get paid to do it, but I know i have helped save that animal from the shelter and the possiblity of death. You need to do it too... take your part! Volunteer and foster. Education is key and people neglect to educate themselves before they take an animal in and then the cycle begins. Putting a healthy animal down is cruel and pointless but it will continue till everyone changes!

Submitted by Virginia | March 28 2010 |

Yes, No Kill is reachable - it takes dedication, creativity, motivation, and energy and involvement from the community AND shelter staff to make it happen.

That doesn't mean it's easy - but YES it is reachable. Saying death is necessary is simply giving a free pass for shelter staff and communities who do not want to change.

Is a cure for all types of cancer possible? We don't know. But imagine if researchers said "Well, death is inevitable" and stopped trying and working to find cures.

Submitted by Ed Boks | March 30 2010 |

No-Kill shelters are seldom a solution. Our goal must be to create a No-Kill community, not a “no-kill” shelter. There is a big difference between a 10,000 square foot “no-kill” shelter and a “no-kill” city, town, county or state.

It is important to understand what No-Kill really means. No-Kill is ending the use of euthanasia as a means to control pet overpopulation. That means terminally ill, terminally injured and dangerously aggressive animals are not included in this goal. These animals will always be humanely euthanized.

Understanding this, can a community achieve No-Kill? I contend we can. But to be totally successful will take the whole community working together and we must include targeted, affordable spay/neuter programs for needy pet owners.

In the drive to achieve No-Kill there are two commonly recognized hurdles to clear. A community’s progress towards No-Kill usually stalls at the first hurdle which is typically found when its pet euthanasia rate is reduced to between 12 and 10 shelter killings per 1,000 human residents annually (13.8 is the current national average).

Once a community achieves this rate, further significant reductions are stalled until the community decides to implement aggressive spay/neuter programs to achieve further euthanasia reduction goals. With effective, targeted spay/neuter programs progress toward the second hurdle can be steady. Clearing the first hurdle becomes apparent after a community has successfully persuaded all the people who are likely to fix their pets to do so.

The challenge then is to persuade the more difficult populations, which include the poor, the elderly on fixed income, individuals with negative attitudes about spay/neuter, people who speak languages other than English, and those who live in relatively remote areas.

The second hurdle in the drive to achieve No-Kill has been characterized as “the wall”. Few communities have been able to break through "the wall". A community hits “the wall” when it reduces its pet euthanasia rate to between 5 and 2.5 shelter killings per 1,000 human residents annually (in 2007, Los Angeles reduced its euthanasia rate to 3.7).

Hitting “the wall” signifies the success of an earlier generation of effectively targeted programs. To break through “the wall” requires a new generation of programs to address the needs of special populations not met by earlier programs, which typically includes bully dog breeds, and feral, domestic and neonate cats.

Breaking through the wall requires comprehensive data collection, assessment, and implementation of programs targeted to meet the special needs of residual populations. Finding more creative and effective ways to reach out to the public and market the adoption of hard-to-place pets becomes an even greater priority, and implementing and maintaining targeted spay/neuter programs remains paramount.

As communities achieve this goal we strip away from every other community any excuse for continuing to employ killing as a methodology for controlling dog and cat populations. Even in an era of tight budgets and big challenges, communities must remain dedicated not only to its so-called core functions, but also to striving toward No-Kill. In fact, it is time we make No-Kill a core function. We have no choice but to succeed.

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