Steps To No Kill

Steps for Successfully Going “No Kill”

The following is the “No Kill Equation”, which is described in further detail by Nathan Winograd in his book “Redemption”.

1. Feral Cat TNR Program – TNR most commonly stands for either “Trap, Neuter, Release” or “Trap, Neuter, Return”. This is the only proven method for lowering the numbers of feral/unowned cats in an area.  Using TNR effectively sterilizes the cat colony.  The current and more widely used way to deal with the feral/unowned cat population is to “catch and kill” them. This means they are not “adoptable” due to their lack of interaction with people, and so, they are killed rather than altered and allowed to live out their lives.  We believe that even though these cats are not “adoptable” they should be allowed to live because TNR actually succeeds in lowering the population and these cats can live long, happy and healthy lives if left to do so after being altered.   Locally (in Maryland) Community Cats Maryland is one example of an agency using TNR to work toward lowering the population without killing.

2. High-Volume, Low-Cost Spay/Neuter – Quality of Life Issue – Low cost, high volume spay/neuter will quickly lead to fewer animals entering the shelter system, allowing more resources to be allocated toward saving lives.

3. Rescue Groups – An adoption or transfer to a rescue group frees up scarce cage and kennel space, reduces expenses for feeding, cleaning, killing, and improves a community’s rate of lifesaving. In an environment of millions of dogs and cats killed in shelters annually, rare is the circumstance in which a rescue group should be denied an animal.

4. Foster Care – Volunteer foster care is crucial to No Kill. Without it, saving lives is compromised. It is a low cost, and often no cost, way of increasing a shelter’s capacity, improving public relations, increasing a shelter’s public image, rehabilitating sick and injured or behaviorally challenged animals, and saving lives.

5. Comprehensive Adoption Programs – Quality of Life Issue – Adoptions are vital to an agency’s lifesaving mission. The quantity and quality of shelter adoptions is in shelter management’s hands, making lifesaving a direct function of shelter policies and practice.

6. Pet Retention –Quality of Life Issue – Saving animals requires communities to develop innovative strategies for keeping people and their companion animals together. The more a community sees its shelters as a place to turn for advice and assistance, the easier this job will be.

7. Medical and Behavior Programs – Quality of Life Issue – The shelter must put in place comprehensive vaccination, handling, cleaning, socialization, and care policies before animals get sick and rehabilitative efforts for those who come in sick, injured, unweaned, or traumatized.

8. Public Relations/Community Involvement – Increasing adoptions, maximizing donations, recruiting volunteers and partnering with community agencies comes down to one thing: increasing the shelter’s exposure. Public relations and marketing are the foundation of a shelter’s activities and their success.  To go No-Kill, the shelter must be in the public eye.

9. Volunteers – Quality of Life Issue – Volunteers are a dedicated “army of compassion” and the backbone of a successful No Kill effort. There is never enough staff, never enough dollars to hire more staff, and always more needs than paid human resources. That is where volunteers come in and make the difference between success and failure and, for the animals, life and death.

10. Proactive Redemptions – Quality of Life Issue – One of the most overlooked areas for reducing killing in animal control shelters are lost animal reclaims. Sadly, besides having pet owners fill out a lost pet report, very little effort is made in this area of shelter operations. This is unfortunate because doing so—primarily shifting from passive to a more proactive approach—has proven to have a significant impact on lifesaving and allow shelters to return a large percentage of lost animals to their families as well as garner more public support and backing for the shelter.

11. A Compassionate Director – A hard working, compassionate animal control or shelter director not content to regurgitate tired clichés or hide behind the myth of “too many animals, not enough homes.”

What Does It Mean?

The No Kill Equation focuses on alternatives to killing, bringing the focus back where it should be: life saving. Each of the programs above either help animals get OUT of shelters (rescue, foster, adoption, redemption), or they prevent animals from having to go IN to shelters in the first place (TNR, low cost spay/neuter, pet retention). Volunteers, a compassionate director, and public relations/community involvement are the key forces that tie everything together. Comprehensive, high-quality medical and behavioral programs combat two reasons animals are killed under the traditional model of animal sheltering by providing treatment and training to those who need it in order to become more adoptable.

Sometimes it seems overwhelming because there are hundreds of animals at any given time that need help. But, how many are feral cats that could be safely returned to their habitat? How many are lost pets that could be reunited with their owners? How many could be placed in the care of a rescue group? How many could go to foster care for one-on-one attention before adoption? How many wouldn’t have had to come to the shelter at all, if their struggling owners had resources made available to them, such as a pet food bank? The programs above are designed to exhaust all other options before an animal even has to stay at a shelter and be placed in a new home. This can greatly reduce the overall number of animals needing to be re-homed. Although adoption IS a crucial component of No Kill success, so are all the other programs in the No Kill Equation. Also, it is not enough to have some representation of each of these 11 components. They all have to meet a high standard if No Kill is to be achieved.

Impossible? No way!

It is all too easy to get caught in the slump of “we do all that we can already, saving more animals is just not possible, we have to kill”. One word for that: hogwash! There is always room for improvement. Usually this demands thinking outside the box. We would like to share nation-wide (and world-wide) success stories with you, and we ask you this: why not Harford County?

Across the nation, a “No Kill Community” is one that saves at least 90% of its shelter animals. 90% or more leave the shelter alive, going to rescue, foster care, new homes, returning home, etc. The following communities have open-admission (turning no animal away) shelters that save 90% or more of the animals in their care.

Reno, NV – in 2009, Nevada Humane Society and Washoe County Animal Services reported a combined save rate of 90% for dogs, 89% for cats. (NHS – 93% dogs, 95% cats, WCAS – 90.5% dogs, 89% cats). All this despite being considered one of the most economically depressed regions of the country. Amazing! Please click here to read “How We Did It!” by the Nevada Humane Society

Kansas City, KS – a partnership called “Ray of Hope” has reduced euthanasia in Kansas City, Kansas Animal Control to under 1%, and the county overall saves 97% of animals.

Ithaca, NY (Tompkins County) – Tompkins County, NY has been a no kill community for years. They continue to have a live save rate of 94% or better.

Calgary, Alberta, Canada – The City of Calgary Animal Control and Bylaw Services saves over 94% of animals.

Berkeley, CA  – the Berkeley Alliance for Homeless Animals is a coalition comprised of the three largest animal welfare agencies in the Berkeley, CA area. Their combined save rate is 93%!

Charlottesville, VA  – Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA has been No Kill since 2006 a save rate of 92% or better.

Shelby County, KY – the Shelby County No Kill Mission united local animal groups to become the first No Kill county in KY, with a save rate of at least 90%.

Valparaiso, IN  – has been No Kill since 2008, with at least a 90% save rate

New Zealand –  the entire country of New Zealand, led by the Royal New Zealand SPCA, is well on its way to becoming the first No Kill Nation. Although they prefer to call their mission “Saving Lives” instead of “No Kill”, they use the same programs in the “No Kill Equation” outlined above.


Click here for a longer list, compiled by No Kill Houston! 

What Naysayers Will Tell You, And Why We Disagree

In his book “Redemption”, Nathan Winograd shares some common arguments people have against No Kill, and we would like to in turn share them with you, along with our counter arguments. You, as a No Kill supporter, are bound to run into a naysayer at some point. Understand that naysayers will say anything to prove their point, and usually end up contradicting themselves in the process. Keep your head, don’t get emotional, and simply debate the proven steps to moving towards No Kill. Anger and emotional outbursts will only label our cause as “extremist” rather than what it is: welcoming and forwarding thinking.

“It can’t happen in a rural area” – see the above examples of Ithaca, NY / Shelby County, KY / Valparaiso, IN

“It can’t happen in an urban area” – see the above examples of Berkeley, CA / Calgary, AB / Kansas City, KS

“It can’t happen here because of money” – No Kill does not have to cost more than traditional sheltering. In fact, since most of the programs above involve getting animals OUT of shelters and preventing them from going IN, it can turn out to be the same as or less than traditional shelter. Plus, No Kill initiatives tend to get grant money and private donations more easily.

“It can’t happen here because people here don’t care about animals” – People DO care about animals. Go out any day of the week and see the people out walking their dogs or spending money on their pets. People love to talk about their pets as soon as you give them an opportunity to do so, and then you really know how deeply people care. Most people will not support a cause that they do not fully believe in. With that in mind, is it surprising that shelters NOT dedicated to saving lives do not get much community support? Give people something they believe in and an opportunity to help, and they will blow your socks off with their generosity! Let them down, and they will just save their cash and time for something else.

“It can’t happen here because there are too many animals, too few homes” – This is usually followed by “the only answer is to spay/neuter”. Spay/neuter efforts dramatically decreased the number (by the millions) of pets entering shelters in the last couple of decades. We do not intend to stop spay/neuter efforts. In fact, as you can see from the No Kill Equation above, one of the steps of no kill is to continue to increase spay/neuter, especially to target populations. We understand the importance of this. However, it is not all about spaying and neutering! That is why there are 10 other important steps to No Kill outlined above. If all those programs are in place and of a high quality, only a small portion of the animal population actually needs to be adopted, and an even smaller portion of the human population needs to step up for them!

Other Arguments Commonly Heard

“No Kill shelters just hoard animals, and they are kept in terrible conditions because there are so many and they refuse to kill any” – again, the No Kill Equation focuses on getting animals OUT of the shelter and preventing them from going IN. Animals should not be sitting in an overcrowded shelter, because they should be going out to foster homes, rescue groups, getting adopted, etc. as was already described above. The No Kill Equation is, at it’s core, ensuring that animals have a short stay at the shelter and leave it healthier than when it came in (and, obviously, alive). There have undoubtedly been poor examples of shelters that have hoarded animals. But the No Kill Equation does not advocate this at all. Check out this article (written by Best Friends Animal Society founder Gregory Castle) which also addresses this misconception.

“But you can’t NOT kill. You’ll have to kill SOME animals!” – Yes, we do understand that there are situations in which it truly is in the animal’s best interest to humanely euthanize it. We also understand that this is something every single pet owner has to go through with their own animals and we do not intend to make anyone feel guilty about their personal pet’s euthanasia. But, most pet owners would never even think about euthanizing a pet when a viable alternative exists. We simply wish the same for homeless animals.

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