Understanding 'No Kill', Its Challenges, Controversies and Implications

Understanding 'No Kill', Its Challenges, Controversies and Implications

I introduced you to Lucy yesterday, a dog we will be following as she makes her way through the rescue system. Her story is being chronicled as it touches on many issues and challenges faced by homeless dogs, and the people who care for them in the animal rescue system, particularly as that system moves ever more in a 'No Kill' direction.  In order to understand those challenges, it is important that we have a baseline understanding of the context in which these animals are finding themselves.

You may have noticed that I put 'No Kill' in quotes.

In truth, there are many in animal rescue, particularly in the animal control/animal shelter side of the equation who would like to see the term done away with all together as it connotes a black/white distinction that simply does not exist in practice.  The general public, understandably, may be left to believe organizations either kill or don't, but the truth is, it is a matter of degree, and a controversial degree at that.

Currently,  a 'No Kill' organization is commonly defined as having a 'live release rate 'of 90% or greater, although many believe that rate should be increased to 95%. That live release rate refers to animals that are deemed adoptable, either healthy or with treatable conditions.

A No Kill Community is one in which all of the organizations within a region meet the working definition of No Kill for adoptable animals.

What constitutes 'adoptable'?

Here is where it gets tricky.

Adoptability was rather ill-defined until a group of industry leaders gathered in 2004 and established what is known as the Asilomar Accords. Their guidelines sought to operationalize the definitions in order to allow shelters to consistently track and report their outcome data with the goal of significantly reducing the euthanasia of healthy and treatable companion animals in the United States. You can read their guiding principles here.

Many local organizations keep records in compliance with the Asilomar Accords, although the degree of organization transparency (in terms of ease of record access) varies greatly. Some reports, or synopses of such, may be viewed online, such as the records for The Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago and Paws Chicago. Chicago Animal Care & Control publishes their statistics online, while other county organizations may request interested parties fill out a Freedom of Information Act request in order to receive them.

But while you may be able, albeit with some effort, to obtain the statistical data to see how your local organizations fare in terms of live release rate, you need to understand two things:

1) Some organizations control their admissions, and may select the animals they bring into their rescue with an eye to their adoptability, which aids in their keeping a high live release rate. Open admission animal control shelters do not have this luxury, being required to accept all comers, in any condition.

2) There is a degree of subjectivity in determining when an animal might be deemed unhealthy/untreatable.  Behavioral evaluations (sometimes called Temperament Tests) are conducted on shelter dogs to determine their safety and suitability for adoption although there are concerns about the tests and inter-rater reliability. In other words, not all raters are consistent in their performance, nor do they necessarily agree on their observations.

And the controversies don't end there.  Nathan Winograd, Director of the No Kill Advocacy Center, suggests a very narrowly defined acceptability range for shelters performing euthanasia. Here I quote:

A shelter or community achieves No Kill when it ends the killing of all animals, except those who are physically suffering irremediably.

Irremediable physical suffering means an animal who has a poor or grave prognosis for being able to live without severe, unremitting pain even with prompt, necessary, and comprehensive veterinary care, such as an animal in fulminant organ system failure.

And, yes, you do see this definition focuses solely on physical suffering. Winograd's definition does not include animals who are "psychologically suffering" as he believes there is no such thing as irremediable psychological suffering.

Whatever definition for No Kill you use, or how you measure adoptability, one thing is clear:

Many more animals are making their way back into the community these days and, for those deemed 'Treatable", that means somebody must be doing the treating.

Or so one would hope.

ac funnelLet's consider the reality, however.  Regardless of strength of mission to save as many animals as possible, shelters and animal control facilities have finite space. Animals need somewhere to go and they continue to be at risk for euthanasia until a space is found. You saw a plea for help on one such dog recently, who, as of this writing is safe with a rescue organization who still needs an appropriate foster home for her. Rescue organizations and transfer teams are critical components in the No Kill effort. Without their aid, the funnel you saw at the top of this post can experience a log jam of animals, placing even healthy, adoptable animals at risk.

Now what you MUST understand is the speed with which these largely volunteer-led organizations must act in order to get animals to safety. Consider hoarding cases, which can quickly overwhelm a shelter. It is all hands on deck, immediately, just to get animals to safety. Considering the temperament, health and ultimate adoptability of the often terrified and malnourished animals requires time that the emergency rescue situation simply may not be able to afford. Rescue organizations rush in to help and may find themselves over a year later, still looking for adoptive homes, as is currrently the case for these Chihuahuas rescued in a North Chicago hoarding case, long after the news cycle has moved on to more interesting stories.

Even in non-emergency situations, some intake locations, such as Golf Rose, are simply holding facilities. After the mandatory stray hold period of seven days, unclaimed animals for which no rescue is available are euthanized. That gives an extremely small window to organizations like the Northwest Rescue Network Team to get them to safety. And while they may locate a rescue organization willing to pull them, that often means that rescue must have a foster home ready and willing to take them in.

So, put yourself in that scenario for a moment.

We want No Kill Communities, but that means that ordinary citizens need to volunteer to be at the ready to take in animals that they have only limited information on in some cases and to house them for an indefinite period of time while helping train them, care for them and network for them so that potential adopters know they exist.

So, have you hugged a rescue worker today?

The good news is that we are making wonderful gains in helping animals that would not have made it out of the system get into wonderful, loving homes. People are coming together and getting good work done.

The challenge, however, is in how we support the front-line volunteers and organizations in our communities who may have stepped up for a love of animals and have now found themselves having to learn higher level training skills. How do you deal with fear aggression? Housebreaking? Separation anxiety? Dog selectivity? Timidity? Barking? All those things that may make it hard for a dog to find a permanent forever home?

Who funds the training? Does the foster have a day job? It can get complicated pretty quickly.

If we support the idea of No Kill in concept, we have to consider how we will support it in reality.

I hope you will aid my efforts to provide education on these issues by subscribing and sharing these posts if you find them valuable and informative.

And speaking of...

And let me take a fast moment to THANK YOU for sharing this article on leash etiquette because if you are working with an animal needing some training or behavioral rehab, the last thing you need is a friendly dog rushing up to meet them on a walk. You all helped that post go viral, and I could not have hoped that for a more important topic.

Our willingness to respect the efforts of those working to rehabiliate and rehome traumatized and neglected dogs is critical to their ultimate success in the community and in their adoptive homes.

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