I recently had the privilege of attending a national shelter conference. A place where, it would seem, the final word (if there is one) on animal welfare and sheltering would come. One day I sat through an 8-hour workshop on two of the most controversial words in animal welfare: “no kill.” Not the concept. Just the words: “No kill.”
What does “no kill” mean and why is it such a loaded phrase? Well, first of all, let me state that the concept itself is not the problem. Everyone wants to save every single “healthy and treatable animals.” Every single one. No one wants to euthanize any animal.
There are three major categories of shelters:
- Open admission shelters are tasked with taking in every animal brought to them. For these shelters, euthanasia is a hard fact of everyday existence.
- Then there are limited admission shelters, like the Washington Animal Rescue League, that have the option to admit an animal to their adoption program or turn them away (usually for non-adoptability issues, such as aggression). For these shelters, euthanasia is logarithmically reduced to an enviable fraction of what the open admission shelters are forced to deal with.
- Finally, there are sanctuaries, which have the option of turning animals away, but rarely, if ever, euthanize.
The problem is that we are all trying to take care of animals, and we need to do this job together. Using terminology like “no kill” pits shelters against each other (e.g., sanctuaries are more virtuous than municipal shelters because they theoretically don’t euthanize animals). Of course, every one of us decries the senseless killing of any animal.
As a nation and a society, we’re not even at that point where all healthy and treatable dogs and cats are saved. And yet, some shelters call themselves “no kill.” It’s pure marketing, which is why the League dropped this language years ago, although we could most certainly profit from it.
We can help animals better by helping shelters do their jobs well. That includes all of us. So let’s drop the factional language that separates us. And work to “optimize” adoptions in the best, most efficient manner possible given the specific responsibilities we are asked to fulfill. The animals are counting on it.