No Kill Shelters – Much More Than Not Killing

No Kill Is Very Possible

No kill shelters are often misunderstood by the general public. I initially believed no kill shelters were sanctuaries where animals rarely were adopted and lived out their natural lives. Thoughts of biting dogs and bizarre people who worked with them filled my mind. As I became more familiar with animal welfare, I believed all no kill shelters were highly selective in the animals they took in. After all, these shelters must be limited admission to not kill since pet overpopulation is gospel in animal welfare circles. Additionally, many of the self-proclaimed local no-kill shelters fit that stereotype taking in mostly easy to adopt animals.

My world turned on its head when I learned high volume open admission shelters across the country became no-kill. Additionally, data from pet industry and other studies suggest far more homes exist than the number of adoptable pets killed in shelters each year. In fact, pet industry studies suggest only 1/3 of people obtaining pets are adopting and provides much room for shelters to increase market share. In New Jersey, we would have to obtain an even smaller share of the market to end shelter killing due to our shelters taking in much fewer animals per capita than the nation as a whole. Thus, more than enough homes exist for us to save all the dogs and cats killed in shelters each year.

Another myth about no kill shelters is that euthanasia is not done. The term no kill means literally “not killing” and returns euthanasia to its original meaning of “the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals (as persons or domestic animals) in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy.” Thus, hopeless suffering sick animals and dogs posing a serious threat to humans (who would suffer living in a kennel their entire life) would be euthanized.

The number of animals meeting “euthanasia” criteria will decrease over time. Advances in medical and behavioral science fields are increasing the number of animals saved each year in shelters. Additionally, sanctuaries and hospice care are gaining momentum for life saving alternatives for vicious dogs and terminally ill, but not suffering animals.

Saving 90% of all animals is generally considered the criteria where shelters are euthanizing rather than killing animals. Nathan Winograd developed this mark based off of the best performing shelters at the time, and extrapolating dog bite rate data and infectious disease rates in cats. Subsequently, Nathan Winograd and others suggested a higher rate, such as 95% or more, may be more consistent with no kill now based on advances in the field over the last decade. Personally, I believe a save rate of 95% would be more consistent with no kill for New Jersey’s open admission shelters since stray puppies who are at high risk of disease rarely come in. However, 90% remains the standard most recognize for an open admission shelter to qualify as no kill.

Key No Kill Programs

No Kill open admission shelters operate on a fairly simple principle. Think of a bucket, where animals you impound is water coming in and water coming out through a hole are the positive outcomes of your animals. To save all the animals you can:

1) Reduce the flow of water coming into the bucket

2) Increase the flow of water coming out of the bucket

The various programs below, widely known as the “No Kill Equation”, operate on these two principles. Various organization emphasize some more than others, but the key is to ensure your positive outcomes equal the number of animals you take in.

Volunteers are a key element to any successful shelter. Volunteers can fill all aspects of shelter operations from animal socialization and enrichment, kennel cleaning, marketing, adoption counseling, public relations, fundraising, etc. Given the financial realities of most animal shelters, substantive volunteer programs are essential to a successful no-kill shelter. Do not be fooled by token volunteer programs done for public relations reasons only.

Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) programs help feral cats who cannot be adopted into a home for behavioral reasons. Feral cats are released into a colony with a human caretaker who provides food and veterinary treatment. Barn cat programs are similar to TNR except they are on a much smaller scale with one to a few cats going to one location.

Foster Care
Fostering at risk animals, such as neonatal kittens, puppies, and behaviorally stressed adult animals gets vulnerable animals out of the shelter. This program is run through the shelter with volunteers fostering animals temporarily until the animals can be adopted. Some very large shelters in our area do not have this program which unnecessarily results in the loss of lives. Additionally, foster care can also involve transferring animals to independent rescues who adopt the animals out.

Comprehensive Adoptions
Comprehensive adoption programs include innovative marketing, special incentives, great customer service, and frequent off-site adoption events.

Medical and Behavior Rehabilitation and Prevention
Shelters must have modern vaccination, handling, cleaning, socialization and care policies to prevent illness.  Additionally, state of the art rehabilitative efforts are required for animals needing medical or behavioral treatment.

Pet Retention
Pet retention is a key and overlooked program. While not as exciting as getting an animal adopted, keeping animals in their home has the same effect. Counseling pet owners surrendering their pets, having a hotline for troubled pet owners to call, and actively supporting good pet owners needing help are all elements of a succesful pet retention program.

Public Relations and Community Involvement
Working with the community and being viewed as a partner rather than an adversary is key. The community’s positive view of a shelter will increase donations, adoptions, and other shelter efforts.

Proactive Redemptions
Reuniting lost pets with their owners is generally the quickest way to get animals out of a shelter alive. Unfortunately, many shelters do not actively try and reunite strays with their owners. Shelters actively searching for owners can significantly increase save rates.

Low Cost, High Volume Spay & Neuter
No-cost and low-cost, high-volume spay/neuter programs decrease the number of animals bred. Often cost is a major barrier for people who want to spay/neuter their animals. The key is to make this service affordable to people who need it,  which are usually economically disadvantaged individuals. Do not be fooled by labels such as “low-cost” when such services are not affordable to the people who need them most.

Compassionate, Hard-Working Shelter Director                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Leadership is the most important part of all these programs. With a terrible leader, the programs above cannot be accomplished. The leader must be passionate, hard-working, and believe in the cause.

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