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ADL-LA received so many posts regarding the Nathan Winograd's excerpt, we decided to post his complete answer to Trisha's question in three parts.
In my community the city shelter (a 501(c)3 organization) also provides animal control. They have announced to the community and their donors that they are a "no-Kill" shelter now; stating that they have not killed any healthy, adoptable animals in over 18 months. However, according to their own statistics, out of the approximately 8,500 animals they sheltered in 2006, they killed over 4,700. The ED further claims that in 2006 they only killed 44 healthy adoptable animals (38 cats and 6 dogs). That would mean that all the rest of the animals were unadoptable. How can this be true? I know that the ED is "using" the Asilomar accord definitions (which are quite vague).
So apparently any shelter can claim "no-kill" status if they use vague definitions and classify dogs with kennel cough (which is like a common cold) as unhealthy.
Frustrated with the fast, loose, terminology,
Response from Nathan Winograd:
This goes to the core of the No Kill philosophy so permit me to step back and begin to answer the question with a historical perspective. Until the mid-1990s, shelter administrators killed thousands, even tens of thousands, of animals without much public condemnation by deflecting the blame for the killing back to the public itself. If you blame the public for the killing, the shelter not only shields itself from public scrutiny and accountability, but the question of how to stop the shelter from killing is never even asked. Killing would continue, we were told, until the "irresponsible" public could be forced to be "responsible." Until that time, shelter workers would have no choice but to perform the public's "dirty work," and they were doing it with skill, compassion and dedication. The No Kill movement has exposed the assumptions as false by showing that reforming the shelter's own practices dramatically reduces the kill rate.
The Attacks on No Kill
When San Francisco became the first city to end the killing of healthy, homeless dogs and cats, bureaucrats running other shelters in this country who had spent the prior decades overseeing a national infrastructure that killed millions dogs and cats per year faced a striking dilemma: if the No Kill philosophy caught on, the changes would mean a fundamental alteration in their public standing. Never before had killing in animal shelters really been questioned; most accepted it as a necessary evil. On the contrary, shelters had the leeway to kill most of the animals in their care and were doing little to change that policy, while shelter directors continued to be paid handsomely, gave national conference workshops, and were hailed as pillars of the humane movement by their colleagues.
Despite the killing, many of these organizations had also amassed impressive endowments, and some built state-of-the- art veterinary hospitals, complete with cardiologists, neurologists, and other specialists for those wealthy enough to pay, while homeless animals in their own shelters were killed behind closed doors, outside of public scrutiny, for something as simple as a cough, cold, or--even worse--being the "wrong" color, one of "too many" black cats in a shelter that already had a handful of them.
San Francisco's success, and the specter of the No Kill philosophy, however, was challenging all of that, threatening to bring public scrutiny to the operations of these other shelters, with questions like "If they can do it in San Francisco, why can't we do it here?" And that could not be allowed to happen. Over the next several years, regional shelters and national organizations like the Humane Society of the United States began a vilification campaign against No Kill. They claimed it wouldn't work and, interestingly, shouldn't even be tried.
Attempts to Co-Opt No Kill
With the attacks on No Kill by local shelters and national groups failing to convince activists that the paradigm should be abandoned, however, and other communities--like Tompkins County NY, Charlottesville VA, and now increasingly elsewhere also achieving lifesaving success, shelter directors are increasingly finding their agencies-- kill rates the subject of mounting criticism. Many directors are facing a choice: abandon the traditional platforms which relied on killing, or be pushed out of the way.
Although many of them are not moving to implement the philosophy, programs, services, or culture of lifesaving that No Kill represents, they nonetheless have begun to promise their constituents that, in time, they would make their shelters--and communities--No Kill. It has become common to hear shelter directors proclaim their shelters will be No Kill in five years, or ten years, or, in some cases, even claiming that they are very nearly there already. And in your case, claiming they already are No Kill. It is a strategy of self-preservation. And it is becoming increasingly common.
In those communities that claimed "success" or near "success," such as Maricopa County animal control in Phoenix , Arizona , a review of their statistics from 1998 to 2003 showed little change in the levels of killing or, at best, only modest declines consistent with other communities. After claiming at national conferences that Maricopa County shelters had not killed a treatable dog or cat in years, that the costs for No Kill initiatives were not being borne by taxpayers, that Maricopa County was a model of lifesaving, and that it would be No Kill within two years, its director left the agency in disarray. At the time, the shelter was still killing over 29,000 dogs and cats a year, had a structural deficit in excess of a half-million dollars, and was nowhere near No Kill. In fact, according to former shelter managers, animals were being intentionally misclassified and poorly cared for and the agency was near financial ruin. Likewise in 2005, the local humane society in Harrisburg , Pennsylvania , claimed that it achieved No Kill despite having killed over half of all incoming cats. In King County , WA , the shelter claims it doesn't kill "adoptable" animals despite killing roughly half of all incoming animals. And likewise in the scenario you describe, the shelter claims to be No Kill despite a 56% kill rate.
Shelter directors have found a new way of doing business. Prior to the success of No Kill in several communities, shelter administrators openly killed for reasons such as lack of space, antipathy to certain breeds, because the cats were feral, the animals had (highly treatable) illnesses like upper respiratory infection and kennel cough, or because the director felt there were too many black dogs or cats in the shelter. Most savvy shelter directors today would never be so blatant, so unapologetic for the slaughter. They still kill at an alarming rate (roughly five million dogs and cats every year) but many are now doing it with a difference. They are now doing so under the cloak of scientific legitimacy: the dogs and cats they kill, we are now told, are "unadoptable."
For well over a century, the killing of dogs and cats has been a central strategy of most private SPCAs, humane societies and animal control facilities which contract with cities and towns to run shelters for animals who are stray or no longer wanted. They even created a euphemism--"putting them to sleep"--to make the task of killing easier. In the end, that's exactly what the humane movement has become: a movement of "euphemisms"--euphemisms such as "putting them to sleep," "euthanasia," and "humane death." These euphemisms have been created to obscure the gravity of what is actually occurring and to avoid accountability for it. In the age of No Kill, add one more euphemism: "unadoptable."
To shelters mired in kill-oriented philosophies, an "unadoptable" animal is interpreted very broadly. Some shelters, for example, consider a kitten with a minor cold or a dog older than five years old to be unadoptable. Others claim dogs with kennel cough, cats with ringworm, dogs who guard their food, or other relatively minor, easily treatable conditions, make the animals "unadoptable."
"Shelters that use an overly broad, meaningless definition of "unadoptable" ignore the fact that some adopters want older animals who are less excitable and more sedate to match their lifestyle. They ignore the fact that if shelters let people know how they can help, the public responds. And they ignore the importance of people wanting to be heroic by saving the life of an animal who someone else failed to love. Making the mental leap that the public is capable of such great compassion, unfortunately, conflicts with the shelter viewpoint that sees the public as the source of the problem. However, the restrictive definition of what constitutes an "adoptable" animal is not simply a failure to overcome a personal bias. It also has an intentional and dark side: the label of "unadoptable" allows shelters to appear to be doing a better job than they actually are.
To the public, "unadoptable" implies a commonsense definition of the word--a dog or cat who is hopelessly sick or injured or, in the case of dogs, who may be vicious and therefore pose a real and immediate threat to public safety. That is what many of these shelters expect the public to believe: that they are, in fact, already meeting the dictionary definition of euthanasia ("the act or practice of killing hopelessly sick or injured individual animals in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy") when they call a dog or cat "unadoptable." But that is not the criteria they are using to make those determinations. As a result, while shelters claim they are saving "most adoptable animals," they are still killing as they have always done but only after unfairly labeling the animals "unadoptable."
At its conference in 2002, the American Humane Association held a "leadership forum" on the issue of what constitutes an "adoptable" animal. One of the national "leaders" they selected described the considerations involved not only for determining "adoptable" animals, but "treatable" animals as well. "Frequently," she wrote, "our staff also considers resources, space, time-- to help them decide whether an animal is adoptable" (emphasis added). Under this type of reasoning, an animal can be "adoptable" at the beginning of the budget year when there is plenty of money and cages, but perhaps not at the end when resources may be in shorter supply.
Moreover, using this model means a kitten with an upper respiratory infection would potentially be "treatable" in February when there is plenty of cage space, but not in August because of "mating season" when numerous puppies and kittens enter the shelter. If the shelter chooses not to budget any money for medicine, this would potentially mean that the community does not have any "treatable" animals. As absurd as this is, the conclusion appears inescapable. By this definition, every shelter in the country is saving 100 percent of adoptable or treatable animals because when they run out of cages or money or otherwise fail to find the animal a home, the animals killed simply become "unadoptable." In other words, rather than use a common sense definition based on the individual animal's health, shelters are defining "adoptable" based on their ability or failure to find the animal a home. The end result is a tautology: "if we find the animal a home, the animal was adoptable. If we kill the animal, the animal was not adoptable." But that is not what the No Kill revolution envisioned. A shelter does not achieve No Kill by re-categorizing animals, it achieves No Kill by saving their lives.
Other shelters have been less than open about their standards for adoptability. In 2002, New York City's animal control shelter killed over 70 percent of incoming dogs and cats--more than 41,000 of the 61,000 they received, a dismal failure by any standard. Indeed, overall killing had increased by four percent from the prior year. Nonetheless, shelter leadership went on the New York State conference circuit to help other shelters achieve similar "success" just by claiming the agency was saving most "adoptable" animals, a claim contradicted by the staggering level of killing.
In Los Angeles, a memorandum from animal control to the Board of Supervisors in 2003 stated that for a three-month period that coincided with the start of the busy spring season, county shelters were saving 91.7 percent of adoptable animals, a dubious figure in light of the fact that nearly 80 percent of cats and about half of all dogs were being put to death annually.
The Asilomar Accords
The Asilomar Accords legitimize this viewpoint and it is certainly not surprising that the very non-No Kill shelter in your community is hiding behind them. The most obvious example of the self-serving categories of the Accords is how they define feral cats. Not only do the Accords fail to mention TNR (Humane Trap-Neuter-Return) or require groups to accept TNR, they classify feral cats as "untreatable" or "unhealthy." According to the Accords, feral cats fall into the category of those animals who "suffer from a behavioral or temperamental characteristic that poses a health or safety risk or otherwise makes them unsuitable for placement as a pet." Under the Accords, feral cats share the same category as hopelessly ill or irremediably suffering pets, and the same fate: death. But feral cats are not the only category of animals who have been sacrificed to the body bag by the Asilomar Accords.
Across the board, the Accords are using categories to "spin" the numbers to make it appear a shelter is doing a better job than it actually is. While the Accords claim to seek transparency and "the open sharing of accurate, complete animal-sheltering data and statistics in a manner which is clear to both the animal welfare community and the public," the model advanced and agreed upon for collecting that data is far from "accurate" or "complete." The categories they agreed to, for example, are vague in and of themselves, leading to misuse and misapplication. Many shelters call kittens with ringworm "untreatable," or say that a dog who is scared or shy has a "temperamental characteristic that poses a health or safety risk or otherwise makes them unsuitable for placement." These results are entirely consistent with the Accords, even though ringworm is not only highly treatable, it is self-limiting, meaning that it can resolve on its own, while shy dogs can be readily adopted.
What is No Kill?
As animal lovers all over the country demand No Kill, shelters are coming under greater scrutiny for killing. Wanting to appear favorable to No Kill, shelter directors are putting forth conflicting and misleading definitions of what constitutes a No Kill community. Some shelters are seeking to save only "healthy" animals. The fact that a shelter or community is trying to accomplish this is laudable, but it doesn't mean it is No Kill. Saving all healthy dogs and cats is the first step toward achieving a No Kill community, not the end goal. Can a shelter or community really justify killing animals with treatable conditions (such as dogs with food guarding, kittens with conjunctivitis, puppies with kennel cough, or a pet with a broken leg) if it takes the title "No Kill community"? It cannot.
Others claim that No Kill is achieved when healthy, as well as sick and injured but treatable dogs and cats are saved. The definition might have some appeal, but it is out of touch with the sentiment of millions of cat lovers who feed alley cats in their communities. If healthy feral cats are still being killed en masse, a No Kill community is simply not achieved.
In short, neither of these positions is ethically defensible. The No Kill movement's break with traditional sheltering is less about saving "adoptable" dogs and cats and more about focusing on the individual animal. Regardless of whether a shelter takes in 30, 300, 3,000 or 30,000 dogs and cats each year, No Kill is premised on--in fact demands--fundamental fairness to individual animals.
This commitment is echoed in the mission statement of virtually every humane society and SPCA in the country which claims to cherish animals, enforce their rights, and teach compassion. Yet, these lofty goals can only be achieved if we judge, treat, and devise a plan for shelter animals individually with all the resources we can muster. In practice, that means that shelters must put in place the programs and services that address the needs of each individual animal who comes through the door regardless of whether an animal is healthy, sick, injured, or feral.
Implicit within the No Kill philosophy is the understanding that some animals, such as those who are irremediably suffering or hopelessly ill, will be killed for reasons of mercy. We can also accept that dogs who are aggressive with a poor prognosis for rehabilitation are a direct and immediate public safety risk who cannot be adopted. But that is all we can accept.
The only animals dying in a No Kill community are dogs and cats who are irremediably suffering, are sick or injured with a poor or grave prognosis for rehabilitation, and vicious dogs with a poor prognosis. (This does not include shy or non-aggressive scared dogs.) In the end, there is only one legitimate definition of No Kill. It is a community where healthy dogs and cats are saved; treatable dogs and cats are saved; and, healthy and treatable feral cats are saved. Nothing short of that is acceptable. And nothing less will do."
He's called the doyen of the No-Kill Movement in America being
unusually gifted in an area that is desperate for his talents of
oratory, rescue and the written word.