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“No Kill”, the NEW reality

Historically, a no-kill community has been defined as one where no healthy, or treatable and adoptable dog or cat was killed in a municipal shelter.  In mainstream animal welfare organizations and associations, such as the Maddie’s Fund Foundation, it has been generally accepted that two-thirds of the dogs and cats in municipal shelters fall into this category and that saving two-thirds of the animals in a municipal shelter resulted in a community being ordained as no kill.  It has also been generally accepted that it takes between 5-7 years post-implementation of specified programs to convert a community to no kill.

Along comes Nathan Winograd.  Nathan founded an organization called the No Kill Advocacy Center which focuses on shedding light on, and providing resources to communities pursuing a new definition of no-kill.  Nathan, an attorney and animal lover, has vast personal experience operating municipal animal shelters and turning them from highly efficient killing machines into compassionate, no kill animal-centric centers and he does it, literally, overnight.  That is not a typo, he has literally taken over municipal shelters where killing tens of thousands of pets every year was the norm and stopped the killing of virtually all the animals in one day…seemingly with the flip of a switch.  Nathan’s definition of “No Kill” is a 90% live release rate in municipal shelters.  That means that 90% of the animals that arrive there, leave there alive whether through adoption, rescue and sanctuary transfer or trap-neuter return programs.

There are many naysayers – most notably those that are being challenged in their communities to change the manner in which municipal animal shelters are operating.  Believe it or not, there are very few municipal shelters willing to implement Winograd’s “No Kill Equation”, the very specific formula by which municipal shelters become No Kill.   To the masses it may seem unbelievable that shelter directors wouldn’t pursue every available avenue to find an alternative to killing hundreds, sometimes, thousands of animals every week.  Nobody can think that any human being would choose to kill if there was another alternative, right?  Amazingly, if that is what you think, you would be wrong.

There are so many reasons why shelter directors choose to ignore the success that so many other shelters across the United States are having.  Perhaps one reason lies in the basis that to acknowledge that such achievement is possible, questions the validity of the excuses for killing and then what does that say about those that systematically continue to do so?  Change is difficult under the best of circumstances and change of the status quo and threatening a system that has relied for decades on convenient and seemingly plausible, yet false, notions also threatens the very people that run those systems. Self-preservation is the strongest of motivators.

In July, I had the opportunity to attend the No Kill Conference that was held by the No Kill Advocacy Center.  Having read Nathan’s book “Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation & The No Kill Revolution in America” I was familiar with the principals of the No Kill Equation.  I was also familiar with some of the naysayer arguments.  What I wasn’t prepared for was an education about the litany of calculated attacks, made by well known national animal welfare organizations, trying to discredit and/or shut Nathan Winograd and the No Kill Advocacy Center down.  What is wrong with this picture?? 

Some of the largest, and most well-funded, national organizations that are meant to protect animals and advocate for their causes (organizations that if you are reading this article there is a good chance that you give money to) are spending precious time and resources (i.e. donor dollars) to advocate against a system that’s sole purpose is to save animal’s lives.  I ask again, what is wrong with this picture??  There is enough pontification to fill an entire book on this subject, however, I simply revert to my earlier statement about the nature and motivation of self-preservation.

So, how is this all relevant to our community?  One of the favorite arguments of those against ending the killing say that it can’t be done “here”; “here” being any city just fill in the blank and for any excuse under the sun.  But the reality is, communities nationwide – north, south, east, and west, rural, urban, wealthy and poor are ending the killing. 

We need look no further than our neighbors up the road at Greenville Animal Control for a map of how to stop killing our beloved pets every day.  With new leadership and a determination to save as many lives as possible, their live release rates have increased to over 53% in just 2 years.  Amazingly, over 53% of the animals that find themselves in the municipal animal shelter will walk out, alive, happy and with a chance at a new life.  This is not an insignificant number; for a shelter that takes in over 20,000 animals each year currently well over 10,000 animals survive that system.  No, it’s not a 90% live release rate yet (with emphasis on “yet”) but they are working everyday to get as many animals in their care out alive.

How did they do it?  They did not do it by raising their budget, they did not do it by hiring more staff.  They did not do it by expanding the size of their shelter.  They simply had the will to change what they were doing, the will to stop the killing if there was any other way.  They leveraged the staff that they had and the very inexpensive and mostly free technology of email, Facebook and free adoption sites such as to assist.  Then, they took a hard look at their attitudes towards volunteers, adoptions and rescue groups and embraced each of these resources to save lives.

Thankfully, more and more municipal animal control facilities across the country are adopting new attitudes.  They believe that their services should be a reflection of the community that they serve and that their mission is not just public protection but public service – serving at the will of their citizens.  Think about that, “serving at the will of their citizens”.  So I ask you, as a citizen of this community, is it your will that we kill the vast majority of pets that are unfortunate enough to find their way to a municipal shelter; or, is it your will that everything that is feasible be done to ensure life of the helpless and innocent?

For more information on the No Kill Advocacy Center or to order a copy of  “Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation & the No Kill Revolution in America” go to

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