Recently, a speaker at the Best Friends National No Kill Conference noted that the single most dangerous place for a pet in this country is, sadly, in a municipal shelter. “No Kill” means no healthy, treatable adoptable companion pets die due to homelessness.
In order to save companion pets, we need programs that keep animals from coming into those shelters and also programs that support the live release rates of the municipal shelters as well.
Based on communities that have transitioned from a high-kill to a no-kill community, below are the identified necessary components to impact outcomes to lower euthanasia rates. This is the No-Kill Equation.
Established Best Practices
I. Comprehensive Adoption Programs
Adoptions are vital to an agency’s lifesaving mission. The quantity and quality of shelter adoptions is in the hands of shelter management, making life-saving a direct function of shelter policies and practice. If shelters better promoted their animals and had adoption programs responsive to the needs of the community, including public access hours for working people, off-site adoptions, adoption incentives, and effective marketing, they could increase the number of homes available. Killing would be replaced with adoptions.
II. High-Volume, Low-Cost Spay/Neuter
Low-cost, high-volume spay/neuter will quickly lead to fewer animals entering the shelter system, allowing more resources to be allocated toward saving lives.
III. Rescue Groups
An adoption or transfer to a rescue group frees up scarce cage and kennel space, reduces expenses for feeding, cleaning, killing, and improves a community’s rate of lifesaving. In an environment of millions of dogs and cats killed in shelters annually, rare is the circumstance in which a rescue group should be denied an animal.
IV. Foster Care
Volunteer foster care is crucial to No Kill. Without it, saving lives is compromised. It is a low cost, and often no cost, way of increasing a shelter’s capacity, improving public relations, increasing a shelter’s public image, rehabilitating sick and injured or behaviorally challenged animals, and saving lives.
V. Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR) Programs
TNR programs have been proven to have the greatest impact on cat intake numbers. This program focuses on the feral cat population. Many communities throughout the United States are embracing TNR programs to improve animal welfare, reduce death rates, and meet obligations to public welfare.
VI. Pet Retention
While some of the reasons animals are surrendered to shelters are unavoidable, others can be prevented—but only if shelters are willing to work with people to help them solve their problems. Saving animals requires communities to develop innovative strategies for keeping people and their companion animals together. And the more a community sees its shelters as a place to turn for advice and assistance, the easier this job will be.
VII. Medical and Behavior Programs
In order to meet its commitment to a lifesaving guarantee for all savable animals, shelters need to keep animals happy and healthy and keep animals moving through the system. To do this, shelters must put in place comprehensive vaccination, handling, cleaning, socialization, and care policies before animals get sick and rehabilitative efforts for those who come in sick, injured, unweaned, or traumatized.
VIII. Public Relations/Community Involvement
Increasing adoptions, maximizing donations, recruiting volunteers and partnering with community agencies comes down to one thing: increasing the shelter’s public exposure. And that means consistent marketing and public relations. Public relations and marketing are the foundation of any shelter’s activities and their success. To do all these things well, the shelter must be in the public eye.
Volunteers are a dedicated “army of compassion” and the backbone of a successful No Kill effort. There is never enough staff, never enough dollars to hire more staff, and always more needs than paid human resources. That is where volunteers make the difference between success and failure and, for the animals, life and death.
X. Proactive Redemption
One of the most overlooked areas for reducing killing in animal control shelters are lost animal reclaims. Primarily shifting from passive to a more proactive approach—has proven to have a significant impact on lifesaving and allow shelters to return a large percentage of lost animals to their families.
XI. A Compassionate Director
The final element of the No Kill Equation is the most important of all, without which all other elements are thwarted—a hard working, compassionate animal control or shelter director not content to continue killing, while regurgitating tired clichés or hiding behind the myth of “too many animals, not enough homes.”
It is clear that No Kill is simply not achievable without rigorous implementation of each and every one of these programs and services. These programs provide the only model which has ever created No Kill communities. It is up to us in the humane movement to demand them of our local shelters, and no longer to settle for the illusory excuses and smokescreens that shelters often put up in order to avoid implementing them.
To fully succeed, however, shelters should not implement the programs piecemeal-ed or in a limited manner. If they are sincere in their desire to stop the killing, animal shelters will implement and expand programs to the point that they replace killing entirely. Combining rigorous, comprehensive implementation of the No Kill Equation with best practices and accountability of staff in cleaning, handling, and care of animals, must be the standard.