Guest opinion: Just killing isn’t humane work
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1997:
by Lynda Foro
(founder, Doing Things For Animals)
In the four years since Doing Things for
Animals began publishing the annual No-Kill
Directory, the number of self-identified no-kill
shelters and sanctuaries known to us has more
than tripled. More than 700 no-kill organizations
are on our mailing list, and those that returned the
directory questionaire will be listed in our soonto-be-published
In the three years since our first annual
No-Kill Conference, participation has quadrupled
to more than 300.
Within the past month, features on nokill
sheltering have been distributed internationally
by USA Today, the Los Angeles Times syndicate,
and Associated Press.
But the challenge the no-kill movement
presents to business-as-usual at animal shelters
may have been best illustrated by the invitation I
recently received to write an essay about no kills
for the Animal Sheltering magazine, a publication
of the Humane Society of the United States.
I was asked to submit 850 words
responding to the question, “What is the appropriate
role of no-kill shelters in a community?”
When the editor returned my article for proofreading,
I discovered that HSUS had changed the
question to “What is the appropriate role of limit –
ed admission shelters in a community?”
Had I seen the question as it would
appear in print, I certainly would have added a
paragraph clearly distinguishing between the concepts
of “no kill” and “limited access,” which are
not the same.
Despite the denials of those who see no
distinction between killing and euthanasia, the
difference is the crux of the issue between no-kill
and traditional shelters. Killing and euthanizing
are not synonymous, not interchangeable, and
must not be confused. Dead is dead, of course,
and the animal dies either way. But the end result
is not the issue. The issue is the cause of death.
It is critical to understand that killing a
healthy animal is not euthanasia. Shelters that
reduce their inventory by killing animals for reasons
other than poor health are killing the animals,
plain and simple. They are not euthanizing them.
Euthansia is clearly defined by dictionaries
as causing a humane death to prevent immediate
suffering. No-kill organizations perform euthanasia
on a limited basis when medically indicated.
They do not reduce pet overpopulation by randomly
killing animals. It is wrong to identify
killing as euthanasia. It misleads the public and
delays the arrival of non-lethal response to the
proliferation of homeless healthy animals.
“No kill” refers to the practice of saving animals’
lives as the primary organizational function,
allowing for the practice of euthanasia when medically
appropriate. Shelters having such an
emphasis first appeared a generation ago, when
inspired individuals first elected to provide an
alternative to business as usual at local shelters,
or tried to fill a need where no other public animal
care service was present. They tried to offer a
sanctuary for animals in need.
Often working out of their homes, some
succeeded; some failed. The growth of the nokill
movement was long inhibited by the sad and
sick phenomenon of animal collecting, still the
dark side of independent caregiving.
But other no-kill projects caught on,
developed models for success, and inspired emulation.
Diversity became the strength of the nokill
movement. Independent care-providers continue
to explore new ways to help animals, and as
necessity is the mother of invention, limited
resources continue to encourage each no-kill program
to focus on what it does best. Among the
many services pioneered by no-kill practitioners––but
now widely emulated by traditional shelters,
too––are high volume adoption, lifetime
care, feral cat colony management, breed rescue,
low-cost neutering, foster care, wildlife rehabilitation,
and programs oriented specifically to the
care of exotics, equines, and farm animals.
If there is one creed that should be universal
in sheltering, it is that all animals should
be neutered prior to adoption, or before being
allowed to mingle in mixed-gender groups within
a permanent sanctuary population, with early-age
neutering preferred to absolutely prevent accidental
A paradox in animal welfare is that
many shelters, some of which complain of their
painful need to kill animals, still do not neuter all
animals before adoption, and do not provide
early-age neutering, even though the procedures
have long since been approved at every level of
veterinary authority. The biggest of them boast
multi-million-dollar budgets, have large paid
staffs, pay high executive salaries, and claim to
be leading voices of the animal care community.
Unfortunately, they do not represent the
interests of the animals they adopt out intact, nor
do they either represent or often actively assist the
many small mostly volunteer and mostly no-kill
organizations that take in the resultant strays,
manage the feral cat colonies, and put every dime
into spaying and neutering because someone has
to do it!
What’s in a name?
The Humane Society of the United
States prefers to call no-kill shelters “limited
access” or “limited admission.” Like “euthanasia,”
these are feel-good euphemisms. Access to
a shelter is an admissions issue. It is not a killing
issue. One cannot identify a shelter’s kill policy
by how the shelter admits animals, nor is it clear
that the term “sheltering” even properly describes
the procedures of many traditional animal care
facilities which kill many healthy animals on
receipt, e.g. feral cats and litters of kittens who
are considered “too young” for adoption.
The term preferred by HSUS to describe
traditional shelters, conversely, is “full service.”
But if “full service” means providing the full
range of services which may be offered to help
animals, including all the specialties advanced by
the no-kill community, and accepting all animals
not returned to owners, euthanized for medical
cause, or placed for adoption by the local animal
control agency, the leading full-service shelter in
the world is the no-kill San Francisco SPCA.
Much of the HSUS concern over
rhetoric is associated with competition for donors’
dollars. Indeed, it is not good manners to market
one animal care program at the expense of another.
We must always give credit to the good works
of others and extend the hand of cooperation.
But traditional shelters are not feeling
stressed just because no-kills have arrived. They
are hurting because they kill animals, try to camouflage
the act by calling it euthanasia, and feel
an indictment in the words “no-kill,” which
would merely be descriptive if traditional shelters
had not misled the public for so long.
HSUS, the American Humane Association,
the Society of Animal Welfare
Administrators, and other such voices of tradition
need to recognize that doing population control
killing is not the same thing as doing humane
work. So-called humane societies that kill more
animals than they neuter to prevent surplus births
may have their priorities far out of kilter.
National umbrella groups that seek to truly represent
humane interests should encourage a reappraisal
of policies to emphasize birth prevention
and lifesaving over killing, and should not
exclude but include the contributions of the nokill
community, the fastest growing contingent of
caregivers in animal welfare.