What has no-kill accomplished?
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2005:
ANAHEIM–Another way to describe the “no-kill movement” might
be “the democratization of animal sheltering.”
The no-kill concept had already won the battle for public
opinion decades before no-kill sheltering existed on any significant
scale. Dogcatchers were a familiar film villain even before animated
cartoons and “talking pictures” were invented.
Fritz Frelang and rival Walt Disney merely revitalized the
stereotype in Dog-Pounded (1954), starring Sylvester the Cat, and
Lady & The Tramp (1955). More than half a century later,
bird-catching feral cats are still at imminent risk of landing in a
pound full of ferocious dogs, licensing is still advanced from many
directions as essential to end shelter killing, the public still
does not like dogcatchers, and animal control officers still don’t
like their image.
Winning over animal shelter management is a battle still
underway–but increasingly irrelevant to tens of thousands of
volunteer rescuers, donors, and upstart shelter founders, who have
taken the work of saving animals into their own hands.
After decades of railing at “irresponsible” pet-keepers,
animal control agencies and humane societies are facing activists who
are claiming responsible roles, whether or not they can fulfill them.
While established organizations continue to clash over the
term “no-kill,” the most urgent challenge to the entire sheltering
community is making effective use of increasing public involvement.
The amateurs and newcomers have ideas and energy, and if recruited
into shelter work, expect to have a voice in how the shelters are
Euthanasia decisions, always a flashpoint for conflict, are
more than ever contested–and the disputes are increasingly often
taken to the outside world.
On September 8, 2005, in Anaheim, California, as many as
650 animal shelter personnel will convene for the fourth annual
Conference on Homeless Animal Management & Policy, the 10th of the
series that started in Phoenix in 1995 as the No-Kill Conference,
with just 65 delegates.
The 1995 chief sponsors were the North Shore Animal League
and Best Friends Animal Society.
North Shore, founded in 1944, had participated in a
national conference for the first time only two years earlier, when
it sponsored the first Spay/USA conference in Bentley, Massachusetts.
Best Friends had never before been part of a humane conference.
Dinner speaker Richard Avanzino, then heading the San
Francisco SPCA, had never before spoken at a national conference.
The North Shore Animal League absorbed Doing Things for
Animals, the original No-Kill Conference organizing entity, and
renamed the event to attract conventional shelter personnel who seek
to learn techniques pioneered by the no-kill community.
Best Friends continued the entry-level orientation of the
early No Kill Conferences by founding the No More Homeless Pets
conference series. Held twice a year, each No More Homeless Pets
conference attracts from 300 to 400 participants.
The twenty-fold rise in attendance at the three annual No
Kill Conference spin-offs is easily mirrored by the growth in numbers
of no-kill shelters and rescue groups.
Best Friends itself has grown more than 600% in 10 years,
with more programs, personnel, and annual revenue than PETA.
PETA, the fastest-growing national animal advocacy group
during the preceding 15 years, has seen much slower growth, partly
because it is the last major national organization to overtly oppose
no-kill sheltering and neuter/return.
Coming of age
No-kill came of age in 1998, when PeopleSoft founders
David and Cheryl Duffield put Avanzino in charge of Maddie’s Fund,
endowed with more grant-giving clout than all other foundations
serving the humane community combined. Maddie’s Fund introduced an
ambitious attempt to encourage the entire U.S. to follow the San
Francisco model. To apply for funding, a commmunity must assemble
a coalition including all of the shelters serving it, of whatever
Avanzino in 2004 presided over drafting the Asilomar
Accords, a pact meant to help attract cooperation from conventional
shelters and animal control agencies by standardizing statistical
Although the Maddie’s Fund mission statement explicitly
embraces “creation of a no-kill nation,” the Asilomar Accords do not
use the term “no-kill,” and were widely viewed as an agreement to
abandon potentially divisive language.
This appeared to be quite a turnabout for Avanzino, who in
1984 challenged the concept behind 90 years of humane efforts to
wrest animal control contracts away from laboratory suppliers by
returning the San Fran-cisco animal control job to the city.
Avanzino argued, in part, that the best way to keep homeless dogs
and cats out of laboratories was to stop breeding a surplus.
Avanzino made the SF/SPCA a no-kill agency, emphasized dog and cat
sterilization and adoption, and a decade later introduced the
Adoption Pact, through which the San Francisco SPCA guarantees a good
home or lifetime care to any healthy or recoverable dog or cat,
after the expiry of the requisite holding time at the city Department
of Animal Care & Control.
Taking effect on April 1, 1994, the Adoption Pact was
initially treated as a hoax by much of the sheltering
establishment–but the SF/DACC has killed fewer dogs and cats in all
of the past 10 years combined than are killed each and every year in
the shelters of many cities of comparable size, including Fresno,
just a few hours’ drive away.
Despite the diplomatic concessions, “I truly believe that
no-kill is not real,” one veteran animal control professional
e-mailed recently to ANIMAL PEOPLE, after serving in senior
capacities with several agencies that were mandated by city councils
and public opinion to try to go no-kill prematurely.
Each agency had a chance to get there within five to seven
years, based on the trajectories of agencies that have succeeded,
but only if intensive targeted sterilization could markedly reduce
their intakes, especially of feral cats and pit bull terriers.
Each agency already worked cooperatively with neuter/return
feral cat groups, but met growing conflict between neuter/return
proponents and advocates of rare and endangered birds, small
mammals, and reptiles.
Each agency had yet to find any effective way to stop pit
bull terrier proliferation, confronted at every turn by aggressive
alliances of fanciers, breeders, and rescuers opposed to any
Each agency was expected to save every healthy animal before
the numbers of incoming healthy animals were reduced to anywhere near
the numbers that their communities could absorb through adoption.
Each agency encountered endless conflicts with animal
hoarders, who insisted that they were “saving” dogs and cats from
euthanasia. Often the public rallied behind the hoarders as
well-meaning people who only tried to do too much good.
“Implicit to the ‘No-Kill’ philosophy is the reality of
exceptional situations in which euthanasia is the most humane
alternative available,” the No-Kill Directory proclaimed on the
cover of five editions published between 1994 and 2000.
As the age of printed humane literature morphed into the age
of web sites, cover qualifiers are increasingly bypassed.
Hoarders have found in no-kill rhetoric a renewed excuse for
collecting large numbers of animals and keeping them in conditions of
mass neglect. Enablers of hoarders are more numerous and vociferous
than ever before, and so are hoarding cases.
During the first six months of 2005, ANIMAL PEOPLE received
information on 133 cases of alleged mass neglect of dogs and cats by
“rescuers” and individuals of unclear motive, seven cases by
suspected dogfighters, six cases by pet stores, and 20 cases by
breeders, plus 10 mass neglect cases involving sheep or goats, one
involving rodents, 33 involving horses, one involving pigs, and
six involving birds, for a total of 217–an increase of
approximately 60% since 1998.
Among the cases most prominently associated with animal rescue:
* Complaints about MidSouth Shepherd Rescue received from
adopters as far away as New Jersey prompted the Southaven Animal
Shelter, of Southaven, Mississippi, to seize 31 dogs on January
31, 2005 from the home of rescue founder Pepper Stidmon.
* 172 animals were seized on February 1, 2005 from former
Citrus County Animal Services volunteer Dorothy Moquin, 77, of
* New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer on February 3,
2005 issued an apparently unprecedented public warning that as many
as 350 dogs adopted out by Hands Helping Paws K9 Rescue founder
Shannon Champine, of Keeseville, “were transferred to their new
owners with certificates of rabies vaccination that are not
authentic.” Raccoon, fox, and bat rabies have all occurred in the
vicinity during the past 12 years.
* Hope Haven Rescue founder Randall Evans, 41, of South
Salt Lake, Utah, on April 1, 2005 accepted a fine plus an order to
make restitution totaling $265, and a suspended 180-day jail
sentence, after running into trouble for alleged neglect of animals
and operating without the requisite permits at his third location in
* 61 cats were seized on April 20 and 21, 2005, from the
Tonawanda, New York home of former Second Chance Sheltering Network
volunteer Christopher Huber, 49. Fourteen of the cats came from
Second Chance, which had ended his adoption privileges 18 months
* Two years after founding Chihuahua Rescue to accommodate
about 200 neglected and unsocialized Chihuhuas who had been seized
from a breeder in Acton, California, Burbank screenwriter Kimi Peck
was accused of neglect herself. The charges were set aside in May
2005 after Peck agreed to relocate all of the dogs by October.
* Jim and Paula Blankenhorn, of Comfort, Texas, on
August 5 agreed to close their Wild Cat Ranch Pet Retirement Center
and surrender 202 of 222 cats found in their possession to the SPCA
of Texas. The Blankenhorns boarded cats, many of them feral, for
rescuers around Texas, but claimed that only about 20% kept up with
* The Georgia Department of Agriculture “plans to revoke the
state license issued to Canine Angels Ranch & Referrals,” founded in
1999 by Lynette Rowe and Sue Wells, Todd DeFeo of the Athens
Banner-Herald reported on August 11, 2005. Rowe and Wells were each
charged with a single count of cruelty for alleged neglect of a dog,
after repeated warnings to reduce the numbers of animals in their
Kess & Willis cases
The recent cases causing the most consternation to no-kill
proponents are probably those of KittyKind founder Marlene Kess, 56,
reportedly prominent in New York City cat rescue for as long as 20
years, and Jim Willis, widely regarded as the unofficial poet
laureate of animal rescue.
Kess, a member of the Mayor’s Alliance for Animal Welfare,
was known in New York City as a longtime resident of Greenwich
Village, but owned a home in East Orange, New Jersey. On May 19,
2005, a raid by the New Jersey SPCA, Associated Humane Societies of
New Jersey, and East Orange health department found 48 live cats and
more than 200 dead cats on her premises.
“Today she was fined $14,000, and sentenced to serve 21 days
in jail plus 1,140 days of community service,” Associated Humane
Societies executive director Roseanne Trezza told ANIMAL PEOPLE on
August 22. “Now we have to go get 70 more cats, most of them
sick,” Trezza added.
The five-hour follow-up raid on Kess’ home actually netted 95 cats.
“I think we are not done with Ms. Kess. There will be new
charges here,” New Jersey SPCA president Stuart Rhodes told Brian T.
Murray of the Newark Star-Ledger.
Willis lost nine dogs, four cats, all of his work on a new
book, and his home in a housefire on January 25, 2005–his birthday.
Circa July 1, 2005 Willis became a houseguest of Steven and
Erin Schmidt, of Forward Township, Pennsylvania, operators of
Ferret Friends of Pittsburgh. The Ferret Friends web site identified
Erin Schmidt as both a ferret breeder and a ferret rescuer.
Animal Friends of Pittsburgh, itself a no-kill shelter,
joined local police in raiding the Schmidt home on August 18. “Erin
Schmidt, has been charged with running an illegal kennel on the
property and will receive numerous humane citations,” reported Stacy
Wolford of the Valley Independent. “House guest Jim Willis has been
charged with dog law violations. Details regarding all charges
against Schmidt and Willis are pending a complete investigation.”
A Willis acquaintance, Wisconsin activist Eilene Ribbens
Rohde, asserted in a widely distributed e-mail that, “It was Jim
who called the authorities. He was not supposed to be there when
they arrived. They came three hours early and he was still trying to
help the animals as much as he could.”
The courts may be sorting out the case for some time to come.
Critics of no-kill sheltering also have cause to be embarrassed.
PETA staff members Adria Joy Hinkle, 27, and Andrew
Benjamin Cook, 24, were arrested on June 15, 2005 for allegedly
killing 62 animals they took from North Carolina shelters under the
pretext of finding homes for them, and then leaving the remains in
John D. Elmer, 26, cofounder of a group called Pets Without
Parents, was arrested on August 3, 2005, in Windsor, New York,
for allegedly killing 35 animals whose remains were found at his
home. Suspected euthanasia drugs and 50 live animals were also
seized by police.
1998 & 2005
ANIMAL PEOPLE tested the hypothesis that the no-kill movement
has increased the incidence of hoarding by comparing 688 cases
occurring before September 1998 with the 217 cases occurring in the
first half of 2005.
Combining self-defined “rescuers” and hoarders of unclear
motive produced this breakdown:
Motive To 1998 2005
Rescuers/unclear 50% 61%
Breeders 25% 12%
Farmers 19% 20%
Pet stores 4% 3%
Although cases are now brought to light and prosecuted with
greater frequency, the proportionality is similar.
Fewer breeders were raided in early 2005 perhaps because
animal advocates have been successful in recent years at using zoning
ordinances and tax laws to put backyard breeders out of business–and
because many former breeders have switched to breed rescue.
The number of rescuers in trouble increased by almost the
same percentage as the number of breeders declined, probably
reflecting the migration of ex-breeders into rescue.
The numbers of farmers in trouble declined, as did the
number of U.S. farmers. Pet stores were involved in about the same
percentage of mass neglect cases, and dogfighting, still relatively
rare in 1998, subsequently re-emerged as a major animal issue.
Since the proportionality of “rescuer” hoarders to all others
does not appear to have increased by more than can be explained by
other factors, the no-kill movement is probably not responsible for
the increase in hoarding cases.
Rather, hoarders appear to be raided and prosecuted more
often because of increased awareness of the hoarding problem.
Yet that does not mean hoarding is not the dark shadow of the
Warned the September 1995 ANIMAL PEOPLE editorial, “No one
who saw the dead and dying animals whom the New York Humane
Association discovered at Justin McCarthy’s Animals Farm Home in 1988
can forget them, and many who remember such failures doubt, to this
day, that no-kill sheltering can truly be done. The image of
no-kill sheltering remains tainted by hoarders. The national
organizations most involved in sheltering perpetuate the hoarder
stereotype, partly because many senior staff have had experience
with McCarthy and others like him, and were understandably
ANIMAL PEOPLE recommended forming a broadly representative
accrediting-and-helping association, to set suitable standards for
high-volume adoption, care-for-life, and non-sheltered fostering
ANIMAL PEOPLE followed up by offering workshops on standards
and accreditation at the 1997 No-Kill Conference in Boston; a
seminar on animal hoarding at the 1998 No-Kill Conference,
co-presented with attorney Larry Weiss and Humane Society of the
Tennessee Valley executive director Vicki Crosetti; and a session on
animal hoarding at the 2002 CHAMP conference in St. Louis.
Hoarding researcher Gary Patronek spoke at the 1999 No-Kill Conference.
In addition, ANIMAL PEOPLE and representatives from the
North Shore Animal League, PETsMART Charities, and National Animal
Control Association covered related topics in connection with
shelterless rescue and adoption transport at the 2004 CHAMP
conference in Orlando.
Hoarding has scarcely been ignored, but the no-kill
community is still no closer to accepting standards specific to what
no-kill shelters and rescues do than it was in 1995. By now so many
people are involved that instituting standards may be just about
impossible –if it ever could have been done.
Because no-kill shelters and shelterless rescues have
typically been founded in reaction against high-volume killing by
conventional shelters, the operators tend to mistrust and resist
inclusion in any system that might be controlled by the conventionals.
Many directors of conventional shelters are on record as
skeptics and critics of no-kill approaches. Many frankly resent the
Some see no-kills as rivals for funding, though the economic
data published annually by ANIMAL PEOPLE since 1991 demonstrates that
the growth of public financial support for no-kill sheltering has
actually brought new money into the cause, while funding for
conventional shel tering has also steadily increased.
Some just don’t like the implication that no-kill shelters
exist opposite to “kill” shelters, and that conventional shelter
staff are therefore “animal killers.”
That conflict is not going to go away. Despite the Asilomar
Accords, and other efforts by national humane organizations to get
no-kill shelters to quit using the term “no-kill,” “no-kill” will
remain in use because the public likes it.
Shelters that continue to kill healthy animals can expect to
face increasing pressure to make more use of the birth prevention and
adoption techniques advanced by no-kills.
A generation of animal lovers raised with the expectation
that shelters should aspire to go no-kill is not about to abandon the
belief that every healthy animal can be saved.
In statistical terms, the decade since the no-kill movement
emerged has produced the smallest drop in cumulative U.S. shelter
killing of any 10-year time frame since 1970. Total shelter deaths
fell from about 23.4 million then to 17.8 million in 1985 to circa
six million in 1995, and in 2004 were at approximately 4.5 million.
Dogs and cats killed in shelters per 1,000 Americans dropped
from 115 in 1970 to about 21 in 1995, and in 2004 was 15.5.
The major gain of the past decade is on the opposite side of
the ledger. The adoption “market share” of pet acquisition has
increased by half, the longevity of pets in homes has increased by
half or more, and more than 70% of pet-keepers sterilize their dogs
and cats in most parts of the U.S., with more than 90% of all pet
dogs and cats sterilized in some cities.
There are still some ignorant and irresponsible people to
deal with–but active participation by most of the pet-keeping
community in combating pet overpopulation has arrived. The
sheltering community now must learn to live with it.