Who invented no-kill?
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2005:
Before there could be a successful no-kill movement, the
techniques of combating pet overpopulation without high-volume
killing had to be perfected.
The basic components were high-volume, low-cost dog and cat
sterilization; neuter/return, to help keep dogs and cats at large
from breeding back up to the carrying capacity of their habitat as
their numbers decline; and high-volume adoption, to find homes for
the animals who still come to shelters or can be removed from feral
The standard dog and cat sterilization surgeries were
approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association in 1923, but
did not become affordable for most pet-keepers until Friends of
Animals in 1957 opened the first low-cost sterilization clinic in the
U.S., at Neptune, New Jersey.
Watching from across the Hudson River, the American SPCA in
1968 began sterilizing animals before adoption. Mercy Crusade, of
Los Angeles, in 1973 opened a similar clinic that a year later would
host the first city-subsidized sterilization program in the U.S.
Working for that clinic, Marvin Mackie, DVM, developed
The Animal Foundation of Nevada in 1989 opened a clinic in
Las Vegas, using Mackie’s methods, which popularized high-volume
sterilization by doing more than 10,000 surgeries per year.
Circa 1970, barely 10% of pet dogs in the U.S. and 1% of pet
cats had been sterilized. More than two-thirds of all pet dogs and
cats were sterilized by 1990.
That left homeless animal reproduction yet to deal with.
Overseas organizations showed the way.
The Blue Cross of India introduced neuter/return control of
street dogs in 1964. Concerned individuals throughout the world
began quietly sterilizing both street dogs and feral cats, often
opposed by mainstream humane societies.
Circa 1983 the British-based Cat Welfare Society and
Universities Federation for Animal Welfare began openly promoting
neuter/return of feral cats, soon followed by the Kenya SPCA, but
neuter/return did not gain a strong voice in the U.S. until Alley Cat
Allies formed in 1991.
Many other advances toward achieving no-kill took almost as
long to catch on. Early-age sterilization advocate Leo Lieberman,
DVM, for example, was only vindicated after decades of debate in
1993, when the Massachusetts SPCA endorsed his claims with a major
peer-reviewed study conducted at Angel Memorial Hospital. The
American Veterinary Medical Association approved early-age
sterilization soon thereafter. It is now the standard approach to
ensuring that adopted animals never breed.
High-volume adoption was another hard sell. The Long
Island-based North Shore Animal League and Petco Inc. showed the way,
but had to find the way first.
Incorporated by Marianne H. Sanders on May 1, 1944, to bid
for the Town of North Hempstead animal control contract, in
competition with laboratory suppliers, North Shore won the job by
subsidizing the work with thrift store proceeds.
Sanders sought from the outset to maintain a no-kill policy
for healthy dogs. Cats arrived only when North Hempstead residents
brought them. The cats were killed, at first, but within a year
Sanders started a cat adoption program.
North Shore rehomed 73 of 342 dogs handled in 1946, an
outstanding rate by the standards of the era. By 1956, serving
seven of the nine Great Neck villages, North Shore managed to return
250 dogs to their homes, adopting out 308.
Sanders stepped down in 1957 and retired to California, but
returned to help the shelter in the early 1960s. As the Long Island
human population grew, North Shore had to choose between being
no-kill and doing animal control. It gave up the animal control
contracts, at huge loss of revenue.
A decade of leadership instability and struggling from crisis
to crisis ended with the 1969 election to the North Shore board of
Alex and Elisabeth Lewyt.
Alex Lewyt is today noted by online sources for predicting to
The New York Times in 1955 that “Nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners will
probably be a reality in 10 years,” and for having turned down a
chance to sponsor
The $64,000 Question, which became the biggest hit in early television.
Lewyt was among the most prominent entrepreneurs in the
U.S., featured on the cover of the March 1950 edition of the popular
magazine Collier’s, and profiled in 1953 by the business publisher
B.C. Forbes & Sons in a volume called America’s 12 Master Salesmen.
Jeffrey Gitomer, author of The Sales Bible, in 2003
summarized the Lewyt lessons as, “Believe in your product and love
it-and so will the world. Lewyt was a engineer,” continued Gitomer,
“who was convinced that he had built the world’s best vacuum cleaner.
He advertised it before production was finished and created a demand
in the market with no product, a market vacuum, if you will pardon
the pun. When the cleaner finally emerged on the market, it was
swept up, generating $4 million in sales in four years. Lewyt said
having the best product is not enough. You must believe it is the
best and share your passion through marketing and advertising.”
Much of Lewyt’s reputation came from swiftly recovering from
Recalled Sandy McLendon of Jetset in 2003, “Lewyt’s round
canister could have been used as a prop spaceship. The machine was
extremely well-made, but it had no wheels or runners. Lewyt tried
to put positive spin on the situation by telling consumers it was
intended to be placed in the center of the room while Milady waltzed
around vacuuming, but customer demand resulted in the introduction
of an optional wheeled base, complete with caddy compartments for
“Another Lewyt problem was the name,” McLendon noted.
“Almost no one reading it could pronounce it. Finally, some unsung
advertising genius,” probably Lewyt himself, “came up with the
slogan that solved everything: ‘Do It With Lewyt.’ It says a lot
for the innocence of the era that the ad raised sales, not snickers.”
Wife Elisabeth Lewyt meanwhile demonstrated a keen eye for
art purchases that appreciated in value, many of them later donated
to major museums.
The Lewyts shocked the humane establishment with simple innovations.
One of their first realizations was that since a shelter could only
house so many of animals, saving the most lives dictated housing
only those with the best adoption prospects. They stopped accepting
animals from the public and instead began taking adoptable animals
whose time was up from the local animal control agencies.
The Lewyts were also among the first to raise funds for
humane work through high-volume direct mail. Soon after the U.S.
Postal Service was privatized in 1969, introducing bulk mail presort
discounts, Alex Lewyt brought in experienced direct mail help from
Reader’s Digest, headquartered nearby on Long Island, and
introduced a sweepstakes fundraising promotion modeled after Reader’s
Yet another Lewyt innovation was paid advertising. Starting
in 1969, North Shore ads featuring celebrity spokesperson Perry Como
appeared in both print and electronic media throughout the New York
metropolitan area. Other celebrities eventually also lent their help.
Como was far from the first celebrity spokesperson for humane
work. Author Jack London lent his name to the Massachusetts SPCA
more than 60 years earlier. Baseball star Babe Ruth promoted dog
adoptions for the American SPCA more than 40 years earlier. Shirley
Temple made appearances for the American Humane Association in the
But never before had a humane organization paid to advertise
adoptions, in competition with pet stores and breeders.
Conventional humane societies fumed that North Shore was
treating animals like commodities–and killed more than a quarter of
a million dogs and cats in New York City per year, plus another
quarter million in nearby suburbs.
Some North Shore experiments failed. Merchandise giveaways
to lure the public into the shelter, for example, were a longtime
winner in the retail sector that did not work well in pet promotion
despite repeated attempts. The exception proved to be giveaways of
items that new pet keepers would need, such as collars, bowls,
leashes, and litter boxes.
North Shore in 1996 hired 10-year ASPCA humane officer Mike
Arms as director of shelter operations. Now heading the Helen
Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe, California, Arms in his
20 years at North Shore boosted adoptions from under 5,000 per year,
which led the world, to a peak of 44,000. Arms also introduced
adoption co-promotion with other shelters, including the annual
spring Pet Adoptathon, now celebrated worldwide. After moving to
the Helen Woodward Animal Center, Arms started the also global Home
4 The Holidays program.
Arms extended North Shore animal acquisition outreach into
the rural South. The idea was to out-compete breeders and puppy
mills for puppy and kitten market share in New York City, help
adopters to get those animals sterilized, save the lives of the
animals who were taken north, and use some of the adoption revenues
to subsidize sterilizing the mothers.
The promotional pitch was “Bring us the litter and we’ll spay
the mother for free.”
Thirty-one shelters participated in the shelter transport
program by 1992.
Humane relocation was attacked by North Shore critics as
“relocating pet overpopulation,” but the numbers were soon clear:
cities whose shelters participated were soon killing far fewer
Shelter killing in the New York City area meanwhile fell
faster than anywhere else in the U.S.
The Lewyts in 1976 co-founded the Northeast Animal Shelter,
of Salem, Massachusetts. Operating two shelters so far apart proved
impractical. An amicable separation followed. The Northeast Animal
Shelter also pioneered adoption transport, beginning in 1990.
Compared to the Lewyt flamboyance, the Petco challenge to
the established order was quiet. Starting in 1968, the San
Diego-based pet supply chain displayed animals from local shelters,
instead of animals from breeders. That approach was repeated in each
Petco store as the company grew. There are now 740 Petco stores in
47 states, assisting as many as a million animal adoptions per year.
Rival PETsMART, begun in 1987, combined ideas pioneered by
both Petco and North Shore.
Also operating more than 700 stores, PETsMART built
miniature replicas of the North Shore adoption center at the front of
each new franchise, and encouraged local rescue organizations to
work together as a network in order to make maximum use of the store
PETsMART and Petco were just the right vehicle to help breed
rescue take off.
Until the mid-1980s, dog fanciers often pretended that
because most dogs who were killed were mongrels, dog overpopulation
was chiefly the result of accidental or careless breeding, and
secondarily the result of irresponsible pet-keepers, who neglected
Only as the numbers of mongrels fell, with purebreds making
up an ever-larger share of shelter intake, did “bad breeding” lapse
from acceptability as an excuse for the deaths. Then,
enthusiastically if belatedly, thousands of former breeders switched
to breed rescue, redeeming their favorite breeds from death row,
rehabilitating and retraining them as needed, and adopting them into
homes in competition with the people who continued to breed.
Shirley Weber, of Germantown, Maryland, listed 1,500 breed
rescue contacts in the 1990 first edition of her Project Breed
Directory, for 72 breeds of dog. The 1993 second edition listed
2,900, for more than 125 breeds.
By then the American Kennel Club had begun coordinating
rescues for all AKC-recognized breeds. That scarcely brought order
to the growing chaos as the rise of the Internet enabled shelterless
amateur rescue to expand from isolated individuals working in back
yards into global networks of people doing all the work of no-kill
shelters, including humane relocation, with no central coordination
The closest approach to coordination is Petfinder.com,
founded by Betsy Saul in 1996. Saul began posting pets available for
adoption from 13 New Jersey shelters. By mid-2005 Petfinder.com
facilitated adoptions for more than 8,700 shelters and rescue groups,
displaying more than 190,000 animals at a time, helping to arrange
placement of more than 1.5 million animals per year.
With more than 159 million page “hits” per month, Petfinder had
become the 84th most popular site on the Internet, according to
publicist Kim Saunders, who cited data from the Hitwise web rating
Petfinder.com, Petco, and PETsMART together enable almost
anyone to do high-volume adoption. It is possible that shelterless
fostering and adoption projects now handle and help to place more
animals in homes than conventional shelters, albeit often working in
partnership with shelters.