Introduction: the No Kill movement examined

Introduction to the series

by Leslie Smith, DogTime editor

Every day in this country, a population the size of the capital of Vermont dies at the hands of humans. Every single day, 10,000 companion animals are put to sleep. Not because they are dangerous or unhealthy, but because nobody wants them. Four million dead dogs and cats per year because we have yet to institute a better solution. Some say euthanasia, others say massacre.

There is much debate over who bears responsibility for these deaths, and there is passionate discussion as to how to humanely unburden our overcrowded shelters. There is no shortage of opinions, but sadly, adoptable animals continue to die.

One of the voices in the discussion belongs to the country’s growing No Kill movement, which seeks to eliminate the euthanasia of “healthy, treatable” animals. Its goal — a “live release rate” of 90%* of all animals who enter private and municipal shelters — is lauded almost universally. But the intricacies of how, and even if, this percentage can be achieved are at times controversial, complex, and misunderstood.

This series recounts my struggle to understand the gray areas of the No Kill movement. It’s not a substitute for the volume of material on the subject already out there. Rather, it’s a personal journey involving ten years of volunteering in shelters, along with much researching, reading, interviewing, and ultimately, soul searching. Its purpose is to explain where I’ve landed on these issues, how I got there, and where I see solutions. Undoubtedly, I will ask more questions than I answer.

When I started down this track many years ago, I knew little about shelter life and had no background in animal welfare issues. My volunteer experience began even before I had a dog of my own, well before I became a vegetarian and then an ethical vegan. Since then, I’ve become intimately involved with the staff and residents in shelters and sanctuaries across the West and Southwest. I’ve cheered as dogs I never expected to see adopted went home to loving families, and I’ve sobbed witnessing the life waft from bodies of perfectly healthy animals. That said, I do believe there are blurry lines when it comes to making decisions for other species about living and dying.

The anecdotes at the beginning of each segment aren’t meant to demonize — or deify — shelters (or those of us who work inside them), only to offer a glimpse of reality. My goal is not to convince anyone to join a movement or take on a label. The intent is simply to share what I’ve gleaned in hopes of explaining DogTime’s editorial point of view — and to move us one step to closer to becoming a more humane nation.

Editor’s note: I’m infinitely grateful to Nathan Winograd, Michael Mountain, Richard Avanzino, and Helga Schimkat for providing me context, background, and insight. And I thank them for giving to me their time — graciously, readily, and free of charge.

*There are as many definitions for No Kill in this country as there are shelters. For the purposes of this article, I will refer to 90% as the minimum live release rate, the number used by the No Kill Advocacy Center.

Next week’s installment: No Kill is a simple concept — why all the debate?

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