If you’ve heard the phrase ‘No Kill’ but you aren’t sure what it means, you’re not alone. Some people have come to equate the phrase as being very literal (meaning that no animals ever die), and they accuse people who support No Kill concepts of advocating institutionalized hoarding. Nothing could be further from the truth.
No Kill is a culture in which healthy and treatable animals are not killed in our shelters for space, convenience or following some archaic tradition using our tax dollars or donations. In this culture, the only animals killed are those who are irremediably suffering, due to illness or injury, or in very rare instances, dogs who are so genuinely aggressive (as opposed to scared or traumatized) that they are unsafe to have in our communities (and for which no sanctuary placement is available).
No Kill is not a definition. It does not mean that animals do not die. To keep animals alive when they are physically and irremediably suffering or in isolated cases when dogs have been unresponsive to all efforts at rehabilitation, that they present a danger to the public would be unethical and irresponsible. Ending the lives of hopelessly ill or injured animals with no reasonable chance of recovery is euthanasia because it is done for reasons of mercy and not for expediency. Ending the lives of healthy and treatable animals, on the other hand, is NOT euthanasia. The two actions have nothing at all in common.
No Kill is a philosophy that says the lives of all animals have value and that those animals must be treated as individuals, worthy of our time and attention to keep them alive. In this philosophy, shelter animals are treated as having been someone's beloved companion or as being capable of being that companion. They are essentially given the benefit of the doubt, treated as adoptable and not blamed for the fact that they need our help.
No Kill is not about simply keeping animals alive, regardless of the conditions in which they live. It does not allow animals’ physical or emotional well-being to be compromised just so we can say “they are alive” and “we did not kill them.”
When animals are collected on rural properties out of the knowledge and view of the public and law enforcement authorities, that is not No Kill. That is essentially hoarding, and more often than not, it also involves neglect and abuse (and most often, mental health issues of the perpetrators).
When animals are kept at a “sanctuary” that does not function within its financial and physical ability to properly care for and then place those animals in homes, it is not No Kill. Overwhelmed sanctuaries are little more than animal prisons where the animals and the people caring for them are under incredible amounts of stress, often leading to disaster. It is not uncommon for us to hear stories about so-called sanctuaries that have been subject to law enforcement operations, or for which national animal welfare groups have been called upon to remove large numbers of animals because of inhumane conditions. Some people who oppose No Kill philosophies are quick to point to operations like this as an example that No Kill ideals are flawed or negative in some way. This is simply a deflection from the truth. It is up to all of us to report criminal behavior when we see it while not treating these operations as being related to the No Kill movement, especially because animal neglect and abuse are the antithesis of what our movement was designed to achieve.
No Kill is about values and hope and compassion, and about doing our very best for companion animals because we care about them and we want the very best for them. In the simplest terms, No Kill means that you do not kill healthy and treatable animals. You do not kill them because it’s easier than saving them. You do not kill them because that is what has historically been done. You do not kill them because you remain ignorant, willfully or otherwise, of the programs and services that have been used to save shelter animals for decades.
Some organizations refuse to give grant money to any animal shelter that honestly refers to itself as No Kill because the grantors claim the description is “divisive” or somehow “offensive.” It has even been suggested that the phrase “low kill” be used instead, as if that phrase would be easily understood by the public. It would not. The phrase No Kill is now on the public radar. It is used by presidential candidates, elected officials, shelter directors, animal rescuers, and the public. People will generally understand what it means once they are given a concise explanation.
Today, there are hundreds of communities following the No Kill philosophy. Open-intake No Kill shelters saving upwards of 99% of animals are thriving in every region and every socioeconomic setting in the nation. These communities, as diverse as America itself, share only one thing in common. They all achieved their phenomenal success the exact same way — the No Kill Equation. Developed by Nathan Winograd and first presented in his book, "Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America,” the Equation is dual-purpose in nature: it serves to keep animals from entering shelters in the first place and serves to move animals out of the shelter quickly and efficiently, mainly by involving the public in every step of the life-affirming functions of such municipal No Kill shelters which routinely save over 95% of animals. They stand in stark contrast to the far greater number of animal control pounds which routinely kill 50% to 90% of animals, as they were tragically designed to do.
Redemption was later made into a documentary film. It is not graphic. There are a few seconds of footage which may make some viewers uncomfortable, but the greatest discomfort comes from learning about what happens in tax-funded animal pounds using our money and in our name.