Explore our policies and positions on important issues in animal welfare

Best Friends Animal Society takes a stance on a variety of issues across many aspects of the animal welfare movement that are deemed to be important to not only us, but to our members and partner rescue organizations. These policy and position statements have been approved by the Senior Leadership Team and when appropriate the Board of Directors.

1.) Aggressive Animals policy
2.) Cat declawing
3.) Dog debarking/devocalization
4.) Dog training methods
5.) Euthanasia policy
6.) Euthanasia vs. killing
7.) Food policy
8.) Gas chamber as a method of euthanasia
9.) Humane sourcing
10.) Non-surgical sterilization
11.) Pet ownership limits
12.) Policy statement on partnerships
13.) Pregnant spays
14.) Rescue access to shelter animals
15.) Responsible pet ownership
16.) The role of coalitions in achieving no-kill
17.) What is a no-kill community?
18.) Mandatory spay/neuter
19.) Giving pets as gifts or prizes
20.) The role of spay/neuter in achieving no-kill
21.) Return-to-field programs (RTF)
22.) Trap-neuter-return

Aggressive animals policy

Best Friends believes every animal is an individual and deserves to be treated as such. No matter what the animal’s history is, we’ve proven through our work over the years that every animal deserves, at the very least, an opportunity to be evaluated and given the opportunity to overcome any undesirable behaviors. 

If a dog commits an unprovoked attack on a human or another animal that results in a serious injury, the dog should be managed appropriately to protect the public and other animals. Such management might include confinement to an adequately secured owner’s property, muzzling when in public, mandatory behavior modification training and other non-lethal means to protect the public during any attempts at rehabilitation. 

Best Friends believes that every effort should be made to rehabilitate any dog who has aggression issues. There are myriad reasons why a dog can become psychologically damaged and dangerous, including abuse, neglect, under-socialization, aggression training or medical issues. Extreme cases may require sanctuary placement as the only option, if rehabilitation or appropriate management are just not available. 

If, after considering the previous points, appropriate care for a dangerous dog cannot be secured, then euthanasia may be considered. A behavioral and veterinary consultation should be obtained to ensure that experts in care and behavior are helping to make this decision. 

At our sanctuary and in our local programs, Best Friends policy is to not euthanize animals solely because of aggressive behavior. We instead prefer to find or create an environment and management protocol that will protect the animal and his or her human handlers and offer the animal a reasonable quality of life. In the event that the aggression is so severe or has unrelievable physical suffering as its underlying cause and/or the necessary management protocol is so restrictive as to seriously compromise the animal’s quality of life, then Best Friends would consider euthanasia an acceptable method for relieving that animal’s suffering and poor quality of life. Such a decision would be made by animal care management and a veterinarian, after careful consultation with the animal’s caregivers.

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Cat declawing

Best Friends is opposed to the practice of cat declawing. Only in cases where it is deemed medically appropriate (such as tumors, infection or other chronic health issues determined by a licensed veterinarian) should the onychectomy procedure be considered. Even with advancements in technology, such as laser claw removal, maiming a cat and potentially leaving him/her with long-term issues cannot be justified for what is ultimately an owner-convenience procedure. The onychectomy procedure seeks to remove the existing claw and prevent further growth. To do so, a portion of the bone must be removed.

Cat owners who have concerns about scratching behavior should seek non-surgical management techniques such as vinyl nail caps, or simply offer scratching posts. Keeping the cat’s nails trimmed can also help with destructive scratching.

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Dog debarking/devocalization

Best Friends is opposed to the practice of debarking of dogs and asserts that it should never be used as a method of convenience for owners. A surgery to remove the tissue of the vocal cords may in fact reduce the noise level of the bark, but it does nothing to address the behavioral issue underlying the excessive barking. Owning a dog is a commitment, and we believe owners should commit to working through behavioral issues through training to address issues instead of looking to surgeries that do not address the underlying problem.

​Background

Devocalization, or debarking, as a medical procedure has been available for decades. However, ethically, devocalization is controversial with many animal welfare organizations and veterinarians. Most recently, the veterinary giant Banfield outlawed the practice at all of its more than 700 offices. Banfield will continue to perform the procedure when it is deemed medically necessary for an animal.

The surgery removes tissue from the vocal cords of the animal, reducing the noise level of the bark.

References

  1. //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devocalization
  2. //www.petfinder.com/pet-adoption/dog-adoption/pets-relinquished-shelters/

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Dog training methods

Best Friends Animal Society recognizes that training is an essential tool in helping to achieve our mission to bring about a time when there are No More Homeless Pets and save the lives of more dogs.  Training is used to modify behavior to help dogs succeed in a shelter or sanctuary environment, increasing their adoptability and giving them the tools to be successful in a home. It is also used to help owners understand how to communicate better with their dogs, resulting in dogs staying in their forever homes.

We also recognize that there are many methodologies and philosophical approaches to training, and believe that the approach taken should be tailored to the individual dog, his/her history and current circumstances. For example, the approach and tools needed for keeping a play group safe may be very different from the tools and techniques used to help a dog learn to sit on cue. 

Best Friends does not stand behind training methods that use excessive force or cause pain. We do acknowledge that there are techniques that cause mild temporary discomfort (for example, the use of air horns or water bottles to deter behavior that is risking the safety of a group of dogs in a play group setting) that may be acceptable in some scenarios. We recognize that there are risks that come with some training techniques, such as aversion, and to minimize those risks, these techniques should only be used in certain situations with very skilled trainers.

While Best Friends primarily uses relationship-based training, we do not exclusively practice or endorse one specific methodology. In our support of adopters, rescuers and shelters, we engage trainers who use a variety of methods to achieve positive outcomes in a dog’s particular environment. In every instance, our primary goals are to keep dogs safe, get them adopted and keep them in loving homes.

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Euthanasia policy

Best Friends believes that no healthy or otherwise treatable animal should be killed when alternatives exist to save them, as stated in our no-kill communities policy. The term “euthanasia,” by definition, means an act of mercy. Therefore, it should be reserved solely for ending the suffering of an animal who has experienced serious and irreversible reduction in his/her quality of life. 

Best Friends does not consider population control by any lethal means, including lethal injection, to be euthanasia by definition. Any healthy or treatable animal who has his/her life ended to make space for other animals, or for some other reason, such as treatable medical conditions or old age, should be considered to have been killed. 

Best Friends Animal Society will euthanize animals in our care if they are irremediably suffering and our veterinarians advise that there is no chance of recovering an acceptable quality of life. While this is a difficult choice, we approach this decision from the perspective of what is in the best interest of the animal.

Any of these four conditions are sufficient to recommend euthanasia: 

  1. An inability of the animal to breathe on his/her own without distress that cannot be treated medically or surgically
  2. Extreme physical pain that cannot be managed with medication or surgery and that seriously compromises the animal’s ability to enjoy life
  3. End-stage organ failure
  4. Uncontrollable seizures

The following conditions are red flags that require further investigation and are not usually sufficient on their own to justify euthanasia, depending on severity: 

  1. If the animal’s desire and/or ability to take in adequate water or food is very low for more than a few days, this could indicate significant suffering. If not already done, a veterinarian’s advice should be obtained.
  2. The animal is chronically soiling himself or herself to the point of inflammation or damage to the skin.
  3. The animal is unable to move about in relative comfort.
  4. The animal is unable to enjoy the activities that he/she did before. The animal’s overall enjoyment of life appears minimal to nonexistent.
  5. The animal has dementia that significantly impairs his/her ability to function and to enjoy social relationships with human family members.
  6. The animal has extreme emaciation for which a cause cannot be found.

At our sanctuary and in our local programs, it is not Best Friends’ policy to euthanize animals for aggressive behavior. We instead prefer to find or create an environment and management protocol that will protect the animal and his or her human handlers and offer the animal a reasonable quality of life. In the event that the aggression is so severe or has unrelievable physical suffering as its underlying cause and/or the necessary management protocol is so restrictive as to seriously compromise the animal’s quality of life, then Best Friends would consider euthanasia an acceptable method for relieving that animal’s suffering and poor quality of life. Such a decision would need to be made by animal care management and a veterinarian, after careful consultation with the animal’s caretakers. You can read more about our position on aggressive animals here.

Method of euthanasia

The only method of euthanasia that Best Friends finds acceptable is that recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association, specifically the use of veterinarian prescribed sedatives and FDA-approved euthanasia solutions administered in as comforting and loving a situation as possible. We do not support the use of the gas chamber. You can read more about our position on the use of the gas chamber here.

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Euthanasia vs. killing

Best Friends strongly believes in the difference in the meaning of the words “euthanasia” and “killing.” Here’s why: We believe that the only animals euthanized in shelters should be the ones for whom ending the animal’s life is a true mercy. No healthy or treatable animal should be killed in a shelter when alternatives exist to save them. Any healthy or otherwise treatable animal who has his/her life ended to make space for other animals, or for some other reason, such as treatable medical conditions or old age, should be considered to have been killed. 

For Best Friends, euthanasia is defined purely as an act of mercy. This act should be reserved for situations when an animal is irremediably suffering and a veterinarian has determined that the animal has no chance of recovering an acceptable quality of life, or the animal’s behavior doesn’t allow him/her to be a candidate for rehabilitation. 

While there may be differences of opinion about the path to achieving no-kill communities, the ultimate goal for every animal lover, rescuer, advocate and shelter employee should be to see a day when no healthy or treatable animal is killed.

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Food policy

At Best Friends, the pursuit of our mission to achieve our vision specifically involves ending the killing of companion animals in shelters. While those efforts are currently focused on companion animals, the vision of Best Friends is very simple: "A better world through kindness to animals." Our current guiding principles are also prescriptive about how Best Friends should show compassion to all living creatures.

Golden Rule: To treat all living things as we ourselves would wish to be treated.

Kindness: To demonstrate compassion and respect for all living creatures.

It is incongruent with our guiding principles to support industries that raise and slaughter animals for food, as these animals often live in inhumane and even torturous conditions.

Given the above, food served at all Best Friends staff meetings and employee events, the food that employees are reimbursed for while traveling, employee food choices when meeting with donors, and food served at any other Best Friends–related events should be vegetarian, and whenever feasible, entirely plant-based.

While not all Best Friends staff follow plant-based or vegetarian diets, Best Friends is an organization dedicated to animals and their well-being. Best Friends staff are expected to respect and follow this policy when using donor money because it is important that, as employees of Best Friends, we always represent the values of the organization.

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Gas chamber as a method of euthanasia

Best Friends focuses on ending the killing of pets in shelters, not how they are killed, but we believe that in cases of true euthanasia, it is critical that the only stress-free and pain-free method be employed — that being a high-dose intravenous injection of either sodium pentobarbital or sodium thiopental. 

The gas chamber is a cruel practice from what should be a bygone era. The term “euthanasia” itself derives from the Greek eu, meaning “good,” and thanatos, meaning “death.”1 The gas chamber can hardly be considered a “good death” as studies2 have proven the added stress caused to animals during the unnecessarily prolonged death in gas chambers. There have been enough anecdotal cases of animals surviving the chamber4,5 for states to enact bans on the gas chamber. 

Background

As far back as 1990, states began banning the gas chamber as a method of euthanizing animals. Georgia was the first state to mandate intravenous injection as the only allowable method for animal euthanasia.3 Until that point, Georgia, just like every other state, had no mandate at all for how shelter animals should be euthanized. Since then, more than a dozen states have declared intravenous injection as the sole method of humane euthanasia. 

References

  1. https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/292011
  2. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15901358
  3. //www.animalsheltering.org/resources/magazine/jan_feb_2008/what_is_a_good_death.pdf
  4. //news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/04/0411_050411_peteuthanasia.html
  5. //www.ksl.com/?sid=18825684
  6. AVMA Guidelines for the euthanasia of animals, 2013 edition. https://www.avma.org/KB/Policies/Pages/Euthanasia-Guidelines.aspx

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Humane sourcing

At Best Friends, the pursuit of our mission to achieve our vision specifically involves ending the killing of companion animals in shelters. While those efforts are currently focused on companion animals, the vision of Best Friends is very simple: "A better world through kindness to animals." Our current guiding principles are also prescriptive about how Best Friends should show compassion to all living creatures. 

Golden Rule: To treat all living things as we ourselves would wish to be treated.

Kindness: To demonstrate compassion and respect for all living creatures.

To that end, as an organization we always attempt to make the most humane choices when those choices are both feasible and appropriate. 

Our partners are companies and organizations whose missions most closely align with ours. We attempt to only use products at our sanctuary and at our regional centers that are not only free from animal products when possible, but also created by companies who do not test on animals. At our events, we strive to serve food that has the least impact possible on animals. Our 401(k) program offers a humane fund, so our employees can feel comfortable that their retirement investments are with companies that align with their values. 

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Non-surgical sterilization

Best Friends believes that prevention of unwanted litters is a primary goal, and any humane method that meets that goal should be seen as a positive step. We accept the cost-effective and relative ease of administration of the currently approved non-surgical methods, and understand that, in some cases, non-surgical sterilization may be preferred (such as high-volume stray animal projects or situations in which cultural or personal biases exist against castration). However, due to some issues in non-surgical sterilization, including the amount of viable semen remaining post-injection for up to four months, we still believe surgical castration is the preferred method of sterilization for the vast majority of cases. 

We welcome and support the advancement of science in the field of animal welfare and non-surgical castration techniques. However, the current advancements are not yet compelling enough to replace surgical castration in most scenarios. 

Background

Globally, cat and dog populations are an ongoing concern. Non-surgical techniques are highly desirable in many areas of the world where funding and trained veterinarians are in short supply. Developed by Ark Sciences, Zeuterin is the latest product to be approved. Zeuterin is an injectable drug containing zinc gluconate that sterilizes male dogs. The drug’s maker claims that sterilization using Zeuterin is painless and that the drug is cheap, easy to administer and removes any potential complications that may arise from anesthesia. The injection, into the center of each testicle, renders the male dog sterile for life through irreversible fibrosis2. 

In the case of Zeuterin, roughly 50 percent of the testosterone remains after administration1 into the testicles. Testosterone in male dogs is believed to be partly responsible for many of the unwanted behaviors — such as marking, roaming, mounting and aggression — that can result in shelter surrenders. Also, with surgical castration, the risk of testicular cancer is completely removed. It is unknown what risk of cancer remains for dogs castrated using non-surgical methods.

References

  1. //www.arksciences.com

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Pet ownership limits

Best Friends stands opposed to any kind of legislation at any level of government that arbitrarily limits the number of pets one person or one household is allowed to care for. The truth is, any limit set is arbitrary, since one dog who is irresponsibly cared for could be a greater nuisance to the community than five dogs who are properly cared for.

Legitimate nuisances, whether it’s noise, waste, smell or otherwise, should be taken seriously and handled through ordinances that cover those types of complaints. Setting limits will only serve to drive otherwise law-abiding citizens away from complying with other mandated laws such as licensing.

Background

Many communities across the United States currently have pet ownership limits on the books. They vary from place to place, but generally keep the allowable number of animals per owner to five or fewer of each species, and often far fewer are allowed. Pet limits do not prevent hoarders from obtaining too many animals, as hoarding is a psychological compulsion1, but they have prevented well-intentioned owners from licensing their pets and they make far too many well-meaning Americans feel like criminals in their own communities.

Despite the myriad enforcement problems, communities often turn to pet limit laws without examining their effectiveness or performing a fiscal impact study. Although legal challenges are rarely seen, in one state (Pennsylvania Commonwealth v. Creighton, PA. Cmwlth., 639 A.2d 1296, 1994), it was declared unconstitutional to limit the number of pets one individual could own.

References

  1. //www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/hoarding-basics/animal-hoarding

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Policy statement for partnerships

Because partnerships may give the appearance of an organizational endorsement of a company, person or organization, our guiding principle is to avoid partnering with any entity whose activities or mission conflict with our own mission and vision:

Mission: To bring about a time when there are No More Homeless Pets

Vision: A better world through kindness to animals

Best Friends Animal Society will not enter into partnerships with companies, persons or organizations engaged in the following:

  • Animal testing: Companies or product brands that test on animals unless such a partnership would demonstrably help move that company away from animal testing, or the specific product brand is no longer tested on animals and its purpose is strongly aligned with Best Friends’ mission.
  • Breeding: Companies whose primary business is the trafficking and/or breeding of animals, or the sale of animals who have been bred for commercial purposes.
  • Animal products: Companies whose purpose is the slaughter or inhumane keeping of animals for the purpose of food, fur, leather or other products.
  • Reputation issues: Companies whose public reputation would adversely impact Best Friends by association. This also includes companies that are part of an inappropriate business category, such as pornography.
  • Weapons: Companies whose primary business is the manufacture, distribution or sale of firearms or other devices, such as traps, that do cause harm to animals.
  • Animals in entertainment: Companies whose primary business is the use of animals for public entertainment, such as rodeos, circuses, horse and dog racing enterprises, and zoos and aquariums.

Types of partnerships that will fall under this policy may include, but are not limited to:

  • Corporate partnerships
  • Celebrity spokespersons or ambassadors
  • Public relations or social media promotional opportunities
  • Advertising relationships
  • Partnerships with other nonprofit organizations

A product or brand will not be disqualified from partnering with Best Friends based solely on the behavior or practices of its parent company.

Two of our guiding principles also offer clarity on why these categories are important for exclusion from partnerships:

Golden Rule: To treat all living things as we ourselves would wish to be treated.

Kindness: To demonstrate compassion and respect for all living creatures.

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Pregnant spays

Best Friends believes that, ideally, animals determined to be pregnant should be placed in foster care through shelter volunteer networks or by placement with rescue organizations until the offspring are old enough to be fixed and placed for adoption. In circumstances with sufficient resources available for the number of animals cared for, late-term dogs and cats may be sequestered until their pups or kittens are whelped and weaned.

In circumstances that do not have the luxury of available space and if a foster home is not available, those responsible for making such decisions must act to save the most lives possible with the resources at hand. Frequently, the decision will involve balancing the needs of previously born, living neonatal kittens and puppies already in the sheltering system on the one hand with the needs of fetal animals on the other. In these cases, Best Friends prioritizes the care of those already born and will spay pregnant animals.

Feral cats in our care are fixed no matter what the status of their pregnancy is. Because of their behavioral challenges, we simply cannot properly examine feral cats until after they’ve been anesthetized, and feral mothers are likely to ignore or kill kittens born into the threatening captive environment.

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Rescue access to shelter animals

For a community to reach no-kill status, it is important that key stakeholders work together toward the common goal of saving lives. For that to happen, shelters and rescue groups must be willing to cooperate to increase lifesaving of healthy and treatable animals. Successful collaboration requires all parties to act with integrity and professionalism. 

Shelter access is a critical component of collaboration between the shelter and the community. Rescue organizations should be allowed to pull animals who would fail to thrive in a shelter setting for care and placement. We also believe that rescue organizations should be offered unfettered access to healthy or treatable animals who are scheduled to be killed. 

No animal shelter should be allowed to override a community’s humane values by denying shelter access. When municipal shelters are preventing lifesaving work from taking place, legislative action may be required. 

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Responsible pet ownership

Pets are part of the family, and we believe they should be treated as such. Everyone who cares for a pet has the ultimate responsibility to lead by example and ensure that the animal they care for is well-behaved and appropriately managed.

It is also the responsibility of every owner to ensure that their pet is sterilized, microchipped and wearing an identification tag. This is especially critical for cats who are allowed outdoors, because owned cats are often killed in shelters long before they can be reunited with their owners. Most cats who are brought into the shelter environment are incredibly frightened, so they are mistaken for feral cats and killed long before a hold period has expired. 

Other considerations to ensure that you’re being a responsible pet owner include:

  • Choose the right animal for you and your family. Consider your living situation, budget and time constraints, and ensure that the pet you choose has the right energy level for your family.
  • Appropriately budget the time and money necessary for proper care. Pets are both a time and financial commitment and they deserve lifetime care.
  • Responsibly care for your pet at home, in cars, outside and everywhere.
  • Make sure your pet is fixed and properly vaccinated. Consider pet insurance to ensure that your pet has medical care whenever necessary.
  • Never allow your animal to be a nuisance. Think of your pet as an ambassador at all times; well-trained pets are critical for harmony within communities.
  • Take the time to create a plan to ensure that your pet will be cared for during unexpected life events, such as a natural disaster or home fire.
  • Consider setting up a formal arrangement for your pet’s well-being in the event that something happens to you. A relative or friend could take your pet; some organizations (including Best Friends) offer lifetime care programs. Appropriate research should be conducted to understand the costs and details associated with lifetime care programs.

We believe ideally that all owned cats belong safely indoors. Indoor cats can easily receive all the exercise and stimulation they require to be happy and healthy while safely indoors, which also keeps them away from wildlife. 

If you would like to offer your cat a taste of the outdoors, there are accommodations you can make that minimize risks to both cats and wildlife. Walking your cat on a leash is a growing trend, and something that we do with some of the cats who live at Best Friends. A cattery or catio (an enclosed space attached to the exterior of a building that allows cats to be outside) or another form of commercially available cat containment can be effective ways to offer your cat some fresh air while keeping him/her safely confined.

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The role of coalitions in achieving no-kill

Since the founding of Best Friends, one of the cornerstones of our work has been collaborating with other organizations, with the belief that by working together, we can achieve more for the animals. Today, that belief remains as strong as ever, evidenced by our coalition-based work in Utah via our NKUT (No-Kill Utah) initiative and in Los Angeles via our NKLA (No-Kill Los Angeles) initiative, and through our Best Friends Network, comprising more than 1,900 groups around the country all working toward the same lifesaving goal.   

By sharing the common belief that animals shouldn’t be killed in shelters when alternatives exist to save them, we can work together toward the ultimate goal of ending that killing. 

Since Best Friends’ objective is to stop the killing of dogs and cats in shelters, a central aspect of Best Friends’ strategy for bringing communities to no-kill is establishing and encouraging partnerships between shelters and rescue organizations that embrace no-kill. Coalitions that include both shelters and no-kill organizations can focus the efforts of both more effectively.

Effective, strategic coalitions strengthen the work of everyone already working to save lives in a variety of ways. For example:

  • More efficient use of resources
  • Targeting work and programs based on community need
  • Allowing organizations to work to their strengths
  • Unified reporting results, metrics and learnings
  • Greater clarity of messaging to the public
  • Enhanced community ownership of no-kill goals
  • Enhanced sustainability of no-kill accomplishments over time

Disagreements on how to achieve the shared no-kill goal will occur, of course, but for a coalition or collaboration to remain strong, those disagreements should be handled with mutual respect, integrity and honesty.

Our co-founder and current CEO, Gregory Castle, wrote this handy guide on building a successful coalition.

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What is a no-kill community?

As the leader of the no-kill movement, Best Friends Animal Society is committed to ending the killing of pets in shelters. Achieving no-kill is not only possible, it has already happened in communities both large and small, urban and rural, across the nation.

At Best Friends, we believe the no-kill philosophy is underpinned by one simple fact: Every healthy or treatable animal should be saved. That belief is also the main driver for our call to action, Save Them All®. In our view, for a community to be considered truly no-kill, it means that no healthy or treatable animal is killed. The community’s focus should be on saving as many lives as possible through positive outcomes (adoption, transfer to rescue groups, etc.), not solely on reducing the killing to achieve a numerical goal.

However, we also understand the importance of having a quantitative benchmark, as it gives communities a goal to aim for and generates accountability for no-kill program efforts. Generally, the no-kill threshold for a community is considered to be 90 percent. That means the shelter (or shelters), private organizations, SPCAs and/or humane societies handling the animal control intake and surrenders must be collectively saving 90 percent or more of the animals who come through the system. 

It is important to note that a 90 percent save rate is not necessarily defined as no-kill. This is because a community with a 90 percent save rate could still be killing animals who are not cases of true euthanasia. It is also possible that the opposite could be true — that a given community may achieve no-kill even if the save rate isn’t 90 percent. Each community is different, and data must be tracked efficiently, comprehensively and accurately in order for the outcomes of animals to be understood.

Definitions

Healthy or treatable animals: This segment of the population includes animals who are fully healthy, and friendly to both humans and other animals. It also includes animals with behavioral and medical issues that are correctable or manageable, such as*:

  • Ringworm
  • Upper respiratory infection
  • Mange
  • Need for amputation
  • Resource guarding
  • Heartworm
  • Ear Infections
  • Aggression issues
  • Dental disease
  • Urinary tract infections

*Please note that this list is just a small sample of the kinds of manageable conditions that should be treated.

Unhealthy/untreatable animals: This category includes animals with severe behavioral and medical issues who are irremediably suffering with no possibility of a positive outcome.

Euthanasia: Defined purely as an act of mercy, euthanasia should be reserved for animals who are in irredeemable medical situations, or whose behavior obstacles make them unsuitable for rehabilitation. Euthanasia should be reserved solely for ending the suffering of an animal who has experienced serious and irreversible reduction in his/her quality of life.

Killing: The definition of killing is ending the life of an animal who is healthy or treatable (either medically or behaviorally) as a means of creating space for incoming animals in a shelter or for other considerations. 

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Mandatory spay/neuter

While on the surface mandatory spay/neuter laws seem like common sense, they are actually counter-productive to what is needed to achieve no-kill. Best Friends is opposed to mandatory spay and neuter laws. These laws do nothing to promote responsible ownership; in fact, they often do the opposite and punish pet owners who want to do the right thing and fix their pet, but are financially unable. There are many communities already saving more than 90 percent of the animals that come through the local shelter without mandatory spay and neuter laws in place.

We know that the sterilization of pets is a crucial piece of the no kill solution and Best Friends not only supports, but also operates spay and neuter programs across the country to control the pet population.

Many studies1 have shown that the majority of pet owners have the desire to fix their pet(s), it is the lack of available and financially viable options that prevent them from doing so. Underfunded mandatory spay neuter laws punish pet owners and ultimately lead to higher shelter intake numbers and more pets killed.

Best Friends stands firmly against mandatory spay and neuter unless three critical conditions can be met and adequately funded:

  1. Affordability of surgery, up to and including free options (for low-income pet owners).
  2. Surgery centers that are easily accessible for all residents.
  3. Appropriate communication about the available options for surgeries before any ordinance enforcement takes place.

Mandatory spay and neuter programs are punitive against the very people they often are designed to target: the underprivileged. Their pets might be taken from them and ultimately mandatory spay neuter laws result in more animals dying in shelters. So those that cannot afford the surgery are punished, even if they are willing to comply. The public wants to fix their pets, the trick is to offer the services in the easiest, least punitive way possible.

On top of it all, there is very little proof that the cities that have enacted these laws have reaped the hypothesised benefits. Shelter intake numbers are not significantly lowered, and in places such as Las Vegas, early data showed that the reverse was actually true2.

Background

Across the nation there are several mandatory spay neuter laws currently in place. There has never been a statewide spay/neuter law, (Rhode Island has a law that demands all cats be sterilized, with a few exceptions), but local municipalities have enacted such ordinances. The city of Los Angeles enacted such a law in 2008, and Dallas, Las Vegas and Memphis also have a law on the books.

While the language in the ordinances differ, they generally follow a similar pattern. The requirement is for a dog and/or to be sterilized or the owner will face a consequence, usually in the form of a fine. Fines generally grow in size with each offense. Generally dogs and cats under a certain age are exempt, and a veterinarian could also declare your pet to be absolved due to a medical issue. Animal fanciers often have a way to purchase some kind of breeders permit which allows them a certain number of unfixed animals in their care.

References

  1. Petsmart Charities, Ipsos Marketing survey 2012
  2. //btoellner.typepad.com/kcdogblog/2011/08/las-vegas-mandatory-spayneuter-year-1.html

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Giving pets as gifts or prizes

Each holiday season, stories hit the media that feature warnings to the public about the dangers of giving pets as gifts. However, studies show1 that pets given as gifts are not any more likely to be returned, nor are they are any less loved than animals adopted through more traditional means. It is Best Friends position that shelters and rescue groups should reconsider policies in place that expressly prohibit giving pets as gifts. Turning away someone interested in adopting a pet for a gift, likely will mean they will turn to any other avenue (internet, pet store, classifieds, etc.) to obtain the pet, which would likely support a commercial breeding operation and an unfixed pet. It is understandable to have concerns over allowing someone to adopt on behalf of a third party.

We suggest the following adoption practices to ensure a safe adoption without being excessively restrictive.

  1. Pets as gifts within a family – It’s quite common for parents to acquire a pet for a child or children as a holiday gift. In such situations the adoption counselor should help the parents understand that they must be the responsible parties in ensuring that the pet is well cared for, even if their intention is for the children to be the primary caregiver.
  2. Pets as gifts to non-family members – In such instances, we recommend a pre-paid “adoption gift certificate” to be redeemed by the recipient. This ensures that the individual can select the pet that they connect with and adoption counselors can speak directly with the responsible party.
  3. Pets as prizes in charity raffles or auctions – When a pet is offered as an auction prize, we do not believe live animals should be involved. This again is an appropriate time to use an “adoption gift certificate” that would be given to the winner.

In all of these cases, adoption staff should always complete their due diligence on potential adopters, and potential adopters should be informed that an adoption certificate will only be redeemed if they fulfill adoption requirements.

Best Friends believes any time someone is considering bringing an animal into a home, they should be mindful of the commitment and ensure that thought is given to what type of pet will be best for the family and lifestyle. The same applies here, a potential adopter should very carefully consider the home the pet will be living in. You can read our tips on our resource, “Choosing a pet.” In addition, shelters and rescue organizations should continue to do their due diligence on potential adopters.

References

  1. //www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/3/4/995/pdf (download)

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The role of spay/neuter in achieving no-kill

Best Friends believes in sterilization as a method of population control for domesticated animals. With millions of animals being born every year, it is vital that only in cases where it is medically advisable to not perform the surgery. Animals in the care of a highly responsible breeder may also not be considered for surgery.

For a community to reach and sustain no-kill status, spay/neuter surgeries should be made available widely. In communities such as Los Angeles, or the state of Utah, where Best Friends has established community programs, spay/neuter is an essential part of achieving sustainable life saving. We also take great care to deploy targeted programs to low-income neighborhoods which often have inadequate veterinary resources. This ensures that the money and effort goes to the areas of a community that need it the most. Our in-house research and analytics team has developed a city assessment plan that we deploy in every community we work in. The assessment determines where the need is greatest and allows the on-the-ground teams to make sure their work is having the biggest impact.

Best Friends is opposed to mandatory spay/neuter laws. You can read more in our Mandatory spay/neuter position statement.

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Return-to-field programs (RTF)

It’s estimated that nearly three-quarters of cats who enter our nation’s animal shelters each year don’t make it out alive. Most are free-roaming “community cats,” many of whom are not socialized to people and are at home in their environment. According to industry sources, only about 2 to 5 percent of pet cats are reunited with their guardians through the shelter system1,2. That’s why Best Friends supports return-to-field programs (sometimes also know as shelter-based trap-neuter-return), which allow for healthy cats entering shelters and lacking identification to be sterilized, vaccinated, ear-tipped and returned to where they were found. Such programs allow owned cats to make their way back home, and has been demonstrated to reduce3,4 the number of community cats overall.

Whenever possible, friendly cats and kittens are placed into an adoption program; if, however, there is no opportunity for adoption, then these cats (assuming they are healthy) should be included in a shelter’s RTF program. In addition to “pulling friendlies” for adoption, the best RTF programs consider each stray cat surrendered to a shelter as a likely indicator that additional cats are living in the same area, and follow up with door-to-door canvassing. And to be most effective at reducing the overall population of community cats, an RTF must also work closely with community-based trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs. As our own partnership* programs have demonstrated, this holistic approach has been a key to successfully reducing feline intake and shelter deaths. For example:

  • In 2014, about 6,000 cats and kittens entered Albuquerque’s shelter system. That’s 39 percent fewer cats and kittens than in 2011, prior to the program’s start. And the number of cats and kittens who died decreased by 83 percent, from more than 3,500 in 2011 to 608 in 2014.
  • The number of cats who died in San Antonio’s municipal shelter during 2014 was 77 percent lower than in 2011, when more than 4,300 cats and kittens lost their lives.
  • In 2014, 26 percent fewer kittens under four months of age entered the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS), compared to 2012. This is a strong indicator that the number of outdoor cats breeding in these communities is being reduced significantly.

*Partnerships between PetSmart Charities and Best Friends along with Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department, San Antonio Animal Care Services, and BARCS.

Literature Cited

1. Weiss, E., M. Slater, and L. Lord, Frequency of Lost Dogs and Cats in the United States and the Methods Used to Locate Them. Animals, 2012. 2(2): p. 301–315.
2. Lord, L.K., et al., Search and identification methods that owners use to find a lost cat. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 2007. 230(2): p. 217–220.
3. Nutter, F.B., Evaluation of a Trap-Neuter-Return Management Program for Feral Cat Colonies: Population Dynamics, Home Ranges, and Potentially Zoonotic Diseases, in Comparative Biomedical Department 2005, North Carolina State University: Raleigh, NC. p. 224.
4. Natoli, E., et al., Management of feral domestic cats in the urban environment of Rome (Italy). Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 2006. 77(3-4): p. 180–185.

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Trap-neuter-return

Best Friends Animal Society endorses and practices trap-neuter-return (TNR) as the most humane and effective way to manage community cats. Killing, by contrast, is simply a revolving door. Any cat removed from a colony and killed will likely be replaced by another.

Background

While euthanizing an irremediably suffering animal is an act of kindness, killing healthy free-roaming cats, when the life-saving alternative of trap-neuter-return exists, is simply killing - which is the highest form of cruelty. TNR is the only method that demonstrates a reasonable chance of controlling community cat populations. Done properly, TNR stabilizes, and ultimately lowers, cat colony size, 1, 2, 3 and reduces or eliminates many of the undesirable behavior of intact cats, such as fighting for mates and territory, noise, and spraying.4, 5

Under standard TNR practice community cats are humanely trapped, evaluated and sterilized by a licensed veterinarian, vaccinated against rabies and distemper and then returned to their original habitat. The tip of one ear is often clipped at the time of sterilization surgery, as this is the universally recognized indicator that a community cat has been sterilized. Often, a colony caregiver provides food in a safe location, shelter as appropriate, and routinely observes the health of colony cats. If new cats join the colony, they are also trapped, sterilized, vaccinated and returned.

Whatever ills one might associate (rightly or wrongly) with free roaming cats — whether public health concerns, wildlife predation, or anything else — it’s clear that these problems cannot be addressed in a comprehensive manner without the stabilization and eventual reduction in the level of the community cat population. As an examination of the available alternatives makes clear, TNR is the only humane and most effective way to manage community cats. History has taught us that trap-and-kill results in nothing but constant turnover — new feline faces, but no reduction in numbers. For this reason, municipal shelters are now beginning to implement their own large-scale, targeted TNR programs for eligible cats entering the shelter system. To most effectively reduce the population of community cats, these return-to-field programs operate in conjunction with community-based TNR programs.

Literature cited

1. Nutter, F.B., Evaluation of a Trap-Neuter-Return Management Program for Feral Cat Colonies: Population Dynamics, Home Ranges, and Potentially Zoonotic Diseases, in Comparative Biomedical Department 2005, North Carolina State University: Raleigh, NC. p. 224.
2. Natoli, E., et al., Management of feral domestic cats in the urban environment of Rome (Italy). Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 2006. 77(3-4): p. 180–185.
3. Levy, J.K., D.W. Gale, and L.A. Gale, Evaluation of the effect of a long-term trap-neuter-return and adoption program on a free-roaming cat population. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 2003. 222(1): p. 42–46.
4. Hughes, K.L., M.R. Slater, and L. Haller, The Effects of Implementing a Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Program in a Florida County Animal Control Service. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 2002. 5(4): p. 285–298
5. Hughes, K.L. and M.R. Slater, Implementation of a Feral Cat Management Program on a University Campus. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 2002. 5(1): p. 15–28.

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