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The no-kill deniers

Every year, with the seasonal regularity of the swallows returning to Capistrano, when the state of Virginia publishes its annual report on Virginia animal shelter statistics, there is a flock of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) critics who decry the well-known and non-news fact that PETA kills around 90% of the animals that they take into their state-licensed “shelter.” Most people are shocked when they first encounter this jarring statistic, but PETA and founder Ingrid Newkirk are unabashed in their assertion that killing shelter pets – regardless of their potential for re-homing or rehabilitation – is a virtue, not a vice.

It seems that PETA actually relishes the annual fight because it usually garners them rebuttal space in one or another media outlet to defend their actions and to bash no-kill. This year’s cycle began in April and has continued in sporadic bursts that eventually made it to coverage in the New York Times and most recently in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

In a piece published yesterday in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, titled “No-kill is no answer,” Ingrid Newkirk recycles a series of falsehoods that suggest she has not been paying attention to the no-kill movement – the most dynamic revolution in social change and animal welfare since she herself brought the plight of farm, fur and laboratory animals to national attention three decades ago. Regardless of whether by design or out of ignorance, the key points of Ms. Newkirk’s rant against the no-kill movement are just wrong as a matter of fact and demonstrable results.

So, let me set the record straight:

  1. No-kill means achieving a community-wide status where animals are not killed as a method of population control or to make space for other animals. Rather the number of animals entering a given system is reduced through economically targeted free and low-cost spay/neuter services, shelter surrender intervention programs, adoption follow-up programs, and progressive community cat programs. At the same time, the number of animals leaving the system is maximized through high-volume adoption strategies, collaboration with rescue partners, and the transfer of animals to agencies in communities with a complementary high demand for the types of animals likely to be killed in the system – for example, small dogs from Southern California shelters who are snapped up in other cities where small dogs are not common in shelters or rescues and are otherwise only available from breeders or pet stores. The idea that there simply aren’t enough homes for them all is outdated. According to Maddie’s Fund, 17 million Americans who want to adopt a companion animal into their home each year are undecided about where their next pet will come from. With an estimated 4 million animals dying in shelters, the math is pretty simple: If just a fraction of those 17 million could easily access and chose to adopt a shelter pet, the nation would indeed be no-kill.

  2. A no-kill community must include the open-admission municipal shelter(s). And, while there may be any number of small or large limited-admission shelters, their collective responsibility is to help ensure that the community’s open-admission shelter has the resources and partners to not resort to killing for space. Many open-admission shelters support no-kill and commit to working collaboratively with others in the community in order to achieve it.

  3. No-kill does not mean that animals who are irremediably suffering from injury, disease or age-related infirmities are denied the deliverance of legitimately employed euthanasia. The same applies for animals who are too dangerously aggressive to be safely adopted to the public and for which no safe and humane management option exists.

  4. No-kill does not foster hoarding. Hoarding is a mental disorder that pre-dates the no-kill movement. Perhaps one contributing factor to hoarding is the carnage that takes place in high-kill shelters that motivates individuals with a hoarding mentality to gather up as many animals as possible rather than see them killed in a shelter.


But, of course, PETA is fully cognizant of this. After all, there is a prime example of no-kill success just 170 miles up the I-64 from PETA’s Norfolk, Virginia, headquarters in Charlottesville, where the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA has led that community to no-kill and sustained it over a period of years. And they are not alone. Over 100 communities across the country, including 10 here in Utah, are no-kill. Reno, Nevada, along with the entirety of Washoe County, Nevada, has achieved no-kill. Salt Lake County Animal Services and many other U.S. communities are on the brink. Austin, Texas, is no-kill, and Los Angeles is on track to realize that vision within the next few years. The viability of no-kill was demonstrated conclusively 20 years ago in San Francisco under the leadership of Rich Avanzino. These are just a few examples.

No-kill is real, and it works. Why PETA persists in this denial is fodder for an organizational psychologist. I won’t speculate, however. PETA’s misrepresentations needed to be addressed.
Francis Battista, Co-founder, Best Friends Animal Society Francis Battista
Co-founder
Best Friends Animal Society