Anti no-kill statement issued by the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association
May 2 addendum below
Last week, the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) released a statement opposing the no-kill movement, while advocating for socially conscious animal communities.
It should be noted that the CVMA is a professional veterinary trade group and should not be confused with the Colorado State Board of Veterinary Medicine, which is the state veterinary practice regulatory agency.
The commitments to animal welfare outlined by the CVMA in describing such a community are laudable. In fact, they are in alignment with the mission of Best Friends Animal Society.
Who would argue with this excerpt from the CVMA statement?
- Ensure every unwanted or homeless pet has a safe place to go for shelter and care
- Place every healthy and safe animal
- Assess the medical and behavioral needs of homeless animals and ensure these needs are thoughtfully addressed
- Align shelter policy with the needs of the community
- Alleviate suffering and make appropriate euthanasia decisions
- Consider the health and wellness of animals for each community when transferring animals
- Enhance the human-animal bond through thoughtful placements and post-adoption support
- Foster a culture of transparency, ethical decision-making, mutual respect, continual learning, and collaboration
However, as the national leader of the no-kill movement, we strongly disagree with the CVMA’s characterization of no-kill communities as different from this. We would also add to that list a commitment to saving the life of every treatable animal.
Some background: In February 2018, the city of Pueblo, Colorado, passed the Pueblo Animal Protection Act (PAPA), which amounted to a local ordinance mandating an immediate jump to no-kill performance metrics (90% save rate) and requiring a much higher bar for justifying euthanasia than previously allowed.
During the lead-up to the passage of PAPA, Best Friends had strongly recommended to the Colorado no-kill advocates that rather than push for an ordinance that mandates unenforceable performance, they should push for a no-kill resolution — a statement of official intent that would allow the no-kill advocates and the general public to hold the operators to an official community goal with the expectation of implementing no-kill policies and programs and improving save rates. Our advice was not taken, and PAPA was made into law.
Pueblo Animal Services’ shelter operator at the time, the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region (HSPPR), based in Colorado Springs, opposed the ordinance. The timing was such that the city’s contract with HSPPR was expiring at the end of 2018. Not being willing to comply with Pueblo’s ordinance, HSPPR chose not to respond to the city’s request for proposal* for a new contract, thus leaving Pueblo without its longtime shelter operator.
Having no other options, the city awarded its contract to a local animal organization, which inherited the city-owned shelter building but little else in terms of resources. Without the private funds that HSPPR provided to the community of Pueblo, and only the city-funded staffing positions, the new operation, known as Community Animal Services of Pueblo (CASP), was not able to meet the community demand.
Compounding their challenges was the fact that a number of animal welfare organizations in the region refused to assist CASP in their work because Pueblo had chosen to describe itself as no-kill.
At the end of March, CASP voluntarily surrendered its license to operate the shelter following a failed Pet Animal Care Facilities Act (PACFA) inspection and the deaths of a number of animals who died in care because of substandard operations and veterinary neglect.
The conditions described in the PACFA inspection report on CASP are unacceptable by any standard, but CVMA’s references to the circumstances that unfolded in Pueblo as being the fault of the no-kill movement are likewise unacceptable.
The failure of a well-intentioned but under-resourced, poorly executed no-kill effort is worth assessing to ensure that those mistakes are not repeated. However, cherry-picking Pueblo’s experience to characterize a movement is misleading and unworthy of the CVMA if it is to be taken as a serious veterinary advocacy organization.
There are thousands of communities in the U.S. that currently meet the no-kill benchmark of a save rate of 90% or higher, and many more are nearly no-kill, yet the CVMA selectively chose to make their case against no-kill based on a poorly executed undertaking in a small city in Colorado. Likewise, the policies that the CVMA attributes to the no-kill movement bear no relationship to the policies and practices advocated by Best Friends or other no-kill communities that we are aware of.
As described by the CVMA, the characteristics of socially conscious animal communities are currently found in no-kill communities, with the important distinction that in truly no-kill environments, animals are not killed for lack of shelter space. This is achieved through strong collaboration among all stakeholders. This collaboration must exist among the shelter, the policy makers, the funders, the residents of the community and, most important, a coalition of all animal welfare organizations in the area.
Best Friends Animal Society is focused on providing resources and training that bring these stakeholders into alignment around common goals for pets in their communities.
If your focus is to save the lives of homeless pets, we want to work with you. Colorado is, in fact, one of the highest-performing states when analyzing shelter save rates and enforced standards of care. It is unfortunate that some of the organizations responsible for these great results have chosen to attempt to marginalize, often through formal policy, any animal welfare group that chooses to associate with the term “no-kill.”
Similarly, those of us who advocate for the no-kill movement, and believe in its sustainability, should not push policy requirements without a plan and resources to achieve them.
I hope we can use this moment as an opportunity for greater understanding and collaboration. We extend an invitation to the CVMA to start a dialogue, and to shelters and animal welfare agencies throughout Colorado.
No-kill is a community ethic that simply strives to save all the truly saveable shelter animals. It does not (when implemented properly) increase animal suffering or threaten public health.
No-kill tenets are socially conscious, and they challenge us to continue to find ways to improve to create safe and humane communities.
We are honest and transparent in our goals. We want to end the needless killing of pets in shelters in this country and we are also committed to their health, care and enrichment while in shelters and while in their communities.
It is a shame that such a divide is being created between people who largely share so many common interests. We extend the hand of friendship to the CVMA, and to shelters and animal welfare agencies throughout Colorado.
For Colorado, its people and its pets, let’s work together to bring about a time when there are no more homeless pets.
* Since publication, we've learned that HSPPR did respond to the RFP. However, its bid was not accepted.
Added on 5/2/19:
Subsequent to the publication of this blog, Jan McHugh-Smith, CEO of HSPPR reached out to us with her concerns that her organization’s involvement in Pueblo following the passage of PAPA was not accurately conveyed. Thank you, Jan for reaching out and for your constructive engagement on this issue.
Here are Jan’s comments clarifying HSPPR’s role.
- HSPPR did not support the Pueblo Animal Protection Act because it was poorly written, set unrealistic expectations for the shelter and conflicted with local and State law. HSPPR served [the Pueblo] community for 16 years with significant improvement in the number of lives saved and decreases in animals entering the shelter. This ordinance created great strife and conflict in the Pueblo Community, and polarized the community.
- HSPPR responded to the RFP submitting bids with and without PAPA as requested by the City and County of Pueblo. In 2018, the City and County paid $1,750,000 for sheltering and animal control services in Pueblo. HSPPR’s bids were higher than the PAWS for Life bid.
- For 40 years, PAWS for Life operated a private, No Kill shelter in the City of Pueblo. They built a shelter in 1981 supported by private Pueblo donations, events, and it had a strong volunteer program. PAWS submitted an RFP bid for $1,700,000 to operate in 2019. In their qualifications, they described having partnerships with many other agencies and rescues who could support transfers and animal control work.
- HSPPR offered to help with animal transfers but were told they didn’t need any help. They were invited to attend a meeting with the Front Range shelters to create new partnerships, but they didn’t attend.
NB - It is important to remember that the subject of the blog is, in fact, the CVMA’s statement on no-kill. We regret detracting from that principle point by opening up debate about the facts surrounding the events in Pueblo by posting inaccurate information.