Should we use the term No Kill?

May 21st, 2019

To some people, No Kill means saving 90% of pets who enter a shelter. Others think it means only saving pets considered ‘treatable’ and ‘healthy,’ or that only closed-admission shelters can be No Kill. Some critics of the term argue that it’s so misunderstood we should stop using it altogether. But is getting rid of the term ‘No Kill’ really the best solution?

The leaders who originally defined and embraced this term started a decades-long, successful social movement guided by the core belief that animals’ lives are worth saving. The philosophy and practices of No Kill are responsible for the tremendous strides that have been made to end the needless killing of cats and dogs in animal shelters. Today, the vast majority of the public say they want the shelters in their communities to be No Kill. So, what if rather than dumping the words, we embrace them all over again and work to create an expanded definition that includes every animal?

No Kill is the belief and practice that every pet who enters a shelter should receive urgent, individualized treatment and care, with the goal of a live outcome.

Picture an emergency room at a human hospital. People come in for all sorts of reasons, without an appointment and without notice. Some have bad flu, others have suffered a critical, life-threatening injury, or have had a stroke or heart attack. In a hospital, every person who enters is given individual, lifesaving attention. Patients are triaged and the most serious medical emergencies are seen immediately, less critical patients receive supportive care from nursing staff and even less critical patients wait until the staff is available.

In a human hospital, not everyone will survive, but each patient is treated with the same lifesaving efforts, whether they are a tiny baby or a 95-year-old adult. Hospitals strive to become better and better and continuously improve their operations and implement new programs and protocols. Hospitals don’t make decisions based on time, space or the probability of lifesaving; they treat every life with the hope that the patient will leave alive and view every life lost as something to be investigated in an effort to improve care.

Animal shelters are a lot more like hospitals than you may think. No Kill shelters operate using the same philosophy as a hospital, treating every animal with lifesaving efforts in hopes that the animal will leave alive. Animals who come into shelters face the same sorts of life-threatening medical problems that people do. Tragedies, even with our best efforts, will occur and a small number of animals will lose their lives. No Kill shelters embrace a lifesaving ethic where every animal life in their care whether a one-day-old kitten or a 16-year-old dog is worth saving.

We believe No Kill is here to stay. Rather than debate the multiple, possible meanings of this term, we think it is necessary to expand its definition so it includes, without question, every single animal in our care. We aren’t unrealistic. We recognize that a tiny percentage of pets, in even No Kill shelters, may face euthanasia or killing either because they are suffering without hope of recovery, or because they pose an immediate threat to public safety and are without sanctuary and rehabilitation options to accommodate them.

Getting to No Kill means reaching to become a shelter that saves the lives of all the animals in our care. As No Kill advocates, leaders and workers in shelters, it’s our job to explain to our communities exactly what we mean when we say No Kill: Every single animal and nothing less.


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