March 5, 2020

No-Kill: A Brilliant Success and a Source of Suffering

Late last fall, the OHS chief veterinarian sent me an article from the Veterinary Information Network that she subscribes to entitled, “Has the no-kill movement increased animal suffering?” It is an interesting piece written by two veterinarians, and if you have the time, it is worth a read.  

The article points to some of the unintended negative consequences and fallacies of the no-kill movement, while identifying the very real progress made as a result of its efforts.

Personally, I dislike the term “no-kill” and I won’t use it even though, by one of the common measures — not euthanizing healthy, behaviourally-sound animals — the OHS has long qualified. The term is very divisive and pits people and groups with a common commitment to helping animals into two false camps. It is also very misleading, as it implies “no euthanasia” — a false, and frankly absurd, suggestion. Anyone who has had a pet knows, there is a time where you must euthanize or cause your beloved pet prolonged agony. And frankly, failure to euthanize in this circumstance would likely land you in front of a judge.

Another measure sometimes used for no-kill is a 90 percent live release rate. The article points out some of the problems with an arbitrarily-set percentage of animals that will be returned home, adopted or transferred. Without knowing what animals will come into your care, how sick or how aggressive they may be, setting an arbitrary 90 percent benchmark is not reasonable. After all, if all of the pets are healthy, then shouldn’t it be 100 percent?  But animals enter shelters for many reasons, and shelters that take sick, injured and aggressive animals are going to have to euthanize more than those that cherry-pick.

Trying to hit an arbitrary target, set elsewhere by others, has led some shelters and groups to implement practices that both increase animal suffering and the pain of their adopters. Adopting out sick or very aggressive animals, risky transfers to unknown destinations, and adopting animals to unacceptable homes are examples.

I truly believe the no-kill movement has done a great deal of good for animal welfare and animals. Its greatest achievement was to uncover the complacency of municipalities to the euthanasia of millions of pets under the guise of population control. Many strategies that were developed to overcome that horrible reality — at least those that were well-thought-out and ethical — have made valuable contributions to our practices in animal sheltering and animal welfare. The result clearly has been lives saved.

But the next phase needs to be a thorough examination of the unintended consequences that have led to increased suffering for animals, adopters and communities.

Bruce Roney
President & CEO