PAWS Chicago is part of a revolution—a No Kill revolution—that started in San Francisco in 1994 and is now sweeping across the nation.
This No Kill movement, still in its infancy, has challenged the methods of traditional animal sheltering, which for centuries has involved managing pet overpopulation by killing the surplus of homeless pets. Dedicated to the principle of valuing each individual animal while simultaneously focusing on big picture strategic solutions, the No Kill method is expanding its role in cities and counties across America.
Here is the story of animal sheltering and the rise of No Kill, with articles unraveling the differences between traditional and No Kill sheltering methods. The public is now empowered to require the agencies they support to offer life, not death, to the defenseless cats, dogs, puppies, and kittens who are entrusted to their care.
The History of Sheltering
In the second half of the nineteenth century, humane societies began to take over the killing of stray and unwanted populations of cats and dogs. They wanted to eradicate the cruel methods of animal control at the time, which commonly resorted to clubbing, shooting, or drowning companion animals to death. But when private shelters accept the role of killing, who is to advocate for life?
For more than a century, traditional humane societies have been entrenched in the “cage and kill” philosophy, taking in all animals and killing the surplus. Because of the history of cruel methods of animal control, these traditional shelters have accepted death as a humane alternative for homeless cats and dogs. For more than 100 years, these traditional methods did little to eliminate pet overpopulation.
For example, despite the existence of traditional shelters in Chicago for more than a century, the number of homeless pets killed in 1997 was a staggering 42,561. If traditional methods worked, pet overpopulation would not continue to plague our country’s homeless pets. In contrast, since PAWS Chicago took the No Kill message public with Angels with Tails in 1998, and with the help of all the wonderful Chicagoans who have rallied to help homeless pets, the killing has been reduced by more than half with 19,288 pets euthanized in 2008.
Many shelters and communities continue to kill homeless cats and dogs, rather than work to change the ineffective status quo. But the No Kill tide has already begun to swell.
The Advent of No Kill
With the unfortunate reality that an ever increasing number of homeless dogs and cats were put to death, changing the direction of the tide was a huge undertaking. It would take vision, leadership, direction, and proof that lifesaving methods work to change the methodology of traditional sheltering. As Executive Director of the San Francisco ASPCA, Richard Avanzino brought all of the necessary ingredients together in San Francisco, and by 1994 he had built the first No Kill city. No longer could humane societies claim the en masse killing of homeless dogs and cats was necessary. Through innovative programs, proactive adoptions, and many years of focused, targeted spay/ neuter, San Francisco created a progressive No Kill model that saves all animals; the only warranted euthanasia is for animals who are irremediably suffering, or those who are vicious and pose a threat to the public.
But despite San Francisco’s proven track record of saving—not killing—homeless animals, many shelters and communities have not yet embraced the No Kill model. Many shelters and communities continue to kill homeless cats and dogs, rather than work to change the ineffective status quo. But the No Kill tide has already begun to swell.