News Item | PAWS Chicago

No Kill Revolution

Nov 01, 2010

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 managed 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, outlining the future for homeless pets.

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 18,475 pets euthanized in 2009.

The Advent of No Kill 

With the entire animal welfare system designed to kill the ever-increasing number of homeless dogs and cats, 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. 

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.


The No Kill Model 

Today, PAWS Chicago is leading the way as a national model in No Kill sheltering, but there are important distinct roles for government and private shelters in building No Kill communities. 

How a Model No Kill Community Works. In a model No Kill city, all healthy and treatable animals are saved. Euthanasia is reserved only for dogs or cats who are hopelessly sick or injured, or dogs who are vicious and therefore pose a real and immediate threat to public safety. 

Spay/Neuter clinics and spay/neuter vans make the service readily available and affordable, or free, for pets of low-income families. Spay/ Neuter is essential to managing the population of unwanted pets, greatly reducing the volume of animals entering shelters and ultimately enabling all homeless animals to find homes. 

Private Shelters in a No Kill Community. In a model No Kill community, all private shelters manage their admissions much like human services do, taking in only as many pets as they can care for with all of their donor dollars going to saving, not ending, lives. This managed admissions approach works with each case individually so that his or her needs are met. 

The reality is that every institution has a capacity limit. If a hospital or domestic violence shelter has only 1,000 beds, they will not take in 2,000 people and kill the excess. Much like their human counterparts, a No Kill shelter triages pets to take in crisis care and the neediest cases first. When a family gives up their pet, the shelter educates them on the reality of pet homelessness and offers educational counseling and alternatives. During the busiest times, these private shelters will ask people with less critical needs to keep their pet a few weeks or utilize a network of foster homes to take in pets while the shelter is operating at capacity. 

Once pets are in the adoption program, the life of each animal is prioritized. Private donor dollars go to treating and saving the lives of all healthy and treatable animals that come through the shelter’s doors. Traditional, open door shelters would no longer exist, since they are an outdated model that merely replicates government services. 

Government’s Role in a No Kill Community. Animal Care & Control, or the city pound, in a model community would serve as the central location for stray and unwanted pets and for cases of animal cruelty, they would work in conjunction with the city’s law enforcement. As the community’s open door shelter funded by tax dollars, they would take in all animals and be the single destination to search for lost pets. 

Private shelters would support the city shelter by transferring pets into their adoption programs. With an active transfer culture, there is a safety net for the pets who enter the city shelter. When the city agency is the only open door shelter in a community, any killing would be exposed with greater transparency and freedom of information legally mandated for government. 

Reaching No Kill 

As No Kill has become the commonly accepted sheltering model, many traditional open door shelters mask their killing through misleading terminology and misrepresentation of their shelter data. But knowledge is power. 

With the knowledge of what pets are facing in a community’s sheltering system, the public is mobilized to action, responding to the need. This response is visible in the 7,000 people who volunteer for PAWS Chicago because they believe in the No Kill model. 

By supporting No Kill with your time and resources, you are arming the revolution. Within five years, the war will be won and animals will no longer be killed in Chicago. We will be the model No Kill community, and the revolution will spread.