In the No Kill movement, every number is important because every life counts. Unfortunately, animal welfare has historically kept the public in the dark.
Until the No Kill movement began, shelters never talked about the number of animals they killed. Today, the topic of data transparency is at the forefront of animal welfare, thanks to No Kill organizations like Maddie’s Fund. Read more on Transparency in animal welfare.
Despite progress, it remains difficult to find shelter data. And when you see data, you need to be able to interpret it to ensure organizations are not hiding the real killing.
Animal Shelter Transparency
No Kill shelters embrace transparency and publish their statistics visibly and comprehensively. As a rule of thumb, No Kill shelters save more than 90% of the animals that come through their doors. This is called the Save Rate. Today, many leaders, like PAWS Chicago, are raising the bar and stating that the No Kill Save Rate should really be 95%. Read more about the definition of No Kill.
At PAWS Chicago, our No Kill experience aligns with the 95% Save Rate. In fact, in 2021, we had a 97.71% Save Rate.
But the Save Rate is merely a rule of thumb. No Kill means every “healthy and treatable” pet is saved. To truly understand whether a shelter is No Kill, you also must know that every euthanized pet was truly unhealthy and untreatable. Please read more below about how PAWS Chicago evaluates pets’ health and how we report information and overall results.
Counting Every Pet
Since the 2004 Asilomar Accords, animal welfare leaders have been working to adopt standard high-level definitions for collecting and reporting reliable data on the number of at-risk animals in the nation’s communities. Based on these definitions, the only animals that should be considered for euthanasia are those that are determined to be unhealthy and untreatable in their respective communities. In general, shelter animals should be categorized as 1) healthy, 2) unhealthy & treatable, or 3) unhealthy & untreatable. Unhealthy & treatable animals are those that fall into the following two sub-categories:
1. Treatable-Rehabilitatable: Animals that are unhealthy but likely will become healthy with proper care.
2. Treatable-Manageable: Animals that are not likely to become healthy but likely to maintain a satisfactory quality of life if given the care typically provided to pets by reasonable and caring guardians in the community.
These resulting numbers provide transparency as to how a shelter operates. If a shelter is No Kill, it is only euthanizing unhealthy and untreatable animals. If all shelters in a community commit to this shelter data tracking, it enables us to see how close the community is coming to achieving No Kill status. Read more about this in No Kill Communities.
Keep in mind that each shelter self-reports this information. You need to also understand what each shelter considers healthy, treatable and nonrehabilitatable. (Continue reading below for more information on Our Standard of Pet Care.)
There are two common reporting templates:
- The Asilomar Accords were developed in 2004 as a uniform reporting system for shelters. They established a baseline standard of definitions and a template to track shelter populations.
- Maddie’s Fund, a leader in the No Kill movement, has since expanded upon those standards and has developed a best-in-class shelter reporting system.
Our Standard of Pet Care
The consensus has been that animal shelters, at a minimum, should have the same standard of pet care as the general public in the communities they serve. Defining a community’s Standard of Pet Care is required to interpret these reports and understand an organization or community’s lifesaving progress and commitment to No Kill.
A community’s Standard of Pet Care is shown through a Pet Evaluation Matrix (PEM), which lists specific medical and behavioral conditions that animals face. Each condition falls into one of four categories:
- Unhealthy & Untreatable
These categories are defined based on the standard of care individual pet owners in their community would provide to their pets.
For example, in most communities:
- A geriatric animal without other diseases would be classified as Healthy
- A pet with an ear mite infection would be classified as Treatable-Rehabilitatable.
- A pet with mild to moderate congestive heart failure (medical) or separation anxiety(behavioral) would be classified as Treatable-Manageable.
- A pet with a severe spinal cord injury (medical) or severe owner directed aggression (behavioral) would be classified as Unhealthy & Untreatable.
PAWS Chicago adopted the PEM created by Iowa State University and then made several modifications to it based on additional medical conditions and behavioral disorders prevalent in the Chicago community. The Iowa State PEM was based on findings from private practice veterinarians in corroboration with pet-owner surveys, with an overall emphasis on lifesaving. Maddie’s Fund, a leader in the No Kill movement, considers this PEM an excellent model.