Defining “No-Kill” in YOUR Community

Fun and Sambelina

By Meaghan Colville, Shelter Director, Cincinnati Animal CARE (Best Friends Executive
Leadership Certification Graduate, Cohort 2)

This article is the third of twelve for the year and each month you’ll be hearing honest, real-time
accounts from inside the municipal sheltering world from a director of operations. Animal
sheltering has seen such rapid growth and transformation in the last decade that it can be
head-spinning and often, isolating. We’re here to assure you that this work we do is
exceptionally difficult but that none of us are alone. Each month she’ll reflect on real-time issues
affecting their shelter and community, and most likely yours. Through this vulnerable and
thoughtful reflection, it is our hope that industry leaders can feel a sense of comradery and
connection through this blog. We’ll review a range of topics that affect the daily lives of shelter
leadership across the country including gaining buy-in for contemporary programming from your
team and community, professionalizing our industry, addressing animal population concerns,
handling fallout and criticism, and understanding the true complexity of running a high
performing shelter. Please join us each month this year as we break down these topics and
more from the perspective of a shelter director.

 

Let’s take some time to look at the phrase no-kill. The words can be either inspirational or
divisive depending on who you are and where you stand on your understanding of the term.
No-kill is thought of as positive by most people outside of animal welfare. It has caught on in a
lot of communities and why wouldn’t it? Who’s against not killing pets? It’s generally easy to
support and get behind. In a field defined by decades of killing, the possibility of an alternative is
a breath of fresh air for the animal-loving public.

What is no-kill and how does it apply to animal sheltering in 2024? Even amongst animal shelter
industry professionals, there is some confusion and contention. Our profession is an emotional
one due to the nature of our work. In talking about no-kill language people’s feelings and
opinions come out strongly. As we continue to make progress toward a no-kill nation, it seems
like a good time to assess our current status.

In the animal services profession, no-kill has taken on different meanings over the last several
years. For some, it means no death at all. For others, it only applies to behavior euthanasia.
Although no-kill has brought so many people together behind a common cause, these
differences in definition can make it difficult to communicate clearly to the public and to set
standards we all agree on.

Historically, no-kill is measured by the percentage of animals leaving a shelter alive. This metric,
known as Live Release Rate or LRR, was originally a lofty goal for a community of animal
shelters killing animals in the millions only a few decades ago. A 90% save rate is what was
agreed upon by early leaders in animal services when the killing of healthy and treatable pets
became unacceptable. It was a reasonable benchmark allowing for 10% of the pets coming into
a shelter as candidates for the true definition of euthanasia. The humane ending of life for
reasons of mercy where there was no hope of recovery nor end of suffering. Fast-forward to

2024 and communities all over the country have blown past 90% to achieve LRRs or save rates
well above that benchmark.

Although there is no doubt that the 90% benchmark has been critical in gaining consensus and
consistency, I believe that there is much more to lifesaving than that number. In Cincinnati, our
LRR since assuming Hamilton County animal services operations sits around the 93% mark. As
we meet that number or above nearly every month, 90% no longer seems like a success. For
us, it’s 93% or bust.

 

Defining “No Kill”
I believe it is time to agree on a definition of no-kill that fits the current animal sheltering climate
and assess what that means in communities around the country. At Cincinnati Animal CARE,
our definition of no-kill is simple. We aim to save every savable animal. Of course, the word
“savable” is subject to interpretation. But that’s exactly the point.

Saving every savable animal is less about reaching a quota (of course while trying to reach the
highest possible number) and more about making the best decisions with the information we
have for the animals in front of us. This means no-kill in Cincinnati is a moving target and can
fluctuate from month to month. As long as we save every savable animal in our care, we are
operating at a no-kill level regardless of our save rate or LRR percentage. If we consistently see
a 93% LRR, then that is our no-kill standard here in our community. In other words, 90% isn’t
good enough when we set our goals. This flexibility to allow for community needs and trends
goes the other way as well. A shelter may be consistently at 86%, for example, but if they are
truly saving all the savable animals, then I believe they are no-kill despite not meeting the 90%
threshold.

Of course, the goal should always be the highest possible LRR, but through data analysis
tailored to individual communities, animal shelters can push themselves to do better and meet
the needs of the people and animals they serve.

 

Thanks for joining us again for the Inside the Industry blog series. In today’s entry, Meaghan
Colville, Shelter Director of Cincinnati Animal CARE goes into detail about defining “No-Kill” in
YOUR community.

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