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What has no-kill accomplished?



ANAHEIM––Another way to describe the “no-kill movement” might be “the democratization of animal sheltering.”

The no-kill concept had already won the battle for public opinion decades before no-kill sheltering existed on any significant scale. Dogcatchers were a familiar film villain even before animated cartoons and “talking pictures” were invented.

Fritz Frelang and rival Walt Disney merely revitalized the stereotype in Dog-Pounded (1954), starring Sylvester the Cat, and Lady & The Tramp (1955). More than half a century later, bird-catching feral cats are still at imminent risk of landing in a pound full of ferocious dogs, licensing is still advanced from many directions as essential to end shelter killing, the public still does not like dogcatchers, and animal control officers still don’t like their image.

Winning over animal shelter management is a battle still underway––but increasingly irrelevant to tens of thousands of volunteer rescuers, donors, and upstart shelter founders, who have taken the work of saving animals into their own hands.
After decades of railing at “irresponsible” pet-keepers, animal control agencies and humane societies are facing activists who are claiming responsible roles, whether or not they can fulfill them.

While established organizations continue to clash over the term “no-kill,” the most urgent challenge to the entire sheltering community is making effective use of increasing public involvement. The amateurs and newcomers have ideas and energy, and if recruited into shelter work, expect to have a voice in how the shelters are run.

Euthanasia decisions, always a flashpoint for conflict, are more than ever contested––and the disputes are increasingly often taken to the outside world.

On September 8, 2005, in Ana-heim, California, as many as 650 animal shelter personnel will convene for the fourth annual Conference on Homeless Animal Management & Policy, the 10th of the series that started in Phoenix in 1995 as the No-Kill Conference, with just 65 delegates. The 1995 chief sponsors were the North Shore Animal League and Best Friends Animal Society.

North Shore, founded in 1944, had participated in a national conference for the first time only two years earlier, when it sponsored the first Spay/USA conference in Bentley, Massachusetts. Best Friends had never before been part of a humane conference. Dinner speaker Richard Avanzino, then heading the San Francisco SPCA, had never before spoken at a national conference. The North Shore Animal League absorbed Doing Things for Animals, the original No-Kill Conference organizing entity, and renamed the event to attract conventional shelter personnel who seek to learn techniques pioneered by the no-kill community. Best Friends continued the entry-level orientation of the early No Kill Confer-ences by founding the No More Homeless Pets conference series. Held twice a year, each No More Homeless Pets conference attracts from 300 to 400 participants. The twenty-fold rise in attendance at the three annual No Kill Conference spin-offs is easily mirrored by the growth in numbers of no-kill shelters and rescue groups.

Best Friends itself has grown more than 600% in 10 years, with more programs, personnel, and annual revenue than PETA.
PETA, the fastest-growing national animal advocacy group during the preceding 15 years, has seen much slower growth, partly because it is the last major national organization to overtly oppose no-kill sheltering and neuter/return.

Coming of age

No-kill came of age in 1998, when PeopleSoft founders David and Cheryl Duffield put Avanzino in charge of Maddie’s Fund, endowed with more grant-giving clout than all other foundations serving the humane community combined. Maddie’s Fund introduced an ambitious attempt to encourage the entire U.S. to follow the San Francisco model. To apply for funding, a commmunity must assemble a coalition including all of the shelters serving it, of whatever mission.

Avanzino in 2004 presided over drafting the Asilomar Accords, a pact meant to help attract cooperation from conventional shelters and animal control agencies by standardizing statistical reporting methods.

Although the Maddie’s Fund mission statement explicitly embraces “creation of a no-kill nation,” the Asilomar Accords do not use the term “no-kill,” and were widely viewed as an agreement to abandon potentially divisive language.

This appeared to be quite a turnabout for Avanzino, who in 1984 challenged the concept behind 90 years of humane efforts to wrest animal control contracts away from laboratory suppliers by returning the San Fran-cisco animal control job to the city. Avanzino argued, in part, that the best way to keep homeless dogs and cats out of laboratories was to stop breeding a surplus. Avanzino made the SF/SPCA a no-kill agency, emphasized dog and cat sterilization and adoption, and a decade later introduced the Adoption Pact, through which the San Francisco SPCA guarantees a good home or lifetime care to any healthy or recoverable dog or cat, after the expiry of the requisite holding time at the city Department of Animal Care & Control.

Taking effect on April 1, 1994, the Adoption Pact was initially treated as a hoax by much of the sheltering establishment––but the SF/DACC has killed fewer dogs and cats in all of the past 10 years combined than are killed each and every year in the shelters of many cities of comparable size, including Fresno, just a few hours’ drive away.

Despite the diplomatic concessions, “I truly believe that no-kill is not real,” one veteran animal control professional e-mailed recently to ANIMAL PEOPLE, after serving in senior capacities with several agencies that were mandated by city councils and public opinion to try to go no-kill prematurely.

Each agency had a chance to get there within five to seven years, based on the trajectories of agencies that have succeeded, but only if intensive targeted sterilization could markedly reduce their intakes, especially of feral cats and pit bull terriers.
Each agency already worked cooperatively with neuter/return feral cat groups, but met growing conflict between neuter/return proponents and advocates of rare and endangered birds, small mammals, and reptiles.

Each agency had yet to find any effective way to stop pit bull terrier proliferation, confronted at every turn by aggressive alliances of fanciers, breeders, and rescuers opposed to any breed-specific response.

Each agency was expected to save every healthy animal before the numbers of incoming healthy animals were reduced to anywhere near the numbers that their communities could absorb through adoption.

Each agency encountered endless conflicts with animal hoarders, who insisted that they were “saving” dogs and cats from euthanasia. Often the public rallied behind the hoarders as well-meaning people who only tried to do too much good.

“Implicit to the ‘No-Kill’ philosophy is the reality of exceptional situations in which euthanasia is the most humane alternative available,” the No-Kill Directory proclaimed on the cover of five editions published between 1994 and 2000. As the age of printed humane literature morphed into the age of web sites, cover qualifiers are increasingly bypassed. Hoarders have found in no-kill rhetoric a renewed excuse for collecting large numbers of animals and keeping them in conditions of mass neglect. Enablers of hoarders are more numerous and vociferous than ever before, and so are hoarding cases.

During the first six months of 2005, ANIMAL PEOPLE received information on 133 cases of alleged mass neglect of dogs and cats by “rescuers” and individuals of unclear motive, seven cases by suspected dogfighters, six cases by pet stores, and 20 cases by breeders, plus 10 mass neglect cases involving sheep or goats, one involving rodents, 33 involving horses, one involving pigs, and six involving birds, for a total of 217––an increase of approximately 60% since 1998.

Among the cases most prominently associated with animal rescue:

• Complaints about MidSouth Shepherd Rescue received from adopters as far away as New Jersey prompted the Southaven Animal Shelter, of Southaven, Mississippi, to seize 31 dogs on January 31, 2005 from the home of rescue founder Pepper Stidmon.
• 172 animals were seized on February 1, 2005 from former Citrus County Animal Services volunteer Dorothy Moquin, 77, of Inverness, Florida.
• New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer on February 3, 2005 issued an apparently unprecedented public warning that as many as 350 dogs adopted out by Hands Helping Paws K9 Rescue founder Shannon Champine, of Keeseville, “were transferred to their new owners with certificates of rabies vaccination that are not authentic.” Raccoon, fox, and bat rabies have all occurred in the vicinity during the past 12 years.
• Hope Haven Rescue founder Randall Evans, 41, of South Salt Lake, Utah, on April 1, 2005 accepted a fine plus an order to make restitution totaling $265, and a suspended 180-day jail sentence, after running into trouble for alleged neglect of animals and operating without the requisite permits at his third location in five years.
• 61 cats were seized on April 20 and 21, 2005, from the Tonawanda, New York home of former Second Chance Sheltering Network volunteer Christopher Huber, 49. Fourteen of the cats came from Second Chance, which had ended his adoption privileges 18 months earlier.
• Two years after founding Chi-huahua Rescue to accommodate about 200 neglected and unsocialized Chihuhuas who had been seized from a breeder in Acton, California, Burbank screenwriter Kimi Peck was accused of neglect herself. The charges were set aside in May 2005 after Peck agreed to relocate all of the dogs by October.
• Jim and Paula Blankenhorn, of Comfort, Texas, on August 5 agreed to close their Wild Cat Ranch Pet Retirement Center and surrender 202 of 222 cats found in their possession to the SPCA of Texas. The Blank-enhorns boarded cats, many of them feral, for rescuers around Texas, but claimed that only about 20% kept up with their payments.
• The Georgia Department of Agriculture “plans to revoke the state license issued to Canine Angels Ranch & Referrals,” founded in 1999 by Lynette Rowe and Sue Wells, Todd DeFeo of the Athens Banner-Herald reported on August 11, 2005.


Rowe and Wells were each charged with a single count of cruelty for alleged neglect of a dog, after repeated warnings to reduce the numbers of animals in their custody.

Kess & Willis cases

The recent cases causing the most consternation to no-kill proponents are probably those of KittyKind founder Marlene Kess, 56, reportedly prominent in New York City cat rescue for as long as 20 years, and Jim Willis, widely regarded as the unofficial poet laureate of animal rescue.

Kess, a member of the Mayor’s Alliance for Animal Welfare, was known in New York City as a longtime resident of Greenwich Village, but owned a home in East Orange, New Jersey. On May 19, 2005, a raid by the New Jersey SPCA, Associated Humane Societies of New Jersey, and East Orange health department found 48 live cats and more than 200 dead cats on her premises.

“Today she was fined $14,000, and sentenced to serve 21 days in jail plus 1,140 days of community service,” Associated Humane Societies executive director Roseanne Trezza told ANIMAL PEOPLE on August 22. “Now we have to go get 70 more cats, most of them sick,” Trezza added. The five-hour follow-up raid on Kess’ home actually netted 95 cats.
“I think we are not done with Ms. Kess. There will be new charges here,” New Jersey SPCA president Stuart Rhodes told Brian T. Murray of the Newark Star-Ledger. Willis lost nine dogs, four cats, all of his work on a new book, and his home in a housefire on January 25, 2005––his birthday. Circa July 1, 2005 Willis became a houseguest of Steven and Erin Schmidt, of Forward Township, Pennsylvania, operators of Ferret Friends of Pittsburgh. The Ferret Friends web site identified Erin Schmidt as both a ferret breeder and a ferret rescuer.

Animal Friends of Pittsburgh, itself a no-kill shelter, joined local police in raiding the Schmidt home on August 18. “Erin Schmidt, has been charged with running an illegal kennel on the property and will receive numerous humane citations,” reported Stacy Wolford of the Valley Independent. “House guest Jim Willis has been charged with dog law violations. Details regarding all charges against Schmidt and Willis are pending a complete investigation.”

A Willis acquaintance, Wis-consin activist Eilene Ribbens Rohde, asserted in a widely distributed e-mail that, “It was Jim who called the authorities.  He was not supposed to be there when they arrived.  They came three hours early and he was still trying to help the animals as much as he could.” The courts may be sorting out the case for some time to come. 
Critics of no-kill sheltering also have cause to be embarrassed.

PETA staff members Adria Joy Hinkle, 27, and Andrew Benjamin Cook, 24, were arrested on June 15, 2005 for allegedly killing 62 animals they took from North Carolina shelters under the pretext of finding homes for them, and then leaving the remains in dumpsters.

John D. Elmer, 26, cofounder of a group called Pets Without Parents, was arrested on August 3, 2005, in Windsor, New York, for allegedly killing 35 animals whose remains were found at his home. Suspected euthanasia drugs and 50 live animals were also seized by police.

1998 & 2005

ANIMAL PEOPLE tested the hypothesis that the no-kill movement has increased the incidence of hoarding by comparing 688 cases occurring before September 1998 with the 217 cases occurring in the first half of 2005.
Combining self-defined “rescuers” and hoarders of unclear motive produced this breakdown:


Motive To 1998 2005
Rescuers/unclear 50% 61%
Breeders 25% 12%
Farmers 19% 20%
Pet stores 4% 3%
Dogfighters 3%


Although cases are now brought to light and prosecuted with greater frequency, the proportionality is similar.
Fewer breeders were raided in early 2005 perhaps because animal advocates have been successful in recent years at using zoning ordinances and tax laws to put backyard breeders out of business––and because many former breeders have switched to breed rescue.

The number of rescuers in trouble increased by almost the same percentage as the number of breeders declined, probably reflecting the migration of ex-breeders into rescue.

The numbers of farmers in trouble declined, as did the number of U.S. farmers. Pet stores were involved in about the same percentage of mass neglect cases, and dogfighting, still relatively rare in 1998, subsequently re-emerged as a major animal issue.

Since the proportionality of “rescuer” hoarders to all others does not appear to have increased by more than can be explained by other factors, the no-kill movement is probably not responsible for the increase in hoarding cases. Rather, hoarders appear to be raided and prosecuted more often because of increased awareness of the hoarding problem.
Yet that does not mean hoarding is not the dark shadow of the no-kill cause.

Warned the September 1995 ANIMAL PEOPLE editorial, “No one who saw the dead and dying animals whom the New York Humane Association discovered at Justin McCarthy’s Animals Farm Home in 1988 can forget them, and many who remember such failures doubt, to this day, that no-kill sheltering can truly be done. The image of no-kill sheltering remains tainted by hoarders. The national organizations most involved in sheltering perpetuate the hoarder stereotype, partly because many senior staff have had experience with McCarthy and others like him, and were understandably traumatized.”

ANIMAL PEOPLE recommended forming a broadly representative accrediting-and-helping association, to set suitable standards for high-volume adoption, care-for-life, and non-sheltered fostering groups.

ANIMAL PEOPLE followed up by offering workshops on standards and accreditation at the 1997 No-Kill Conference in Boston; a seminar on animal hoarding at the 1998 No-Kill Conference, co-presented with attorney Larry Weiss and Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley executive director Vicki Crosetti; and a session on animal hoarding at the 2002 CHAMP conference in St. Louis.

Hoarding researcher Gary Patronek spoke at the 1999 No-Kill Conference. In addition, ANIMAL PEOPLE and representatives from the North Shore Animal League, PETsMART Charities, and National Animal Control Association covered related topics in connection with shelterless rescue and adoption transport at the 2004 CHAMP conference in Orlando. Hoarding has scarcely been ignored, but the no-kill community is still no closer to accepting standards specific to what no-kill shelters and rescues do than it was in 1995. By now so many people are involved that instituting standards may be just about impossible ––if it ever could have been done.

Because no-kill shelters and shelterless rescues have typically been founded in reaction against high-volume killing by conventional shelters, the operators tend to mistrust and resist inclusion in any system that might be controlled by the conventionals.

Many directors of conventional shelters are on record as skeptics and critics of no-kill approaches. Many frankly resent the no-kill challenge.

Some see no-kills as rivals for funding, though the economic data published annually by ANIMAL PEOPLE since 1991 demonstrates that the growth of public financial support for no-kill sheltering has actually brought new money into the cause, while funding for conventional sheltering has also steadily increased.

Some just don’t like the implication that no-kill shelters exist opposite to “kill” shelters, and that conventional shelter staff are therefore “animal killers.”

That conflict is not going to go away. Despite the Asilomar Accords, and other efforts by national humane organizations to get no-kill shelters to quit using the term “no-kill,” “no-kill” will remain in use because the public likes it. Shelters that continue to kill healthy animals can expect to face increasing pressure to make more use of the birth prevention and adoption techniques advanced by no-kills. A generation of animal lovers raised with the expectation that shelters should aspire to go no-kill is not about to abandon the belief that every healthy animal can be saved. In statistical terms, the decade since the no-kill movement emerged has produced the smallest drop in cumulative U.S. shelter killing of any 10-year time frame since 1970. Total shelter deaths fell from about 23.4 million then to 17.8 million in 1985 to circa six million in 1995, and in 2004 were at approximately 4.5 million.

Dogs and cats killed in shelters per 1,000 Americans dropped from 115 in 1970 to about 21 in 1995, and in 2004 was 15.5.

The major gain of the past decade is on the opposite side of the ledger. The adoption “market share” of pet acquisition has increased by half, the longevity of pets in homes has increased by half or more, and more than 70% of pet-keepers sterilize their dogs and cats in most parts of the U.S., with more than 90% of all pet dogs and cats sterilized in some cities.

There are still some ignorant and irresponsible people to deal with––but active participation by most of the pet-keeping community in combating pet overpopulation has arrived. The sheltering community now must learn to live with it. ––Merritt Clifton