The Weight of No-Kill Terminology
by Lee Chambers
You have undoubtedly heard the term “no-kill shelter” and may wonder what that means. We are frequently asked if Dakin is a no-kill shelter. It’s not an easy answer, because it depends on your definition of no-kill.
For some, the terminology is defined exactly by those words, and means no euthanasia at all. To others, it means that only animals that are untreatable are euthanized. More recently, people have defined no-kill shelters as ones that perform euthanasia on 10% or less of the animals in their care.
Being an open admission shelter, which means that we do not turn away an animal, we wish our response to that question could be black and white, but it's not.
Each animal we receive at Dakin has its unique needs regarding health and behavior, and our dedicated staff and volunteers make it their mission to provide those needs every day. Thankfully, many New England shelters are no longer overwhelmed with caring for an overpopulation of animals, and euthanizing in response to that, a practice Dakin ended nearly 10 years ago.
This, as well as advances in medicine and technology, allows us to treat and heal more animals than before, then move them to the adoption floor. However, we must always be aware of every animal’s right to live free from pain and discomfort, and our responsibility to keep our community safe by not allowing a surrendered animal that is clearly dangerous to be adopted out to a person or family.
There are many variables that affect an animal’s quality of life, and if we cannot relieve their suffering, we will not let the pressure of adhering to a certain percentage force us to prolong their pain. The guiding principle in the provision of humane care should always be the animal’s needs, regardless of where that organization stands in that statistical definition of no-kill.
It’s unfortunate that no-kill has multiple definitions: No euthanasia at all, euthanasia only for the untreatable, or those who fall within the one-to-10%. The term lacks a consistent definition, which leads to confusion and division among people, and animal shelters bear the weight of its terminology. In our opinion, it takes the focus off animal care and onto sustaining percentages.
Dakin's bottom line is that we evaluate each animal based on their individual needs and our access to resources that fulfill those needs, while providing high quality care. Put simply, their needs come above all else, arbitrary numbers and terminology aside.
So, what is Dakin’s euthanasia rate? For the past few years, we have hovered around 12%. We could have taken steps to maintain that 10% figure and fit in that no-kill definition, but we will not prolong an animal’s suffering or allow a dangerous animal to be adopted out into the community we serve.
We feel we have made wise decisions regarding the treatment of the animals in our care and the management of resources that have restored so many of those animals to a happy and healthy state. We have prevented shelter-wide outbreaks of disease, paired adopters with loving animal companions, and maintained a live-release rate of 88%.
If you were faced with a 1 or 2% difference to meet a 90% live release rate and be deemed a no-kill shelter, but the animal in front of you was clearly suffering due to an untreatable illness or devastating injury, what decision would you make? We hope the decision is as clear to you as it is to us. It's all about the animal, and not the percentage.