“Shorty” from the Rocky Mountain Feline Rescue

January 23, 2017; Washington Post

Here we are again with another story of a healthy animal killed in a no-kill animal shelter. This one concerns a 17-year-old dog named Boni who took off on a jaunt that ended in euthanasia not 24 hours later at the no-kill Manatee County Animal Services shelter in Florida. The veterinarian who took it upon herself to put down the relatively healthy, albeit old, dog justified the act in notes that described a “geriatric patient with numerous problems and poor quality of life. Patient seems to be in pain and suffering.”

Matt Van Vranken, the dog’s human companion, was distraught and confused. Not only does the shelter commit to holding stray dogs for five days, but it also advertises itself as “no kill.”

“There has to be a method to the madness,” Van Vranken told the Bradenton Herald. “It’s not about my grieving. It’s about the next dog that goes up there. The other places in this town don’t take them down like that.”

There’s no certification procedure for so-called “no kill” shelters; the term itself has no commonly-held definition, though the public can’t be faulted for making some assumptions—for instance, animals housed there will not be killed. But most who run or oversee shelters interpret it as designating a shelter with a 90 percent “live release rate.” Still, the differences between true no-kill advocates and sorta-no-kill shelters can get very intense.

Recent improvements in care standards have altered the expectations to an even higher standard:

Healthy animals will not be killed and sick animals will be treated or given palliative care. Animals with behavioral issues work with trainers. Old animals, too, are given the chance to be adopted. Those too elderly or sick for standard adoption may be placed into foster hospice homes. Animals will be euthanized if their pain cannot be managed, if they aren’t enjoying their lives, or if they are deemed too dangerous to live safely in society and no safe place can be found for them.

These types of policies are no longer restricted to small nonprofit shelters that select their residents and/or contract with local governments to provide services; they also apply to a growing number of municipal shelters. Mary Smith of Maddie’s Fund, which makes grants to save shelter animals, says that any shelter calling itself “no-kill” should adhere to a 90-percent save rate. Beyond that, she sees the term no-kill as aspirational, “a call to action to end unnecessary shelter killing.” In the end, it’s the public that needs to hold shelters calling themselves “no-kill” accountable.—Ruth McCambridge