Written by Darlene White from the San Diego Animal Support Foundation

The debate over what constitutes a No Kill shelter is a hot issue in the animal welfare community. Many people do not understand what No Kill means, nor do they understand what must happen in order for a community to achieve such status.

Different shelters and organizations have different definitions of what No Kill means. Many people in the animal welfare community believe that No Kill means that no animal in a shelter will be killed for any reason, except for an untreatable illness or injury that causes suffering. It also means that no animal will be transferred to any other shelter where it may be euthanized. Some shelters, such as Best Friends in Utah, are considered No Kill shelters by this definition.

Most shelters, however, consider themselves No Kill if they are not killing animals that are adoptable. This is where the big debate over what is and isn't considered adoptable comes into play. Thousands of unadoptable dogs and cats are still euthanized at these shelters. Unadoptable pets are pets with medical conditions, injury, personality issues, age issues, or really anything that may make the dog unappealing to potential adopters. Due to the very subjective definition of what is and isn't considered adoptable, which can vary from one person's opinion to the next, or from one day to the next, this is a hotly debated issue!

In general, local humane societies are No Kill based on the latter definition. In order to retain their No Kill status, however, most humane societies may not accept dogs or cats that are considered unadoptable. Those pets are turned away, and must go to a municipal shelter, leaving municipal shelters with the unfortunate job of euthanizing these animals.

Municipal shelters are government run facilities. They must accept animals from the public, whether they have the space for them or not. Despite recent successful efforts to reverse the high euthanasia rate in some of our local municipal shelters, there is still no such thing as a No Kill municipal shelter in San Diego. Under the direction of County Supervisor, Pam Slater, there is an effort to make San Diego a No Kill community. However, without the public's active involvement in this effort, it will never happen. Unfortunately, many people are under the misconception that San Diego is already a No Kill community, and therefore, turn over their animals to the County Animal Shelters thinking that their pets cannot be euthanized. Most people are shocked to find that tens of thousands of animals are still being euthanized every year in San Diego.

In order for the community to become No Kill the following must happen:

Spay and Neuter pets...this is the public's responsibility, and every responsible pet owner should have their animal spayed or neutered.

Individual Responsibility and Commitment to Pets....when people buy or adopt pets, they need to take this commitment seriously. Pets are a lifetime responsibility, they are not toys or something to be discarded when the novelty wears off.

Training and Socialization...pets are not to be thrown in the backyard and ignored. They need to be socialized with people and other animals, and properly trained to make them the wonderful companions that they can be. This takes work and commitment. If people are not interested in putting forth the necessary time and effort, they should not get pets.

Increase adoptions from shelters/rescues rather than breeders/stores...simply put, YOU are either part of the problem, or part of the solution. Every time a person buys a pet from a breeder, pet store, or someone advertising in the back of the newspaper, they are contributing to an industry that makes billions of dollars every year, costs taxpayers billions of dollars every year, and ultimately is the reason for the deaths of millions of animals each year.

More Volunteers/Rescue Organizations...volunteer with your local rescues and shelters! Additionally, shelters and rescue organizations need to work together to alleviate overcrowding in the shelters.

Notice that I put the responsibility on the public, and not the shelters. Shelters can have all the good intentions in the world; they can build bigger, nicer facilities, and make all the policies that they want. But without active participation on the part of the public, shelters will ALWAYS run out of space for animals, and the supply of unwanted dogs and cats will ALWAYS out number the demand. Under such conditions, a No Kill community cannot be achieved.

If you are planning on taking your no-longer-wanted pet to a local San Diego shelter, remember that most local shelters DO kill animals. Always ask about their euthanasia policy. Ask if pets are ever euthanized at the shelter, and if so, under what conditions. Also, request that you be contacted and given the option of reclaiming your pet before he/she is euthanized for any reason. Give as much positive information as possible about your pet, to increase the chances for adoption. Most potential adopters want to know if your pet is good with other dogs, cats, and/or children, and whether or not the pet is housetrained. Make sure this information is recorded in the pet's records!

If you truly love your pet, try to avoid the shelter entirely, and submit a photo and description of your spayed/neutered pet to the San Diego Animal Support Foundation. Remember, it can take many months to properly adopt a pet, so give yourself LOTS of time. Hopefully, you can personally place your pet with a loving family, and be able to follow up on his/her progress in the future.