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No Kill Means No Compromising and NOBODY left behind

By Nathan Winograd

Our Eyes on the Real Prize: Reaching Higher and Why I Now Disown My Progeny, the 90% Rule

The City of Irvine’s shelter in California saves 91% of the animals. For people living in communities that kill that percentage, it must sound like nirvana. And there is no question that with shelters in this country killing roughly 40% of animals on average, many killing twice that percentage, and some killing over 90%, the City of Irvine is a better shelter than many, if not most. But is it nirvana for the animals? It is not. Is it No Kill? No.

Rescuers and employees at that shelter have recently come forward and documented abuse and killing of savable animals, including a veterinarian who referred to himself as “Dr. Death.” Why does he call himself that? Because he apparently admits he enjoys killing animals—animals who have adopters waiting, animals with treatable conditions, healthy, full term puppies in utero, and animals such as Lane, a 14 week old kitten. Lane was killed, not only in full view of other cats, but in a manner that caused grave and prolonged suffering. According to an expose of the shelter, “He was underdosed with Fatal Plus by a staff member and placed in a cage where he began seizing. He suffered for 90 minutes before finally being injected with a weight appropriate dose of Fatal Plus.” He is not the only one. The Executive Director has resigned under a cloud of misconduct, “Dr. Death” is on his way out, too, and, thankfully, the City is claiming to be moving forward with reforms.

At another California shelter with a 90% save rate that also calls itself No Kill, a lawsuit will soon be filed alleging, among other things, fraud. According to the complaint, the shelter believes it has carte blanche to call itself No Kill while killing healthy and highly treatable animals so long as the save rate doesn’t drop below 90%. At this shelter, plaintiffs have documented dogs who were killed for arbitrary reasons and cats with minor colds falling to the needle.

There are 90% shelters that kill community cats. Indeed, one such shelter asks people to fill out a “euthanize card” when bringing in feral cats. That way, they do not impact the shelter’s statistics as they are considered turned in for purposes of killing. There are shelters that exclude “owner requested killing” and deaths in kennels as doing so would reduce save rates below 90%. Others that are at 90% kill large, exuberant dogs, pit bulls, or kill healthy and treatable bunnies and other animals. Moreover, some communities use coalition-wide rates which include healthy animals brought in from outside the jurisdiction to keep the save rate up, while treatable animals from their city are still killed, such as occurs in San Francisco.

Despite this, there are some who insist that if a community saves 90% of the animals, it must be classified as “No Kill.” In reality, No Kill has nothing to do with a shelter achieving a 90% save rate, but, rather, ending the killing of all healthy and treatable animals, including all community cats and species beyond dogs and cats as well. While that number should—given advances in veterinary and behavior medicine since the introduction of the 90% threshold—be between 95% and 100% of all animals, varying slightly from year to year, the question we must ask of every shelter claiming to be No Kill is not, did they save 90%? But rather, did they save the lives of every single healthy and treatable animal entering the shelter?

So where did this rubric for determining whether or not a shelter is living up to its responsibilities to the animals and the people it serves come from? It came from me.

Why did I say this and why is this no longer an accurate way to measure success? You can read the answers here:

Of course, while I celebrate the fact that shelters that use to kill 50% of the animals are now saving 90% and while I celebrate the hundreds that now do so, allowing the last ten percent of animals who are still being killed at these shelters to be swept under the rug was never what I intended when I began promoting the 90% benchmark almost a decade ago. And while, until somewhat recently, the “90% Rule” was an incredibly powerful tool for inspiring change, one that motivated activists, and highlighted—by the sheer contrast it afforded—just how poorly our nation’s shelters were performing, changing circumstances have tragically allowed it to morph into a tool that is being misused and abused by unscrupulous shelter directors to justify needless killing.

For as I believe and I know most animal lovers do, too, I hold this truth to be self-evident: that each and every animal entering a shelter is entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Not just 90% of them…

Lane, a kitten who suffered for 90 minutes while being killed in a shelter that some call “No Kill” because it saves 91% of the animals. Why bother with saving the more challenging cases when the movement is willing to say you have already crossed the finish line? The time has come to reach higher.