'No-Kill' Animal Shelters: Reality or Illusion?

| by Phyllis M Daugherty

(This is Part 2 in a series that examines the concepts and realities of “No Kill” animal shelters. If you missed Part 1, see: “No Kill: Hayden Law, Overcrowding California Animal Shelters/Graphic Video).

On January 8, 2012,  Associated Press published an article entitled, Euthanasia to control shelter population unpopular, which included results of a poll of pet owners on the subject of no-kill animal shelters and whether or not euthanizing animals is sometimes necessary to control [shelter] populations.

The poll omits that the alternative to not humanely euthanizing to relieve shelter overcrowding means turning away animals in need because there is not enough space, leaving more strays in the streets to die of injury and starvation or to be neglected and abused in a home that has decided the pet has become an unnecessary burden.

The result of overcrowding in shelters is also the rapid spread of painful, often fatal, diseases, a lonely lifetime in a cramped cage or kennel with little human contact, or being crammed into an inadequate space where fighting against aggressive kennelmates is the only way for an innocent, lost pet to survive-- and often how it dies. These consequences were not included in the “No Kill” poll, but they are the realities of pet overpopulation.

The poll also fails to explain that tax-funded, municipal, open-entry shelters (and humane societies with animal-control contracts) have public health/safety obligations which require them to accept ALL animals, regardless of physical condition and/or dangerous, aggressive behavior. Private, donor-funded humane societies/rescue shelters are limited-entry, meaning they do not accept strays and usually admit only animals which have a high potential for adoption, referring the rest to public shelters. Does that mean they are “no kill,” or just that they let someone else do the killing when necessary?

AP admits that sources of potential errors in its poll may occur from the “wording and order of questions.” The questions were, “Which more closely mirrors your opinion? (1) “Animal shelters should only be allowed to euthanize animals when they are too sick to be treated or too aggressive to be adopted,” OR, “Sometimes animal shelters should be allowed to euthanize animals as a necessary way of controlling the population of animals.”

The second question should be followed by:”What should be done with 4 to 6 million unadopted or unadoptable animals a year?”

DIFFERING VIEWS ON “NO KILL” reports that 71% of respondents to its phone poll of 1,118 U.S. pet owners said they oppose euthanasia other than for animals “when they are too sick to be treated or too aggressive to be adopted.”

Leslie Surprenant, of New York was interviewed and said she believes shelters should be allowed to euthanize if necessary to control overpopulation.” She told AP, “… no-kill shelters that only accept animals with good prospects for adoption or that turn away animals once the shelter reaches capacity do not solve the problem.”

"That doesn't truly mean no-kill shelters. It means there are more animals out on the streets being hit by cars and starving and living in Dumpsters," she said "It does not mean the general population is lower; it just means that they've opted not to kill."

The three major “No Kill” proponents interviewed in the AP article are the same that have been credited with setting the “No Kill” agenda over the past two decades. Have you ever wondered, if it is all going so well and the entire country is truly close to the “No Kill” goal, why have no new, younger “No Kill” gurus achieved the same monumental results in other cities/counties and assumed at least a spot at the helm of the “No Kill” movement?

If Rich Avanzino is right and the entire United States is “just a breath away” from not killing any healthy or treatable discarded pets, and NathanWinograd is certain pet overpopulation is a myth, then why—after all these years and articles about their successes--are animal shelters across the nation still packed and thousands of unwanted animals being transported frenetically to unknown destinations in other states and to Canada so that they will not appear on discernible euthanasia statistics? Is pet overpopulation just a figment of our imagination? Does it mean just letting somebody else do the killing? Or could it be because “No Kill” doesn’t really mean no kill?


Rich Avanzino, former director of the San Francisco SPCA, is now president of Maddie's Fund, which is described on its website as, “… a family foundation established in 1999 to help fund the creation of a no-kill nation.” The site also states, “Widely viewed as the father of the no-kill movement, Rich Avanzino has had a major influence on companion animal welfare over his 32 years in the industry. As President of Maddie's Fund®, he focuses the family foundation's $300 million endowment in three major areas...”

The AP article states that Avazino pioneered no-kill in San Francisco in the early '90s as head of the San Francisco SPCA through a pact with the open-admission city shelter, San Francisco Animal Care and Control, and that Ed Sayres succeeded him in that position and further nurtured the program before becoming the current head of the ASPCA in New York.

Rich Avanzino says he believes the entire country can achieve no-kill status by 2015, partly due to corporate giving to animal causes, which “totaled about $30 million in 2010 and is expected to reach $70 million by 2015.”

Rich Avazino’s Bio on the Maddie’s Fund website

“As President of The San Francisco SPCA from 1976-1999, Rich led San Francisco in 1994 to become the first City and County in the nation to offer an adoption guarantee for every healthy shelter cat and dog. This unprecedented guarantee prompted statewide legislation (California's Hayden Law) and sparked other cities, counties and states to follow his example. The vast majority of the City's sick and injured shelter animals were saved as well.”


Carl Friedman, the highly respected Director of the San Francisco Animal Care & Control Department from 1988 to 2009 passionately disagreed with the claims of Avazino and Ed Sayres in a July 19, 1999, letter to the Commission on Mandates:

Ms. Paula Higashi

Executive Director

Commission on Mandates

1300 I Street #950

Sacramento, California 95814


Dear Ms. Higashi,

“I just received a copy of a letter dated July 7, 1999 sent to you from the San Francisco SPCA regarding test claim #98-TC-11, “Animal Adoption.” I am extremely disappointed by the SPCA’s claim…that ‘both organizations have guaranteed that no adoptable dog or cat will be killed in our city and county, and none has been killed since 1993.’

“First of all, this simply is not the truth!...Also, this department has never stated that we can, or will, guarantee no adoptable dog or cat will be euthanized.

“As co-author of the San Francisco Adoption Pact, I am concerned by the current rhetoric on this subject and cringe when I hear someone say “no adoptable dogs and cars are euthanized in San Francisco,” without also explaining the fate of those deemed ‘not adoptable.’ I feel so strongly about this issue that section 4.2 was included in our adoption pact with the S.F. SPCA. It says, “Any statement regarding the number of cats and dogs euthanized---shall include full and complete disclosure including the number of these animals destroyed in all categories.

“I know only too well that thousands of our community’s animals (dogs, cats and other animals) had to be administered that final injection in the past year. That many of these poor, needy, neglected creatures couldn’t be categorized as “healthy and adoptable” when they arrived at our doors doesn’t diminish their value, nor does it make their deaths less tragic. Disregarding those lives in public statements, intentionally or not, suggests that San Francisco is a “no-kill” city where no animals are being euthanized. People are being misled to thinking the pet overpopulation problem has been solved, no animals are being destroyed, and when they surrender an animal it is guaranteed to find a new home.”

/s/ Carl Friedman, Director. (cc: Ed Sayres, President, San Francisco S.P.C.A.)



Nathan Winograd, director of the Oakland-based No Kill Advocacy Center, also worked at the San Francisco SPCA and claims he later made Tompkins County (NY) SPCA a “No Kill” facility. He told the Associated Press he believes 95 percent of all animals entering shelters can be adopted or treated. “ Winograd also claims that pet overpopulation is a myth.

According to his own statements, Nathan Winograd was in Ithaca, NY, as Director of Tompkins County SPCA, from June 2001 until 2004.

In a reprinted article from Best Friends Magazine March/April 2002, Diary of a No-Kill Shelter Director, Nathan Winograd's experience at the San Francisco SPCA is described, as well as an account of his transformation of the Tompkins County (NY) SPCA, which he describes as a semirural/urban county with a population of 100,000 people. Winograd also wrote that the Tompkins County SPCA had an annual budget of $616,000 at that time and took in approximately 3,000 animals per year.

"A former California district attorney, Nathan Winograd, joined the San Francisco SPCA in 1995 as their Director of Ethical Studies. Working with Richard Anvanzino on and off for several years, and with a special passion for feral cats, Winograd developed innovative programs that helped the city on the bay become the first major U.S. community to end the killing of adoptable pets.”

Here’s Nathan Winograd’s description of the “No-Kill” overnight success at Tompkins County SPCA as described in a Best Friends’ forum:

“No-kill overnight? Can't be! Nathan Winograd, director of Tompkins Country SPCA shares how he made his community no-kill, virtually overnight with his innovative programs.

“Introduction from Nathan Winograd:

In 2001, the Tompkins County SPCA divorced itself from its 100-year history. In one year, by sheer will, we stopped the killing of healthy dogs and cats. The next year, we stopped the killing of treatable sick and injured pets, as well as feral cats. In the end, 92% of the animals were either returned to their responsible caregivers or found loving, new homes, an achievement unparalleled anywhere in the country. “



The San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center, California, site held an objective discussion about “No Kill” in 2008, and this comment was posted:

§No Kill Doesn't work in Tompkins Co. NY

by Lori Tyler

Monday Feb 18th, 2008 4:25 PM

“As a previous shelter manager of a shelter Nathan Winograd "saved" and a board member of an SPCA in a neighboring community, I absolutely believe that the "No Kill" movement has failed us in Tompkins Co.- once touted as the "safest place in the US for animals"

“I was the manager at the Ithaca SPCA two years before Nathan was hired. Under my management, the euthanasia rate for all animals (not just those deemed adoptable) decreased by about 50%. We were developing programs to achieve "no-kill" before he came along. In fact, the board resolved to stop euthanizing BEFORE Nathan was even working at the shelter.

“What he did do was raise money and he built a new shelter (which we had already been planning and had already bought the property for). However, this shelter is not sustainable for the shelter. They cannot afford the operate it- its too big. Now, Nathan has gone away, the donors have dwindled and they are in a danger of losing their animal control contracts as they have had to ask for large increases in money from the towns and city.”

(More at… )

Note: Lori Tyler is a real person. See the following link to an article dated Feb. 1, 2012, by the, which verifies that she is still working with the SPCA of Tompkins County, and below that is the link to her own site:


ARTICLE CHRONICLES HISTORY/CHALLENGES AT TOMPKINS COUNTY SPCA. (below) states, “Since 1987, the SPCA has provided animal control services for the 10 municipalities within Tompkins County under its no-kill policy, which has served as a model for other anti-euthanization SPCAs like those in San Francisco and Philadelphia…   Wasn’t that 15 years before Nathan Winograd arrived?

The, October 2007:

Changes in SPCA funding may end no-kill policy

By Samantha Allen Staff Writer | October 25th, 2007

“Low funding for the Tompkins County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) for its animal control services could force the county to hire a municipal shelter that will not practice the association’s “no-kill” policy.

“Abigail Smith, executive director of the Tompkins County SPCA, said the county pays $1.76 per capita per year for its services under its contract — less than half of the national average of $4.00 to $6.00. Smith said the SPCA is demanding the board increase its payment for its services from $21,700 a year to $41,400 a year.

“Five years ago, the SPCA had funds in its reserves, and, considering the humane treatment of all animals in its mission, we covered the gap,” Smith said, “But I discovered that luxury doesn’t exist. The reserves are gone.”

“Since 1987, the SPCA has provided animal control services for the 10 municipalities within Tompkins County under its no-kill policy, which has served as a model for other anti-euthanization SPCAs like those in San Francisco and Philadelphia, Smith said.

“If funding demands are not met, Smith said, the SPCA’s contract will be dropped and it will no longer provide animal control services to Tompkins County. Read more…



If Tompkins County became “No Kill” under Nathan Winograd’s leadership, we would expect a plan for sustainability to have been put in place also. After all, doesn’t “No Kill” mean also putting measures in place to lower the shelter impound rate so that there is an adoptive home for every animal in the future--Or does it?  It looks like pet overpopulation wasn’t a myth in Tompkins County.

THE ITHACA JOURNAL (Aug 11, 2007) Excerpts…Stray population up by 30 percent

SPCA halves dog adoption fee for weekend

Stray population up by 30 percent

The Ithaca Journal - Ithaca, N.Y.

Journal Staff

The price to adopt a dog will be $75 this weekend, down from the normal price of $150, said Abigail Smith, executive director of the Tompkins County SPCA. With their rescue shelter full of surrendered and stray dogs, the dog population is up by 30 percent she added.

"That's a lot of dogs," Smith said. "The shelter is feeling it. We have to find good homes for the dogs which are ready for adoption to make room for the dogs from the rescue shelter…We have no space for incoming animals, so we won't be accepting any this weekend," she said.

"We're not looking for ideal homes for pets, just good, responsible pet owners," she said.

Note: Desperate to become “No Kill,” LA Animal Services Director Brenda Barnette urged fostering shelter animals in basements, bathrooms, and garages.

THE ITHACA JOURNAL (Jun 16, 2011) (Excerpts)

Influx of adult felines at height of kitten season strains Tompkins SPCA finances

The Ithaca Journal - Ithaca, N.Y.

Author:            Liz Lawyer

Date:   Jun 16, 2011

 “Ithaca -- Though it's kitten season at the Tompkins County SPCA, an unexpected influx of 72 surrendered cats, including adults as well as kittens, is taxing the shelter's resources, said SPCA Executive Director Jim Bouderau.”

Mr. Bouderau concludes, "As the new executive director, I have been surprised to learn that so many members of our community think we have ample funds to do our work," he said. "There seems to be a misconception that we receive government funding or that a few select organizations or families provide all the support we need. This is as far from the truth as a Chihuahua is from a mastiff. In the first quarter of 2011, we have lost over $130,000 in grants and private funding compared to the same period in 2010."

Best Friends’ “No Kill” Defined

Gregory Castle, one of the founders and now CEO of Best Friends touted in the article that Best Friends’ newest venture is a groundbreaking effort to make Los Angeles “No Kill,” and he explained that, “Differences in the varying no-kill campaigns are mostly a matter of nuance and how you define sick and aggressive.”

But it seems like defining “no kill” may involve more than “nuance,” and it’s how you compute “no kill” that actually makes the difference.

This “difference” jumped boldly into the spotlight when Francis Battista of Best Friends recently proclaimed at a public meeting that, by applying Best Friends’ “No More Homeless Pets” plan, within five years the city of Los Angeles will be “No Kill.”

Is it Nuance or E-Metrics?

Battista explained that measuring is a matter of “E-Metrics.” That is, determining the percentage based on the human population count, rather than on the actual number (percentage) of animals euthanized. (Huh?)

Since Los Angeles’ human population fluctuates and is not under the control of the local animal shelter, a rescuer with a mathematical bent wrote that she is wondering how 4 million Los Angeles city residents—many not even pet owners--factor into shelter euthanasia counts . The “euthanasia statistic” has traditionally been and still is computed nationwide by a simple accounting principle of dividing the number of animals euthanized by the total number impounded.

E-Metrics in Utah

E-Metrics is discussed on the Best Friends website, where it states that since 1999, No More Homeless Pets in Utah has decreased euthanasia by 41%* (the asterisk indicates a note on the bottom, “*…No More Homeless Pets in Utah tracks a statistic widely used as a measure of progress made in affecting pet overpopulation -- the number of animals euthanized each year per 1000 human population. We call this the E-Metric.”)

So, if the 41% decrease is not a real percentage but an E-Metric, what does the final E-Metric 11* really mean?

The “E-Metric” page, explains, “The E-Metric represents the number of homeless dogs and cats euthanized in Utah's shelters annually per 1000 human population.”

If Utah is almost at ‘No Kill/No More Homeless Pets’ status statewide, why would a Utah rescuer post that Ivins Animal Shelter is the ONLY no-kill shelter in Utah?

June 17, 2011 post on the Best Friends site : No-Kill shelter in Ivins, Utah, is packed: “The Ivins Animal Shelter, the only no-kill city shelter in Utah, is completely full. It is in desperate need of foster families and/or people to adopt them into forever homes.”

Here’s what a Los Angeles skeptic wrote:

“I went to Best Friends Animal Society's "No More Homeless Pets Utah" page when I heard that Best Friends said they can help LAAS achieve a 90% save rate because they did this in Utah. To me, 90% save rate also translates into 10% euthanized in Utah. All I wanted to do was to check the numbers for Utah and see if they take in as many animals as LAAS.

“Instead, it didn't take long to realize that something was “different.” And sure enough, the continual reference to "E-Metric" finally shed light on what is happening with Utah and its euthanasia rate.

“In the email invite for the "No More Homeless Pets LA" meeting in September, it said that "No More Homeless Pets LA represents a commitment by Best Friends to lead and sponsor a comprehensive drive to take the City of Los Angeles to the no-kill benchmark of a 90% save rate of all animals entering LA Animal Services’ shelters." Wow, that's truly wonderful news!

“LA Animal Services currently has a 39% euthanasia rate, and we're ecstatic to think that maybe “No-Kill" is finally within reach. But after a quick glance at the number of intake and euthanasia on "No More Homeless Pets Utah" page, it immediately became apparent that something didn't quite add up.

“How does an intake of 76,482 animals in Utah in 2010 and euthanasia of 30,833 equate to an 11% euthanasia rate? Well, it doesn't—if you do the math. But Best Friends doesn't calculate euthanasia rate by using the method of "total number euthanized divided by total number intake". Instead, it uses "E-Metric", which "represents the number of homeless dogs and cats euthanized in Utah's shelters annually per 1000 human population."

“So, if the "E-Metric" for the state of Utah in 2010 is 11 what is its euthanasia rate then? Simple. Take 30,833 euthanized and divide by 76,482 intake. The 2010 euthanasia rate for Utah is: 40.31%.

“In 2010 (based on September 09 thru August10, data), LA Animal Services took in 54,572 dogs and cats and euthanized 20,182, this equates to 36.98% euthanasia rate. That's better than what Best Friends “No More Homeless Pets Utah” did in Utah. (By the way, LA Animal Services calculates its euthanasia rate: "total euthanized divided by total intake." Simple and straightforward.)

“Now, how does LA Animal Services' stats look if we were to measure it by "E-Metric"? Let's see it. Using the estimated population in 2006 (last year of actual U.S. Census figures) and assuming a growth rate between 2000 and 2006, the population in Los Angeles in 2010 is approximately 3,957,855.

“Once again, the 2010 euthanasia total is 20,182. Using the same calculation method Best Friends applied to "No More Homeless Pets Utah", the 2010 "E-Metric" for LA Animal Services is... 5.10 But that’s not the same as a “save” or “No Kill” rate. Isn’t it more of a “guesstimate”?

“No Kill” vs. “Live Save”

In assessing the success of “No Kill” claims, it is important to realize that the organizations involved in this movement calculate by E-Metrics and the “live save” rate, which is NOT the same as an “adoption” rate and actual percentage of animals euthanized.

“Live save” merely means that the animal leaves the shelter  alive (not euthanized  and not killed by kennelmates or disease.) “Live save” includes animals that are adopted, but often an equal or larger number that are transported, fostered, or given to “rescue” groups.

In the mania to become “No Kill,” many shelters may make expedient decisions based upon political pressure to lower the euthanasia rate, rather than making the best choices for the animals. Next time, we’ll look at some of these shelters that claim or have claimed to be “No Kill,” or have tried to be no kill with varying experiences.

Illusion vs. Reality

We all would love to see an end of the need to euthanize behaviorally and physically sound discarded pets, but there are just not enough homes to adopt them. Humane euthanasia to relieve shelter overcrowding cannot be stopped just because it is uncomfortable or unpopular without subjecting thousands of innocent animals to suffering in packed kennels plagued with disease and injury or death from attacks and fighting. It is likely that many of those questioned in the AP poll are unaware of these realities.

Until breeding (backyard and professional) is strictly curtailed area-wide, spay/neuter efforts maximized, and humane care laws enforced without exception, unwanted animals will come into shelters in far larger numbers than quality adopters. With these solutions put in place as a priority, shelter euthanasia will decrease automatically.