Module 7: Get to Know a Shelter

The Language of Lifesaving and Culture Change

A variety of terminology has been used in an attempt to define a sheltering philosophy around elimination of unnecessary euthanasia.

One approach was to provide an Adoption Guarantee for all adoptable animals, with the tricky part being how to define what “adoptable” means. A group of organizations came together to establish a framework called the Asilomar Accords in which communities were asked to evaluate what conditions a “reasonable and caring pet owner” would treat. This resulted in communities developing their own subjective lists of “healthy,” “treatable,” and “untreatable” conditions. Organizations and communities described themselves as No Kill or Adoption Guarantee if only the untreatable and dangerous animals were euthanized.

Another approach was to establish a numeric goal around shelter lifesaving. Saving 90% of animals that enter an organization has been a frequently used milestone. However, the applicability of this goal depends a lot on what kinds of animals are admitted. Organizations that take in primarily healthy animals with high adopter appeal may find it easier to meet or exceed the 90% bar than shelters that have a high intake of sick or difficult animals.

The use of humane euthanasia in the context of animal sheltering is an often confusing and controversial topic among the public and animal advocates. Although no shelter would describe itself this way, the inflammatory term Kill Shelter has been assigned by individuals as the opposite of no kill. Terminology used to describe organizational policies can become so polarizing that it explodes into public debates, criticism via social media, and cyber bullying so extreme as to include death threats over the euthanasia of individual animals.

Controversy over terminology reached a flash point in 2019 when a Colorado shelter was shut down by state inspectors for crowding and neglect shortly after the City Council passed an ordinance requiring the shelter to save at least 90% of the animals and awarded the sheltering contract to a small inexperienced organization. Some critics associated the failure with pursuit of a no kill philosophy, whereas others blamed incompetence of political and shelter leadership. The controversy ignited a debate about terminology and sheltering goals and the emergence of yet another term, Socially Conscious Sheltering.

In reality, there is nothing inherently conflicting between socially conscious and no kill. The high standards of lifesaving programs, welfare, and community safety can marry well with the metrics, goals, and transparency of no kill. Sometimes, moving beyond the false limits of language can reveal a vast common ground for effective collaboration around shared goals. Read on to explore the often heated discussion of the language of lifesaving and the tumultuous history of how animal shelters have adapted operations to meet public demand in the modern era.


The Words We Choose

Thumbnail of No Kill banner

Should We Use the Term No Kill?

By Dr. Ellen Jefferson

“To some people, No Kill means saving 90% of pets who enter a shelter. Others think it means only saving pets considered ‘treatable’ and ‘healthy,’ or that only closed-admission shelters can be No Kill. Some critics of the term argue that it’s so misunderstood we should stop using it altogether. But is getting rid of the term ‘No Kill’ really the best solution? . . . No Kill is the belief and practice that every pet who enters a shelter should receive urgent, individualized treatment and care, with the goal of a live outcome.”   Read more . . .


SociallyConscious logo

Socially Conscious Sheltering

By Socially Conscious Sheltering Community

“Socially Conscious Sheltering is a compassionate, transparent and thoughtful model outlining how animal shelters and rescues can best support vulnerable animals in their care and community.
Socially Conscious Sheltering is a shared set of beliefs, defined by a framework of “tenets,” that help ensure the best results for pets in shelters and rescues.”  Read more . . .


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Integrating Veterinary Medicine with Shelter Systems Copyright © 2020 by University of Florida is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.