Kids & Pets
January 24, 2021
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The truth about no-kill, does not mean zero deaths

By: Mickey Zeldes
March 29, 2019

Recently a news item was circulating on Facebook entitled “The Truth About No-Kill” and the reporter was making the shocking announcement that “no-kill” does not mean zero deaths.  He was truly astounded to find out that shelters that call themselves “no-kill” still do occasional euthanasias.  He kept asking “What does no-kill mean?”  What does it mean to you?

We’re often asked if we are a “no-kill” shelter and my response is always that question.  What does “no-kill” mean to you?  Sometimes we get in animals that are severely injured or incurably ill.  Sometimes we get in animals that have bitten people or killed other animals.  Sometimes we get in animals under-socialized to the point that being around people is traumatizing to them.  Sometimes we have to make those hard decisions.  Almost always the response is “oh, that’s OK.”  

Well, thank you.  So we do euthanize – sometimes.  Never healthy, good-tempered animals.  Never because of space or after a set number of days.  I don’t know any shelter, in our area that faces that issue.  There is a strong network of shelters and rescues and we all do everything we can to help the animals in our care find homes.  But we don’t save them all.  Not only is that not possible – it’s not reasonable.  So what does the term “no-kill” mean?  The accepted definition, put forward by Richard Avanzino, father of the no-kill movement, is any shelter that saves 90 percent or more of the animals in its care.

Yes, that means that up to 10 percent of the animals could still be euthanized but it’s the last 10 percent that is such a struggle for shelters.  They are the really old frail animals, the ones with difficult temperament challenges, those with chronic or expensive health issues – those that are, in fact, the least likely to be adopted.  No one comes into the shelter looking for an animal that will cost a fortune in vet bills or will be behaviorally challenging!

Another challenge is how you do your statistics.  Do you count in owner-requested euthanasias? That is when an owner makes the difficult decision to end the suffering of their own pet and pays the shelter to perform that service.  Do you count animals that die on their own despite being given treatment?  There is a big difference between a parvo puppy that dies even though it was being treated aggressively and making the decision to euthanize a healthy animal that is deemed too dangerous.  You can see that if you leave out those that die on their own where that can go – I shudder to think that any shelter might not humanely put an animal out of his suffering just so they could say he died on his own!  On the other hand, how often is an animal “adopted” out to a trusted volunteer who takes the sick animal to their own vet for euthanasia?  It shows on the books as an adoption, right?  You can see how tricky dealing with stats can be.

We are proud of the progress we are making.  Last year we were at 93% percent save rate.  We currently have in adoptions many senior pets, some with manageable health issues, FIV cats, shy cats and cats that are for barn/working cat placements.  These are animals that just 10 to 15 years ago would have been euthanized without a second thought.  But we can’t do it without people willing to adopt these challenging pets.  We definitely aren’t set up to be a sanctuary!  So if you want to do your part to help make this really a “no-kill” nation, then please consider opening your home to one of our more challenging animals.  They are still very loving and appreciative!

Upcoming Events

3rd Annual Sonoma County Bunfest! – Sat., March 30, 11-3:00 p.m., at the RP Community Center.  Free admission gets you great speakers about bunny care and health, adorable rabbits to meet, rabbit supplies and toys for sale, raffle items and more.  New this year – a family activity center!  Details available at

“Get Them Back Home” Campaign – Every lost pet should have a way to get back home.  FREE pet ID tag and a back-up microchip are available to all residents of Rohnert Park and Cotati.  No appointment necessary, just come by the shelter during our regular open hours: Wed. 1-6:30; Thurs.-Fri.-Sat. 1-5:30; Sun. 1-4:30.

Fix-it Clinics – Free spay and neuters for cats; and $60 dog surgeries (up to 80 lbs.) for low-income Rohnert Park and Cotati residents.  Call 588-3531 for an appointment. 

Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at