Paying Lip Service to No Kill: Lost in The Matrix

The term “No Kill” is a popular one. Many shelters claim to want to be No Kill, or claim that they already are No Kill, or claim to be working towards No Kill. Many of those shelters aren’t and have no intention of working towards it, they simply like the perceived PR value of the term and so they bend whatever statistic or definition they have to to claim No Kill status.

The generally accepted definition of No Kill is when you are saving 90% or greater of pets entering shelters in your community, and that number was chosen by looking at some of the highest functioning shelters in the United States and examining their save rates. Since the development of that definition, we have in fact discovered that save rates of 98%+ are possible in a municipal open admission animal shelter. In the end, No Kill is not a number or a statistic, it is when every animal entering a shelter is being given the absolute maximum chance to leave alive. The 90% mark is a quick and easy benchmark, but the real goal of No Kill is to reclaim the true definition of euthanasia: a kind death reserved only for those animals who are hopelessly sick or suffering without hope of recovery. Right now the philosophy of No Kill also allows the euthanasia of those animals, mostly dogs, who are judged to be hopelessly violent. Our understanding of dog rehabilitation is advancing every day, and it is my hope that someday they too will be routinely granted the right to live, in sanctuary if necessary.

Organizations like the Mayor’s Alliance for New York City’s Animals claim to be leading New York City to No Kill. They’re not. You can’t achieve No Kill without reforming the basic practices of the city shelters, which the Alliance has been completely unable to do. They have been able to drop euthanasia by paying private rescues to take animals from city shelters. That’s helpful, but it won’t get you to No Kill without shelter reform. As we get closer to 2015 and the end of the grant that keeps the Mayor’s Alliance operational, look for them to modify their mission statement: “working to end the killing of healthy and treatable cats and dogs at our city shelters, Animal Care & Control of NYC”. I’ve seen them testing out language that their goal is now to “reduce euthanasia” and I expect them to slowly transition to that language, since that will allow them to fundraise indefinitely for a goal that will never be achieved, preserving the existence of the Alliance and the power of its leader, Jane Hoffman.

It’s important to know that the Mayor’s Alliance never actually intended to take NYC truly No Kill. Here’s how we know. The Mayor’s Alliance is funded primarily by a large grant from Maddie’s Fund. Maddie’s Fund requires data collection in what is called Asilomar format, a standard format of shelter data reporting created by the Asilomar Accords. The Asilomar format has a major Achilles heel that prevents it from ever being an accurate reporting tool or allowing anyone to use it to compare the performance of two different shelters: it leaves it up to the organization making the report to decide what they consider “unhealthy” or “untreatable”. This, of course, is somewhat ridiculous and it makes these statistics extremely easy to manipulate. Don’t want to bother saving cats with ringworm? Boom, make ‘em untreatable. Dogs with Demodex? Untreatable. Kittens? Hey, if they’re under 8 weeks old, you’re in luck – they’re ALL considered “unhealthy” by the definitions of the Accords and it’s up to you if you consider them treatable or not!

So Maddie’s Fund supports a reporting standard where the participating grantees get to make up their own definitions of what is treatable in their community, since obviously there are some places where, say, ringworm is special and can’t be treated.

When a community grant is given by Maddie’s, as it has been to the Mayor’s Alliance, the participating organizations within that community are supposed to convene and develop a Pet Evaluation Matrix where your community agrees upon the standards of evaluation and treatment for animals who do not meet the definition of healthy under the Accords. If your community can’t afford to develop one, they also have a model matrix based on a survey of veterinarians. Many organizations that have created a matrix make them publicly available. Finally, the No Kill Advocacy Center has published a matrix of their own, notable because the NKAC has been instrumental in actually creating No Kill communities, not just paying lip service to them.

The Mayor’s Alliance and the shelters of New York City do not appear to have ever developed a Pet Evaluation Matrix for New York. By not doing so they can exploit a loophole in the system: that they can simply change the definition of “unhealthy” and “untreatable” to allow the shelters to kill whomever it is they wish to kill today and include their deaths in the appropriate category. It’s yet another way that the Mayor’s Alliance takes advantage of Maddie’s generosity and keeps the money flowing, no matter if goals are being achieved or not. This is routine in NYC shelters and it is being done by the shelters with the aid and assistance of the Mayor’s Alliance with the full knowledge of Maddie’s Fund: that their grant supports the death of healthy animals in NYC that the shelters have fraudulently labeled “unhealthy”.

We’re now in the seventh year of the five year plan for the Mayor’s Alliance to take New York City No Kill that was since modified to be a ten year plan. Maybe it’s time to cover the basics.

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