Defining No Kill Editorial

2003 by Rich Avanzino

Audience: Executive Leadership, Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

"This may seem like a simple question but one I'm not sure I fully understand yet. What exactly does no-kill mean? I thought no-kill meant that you didn't kill animals, but there is a no-kill shelter near me that does euthanize animals that have treatable diseases like heartworm or broken bones. It seems different people have different ideas...."

(This question stems from a recent discussion on the Best Friends No More Homeless Pets Forum.)

A lot of folks are using the term no-kill these days. They're claiming they have a no-kill shelter, a no-kill city or a no-kill community. That's all fine. But along with using the term, they need to describe what they mean by "no-kill." As is obvious from the question above, everyone's definition is not the same.

The goal of Maddie's Fund is to help create a no-kill nation. We are striving to reach a time when every healthy and treatable shelter dog and cat in this country is given a loving home.

Our first step in getting to that goal is to help provide a nationwide adoption guarantee for all healthy shelter dogs and cats.

Maddie's Fund and most in the no-kill movement define a no-kill shelter, a no-kill city, a no-kill community or a no-kill nation as a place where all healthy and treatable animals are saved and where only unhealthy & untreatable animals are euthanized. Maddie's Fund uses the definitions in the Asilomar Accords to define these terms.

One way to think about the meaning of no-kill is to apply the same standard to an animal shelter as you would to your own pet. Would you put your cat down if he had a broken bone? What if your dog had kennel cough or separation anxiety? I don't think most people would take their pet's lives for these conditions.

As shelters improve their lifesaving records and look for ways to gain community support, many are proclaiming a no-kill victory. But unless the organization defines its terms, publishes its statistics (impounds, adoptions, redemptions, deaths by category), and publicly articulates what it is actually doing to save animal lives, such proclamations can be misleading and confusing. As more animal welfare organizations adopt the Asilomar Accords definitions and animal advocates demand transparency, the definition of no-kill will have greater uniformity.


Content you may be interested in

Adopted pets are rescued by love, saved by shelter medicine

February 9, 2017

If you’ve adopted a pet from an animal shelter or rescue group, you know how powerful the bond is that exists between the pet and their human family. You’re also probably aware of the efforts made by shelter and rescue staff and volunteers to make sure you and your pet found each other. What you… Learn More

Advances in pet databases can help your shelter or rescue group get more pets adopted

February 8, 2017

The technological revolution of the last 25 years has had a profound impact on the animal welfare industry. Things we now take for granted, like websites that display our organizations' services and adoptable pets, pet-search databases such as and, more robust and easy to use animal sheltering software solutions, and the rise of… Learn More

Best Practice Strategies for Redefining Animal Sheltering

February 2017 by Dr. Sara Pizano

Hear a fresh perspective with regards to the way animals may enter the shelter and key practices that help the most leave alive, all by working smarter, not harder. Learn More