pets' lives saved since becoming no-kill in
January 2002

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Richmond SPCA

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2519 Hermitage Road
Richmond, VA 23220

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Charity Navigator: Four Star Charity

January 2010

Dear Fellow Animal Lover:

There is no animal welfare topic that inspires more confusion and harsh words than the issue of what “no-kill” means and whether it is an acceptable term to use. So, it is with trepidation that I launch into this subject but, in light of the lack of clarity and rampant misuse of the term that has been evident in our own community recently, I would like to try to elucidate the matter.

One of my mentors once said to me “no-kill does not mean no euthanasia, when the word “euthanasia” is used consistently with its dictionary definition, but it does mean that there is no other sort of killing than that.” That is a totally correct statement. Euthanasia correctly means the taking of a life as an act of mercy because the person or animal is hopelessly sick with no expectation of any quality of life, only suffering. The valid no-kill philosophy permits this true euthanasia to occur but not any other sort of taking of animal lives. In animal welfare, there has arisen a habit of referring to the taking of any companion animal’s life as “euthanasia” even when the animal was perfectly healthy. That, of course, may make every one feel better about the tragedy occurring but it is not an accurate use of the word “euthanasia.”

“No-kill” when the term is applied either to an organization, like ours, or to an entire community means that no killing of any homeless companion animal is occurring other than those that are unhealthy and untreatable; that is, true euthanasia is the only kind of killing happening. Under the Asilomar Accords which are the widely accepted format for the reporting of statistics on a nationally consistent basis, there are three basic categories of sheltered animals: healthy, treatable (which has two subsets but we do not need to get into that here) and unhealthy/untreatable. To be truly no-kill, you must be saving the life of every healthy animal and every treatable animal. Under that definition, the Richmond SPCA is no-kill but our community is not yet. I say “yet” because in the City of Richmond and in Hanover County, the first piece of that no-kill goal is now being achieved – every healthy homeless animal is being saved in those jurisdictions. But the second piece – saving the life of every treatable animal - is not yet being achieved in those jurisdictions.

Recently, in the discussions about our proposed partnering with Chesterfield County, many statements have been made that suggest or imply that saving the life of every healthy animal will make the county “no-kill.” While saving the life of every healthy homeless animal is the crucial first step on the path toward becoming no-kill (and a significant achievement in itself), the life of every treatable homeless animal must also be saved before any place or organization may validly call itself no-kill. Of course, saving all of the treatables is a challenging task because it involves great rehabilitation expense and recuperation time to save all of them. In Richmond and in Hanover, many but not yet all of the treatables are being saved. As a result of our partnerships, an increasing percentage of them are being saved in each of those jurisdictions with each passing year.

In my view, “no-kill” may be an imperfect term but it is the best one anyone has been able to think of to express this concept. The naysayers always argue that it misleads people into believing that not even true euthanasia of suffering and untreatably ill animals is happening. I think that does not give people enough credit for being reasonable. Yes, you do have to explain this to them as I have done above. But, I find that, after hearing the explanation, most people have no disagreement with the concept that you can be “no-kill” and still be euthanizing hopelessly unhealthy and suffering animals. They know that they would euthanize their own beloved pet under the same circumstances and so it is understandable to them. What most people want, and what we all should be working to achieve, is a community in which all healthy and all treatable companion animals are being saved and given the life that they deserve to have. We will get there if we work together – of that I am confident.


Robin Robertson Starr
Chief Executive Officer
Richmond SPCA

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