Hard Truth About “No-Kill” as Utah is Now a “No-Kill State”


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On Tuesday February 27, Utah Governor Spencer Cox declared 2024 as No-Kill Shelter Year in Utah, demonstrating state leadership’s commitment to not only making Utah the first “no-kill” state in the West, but also the largest “no-kill” state in the country.  The initiative is driven by Best Friends Animal Society, based in Utah.

While the notion of “no-kill” is great, in the real world there are problems associated with this labeling.

Shelters not designated as “no-kill” are then often described as “kill shelters.” I argue no shelter wants to euthanize animals; the problem has little to do with the facility. The problem occurs solely because the community is relinquishing more pets than there is space Making matters worse, many “no-kill” facilities pick and choose what they take in, and often don’t accept more than a pawful – if any – public drop offs. While, most municipal facilities are by law mandated to take in all animals arriving at their door as well as being responsible for stray dogs.

If the municipal facility has no space, the only way to free up that space may be to sadly euthanize. In some cases, the “no kill” facilities could take in more, but they are concerned that they have more pets than they can easily adopt out. Municipal facilities don’t have the luxury to not accept animals. So, the municipal facilities are left holding the bag.

Being referred to as “kill shelters,” donors have significantly been swayed to redirect support and only give to “no-kill” facilities. A lack of resources places even more pressure on every other facility. And some of those have transitioned to the “no-kill” model knowing that even the term “no-kill” will raise money.

Thanks to the increase of foster families and increase of spay/neuter and increasingly the concept that pets are family members, there is still some balance. However, dogs are iright now being given up to shelters over the country in large numbers, primarily due to a lack of affordable housing accepting dogs and weight restrictions….among many other reasons which have always existed, with unwanted behavior at the top of the list.

Among those behaviors are aggression. It’s important to note that dog bites are up. A “no-kill’ facility isn’t likely to euthanize, and instead hires a dog trainer to “re-train” the aggressive dog. Most often these trainers are only given a week to two weeks or so to “get the job done,” and resort to aversive methods and equipment like shock collars which emit a jolt. Indeed, the trainers do intimidate the dogs enough when using shock that for a time the behavior is squashed.

The problem is that the dog never learns how to cope, and is now a ticking time bomb. The shelter cheers to donors and the trainers cheer to online followers that they “saved the dog.” Electronic collars are even celebrated when they should be banned (as San Francisco is attempting).

Sadly, though, these dogs typically suffer collateral psychological damage during their training and it’s just a matter of time before they explode. Few talk about this problem, but it’s one (of many) explanations for increasing dog bites, often severe.

Of course, the fewer dogs euthanized, the better! But the divisiveness in shelter community benefits no one. Actually, that’s wrong – it’s financially benefited many “no kill” shelters, as to the public perceives them as the “good guys” and shelters that euthanize are perceived as “bad guys.”

Certainly, the philosophy of “no-kill,” and the goal is what we all want and has leveraged a changed in culture. The real issue is this: If pets aren’t relinquished to the extent that they are – I wouldn’t be needing to write this.

Here’s the “no-kill” release:

Governor Cox Declares the State of Utah Will Become No-Kill in 2024
Best Friends Animal Society and No-Kill Utah Coalition Participate in Pet Lifesaving Declaration
SALT LAKE CITY (February 27, 2023) — Today, Governor Spencer Cox declared 2024 as No-Kill Shelter Year in Utah. The declaration demonstrates that the state of Utah is working diligently to make Utah not only the first no-kill state in the west, but also the largest no-kill state in the country.

Best Friends Animal Society, a leading national animal welfare organization working to end the killing of cats and dogs in America’s shelters by 2025, applauds this monumental lifesaving motion in its home state.

“Utah is on the cusp of achieving no-kill and Governor Cox’s declaration gives the movement an extra push to achieve this momentous accomplishment in 2024,” said Julie Castle, CEO, Best Friends Animal Society. “Forty years ago, Best Friends made Utah its home state with the Best Friends Animal Society Sanctuary in Kanab. Now, in 2024, it just makes sense for no-kill to be on the horizon for the Beehive State.”

According to recent data from Best Friends, about 2,100 dogs and cats were killed in Utah animal shelters, with a majority (76%) of those deaths being cats. However, there is hope – 46 out of 58, or 79%, of shelters in Utah have reached no-kill status. Currently, throughout the state only 12 shelters have yet to reach no-kill.

Best Friends and the No-Kill Utah (NKUT) Coalition, an initiative that brings together passionate individuals, city shelters, and animal welfare organizations, are working to increase pet lifesaving throughout the state.

The organizations work with shelters throughout the state, including North Utah Valley Animal Services and South Utah Valley Animal Services, to adopt lifesaving programming including: community cat programming, spay/neuter services, and food assistance, among other resources.

“I am supportive of Utah working to become a no-kill state,” said Gov. Cox. “We know that when residents of our great state come together for a cause they believe in, they can achieve so much. I fully support Utahns stepping up by adopting and fostering animals in their local communities.”

No-kill is defined as saving every dog or cat in a shelter who can be saved. Rather than simply working to obtain a no-kill designation, the goal is for every shelter to make a clear commitment to pet lifesaving and transparency while working to achieve and sustain no-kill in philosophy and practice. Community safety and good quality of life for pets are guiding principles of the no-kill philosophy and are attainable when animal welfare professionals engage in best practices and protocols.

“Utah continues to make significant progress in pet lifesaving, and it takes a collaborative approach to achieve no-kill,” said Castle. “Community members, local shelters and rescue groups, and government officials must take Governor Cox’s words to heart as we all commit to 2024 as the year Utah goes no-kill.”

Individuals can help save lives by choosing to adopt from a shelter or rescue group instead of purchasing from a breeder or store, spay or neuter their pets, foster kittens or an adult dog, volunteer, donate, and advocate for proven lifesaving programming for pets.

To learn more visit bestfriends.org.