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Passion pays off: No-kill movement saves millions of animals per year

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Posted: Sunday, August 17, 2014 10:00 pm | Updated: 1:32 am, Mon Aug 25, 2014.

(BPT) - Americans like to think of themselves as a pet-loving society; today, nearly 70 million dogs and 74 million cats live in U.S. households, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Yet as recently as 30 years ago, animal shelters across the country routinely killed an estimated 17 million companion animals a year as a means of population control.

Today, the no-kill movement – which advocates adoption and spaying/neutering, rather than euthanasia to control the companion animal population – has helped reduce significantly the number of animals killed in shelters, saving about 13 million per year. The handful of passionate activists who helped launch the movement three decades ago say there is still work to be done, and that everyday Americans, working together, can help end the killing of shelter animals altogether.

“All life has intrinsic value,” says Francis Battista, a co-founder of Best Friends Animal Society, which has been at the forefront of the no-kill movement for three decades. “By relating with kindness and unconditional love toward the most vulnerable members of our society, we are celebrating the intrinsic value of life, uplifting society as a whole, and moving us all toward the better, kinder and more loving community we all aspire to live in.”

In 1984, when a group of 28 passionate activists founded the first Best Friends Animal Society no-kill sanctuary in Utah, American shelters practiced killing as the primary means of controlling the country’s population of unwanted companion pets. Five years later, no-kill advocate Ed Duvin wrote a revolutionary article, “In the Name of Mercy,” that challenged conventional wisdom about the “kindest” way to manage homeless animals, appealed for a new ethic in animal sheltering and set the philosophical stage for the no-kill movement.

Just 10 years after the founding of Best Friends, the city of San Francisco became America’s first “no-kill city,” when the San Francisco SPCA and the city’s Department of Animal Care and Control established an adoption pact for homeless animals. Today, communities across the country have adopted the no-kill philosophy., a website that tracks the progress of the no-kill movement, currently lists 264 communities that either credibly report they have a “live release rate” of 90 percent or more – meaning the majority of animals taken into their shelters are saved – or that approach that percentage.

Since the inception of the no-kill movement, millions of homeless animals have been saved. Still, animal advocacy groups estimate that just 3 million to 4 million of the 6 million to 8 million animals that enter shelters each year are adopted. What’s more, Best Friends estimates that 90 percent of all the animals that enter shelters each year could be adoptable.

Adoption and spay/neutering programs are key alternatives to killing homeless animals.

In addition to adopting from animal shelters, you can support the no-kill movement by:

* Volunteering or financially supporting your local no-kill shelter.

* Donating supplies or your time.

* Choosing not to do business with pet stores that get their animals from puppy mills.

* Having your pets spayed or neutered to help control the animal population.

* Founding a capture, spay/neuter and release program if your community has a feral cat population.

To learn more about the no-kill movement, visit

“It’s important for people to understand that the no-kill movement is deeply rooted in the basic principle of kindness,” says Gregory Castle, a Cambridge-educated philosophy major who built the roads and electrical systems for the original Best Friends sanctuary in 1984 and is now the organization's CEO. “If we dismiss the importance of being kind to animals, we won’t be successful in our efforts to be kind to each other. By caring for animals, we’re learning how to better care for each other.”

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