Delaware announced they were the first No Kill state in the country. Now Michigan is saying they are a No Kill state, too, and they did it first. Neither claim is true.

Some pounds in Michigan kill more than seven out of 10 cats. And yet some are calling Michigan a No Kill state.

The pound in St. Clair County, MI, killed more cats than they placed: 53%. The pound in Berrien County, MI, killed 70% of the cats ⁠— of every 10 cats the pound took in, seven were injected with poison from a bottle marked “fatal-plus.” The Cass County, MI, pound also killed seven out of 10 cats. The pound in Lake County, MI, killed even more. It put to death 73% of cats.

The Michigan Humane Society handles more animals than any other agency in Michigan. In 2018, it killed one out of every three dogs.

And yet the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance (MPFA) just announced that Michigan is a No Kill state, the second state to make the announcement after Delaware (also falsely) announced it had crossed the milestone:

On the heels of Delaware’s announcement that the state had achieved No Kill status in its animal shelters with a live release rate of 92 percent, the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance has announced a statewide average live release rate of 90 percent. When the shelters in a state combine to meet that target, the state is considered No Kill for shelter animals.

How can that be? How can a state where there are pounds killing seven out of 10 cats or more qualify as No Kill? It can’t. And MPFA knows it. In fact, it had a lot of fine print:

  1. It admits it doesn’t count animals ostensibly killed at the request of their owners (OREs). Statewide, that means thousands of animals are not counted.
  2. It uses a combined dog and cat placement rate, which obscures higher rates of killing for cats compared to dogs.
  3. It uses a combined state rate, which obscures killing by poorly performing pounds like Lake County, St. Clair, Berrien, Cass, and others.
  4. It admits 36 shelters in the state are below 90% (as it excludes OREs and uses a combined rate, the actual number is higher).
  5. It admits 14 counties in the state are below 90% (as it excludes OREs and uses a combined rate, the actual number is higher).

There’s another more fundamental problem with the claim that a 90% placement rate equates to No Kill: 10% of animals entering shelters are not suffering. As such, organizations are being dishonest when they tell the media and the public that killing 10% of animals meets the definition of “euthanasia” because it provides a mercy killing for animals who are “irremediably suffering.”

There are communities across the country placing 98%, 99%, in some cases even 100% of the animals, including those in Michigan, proving that a 90% standard is far too low. The 90% standard was promulgated over a decade ago with a very limited dataset and before advancements in veterinary medicine made once fatal conditions treatable. Unlike ten years ago, diseases, such as parvovirus, now have a good to great prognosis for rehabilitation, but a 10% kill rate allows these animals to be killed. Moreover, it allows medium to large dogs to be killed, even if the only thing they are “suffering” from are poor manners or too much energy. It allows healthy animals to be killed as long as the killing is under 10% of total intakes.

Claiming to have achieved No Kill statewide in the face of counties with continued high rates of killing is not just dishonest, it can lead to animals losing their lives when people mistakenly believe that it is now safe to surrender an animal to a pound that actually still kills seven out of 10 cats, like those in Berrien, Cass, and Lake counties.

So why are they calling the state No Kill?

I suspect it is to compete with Delaware which announced it was the first No Kill state. Indeed, Michigan claims that they were actually the first, Delaware just beat them to announcing it. But like Michigan, Delaware is not No Kill either.

The Brandywine SPCA, the state-contracted animal control shelter in Delaware, only has a contract to take in stray dogs. As such, it turns away owner-surrendered dogs. It turns away stray cats. It turns away owner-surrendered cats. And it brings in small dogs from out of state to prop up the placement rate, obscuring the Delaware animal kill rate. Worse, it has told people wanting to surrender animals to take those animals to a private veterinarian or to the SPCA’s “community clinic” for killing and then didn’t count any of them when reporting statistics.

Announcing improvement is a good thing to do. Increasing success leads to more success because it lets people know that what they do matters and that they can make a profound life and death difference. It also inspires them to want to do better. But claiming to have achieved No Kill before actually doing so is another matter entirely. That can actually have the opposite effect, suggesting that the finish line has been crossed and no further effort is needed. And that can cost animals their lives, while at the same time rendering those deaths invisible.

It doesn’t make the announcement more palatable just because MPFA added the equivalent of an asterisk and fine print where they explained that thousands of animals are not being counted, that cats remain at grave risk in some parts of the state, and that a fair number of shelters/counties continue to fall short. Not everyone reads the fine print, the media is certainly not reporting it, and, even if they did, the fine print isn’t supposed to contradict the actual announcement.

Of course, it’s worse when ⁠— as Best Friends and Brandywine SPCA did in Delaware ⁠— they skip the asterisk altogether and lie outright. But just because Delaware’s announcement is worse doesn’t make Michigan’s any less problematic.

The No Kill movement was never about bragging rights; about elevating oneself, one’s group, one’s state over the animals. It was supposed to be first and foremost about those animals; about ending their killing unless they were truly irremediably suffering — which despite their announcements, neither Delaware nor Michigan has done.

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