No Kill is the only legitimate standard for animal shelters today. In fact, an argument could be made that it does not go far enough: by allowing for the killing of hopelessly ill or injured animals who are not yet suffering, who are killed in the face of a hospice care alternative, and even aggressive dogs who could lead happy lives in sanctuaries, there are gaps in the safety net. But to argue in the reverse: to argue for the continued killing of healthy or treatable animals is a non-starter. That it is inhumane, unethical and morally bankrupt goes without saying. But it is more than that: it is also irrational.

We create No Kill communities by institutionalizing the No Kill Equation, the series of programs and services which replace killing and which have allowed for overnight success in the many shelters across the country that have already dedicated themselves to that end. Programs that no rational person can seriously take issue with: foster care, offsite adoptions, socialization and behavior rehabilitation, thorough cleaning and care standards, medical care both as prevention and for rehabilitation, working with rescue groups, TNR, pet retention, progressive field services/proactive redemption, marketing and adoptions, and of course, progressive and imaginative leadership. Can anyone with even a hint of common sense or compassion actually say it is better to kill baby kittens than bottle feed them? Kill animals rather than promote adoptions? Kill animals rather than work with rescue groups? Of course not.

To say you are “opposed to No Kill” means you reject foster care in favor of killing, you reject vaccinations and medical care in favor of killing, you reject knocking on doors to get lost dogs home rather than killing, and you reject adoptions in favor of killing. Of course, most of the opponents of No Kill won’t say that. They can’t say that. No one will take them seriously. So they say they are “opposed to No Kill” and hope people don’t ask probing questions. Because if you were to ask, “Are you opposed to foster care?” The answer would have to be “No.” If you were to ask “Are you opposed to adoption?” The answer would have to be “No.” The same is true of each and every program of the No Kill Equation. And when you put them all together, and you implement them comprehensively to the point that they replace killing entirely, you get No Kill.

Second, opposition to No Kill rests on a single premise: No Kill is impossible. In order to defend killing, there can be no alternative. If a life-affirming alternative exists, the defense of killing in face of that alternative is a priori unethical. Today, there are dozens of No Kill communities representing hundreds of cities and towns across America; communities where so-called “open admission” shelters are saving all healthy and treatable animals. For the arguments of those who “oppose No Kill” to make even a modicum of sense, they have to pretend these communities do not exist, because how could No Kill be impossible if it has already been achieved?

Third, even if we were to assume for the sake of argument that they are right, if we assume that not a single No Kill community exists, what difference would that make? None. Instead of fighting efforts to create one, they should be dedicating themselves to figuring out how to bring them into existence. Because the right to life is the most fundamental of all rights, working diligently to achieve No Kill is the most solemn duty of any organization that claims the mantle of animal welfare or animal rights. In fact, no matter what rationale is used to justify the killing, it can never be reconciled with an animal’s inherent right to live. Proponents of “catch and kill” sheltering use “practical” arguments in favor of ending life all the time, such as “Killing dogs and cats is necessary because there are too many animals and not enough homes” or “Feral cats suffer on the streets and therefore killing is the compassionate option.”

Advancing a practical over an ethical argument has long been the safe haven for those who want to justify untoward practice and to make cruelty, killing or oppression seem like the natural order—regrettable but unavoidable; or in Wayne Pacelle’s language: a “lamentable necessity.” It’s dishonest, but oh-so-very typical. Indeed, history is filled with such examples. Early in the movement to abolish slavery in the United States, there were those who justified it by arguing that even though slavery might be a regrettable institution, it was necessary because people of different races could never live together as equals. This was an idea advanced even by so-called anti-slavery societies which argued that slavery should end only when white people summoned the collective will to expatriate every African American living in the U.S. to Africa. Suffragists faced the common argument that while it might seem unfair to deny women the right to vote, it was necessary because women were not capable of making informed decisions without the help of men. They argued that society would be placed in jeopardy were women, who possessed inferior minds, allowed to share in how the government operated. And those who opposed the civil rights movement of the 1960s often argued that they were not in fact racist in denying equal opportunity to people of color, but that differences between races meant that “separate but equal” was the natural order.

Having fully rejected these “practical” arguments which favored discrimination, we now see how faulty and myopic such “logic” actually was. We see how those who advocated for the oppression of blacks and for the disenfranchisement of women were sacrificing ethical principles to expediency—just as those who call themselves “animal advocates” but voraciously defend the killing of animals in shelters as “necessary” do. But just as we now understand that those who defended slavery or opposed civil and suffrage rights did so not in deference to ideals as they claimed, but rather as a means of defending the privileged position the oppression afforded them; So too, do those who defend the killing of companion animals and the agencies that systematically perform it do so not, as they claim, in order to promote the “practical” interests of animals. They do it to defend vested interests in which they have a personal stake. Regressive shelter directors and those at the national organizations which defend them do so because the No Kill movement threatens to expose them as failures. While self-proclaimed animal advocates and vegans which defend the killing and PETA do so not out of a genuine concern for animals, but in order to defend an institution with which they are deeply identified—even when that institution promotes policies that perpetuate rather than lessen the killing of animals and even when the agency itself inflicts upon thousands of animals the greatest form of violence : killing.

Protecting life that is not mortally suffering is a timeless and absolute principle upon which responsible animal advocates must tailor their practices. Every action they take must be subservient to preserving life. And while the arguments in favor of killing are easy to dismiss in this case because they are in contravention of the facts, even if they weren’t it wouldn’t matter as they are arguments that advance expediency over what is the right—and therefore, moral—thing to do. And so they are left with no choice but to lie in order to defend their position: to pretend that No Kill communities which prove that everything they argue is false do not exist, and to perpetuate the fiction that one can be “animal rights” or a person who believes in the fair and just treatment of animals by humans, while at the same time advancing an agenda that denies them their most basic and fundamental right to live. Indeed, what those who oppose No Kill seek for animals, they would never dare openly seek for themselves or other humans. In the case of those who might claim to be “animal rights,” they also perpetuate a double standard between human and non-human animals that the animal rights movement theoretically exists to oppose.

The keys to ending the killing have been discovered. We have the power to end the killing today. And in communities across the country, we’ve done exactly that. When defenders of killing fail to greet that news with celebration by responding with scorn; when they work feverishly to defend the paradigm that has been responsible for so much suffering and so much death in the face of the No Kill alternative; when they lie and slander those who are working diligently to end the killing, they unmask themselves. They prove to the rest of us—and to the animal-loving American public—who and what they truly are. And the conclusion becomes more and more inescapable: those who oppose No Kill are not only irrational, they are cruel and heartless. They don’t love animals. And in demonstrating that publicly with their dishonest defense of killing, they are sowing the seeds of their own demise.

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