The Henderson, NV, animal shelter reported that it achieved a record high placement rate in 2018. Congratulations to the good people of Henderson. That’s worth celebrating because it means more animals are going out the front door in the loving arms of adopters, rather than out the back door in garbage bags.

It also reported, however, that it “qualifies as a ‘no-kill’ shelter for 2018 after it achieved a 91.5 percent save rate.” Unfortunately, to make that claim, it uses a misleading formula peddled by Best Friends. And as much as I wish it was, it isn’t true.

While Henderson claims a combined rate of 91.5%, it’s actual placement rate is 85% for dogs and only 83% for cats. That is not No Kill. Moreover, with communities across the country placing 99% of animals and with healthy and treatable animals still dying in Henderson, 90% may be a milestone had it reached it for each in earnest — which it did not — but even then, it is not the finish line.

Case in point: Henderson killed 200 cats for “behavior.” Being feral should not be a death sentence, but it still is in Henderson. These are otherwise healthy cats who may not be social with humans, but still have a right to live. Moreover, cats with so-called “behavior” problems do not pose safety risks. Indeed, there is no need to even delay finding homes for cats deemed “fractious.” They can be sterilized and returned to their habitats if they are not social with humans and are used to living outdoors or they can be adopted out immediately if they are. Simply put, people will adopt cats with “catitude.” In fact, almost two decades ago, when I ran the “open admission” shelter in Tompkins County, New York, we eliminated any “behavior category” for cats and thus any killing of cats for “behavior,” “aggression,” or being “feral.”

This is not to say that cats who experience behavior issues in the shelter do not warrant changes in shelter housing, shelter treatment, and behavior intervention to address those needs. They do. My point here is only that they can be adopted out despite those issues because resolution of behavior challenges is almost always achieved by getting them out of the shelter. Moreover, for those who do need further treatment, it doesn’t preclude immediate adoption and treatment in the home will be more effective than in the shelter. At any rate, we cannot champion a definition of No Kill that takes an 18-year backward step from what the movement achieved in Tompkins County in 2001, and which, more importantly, allows for the killing of healthy and treatable animals.

Henderson also does not have a foster program, which is crucial for protecting underaged puppies and kittens.

This highlights the danger to animals of Best Friends’ continuing to promote the fiction that a 90% combined placement rate is No Kill, especially when all animals are not counted.

Best Friends allows communities not to count “owner requested” killings even though studies have proven that as many as a third of them are not suffering.

It also allows communities to kill community cats who are not social with people, even when they are healthy, as long as the killing does not exceed 10%. (In truth, Best Friends allows the killing to exceed 10% as long as they are placed in the “owner requested” killing category.)

It also allows communities to do a combined placement rate, even when the placement rate for cats or dogs falls well below 90%.

Doing these things not only means healthy and treatable animals are still being killed, sweeping them under the rug so they do not count, but it also puts animals (and the people who care about them) in harm’s way. Case in point: A Utah Good Samaritan “went to great lengths to save the lives of a homeless cat and her kittens. She tracked them, borrowed a trap from Provo City and, after catching them, surrendered them to a facility that is a member of the no-kill coalition.

“‘I was concerned for the cat’s life and I wanted to make sure that the cat got to a safe area where somebody would be able to adopt it and provide it a safe home,’” she said. “Someone at the shelter deemed the mother cat to be too feral. When [she] attempted to visit the cat a few days later, she learned it had been killed. Heartbroken in the shelter’s lobby, she says… she would have left the cat free, or worked herself to find it a good home.” The Provo “shelter” uses the dishonest Best Friends definition, resulting in the needless death of a mother cat.

Although it, too, falsely claims to have achieved No Kill, 200 cats met the same fate in the Henderson “shelter” last year. This is on top of the 144 killed at their “owner’s request.” And the 64 killed for “disease” or “medical.”

Improvement? Yes.

No Kill? Absolutely not.

Henderson is now in the 80% Club, which is where they belong. That means they are doing better than the national average, better than they have in the past, and that is good news. But they still have room — a lot of room — for growth. And pretending otherwise does not serve the best interests of our best friends.

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