The term ''no kill'' among animal shelters is very much in vogue now, but all too often full of empty promise.
The buzzword evokes good things for homeless dogs and cats and is a magnet for increased traffic and, therefore, donations to shelters that make the claim, but bad things still can be happening behind closed doors.
Almost any outfit can claim to be ''no kill'' by skewing its definitions, and therefore, statistics. ''It's your interpretation versus my interpretation,'' said Sarah Aitken of One of a Kind Pets Spay and Neuter Clinic. ''That leaves room for all kinds of things.''
It's an issue worth closer examination, and in this case
was prompted by a question from reader Paulette Beachy of North Canton, devoted mom to a beautiful tricolor mixed-breed rescue named Katie, who demands a massage upon arising every morning: ''I am semiretired and would love to help as a volunteer at a no-kill shelter. Could you please recommend some places?''
Gee, Paulette. Glad you asked. Hope you have a couple of minutes. Have a seat and throw up your feet.
Once again, it all begins with the definition of ''no kill.''
In broad terms, no kill means an organization will find homes for all adoptable and treatable animals and euthanize only unadoptable animals or creatures too sick to be restored to health. The devil's in the details.
For example, some groups consider feral cats unadoptable, but others argue that the majority of outdoor cats are simply pets that have been dumped and few are truly feral. Who's to separate the free roaming domestics from the unowned and truly feral?
The questions get harder, much harder. What does the group do with its leukemia and FIV cats? ''If you put them down, you can't be defined as a no-kill,'' Aitken said.
Likewise, there are groups that believe certain breeds of dogs are unadoptable, a controversial claim. Categorizing an animal by its health status is equally uneven. Some of the best pets ever owned can't see, can't hear, have lumps and bumps, are old and/or decrepit, crippled and even incontinent, yet have been placed in happy homes with grateful owners.
The questions get harder. What does the group do with its heartworm positive dogs? Heartworm is a huge expense to treat. And what about the parvo dogs? That one is a challenge to the most humane of groups because it's so infectious. You're jeopardizing other dogs if they are exposed, yet a no-kill shelter will manage.
Gray areas are small
For the most part, established leaders in the national rescue movement, such as Best Friends Animal Society, say the gray areas are really very small: A vicious dog that is a public safety risk should not be put up for adoption. Same goes for a 20-year-old cat that is suffering from terminal cancer and is in pain, since no amount of TLC will bring it health again. Everybody else gets a pass.
No-kill shelters should be able to produce upon request their annual animal intake numbers by species, accompanied by outcomes deaths, adoptions, transfers and returns to owners, says Best Friends. Shelter policies as relating to strays, ferals and owner surrenders should also be available. Keep in mind that so-called no-kill shelters that accept only easy cases are playing with the numbers.
The Web site No Kill Now at http://www.nokillnow.com is a good resource on the topic and warns pet people to always check with a shelter to ensure that it is currently ''no kill'' before they make the assumption. Their status may change without notice.
That said, Paulette, I consulted Mary McManaway, president of the Coalition for Animal Concerns in North Canton, your neck of the woods, to ask about ''no-kill'' shelters there. The coalition is a highly effective group of concerned citizens and rescue groups whose networking regionally and nationally has moved mountains for creatures in trouble, but it doesn't have a shelter. The group is very adept at educating the public on responsible pet ownership and can be found at http://www.coalitionforanimalconcerns.org or 330-649-0759.
''I wish I could say that Stark County has a no-kill shelter here,'' McManaway replied, ''but the only one that I know of that says they are no kill is the Stark County Humane Society (whose shelter is in Louisville). We, the coalition . . . are working towards getting a no-kill in this county.''
The coalition works closely with several rescue groups, the Stark County Dog Pound, the Stark County Health Department and Stark County commissioners to get things done.
''Our cat situation in this county is just absolutely terrible,'' she said. ''We do low-cost spay/neuter clinics and they are always in overload. . . . We have a solid group of volunteers who spend the whole day helping with the spays and neuters and a wonderful vet and vet techs who volunteer their services.''
If you want to hook up with a great bunch of people in your neck of the woods, Paulette, consider starting there.
''There are fewer no-kills than people think,'' Aitken said. ''Do your research. Ask for references. Call other rescue groups. Call the pound and humane societies. Ask if the group stands up to what it says, if it steps up to the plate.''
Beacon Journal staff writer Connie Bloom can be reached at 330-996-3568 or email@example.com.