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  • Writer's pictureSusan Houser

When Was The First No Kill Community?

Here’s a pop quiz: In what calendar year did a community in the United States first report achieving No Kill, defined as a 90% or more live release rate maintained for the entire calendar year across all intake shelters in the jurisdiction?

A – 1884

B – 1944

C – 1986

D – 1994

E – 1999

All of the years listed are landmarks for No Kill, but the correct answer is: C – 1986.

In 1884 the Ellen M. Gifford Sheltering Home for Animals was founded in Boston. It was the first No Kill shelter we know of, but it did not take in all the homeless pets in Boston and so it did not create a No Kill community. It is noteworthy nonetheless for inaugurating the idea of a shelter that did not kill animals. In 1903 a shelter similar to the Gifford shelter, called Bide-A-Wee Home, was founded in New York City.

In 1944 the North Shore Animal League was founded in New York. In the 1970s North Shore became the first major shelter to proudly use the term “No Kill.” Its use of the term, combined with its pioneering of adoption marketing, drew a lot of attention to No Kill. North Shore was also a limited admission shelter, though, and did not create any No Kill communities.

In 1984 a group of friends who had been doing animal rescue for years settled on a large property in Utah and built a sanctuary. Today we know them as Best Friends Animal Society. Best Friends reports that they informally took over animal control and sheltering for their local jurisdictions, Kane County and the city of Kanab, in 1986, and saved well over 90% of the animals. Eventually Best Friends helped the jurisdictions set up their own animal control and sheltering system, but they have continued to take in animals that are not adopted or reclaimed in the jurisdictions.

In 1994 the Adoption Pact was signed in San Francisco, guaranteeing that all healthy animals who came into the sheltering system in the community would find a home. San Francisco also saved most of the treatable animals. Although San Francisco did not reach a 90% live release rate in the 1990s, it was by far the biggest city at the time to set a goal of saving all healthy and treatable animals. Its approach to lifesaving served as an inspiration to many other communities across the United States.

In 1999, the county shelter serving Otsego County, Michigan, went No Kill and reported saving over 90% of its animals. This was the first time we know of that a community-wide grassroots effort saved over 90% of animals who came into the sheltering system.

There have been many other landmarks since 1999. In the year 2000 we had the first fully documented No Kill communities, as several small Colorado cities reported full statistics that showed live release rates of over 90%. In calendar year 2002, Tompkins County, New York, became the largest documented community that we know of up to that time to achieve a 90% live release rate, with an intake of over 2500 dogs and cats. A few years later Charlottesville and Reno set new records by achieving No Kill with even higher intakes. Several additional Colorado cities and counties joined the 90% group in this time period. In 2011, the first major city – Austin – became No Kill.

Don’t feel bad if you did not get the right answer on the quiz. Almost no one knows about the early No Kill shelters and communities because they were founded a long time ago and few people today talk about them. They were wonderful accomplishments for their respective times, though, and without them the No Kill movement would not be what it is today.

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