When is No Kill not No Kill? Say that ten times fast

Just recently the Escondido Humane Society announced it is removing the “no-kill” designation from its stated mission and literature.  The original article covering this piece of news is a fascinating reflection of the current divide between animal advocates and traditional sheltering propaganda.  

The whole story hinges on a former board member and his wife’s concerns that EHS was using a liberal and faulty interpretation of No Kill.  It has become pretty common for shelters to adopt the language of No Kill but not the practices in an effort to solidify community support and donations.  According to the EHS Executive Director, their interpretation is that no healthy animals will be euthanized because the animal has “run out of time or [they] have filled up”.  The former board member and his wife however, had a different take on this as they witnessed animals with combinations of minor, easily treatable conditions being euthanized.

Joe Benson, a former board member, and his wife, Robbie, a former animal foster care coordinator, said they left the agency about a month ago because of concerns about how liberally the organization was interpreting its stated no-kill policy.


On its Web site this week, the agency stated it is “amongst the few open-door, no-kill animal rescue centers in Southern California.”


No-kill, a buzz term used by animal control agencies across the country, means that a shelter will not euthanize animals that are not terminally ill, injured or vicious, or to make space for other animals.


Escondido Humane Society Executive Director Sally Costello said that although the term is open to interpretation, the Escondido Humane Society has followed its generally accepted definition.


“To us it means that no healthy animals will be euthanized because we’ve run out of time or we have filled up,’ ” Costello said. During their four years with the shelter, the Bensons said they noticed that animals that could have been rehabilitated or adopted were being killed. Oftentimes, dogs labeled as fearful, timid or displaying “kennel stress” were euthanized, as well as dogs with hyperthyroid disease, a treatable but incurable disease, they said.

Open to interpretation?  Beyond that claim, the second most interesting thing about the article is the repetition of the standard mantras that comes from traditional animal shelter thinking.  I recognize it clearly because I have recited it myself in my pre-No Kill life.  Here’s how it goes.  See if you recognize it too:

There are dogs that do not do well in our shelter – they suffer kennel stress.

The No Kill Answer: Proactive adoption, foster and behavior programs. Get them the heck out of the kennels and into people’s loving arms.

Many of the animals who come into our shelter have fatal injuries or diseases or are malnourished.

The No Kill Answer: Animals who have been determined to have a poor or grave prognosis for recovery should be humanely euthanized, savable animals should be saved.  Objective evaluation will demonstrate that very, very few of the animals are truly not savable.

Though some conditions are treatable – many people do not want to adopt an animal that will require extra care.

The No Kill Answer: Proactive adoption and foster programs match caring people with every type of animal.  Yes, it’s more challenging to find an adopter but that doesn’t make the animal’s life less valuable.

It’s expensive to care for these animals.

The No Kill Answer: Do a great job and tell the world about it.  Be kind to your community and to adopters rather than treating them like irresponsible pet owners or enemies.  Support will follow.

We see more pit bull and pit bull type dogs in our community than others.

The No Kill Answer: Every community is filled with pit bulls.  From all measures they are the most popular type of dog in the country.

People in our community don’t want pit bulls.

The No Kill Answer: Pit bulls are the most popular type of dog in the country, so why do we keep saying we can’t adopt them?  It’s up to us to market them better and do a better job on their behalf.

The article ends with the statement from the shelter: “The definition of no-kill versus the public perception of no-kill are completely different,” he said. “We don’t want to seem as though we are portraying something that is not true.”

On one hand I’m glad they reached that conclusion but  I think that the definition of No Kill that the shelter was using is the one that needs some fixing.   

A happier ending to this story would be if the shelter buckled down and said Joe and Robbie are right, we CAN do a better job.  Sadly that message came across in what seems to me a more threatening manner:

“Once we have identified where we need resources to treat some of these very difficult to treat (conditions) … we expect the community to come forward with resources and help us make a significant improvement in our treatable capabilities,” she said. 

Maybe not the best way to win friends and influence people.

Achieving No Kill is hard work - damn hard work - there’s no denying that and every shelter that gives an honest 100% effort deserves credit even if they can’t achieve it overnight.  But if you don’t do the work, don’t claim the credit.  

Good luck, Escondido!  Really, I mean that.  You have a great opportunity here to make some important changes and we are rooting for you!

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14 Responses to “When is No Kill not No Kill? Say that ten times fast”

  1. Mary Bookout says:

    There are several Escondido Humane Society Board Directors who have elected to stay on the Board and fight for change. If Joe Benson had stayed on the the Board instead of electing to resign we would be that much stronger as a Board fighting for change. If Robbie Benson had stayed with the programs and services, no matter how frustrating it could be, she was accomplishing great things. My advise to anyone who finds themselves in this situation is to stick it out and become part of the solution instead of part of the problem. By resigning you lose your voice and ability to affect the change you are seeking.

  2. Micki Hickox says:

    I was the Director of Volunteer Services at the Escondido Humane Society from July 5, 2004 until my resignation on August 17, 2008.

    The Escondido Humane Society volunteer team contributed over 65,000 hours of service from July 1, 2007 through June 30, 2008. This equates to the manpower of approximately 32+ full-time staff. Currently, EHS operates on a staff of about 40 to 45 with probably close to half of those employees working part time.

    Not only do Escondido Humane Society volunteers contribute time, they also donate money and resources and are from across San Diego County with various attributes and experience in animal care, business, education, finance, fundraising, healthcare, law enforcement, high-tech, local government agencies, military, nonprofit, etc.

    The Escondido Humane Society has the resources (volunteers) to truly be a No Kill facility!!! The finger pointing out to the community is another example of the Escondido Humane Society management refusing to be accountable for what they are and are not doing. If this continues, we (the community of people and animals) will all have to live (or die) with the reality of indifference.

    The Escondido Humane Society has the OPPORTUNITY and RESOURCES to do the RIGHT THING!!!

  3. sue_cosby says:

    Mary, you are right that staying and fighting is a good choice. Particularly for those of us who are a little frisky but some people find they have more success fighting from the outside - free to speak their minds without getting thrown out as a result. Two roads, each with potential for success or failure. I do hope that there is a movement towards more proactive lifesaving. It sounds like all of the pieces are there and you just need the right leader to put them all together!

  4. Mary Bookout says:

    The best chance for change comes from within an organization from strong leadership and people who refuse to accept mediocrity. When fighting from the outside you are often viewed as someone who was not willing to take the chance and ruffle feathers.Ruffling feathers from the outside is different. It can often delay work that is happening internally because the instinct is for the organization to circle the wagons, especially those who have that tendency anyway, and protect itself from critisism. Good people need to stay the course.

  5. Peggy Treat says:

    I am speaking only as an individual but am a volunteer at the
    Escondido Humane Society. I do not want to address the pros/cons of recent decisions made by those associated with EHS. This is my 3rd year as a dog walk volunteer & I am still learning about the controversies surrounding shelter care. And I was nervous about Pits when I started - they’re lap dogs!
    I have seen the introduction of an Early Morning Program in Escondido where we take out dogs, kennel them in the open air and walk them. This was all due to the contribution of volunteers of time, physical labor, negotiation with management and money. We feel it a success.
    I know that volunteers are the mainstay of shelters across the country. Volunteers are also a major resource in making a determination about an animal’s future. We have the experience and knowledge of the animal’s behavior. Without that input being accepted, detrimental and fatal results occur.
    My other life was concerned with bioethical decision making in healthcare. I feel strongly that we need similar, consistantly used ethical models to make decisions about our companion animals. Although I know it’s in the future, I would like to open the thought to shelter foster hospice volunteers. I attended the 1st UC Davis conference on veterinary hospice care this year and it expanded my mind as to the care we could give to animals with untreatable conditions but with still some time for quality of life. I see a potential pool of volunteers who would qualify and welcome this service.
    My main objective is to commend the volunteers at Escondido for their caring, time, hard work, money and continuing the (perhaps slow) walk towards change.

  6. Amber Hickox says:

    In regards to what was said about ruffling feathers and strong leadership, as a volunteer and former employee, I have never seen a bigger group of so-called leaders sit idle by doing things such as surfing inappropriate websites, talking disrespectfully about animals as well as people, not willing to be a part of a solution to certain problems, as well as the interfacing of donations (monetary or otherwise) and going out into the public and making connections. I will agree that in some cases, ruffling feathers isn’t always a positive way to go about things, however, a match needs to be lit underneath those that head the departments at the Escondido Humane Society in order for progression in a POSITIVE direction to happen.

  7. Jennifer Hogan says:

    In 20 years in the humane industry I have never met a humane officer or employee of a humane society that was devoting their life to sheltered animals for any reason other than a love of animals that was so large that they were willing to face the daily heartbreak of mistreated, unwanted, unloved animals. Some act brash or speak harshly, or act like they don’t care, but this is out of frustration and a defense against the incomprehensible actions of others.

    Volunteers devote much needed hours to the care of these animals, but don’t have to encounter the worst, and don’t have the knowledge or experience to criticize those who give their entire life to bettering the lives and sometimes deaths of these animals.

    I suggest that each of you criticizing the decisions made by the Escondido Humane Society write a list of each animal in the shelter and determine, based on budget and needs, which animals should be euthanized, where the money and care will come from and where the rest are going.

    As a former employee of EHS I heard the scuttlebutt of the volunteers and adoption staff when they disagreed with the decisions of Animal Control or Medical staff, but I still saw a great discrepancy in the number of intakes vs. the number of adoptions and noted that the adoption kennels were often full and little effort was being made to find homes for the animals that made it through the medical and behavioral process.

    Maybe a greater effort on the part of the complaining staff to find suitable homes for those animals in adoptions would have better served the animal population. Letting them linger while you complained about other staff only let them be exposed to disease or despair, making them unsuitable for eventual adoption.

  8. Joe Benson says:


    Let me preface this by saying “thank you” for what you do. The world needs more people like you.

    In reference to the situation at the Escondido Humane Society, I have much experience and I would like to share a couple of my thoughts…

    Until recently I was a member of the Board of Directors of that organization. My membership occurred after 2-3 years of in-depth volunteer work. It was during that volunteering that I realized that this was an organization in need of attention.

    During my tenure on the BOD, I attempted on many occasions to educate my fellow board members of the situation of our Humane Society, which, basically speaking, was one of unnecessary euthanasia., poor animal care, and ultimately, overall inadequate senior management.

    With few exceptions, the overall opinions of most of the BOD members was to “talk” about the poor management and unnecessary euthanasias.

    As you know, talk is cheap. There were numerous conversations with the Executive Director and Operations Director, yet nobody could ever satisfactorily explain why they are killing as many animals each month as they are adopting out. Other than to say that there are “too many animals coming in” …

    Of course, the uneducated BOD bought it. The staff was allowed to get away with that nonsense because the BOD is not questioning and demanding more. The fact that the BOD is not demanding more is shameful. They are not fulfilling their oversight responsibility and should be held accountable for that.

    I’ve been removed from the organization for about 2 months now, and to my knowledge, they are still “talking”. As much as I wanted to be a part of an organization that was “for the animals”, I quickly realized that the Escondido Humane Society was not for me. I left the organization because, at the end of the day, they killed too many animals. I could not be a part of that. Unlike some of the other BOD members, I cannot bury my head in the sand and pretend that injustices are not occurring.

    I will face them head on.

  9. Lynn Orbison says:

    Thank you all for your comments, and thank you Sue for the original post. I find it both heartening and frustrating to know that many of the same foibles and issues and rough spots are found at shelters and animal control facilities around the country.

    I understand that choosing who lives and who dies is a tough job.

    I understand that caring for and cleaning up after a filled-to-capacity facility is hard work.

    I understand that volunteers make a HUGE difference, but I also see how tensions between paid staff and volunteers creates stress for both sides, and when push comes to shove, it’s the paid staff that MUST continue on task. I also think that the animals are the first ones to suffer when ANYTHING goes wrong.

    Does anybody find it odd that the people who work with the animals the most are either unpaid volunteers or minimum wage folks, and the people who are making (or authorizing/approving) life and death decisions are more likely making the big bucks? There’s something wrong with that picture.

    As for being on or staying on a BOD when you’re having problems with how things are or are not being done, I think that’s a really personal choice and not something anybody can decide for you.

    I wish everyone well in Escondito, and I hope you keep us posted on how it goes. I think others could learn from your process.

    You are not alone.

  10. An update from Escondido, CA.
    We are still working hard get the EHS Board of Directors to fulfill their oversight responsibilities in directing EHS management to see to it that there is better care for the animals, the unnecessary killing of animals is stopped, much expanded medical and behavior programs to rehabilitate animals in their care and to ensure EHS gets into compliance with the laws of our state for animal care, which they are currently not.
    We recently have added a petition to our website resulting in very good participation and has given the community a venue to openly express their concerns and opinions regarding EHS. We will present the petition to the EHS BOD as well as the leaders of the city governments served by EHS.

  11. For those who would like to keep up with our progress addressing the issues at the Escondido Humane Society you are welcome to visit our site at:

  12. Lynn Orbison says:

    Robbie, I can’t get that link to work…is it me? Or is it the link, or is it the site?!

    Thanks for the update…

  13. sue_cosby says:

    It’s http://fix.theescondidohumanesociety.com

    Looks like the dot was missing after “fix”

    Robbie and Joe - We appreciate the updates!

  14. Matt says:

    I have been watching the No Kill Animal Shelter situation very closely recently.New York City has some serious issues as well…consider the following:

    I have discovered something very strange. It’ll make you scratch your head in wonder. It, potentially, is a very dangerous situation for cats and dogs…..indeed it is a matter of life or death.

    Please consider the following information:

    In the current July/August edition of Best Friends Magazine (on news stands now) Best Friends salutes NYC and provides the following information:

    “New York City animal lovers have a reason to celebrate: The percentage of dogs and cats euthanized in the city’s shelters hit an all-time low last year-33 percent, down from 69 percent in 2003. During the same period, the adoption rate for shelter pets increased to 66 percent, up from 26 percent. The numbers were cited as the mayor announced a $1 million grant from the ASPCA to the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, a colaition of more than 160 animal rescue groups and shelters that work with animal care and control in New York. The money will be used to increase the number of adoptions and transfers, and to provide low - and no - cost spay/neuter services to low-income people with pets.

    According to figures from the alliance, 13,620 animals were euthanized at Animal Care & Control of New York City shelters in 2009, out of 41,712 pets taken in. A total of 8,192 pets were adopted and 17,641 were transferred to rescue organizations and other shelters”

    Now, for the other side of the story:

    Nathan Winograd, No Kill Pioneer and creator of the No Kill Advocacy Center, posted the following information to his blog just a day or two ago:

    “New York City in Chaos

    July 14, 2010 by Nathan J. Winograd

    Less than a month after the ASPCA and the Mayor’s Alliance succeeded in killing Oreo’s Law, New York City Animal Care & Control (ACC) has announced that it will not allow any new rescue groups to save the lives of animals until a new rescue policy is finalized at the end of August. Oreo’s Law sought to make such conduct illegal. According to rescue groups in New York City, the city pound “has suspended all new rescues that were recently approved.” These allegations were confirmed by e-mails obtained from ACC’s rescue coordinator.

    The refusal to work with these groups is already costing the animals their lives. While groups like the ASPCA and Mayor’s Alliance claim that New York City is saving all healthy animals, the pound has contradicted those false assertions, killing hundreds in the process while stating “an overpopulation of adoptable animals requires us to humanely euthanize animals,” even as they are turning away rescue groups for the next two months.

    On top of that, the pound has decided to renovate their kennels during the busiest time of year, cutting capacity, resulting in even more deaths. According to a July 1 e-mail obtained from ACC’s rescue coordinator:

    The contractors are going to start work shortly on the final phase on the project, which involves replacing the floors in a significant portion of the building. We are excited for the many improvements that help make the shelter a better place, although the final phases of construction will pose challenges in addition those normally brought on by kitten season. Work on the floors is set to start Tuesday July 6th, and will be done in phases that have been carefully considered to have the least impact on our operations as possible. However, we will have to make adjustments for housing the dogs and cats and our housing capacity will be temporarily reduced until the project is complete. The work plan will initially impact our dog housing capacity, following by cat housing capacity, until the project is finished…

    And it gets worse. In addition to claiming they do not have enough food to feed the animals right down the street from the nation’s wealthiest SPCA (the ASPCA takes in over $120,000,000 per year), the shelter is withholding pain medications from injured animals.

    An e-mail obtained from ACC’s rescue coordinator says the above cat is in pain from an injury, but there are “No pain meds available to give the cat.” If rescue groups do not act within one day, the cat will be killed.

    New York City is killing healthy animals, turning away rescue groups, running out of food to feed the animals, refusing to give pain medications to injured animals, and is doing construction during the height of the busy summer season, causing them to kill even more.

    This is the model program touted by the Mayor’s Alliance, which will be featured at the Best Friends No More Homeless Pets Conference in Las Vegas this October by Jane Hoffman. This is the model program that Laura Allen of the Animal Law Coalition said NYS should follow in her opposition to Oreo’s Law.

    Thanks to the ASPCA, Mayor’s Alliance, and Animal Law Coalition, New York City’s regressive pound has a license to turn away rescue groups and kill the animals they are willing to save. And thanks to Best Friends, Alley Cat Allies, and others who refused to support Oreo’s Law in deference to their relationships with these groups, that license is not being revoked anytime soon.”

    WHAT THE &@$# IS GOING ON????????????????

    ASPCA has the money for a $1 Million grant, and takes in $120 million a year, but they “cant afford to feed the shelter animals”?????? What kind of bullpoop is that? They are ‘working towards becoming No-Kill’ (Ed Sayres, Money Maker, Politician, and ASPCA head, promised the same to Los Angeles……never happened) yet they are going to kill healthy animals?

    That’s like trying to make ice cubes by putting the tray of water in the microwave and using the “High” setting.

    You are going about it in a “bass ackwards” way.

    This is a very disturbing and serious discrepancy on the part of the ASPCA/Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals that must be cleared up.

    IF both Best Friends and Nathan Winograd have reported their info correctly, and I dont doubt that they have, then we have a serious problem.

    Because it would mean that the politicians in the Animal Sheltering system/business in NYC have their heads where the sun doesnt shine.

    Let me explain something, and I’m not a Harvard graduate, I’ll be the first to admit it, and I’m not a preacher, but I have to say what needs to be said: The real truth: You dont have to have graduated NASA’s Rocket Science program to see the problem: If what Both Best Friends and Nathan Winograd said are true, then, can there be any OTHER explanation for this, other than that the ASPCA/NYC Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals are mere politicians and businessmen/women wearing ‘Animal Rescue’ T-shirts?

    You are either no kill or you arent. There isnt any middle ground.

    Saying that you are a “No-Kill Supporter” while sending healthy, precious souls to their deaths is like saying that you are “Anti-Prostitution” while visiting the whorehouse once a week to take advantage of “The Weekly Special”.

    Politics. Hypocrisy. B.S.

    This would mean that Ed Sayres and the ASPCA, and the Mayor and the other half-butted politicians in NYC are holding their cell phones in one hand, telling others about their decrease of euthanasia (murder) rates, while holding a recently killed four legged victim (a shelter cat or dog) in their other hand, as they walk towards the pile of other dead innocent individuals who they have murdered that day.

    This is NOT the behavior of true, caring humans who view their fellow souls as equally deserving of life and love as themselves. It is NOT, I repeat NOT the behavior of No-Kill supporters. It is, in fact, the behavior of politicians, playing “both sides” of the same coin in order to:

    A: Satisfy the No-Kill Groups that they are ‘working towards no-kill’, to get them off their backs, while they’re just spinning their wheels.

    B: Continue their money making, and or political goals.

    I think an investigation should be made into exactly what NYC is up to.

    I also think that Best Friends Animal Society and Nathan Winograd, along with the HSUS, ASPCA should all get together to hold a No-Kill Summit Meeting, to clear the air, and clarify each other’s true stance on the No-Kill issue, so that everyone knows where everyone else stands. It’s important that Best Friends and Nathan Winograd stay on the same team…together they are a powerful No-Kill force. It’s obvious that PETA murders 97% of cats and dogs and are murderers. They admit it, with a smile. (Homicidal maniacs). The HSUS, via their ultra-white toothed, nice smiling President, Wayne Pacelle, who admits to never “Sharing a bond with any animal” says one thing, and then does another…more politics. One day they are ‘No-Kill’, the next they say: “We think that feral cats or pitbulls, like the Vick dogs should be killed”.

    These groups “waffle” more than (Leggo My) Eggo Inc.

    I’ll say it again:

    You are either No-Kill
    Or you are Anti- No-Kill.

    There is no middle ground. Pick a stance, take it, dig your shoes 2 feet deep into the dirt beneath you, stand tall and strong, and stick to your guns…… no excuses, no semantics, no politics, no leaning towards another direction, no tolerating the killers, no condoning the killers’ actions, no looking the other way as the killers kill, no neutrality, no distracting from your mission……keep working towards No-Kill…until ‘euthanasia’ (murder) rates are 0 Percent. Nothing less is acceptable. No surrender.

    We owe Cats and Dogs who give us unconditional love more than we could ever give it back to them in return, nothing less.

    Remember the mission.


    It wont get done by playing games or by tolerating games being played. This is serious. It’s life or death.

    Make believe that the next cat or dog on death row is your child (Cats and Dogs are equally as precious, and equally deserving of life and love, as any of us human animals). Now, act on behalf of that cat or dog as you would on behalf of your child.

    Would the NYC situation be overlooked, tolerated, or ignored if your child was there in the middle of it, and were the next in line to be added to “the pile” of dead victims? Neither should the situation involving the beautiful four legged Children of God in shelters (Cats and Dogs) be overlooked, tolerated or ignored.

    THAT is the way a true No Kill group SHOULD view their fellow living souls, and as we have seen, NYC’s ASPCA/Mayor’s Alliance doesnt know “shinola” from that “other stuff” when it comes to treating every cat and dog as an individual person…an individual soul. And it is the same in kill shelters and pounds all across the nation and the world….politics…. “Sing a lullaby of lies to those who care about animals until they seem satisfied (though the killing continues which is UNSATISFACTORY) and those who dont care, we dont have to worry about them…meanwhile, the dough keeps rolling in and our status quo, which we have become very comfortable with, remains unchanged” is the attitude of these groups, and they pose a clear and present danger to every four legged soul in every shelter across the nation and the world.

    We cant ignore these indifferent, ignorant, arrogant, speciesist human elitist murderers anymore….. It is time to take a stand against them…..as you would if your child was a member of a children’s kill shelter, who is giving you the runaround, while murdering children behind the scenes.

    After all, we are ALL Children of the same God.

    One life. One soul.

    Dont forget it.

    On Behalf of Shelter Cats and Dogs, I am,


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