Michigan shelters achieve controversial ‘no-kill’ status

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published September 17, 2019

 While not everyone agrees with the term “no-kill” shelter, as it may be misleading, statistics do show the initiative has encouraged shelters to seek alternatives to euthanasia when shelters are at capacity.

While not everyone agrees with the term “no-kill” shelter, as it may be misleading, statistics do show the initiative has encouraged shelters to seek alternatives to euthanasia when shelters are at capacity.

Image provided by the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance

METRO DETROIT — For pets in the state of Michigan, there’s good news.

According to the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance, 90% of the animals taken to Michigan shelters last year survived the trip. That includes animals returned to their owners, ones transferred to other shelters or rescue organizations, and those adopted out and re-homed. The Great Lakes state has officially achieved statewide “no-kill” status.

“This is an amazing first for our state,” Deborah Schutt, the founder and chair of the alliance, said in a press release. “When the shelters in a state combine to meet the 90% target, that state is considered no-kill for shelter animals. Only Delaware, which has three shelters, compared to 174 in Michigan, also reached the no-kill benchmark last year.”

The Michigan Pet Fund Alliance began tracking Michigan statistics in 2009 from mandatory annual reports submitted by shelters to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Those reports showed more than 120,000 dogs and cats died or were euthanized in Michigan shelters every year. That number is now just over 13,000 for the entire year of 2018.

There are lots of factors that go into such an achievement, like more emphasis on veterinary care and reproductive control, and of course, technological improvements like microchipping that can vastly increase a pet’s chances of being reunited with its family, and social media campaigns that promote homeless animals available for adoption to a wider audience.

No-kill status doesn’t truly mean zero deaths of shelter animals. A shelter with a 90% live release rate gets to boast the no-kill label, but that means around 10% or fewer of the animals brought in don’t come back out.

That’s not always a bad thing, according to Bob Gatt, the manager of the Oakland County Animal Control and Pet Adoption Center. The goal of the no-kill benchmark is to keep adoptable animals alive — ones that can be treated for mild illness and behavioral issues — and not to dispose of pets because of a lack of resources.

“By going (to oakgov.com/petadoption) and looking at our monthly statistics, you will find that we oftentimes throughout the year could be classified as a no-kill shelter for dogs, and sometimes for cats,” Gatt said in an email. “However, because we are an open admission shelter with no restrictions other than the incoming animal must be from our service area, we have no control over what animal comes to us.  That includes breed, temperament, history, health status, etc. The Oakland County Animal Shelter and Pet Adoption Center does not euthanize any animal because of breed or because of space or because of time spent in the shelter.”

But a live release isn’t always in the best interest of the pet itself or the community it will be a part of, Gatt said.

“We only euthanize an animal that is either too sick for the care that we are able to provide — we are not a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week clinic — or an animal that is deemed vicious and we believe will, or already has, hurt another animal or a human, or one that is just unable to be adopted,” he said.

In a blog on the Michigan Humane Society website, CEO Matthew Pepper explains that the factors that determine whether an animal can be saved are often subjective. For instance, what’s an appropriate amount of veterinary care to put into a single pet? For some, the limit might be $500, and for someone else, maybe $15,000.

“We have to discard the notion that a single number, a live release rate, can define the effectiveness of a shelter. That is sheltering to a number, not a principle,” Pepper wrote. “Each animal must be considered an individual, and each shelter must be evaluated based on its impact on the community and, more important, its impact on the animals we share our lives with.”

But that’s not to say that no-kill couldn’t or shouldn’t be a goal. The MPFA explains that its mission is to end the killing of homeless, healthy or treatable cats and dogs in Michigan via volunteer programs, technical assistance and grants to shelters in need of resources to care for animals in their care.

And so far, that goal seems to be worth shooting for.

“While it’s exciting to see Michigan as a state achieve no-kill status by reaching the 90% goal, we still have a few communities struggling to save lives, especially with cats,” Schutt continued in her statement. “We will continue to work with shelters and rescue organizations to implement best practices, decrease overall length of stay in the shelter, and improve the quality of life for homeless pets while they are in shelter.”