For generations, animal lovers and concerned citizens have been fighting to protect the lives of homeless dogs, cats and other companion animals, demonstrating that our love for pets is an integral part of our culture. But national animal welfare organizations and local shelters have not always reflected those values. To understand this contradiction, we must first understand the history of the No Kill Movement.
The No Kill movement in the United States, dedicated to ending the killing of healthy and treatable animals in our nation’s shelters, dates back to the 1800’s when Henry Bergh decided to take a stand against the brutal conditions facing New York City’s dogs.
In 1866, Henry Bergh, a wealthy member of New York City’s social aristocracy, started the nation’s first SPCA, effectively launching the animal protection movement in the United States. Every summer, the New York City dog pound would round up stray dogs, killing them en masse, as many as 80 at a time, by drowning them in a water-tight cistern fitted with a slatted cover. The largest dogs were beaten over the head until they stayed under water. This horrific scene was often done in front of a crowd, including neighborhood children.
Using the newly-formed ASPCA to save animals, Bergh argued that stray dogs posed very little threat to public health and safety. Going precinct to precinct, he found that there were no documented cases in New York City of anyone contracting rabies from stray dogs. In his fight against the city’s round up and kill campaign, Bergh succeeded in legislating a series of reforms including: requiring the poundmaster to give dogs fresh food and water, requiring the city to build a new, more modern facility, and passing a law that no one under 18-years-old could turn dogs into the pound, eliminating what Bergh called the “thieving gangs of young dogcatchers” who were being paid fifty cents for every dog they brought to the pound, no questions asked. The reforms succeeded. In just one year, he reduced the number of dogs killed by 84 percent.
Tired of fighting Bergh, the city offered the ASPCA money to run the pound. But Bergh refused. His organization was committed to saving animals, not killing them. Toward the end of his life, Henry Bergh was worried about the ASPCA, often lamenting that he hated “to think what would become of the society when I am gone.” Tragically, his fears came true, when shortly after his death, and against his wishes, the ASPCA accepted the pound contract, becoming the city’s leading killer of dogs (and later, cats.)
And that is where we are today. Shelters are now the leading cause of death for healthy and treatable companion animals in our country.
However, groundbreaking advocates like Richard Avanzino and Nathan Winograd have shown us a better way, staying true to Henry Bergh’s mission of challenging the status quo: the 19th century “catch and kill” model of animal control that still exists in most shelters today.
The result: Now, there are more than 70 No Kill communities (saving more than 90% of all animals in their shelters) representing over 200 towns and cities across the United States. These communities have rejected the old way of doing business, and have adopted a shelter model that truly reflects the values of their citizens. And more are making the commitment to No Kill every day.
No longer is there any doubt. The “save a few, kill the rest” mentality of the past has been exposed for the failure it is. And the success of No Kill communities is the proof. No Kill is not only achievable, it is happening. These are historic times. And together, we can make this a No Kill Nation!