The ASV’s Draft Position Paper on No Kill Terminology

The Association of Shelter Veterinarians (ASV) has a series of position statements that it has promulgated on various issues such as TNR, pediatric spay-neuter, pound seizure, etc. Right now, the ASV has a draft position statement called “The Use of ‘No-Kill’ Terminology” that is open for member comment until August 15th. You can read the draft here. I’m not a veterinarian or a member of the ASV, so my vote does not count, but if I had a vote on this draft position statement the vote would be “no.”

The draft is three short paragraphs. The first paragraph seems pretty harmless other than requiring the reader to negotiate through two sentences of poorly written committee-speak. It isn’t quite word salad, but almost. I think the idea of the paragraph is that animal shelters should always put the needs of animals first, regardless of whether the shelters call themselves “No Kill” or not. I don’t disagree with that sentiment, although it seems so obvious that I wonder why it is necessary to spend one-third of the position statement on it.

Moving on to the second paragraph, the ASV draft says that “No-Kill” terminology is unclear because it can be used to refer to any of a series of euthanasia policies along a “spectrum” that ranges from (I’m paraphrasing here for brevity and clarity) (1) not killing for time or space, (2) not killing healthy animals, (3) not killing treatable animals, and finally (4) not killing animals at all. The paragraph ends by stating: “As such, the ASV discourages the use of terminology that defines an organization based on euthanasia practices.”

I agree that the term “No Kill” is ambiguous and means different things to different people, but it seems to me that the ASV is throwing the baby out with the bathwater in saying that, because the term “No Kill” is ambiguous, shelters should not define themselves based on euthanasia policy. If the problem is the ambiguity of the No Kill term, the solution is to use other terms that are clear, not to stop talking about euthanasia. In fact, that last sentence in the second paragraph could be taken to recommend against a shelter adopting any euthanasia policy at all. Surely the ASV cannot have intended to come to that conclusion. I think what the ASV is trying to say in the second paragraph is that shelters should not label themselves “No Kill,” but it’s disappointing that a paragraph that takes No Kill to task on the ground of ambiguity is itself so ambiguous.

But it gets worse. The third paragraph is the doozy. The third paragraph argues that shelters, in addition to sometimes needing to euthanize animals who are untreatable or are public health threats, should have the option to kill animals for time or space (they call it exceeding capacity for care). Specifically, the draft position paper says, apparently with approval, that “euthanasia of healthy and treatable companion animals is sometimes utilized in order to maintain a shelter’s capacity for humane care.” Yikes.

This is no longer dealing with just “terminology,” which is the ostensible subject of the draft. Instead, the third paragraph has veered over into substantive policy by stating that capacity issues sometimes require shelters to kill animals. Did the ASV really mean to stick this gigantic policy conclusion into the third paragraph of a position paper that is supposed to be about what words we use? There are currently shelters all over the United States – open admission municipal shelters – that deal with time and space (aka capacity for care) issues without either killing healthy and treatable animals or allowing them to suffer. There are ASV veterinarians who work in such shelters and have been a very big part of their success. Surely the ASV does not really mean to endorse what this draft paragraph says.

I strongly advise the ASV Position Statement Committee and ASV board to ditch this document and start over. First, figure out what you want to say. Do you oppose No Kill terminology because it is ambiguous, or because it is divisive, or both? Or do you oppose No Kill itself as a substantive matter because you believe that shelters should have the option to kill for time or space? These are all separate topics and should not be mushed together, as they are in the logical hash that is this draft position paper.

If you oppose No Kill terminology because it is ambiguous, it does not logically follow from that alone that organizations should not define themselves based on euthanasia policies. If a term is unclear, it makes perfect sense to recommend that the term not be used at all, or not be used unless it is clarified by context. It does not make sense to conclude that the whole topic that the ambiguous term refers to (in this case, euthanasia policies) should be declared off limits.

If you are opposed to No Kill itself as a substantive matter (rather than just the terminology) because you believe that shelters should have the option to kill for time or space — honestly, that is not the kind of thing that you can toss off in one short paragraph in a position paper, especially a position paper that is ostensibly about terminology. And especially without any explanation of why you have decided that capacity issues cannot be dealt with by means other than killing. That third paragraph says something that I can’t believe you really meant to say.

The question of whether shelters have to kill for capacity reasons is the most important issue in animal sheltering today. You don’t need to poke this metaphorical elephant, because everyone knows that it is a complicated issue that we are all wrestling with. Taking the attitude that it is a fit topic for a throwaway sentence in a position paper that is ostensibly on another topic is incomprehensible. If you are determined to address this topic, you owe it to your profession not to do it in the careless, poorly written, poorly organized, logically incoherent, ambiguous, and superficial way embodied in this draft.

Shelter medicine in general, and the ASV in particular, are critically important to shelter lifesaving. A great deal of the progress that has occurred in shelter lifesaving since 1999 is directly due to shelter medicine. ASV veterinarians are at the forefront of some of the most effective innovations in lifesaving that are being made in sheltering today. Everyone who supports shelter reform, whether they call it “No Kill” or something else, has a stake in seeing the ASV succeed and grow. Don’t embarrass yourselves by adopting this deeply flawed document as a position statement of your organization.

4 Comments

  1. I find your assessment of “deeply flawed” document to be very accurate; in fact, much of what is there is quite a mix of obfuscation and disingenuous commentary which reads like an apology for those shelters and vets who could be doing much better but simply don’t think they should; while terminology is important and should always be correctly defined in specific context and especially with “no-kill” , it should be embarrassing for the ASV or any veterinary association, shelter or humane society to be the “role-models” for any standards or protocols for how terminolgy is defined and applied; and I say this precisely because they have historically and to the present day been at the forefront of promoting the exact opposite and defining certain “terms” quite dishonestly and as it suits their purposes; of course the term “euthanasia” comes to mind (as it again does in the ASV statement) as one of the greatest misnomers and blatant lies of all time when acts of murder or killing are clearly what is meant and being carried out; generally speaking the sad reality is that the veterinary community does not always speak with one voice when it comes to putting the needs of animals first and are notorious for avoiding positions that require or even demand that a moral and ethical stand be taken on behalf of the animals…regardless of human interest or convenience.

  2. Thank you all for your thoughtful feedback! Rest assured that this position statement is indeed a draft. Posting the draft statement is an early step in our position statement process and is designed precisely to solicit such feedback so that we can revise and refine it to best express the viewpoint of our association. We will certainly consider your input carefully as we move forward.

    Brian DiGangi
    ASV Position Statement Committee Chair

  3. This is outrageous! This just gives shelters a license to kill without having to apologize! If this is what is coming out of the ASV, I am appalled, disappointed and outraged!!!

    Linda Thielepape, Executive Director
    Wayside Rescue and Sanctuary

    P.S. Get someone who can write for Heaven’s sake!

  4. As a proponent and unpaid lobbyist for true no-kill (Austin Pets Alive!) veterinarians do not appreciate true no kill shelter medicine. This year in Texas in the vets through the legislature try to stop no kill shelter medicine. This draft is a complete waste of paper and ink. Start over and this time take into account the real world of shelter medicine for pets .

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