No-Kill Shelters Save Millions Of Unwanted Pets — But Not All Of Them In the 20 years since San Francisco's SPCA guaranteed adoption for healthy dogs, shelters and rescue groups have embraced the no-kill approach. But the term means different things to different people.

No-Kill Shelters Save Millions Of Unwanted Pets — But Not All Of Them

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Twenty years ago, San Francisco became the first U.S. community to guarantee a home to every adoptable dog and cat. Since then, the no-kill movement, as it's called, has been credited with greatly reducing the number of domestic pets that are euthanized. It's down from about 20 million to around 3 million each year. From Miami, NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: It's estimated there are nearly 14,000 shelters and pet rescue groups in the U.S., taking in nearly 8 million animals each year. There are at least 70 in the Miami area alone. They're mostly small groups, like Paws 4 You, founded seven years ago by Carol Caridad.

CAROL CARIDAD: We have currently 87 dogs here. At any given time, we have between 80 and 95.

ALLEN: Paws 4 You works to find homes for dogs the group pulls from the Miami-Dade County-run shelter. Some dogs are easier to place than others.

CARIDAD: This is Charlene and Cisco and they may react and get loud when they first see someone new, but they all are extremely loving.

ALLEN: Both dogs have been with Caridad for more than three years. If they'd not been taken from the county shelter, they likely would've been euthanized years ago. Paws 4 You, like most pet rescue groups, operates a no-kill shelter. Caridad saves all her dogs, but shelters can euthanize up to 10 percent of their animals for reasons of health and temperament and still be considered no-kill. Richard Avanzino was head of San Francisco's SPCA, which helped kick off the movement in 1994.

RICHARD AVANZINO: The no-kill concept will be a constantly debated question among a lot of animal lovers as to whether we are there or whether we're still working on getting to the goal

ALLEN: Avanzino thinks about 700,000 of the 3 million dogs killed each year are, as he calls it, legitimate euthanizations - animals that are unadoptable because of health or behavior. He's now president of Maddie's Fund, a group that works to promote the no-kill movement, but not all dog lovers embrace the no-kill philosophy.

PATTI STRAND: The word no-kill has become, really, a marketing term.

ALLEN: Patti Strand is director of the National Animal Interest Alliance. It's an organization that represents the American Kennel Club and other dog breeders. Strand supports shelters and adoptions, but the phrase no-kill, she believes, is misleading. Most no-kill shelters limit the dogs and cats they take in. For government-run open access shelters that take all comers, Strand says the goal of adopting out 90 percent of the dogs taken in may not be practical or safe.

STRAND: At some point, you begin to adopt out animals that have serious health issues or serious temperament issues that you should not.

ALLEN: Strand says in Portland, Oregon, where she works with the American Kennel Club chapter, most of the calls to the group's help line come from people who have adopted dogs that turn out to have unexpected problems. The no-kill movement has taken hold strongest in northern states. In other states, like Florida, the supply of unwanted dogs still outstrips the demand and euthanizations are still very much a fact of life.


ALLEN: In Miami, the county-run animal shelter takes in more than 15,000 dogs and 13,000 cats each year. In 2012, the county adopted a resolution that its shelter - the largest in Florida - would become a no-kill facility. Director Alex Munoz says he's making progress.

ALEX MUNOZ: The no-kill goal is 90 percent. Over the last few years we've increased our overall save rate from less than 50 percent to over 80 percent for both dogs and cat.

ALLEN: But that still means Miami's animal shelter - embracing the no-kill philosophy - euthanizes thousands of dogs and cats each year. It's a fact that upsets many rescue groups, but Munoz says it all comes down to numbers.

MUNOZ: The shelter is not an infinite space. There are 222 cages and on any given day there's more than 300 dogs.

ALLEN: Munoz says the agency is stepping up its spay and neuter program and holding more adoption events in the community. He hopes within the next year to get Miami close to the 90 percent no-kill goal. A key to that, and the progress so far, has been the help of animal rescue groups, many of which are located in other states. Animal rescue groups in the Northeast, Northwest and other regions transport tens of thousands of dogs and cats each year from shelters in the South and from overseas. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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