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How Labeling Michigan a No-Kill State Has Potential To Do More Harm Than Good

If you love animals as much as we do, you have no doubt seen on your favorite social media feed that based on 2018 numbers, Michigan has become a “No-Kill” state. This is the news that everyone who has ever adopted, or chose to spay/neuter, or who has worked in animal welfare has been waiting so long for. But, could this news be hurting the future of animal welfare? Do you know what “no-kill” means? Have you considered that pressure to become “no-kill” to appease the very loud voice of the public is causing some rescues and shelters to manipulate numbers to comply? Have you thought about what the impact of such an announcement could have?

We spoke to Founder of Kzoo Cat Café & Rescue, Abbey Thompson and together we want to share our concerns and the reality of the “No-Kill” label.


Immediately following the news, the general public and animal welfare professionals alike (us included!) were quick to pat ourselves on the back and give high-fives all around. Who wouldn’t? As the dust settled, it started to become clear that there were some major misconceptions about what this announcement even meant. Was a law passed that bans euthanasia of shelter animals? Does that mean I don’t need to #adoptdontshop anymore? Can designer purse-dogs become cool again?


It seems obvious, but it’s not.

“No-kill” and “Kill” are labels assigned to shelters or rescues based on their live release rate. A live-release rate is the percentage of incoming animals that are adopted, transferred to another agency, or returned home. The remaining animals may have died in the shelter due to illness or injury or are euthanized.

A shelter that has attained a 90% release rate for adoptable cats and dogs is considered “No-Kill”. This allows for up to 10% of incoming, adoptable animals to be euthanized. This also means that shelters and rescues may have vague language defining “adoptable”, or

that the actual number of “adoptable” cats and dogs will be altered to attain a percentage in the No-Kill zone.

Generally speaking, limited admission shelters are “No-kill” shelters, and they can choose which animals they accept. Open admission shelters are usually municipal shelters, or other shelters with a legal obligation to accept every animal that comes its way. Open admission shelters may offer a euthanasia service for owned pets, and may also euthanize animals due to illness/injury, behavior, or the availability of space in the shelter.

Don't for a second believe that Michigan is a state that does not kill any animals, or that we have achieved some sort of end goal... because we haven't. - Abbey Thompson, Kzoo Cat Café & Rescue


In Michigan, not all shelters or rescues are required to have an Animal Shelter Registration ( shelter license). Only those that are required to have an Animal Shelter Registration are also required to provide their statistics, which is where the “no-kill” data comes from. This information is publicly available on the MDARD website, as well as the current list of shelters and rescues that have an Animal Shelter Registration. Right off the top, any stats from private rescue groups that operate solely through a network of foster homes (which is A LOT of rescues) are not included in the recorded statistics.

Some shelters statistics are not even available. For example, in Kalamazoo County one of five shelters that are required to provide annual statistics to the state of Michigan has no data published for 2017 and 2018. The last published entry for the Animal Rescue Project, a Kalamazoo-based limited admission animal rescue group, is for 2016 statistics. As of the time of this post, KHS is waiting for a response from MDARD about why the stats are not published for the Animal Rescue Project, and how common it is for this to be the case around the state.


I think we can all agree that the word “kill” carries an enormous negative impact. When we label shelters as “kill” or “no-kill”, we are saying that “kill” shelters are bad and “no-kill” shelters are good. This could not be farther from the truth. Both types of shelters have specific and important roles in managing the animal needs of a community.

As a former shelter worker, every day I heard things like “I don’t know how you can work in a place that kills animals!”, “The blood of every animal this shelter kills is on your hands!”, and my personal favorite, “I refuse to adopt/donate to your shelter because you are a kill shelter!”

These types of statements are constant and painful jabs at shelter staff and volunteers in open admission shelters that they are somehow on the “bad” side of animal welfare, or that they are contributing to a problem. In reality, euthanasia and live-release rates are a

reflection of a community, and not the open admission shelter that is tasked with “dealing” with the problem of pet overpopulation and unadoptable incoming cats and dogs.

It’s easy to blame a shelter for euthanasia, but did the shelter create the excess pets, and aggressive animals? No, the community as a whole did. That also means it’s up to the community as a collective whole to work together with the open admission shelter in their area to increase adoption rates by adopting, reduce incoming strays by choosing to spay and neuter, to socialize their pets, to microchip and tag outdoor pets, to promote humane education, to volunteer, to donate, and the list goes on.

A proactive community is the key to reducing euthanasia and increasing adoptions.


“No-kill”, in the sense that literally no animal will be euthanized, is a dream . It’s beautiful and happy in theory but does not exist in the way many people want it to, and it shouldn’t.

Anyone who has ever owned a suffering pet and has made a choice to end that suffering knows that euthanasia is a critical component of animal welfare. The same mercy should also be extended to sick or injured animals at shelters.

Thompson took to Facebook to express her frustrations yesterday stating, “I'm not against the No Kill concept. Surface level, of course it would be great to be a no-kill state, but we have a LOT more work to do. And sometimes, euthanasia is necessary - it's the harsh reality of rescue. Sometimes us humans have to do what is necessary, and heartbreaking, even when we don't want to because we know it's the right thing. NOT euthanizing an animal who is in pain, has a poor prognosis or is suffering unnecessarily is cruel. It's not worth having "good numbers”.”

Unfortunately, along with sick and injured animals, there are a number of animals that are too dangerous to be adopted to the general public. From experience as an Animal Enforcement Officer, I can tell you that there are some seriously scary animals out there. Unpredictable and aggressive pets, many with a bite history or a history of attacking other animals, are dangerous. In the name of public safety, these pets should not be released to a new owner. Some can be rehabilitated and reevaluated, but open admission shelters do not exist to rehab and rehome aggressive animals, and limited admission shelters will overlook these animals in favor of those who are behaviorally sound and will require less resources to rehome.

By focusing on highly adoptable and desirable breeds and temperaments, limited admission shelters can more quickly rehome pets and ensure a higher probability of attaining “no-kill” status.


There are also too many animals for some shelters to handle.

If an open admission shelter has 10 cages, and 10 of those cages are full, there is 0 cage space available for new intakes. If any new intakes arrive that must be accepted as required by law, any animal in that shelter that is beyond the legal minimum hold time is fair game for euthanasia to make room for the intakes to which the shelter does have a legal obligation.

This entire narrative could be changed if the community and local rescue groups worked on accepting animals from local open admission shelters, but even with overcrowding and euthanasia due to a lack of space happening in municipal shelters all across the state, many local rescue groups are bringing literal truckloads of dogs and cats in from other states!

A more local-first approach would help with the issue of a community being oversaturated with adoptable pets, but many people believe that because a rescue is able to accept adoptable animals from far and wide, that particular group is doing “more” good than others.


At the end of the day, helping an animal is helping an animal, but people like the feel-goods that come with rescuing a pet from out of state, or supporting a group that claims to be “No- Kill.” However, none of that is a good measure of the success of a rescue group. “No-Kill” groups often have more community support. They are even offered awards for their life-saving work (though it’s not very intuitive to award a group that picks and chooses its animals for being “No-Kill”.). Meanwhile, municipal and open admission shelters take the blame and judgement for not claiming to be “No-Kill” when euthanasia is very often built into the public services they provide.

"But choosing to be limited admission by limiting the number of animals you accept, then touting yourself as "no kill" while leaving other rescues to deal with the animals you didn't accept only divides the animal welfare community...which in the end is bad for the animals." -KC Dog Blog


Shelters and rescue groups need statistics and data to prove impact when soliciting for donations. No nonprofit can survive without community and corporate support. When choosing a group to commit to, for any savvy donor or corporate philanthropic team, impact and statistics are everything.

Some groups use the word “transparency” to say they are open about their statistics, and yet there is often very little impact numbers relevant to that particular group being released.

In other cases, numbers are released but they are outdated and only represent their best year ever, or numbers were manipulated to get the desired result. For example, the SPCA of Southwest Michigan has an entire page on its website dedicated to Statistics, but looking at the facts, what are we really learning? That in 2006, over a decade ago, 216,000 animals were euthanized in Michigan. That number is hardly relevant because since then, it has been reduced to just 13,000 statewide in 2018. They also show that over 16,000 animals have been rescued and rehomed, but there is no time-frame provided.

Screenshot of the SPCA of SW Michigan Statistics Page 9/11/2019

One way that rescue groups can avoid slipping out of the “No-Kill” zone is to transfer any unadoptable pets they have to open admission shelters who will then be tasked with their euthanasia. The animal will be counted as a live release for the “No-Kill” rescue or shelter, but that same animal will then count as a euthanasia for the shelter it was transferred to. That animal is also then counted twice when the total number of animal intakes is added up for the whole state, as it was taken in by two shelters and had two very different outcomes. Keep this in mind when considering shelter statistics.


  • Both limited and open admission shelters and rescues do amazing work for animals.

  • No Kill and Kill labels are misleading and flawed

  • There is no law that prevents shelter pets from being euthanized

  • The recent designation of Michigan as a No-Kill state is based on the average live release rate of all the reporting shelters in Michigan in 2018.

  • There is still a lot of work to do, and there has been in no-way any endgame in animal welfare attained.

  • No-Kill is largely a marketing strategy, and the negative connotations associated with being a “kill” shelter can be detrimental to open admission shelters.

  • Individual rescues and shelters need to be judged based on actual statistics and not by labels, and those with higher euthanasia rates and lower adoption rates need more support, not less.


Kzoo Cat Cafe and Rescue's mission is to provide temporary housing and care to local stray and abandoned cats in a relaxed, cage-free, social atmosphere where they can interact with other cats and people in order to find their forever home.

Whether you are interested in adopting a cat, or just want to get your kitty fix - Kzoo Cat Cafe and Rescue is a great place to interact with cats, to play, and relax!

Abbey Thompson, Founder of Kzoo Cat Cafe & Rescue

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