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Why 'no' doesn't always mean 'no' at some no-kill animal shelters

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By MATT GEPHARDT and MICHELLE POE, KUTV

SALT LAKE CITY (CIRCA via KUTV) — On its website, No-Kill Utah says its plan is “straight forward.” The initiative, led by Best Friends Animal Society, is working to end the killing of dogs and cats in shelters throughout the state by the end of 2019.

“Step by critical step, we believe that together, we can bring the number of pets killed in Utah shelters to zero,” it reads.

But branding the initiative, “no-kill,” and publicly stating that the goal is “zero,” may be misleading. Zero is not actually the goal, Best Friends spokesperson Temma Martin confirmed to Circa partner KUTV.

“If zero killing of any pets, or zero euthanasia of any pets, is what anyone's looking for, it's just not realistic,” she said.

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Branding the initiative, “no-kill,” and publicly stating that the goal is “zero,” may be misleading. Zero is not actually the goal, Best Friends spokesperson Temma Martin confirmed to KUTV's Matt Gephardt.

Nearly 60 animal shelters and groups in Utah are listed on the No-Kill Utah website. KUTV reached out to each to ask how many animals were put down by their facilities in 2018. Adding up the numbers provided by the shelters that agreed to answer the question, the total number is at least 2,341.

Best Friends estimates about 800,000 homeless cats and dogs are killed in shelters in the United States annually.

Martin says that just because an organization is part of the no-kill coalition doesn't mean they've met the benchmark to be able to claim they're a no-kill facility.

According to rules set by a national board, she says, a shelter can call itself no-kill as long as 10 percent or fewer of animals that enter the facility are euthanized. The rules also state that a euthanized animal must be deemed by the shelter to be "un-adoptable," either because it is too old, too sick or too feral.

“When we talk about no-kill, we're talking about animals being killed because of space in the shelter or because their number of days are up," Martin said.

Pressed on whether the branding was misleading or confusing, Martin says Best Friends has been “very open about what no-kill means.”

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Nearly 60 animal shelters and groups in Utah are listed on the No-Kill Utah website. KUTV reached out to each to ask how many animals were put down by their facilities in 2018. Adding up the numbers provided by the shelters that agreed to answer the question, the total number was at least 2,341.

Ginni Pence of Provo, Utah, is among those confused by No-Kill Utah’s messaging. Last year, she went to great lengths to save the lives of a homeless cat and her kittens. She tracked them, borrowed a trap from Provo City and, after catching them, surrendered them to a facility that is a member of the no-kill coalition.

"I was concerned for the cat’s life, and I wanted to make sure that the cat got to a safe area where somebody would be able to adopt it and provide it a safe home," she said.

Someone at the shelter deemed the mother cat to be too feral. When Pence attempted to visit the cat a few days later, she learned it had been killed.

Heartbroken in the shelter’s lobby, she says a shelter employee explained to her, for the first time, that "no-kill" doesn’t actually mean “no kill.”

“At that point, I was very shocked and I said, ‘You stated to me that it was a no-kill shelter.’ And they said, ‘As long as it's 10 percent or less, it's still considered a no-kill shelter."

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Ginni Pence is among people those confused by No-Kill Utah’s messaging. She captured a cat and her kittens and took them to a shelter, fearing for their lives. She took them there to hopefully be adopted. When Pence went to check in on the mom a few days later, she found out the cat had been deemed to feral and euthanized.

Pence says she feels deceived.

“No-kill means no kill,” she said. “You can look it up in the dictionary. I don't think it says anything about 10 percent.”

Pence says if she’d understood the semantics of the initiative’s branding, she would have left the cat free, or worked herself to find it a good home.

Martin says some shelters have adopted a policy of "return to field" for animals that are deemed too feral. The animals will be spayed or neutered and then safely returned to the wild to live out their lives.

The Utah County shelter where Pence surrendered the cat she captured has no such policy, but Martin says she is hopeful that will change.

“Best Friends has spoken to policy makers and shelter representatives in Utah County about implementing a return-to-field community cat program,” she said. “These talks are ongoing, and we are hopeful they will accept Best Friends' funded proposal for this key lifesaving program in their community.”

Martin emphasized that the only way for Utah to get to no-kill, even by Best Friends’ definition, will be for the community to step up, get their animals spayed and neutered, adopt from shelters rather than breeders and donate time or money to the initiative.

“We can’t do it alone,” she said.

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