No Kill Firing Squad: Fun With NumbersPosted by in Uncategorized
It is with increasing amusement that I see the definition of No Kill sliding down the slope from what it sounds like it means, that you don’t kill animals, to what we probably suspect it always meant, you don’t kill healthy or treatable animals, to the newest definition: you kill fewer than 10% of animals.
Or is that 10% of dogs? Because often the righteous Facebook posts start with “animals” but then transform to dogs. Which makes sense because we all know that cats are killed at double or more the rates of dogs in shelters and have a much harder row to hoe nationwide if they want to exit most shelters in a carrier rather than a bag.
Allow me to be clear on the fact that I have no problem with anyone defining terms as they see fit. I believe our missions are defined by our organizations with the support of our boards, donors, and staff, and the approval of State and Federal regulators overseeing our work, claims and tax exemptions. If you want to say you are No Kill at 90%, more power to you. Just like I say we do not consider a 90% numeric value as counting as No Kill at our Lancaster shelter which has in practice much higher save rates as defining no kill. Nor do we consider ourselves restricted access as opposed to open door at our Reading shelter just because we charge a $25 intake fee or require three hours of volunteer service to surrender a pet. But some shelters do think that’s a substantive barrier. Que sera sera; you are what you is.
However, two things have come to mind as we integrate two shelter models, No Kill and Open Door, into our new organization in SE Pennsylvania. First, we were getting so close to that 90% model in our open access shelters that if we were to combine the Berks numbers with the Lancaster numbers over the past year, it is likely that we would retroactively surpass a 90% save rate under our Asilomar reporting for dogs, and probably cats, too. With one fell swoop of a spreadsheet cell, Berks will have become No Kill based on the more liberal “90% equation”, even if we didn’t actually improve at all.
We intend to reach that 90% mark independently within the Berks division of the organization either way, don’t worry. But ain’t it fun what can be done with numbers?
The second thing that has struck me is how we use numbers to define acceptable levels of loss for others we’d never accept for ourselves. 90% saved. That sounds pretty good in an industry where some shelters still barely break even on save rates- some because they face real hurdles, some because they just plain suck and deserve every sling and arrow thrown at them- and all shelters were historically terrible. But apply that rate to you and me, and I bet it seems lacking.
The next time someone says that 90% or better equals “No Kill” numbers, ask him and nine similarly minded friends to line up against a wall and face a ten gun firing squad loaded with nine blanks and one live round of ammo. I wonder if the one in ten on that wall is any more willing to accept themselves as proof of success when they catch the No Kill Bullet than the one in ten dogs who are “acceptable losses” in some people’s no kill model?
And don’t even get me started on the cats. I think they get the same fun with numbers that blacks had being counted as 3/5 of a person in the new United States for over 100 years.