No Kill Huntsville is a coalition of local animal welfare advocates, rescuers and shelter directors who came together in January of 2012 to speak with one voice to seek better for our community. Our goal was to make ours a No Kill Community; a geographic hub where healthy and treatable animals are not destroyed in our municipal shelter using our tax dollars and resources because there are proven ways to save them. There are hundreds of no kill communities across the country where the lives of shelter animals are saved while still ensuring public safety and fiscal responsibility.
The phrase No Kill does not mean that animals do not die in the shelter. It is in keeping with use of the word "euthanasia" for the intended purpose. No kill means the shelter does not kill healthy and treatable animals.
We track statistics and analyze reports created by the shelter as a means of monitoring progress. When we began our advocacy in 2012, the live release rate at the shelter was 35%. Almost 90% of the animals whose lives were ended were healthy and treatable. As a result of our advocacy, public pressure and municipal leadership, the rate began to rise drastically in 2014 and first hit the 90% mark for both dogs and cats in 2016. By the end of 2021, the live release rate for dogs and cats was 94% for dogs and 96% for cats. The shelter statistics dating back to 2008 are found on this website under the Shelter Issues drop-down menu. Our focus has always been on the city keeping healthy and treatable animals alive with the statistics being used as a tool to track trends.
The progress achieved by the city proved to be unsustainable. In 2022, the live release rate for dogs was 87%; it has not been this low since 2015. The city's position is that it has not destroyed animals for space since 2014. We are not confident that is the case. More dogs were destroyed for "behavior" in 2022 than at any time since we began seeking euthanasia reports from the city attorney's office in 2016. It is our suspicion that dogs are being destroyed for space and the deaths are being attributed to behavior issues.
It is our position that the inability to sustain progress is the result of the city's failure to fully implement the programs and services of the No Kill Equation about which city officials have known since at least 2009. There are recommendations we have been making to the city since 2014 to reduce shelter intake and increase shelter output which have not been embraced even though many of them cost nothing.
Huntsville is not lacking in resources for the shelter as is the case for many municipalities in Alabama. The city spent 3 million dollars to renovate the shelter building, but fewer animals are kept alive now than prior to that spending. Of the 3 million, 1 million was spent to double the dog kennel size. This was touted as a way to help the dogs be "stress free." No dogs in any shelter are totally stress free. The city could have spent a fraction of that amount to clear a portion of the city-owned parcel to the south of the shelter facility and create outdoor kennel areas like those used in Lawrence County to keep dogs contained but reduce their stress levels. Dogs do poorly confined inside shelter buildings. They do much better when outside where they have more mental stimulation and do not feel as much fear-based stress.
We are currently promoting the Huntsville Animal Protection Act which is an ordinance to codify more standards for Huntsville Animals Services than already exist in the city code. The HAPA would help preserve the legacy of the city and could lead to a decline in the number of dogs destroyed for behavior through use of standards and protocols so that only those dogs who are genuinely dangerous are destroyed as opposed to dogs who are just scared.
Our most recent communication with City Administrator John Hamilton is found at this link. The letter was also copied to the mayor, members of the city council and the shelter director.
(cover image of Ralphie, a Katrina survivor, courtesy of Dana Kay Mattox Deutsch, a rescuer whom sadly we lost to cancer)