No-kill doesn't mean no-euthanasia. What Michigan's no-kill status means for shelters

Michigan is now a no-kill state.

That announcement came from the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance this week. That new title is the result of lobbying from people who don't want shelters killing animals, and from a reframing of experts care for their pets.

"We're treating animals now, not just, 'Oh, broken leg and put it down,'" said Deborah Schutt, board chair of the alliance. "Our appreciation for our pets have changed. We don't want a catch and kill. We want catch, make them safe."

The non-profit said the statewide average live release rate for dogs and cats in shelters reached 90 percent in 2018. That means animals returned to owners, transferred to other shelters or rescues as well as getting adopted. 

But that doesn't mean animals aren't still put down.

"People think no kill means no euthanasia. That's not the case at all," Schutt said. "Euthanasia is an act of mercy. So you'll never find 100% live release rate because there's always going to be a vicious animal and there's always going to be one that is too sick."

That sentiment is why other officials remain skeptical of shelters that report a 100 percent live release rate. 

"When I look at some of these no-kill statistics and some people are saying a dog has never been euthanized in their shelter, and I'll tell you as the leader of the no-kill movement in Detroit, I do find that a little questionable," said Kristina Rinaldi, executive director of the Detroit Dog Rescue.

One possibility for hard-to-believe statistics like that is some of them are reported from smaller rescues with less animal intake.

"Not many people are going to commit fraud. Is somebody? Probably," Schutt said. "But you know what, I don't think the vast majority of people would do something like that."

Shelters' annual numbers are reported to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Based on numbers from past years, 120,000 dogs would be put down each year. That number dwindled to 13,000. 

Even as the state has made progress, officials like Rinaldi doesn't want people to stray too far from the conversation over animal welfare in general.

"I don't want us to get too focused on it just being a no-kill movement," she said. "I want to see us have success in the state of Michigan with animal placement."