This week we saw the ‘accidental’ killing of Target, a dog who had survived the streets of Iraq, in an Arizona shelter.

Target, who was rescued by a soldier as a puppy, later returned the favor by alerting soldiers to the presence of a suicide bomber, thus saving dozens of lives. Target and her buddy Rufus were rightfully considered heroes and her soldier guardian, Sgt. Terry Young, was given special dispensation to bring the dogs home after his deployment.

Then Target, a dog who’d survived suicide bombers in Iraq, got loose and ended up in an Arizona pound where she was put down. Though those who knew Target saw a hero with incredibly soulful eyes, once she entered the animal control system, she was a number about to be destroyed. Target became a victim in an assembly line of death that has kills 3-4 million dogs and cats a year. It was no accident.

Target, right, and Rufus in a happy moment.

The worker was fired for improperly following procedures, but this is a “heads must roll” band-aid slapped on an institutional problem. And that problem is kill shelters, which view animals as beings we have a right to destroy. We don’t – the basic assumption is wrong and Target got caught up in the killing machine.

The good news is that progress has been made as attitudes continue to change about how we treat the animals of the world (go Prop B!). In the 1970s, American shelters killed 12-20 million dogs and cats, at a time when there were 67 million pets in homes. Today, shelters kill about 4 million animals, while there are more than 135 million dogs and cats in homes. What this says  is that if we can cut the killing down from 20 million to 4 million, we can eliminate it altogether. We are on the way; we must finish the job.

The most widely accepted definition of a no-kill shelter is a place where all adoptable and treatable animals are saved and where only unadoptable or non-rehabilitatable animals are euthanized. In order to make this the standard, this complex issue, with many moving parts, must be tackled.  Spay and neuter programs must be beefed up, robust adoption programs put in place – money must be spent. But first of all, we must change our values toward animals.

For there are heart-warming alternatives to killing them. Another story Global Animal posted this week was about veterans being treated for PTSD by adopting a dog. The unconditional love and unbridled joy of these stray dogs is helping these men, many of whom have been discarded themselves, to reconnect to the world and help return them to the land of the living.

These soldier’s time for killing is over. Now is their time to save, and be saved.

Kill shelters must make the same transition.

Related story: Adopted Dogs Help Soldiers Heal From PTSD




  1. Thank you for delineating between a “no-kill” and a “never-kill” shelter. It’s an important distinction and I honor what you are saying. In no-kill shelters we assume that they are only killing dogs that aren’t able to be saved. But, you’re right, there are no standard measurements for this, and, by the way, everybody was ready to put down the Vick dogs and most of those have been rehabilitated.

    Good point and thanks for the good work!
    Arthur Jeon, Global Animal

  2. Big WHOA on a couple of points in this article. First, let me introduce myself. I founded and run a small, independent, breed specific NEVER kill rescue, located in the county “next door” to where Target lived. Maricopa County has the second largest kill shelter in the USA. I used to think that the “pound” was horrible….a killing machine, as you put it. Then I started saving dogs from the pound too. The enormity of the problem is overwhelming. The first change that must be made is within ourselves. We must stop looking at pets as possessions and meal tickets. We must not only change our own culture, but tackle that of the thousands of illegal immigrants populating this area to whom an animal is a display of wealth….the more animals you have the more respected you are, but the animals are possessions and their welfare is of no concern. Of course there are thousands of back yard breeders who are citizens too….we need a major change and I don’t know how to do that. We can’t JUST blame the county when we ourselves created the problem that we expect them to rectify.
    Also, while we are speaking of no-kill shelters (note that I am a NEVER-kill shelter) let me say that your widely accepted definition of a “no kill” shelter is correct to the best of my knowledge. I have a problem with that definition. No kill shelters agree to not euthanize dogs unless they are “unadoptable or non-rehabilitatable animals”. The problem is that unadoptable, untreatable,and non-rehabilitatable have no clear cut definitions or standards. One large, well known rescue group pulled a dog of my breed from the county shelter. He was subsequently returned to be euthanized. He was unadoptable because in a cage at Petsmart stores, he barked excessively at anyone approaching. That is the NATURE of most of the dogs I rescue. I don’t DO public adoption events…..I couldn’t put 10 dogs together at one time that WOULDN”T behave like that….no reason to die at a “no kill 501c3 rescue”….every bit as guilty as the county shelter if not more so because all of the independent rescues have the right to selective intake. Thank God for that dog’s., and several others pulled by the same group, that the county CARED enough to ask me to evaluate those dogs before they were killed. I took and placed EVERY single one of them. The only time a dog in an independent rescue should be put to death is when the health of the animal is causing suffering in excess of the quality of life or if the animal is a danger to society….but that is the difference as explained to me in a “never-kill” organization. Another larger yet, HUGE shelter that even has a politically correct animal hospital with a 2.5 million dollar budget ( I think 2.49 million of those donated dollars is spent on salaries) evaluated a dog as “unadoptable” because she had a SKIN TAG on her leg. I have the paperwork to prove it. Unadoptable, untreatable, unmanagable non-rehailitatable all need to have a clear cut set of standards in place to prevent the misuse of the “no-kill” label and the senseless murder of treatable, adoptable pets.
    Thank for hearing me out.

    • VERY well said by irescue. I’ve been involved in rescue for almost 6 years now and although the shelter I currently volunteer with considers itself a “no-kill” shelter, myself and several volunteers are currently scrambling to save one of our very own dogs from euthanasia. This situation is a prime example of the one of the issues with who decides when a dog is unadoptable vs adoptable. The people making the decision in our case have no training experience, nor are they trained in evaluating animal behavior. We have a 3 1/2 year old male Cattle Dog that is simply in the wrong situation for his needs. Hardy was adopted as a puppy from our shelter by a manager who knew he was not being adopted as a “family” dog, but as a guard dog where he would live outside on a chain. He was returned to the sheter at the age of 2, because his owners no longer had time for him…. I would hate to know what they considered having time for him when they adopted him, since all they ever did was meet his physical needs of food and water. He went from living life on a chain, to living in a kennel in our small rural shelter… To the current shetler managers credit, they contacted several Cattle Dog rescues in an attempt to get him into an environment where he would have a better chance at finding a loving home… they were unsuccessful. Hardy remained….. Typical of a Cattle Dog, trust must be established with Hardy before he will respond with trust. The only volunteers authorized to handle him are those that he knows and trusts. Unfortunately, people rarely follow the rules they have been given if they think they are above them. This past weekend, a new volunteer who had never worked with Hardy took him out to the play yard. She made multiple mistakes, resulting in her being bitten. Not only did she not know Hardy, she also had no knowledge of the nature of Cattle Dogs. Everyone realizes that the volunteer was the cause of the incident, but management has decided Hardy must pay the ultimate price for yet another poor decision by one of the people in his life responsible for his care and protection. Those of us who have worked with Hardy, which does not include either the Sheter Manager or the Kennel Manager as neither personally handle any of the dogs, also know his potential. With someone who understands his breed, his needs and is competent with dogs, Hardy will thrive. He simply needs at little time, work, love and the social training he has been deprived of the short time he has walked this earth. The people who decide life and death for any animal, should first have the training and experience required for them to make a competent, rather than emotional-knee jerk decision.