A message from Asheville Humane Society's Executive Director, Tracy Elliott, as published here in the Asheville Citizen-Times


“Are you a no-kill shelter?” That’s the most frequent question I am asked. I answer with another question, “What is your definition of no-kill?” The responses vary widely.

A recent Washington Post article pointed to this issue in its title: “What’s a ‘no-kill’ animal shelter? The answer is more complicated than it seems.” For some, “no” means no euthanasia. Ever. For others, it means a 90 percent save rate. Still others, 95 percent. As the article points out, “There is no certifying body that bestows the no-kill label, and there is no universally held definition for it.”

As the operator of the Buncombe County Animal Shelter since 1990, Asheville Humane Society (AHS) faces the “no-kill” dilemma every single day. We accept every animal brought to us. Some are healthy and move quickly across the “walk of life” to our Adoption Center located next to the shelter on the Animal Care Campus. Others, however, have medical or behavioral challenges due to age, neglect, or maltreatment.

Not long ago, there were no resources available to save sick, injured, or older animals, so they were euthanized. Ten years ago, the shelter’s save rate was 36 percent. Then came a truly remarkable transformation. In 2016, the save rate was 90 percent. In that same period, shelter intake dropped 29 percent.

What has been achieved for the compassionate treatment of animals in Buncombe County should be a source of pride for all of us. This is a true testament to the adage, “it takes a village.” Enlightened bi-partisan political leadership from the Buncombe County Commissioners, significant investments from both taxpayers and private donors (at least $25 million in ten years), the dogged persistence (pun intended) of the founders, staff, board, and volunteers of AHS, the remarkable achievements of Humane Alliance, and the assistance of Brother Wolf Animal Rescue and other rescue organizations – all of this resulted in making Asheville a national model community for the humane treatment of animals.

Still, the persistent question we receive is, “Are you no-kill?” The answer is coming, I promise. We are deeply committed to the compassionate treatment of every animal in our community. Our core ideology is expressed in a widely-adopted set of animal welfare principles entitled, “The Five Freedoms.” Every animal should have:

  • Freedom from hunger or thirst
  • Freedom from discomfort
  • Freedom from pain, injury, or disease
  • Freedom to express (most) normal behavior
  • Freedom from fear and distress

To realize these principles, we expend $1.5 million annually beyond our adoption center and shelter budgets on life-saving and intake prevention programs. We do not euthanize due to lack of space at the shelter. We save every treatable animal. We never, ever “kill” an animal. We humanely euthanize (the word means “a merciful end”) when there is no hope for recovery or when an animal is deemed unsafe for placement in the community.

Taking all of that into consideration, we spent 18 months in a deep conversation among our stakeholders to answer the question, “Who are we?” Here is our passionately-felt answer:

Asheville Humane Society is about hope, not heartache. As Buncombe County’s critical safety net since 1984, we are always here to save and protect every animal. We have mastered the art of saving lives within our walls and now we are going even further, helping our community’s pets and their people thrive together. We are going beyond a no-kill community to ensure that each animal has the quality of life they deserve – a life worth living.

In the worthy pursuit of achieving a no-kill goal, and responding to enormous public pressure to do so, some shelters have lost sight of an animal’s right to express normal behavior and to be free of fear and distress. Dogs stacked in crates for months on end is not humane. Neither is keeping a suffering cat alive to achieve a goal.

Thanks to the generosity of this community, we are able to go the extra mile for every animal, even when the outlook is bleak. When quality of life cannot be achieved it is heartbreaking for us, but we make the same difficult but humane choice we all have had to make for our own beloved pets when their time comes.

Our mission at Asheville Humane Society is to ensure that every animal entrusted to us is given the quality of life they deserve – a life worth living. That’s our honest and heartfelt answer to the no-kill question.