In Savannah Morning News Column

Building a Great Animal Welfare Community in Savannah

Savannah Morning News – December 1, 2017 Michelle Thevenin, Executive Director

The other day on my neighborhood Facebook page, there was a mention of “no-kill” and “high-kill” shelters.  This discussion and others on social media are great insight into all the passion, good intentions and occasional irrationality we humans bring to animal welfare, especially those of us intimately involved with it on a day to day basis.  And it’s very relevant to our current animal welfare discussions in Savannah.

Nationally, the benchmark for calling an organization “no-kill” is that 90% of the animals leave the organization alive and less than 10% are euthanized (for non-treatable medical or behavioral reasons).

Yes, “no-kill” shelters do still euthanize animals — usually for untreatable medical ailments or behavioral issues that pose a significant danger to the public or the public’s pets.  That’s not really “No” – kill – there’s still some euthanasia.  Hence why I’m not fond of the “no-kill” brand – it’s misleading and doesn’t acknowledge the necessity of humane euthanasia.

The Humane Society for Greater Savannah currently has a record low euthanasia rate due to improved internal processes and more attentive medical treatment.  But we are limited by law from accepting strays (pets with no clear owner) and by policy as we generally require a scheduled appointment for someone to surrender a pet (mostly governed by the number of open kennels and surgery spots at Pet Fix Savannah).   So, our success, while commendable, is not reflective of the community as a whole.

Professionally, I’m more interested in the community’s euthanasia’s rate, as a whole.

As a community, we are far from having 90% of our animals leave our organizations alive.  If we are committed to becoming one of the best cities for companion animals in the country (certainly an important aspect of becoming the best mid-sized city) we need to implement best practices that have proven successful elsewhere in the southeast – places like Anderson County, South Carolina or Carroll County, Georgia (or the oft-mentioned comparison city of Charleston).

Those best practices include:

  1. Adequate resources:  A recent Savannah Morning News column about the city budget noted that citizens have greater appetite for increased and better services but are not so keen on paying for those improved services.   This would be true in Animal Welfare as well.  Improved results may require additional resources initially, whether in the form of taxes, donations or knowledge.  There are a lot of best practices out there just waiting for us to steal them and make them our own.
  2. Animal-friendly policies:   Our ordinances and organizational policies need to reflect our intention to be a community that values companion animals and the human-animal bond.  Floyd and DeKalb Counties just passed county resolutions to achieve a 90% live release rate community-wide.  Pehaps Savannah should consider such a resolution in the spring.
  3. Proactive before reactive:  Reactive is the sheltering and adopting work that HSGS and the countless rescue partners in the community do.  It’s important and saves lives.  But we have to focus on being proactive in order to decrease our need to be reactive – spay/neuter, Pets For Life, kitten nurseries, strategic community cat management and strong lost/found pet programs are just a few examples of activities we need to turn our attention to.   There are best practices in each of these areas and we should use them.


Savannah and coastal Georgia are a crossroads with respect to companion animal welfare.  We can continue on the slow meandering path that will see us continue to kill healthy cats and dogs in our shelters.  Or we can be deliberate and disciplined in our work and hit a community-wide live release rate of 90% by 2020.  The Humane Society for Greater Savannah is gearing up for the latter.  I hope the community supports that work.  This is a community decision – not the work of individual staff or volunteers but a reflection of our community and what we stand for.