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“Working Hard at “”No-Kill”” (Humane Society of Gallatin Valley, Bozeman, MT)”

Nicholas Gilman, Senior Field Representative, American Humane Association, Animal Protecti


Don’t tell the board and staff members at the Humane Society of Gallatin Valley (HSGV), but what they’re doing out in Bozeman, MT, isn’t supposed to be possible. Theirs is a full-service but ‘no-kill’ shelter that hasn’t had to euthanize a healthy, adoptable animal in almost three years.

The term ‘no-kill’ shelter evokes strong emotions from shelter professionals and the general public alike. In fact, many humane agency administrators grimace at the mention of the words because the public, it seems, has embraced the concept – thinking, perhaps, that if we just stopped killing animals, the pet overpopulation problem would magically be solved.

Most no-kill shelters are located in communities where there is at least one traditional shelter that performs euthanasia, and it’s not unusual for conflict to arise. Traditional administrators often feel that it’s easy to take the moral high ground when you only accept limited numbers of animals, but quite a different story when you have to take in every animal – including those the no-kill shelter turns away – to ensure that the pet isn’t simply dumped by the side of the road. ‘No-kill,’ it’s been said, is less philosophy than hyperbole.

But perhaps not in Bozeman. With no other shelter in the county, HSGV accepts every animal brought to it. Yet, the shelter managed to adopt or return to original owners 92 percent of the animals who came in the door in 1997. According to periodic shelter surveys conducted by the American Humane Association (AHA), these figures show that HSGV has an adoption/return rate some 60 percentage points higher than the national average. Executive Director Ganay Johnson acknowledges that they do euthanize terminally ill and aggressive animals. However, they make extended efforts to provide veterinary care for animals who have treatable afflictions.

There seemingly is nothing about Bozeman that would indicate that companion animal overpopulation is easier to solve here than in other places. The Humane Society serves a population of 61,000. In 1997, it took in 2,228 cats and dogs, and euthanized only 88. (An outbreak of feline distemper claimed an additional 65 cats, who died in the shelter.) So, how does this shelter achieve such a high percentage of adopted and returned animals?

“For one thing, everyone knows about us,” Ganay says. “It probably helps that we’re a small community. We don’t have drive-by shootings in Bozeman, so it’s relatively easy for the Humane Society to get headlined on the evening news. Beyond that, it’s hard work. We made a commitment several years ago, at both the staff and board levels, to reach a balance between incoming animals and those being placed in new homes. Since we can’t control the number of incoming animals, we have to put a lot of effort into finding as many homes as we can.”

For the most part, the organization has relied on traditional methods to meet its objective. For example, it has invested heavily in making its animals visible to the public through advertising, foster home adoptions and special promotions. Staff, board and volunteers spend time on the phone, on radio and in print looking for suitable homes for pets. Most recently, HSGV has set up a web site ( that includes photos and ‘bios’ of animals for adoption. “Our emphasis has been, and will be, to exhaust every possible option for finding homes for animals rather than euthanize,” says Johnson. “For the past three years, we’ve been successful. But, it’s a constant struggle.”

Recognizing that more can be done with a better facility and greater public exposure, HSGV recently has committed to building a new shelter within the next few years. Among the features that will be added: more space; a people-friendly, education-oriented environment; and alternate housing that minimizes cages and bars.

Does the no-kill philosophy work? A shelter in Bozeman, Montana, will tell you that its no-kill program’s success is a function of a positive attitude and effort, not rhetoric. And, it remains commmitted to accepting every animal who comes through the door.

Nicholas Gilman, a guest columnist this issue, oversees The American Humane Association’s shelter services programs as well as disaster relief initiatives.

ASPCA Animal Watch – Summer 1998

© 1998 ASPCA

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