Explore position statements on important issues in animal welfare

Best Friends Animal Society takes a stance on a variety of issues across many aspects of the animal welfare movement that are deemed to be important to not only us, but to our members and partner rescue organizations.

Aggressive animals

Best Friends believes every animal is an individual and deserves to be treated as such. No matter what the animal’s history is, we’ve proven through our work over the years that every animal deserves, at the very least, an opportunity to be evaluated and given the opportunity to overcome any undesirable behaviors. 

If a dog commits an unprovoked attack on a human or another animal that results in a serious injury, the dog should be managed appropriately to protect the public and other animals. Such management might include confinement to an adequately secured owner’s property, muzzling when in public, mandatory behavior modification training and other non-lethal means to protect the public during any attempts at rehabilitation. 

Best Friends believes that every effort should be made to rehabilitate any dog who has aggression issues. There are myriad reasons why a dog can become psychologically damaged and dangerous, including abuse, neglect, under-socialization, aggression training or medical issues. Extreme cases may require sanctuary placement as the only option, if rehabilitation or appropriate management are just not available. 

If, after considering the previous points, appropriate care for a dangerous dog cannot be secured, then euthanasia may be considered. A behavioral and veterinary consultation should be obtained to ensure that experts in care and behavior are helping to make this decision. 

At our sanctuary and in our local programs, Best Friends' position is to not euthanize animals solely because of aggressive behavior. We instead prefer to find or create an environment and management protocol that will protect the animal and his or her human handlers and offer the animal a reasonable quality of life. In the event that the aggression is so severe or has unrelievable physical suffering as its underlying cause and/or the necessary management protocol is so restrictive as to seriously compromise the animal’s quality of life, then Best Friends would consider euthanasia an acceptable method for relieving that animal’s suffering and poor quality of life. Such a decision would be made by animal care management and a veterinarian, after careful consultation with the animal’s caregivers.

Cat declawing

Best Friends is opposed to the practice of cat declawing. Only in cases where it is deemed medically appropriate (such as tumors, infection or other chronic health issues determined by a licensed veterinarian) should the onychectomy procedure be considered. Even with advancements in technology, such as laser claw removal, maiming a cat and potentially leaving him/her with long-term issues cannot be justified for what is ultimately an owner-convenience procedure. The onychectomy procedure seeks to remove the existing claw and prevent further growth. To do so, a portion of the bone must be removed.

Cat owners who have concerns about scratching behavior should seek non-surgical management techniques such as vinyl nail caps, or simply offer scratching posts. Keeping the cat’s nails trimmed can also help with destructive scratching.

Dog debarking/devocalization

Best Friends is opposed to the practice of debarking of dogs and asserts that it should never be used as a method of convenience for owners. A surgery to remove the tissue of the vocal cords may in fact reduce the noise level of the bark, but it does nothing to address the behavioral issue underlying the excessive barking. Owning a dog is a commitment, and we believe owners should commit to working through behavioral issues through training to address issues instead of looking to surgeries that do not address the underlying problem.

Devocalization, or debarking, as a medical procedure has been available for decades. However, ethically, devocalization is controversial with many animal welfare organizations and veterinarians. Most recently, the veterinary giant Banfield outlawed the practice at all of its more than 700 offices. Banfield will continue to perform the procedure when it is deemed medically necessary for an animal.


Dog training methods

Best Friends Animal Society recognizes that training is an essential tool in helping to achieve our mission to bring about a time when there are No More Homeless Pets and save the lives of more dogs.  Training is used to modify behavior to help dogs succeed in a shelter or sanctuary environment, increasing their adoptability and giving them the tools to be successful in a home. It is also used to help owners understand how to communicate better with their dogs, resulting in dogs staying in their forever homes.

We also recognize that there are many methodologies and philosophical approaches to training, and believe that the approach taken should be tailored to the individual dog, his/her history and current circumstances. For example, the approach and tools needed for keeping a play group safe may be very different from the tools and techniques used to help a dog learn to sit on cue. 

Best Friends does not stand behind training methods that use excessive force or cause pain. We do acknowledge that there are techniques that cause mild temporary discomfort (for example, the use of air horns or water bottles to deter behavior that is risking the safety of a group of dogs in a play group setting) that may be acceptable in some scenarios. We recognize that there are risks that come with some training techniques, such as aversion, and to minimize those risks, these techniques should only be used in certain situations with very skilled trainers.

While Best Friends primarily uses relationship-based training, we do not exclusively practice or endorse one specific methodology. In our support of adopters, rescuers and shelters, we engage trainers who use a variety of methods to achieve positive outcomes in a dog’s particular environment. In every instance, our primary goals are to keep dogs safe, get them adopted and keep them in loving homes.


Best Friends believes that no healthy or otherwise treatable animal should be killed when alternatives exist to save them, as stated in our euthanasia vs. killing position statement.

“Euthanasia” means ending the life of an animal who is suffering from an irreparable medical or behavioral condition that does not allow for an acceptable quality of life.

At Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and the Best Friends Lifesaving Centers, we will euthanize an animal if he or she is suffering from an irreparable condition and our veterinarians advise that there is no chance of recovering an acceptable quality of life. While this is a difficult choice, we approach this decision from the perspective of what is in the best interest of the individual animal.

Euthanasia may also be pursued in rare cases of irreparable animal aggression in which (1) a veterinarian has eliminated medical treatment as a solution; (2) rehabilitation efforts by our canine behavior specialists have failed; and (3) staff and public safety cannot be reasonably assured, or other management protocols would seriously compromise the pet’s quality of life.

At Best Friends, we work to find or create an environment and management protocol that will protect the animal and his or her human handlers while offering that animal a reasonable quality of life. Read more about our position on aggressive animals.

The only method of euthanasia that Best Friends finds acceptable is that recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association, specifically the use of veterinarian-prescribed sedatives and FDA-approved euthanasia solutions administered in as comforting and loving a situation as possible. We do not support the use of the gas chamber. Read more about our position on the use of the gas chamber.


At Best Friends, the pursuit of our mission to achieve our vision specifically involves ending the killing of companion animals in shelters. While those efforts are currently focused on companion animals, the vision of Best Friends is very simple: "A better world through kindness to animals." Our current guiding principles are also prescriptive about how Best Friends should show compassion to all living creatures.

Golden Rule: To treat all living things as we ourselves would wish to be treated.

Kindness: To demonstrate compassion and respect for all living creatures.

It is incongruent with our guiding principles to support industries that raise and slaughter animals for food, as these animals often live in inhumane and even torturous conditions.

Given the above, food served at all Best Friends staff meetings and employee events, the food that employees are reimbursed for while traveling, employee food choices when meeting with donors, and food served at any other Best Friends–related events should be vegetarian, and whenever feasible, entirely plant-based.

While not all Best Friends staff follow plant-based or vegetarian diets, Best Friends is an organization dedicated to animals and their well-being. Best Friends staff are expected to respect and follow this position when using donor money because it is important that, as employees of Best Friends, we always represent the values of the organization.

Gas chamber as a method of euthanasia

Best Friends focuses on ending the killing of pets in shelters, not how they are killed, but we believe that in cases of true euthanasia, it is critical that the only stress-free and pain-free method be employed — that being a high-dose intravenous injection of either sodium pentobarbital or sodium thiopental. 

The gas chamber is a cruel practice from what should be a bygone era. The term “euthanasia” itself derives from the Greek eu, meaning “good,” and thanatos, meaning “death.”1 The gas chamber can hardly be considered a “good death” as studies2 have proven the added stress caused to animals during the unnecessarily prolonged death in gas chambers. There have been enough anecdotal cases of animals surviving the chamber4,5 for states to enact bans on the gas chamber. 

As far back as 1990, states began banning the gas chamber as a method of euthanizing animals. Georgia was the first state to mandate intravenous injection as the only allowable method for animal euthanasia.3 Until that point, Georgia, just like every other state, had no mandate at all for how shelter animals should be euthanized. Since then, more than a dozen states have declared intravenous injection as the sole method of humane euthanasia. 


Giving pets as gifts or prizes

Each holiday season, stories hit the media that feature warnings to the public about the dangers of giving pets as gifts. However, studies show1 that pets given as gifts are not any more likely to be returned, nor are they are any less loved than animals adopted through more traditional means. It is Best Friends' position that shelters and rescue groups should reconsider policies in place that expressly prohibit giving pets as gifts. Turning away someone interested in adopting a pet for a gift likely will mean they will turn to another avenue (internet, pet store, classifieds, etc.) to obtain the pet, which would likely support a commercial breeding operation and an unaltered pet.

It is understandable to have concerns over allowing someone to adopt on behalf of a third party. We suggest the following adoption practices to ensure a safe adoption without being excessively restrictive.

  1. Pets as gifts within a family: It’s quite common for parents to acquire a pet for a child or children as a holiday gift. In such situations, the adoption counselor should help the parents understand that they must be the responsible parties in ensuring that the pet is well cared for, even if their intention is for the children to be the primary caregivers.
  2. Pets as gifts to non-family members: In such instances, we recommend a pre-paid “adoption gift certificate” to be redeemed by the recipient. This ensures that the individual can select the pet that he/she connects with and adoption counselors can speak directly with the responsible party.
  3. Pets as prizes in charity raffles or auctions: When a pet is offered as an auction prize, we do not believe live animals should be involved. This again is an appropriate time to use an “adoption gift certificate” that would be given to the winner.

In all of these cases, adoption staff should always complete their due diligence on potential adopters, and potential adopters should be informed that an adoption certificate will only be redeemed if they fulfill adoption requirements.

Best Friends believes any time someone is considering bringing an animal into their home, they should be mindful of the commitment and ensure that thought is given to what type of pet will be best for the family and their lifestyle. The same applies when someone is given a pet as a gift. Our resource “Choosing a pet” provides helpful information.


Humane sourcing

At Best Friends, the pursuit of our mission to achieve our vision specifically involves ending the killing of companion animals in shelters. While those efforts are currently focused on companion animals, the vision of Best Friends is very simple: "A better world through kindness to animals." Our current guiding principles are also prescriptive about how Best Friends should show compassion to all living creatures. 

Golden Rule: To treat all living things as we ourselves would wish to be treated.

Kindness: To demonstrate compassion and respect for all living creatures.

To that end, as an organization we always attempt to make the most humane choices when those choices are both feasible and appropriate. 

Our partners are companies and organizations whose missions most closely align with ours. We attempt to only use products at our sanctuary and at our regional programs that are not only free from animal products when possible, but also created by companies who do not test on animals. At our events, we strive to serve food that has the least impact possible on animals. Our 401(k) program offers a humane fund, so our employees can feel comfortable that their retirement investments are with companies that align with their values.

Mandatory spay/neuter

Best Friends does not support any form of mandatory spay and neuter law, regulation or policy, including any provision that targets a specific breed. While often well intentioned, these types of laws are the wrong policy solution, and while we certainly agree that increasing the numbers of sterilized cats and dogs is a crucial component to ending unnecessary killing, these efforts should never be codified as a mandate.

Research1 has consistently found that the majority of pet owners want to get their pets sterilized. What the same research2 has found is that the lack of available low-cost or free spay and neuter services is the primary barrier for these owners (though certainly there are other interconnected factors such as transportation, limited capacity at sterilization clinics and the hours of available service). These barriers should be removed and Best Friends is committed to being a part of that solution. In fact, we operate and/or support spay and neuter clinics across the country to help serve pet owners, and we have consistently found that demand for these services far outweighs supply. We will continue to work toward expanding access to these critically needed services.

Given what we know about the public’s desire to sterilize their pets, the end result of mandatory spay/neuter laws is often that they punish the most underserved and underresourced pet owners in a community. Removing pets from loving families because they are unable to access veterinary services is never the appropriate solution. What’s more, these laws can perversely increase the number of animals entering and dying in our shelters, as owned, loved pets are seized and impounded for noncompliance or because families can’t afford the fines levied against them. That is exactly the wrong approach to building a safe and humane community, and it only serves to divide the animal welfare community and law enforcement from the public. What’s more, thousands of communities across the country have achieved a lifesaving rate of 90% or higher without any form of mandatory spay or neuter law or policy.

We strongly believe that bridges within our community should be built and strengthened. Unfunded mandates like these laws destroy the goodwill and trust that shelters and animal control have worked for decades to foster. If we criminalize underresourced, underserved and underprivileged communities, we add unnecessary barriers to reaching our goal of a no-kill nation.

Finally, in communities that have enacted these types of laws, there is no credible research to show that mandatory spay and neuter is directly responsible for any decrease in shelter intake numbers. What’s more, given the research definitively showing that owners overwhelmingly want to sterilize their pets, if these laws are coupled with increased funding for veterinary services, there really is no reason to impose a mandate in the first place. Instead, our communities should strive to increase access to spay/neuter services and other veterinary resources; this is the proven method to increase lifesaving rates.

Given the many concerns about the outcomes for people and pets, coupled with the lack of evidence to show their efficacy, Best Friends does not support mandatory spay and neuter.


Non-surgical sterilization

Best Friends believes that prevention of unwanted litters is a primary goal, and any humane method that meets that goal should be seen as a positive step. We accept the cost-effective and relative ease of administration of the currently approved non-surgical methods, and understand that, in some cases, non-surgical sterilization may be preferred (such as high-volume stray animal projects or situations in which cultural or personal biases exist against castration). However, due to some issues in non-surgical sterilization, including the amount of viable semen remaining post-injection for up to four months, we still believe surgical castration is the preferred method of sterilization for the vast majority of cases. 

We welcome and support the advancement of science in the field of animal welfare and non-surgical castration techniques. However, the current advancements are not yet compelling enough to replace surgical castration in most scenarios. 

Globally, cat and dog populations are an ongoing concern. Non-surgical techniques are highly desirable in many areas of the world where funding and trained veterinarians are in short supply. Developed by Ark Sciences, Zeuterin is the latest product to be approved. Zeuterin is an injectable drug containing zinc gluconate that sterilizes male dogs. The drug’s maker claims that sterilization using Zeuterin is painless and that the drug is cheap, easy to administer and removes any potential complications that may arise from anesthesia. The injection, into the center of each testicle, renders the male dog sterile for life through irreversible fibrosis.

In the case of Zeuterin, roughly 50 percent of the testosterone remains after administration into the testicles. Testosterone in male dogs is believed to be partly responsible for many of the unwanted behaviors — such as marking, roaming, mounting and aggression — that can result in shelter surrenders. Also, with surgical castration, the risk of testicular cancer is completely removed. It is unknown what risk of cancer remains for dogs castrated using non-surgical methods.


Because partnerships may give the appearance of an organizational endorsement of a company, person or organization, our guiding principle is to avoid partnering with any entity whose activities or mission conflict with our own mission and vision:

Mission: To bring about a time when there are No More Homeless Pets

Vision: A better world through kindness to animals


Best Friends Animal Society will not enter into partnerships with companies, persons or organizations engaged in the following:

  • Animal testing: Companies or product brands that test on animals unless such a partnership would demonstrably help move that company away from animal testing, or the specific product brand is no longer tested on animals and its purpose is strongly aligned with Best Friends’ mission.
  • Breeding: Companies whose primary business is the trafficking and/or breeding of animals, or the sale of animals who have been bred for commercial purposes.
  • Animal products: Companies whose purpose is the slaughter or inhumane keeping of animals for the purpose of food, fur, leather or other products.
  • Reputation issues: Companies whose public reputation would adversely impact Best Friends by association. This also includes companies that are part of an inappropriate business category, such as pornography.
  • Weapons: Companies whose primary business is the manufacture, distribution or sale of firearms or other devices, such as traps, that do cause harm to animals.
  • Animals in entertainment: Companies whose primary business is the use of animals for public entertainment, such as rodeos, circuses, horse and dog racing enterprises, and zoos and aquariums.

Types of partnerships that will fall under this position may include, but are not limited to:

  • Corporate partnerships
  • Celebrity spokespersons or ambassadors
  • Public relations or social media promotional opportunities
  • Advertising relationships
  • Partnerships with other nonprofit organizations


A product or brand will not be disqualified from partnering with Best Friends based solely on the behavior or practices of its parent company.

Two of our guiding principles also offer clarity on why these categories are important for exclusion from partnerships:

Golden Rule: To treat all living things as we ourselves would wish to be treated.

Kindness: To demonstrate compassion and respect for all living creatures.

Pet ownership limits

Best Friends stands opposed to any kind of legislation at any level of government that arbitrarily limits the number of pets one person or one household is allowed to care for. The truth is, any limit set is arbitrary, since one dog who is irresponsibly cared for could be a greater nuisance to the community than five dogs who are properly cared for.

Legitimate nuisances, whether it’s noise, waste, smell or otherwise, should be taken seriously and handled through ordinances that cover those types of complaints. Setting limits will only serve to drive otherwise law-abiding citizens away from complying with other mandated laws such as licensing.

Many communities across the United States currently have pet ownership limits on the books. They vary from place to place, but generally keep the allowable number of animals per owner to five or fewer of each species, and often far fewer are allowed. Pet limits do not prevent hoarders from obtaining too many animals, as hoarding is a psychological compulsion1, but they have prevented well-intentioned owners from licensing their pets and they make far too many well-meaning Americans feel like criminals in their own communities.

Despite the myriad enforcement problems, communities often turn to pet limit laws without examining their effectiveness or performing a fiscal impact study. Although legal challenges are rarely seen, in one state (Pennsylvania Commonwealth v. Creighton, PA. Cmwlth., 639 A.2d 1296, 1994), it was declared unconstitutional to limit the number of pets one individual could own.


Pregnant spays

Best Friends believes that, ideally, animals determined to be pregnant should be placed in foster care through shelter volunteer networks or rescue organizations until the offspring are old enough to be spayed or neutered and placed for adoption. In circumstances with sufficient resources available for the number of animals cared for, late-term dogs and cats may be sequestered until their pups or kittens are whelped and weaned.

In circumstances that do not have the luxury of available space and if a foster home is not available, those responsible for making such decisions must act to save the most lives possible with the resources at hand. Frequently, the decision will involve balancing the needs of previously born, living neonatal kittens and puppies already in the sheltering system on the one hand with the needs of fetal animals on the other. In these cases, Best Friends prioritizes the care of those already born and will spay pregnant animals.

Community cats (aka feral, stray, free-roaming cats) in our care are spayed no matter what the status of their pregnancy is. We simply cannot properly examine unsocialized cats until after they’ve been anesthetized, and feral mothers are likely to ignore or kill kittens born into the threatening captive environment.

Rescue access to shelter animals

For a community to reach no-kill status, it is important that key stakeholders work together toward the common goal of saving lives. For that to happen, shelters and rescue groups must be willing to cooperate to increase lifesaving of healthy and treatable animals. Successful collaboration requires all parties to act with integrity and professionalism. 

Shelter access is a critical component of collaboration between the shelter and the community. Rescue organizations should be allowed to pull animals who would fail to thrive in a shelter setting for care and placement. We also believe that rescue organizations should be offered unfettered access to healthy or treatable animals who are scheduled to be killed. 

No animal shelter should be allowed to override a community’s humane values by denying shelter access. When municipal shelters are preventing lifesaving work from taking place, legislative action may be required. 

Responsible pet ownership

Pets are part of the family, and we believe they should be treated as such. Everyone who cares for a pet has the ultimate responsibility to lead by example and ensure that the animal they care for is well-behaved and appropriately managed.

It is also the responsibility of every owner to ensure that their pet is sterilized, microchipped and wearing an identification tag. This is especially critical for cats who are allowed outdoors, because owned cats are often killed in shelters long before they can be reunited with their owners. Most cats who are brought into the shelter environment are incredibly frightened, so they are mistaken for feral cats and killed long before a hold period has expired.

Other considerations to ensure that you’re being a responsible pet owner include:

  • Choose the right animal for you and your family. Consider your living situation, budget and time constraints, and ensure that the pet you choose has the right energy level for your family.
  • Appropriately budget the time and money necessary for proper care. Pets are both a time and financial commitment and they deserve lifetime care.
  • Responsibly care for your pet at home, in cars, outside and everywhere.
  • Make sure your pet is fixed and properly vaccinated. Consider pet insurance to ensure that your pet has medical care whenever necessary.
  • Never allow your animal to be a nuisance. Think of your pet as an ambassador at all times; well-trained pets are critical for harmony within communities.
  • Take the time to create a plan to ensure that your pet will be cared for during unexpected life events, such as a natural disaster or home fire.
  • Consider setting up a formal arrangement for your pet’s well-being in the event that something happens to you. A relative or friend could take your pet; some organizations (including Best Friends) offer lifetime care programs. Appropriate research should be conducted to understand the costs and details associated with lifetime care programs.


We believe ideally that all owned cats belong safely indoors. Indoor cats can easily receive all the exercise and stimulation they require to be happy and healthy while safely indoors, which also keeps them away from wildlife. 

If you would like to offer your cat a taste of the outdoors, there are accommodations you can make that minimize risks to both cats and wildlife. Walking your cat on a leash is a growing trend, and something that we do with some of the cats who live at Best Friends. A cattery or catio (an enclosed space attached to the exterior of a building that allows cats to be outside) or another form of commercially available cat containment can be effective ways to offer your cat some fresh air while keeping him/her safely confined.

Return-to-field programs (RTF)

Best Friends supports robust return-to-field programming throughout the country and we encourage communities to adopt this model.

Return-to-field can look slightly different from community to community, but the basic logistics are the same wherever it is implemented: Healthy free-roaming cats who lack identification and enter a shelter are evaluated for eligibility, sterilized, vaccinated, ear-tipped and returned to the location where they were found.

Return-to-field programs (sometimes called shelter-neuter-return or SNR programs) are an effective and humane way to reduce the killing in shelters. RTF programs are cost-effective, efficient and widely supported by the public. When combined with targeted trap-neuter-return (TNR), they have been shown scientifically to be the most effective method of managing the community cat population.

Unfortunately, only about 3% of cats who enter the shelter system are reunited with their owners or caregivers1. In fact, a lost cat is more than 13 times as likely to be reunited with his owner or caregiver by non-shelter means, with “returned home on his own” accounting for the majority of these reunions2. Taking into consideration that two-thirds of the animals killed in shelters every year are cats3, it is clear that the best choice for communities is to implement a return-to-field program.

All healthy community cats, regardless of temperament, should be eligible to participate in these programs. Community cats come in all types, and while some may be too scared to interact with their caregivers, others are social and friendly. Regardless of temperament, if a community cat appears to be healthy, then he is likely being cared for by someone (in many cases, multiple people). So, removing that cat from his outdoor home is usually not the right option. Shelter policies that dictate that all friendly community cats be adopted rather than returned can have a harmful impact on a shelter’s lifesaving capacity, as well as a deleterious effect on the community, as resources are invested in adopting out cats who already are well cared for by their people.

It is important, however, that shelter staff have the ability to use discretion when determining the most appropriate positive outcome for a cat at any given time. Transfer, adoption or relocation to a working cat program may be appropriate in some settings (e.g., an overwhelmed community cat caregiver requests help with finding new homes for some of the cats she cares for, or clear evidence shows that the return site is unsafe). Healthy free-roaming cats who are successfully living outdoors should not be admitted to shelters at all, unless a positive outcome can be ensured.

Return-to-field programming has consistently proven to be an effective way to humanely address the community cat population, and it provides an alternative to the outdated and publicly unpalatable catch-and-kill model. That’s why so many communities across the country have adopted return-to-field programming and why so many more are shifting to this model.

Finally, the places that have the greatest impact on community cat populations typically couple robust RTF programming with collaborative relationships with local community-based trap-neuter-return (TNR) organizations and individuals. A holistic approach has been key to successfully reducing intake numbers and deaths in shelters in communities large and small around the country. This is a community-based issue and it requires a community-based solution.

1 https://bestfriends.org/2025-goal
2 Lord, L.K., et al., Search and identification methods that owners use to find a lost cat. J Am Vet Med Assoc, 2007. 230(2): p. 217-20.
3 https://bestfriends.org/our-work/best-friends-advocacy/protecting-community-cats


The difference between euthanasia and killing

Best Friends believes that words matter and that there is a distinct difference between the meaning of the words “euthanasia” and “killing.” For us and fellow animal welfare organizations dedicated to no-kill, euthanasia is defined purely as an act of mercy.

“Euthanasia” means ending the life of an animal who is suffering from an irreparable medical or behavioral condition that does not allow for an acceptable quality of life.

“Killing” means ending the life of a healthy or treatable animal when alternatives exist to care for them, provide them with a high quality of life, and find them safe places to call home. No-kill organizations euthanize animals who are suffering irremediably, but they do not kill healthy or treatable animals, or call the act of doing so “euthanasia” to make it more palatable. In many cases, pets are killed in shelters because those shelters lack the resources to care for and rehome them.

Euthanasia is appropriate when a veterinarian has assessed that there is no chance of recovering an acceptable quality of life for that animal. We understand that there may be rare times when forgoing a veterinary assessment is appropriate and humane. For example, there are times when an animal control officer finds an animal hit by a vehicle and the animal is clearly suffering and/or death is imminent, and times when an animal is clearly unsafe (e.g., a dog is in the process of attacking and seriously injuring a person and law enforcement intervenes to protect the person).

Euthanasia may also be pursued in rare cases of irreparable canine aggression in which (1) a veterinarian has eliminated medical treatment as a solution; (2) rehabilitation by a specialist in canine behavior has failed; and (3) staff and public safety cannot be reasonably assured, or other management protocols would seriously compromise the pet’s quality of life.

In the case of owner-requested euthanasia, we believe that shelters should provide these services only for pets who meet the euthanasia standard described above. Many shelters require that pet owners surrender healthy or treatable animals (rather than honoring a euthanasia request) so that the shelter can determine the best outcome for that animal.

No-kill means healing the animals who can be healed, treating behaviors that can be treated, and prioritizing the safety of both pets and people in our communities. When we value those objectives, humane euthanasia is used as a last resort in instances when an animal is deemed too ill or too dangerous for rehabilitation.

The role of coalitions in achieving no-kill

Best Friends believes that no one organization or individual can be responsible for saving the lives of pets. When animal shelters, pet rescue groups and other animal welfare organizations unite around a common goal, our lifesaving work becomes more efficient and impactful for dogs and cats in need.

Collaboration is and has always been a cornerstone of our work to achieve no-kill. Our coalition-building efforts through No-Kill Utah (NKUT) and No-Kill Los Angeles (NKLA) demonstrated that we accomplish more when we work together to meet the specific needs of individual shelters, communities and states.

Encouraging and facilitating the creation of partnerships among animal shelters, rescue organizations and other key community and state stakeholders is an essential strategy for Best Friends and the no-kill movement.

Disagreements on how to achieve the no-kill goal are to be expected because of the passion and commitment involved. But to sustain our lifesaving partnerships and continue our collaborative lifesaving progress, those disagreements should be handled with mutual respect, transparency and organizational integrity.

See our guide on building a successful coalition.

The role of spay/neuter in achieving no-kill

Best Friends believes in sterilization as a method of population control for domesticated animals. With millions of animals being born every year, we believe that the only exemptions should be when it is medically inadvisable to perform the surgery and when the animals are in the care of a highly responsible breeder.

For a community to reach and sustain no-kill status, spay/neuter surgeries should be made available widely. In communities around the country, spay/neuter is an essential part of achieving sustainable lifesaving.

At Best Friends, we take great care to deploy targeted programs to low-income neighborhoods, which often have inadequate veterinary resources. This ensures that the money and effort go to the areas of a community most in need. Our in-house research and analytics team has developed a city assessment plan that we deploy in every community we work in. The assessment determines where the need is greatest and allows the on-the-ground teams to make sure their work is having the biggest impact.

Best Friends is opposed to mandatory spay/neuter laws. You can read more in our mandatory spay/neuter position statement.


Best Friends Animal Society endorses and practices trap-neuter-return (TNR) as the most humane and effective way to manage community cats. Killing, by contrast, is simply a revolving door. Any cat removed from a colony and killed will likely be replaced by another.

While euthanizing an irremediably suffering animal is an act of kindness, killing healthy free-roaming cats, when the lifesaving alternative of trap-neuter-return exists, is simply killing, which is the highest form of cruelty. TNR is the only method that demonstrates a reasonable chance of controlling community cat populations. Done properly, TNR stabilizes, and ultimately lowers, cat colony size, 1, 2, 3 and reduces or eliminates many of the undesirable behavior of intact cats, such as fighting for mates and territory, yowling, and spraying.4, 5

Under standard TNR practice, community cats are humanely trapped, evaluated and sterilized by a licensed veterinarian, vaccinated against rabies and distemper, and then returned to their original habitat. The tip of one ear is often clipped at the time of sterilization surgery, as this is the universally recognized indicator that a community cat has been sterilized. Often, a colony caregiver provides food and shelter in a safe location, and routinely observes the health of colony cats. If new cats join the colony, they are also trapped, sterilized, vaccinated and returned.

Whatever ills one might associate (rightly or wrongly) with free-roaming cats — whether it's public health concerns, wildlife predation or anything else — it’s clear that these problems cannot be addressed in a comprehensive manner without stabilizing and eventually reducing the community cat population. As an examination of the available alternatives makes clear, TNR is the only humane method and the most effective way to manage community cats. History has taught us that trap-and-kill results in nothing but constant turnover — new feline faces, but no reduction in numbers. For this reason, municipal shelters are now beginning to implement their own large-scale, targeted TNR programs for eligible cats entering the shelter system. To most effectively reduce the population of community cats, these return-to-field programs operate in conjunction with community-based TNR programs.

Literature cited:

1 Nutter, F.B., Evaluation of a Trap-Neuter-Return Management Program for Feral Cat Colonies: Population Dynamics, Home Ranges, and Potentially Zoonotic Diseases, in Comparative Biomedical Department 2005, North Carolina State University: Raleigh, NC. p. 224. 

2  Natoli, E., et al., Management of feral domestic cats in the urban environment of Rome (Italy). Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 2006. 77(3-4): p. 180–185. 

3 Levy, J.K., D.W. Gale, and L.A. Gale, Evaluation of the effect of a long-term trap-neuter-return and adoption program on a free-roaming cat population. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 2003. 222(1): p. 42–46. 

4 Hughes, K.L., M.R. Slater, and L. Haller, The Effects of Implementing a Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Program in a Florida County Animal Control Service. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 2002. 5(4): p. 285–298 

5 Hughes, K.L. and M.R. Slater, Implementation of a Feral Cat Management Program on a University Campus. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 2002. 5(1): p. 15–28.