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Rutland County Humane Society Director on Vermont achieving 'no-kill' status

Black and brown dog holds a toy in its mouth
Rutland County Humane Society
Sox is one of the many dogs currently available for adoption at the Rutland County Humane Society.

Vermont animal shelters have achieved a “no-kill” status for the first time, joining New Hampshire and Delaware as the only states to do so.

That’s according to Best Friends Animal Society, a national animal welfare non-profit

According to their annual report, Vermont’s shelters saved over 4,600 animals last year — that’s over 90% of pets that entered state shelters and is also the threshold to become a “no-kill” state.

Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Beth Saradarian, the Director of the Rutland County Humane Society, about their efforts. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Mitch Wertlieb: First, before we get to the no-kill status, I want to ask about the Rutland County Humane Society dealing with any possible fallout from this historic flooding that we’ve all been experiencing lately.

 Beth Saradarian,
Beth Saradarian - Executive Director, Rutland County Humane Society

Beth Saradarian: Yeah, we were pretty lucky in Rutland County compared to other parts of the state. We did work with the American Red Cross — it had set up a shelter in Rutland — and the Rutland Area Disaster Animal Response Team with some supplies and some crates and such. So, luckily, we haven't had a big impact, but we know that other shelters in other parts of the state have.

Yeah, and I'm wondering if there's anything that listeners could do to assist Vermont animal shelters as they're recovering from this flooding.

You know, you can donate to the local area animal disaster recovery teams. There's a statewide one, and then we have one in Rutland County, and there are other ones — Central Vermont. So you could always make a donation to them or to local shelters, or they usually work in conjunction with the Red Cross. And so helping those organizations that are setting up shelters and temporary housing and such for people and animals who have been displaced would be helpful.

That's good to know. So let's get back to this no-kill status. Beth, I wonder if you can explain for our listeners what it means to be a no-kill shelter. Because if I have this right, it can be a little deceiving. This does not mean that there is an absolute policy that guarantees that none of the animals in a shelter will be euthanized. Is that right?

That is right. Yeah. So you know, the term no-kill, it can be a little bit misleading unless there's some context around it. So Best Friends is using the 90% what they call ‘live release rate’ as an indicator of a no-kill state and shelter, if you will. But you know, we all know that some animals are behaviorally not safe to place or have severe medical issues that just we can't overcome. And so there is definitely euthanasia that goes on with shelter animals unfortunately, after we've done everything that we can, so no-kill is not what it seems kind of on the surface.

Susie is one of the many cats currently available for adoption at the Rutland County Humane Society
Rutland County Humane Society
Susie is one of the many cats currently available for adoption at the Rutland County Humane Society

But to be clear, though, this is good news for the Rutland County Humane Society and for the state of Vermont to have this no-kill status, I would imagine it means that success is happening in placing animals, right?

Yeah, I mean, our live release rate has increased over the years. And so we're obviously thrilled about that, as you know, we certainly strive to even increase and improve that if we can, but we are happy with the progress that we've made.

Well, at the risk of asking a dumb question here, can you explain why it's important for organizations like yours to strive to maintain a no-kill status?

Well, of course, we want to have as many animals leave the shelter to get adopted, or transferred, or returned to owner. But of course, we want to do the best we can for all the animals that come in our shelter. And so you know, we'd certainly strive, you know, to go above 90%. But we also do realistically know that, in some cases, euthanasia is the best thing for the animal.

And what kind of work went into achieving this status and this distinction for Rutland Humane Society being a no-kill shelter?

So we actually worked with Best Friends a lot. And they have a lot of resources at their disposal that we were able to tap into if you will, so they have a shelter veterinarian, who's available to answer any questions that we have. And shelter medicine is different than owned animal medicine. So it's nice to have a shelter vet at our, you know, just at the other end of the phone. They've helped us with dog training with, you know, foster programs. There's a mentor program for our shelter, veterinary technician, there's animal enrichment. So, there's a lot of resources that we were able to take advantage of, to, you know, improve some of the things that we were doing here to increase that live release rate and, decrease the animal's length of stay here at the shelter.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
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