There is lot of debate in the No-Kill community about what "no-kill" really means. Is there a particular number, such as 90%? Is it all save-able animals? But then how do you define save-able?
Perhaps an example of No-Kill is more tangible than a definition. In November 2013, Austin Pets Alive experienced a very serious strain of a feline respiratory disease called calicivirus. Almost every cat that was exposed became very sick - if only for a few days. Many other shelters across the world would have reached for euthanasia solution. But what happens when euthanasia for disease control is not an option?
Yes, we were overloaded. We have to take in tens of animals per day to keep space, disease and behavior-based killing from occurring in our community. We have too many sick patients without an outbreak. We are always trying to do more with less. We don't have the capacity to handle such an outbreak, and yet... what else could we do? Every single one of these cats is an individual to us. I'm not sure if a single employee, volunteer, or foster at APA even considered an option other than... find a way.
Find a way to keep these cats alive and our other cats healthy. So we did. We closed off cattery to new cats. Put sick cats in isolation. Designated one vet tech per day to be "calici only" like we do with our parvo ward. We didn't stop taking in cats. We put them in offsite catteries instead. We kept them in foster and had more offsite adoption events. We adopted them on site as well, with a disclaimer to adopters that they had a more infectious variant of feline calicivirus.
Since November, we have adopted out 50 post-calici cats. 50 cats that would have died for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. 50 sentient beings that are each now part of their own family. There are less than 15 post-calici cats left at our Town Lake adoption center. And today, we did our last deep-cleaning, 1 month after the last calici cat completely recovered. No deaths. No euthanasias.
This is what No-Kill means to me. There's always another way. It may feel hopeless and overwhelming at the very beginning, but you will be surprised at what you can do when you don't accept the alternative. You'll be surprised at what everyone can accomplish when you just try to save them all.