Can the U.S. Become a No-Kill Nation?

Every once in a while, you come across a very creative person — or two — with the commitment and determination to make a difference for a cause dear to their heart.  Marina Dervan and Mark Barone are two such people.  Their cause: make the United States the first no-kill nation on earth.

Dog lovers for decades, they are still mourning their 20-year-old dog, Santina, who died last year. Mark and Marina were beside themselves with grief.  When they finally decided it was time to adopt a new canine into their lives, they started a search online and contacted shelters and rescue groups.
Through this research, they discovered some facts about homeless pets in the U.S. and were stunned to learn that most shelters have a 60% kill rate — or higher.  They decided they had to do something about it. 

“We simply asked ourselves…what can we do?  We have got to get the truth out there, and stop the outrageous killing,” Marina told me in an email.  “How can we combine our talents to change the status quo, wake people up, so collectively we don’t remain silent about things that matter?”

The next day, Mark — a prolific artist — told Marina he decided he will paint portraits of the total number of dogs killed every day in U.S. shelters.  The idea started to take shape when Marina began researching websites and shelters to determine the number of dogs killed every year.
She discovered there is no mandatory reporting of kill numbers from shelters in the country.  She learned about Asilomar Accords — an attempt to standardize data collection from shelters –  through Maddie’s Fund and realized they would have to estimate the conclusions.  And so 5,500 U.S. shelter dogs killed per day is the number they calculated.  Marina and Mark actually believe the number to be higher but settled on what they estimate as a conservative figure.

An Act of Dog Is Born
With no-kill as their goal, Marina and Mark came up with an idea to help raise funds for the many animal rescuers who are working at the local, hands-on level to save animals.  They understand the actual saving of pet’s lives is taking place there and not with the national organizations like HSUS or PETA.

They are attempting to raise $20 million to be spread among the frontline workers.  Yes,, $20 million is a lot of money, but they have a unique way to raise it.

Mark will create 5,500 paintings of actual dogs who were killed in shelters and display them to the public.  That is, after all, the low-ball number Mark and Marina calculated; that’s how many dogs are killed every day in U.S. shelters. 

They will display the paintings on ten foot high panels that will take up the length of two football fields.  It will be a stunning statement.

An Act of Dog Evolves

An Act of Dog continues to evolve.  At first, the couple thought they would display the portraits at various cities throughout the country and eventually sell the paintings.  As they realized the enormous visual impact a display of 5,500 portraits will have on the average person, they understood it would not be enough.  A grander idea was conceived. 

They now plan on giving the display — the size of two football fields — a permanent home in a theme park-like setting where people can visit with their family, both human and canine, and browse shops and attractions at the same time.  Think Disneyland for dogs! They are currently searching for a permanent site and are open to hearing from any area of the country.

An Act of Dog is progressing, but is still in its infancy.  Phase One started when Mark and Marina put out a bid to 32 cities to host the creation of the portraits.  Ultimately Louisville, Kentucky was chosen and recently Marina and Mark moved there from their home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  The Mellwood Art Center in Louisville has generously donated the space for Mark to create the portraits.

The portraits are just the beginning.  In Phase Two, Marina will be working on making a documentary on the no-kill movement in an effort to educate the public about the issues we face in continuing to fund high-kill shelters.  “We aspire to become the greatness that our beloved pets already believe us to be, by ensuring with our voices and actions that America becomes a No-kill Nation” is the message on the homepage of An Act of Dog.

Work on the documentary is scheduled to begin in the next couple of months.  Marina has already interviewed some shelter workers who are willing to reveal what goes on in the infamous killing rooms and how the animals are disposed of.  The purpose, of course, is public education with the goal of no-kill. 

Some Disturbing Statistics
Marina told me there are between 8-12 million pets per year who find their way into the shelter system.  With the exception of those in privately funded, no-kill shelters, the vast majority of pets will eventually be killed because they were not adopted in time.  The typical ordinance, though every municipality differs, mandates that a stray pet must be claimed by an owner within 72 or be euthanized.  Some shelters will keep the pet longer if space permits, but not all.

People who are interested in participating in this novel initiative can visit the website to donate toward expenses.   
The Work Moves Forward
“No-kill people already get it,” Mark told me in an interview.  “Our goal is to show the general public what is happening in high-kill shelters, so things can change.”  When asked how emotionally draining the creation of these portraits may be on Mark, he responded,  “the mission fuels me.”
“I must pay homage to their spirits and to do that I study their photos.”  He went on to say how difficult it is to connect with a spirit of a dog that is now dead, knowing there is no valid reason the pet lost his life.   “We are determined to see it through,” both Marina and Mark agreed.  “We do not want the dogs to have died in vain.”
Would You Like to Help?
Both Mark and Marina are so committed to the no-kill concept they have dedicated the next two years of their lives to making it a reality.  They will be working on this project full time until it is complete, with no personal compensation.  Want to join them in their efforts?  

Take Action: Sign the petition to support animal shelters.

Related Stories:

New Goal for HSUS: Achieving a No-Kill Community

The Answer to Preventing Animal Abuse: Humane Education

Rescue of the Week: Woman Squeezes Lifetime of Love into One Week

Photo of An Act of Dog logo used with permission of Mark Barone


William C
William Cabout a year ago

Thank you.

W. C
W. Cabout a year ago

Thanks for caring.

Duane B.
.6 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Carol Adams
Carol Adams7 years ago

I think what these people are doing is wonderful. People all over the United States are rallying towards No Kill. It will not be accomplished without the efforts of many people, each doing what he or she can.

Carol Adams
Carol Adams7 years ago

I think what these people are doing is wonderful. People all over the United States are rallying towards No Kill. It will not be accomplished without the efforts of many people, each doing what he or she can.

Mary Deforest
Mary DeForest7 years ago

While healthy and sane animals shouldn't be killed, there shouldn't be so much pressure that suffering or senile animals can't be put down. This state is very dedicated to animal rights. Like many things-it's pass the buck. It was recently found out that small rural shelters were taking their dogs and cats to the big cities, and dumping them off at the kill shelters through rescue groups. The small town shelters got state money for not killing anything. They'd take a load of unadoptible dogs-cats to rescue groups or the county pound, and drop them off. Employees would take the dogs in the hope of adopting them out to a larger population, but about 90% were murdered, because nobody wanted them. That's not right. Now our county has a higher adoption rate, because it only takes dogs from county residents-and fines anybody that brings in dogs without being spayed, micro-chipped, etc. They keep track of who's dropping off lots of dogs. These rescue groups get donations from all of you, grants, etc. but they hide their lack of success and facilitate dog and cat murder by moving the problem somewhere else-like my city. We have adoption-thons-where several thousand pets are adopted in one or 2 days. Rescue groups and government shelters haul in pets from hundreds of miles away. Businesses here sponsor this, have raffles to help support these dogs-vets give big discounts, etc. Unfortunately, an auditor went over the records and these rescue groups exagerated the amount of dogs adop

Carole R.
Carole R7 years ago

The post is a good one, makes you think. I fully support no kill shelters.

Mary Deforest
Mary DeForest7 years ago

Pets become old-sometimes suffering great pain. Some have dementia, where they bite, poop all over, and cause health problems for humans and other pets. I've had many dogs die of old age, and buried them. I don't understand why I should pay a vet over $300 to put one down. If the dog has a healthy body and a weak mind, the law won't allow the vet to put it down. The only choice is to go to a shelter and explain the situation. Our last dog (pit bull-that was chained to a light post for over an hour-we cut her loose) had severe arthuritis from being beat, started peeing on the furniture, pooping in my son's shoes, etc. She also started being aggressive to us, and she was never child friendly. She had been on a special diet for years and was allergic to grass. She needed specail baths, injections, body sprays, etc. We had her for over 10 years. I made a pen of over a 100 sq. feet, with shade,sun, nice dog house, I made a special patio for her, soft cushions. I got sick, and nobody fed or watered her for 3 days. My son is a disabled vet. Winter was coming. She attacked the other dogs-and we had vet bills for all of them-that's another reason for the pen. I now have 2 coonhounds that were going 2 B killed. They are gentle giants. I think that it's good that instead of cleaning up filth, worrying about her freaking out, or paying a vet to put her out of her misery that we got 2 unwanted dogs, spayed, microchipped, etc, with the money that would have been used to put our girl do

Faith B.
Faith Billingham7 years ago

hate to say it, but it just wouldnt work if some dogs and cats and other animals werent ethanized... I know it's sad, but thats how it is.

Pedro Calvillo Serrano

Los animales tienen derecho al mejor trato posible. Los que estamos cerca de ellos tenemos que hacernos cargo de preveer sus necesidades y dificultades ya que nosotros somos los que tenemos raciocinio y no dependemos esclusivamete de los instintos como los animale, Salud