National no-kill advocate Nathan J. Winograd – who spearheads an ambitious large-scale mission to ensure animals are spared unnecessary euthanasia at animal shelters across the country – had an encouraging message for the Buffalo Niagara region Sunday.

Make no mistake, though – Winograd didn’t want his audience of 260 people at the University at Buffalo’s Center for the Arts thinking that all animal shelters are on the same page of his program, dubbed “No Kill Equation,” which he developed and pioneered. He continues to work at and consult with shelters around the country and world.

In fact, Winograd said a lot of work remains to be done in many areas to knock down the still-staggering number of what he says were 4 million innocent animals that were killed in animal shelters in the United States last year. He insisted that 3.8 million of those animals could have been saved if every community embraced his No-Kill Equation strategy.

“For many animals, yet today, death remains a virtual certainty,” Winograd said in a detailed presentation underwritten by Buffalo residents Peter and Ellen Reese, Buffalo Humane and No-Kill Buffalo-Niagara. “In the vast majority of cases, it is not necessary ... Shelter killing should be illegal.”

A graduate of Stanford Law School and former corporate attorney and criminal prosecutor, Winograd did not mince words as he outlined the history of humane societies in the United States and the mindset of animal control in the 19th century. “How did we become a network of 3,500 humane (organizations) whose mission started out with compassion and went to euthanasia for animals who are not suffering?” he asked.

“We are still living with a 19th century model of sheltering in the 21st century,” he said. “Using a 19th century model of animal control for over 200 years does not work. Shelter directors will tell you they’re already doing the program, but they’re still killing.”

Winograd spoke passionately about animals who can be rehabilitated or placed in new homes without being killed. For years, he said, humane societies blamed animals and even the public for the killings of the millions of animals that were done at shelters yearly.

Winograd played a key role in the turnaround at the San Francisco SPCA, with the organization becoming the first city “no-kill” facility, eventually offering adoptions, foster care, behavior advice and low-cost spayings and neuterings, and even offering to pay pet owners $5 for each animal they brought to be sterilized.

“The deaths of healthy animals fell to a trickle,” Winograd recalled. In time, that shelter saved nearly 100 percent of the animals it dealt with – before a new leadership that had different priorities took over and began dismantling the improvements that had been put in place.

“The problem is not that there are too many animals and not enough homes. There are plenty of homes,” Winograd said. “Shelters are not keeping them alive long enough to be adopted ... It is up to the shelter whether they live or die.”

Among the many detailed suggestions Winograd offered, he emphasized that shelters need to offer on- and off-site adoptions, fostering, taking animals to places where people work, play and live - as well as working with rescue groups and embracing trap-neuter-release programs to help reduce the feral cat population.

Kara Lee, project coordinator of Maddie’s Pet Rescue Project in Erie County, said she felt Winograd was on the mark in what he said Sunday. “I was nervous because he can be a polarizing guy,” she said. “But I felt like everything he said was very reasonable and rational. When he laid out the No-Kill Equation, I kept thinking, ‘Yup, we’re doing that and that.’ Buffalo seems to be doing much of what he said.”

Maddie’s pledge is for Erie County to be a no-kill community by Sept. 30.