From the always enlightening Seth Godin, who never writes about animal sheltering, and yet often writes about animal sheltering:
"Is better possible? The answer to this is so obvious to me that it took me a while to realize that many people are far more comfortable with 'no'.
"The easiest and safest thing to do is accept what you've been 'given', to assume that you are unchangable, and the cards you've been dealt are all that are available. When you assume this, all the responsibility for outcomes disappears, and you can relax".
I'm convinced that when high-kill shelters say they are doing the "best they can do", they are saying it because of two major reasons:
#1) Fear of failure -- if they make a commitment to saving lives, and don't succeed in ending the killing, then they will have "failed". It's a false premise. Even if a shelter doesn't achieve "no kill", maximizing the number of lives saved should continue to be the goal, and will mean a lot to those animals, and the community.
When KC Pet Project took over the Kansas City, MO animal shelter in 2012, I wasn't sure if achieving a 90% Live Release Rate was possible. There were a whole lot of obstacles. But we knew we could save more lives than were currently being saved, and that was worth trying to do better for.
#2) Dealing with the past - If a shelter admits that it CAN do more to save more lives, it must also deal with the reality that there were saveable animals that it didn't do as much as it could have to save. It's a hard thought to deal with. But isn't doing better worth it?
Regardless of the reason, better is possible, and we should always be striving for it.