Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Truth About ‘No-Kill’ Shelters

I met a very nice lady from a local animal shelter the other day.  I don’t recall specifically which shelter it was, but that’s really not important anyway.  I observed her talking to others in the room about the shelter she represented, and she made it a point to mention, again and again, that hers was a “no-kill” shelter.

This elicited the usual oohs and ahhs from the crowd, as if shelters that don’t put unwanted animals down are somehow so superior to shelters that do.

But the term “no kill” is a lot like the term “pro life.”  It distorts and misrepresents the reality of the situation.  Someone who is “pro-choice” doesn’t automatically think abortions are a great idea; they merely believe that couples should have the right to choose what is best for them.  A shelter that is not “no kill” is not on some cruel mission to destroy as many animals as it can.

Why aren’t all shelters “no kill?”  It’s simple:  that wouldn’t be physically possible.  There are not enough homes for the animals that have already been born, not counting the thousands that will be born tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that….

So then that leaves an interesting question:  how does a “no kill” shelter seem to avoid this otherwise inescapable futility of too many animals for too few homes?  Also simple:  those shelters only accept animals that they feel confident that they can place with families.  In other words, if they find a sweet little cocker spaniel in a pound, they’ll take it and find it a home.  If the same shelter sees a pit bull that looks like it could be tough — whether it is or not — they might just leave it there in the pound.  The pit bull gets put down in the pound because no one will take it, the cocker spaniel gets placed, and the shelter gets the credit as being a “no kill” facility, even though their failure to help the pit bull contributed to its euthanasia.

Seems a little unfair, doesn’t it?  It’s like the child who has been told to always clean his plate promising to eat every morsel he takes, then only choosing a little of the foods he knows he likes.  Technically, yes, he did eat every bite.  But he left a lot behind.  And he isn’t all that interested in what happens to it as long as he takes care of his own plate.

When I volunteered with a shelter in Richmond, I didn’t mention the “no kill” aspect, because I knew it was bogus.  I’m happy to say that the shelter I worked with didn’t make a big deal about it, either.  They were focused on the animals, not patting themselves on the back, which is what it’s supposed to be all about.

To be fair, there is one good aspect about a “no kill” shelter:  if they take an animal they believe they can find a home for, and they are unable to do so, they are committed to keeping that animal for its natural life, either in foster homes, through adoption by kind-hearted staff members, or by keeping the pet as a “shelter mascot” to help newcomers adjust to the facility.  That alone does give them an extra point in my book when compared to a typical pound that routinely euthanizes the animals they can’t place.  But they still don’t get full credit for being 100% humanitarian given their selection process.

I want to be clear here:  I am not trying to badmouth shelters who claim to be “no kill” facilities.  I just point out that there are lots of good, caring people working at both kinds of shelters.  People who are genuinely interested in finding homes for as many dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens as possible.  If you’re looking for a good pet, all I’m saying is that you shouldn’t let that title decide whether a shelter in question is one you’ll consider working with.

And remember to have your pets spayed or neutered.  It will help shelters by not having more unwanted animals to deal with.


  1. The legal definition of "No Kill" means that the facility does not euthanize for space. Period. "No Kill" facilities can and do euthanize animals. If the animal gets too sick or injured to affordably treat or becomes too unstable/aggressive to be adopted without liability, they can legally euthanize, without jeopardizing their "No Kill" status. "No Kill" shelters can and do refuse people who show up with animals they deem unadoptable. "No Kill" shelters can and do refuse to take back animals they have adopted out. So, where do these people go with their animals when "No Kill" facilities refuse them? To an "Open Door" shelter. It does not matter whether you throw your support behind a "No Kill" or "Open Door" shelter. Just know that euthansia does occur at both.

  2. I got my cat from a no-kill shelter when he was a kitten, and it was a horrible place. They had an entire converted barn just full of cats. They all had fleas (and as I learned when I took him to the vet, an interesting assortment of worms as well). And the woman offered me a box that had very recently held dead puppies to transport my baby home.

    If I had to choose between knowing my pet *might* get put down or knowing that it was going to live in that kind of environment, I don’t think I could choose either.

    I’m betting though that most shelters aren’t like the one I visited. Luckily, I haven’t needed to find one since.

  3. This is an important point to make. The people you are talking about are probably just another local shelter, but the situation is the same all the way up to major national groups like PETA. The truth is, the Emperor is wearing no clothes, and it needs to be pointed out regularly. A community group running a “no kill” shelter is no different that the government promoting corn based fuels. It sounds good in a campaign speech, but it really doesn’t accomplish much, and in fact contributes to the greater problem.

  4. […] Four Legs: I met a very nice lady from a local animal shelter the other day.  I don’t recall specifically which shelter it was, but that’s really not important anyway.  I observed her talking to others in the room about the shelter she represented, and she made it a point to mention, again and again, that hers was a “no-kill” shelter. […]

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 26 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.