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What are No Kill Shelters?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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No kill shelters are animal shelters which pledge only to euthanize non-adoptable and non-treatable animals, meaning that adoptable or medically treatable animals are saved and adopted, no matter how long the adoption process might take. There is a great deal of controversy in the animal rights community over no kill shelters, for a variety of reasons. Many communities including the city of San Francisco and Tompkins County in New York have worked to be no-kill, and mammoth efforts from many members of these communities have made these efforts successful.

The intention behind founding a no kill shelter is excellent. It is estimated that in the United States alone, at least six million cats and dogs are euthanized every year because homes cannot be found for them. A no kill shelter pledges to find homes for all of the animals it accepts, and will not subject animals to euthanasia unless it is absolutely necessary. People can surrender healthy pets to a no kill shelter in confidence that homes will be found for those animals, and supporters of the shelter often feel more comfortable donating funds and energy.

However, there is a dark side to no kill shelters, beginning with the terms “non-adoptable” and “non-treatable.” In an ideal world, “non-adoptable” animals would be animals with serious behavioral problems, but the term is often extended to animals which are too old, too disabled, or too unattractive to make sought after pets. “Non-treatable” animals are also on a slippery slope, as some no kill shelters routinely euthanize animals which would be treatable, although the veterinary bills might be high. Very few no kill shelters actually fit within the strict definition of organizations like MaxFund, which truly only euthanizes animals with severe, untreatable illnesses.

In addition, because no kill shelters are unable to make the difficult choice of euthanizing animals to make room, they must turn animals away. In communities which are not working together with their no kill shelters, this often means that a large burden is placed on so called “open admission” shelters, which must take any and all animals brought to them. Critics of no kill shelters sometimes call them “limited admission” shelters, a reference to the fact that animals are often turned away because there is no room.

For a no kill shelter to work, community cooperation is required. The no-kill movement relies on a collective effort between the shelter and the community, starting with responsible pet ownership, spaying and neutering, and the understanding that people must commit to their pets for life. No kill shelters often invest a great deal of energy in community outreach, providing dog training, spay and neuter clinics, low cost vaccines, and adoption services in the community as well as shelter services. Without the support of its community, a no kill shelter will not be able to succeed.

Many humane societies, in addition to most municipal shelters, are open admission shelters. The management teams at these shelters believe that providing shelter to all animals in need is of paramount importance, as is offering a kind and humane death to the millions of unwanted animals euthanized every year. In some cases, these shelters rely on the efforts of local rescue organizations to save adoptable animals surrendered to open admission shelters. This is an example of the cooperative understanding which can exist between open admission and no kill shelters, and many communities choose this as a starting point in the path to going no kill.

All Things Nature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon21620 — On Nov 18, 2008

What is the percentage of people that feel comfortable going to no kill shelters?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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