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How “No-Kill” Shelters Kill Animals

Written by PETA | August 4, 2011

As someone who has spent years volunteering at a wonderful open-admission animal shelter, it breaks my heart when people use the term “kill shelters” to refer to shelters that accept every needy animal—no matter how beat up, old, ill, or behaviorally unsound they are—and that have no choice but to give some animals a painless, dignified release through euthanasia.

This mean-spirited, misleading label is a slap in the face to the brave people who pour their hearts and souls into helping animals at open-admission shelters. I wish that those who use this term could spend a day at the receiving desk of their local full-service shelter so that they could see firsthand how badly we need open-door shelters. A steady flow of people arrive with battered, broken animals of all shapes, sizes, and species: “We call her Matty because she’s full of mats,” said one person who was surrendering a dog whose matted fur was infested with maggots. Matty’s family was getting rid of her because they wanted a puppy.

Other reasons people have given for taking animals to the shelter include “He’s sick, and I can’t afford to take him to the vet,” “He’s chewing up everything, and my dad said he’s gonna shoot him,” “She’s just old,” “He was great as a puppy, but now he’s just too big,” “We just have too many animals,” “They have been hanging around the house, and we don’t want them,” “Someone dumped them at my house,” and “We’re moving.”

Nearly everyone leaves the shelter saying the same thing: “You won’t kill him, will you?” What else can shelters do when they have a limited number of cages and an unlimited number of needy animals pouring through their doors? There is no huge farm for unwanted animals—a fantasy that many people’s parents told them existed when their childhood animal friends were brought to open-admission shelters—and shelters don’t have a magic wand that they can wave to create loving homes.

This name-calling hurts animals because it scares people away from surrendering animals to reputable shelters. It misleads people into thinking that taking cats and dogs to facilities that don’t euthanize is the right thing to do, but animals at these places often suffer fates worse than death. These facilities are always full and have long waiting lists to accept animals, which results in people dumping animals to die on the streets, giving them away on Craigslist (a magnet for animal abusers), or abandoning them to starve in empty homes and yards after they move away.

There is no such thing as “high-kill,” “low-kill,” or anything in between when it comes to shelters. There are only open-admission shelters—those that provide refuge to every animal and must euthanize to ensure that their doors remain open to more needy animals—and limited-admission shelters—those that pick and choose only the cutest, youngest, and most adoptable animals and turn away everyone else.

For the sake of animals and the people who have devoted their lives to helping them, let’s stop the name-calling and support shelters that are committed to doing what’s best for animals— even when that’s the hardest thing to do.

Written by Lindsay Pollard-Post

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  • mike says:

    I have been ridiculed for this thought but: What if , instead of shelters there were open sections of land, where these animals can exist, outside…or even a small island..and staff visits and feeds them daily or twice a day and those wishing to adopt go and visit this outdoor “facility” least these animals are outside instead of inside…they would suffer less I think. Had anyone any thoughts on this becasue I dont understand why we need to set up expensive shelters to put these animals in cages…there exists so much parcels of land in this country why are we not using it for these animals.

  • Jannette says:

    I’ve spent most of my life volunteering and working for animals and it makes my skin crawl to hear “kill shelter” as a label for a bad shelter. Get a grip people, it is the BREEDERS and BUYERS who are solely responsible for the killing of unwanted/homeless animals. Let’s target the bad guys (the breeders and buyers) and we can stop the killing!

  • Julia says:

    @ Liz: Your one episode, once, is not at all reflective of reality. I have to wonder how much, & for how long you have done any real rescue work, because your attitude is more that of a theoretician than it is of a committed hands-on person. If you think the solutions are not only obvious, but so doable, try opening your own shelter & see what happens. Any shelter, anywhere is generally going to be underfunded, understaffed, over-crowded. Bills include electricity, staff salaries [including veterinary], medical supplies, cleaning supplies, food, water [in some areas], heating, cooling, office supplies & equipment, animal accessories [blankets, water/food bowls, soap, etc.], telephone. One shelter, alone, can run to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars a year. According to you, though, all of this can be handled with fundraisers… Have you ever worked a fund raiser, from soup-to-nuts? And, FYI, there are areas in this country that are so economically depressed that you’d be lucky to pull in a couple of thousand dollars, if that much. They, too, have shelters. Increased government funding? At this time in our economy? When cuts are rampant, costs are going up, employment is tentative? Do you have any idea of the surrendering of pets that’s going on? You really do need to get real! Finally, do you not think that many of the ‘no-kills’ are sending their animals to traditional shelters? By doing so, they can absolutely say that they aren’t euthanizing…. Yes! You do need to get in touch with reality!

  • Liz says:

    @Get Real. I would if I could, believe me. However, I feel that it is the responsibility of shelters themselves to figure out what to do with the overload of surrendered animals. I know that funding is an issue and when that is the case, phone calls should be made to EVERY single shelter in the area to see which shelters can accept incoming animals. That is putting forth the effort to save an animal’s life rather than destroy another’s to make room. I live on Long Island and I found a stray Kitty outside my house. For three days I called every shelter on the Island trying to find one that would accept her and guess what, I did. Also, in regards to funding, if enough people made noise about the overcrowding issue to their legislatures and congressmen, government funding can be acquired. It might take more than a couple of phone calls but persistence it what gets things done. Fund raisers could be held in the shelter’s regard. I have held many fundraisers in my area and have risen quite a bit for my local “Kill” and “Non-Kill” shelters, alike. If enough people would contribute their time and effort to this cause, accompanied by the importance of spaying and neutering, there would be much less of a need to euthanize any animal. As animal rights supporters, we shouldn’t agree with unnecessary animal deaths. If I knew that shelters did ALL that they could do for the animals in their care, I might feel differently.

  • Paul Block says:

    Now i see this in a whole new light.. Thanks.

  • Get Real says:

    Liz, are you going to look after the hundreds of thousands of animals that have nowhere to go then??

  • hodgey says:

    i dont know why its the shelters always getting the bad rap for these things.. it just as much our faults as well. i dont know how many times ive seen people dump animals or leave them behind.. people getting animals when they cant afford them or not spaying or neutering our animals to help with unwanted pregnancys.. i believe the shelters really do try their best for the animals and they seriously dont get enough credit for it..

  • LuvMyKittys says:

    I am a huge animal lover. I have rescued MANY cats. I am maybe one of the few who don’t believe in ‘No Kill Shelters’ There are only a handful of No Kill shelters that I feel good about. They take very good care of them and do not keep them in cages.Sadly the majority of No Kill Shelters keep them in cramped cages and do no care for them well or they send them off to another place to have them euthanized so they can still call themselves a No Kill Shelter. I personally cannot think.of any reason to give up my cats but if I only had two choices and they were to have the cat euthanized or have themput in a shelter that chances are they will be doomed to a very sad life stuck in a cramped cage or possibly be bought for lab experiments I would rather euthanize. I don’t understand why people think its better to keep all these animals in cages for years and years. I feel that is cruel.I know we all want them to find that happy home but if you saw how most of them go on for years stuck in cages til they die I think you might realize many No Kill shelters aren’t as kind as you think they are. There are a few exceptions but not all of them.

  • melissam says:

    I know that it is nessaary to euthanize animals in shelters to keep the doors open to other animals in need. However we must ensure that we are saving more animals than we are sacraficing. Although I know it is the right thing to do it definetly does not feel like the right thing to do.

  • S says:

    Spay and neuter is essential. Adopt from shelters or rescues – don’t buy from puppy mills, pet shops etc.

  • Irene Leggett says:

    Perhaps the shelters could tell the indifferent, ignorant, couldn’t-care-less owners that they will have to euthanize their own pet yhemselves if they don’t want it any more and see if they like that part of owning a pet, might make them think twice about having a pet in the first place.

  • Alison says:

    Having had many years of experience working in open animal shelters both here and overseas, I think your article has many valid points ……. However, I have also witnessed many unjustified euthanasias due to ignorance, incompetent management, lack of space but most commonly, a lack of efficient facilities. An open shelter has a responsibility to provide good working facilities so they can set animals up for success rather than failure. The amount of times I have seen fundraising poured into the pockets of management rather than investing at the grassroots level is quite disturbing (and I was classed as management) – it left me unable to ethically continue working in the animal welfare industry. I have now returned to a referral animal hospital ….. I love what I do, but think about those poor animals that end up in those shelters every day.

  • Vix says:

    There was most definately a high kill shelter here in Allegany County, Maryland until this past year when it was overhauled. Formerly the shelter wouldn’t give elderly or imperfect animals a chance or even an extra day.

  • Fran says:

    A friend told me about your article. So I took a quick break from work to read it and this is what I have to say… “It stated the facts clearly, truthfully, and realistically”…many of whom in ignorance will choose not to comprehend. For those that PROTEST or disagree, maybe they should “get involved and better educate themselves and be willing to work together for the common good. LOVED YOUR ARTICLE…THANK YOU!

  • kathy says:

    I completely agree with this article, but I think the euthanization methods of gas chambers and heart sticks need to be illegal. Only humane euthanization should be used even though it’s more expensive.

  • Jessica says:

    Not all no-kill shelters are bad, PETA. Visit Chicago’s homeless animal euthanasia rate has gone down over 50 percent since PAWS was founded. No-kill plus spay/neuter works.

  • Momo says:

    Liz, I fully agree with you.

  • says:

    If the “no kill” shelters get over crowded because of their reputation for not killing but cannot actually care for them all,,,wouldn’t it be the responsibility of the “no kill” facility to take the overload to neighboring shelters? Ones who DON’T have the over load.. or wherever they are suggesting people take the unwanted/uncared for animals. Just sayin.

  • rita dias says:

    so very true. every word of it.

  • Audrey says:

    Then you have not seen the “Berger blanc” shelter’s documentary absolutely disgusting … Breaks my heart …

  • Liz says:

    So “Open Admission” shelters just euthanize animals that have been there too long? I’m sorry, I don’t believe in euthanizing an animal unless it is incurably sick or is too injured to pull through, not just because room is needed.

  • jon j says:

    Sometimes animals must be killed. Its for the best

  • Kim Ancora says:

    LOVED,LOVED,LOVED this article!!! This states EXACTLY what I have been telling people for years. Thank you so much for posting it. I am going to re-post this on my FB page.

  • Winter says:

    Wonderful article – thanks so much for explaining, in such a good way, what I’ve been trying to explain to people for years. I volunteer at both a small, non-profit canine rescue and the city’s animal care and control – both are great places with kind people willing to help any animal in need! 🙂

  • Heather says:

    I really appreciate this article. Although I volunteer at a “no kill” shelter, I absolutely believe in the need for open admissions shelters for all the reasons this individual points out. I respect how incredibly difficult it must be for individuals at these shelters to have to euthanize these wonderful animals, but anyone who truly loves and respects them knows this is better than a life of cruelty, pain, suffering, and starvation.

  • Ed says:

    Thank you so much for your eye opening honesty. People don’t realize just how much a commitment it is to have any pet. It is like having a small baby that doesn’t ever grow up, you need to do everything for them including loving them as a member of the family.

  • Anna says:

    Not all no-kill shelters are like this though- please keep that in mind.

  • Annie says:

    Thank you for opening my eyes and heart to a different perspective on open admission shelters. I have always thought of them as “kill shelters” and stayed away from them. I know the people who work and volunteer at our local open admission shelter are truly animal loving people and I couldn’t imagine how they could do what they do. Now I understand they do it because they love animals and are doing the best they can in an inhumane world. I’ve needed this perspective for a long time. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

  • Mina says:

    very day in Bulgaria is battle for survival. thousants animals are outside, and bealive me their live is better than in the shelter in this country. many of them dies from diseases and weakness. and instead of been castrated they kill them and take the mone for the operation. this is the realit in Bg.

  • Robyn says:

    People who surrender their pets are the ones who irritate me the most!!! When you take on the responsibility of adopting an animal – it is for life – not until you get tired of it, it grows up, you move and don’t want to pay a pet deposit (big one) or it’s just inconvenient. More than 50% of our local shelter is inhabited by OWNER SURRENDER pets. It makes me sick >:(

  • Margit Tahane says:

    I have seen it for a long time now that those animal, dogs, cats ,rabbits etc are just for fun for humans and a fashionable phenomen, cause the neigbourg with kids have dogs we should have as well, our family cant be worse in this society and they do not think of the details, many of them, what its about to have a pet, puppies do grow up, as kids as well, and those puppies are your member of the family for years, so think of it, dogs or cats are not for just for fun for a couple of months. When there are problems with stray dogs or cats I blame humans cause they let them free out there. You idiots !

  • Patty says:

    I don’t think that gassing them is considered humane euthanization, which is the way many of them die. I wish I had the answer to this problem. I wish I had millions. I just know that they need to do away with gassing. There needs to be a law against that.

  • Tricia says:

    I used to volunteer at a no kill shelter. The shelter was nice as they could be they had nice runs for the dogs and a big room the social cats were allowed to roam in but still there were animals that were there for years. Though there were many but I never forgot one black lab mix who was adopted and brought back 7 times because she was just too hyper. That poor dog lived in a cage its whole life and probably is still there. Watching her jump up and down on that fencing trying to get out changed my mind forever about no kill shelters.

  • Grace says:

    As much as it pains me to know that sometimes perfectly good pets have to be put down. I think the answer to this doesn’t lie in shelters and belongs on the shoulders of the very people that put them there. I have seen so many excuses for pet owner’s who get bored, tired and just no longer what to take care of these animal and frankly, it’s disgusting. Too many people treat their pets as disposable property. I don’t have solutions only suggestions and some are probably not very reliable or even doable. Have first time pet owners take a required class? Have pet owners sign contracts when licensing pet? Crazy ideas, I know. But maybe it is something Peta can look into and promote.

  • Kiki says:

    It is Horrid out ther for many animals. I did much volunteer work at a local shelter. One day(while I was away) they murdered a dog who needed in home care, cause they stated that noone would help him! hELLO!! I was here!!! I then found out that others had the same demise……in secret……………when they thought noone was looking, I guess. I no longer volunteer at that “No-kill” shelter!! They are HORRID humans as far as I’m concerned!!!

  • rottsrus says:

    Well, everybody, the solution to this is spay and neuter your pets and live up to the responsiblity of caring for your pet for its entire life. Quit dumping your animals for somebody else to deal with. Then maybe you won’t think humane euthanization is your answer.

  • Michelle says:

    Hi, I’ve spent many years volunteering for a no kill group in my home town called “Cause for Paws” and I would like to say that I mostly agree with these comments made above. But, this place is different. The animals are only placed in cages for a few hours on Saturday so that they have a change to be viewed and possibly adopted. For the rest of the week they are kept in foster families homes and socialized and treated as if part of the family. No matter how long or short their stay may be. We ALWAYS have willing families to take on new foster-pets. These families are screened for pet safe homes and also how many animals their able to foster depends greatly on how much time they are able to spend with the animals and how many animals they have already. No family is allowed to have more than 3 dogs and 3 cats at one time and they have to show that they can care properly for all the animals and spend quality time with each one. Not to mention they must have enough space for the animals to play and roam. Any animals that we feel we are not able to care for properly, such as very old and sick animals are placed in a foster home for the remainder of their lives. Unless, it would be better for the animal to be euthanized then we recommend that they take their animal to our local open-admission shelter. We give them information on what’s best for their animal and possible alternatives to taking them to the shelter. We always try to do what is best for the animal and I just wanted to make this comment so that people don’t think that all no kill shelters are prisons. I would recommend doing some serious research before taking an animal and leaving it somewhere….

  • prairiegal says:

    If you believe that then you should also extend that to humans who are also an animal. Why do we let chronically ill, comatose people lay in bed suffering? Only to please the living. I find it disgusting that we let people suffer like that for the families benefit but we have no problem killing animals. As far as I am concerned humans are no better than any other animal on this planet and many need a reality check and a reminder of that!

  • Ellen Nicholas says:

    Thank you so much for printing this. I have always advocating that there IS a fate worse than death for animals (and for people). Quality of life must be taken into consideration. The two previous posts say it all. God Bless.

  • abatnamedtwitch says:

    thank you for writing this article. I have worked at an open admission animal shelter for three years now. I have been called a murderer more times than I can count. The fact that the general public expect us to be a no kill animal shelter is absolutely insane. I think everyone who turns an animal over to a shelter should be required to work at one for a week.

  • veggiechick says:

    Thank you for the very insightful article. I like to know the truth, and you have put it very much out there, and it’s good for everyone to understand. It is hurtful, but so is life, and it’s a good reason for people to donate to such shelters… Thank you. 🙂

  • Brenda Armour says:

    About once a month a heated debate starts on my facebook about PETA killing animals. I offer to send them the link showing the horrible conditions these poor souls are in when they arrive at PETA. Any shelter can be no kill if they pick and choose their admissions. I am aware that poorly funded shelters use gas chambers and heart sticks to euthanize cats and dogs. After seeing this procedure done on Earthlings – I was sick. Until we learn responsible pet ownership this will continue. No animal should be homeless .

  • Sara Maynard says:

    This article has said exactly what I’ve been trying to put into words since I began volunteering at an open admission shelter. These shelters and its workers/volunteers have to deal with caustic comments from people that stand on the “pulpit of righteousness” – we are judged and sentenced as murderers and killers of the innocent, while they “save animals” – but, what happens when they are full, simple they refuse people who then dump these animals on the streets to suffer until they are rescued or die. When you ask them how they would do it better, they evade the question and say that there is no excuse for euthanizing an animal, sanctuaries must be built – but, are these place sanctuaries, or are they prisons for the same innocent animals they talk about? Do these people think that we derive some sort of perverted enjoyment from euthanizing animals? Do they think we are heartless and only they have feelings? No, we feel, we feel deeply for the animals that enter the shelter, but we also know that it is far better to put an animal humanely to sleep than to lock it up for months/years on end, how can it be OK to say you have saved an animal to then place it in a cage to live the rest of its life out? How can this be considered humane? I say that open admission shelters are the true animal advocates, they are the ones that deal with the worst cases and make the difficult choices for the good of an animal unlike those that take the path of easy funding and good public opinion because of their “no kill” stance – to all of those that work for the betterment of all animals in open admission shelters, stay strong and remember that you are putting them first.

  • kathy says:

    Living on the streets is much more difficult for dogs and cats than it is for humans. They cannot get free food from ‘soup kitchens’ or find shelters when it is freezing. They don’t know how to avoid cars and they can’t go to the emergency room when they’re very ill. All of that is extremely obvious. Also, it’s very inhumane to make a cat or dog spend a very long time living their life in a cage in a shelter. In this overpopulation crisis, humane euthanization is a compassionate choice.