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Why I Won’t Work at a ‘No-Kill’ Shelter

Written by PETA | December 20, 2011
Yoshimai | cc by 2.0

In college, I volunteered at a small animal shelter in Ohio. I never thought much about the shelter’s policies. Only later did I realize how much suffering its limited-admission policy caused. All “no kill” animal shelters—big or small—are limited-admission facilities.  

The dogs no one wanted sat for years (yes, years) in solitary concrete and metal cages. The only bright spot in their day was when a volunteer would walk them for 15 minutes and give them a bit of time to wander in a dirt pen outdoors. Otherwise, they spent their days and nights confined to cages. On weekends, when everyone else was in the park or at the movies … on holidays, when everyone else was with their families and opening presents … 365 days a year, they sat in a cage. Occasionally, a puppy would be brought in and quickly adopted, but many of the older, bigger dogs sat hopelessly month after month.  

I befriended a dog named Tigger, who probably weighed 80 pounds, was very cute, and had a wonderful personality. He was one of the sweetest dogs. (I suspect that he wasn’t adopted because of his size, because he was a mutt, and because he didn’t look like a dog you’d see in a magazine. I would have adopted him without hesitation, but animals weren’t allowed in my dorm.) It broke my heart to leave him after our walks because I could see how lonely he was and how our walks were all that he looked forward to each day.

Looking back, I think of all the Tiggers languishing in limited-admission shelters and all the animals who are turned away from those shelters only to suffer on the streets or in abusive households. I wonder why people think those fates are preferable to giving animals a chance to be adopted at an open-admission shelter and, if no home can be found, a peaceful, dignified, painless exit in a loving person’s arms. I sympathize with the folks who run limited-admission shelters—as I saw, many of them really do care about animals. But they often have such a fanatical fear of euthanasia that they will let an animal’s spirit die for lack of joy or love or a home, just to keep them breathing for breathing’s sake. The limited-admission model has proved over and over again that it isn’t the answer—it’s just sweeping the problem under the rug.  

I have so much gratitude for people who work in open-admission shelters and have the thankless task of having to euthanize the animals they have fed, walked, cared for, and loved while constantly dealing with the question “Why aren’t you ‘no kill’?” We all need to speak out in support of shelters that accept every animal in need and support aggressive spay-and-neuter and “adopt—don’t buy” campaigns. And next time you are chatting with staffers or volunteers at an open-admission shelter, thank them for their courage and compassion.

Written by Chris Holbein, associate director of special projects

Commenting is closed.
  • toni says:

    Thank you so much for your honest and thought provoking article. People are not facing reality when they believe that ‘no kill’ shelters are such a great a wonderful way to treat cats and dogs. As an avid cat lover I had to take a stray kitten to what I later found out was a ‘no kill’ shelter today because I already had 3 cats in my apartment. It is a tragedy to see grown cats in cramped cages that may probably spend the rest of their lives there. As sad as it is to think about them being euthanized, how awful is is to think about them living each day in a cage. This does not solve the pet over population problem. They are having to turn away some unwanted animals I am sure because of the limited amount of space they have. And then what happens to those animals?

  • KELSEY says:

    i am an animal lover. i dont believe that any animal should be killed. every living being has a natural instinct, and that is to survive. i want to open a no kill shelter and i will give all my animals love and they will have 24 hour access to the outdoors. i dnt think anyone should put down people who run no kill shelters. they mean well. they dnt murder pets due to lack of space. animal cruelty needs to be stopped. and u should of spoke up to the manager an said they should do something about the socialization time.

  • Stephen Oakes says:

    While the author may have had a bad experience at one of the many underfunded and undestaffed “no-kill” shelters that exist, I want to expand on the comments Laura and others have made that provide a more balanced view. At the Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem, MA, where I work as an adoption counselor, treatment of animals in the manner the author described is unheard of. Our dogs are housed in clean, large, modern kennels and walked or played with every 3-4 hours. While it’s true we do not accept certain breeds, we only refuse those that don’t kennel well do to their exercise requirements, size or previous history. We carefully screen all our adopters in the best interest of each animal. True, spay/neuter is the ultimate answer, but until then both no-kill and other types of shelters need to work together to solve the pet overpopulation problem.

  • Lina says:

    Chris, thank you for your point of view. I truly believe that we cannot judge all no-kill or open admission shelters based on single experiences. While never having visited an open admission shelter, I have volunteered regularly at two no-kill shelters. With no intent to invalidate you experience (we obviously volunteered at different shelters, as there are thousands) I assure you that the conditions these animals faced were not as you described. Many of the animals were pulled from overcrowded open admission shelters and saved from imminent death. No-kill shelters, (perhaps due to their glorified reputation), usually attract more donations, volunteers and perhaps even a more dedicated staff (who leave work in a better mood knowing that animals did not needlessly die in their care), which, if effectively managed, enable them to provide better care for their animals. I adopted a cat that had spent the entire 2 years of his life in a no-kill shelter, his temperament is wonderful and he shows no signs of ever being neglected. While not all no kill shelters live up to their reputation, any successful shelter that finds good homes for its animals, regardless of its policy, deserves support. I hope that you someday reconsider, and volunteer at a different shelter.

  • Janis Wilson says:

    Here in the UK we, like everywhere else in the world, we have an over-abundance of dogs that nobody wants to adopt, but the RSPCA and charities focus on spaying/neutering these days and while it is a slow process, people are beginning to see the reasoning behind this and getting their pets fixed. But there will always be back yard breeders and puppy farms where many of these dogs end up as statistics and die in shelters. Ive routinely crossposted dogs looking for homes in the USA and ive seen the horrors of the gas chamber facilities and high kill shelters. I am totally against euthanasia on health recoverable dogs, but even i, sadly, admit that sometimes euthanasia is the only option for some dogs. The worst part is, i regularly see a no-kill shelter in the states showing a cute little dog for adoption, yet rarely a mutt….the original of the species! However, education in animal welfare must start at an early age with much emphasis on spaying/neutering and its benefits. Killing dogs must also be done with the utmost respect for the dog and allowing it to die with dignity, not fear and i would also urge that heartstick euthanasia and the gas chambers be banned

  • Louise says:

    I can see where you’re coming from, but not all no-kill shelters are limited admission, and not all of them have such little staff that the animals don’t receive a lot of love & attention. The one I volunteer at will not allow an animal to suffer thru disease and illness. They are euthanized. We do all we can to get our animals adopted by having great socialization programs. We’ve seen and heard of far too many precious animals getting put under over a cold. It’s up to the public to get smart, spay & neuter, and please all you breeders – stop putting animals thru countless litters and get a real job – please.

  • Alicia says:

    Thanks, Chris. I agree with you. Spaying and neutering and adopting not buying are the answers, not warehousing animals in cages.

  • Laura says:

    I never tought of it like that, you make good points. But no kill have their good points too. First of all, some in areas without a high volume take in pets from kill shelters. Secondly, kill shelters are so limited on space that most animals really have no time to get adopted, 24-72 hours, leaving their chances almost nill. Also, even highly adoptable animals who may have a chance are almost immediately put down if they have even something minor and curable like kennel cough.

  • Joe says:

    I have worked with Chris in the past and know him to be a very intelligent and caring man. Painting a picture of all limited admission shelters as horror stories of hoarding is a bit unfair. It would be the same as painting all open admission shelters as being horrible places where staff abuse, starve and mistreat animals (as has been reported in Memphis, Los Angeles, Miami, Kansas City etc.). There are good things happening in many shelters throughout the country and we would be better served by focusing on how we can help each other and the most animals. I have worked in open-admission, high euthanasia shelters and shelters that would be considered no-kill, though we would still euthanize the seriously ill and aggressive animals who come to us. I am not sure anyone has the perfect answer. While I agree with a lot Chris has to say, I’m afraid I think there are more than just two sides to this argument.

  • Julie says:

    “falling asleep” (as some put it) in a caring person’s arms is one thing. But let’s face it, many animals are gassed or endure other methods of painful an traumatic death in shelters, and not all shelters have loving caring staff

  • Kim says:

    I am vegan, I love each and every living creature and I love the work PETA does for the animals, but I think this article is an semi-isolated instance. Ultimately it all comes back to humans for over-breeding dogs in the first place. It is wrong to rate 1 dog’s life over another. The mentality that this article gives me reminds me of the attitude of our former local humane society president. I remember going to a volunteer seminar where she told -the sad story of a dog who went mad living in a shelter for over 2 years to justify euthanasia. It seemed to make sense to me at the time when I was much younger and naive. Now several years later since she has been there, our local shelter has a rehoming rate of 90% which is an extremely high honor. It’s not because they keep dogs and cats caged up until someone feels sorry for them, it’s because they are involved with other cutting edge organizations that use information to that may help a dog get placed better in another city. In addition they use effective techniques at finding the appropriate homes for dogs. I also often find it so disturbingly sad when good dogs are deemed as bad. I am an educated dog trainer myself, and would never deem a dog “bad”. Success is really all about having intelligent people involved.

  • Carol R. says:

    Chris, Thank you for your words. I agree with you about a “no kill” shelter. About a month ago I took a group of middle school youth to a local shelter that had an “open door” policy, but was not “no kill”. As the wonderful volunteer explained to us, some animals cannot be rehabilitated and need to be euthanized, some animals won;t find a home and need to be euthanized. Some are sick mentally physically and no amount pf medical care will help them. The youth had no problem accepting that while we do the best we can for our animal friends and try to find them new homes, not every animal can be saved. With youthful innocence they willingly accepted the fate of these animals (both good and bad), and were very aware of the loving kindness of the people who worked there and the volunteers! It was a wonderful afternoon and it was enlightening for both the youth and myself!! Thank you for sharing your perspective on this!

  • michelle reyes says:

    Honestly, I don’t support shelters that euthanized (a few months ago i took a sick puppy who i found roaming in the streets, with the hope of him being cured and adopted, which i am sure it was 100% possible, but the lady just grabbed the puppy and HEARTLESSLY told us that there were 10 more like him and he had little chance, and walked away), but the way that this article is written makes me have second thoughts. Of course I support the idea of gently putting an animal out of its misery, but there are shelters who do it abruptly and carelessly… honestly, i dont know which is worse out of the two shelters. Anyway, I have high hopes of one day running a no-kill shelter, but I will do it with the best intentions of these animals getting all the love that they need. I know it will be a challenge, but I will do anything for them.

  • jenn says:

    People seriously need to be educated about these issues. I am so sick and tired of hearing people complain and gripe about shelters that euthanize, like it’s something they actually enjoy doing or don’t work hard to take care and find homes for homeless animals. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “We need to be a no-kill nation!” People are so ignorant and it can be so infuriating. Before people can even begin to feel the least bit mad or upset about it, they need to spay and neuter their animals, adopt from a shelter, and work in one for a few days.

  • Rev. Meg Schramm says:

    That happy critter looks just like my dog Buck after Buck gets his annual summer hair cut!! Was that photo taken near Dog Beach in Huntington Beach, California?

  • Tummi the Mutt says:

    As a rescue from an open-admission shelter, I want to say thanks for coming to my defense. I am a special-needs pup, and I was one of the lucky few who found a forever home, but if I hadn’t, I’d rather have fallen alseep in a gentle volunteer’s arms than spent my days pacing a tiny enclosure, waiting for my next walk. Dogs like me are the ones who suffer the worst at the hands of well-intended “no kill” policies. Thanks for your words.

  • Carla* says:

    Adopted my Thor from a no-kill, he had lived there for a year and a half!! Thank God for no-kill or I would have never had the pleasure of adopting him!! One of the best dogs or thee best dog in the world!!

  • Rachel says:

    I worked at a no kill shelter too, and I agree NEVER AGAIN! They were turning away animals that later were found dead on the streets or frozen or starved to death. They were overcrowding the ones they had, and animals were killing each other in cages or by disease, then those dead pets were kept “off the statistics” to pretend that they didn’t die and fake the euthanasia records. What is even worse is that no kill shelters are giving away pets to hoarders and questionable people, or people with cruelty records, and telling their donors that the animals found “homes” when it is a lie. Until the spay neuter rates go up, no kill is just animal abuse, pure and simple. I saw it with my own eyes.

  • Carla* says:

    Adopted my Thor from a no-kill, he had lived there for a year and a half!! Thank God for no-kill or I would have never had the pleasure of adopting him!! One of the best dogs or thee best dog in the world!!

  • Joy Garafola says:

    Hi: I adopted a dog out of a Virginia shelter a little over a year ago! This looks just like my dog Cooper. He did not have a name when I adopted him. He is the spitting image of my dog! Possibly he was transferred from a shelter in Ohio? How old was Tigger? Thanks, Joy

  • carol says:

    Yes, I once went to a no kill shelter in New York just for cats and it was appalling in there. Many animals had limbs missing or had issues involving their brains and were incontinent and were living in abject misery falling over each other in their small rooms where they were confined all their lives. There was absolutely no way anyone was going to adopt these animals and the kindest thing would have been to put them to sleep. The volunteers tried keeping the place clean and the animals in good condition but you just knew it was a losing battle for them and funding was always short. No one wants to put animals to sleep but I am like the writer of this paper we need to educate, educate people to have their animals neutered and spayed and we need to stop buying animals from anyone and go and fetch them from the shelters, even cats who are often just given away. Even my local vet had a homeless cat living there and it never went outside or had a window to look out of, never had a couch to crawl up onto let alone a lap to sit on and died eventually at their clinic of old age! What a horrible life and it is the same for those at no kill shelters.

  • Ilovestraymutts says:

    I used to volunteer for the only no-kill shelter in my area but stopped after I got the newsletter stating that they chose not to support spay and neuter laws in the city. I could not believe it and still can’t! I started to think about it and realized that they actually make a lot of money how they are run. First off, they only take in animals that have been fixed, are up to date on their shots, have a microchip and have good behavior (owners must pay for all of these things before they are considered to be admitted into the shelter). Basically, the animals they take on require only food as a cost and they charge $100.00 plus adoption fees for each animal so they are making a pretty penny off of these animals. In this circumstance with this shelter, I think it’s run more like a profit machine since they don’t take in stray animals and they turn away animals they don’t think they can adopt or animals that aren’t in “perfect” “paid for” condition. The sad thing is, they get most of the funds in the area from donors since people think that a “no kill” is the way to go and sadly the dogs in the local city shelter are dying and getting little attention or funds. I hate that animals have to be killed, but I do realize until laws are made it’s going to happen. I also think that these types of shelters should be exposed for what they are. I know the no kill shelter I spoke of does do some good overall, but I think their main intent is money and not the best interest off all animals.

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