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

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3 min read
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 living 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

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