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Are No-Kill Shelters the Solution?
Or are they “animal warehouses” as some critics claim?

A shelter in rural Shelby County, Kentucky, recently celebrated one year as a no-kill facility. This is no easy feat in any state, where thousands of dogs and cats are euthanized weekly for lack of homes. Making Shelby County Humane Society and Animal Shelter completely no kill was ten years in the making, according to Woodstock Animal Foundation founder Denise Jones. It required the support and cooperation of the local community, including farmers willing to serve as foster parents.  

When I was in high school, I volunteered at a no-kill shelter in my community. It seemed like a great way to help animals in need. Unfortunately, I came away from the experience wondering if no kill truly helped homeless dogs and cats or was simply a feel-good Band-Aid for the overwhelming problem of pet overpopulation.

On the one hand, animals were safe until adopted, but if they were not adopted quickly, it was not unusual for dogs and cats to live at the shelter for months, even years. Some no-kill shelters have a wonderful foster home program, so the dogs and cats live in homes until they are adopted. That’s fine. But what about the no-kill shelters whose animals are confined to kennels with concrete floors for months or even years at a time? What kind of quality of life is that? Some animals cannot handle the lack of mental and physical exercise and go kennel crazy, which ultimately makes them unadoptable, making the point of a no-kill shelter moot.

To help prevent animals from living out the rest of their lives in kennels, some no-kill shelters only accept those pets they believe to be adoptable. But what happens to the animals who are turned away? They are taken to kill shelters, which can’t cherry-pick which animals they accept, or the owner finds another way to “get rid of them.” (Interpret that as you will.) As a volunteer with several breed rescue groups over the years, we occasionally get desperate calls from owners who hope we’ll see some glimpse of our breed in their dog so they will be accepted into our rescue program, assuming we have room, which we rarely do. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.

I like no-kill shelters in theory, but not always in practice. Frankly, the no-kill shelter concept oversimplifies the pet overpopulation problem. Solving this requires a multi-tiered approach, which some no-kill shelters embrace. How do we encourage pet owners to spay/neuter their animals and take responsibility for them for a lifetime? How do we inspire people to actively help the homeless pets in their own community? How do we educate the next generation so that we can put all shelters out of business?   


Julia Kamysz Lane, owner of Spot On K9 Sports and contributing editor at The Bark, is the author of multiple New Orleans travel guides, including Frommer’s New Orleans Day by Day (3rd Edition). Her work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Poets and Writers and Publishers Weekly.

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Submitted by Inês | June 8 2009 |

Thank God someone said what I've been thinking myself for a while.
I started walking dogs in my local no-kill shelter more than a year ago. Some months ago I literally woke up in the middle of the night horrified - I suddenly had a clear picture of some dogs I know that have been in the shelter for eight years and more - and felt, that life to them was just endlessly sad and uncomfortable.
It makes us, animal-lovers feel better that these dogs were not euthanized, but do the dogs take comfort in their drab and stimulus deprived lives?
I feel this is a very important issue. Thank you Julia Kamysz Lane

Submitted by Kathy Konetzka-Close | June 8 2009 |

No kill shelters are not the only solution, but they can be part of the bigger picture if managed correctly. The thing is; life is not black and white, not all of the animals taken in by a shelter are adoptable, for a variety of reasons. And as always, it comes down to money—do you save each animal at any cost, or do you try to use your resources in a way that will allow you to treat more animals with lesser medical/behavioral issues, thus allowing more adoptions?? It’s an ethical struggle that every shelter must deal with on a daily basis. Is it even possible, given the resources available, to save each and every animal who enters the shelter? And at what point does an animal’s mental health trump everything else? What happens then? Certainly being housed in a kennel or dog run for months or years does nothing to increase the adoptability of that animal. Tough, tough questions with no easy answers. Clearly, however, warehousing animals is not an answer. And I agree with the author of this piece: no kill sounds great in theory; not always so easy in practice. The biggest piece of the puzzle has to be education, education, education! Start early (grade school or younger), require every animal adopted to be spayed or neutered before leaving the facility, and have staff that can follow up to be sure the animals are being treated humanely. Again, easier said than done.

Submitted by Anonymous | June 15 2009 |

There are many steps shelters can take that are embraced by the No Kill Movement. There's more to it then just declaring that your shelter is "no kill". I'm guessing the shelter you volunteered at when in high school did not include a comprehensive plan.

- low cost/no cost spay/nueter programs
- foster network
- rescue group access
- volunteer programs
- off site adoption events, advertising and marketing to increase adoptions, extended office hours
- rehab and training programs

Submitted by Anonymous | June 18 2009 |

The reason they call themselves "no kill" is because they only take IN what they can adopt OUT.

They only (usually) take HIGHLY adoptable animals, such as small dogs, pure breds, puppies, and kittens.

So if they only take in 5 dogs, and those 5 dogs sit in the shelter for months, while other shelters are euthanizing purely for lack of space, how much help is it really?

"NO KILL" Shelters are non-profit, and do NOT receive any Government funding, therefore adoption fees are much higher, which means fewer adoptions.

Submitted by Anonymous | June 25 2009 |

Actually, most no kill shelters have lower adoption costs and often those adopting donate on a continual basis due to supporting the non-profit's efforts, beliefs and as a thank you for the wonderful dog or cat they now have in their life. The Clark County Humane Society in Wisconsin is no kill, and the adoption fees are very reasonable while including shots and spay/neuter. Their fees are less than the Portage County or Waupaca County adoptions fees, which are not designated as no-kill. My girl was at the shelter 9 months and is the sweetest, funniest dog I've had.

Submitted by Anonymous | June 24 2009 |

There are "people" in the world living in far worse conditions than animals who live out their lives in a no-kill shelter. You don't hear about massive suicides in those places. Why? Life and hope are precious things. Who are we to deny animals those things?

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