To Kill or Not To Kill...

photo credit:  Ted McGrath

photo credit: Ted McGrath

A friend of mine had a birthday recently. I asked how she was going to celebrate, and she said she wanted to make a donation to a local animal shelter. When I asked why she chose that one, since there was another shelter closer to where she lived, she said the shelter she was donating to was a no-kill shelter. She didn't want to give money to people who kill animals. 

It was at this time that I could feel my feet automatically climbing onto my soapbox. Having been a part of the shelter and rescue world for the last 15yrs, I have had plenty of time to form a stance on this topic. 

No-kill shelters kill

It's true. There is no shelter that is 100% zero kill. Dogs and cats can become very ill or a serious aggression problem may rear it's head that was previously unknown. We want shelters to have an option to humanely euthanize animals who have an untreatable illness or are a danger to society.

There is another layer to the argument, though. What happens to the animals who are not accepted into the no-kill shelter?

No-kill shelters are not all-inclusive

Every shelter must place limits on the number of animals it can take in and care for at any given time. A facility can only house just so many animals. No-kill shelters house row upon row of adoptable animals. When the shelter is full, no more animals can be accepted until some have been adopted to make room for them. Although adoptions happen, they rarely happen as frequently as adoptable animals are relinquished. This means adoptable animals may be turned away.

No-kill shelters only accept adoptable pets. This means that pets with untreatable health problems, behavior problems and other criteria are turned away as un-adoptable. Further, each shelter has their own criteria about what they feel is adoptable. Older pets may not qualify. Certain breeds may be turned down.  Some shelters only take in puppies and kittens. 

When adoptable and un-adoptable pets are turned away, what happens to them?

If an animal is turned away from a shelter, the owner generally still has to find a place for the pet to go. They don't just change their mind about giving up their pet, take it home, and love it for the rest of it's life. Unfortunately, many dogs and cats are dumped on the way home when no one is looking, and left abandoned. I have seen dogs tied to vet clinics, shelter doorsteps, fire hydrants, fences and more. I have seen cats left in boxes on doorsteps and by the side of the road - often without even air holes to breathe from.

Some people list pets for free on Craigslist or other websites. Many times these animals are picked up by people who wish to do harm to them, whether by using them as bait dogs, or just plain mistreating them.  Some take them home and chain them out for a lifetime of neglect.

The flip-side of the coin

Yes, kill shelters kill. But they also rarely, if ever, turn away any pet in need of a place to go. They don't decide to not accept a dog that is shy or fearful or black or just not as cute. They take them all in. 

As the pets enter the shelter, they are examined for any untreatable health problems and major behavior problems. Adoptable animals are placed for adoption if there is room. If there isn't room, room will be made. Shelter staff has the hard task of deciding who stays and who goes. They look at many factors, including age, health, temperament, length of time at the shelter, and breed to make their decision. It is not an easy decision.

Which is more humane?

A shelter who cherry-picks the best to place for adoption or the shelter who takes in any pet and attempts to place as many adoptable pets as they can?

Both serve a purpose. Both help animals. I am not opposed to no-kill shelters. I'm opposed to people thinking no-kill shelters are better than kill-shelters. By all means, donate. Donate to whichever group you'd like. Just know that both kill and no-kill are working hard to help pets.

We can do our part, too! Talk your neighbor out of having a litter of puppies just so their children can see the "miracle of birth". Talk your friend into putting an adoption fee on her Craigslist ad. Tell your co-worker who found the stray dog on the way home that someone may be desperately looking for that dog and to please try to find the owner. Don't just assume it's been dumped. Spay your pets. Microchip your pets. Train your pets. Love your pets. 

-Rebecca Lynch, KPA CTP