Posted by: AJ the Irish Lass | May 15, 2008

Some thoughts on the “no-kill” animal debate

Originally written May 15, 2008 and revised June 25, 2017.

Another site that I once wrote for offered a debate on whether “no-kill” animal shelters actually help or hurt the pet population problem. At a first glance, it would seem that the answer is an unequivocal yes. No one in the debate offered an opinion on the “no” side. After all, “no-kill” shelters either don’t euthanize their animals at all, or only when the suffering is so great that it would be inhumane to leave the animal alive. There is a flip side to the coin, though, and I think all sides need to be considered carefully. “No-kills” are one part of the solution to the pet overpopulation problem, however, they aren’t the sole solutio

Shelters and rescue groups in my area do successfully adopt animals out, but often with varying degrees of difficulty. I’m not aware of whether it’s because there aren’t enough interested people, the specific adoption requirements, a lack of social media networking, or a combination of the three. While there are many pet owners in the area, not all are interested in rescuing abandoned animals and many of those who are already have as many animals as they’re willing to care for. Limits on how many

Limits on how many pets a household can own certainly don’t help much. Unreasonable pet limits needlessly restrict how many people can foster on behalf of rescues. Even though this is usually the exception rather than the rule, I am aware that a few rescue groups have adoption requirements so stringent that it is hard to meet them.

So, while no-kill shelters can be a help for pet overpopulation, for every animal that enters such a shelter or rescue to find a possible permanent home, many others will go to shelters where they’ll be euthanized within a week or so unless someone comes along that wants them. The no-kill movement has been a great success at reducing euthanasia rates in many cities, but it doesn’t address the countless animals that can’t be placed in any shelter or rescue because they’re full. Incorporating more shelters or rescues with insufficient fosters won’t resolve the issue. Some other, proactive steps must be taken.

Reducing euthanasia rates depends heavily on cooperation between local rescues, pet owners, and veterinarians. One of the biggest hurdles can be the differing philosophies among people in the rescue community. For instance, one cat rescue group I know of has a director who has been said to have successfully tamed feral-born cats, despite claims that it can’t actually happen. Another group claims that feral cats can never be re-homed because they could only be barn cats, and they’re opposed to this out of fear of harm coming to the cats by being outside. Yet another group specializes in placing feral cats as barn cats and is quite successful.
With such differing philosophies and opinions, it’s no wonder that some groups aren’t able to work together. Rescuers need to learn to set respective opinions aside and think of what’s best for the animals’ particular situation.

Shelters should be flexible enough to provide animals with a variety of homes, while ensuring that they’re receiving the best care from their new owners. For instance, rather than requiring only inside homes for cats and having to turn away ferals, shelters could adopt them out as barn cats or as part of a TNR program. Owners with outside

Owners with farm or ranch dogs that are outside a lot shouldn’t necessarily be ruled out if they’re providing good care and the breed of dog is capable of living in these circumstances. Obviously, all prospective owners need to be interviewed thoroughly and provide proof that they have a vet.

A volunteer or two to put together a website for a shelter without one or to put up postings on Petfinder or a Facebook crossposting page would help. Local communities should also have some sort of group that provides assistance to individuals trying to place animals on their own, instead of simply turning them away. An ideal community effort would be a group of people that can compile together listings on animals currently available in all area shelters, as well as pets listed for adoption by their owners. This would be a large-scale effort, but would help with a good volunteer base.

More needs to be done to ensure that free or low-cost/sliding scale neutering services are available. Female pet spays can cost anywhere from about $70 up to $150 or more. Not only do these services need to be available, but the local community needs to be educated on having any animals that aren’t used for responsible breeding altered. Many pet owners refuse to alter their animals because of misinformation or because they don’t feel it’s necessary.

Since many animals in shelters are owner-relinquished, the causes behind this need to be addressed. In some cases, it’s because the owner is moving and can’t keep the animal, or because of behavior problems. Owners who are moving away on a short-term basis could benefit from a foster care program that takes in animals on a temporary basis. I’m not aware of any programs like this currently in use. In the case of behavior problems, rescuers can help educate the owners on steps to take to eliminate the problem.

While no-kill shelters and rescues have their good and bad points, they do play a helpful role in eliminating euthanasia. Hopefully, they can be combined with other programs and increase the number of animals being adopted, rather than destroyed.


  1. Very nice write up on this issue and good points.

    There are no-kill shelters that take in all animals brought to them. You can find more info about them here:

    It does take a whole community to care enough to make no-kill shelters work well. And you are right, steps must be taken to prevent the births of so many unwanted animals. This is one of the most needed steps.

    I am so glad you are employing the no-kill subject and sharing your thoughts online.

    Wishing you and your pets the best. — Joni

  2. Thanks, Joni. Hopefully more people will start to make the effort to work together.

  3. I think you would really benefit from a book I am reading. “Disposable Animals:Ending The Tragedy Of Throwaway Pets” by Craig Brestrup.

    Many animals as well as people that society gives up on are very capable at living long and happy lives with the right care. When an animal is taken into a family as a companion we as humans tend to want them to just understand and do things our way. We domesticated them, took them out of what was natural and now KILL them (1 every 6 seconds) in our shelters. It is so sad. I don’t understand why anyone who claims to love dogs or cats would want them to live outside…this is a bit odd. I love my Mother and she can be a bit hard to deal with but should I keep her outside when she comes over to visit? Love is unconditional regardless, we should all practice this more often to animals and each other. Thanks for the thoughtful post on the issue.

    • Hi Dallas

      “I think you would really benefit from a book I am reading. “Disposable Animals:Ending The Tragedy Of Throwaway Pets” by Craig Brestrup.”
      I’ll have to check that out. Is it available through Amazon & other booksellers?

      “We domesticated them, took them out of what was natural and now KILL them (1 every 6 seconds) in our shelters. It is so sad.”
      It really is, especially since this would be preventable if people would be more responsible.
      “I don’t understand why anyone who claims to love dogs or cats would want them to live outside…this is a bit odd.”
      Mainly, my concern was with rescue groups establishing blanket policies that may rule out possibly good homes. Each animal is an individual, as are family circumstances. There are good outside homes and bad inside ones, and vice versa. That’s why I think the most important part of placing an animal is having a rescue volunteer check out the prospective home themselves.
      In the case of some feral cats that are too “wild” to be pets, attempting to make them into indoor cats can be more stressful for both the cat and the caretaker. Barn cat rescue groups help a lot of cats in these situations that might otherwise be euthanised.
      “Thanks for the thoughtful post on the issue.”
      You’re most welcome. Thank you for posting!

  4. Dallas, with all due respect, I must take issue with your comparison between a pet and someone’s mother. Animals are distinctly different from our human family members, it’s animal rightist propaganda that’s blurred the distinction. A person can care for an animal but decide that an outdoor situation is best. Maybe you’ve never known any good outside pet owners?

    The problem is, a lot of peeps who live outside of the South and other warmer aren’t accustomed to seeing well-taken care of outside pets. Combine that with animal rights literature that villifies outside dog owners and no wonder people think it’s a type of abuse. The bottom line is that AR extremists want to find all the ways they can to make pet ownership difficult. As a person concerned about animals, please don’t fall into their trap. Thanks for listening.

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