The No-Kill Yin Yang

No images this time.  I don’t think most of the places I’m including in this post would want their brand associated with what I have to say.  I’m also not referring to parrots in this post.  (Note the bold, underscored and italicized part and the fact that I types this portion right after it to bring attention to the part I just printed!!)  So if you are, or belong to a parrot/avian rescue group, don’t take this post personally!  My feelings about avian welfare are almost an exact opposite of domestic pet rescue.

“No-Kill” that concept just sounds right.  It puts us all at ease and gives us all a warm, fuzzy feel all over.  But, remember, every good has its bad, or every yin has its yang.

People like it when they hear a shelter is “no-kill”.  It means that all of those cute, cuddly pets are destined to find homes or at least be cared for until they die of natural causes.  How many people take a larger view though?

As a “for instance” a former, large employer of mine boasts its status as “the largest no-kill animal shelter in the country”.  The concept seems sound and makes them appear very squeaky clean.  People like the idea and they think anyone working towards that goal is a saint.  So, exactly where’s the down side?  Don’t deceive yourself into thinking there is none!

Some shelters operate as municipal facilities; they are contracted by local governments to take in stray/unwanted animals.  In many cases, they are some of the only shelters in the area…. the only place for homeless animals to go.  They’re legally obligated to take in every animal, therefor, they are called “Open admission” shelters.  Consider these the “downside” to the no-kill shelters.

Being open admission means they need room, more room and even more room on top of that!  At a certain point these places could have animals pouring out of every crevice they occupy (and some that make the front page of newspapers, do so as “hoarders”).  The only viable, albeit heartbreaking solution is euthanasia.

Don’t consider them bad places because of this.  They simply have no other options available.

Back to the no-kill shelters now…

How do places get lucky enough to become no-kill?  It’s not luck at all.  It’s careful, deliberate planning.  No-kill shelters will scour local pounds and shelters for the “perfect” pets.  They intentionally take the kittens, the puppies, the cute, adorable animals, or ones with heartbreaking stories they can publicize to draw in the crowd and supporters.  What they ultimately end up doing is passing the buck off to the open admission shelters; the shelters that can’t pick and choose which animals they want to take in.

Is this good or is it bad?  I can’t say.  Yes, saving lives is always a good thing.  Doing so at the expense of making others do the dirty work though, seems irresponsible.  Are the shelters to blame?  That’s also hard to say.  If the public was aware of the larger picture and understood the consequences of overpopulating pets, open admission shelters might not receive such a bad reputation while no-kill shelters hold a saintly status in the public’s eye.  In a way, it’s the general public’s fault for turning a blind eye to what’s become a necessary evil – euthanasia.  Instead of addressing the issue and admitting guilt for being the ones at fault for homeless pets, we find it easier to vilify euthanasia and worship the shelters that pass the responsibility off to others.

Some of the tactics of the no-kill shelter movement:

  • Ignoring requests/surrenders for the general public and local communities.
  • Nitpicking animals they prefer to take, over ones they don’t want.
  • Getting involved with high-profile rescues, ignoring smaller, local issues that may not receive as much publicity.
  • Passing animals off to other facilities to handle or adopting to unqualified candidates to make room.
  • May often be labeled as hoarders if they take in more animals than they can handle.

Again, I can’t say the no-kill shelter movement is a bad thing.  On the other hand, I can’t say it’s a responsible thing either.  These shelters plan ahead to make money, market and advertise their brand.  They want only animals in situations that will fit in with this strategy they design.  On the other hand, this gives them a lot of resources to tap into and allows them to reach a larger group of people than just a local humane society can.  But, then we go back to looking at the number of animals the municipal faculties have to euthanize because the nearest no-kill facility washed their hands of the animals there and only want to use the rescue cases as PR stunts.

Is this whole thing the public’s fault, though, for not understanding or tolerating the situations we’re ultimately responsible for?  It seems to become the law of averages; every no-kill shelter will have an equal open-admission one to balance the situation out.  The situation doesn’t go away simply because we turn a blind eye to the helpless, desperate animals that are sent to death each day.  This, perhaps, can best be summed up in one of my favorite quotes:  “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”  Note, there’s nothing about the way only no-kill shelters treat their animals… it refers to every animal.


I am an animal advocate. I not only love, but respect animals... all animals. I have spent several years of my life dedicated to working in animal rescue and now have very little left to lose in expressing my true thoughts and ideals on the subject.

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Posted in Animals
3 comments on “The No-Kill Yin Yang
  1. Rudy says:

    I don’t feel you have accurately described the modern no-kill movement, which simply uses best business practices and does not wait passively for people to show up at a depressing shelter to adopt–their programs reduce intake with pet retention programs, work harder to get lost animals home, have vigorous foster and volunteer programs, market, market, market, support TNR, continual off-site adoption events, etc. One of the problems which kills animals is the current prison model of shelters, places people want to avoid rather than visit. Here is a different vision for the future– Peace!


    • tongueinbeak says:

      I’ve worked at, perhaps, the most modern, revolutionary, etc. no-kill shelter leading the way in the no-kill movement. I’ve watched them abandon animals in the filed, ignore people needing to relinquish them and not get involved with small-scale rescues that won’t get them front-page headlines. This is what “best business practices” brings to animal rescue. They’d gladly go in and handpick a dozen animals to rescue, leaving behind the ones that were too much trouble, not newsworthy, had behavioral issues and were deemed unadoptable, for the local humane society to euthanize – all so they can save face and preserve a no-kill reputation.


  2. Ann Berlin says:

    Not only are all shelters (no-kill and kill) dramatically different, but the same shelter with a change in management can change almost overnight. Our website tries to keep track of these changes, world-wide, and it is difficult. There is no substitute for checking out each shelter individually. On average, kill-shelters are more likely to have policies that kill healthy animals within a certain number of days. On average, kill-shelters are more likely to be run by folks who don’t pay attention and make horrible mistakes and kill someone’s pet even after someone calls and says they are on their way to pick it up. On average, if someone surrenders a pet to a no-kill shelter it is more likely to be alive in a month. Yet, I personally know of some kill shelters that rarely euthanize and try harder than some no-kill shelters to find homes for animals because the managers are, deep down, more compassionate.

    All generalizations regarding kill and no-kill shelters should be taken with a dump truck of salt. The insults back and forth between Nathan Winograd and PeTA are among the least academically compelling debates I have ever read, and both sides insult the intelligence of the animal rights community and anyone who can think. They both present straw-man cases and debates based on theory and ignore the tremendous variation that is the real world.

    Regardless of the “theory” (kill or no-kill), shelters need better trained and compassionate management. Note: they are typically underpaid, and that is part of the problem. Another part is ‘compassion fatigue” which is rarely recognized or dealt with correctly.


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