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The Quandry: "Kill" or "No-Kill" Shelters?

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Volunteer with cat at no-kill shelter.

Volunteer with cat at "Happy Tails," a no-kill shelter.

Franny Syufy
A few years ago, I was soundly scolded by a good friend for featuring a notorious "kill shelter" in an ongoing "adopt a shelter cat month" series of featured shelters around the U. S. My response echoed my feelings then, (which are pretty much the same today), that while we might deplore the conditions at some shelters, the solution is not to turn our collective backs on them, but to support the selfless volunteers who are doing all they can to improve conditions, and to make life a little better for those cats that faced an almost guaranteed death.

It would be an understatement to say that this is a hotly-debated subject.

Arguments Against No Kill Shelters

  • No Kill Shelters Only Accept "Adoptable" Pets
    You'll hear the argument that "no kill" shelters carefully pick and choose the animals they take in, to guarantee that they are adoptable. (These are sometimes called "limited admission shelters.") While this argument may be true to some degree, there are certainly exceptions.

    On the other hand, "kill" shelters (also known as "open admission shelters) have to take whatever the "dog catcher" brings in, and since their capacities are not infinite, the excess animals must be euthanized. No one (except for a few sadistic individuals) enjoys this fact, and one of the hardest jobs for caring shelter workers is saying goodbye to a trusting dog or cat as they administer a humane death. Since life is full of exceptions, there are a few notorious shelters who still use extremely inhumane means of euthanasia. The "Killing with Kindness" movement seeks a national law to require euthanasia in all shelters to be accomplished by humane means.

  • No Kill Shelters Cause Misperceptions of the Overpopulation Problem
    Another argument is that limited admission shelters lull the public into believing that there is no overpopulation problem, and therefore, spaying and neutering household pets is not necessary. Although my first reaction is that this argument is hogwash, my experience with some members of the public leads me to acknowledge that there is some truth here. Sometimes it seems that some people will use any excuse for laziness.

    Another counter-argument to this claim is that most no kill shelters require spay or neuter as a condition of adoption.

  • No Kill Shelters Do Not Consider Quality of Life
    I can only gather that the author of this argument has confused no kill shelters with animal "collectors," when she writes:

      The main problem that animal activists have with no-kill shelters is that they (the no-kill shelters) preserve life itself with no thought about the quality of the animals' lives. Of course, there are great differences of opinion as to what constitutes high quality of life for an animal.

    Both sides seem to agree that the animals should be put first. I wholeheartedly agree with that consensus. Why punish that purring calico who licks your hand through the bars of the cage, by not adopting her simply because she happened to end up in a kill shelter? It just doesn't make sense to me. If I had the means to care for them, I'd adopt them all!

    Can America Become a No Kill Nation?

    Craig Brestrup, author of Disposable Animals and board member of the Association of Animal Sanctuaries, thinks it might be possible, although he doesn't deny that it's a tough road to travel, with difficult decisions along the way. He writes on behalf of the Best Friends Animal Society Forum,

      The rise of the no-kill movement over the past decade has been one of the most significant trends within animal protection. And for millions of dogs and cats, it has been the difference between life and death.

      Its influence extends well beyond the homeless animals that come to no-kill organizations. The forceful example of the no-kill movement has encouraged new thinking and practice among traditional "full service" groups, and it has ignited hopes for genuine success in this segment of animal advocacy.

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