A No-Kill World

I’m about to broach a subject that is certain to cause controversy and angst but there is too much misunderstanding on this subject to ignore.  The subject of no-kill.

Well-intentioned people frequently tell me that we should be a no-kill shelter.   When these well-meaning people share this opinion, it’s obviously out of their deep love and compassion for animals.  A sentiment I share wholeheartedly. However, when this happens, I get a little stirred up because I know the person really doesn’t understand all that surrounds the no-kill concept and I’m about to feel the need to educate them.

Sort of like when someone says that they want a puppy.  Which on the surface seems like a great idea.  But then somehow I find myself reminding them of the level of care and attention all puppies need to ensure that they are ready for such responsibility and commitment.  It’s not all puppy kisses and snuggles.  My practicality makes me feel as if I’m dashing their hopes or stealing their dreams.

Those that suggest no-kill as if all it takes is changing our mission statement and the sign on the door, just cannot fully understand the realities. It’s not that easy.  Such comments spur on my ascent to my soapbox for my sermon which likely will begin with something like “You obviously do not understand the concept of no-kill” and rolls on to “You’re preaching to the choir.  No one more than those that have to do the killing understand how great it would be if killing animals was nonexistent.” 

And finally when I really get rolling… “We shouldn’t be a no-kill shelter.  We should be a no-kill world.” 

Pausing only briefly for an “Amen sister!”

(My humor is not meant to be disrespectful to this very serious subject but I need a little humor to maintain my sanity.)

While my aim truly is to provide a little more information to those not totally up to speed on this concept, I’m sure to come off as bashing all no-kill shelters. So a few disclaimers please.

First, no one in their right mind can view refusing to kill an innocent animal as a bad thing.  It’s a great thing!   As such its why so many people support and tout the no-kill concept, why people will donate more to such organizations and why people would prefer to adopt from and volunteer for no-kill shelters.  On the surface, it makes tremendous sense and to think otherwise would imply you support the act of killing.  But like so many things, it’s just not that simple.

Secondly, we work with a several no-kill shelters and rescues that take animals from our overcrowded shelter, help them to find wonderful homes and also help make room in our shelter for more animals.    And I can’t thank them enough and wouldn’t support sending our animals to them if they weren’t no-kill!  They are a blessing to us and the animals they help.  There are lots of great people doing great work out there and I’m in no way condemning their efforts. 

Thirdly and obviously, there are fantastic no-kill organizations out there.  BUT there are bad ones too.   Just like with anything, there are extremes to every business. Too often people hear “no-kill” and assume they are all wonderful.  For that matter some people hear the word shelter or rescue and think likewise.  While there are rescues that are incredible sanctuaries for animals, there are also organizations that are nothing more than hoarders with dozens of animals stacked in cages in the basement.  Do your research folks and see it before believing it and before sending them your hard earned money!  And I mean this about our shelter too.  Come see us before you invest in us.

Lastly, no-kill is one of those concepts in the animal welfare world that is often debated and can be highly volatile.  And I’m not trying to start an argument AT ALL.  Again just trying to provide a little insight for those less familiar.  But it is one of those things that depending on what side of the fence you’re on, can provide you a very different view.  Or more appropriately since we live on the river, one’s perspective is quite different depending on which side of the dam they live when the flood of animals arrives at your doorstep.

For those that live above the dam and are dealing with the rising water, they are apt to want to release some of the water to the other side.  For those below, who are not feeling the effects of the rising water, they may prefer to keep the flood gates closed.  Get the picture?

Wikipedia defines a no-kill shelter as one that saves all healthy, treatable and rehabilitatable animals.  No-kill shelters ordinarily do not euthanize for lack of space, lack of adoptability, or based upon any pre-established time limits.  Most will euthanize only in the case of an animal becoming gravely ill or suffering. And who could debate against such ideal values? 

However, there is more to the story.

Largely, just like every other shelter, no-kill shelters do not have infinite capacity.  They run out of space, as do we, and that means they, under their philosophy must turn some animals away.  Furthermore some (many I suspect) have strict breed limitations (like no Pit bulls) and temperament requirements.  Fundamentally, these requirements are in place to maximize adoptions and create capacity for new animals. But no-kill shelters are not saving all the animals in need but rather those they have room for and accept.  So what happens to those they don’t accept?  Those they have to turn away?  

Hopefully in some cases the turning away will enlighten the owner into keeping their pet or inspire them find them a great home.  Unfortunately and undoubtedly this is the exception rather than the rule and most of these animals will still be taken somewhere else.  Often to another shelter…somewhere. 

Somewhere where space will be made.  Somewhere that doesn’t limit intake based on breed, health condition or temperament.  Somewhere that has assumed the responsibility, like county or city run shelters or even non-profit shelters like our own that by contract has an open door policy.

And this “somewhere” is most likely a kill shelter, as they are commonly referred to with disdain.  Or as we prefer an “open admission” shelter.

Yes, we fall into that kill shelter category because we do euthanize.  Most often because we run out of room which is the direct result of being open admission. 

Note to my readers who are wrinkling up your forehead because you were turned away when you tried to bring us the stray dog you found in Ohio.   We are open admission with a few exceptions.   We do abide by the WV law that requires animals to have valid rabies vaccinations before crossing state lines and our own policies that refer stray animals from other counties back to that local county shelter where they are more likely to be found by their owners.  Otherwise, we do accept all breeds, temperaments, ages and medical conditions.

All shelters are plagued with the problem where incoming animals far outweigh the numbers adopted or sent to rescue.  And no shelter is large enough to compensate for the disparity between intake and adoptions.  Accordingly, euthanasia is what makes up the difference.  In August of 2012 the American Humane Society estimated that 70% of all cats and 60% of all dogs in shelters are euthanized. (Fortunately our statistics are better but I’m certainly not bragging as its not good enough!)  Obviously a HUGE problem nationwide!  And the people in the no-kill world are well aware of this problem too. 

I have wonderful friends who have worked and volunteered in no-kill shelters and they are very honest about the pros and cons of that environment.  In some ways they loved it and in others found it quite difficult.  I imagine knowing what’s happening when your shelter turns an animal away, especially those that are not highly adoptable, could trouble you.  I know it did them.  Also watching animals sit in the shelter for years can be disturbing as well. 

And of course these friends know well our challenges as they have lived on the upper side of the dam.  I imagine it would be easier to not be so aware of what’s really happening on the side that’s flooding and be happy for what you have and can do to help from where you live high and dry. 

But for those who are cognizant of the realities they know all too well that while no-kill means their shelter won’t be euthanizing, they also know that someone else is left to do the killing when there’s no more space to be had.  When animals are deemed unadoptable by temperament or health or when they simply run out of time.

Some might dream of our one day being a no-kill shelter for our community.  This beyond the obvious saving of all lives that are lucky enough to enter our doors, would avail us of the opportunity to hire and retain people more easily.  And would surely attract the donations of those that believe only the no-kill shelters are worthy of their dollars.  Or attract more volunteers who would be assured that when they arrived at the shelter to find their favorite dog or cat no longer in their assigned cage could know they had been adopted.  Sometimes you have to stop yourself from asking because you don’t want to risk finding out the “wrong” answer. 

But would we feel good enough to bask in the glory of no-kill when we are only deferring the killing to others?  I think not. 

I don’t think I could ignore what’s happening on the upper side of the dam where the banks are overflowing.  Especially when I know all too well that there is no place for the water to go unless we open those gates and let some of the overflow spill onto our land. 

Or more directly, how do we ignore the fact that if we refuse to accept animals when our shelter is full, there is no place else for homeless animals to go in our community? That’s assuming you don’t believe that dumping them in the country or on the side of the road is an acceptable option.

This idea came up last year when negotiating with the County  and they talked (threatened) of running their own shelter.  We discussed limiting intake to what we could afford to care for AND focusing diligently on low cost spaying and neutering to reduce the source of the problem.  And I suppose that if push came to shove, we would be whatever type of shelter we could even if it meant turning some animals away.  

It was a difficult discussion and I suppose this is how most no-kill shelters feel too.  Getting my arms around that concept was much harder than most would imagine.  If you truly love animals and are compassionate to the challenges of all in need, it wouldn’t be enough to call ourselves a no-kill shelter knowing what we know.

And all of this is why our goal should not be a no-kill shelter.  It’s a no-kill world we should be aiming for.  Anything less than that would just feel like passing the buck and ignoring the truth.  Sort of like watching our neighbors drown while we stay dry.  Beyond inhumane, it just doesn’t seem like the neighborly thing to do. 



Categories: Rescue, Shelter Facts


13 replies

  1. Carrie, this is an excellent article. Having been in parrot rescue and a no kill, we are only able to take in the “adoptable” ones, and even then it could be the animal will sit in rescue for years before finding the perfect home. In an ideal world, it would be a “no kill” world…I believe the shelter does an amazing job with the amount of homeless animals that are coming in. All of our dogs come from shelters and one of ours sat there for 6 months waiting for me to find him. The wonderful people at the Humane Society knew that he would find the perfect home…I thank you for holding him for me till he found me. Such a hard job..many heartbreaks, many happy moments.

  2. Amen, Sister!

  3. Carrie I appreciate how you are always so passionate about
    Your work and how brutally honest you are no matter what.
    You are truly one of a kind and very dedicated beyond belief.
    This world needs more people like you that truly care
    About and understand what a shelter is really about and for.
    a lot of people will go get a dog or cat for a pet and think oh this is going to be easy and realize how much work it really take and then decide it’s too much and then think so I can just take it to the pound and get rid of it because I don’t want to do the work. it would be nice if every one that wanted to have a dog or a cat as a pet could be made to volunteer at a shelter for one week just to see what really goes on before they make their decision.
    thank you carry for your honesty and your openness on your blogs it really is amazing on how you can use your words to enlighten people you are definitely God’s gift to the animals and tothe world Thank You Carrie

    • Thank you so much. I so appreciate your appreciation and understanding of the realities…as you say, so many do not. Love your idea about volunteering for one week prior to adoption…sadly we know how that would work out. So few would adopt. But those that did would surely never be returned.

  4. Having been on the board of HSOV and having fostered, I must admit, you stated the obvious much nicer than I would have. Animal population is society’s fault and our job to correct our mistakes. Communities could spay and neuter and put shelters out of business. Having seen horrors, I can say there are worse things than death for some of these poor souls and that’s living in absolute misery, hunger, and pain, daily, for years.

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  6. Amen Carrie. I spent 8 years in a “no-kill” shelter. We are also a shelter that transported dogs from HSOP every chance we got. Your blog hits the nail square on the head. Although we often had space to transport dogs, our community was flooded with cats, and we turned them away EVERY DAY! It was a horrible feeling turning these cats away knowing there was no where else for them to go and wondering what was going to happen to them. As far as donors and volunteers, all of them love “no-kill” until you can’t solve their problem. So many people who support “no-kill” shelters have no idea that animals are being turned away or there is a waiting list for animals to come into the shelter, It is a slap of reality when they have a stray they want to bring in and are old the shelter is full. God bless you guys for helping all of the animals in your community, and not turning them away.

    • Thanks Sharon! I have several friends in the no kill world and it has its own challenges, hazards and misconceptions. And I greatly appreciate the support we are provided by those that work with us. But it is not a cure, it is a tool.


  1. How Do You Choose? | Carrie's Blog

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