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Are No-Kill Shelters More Humane?

Updated on November 23, 2010

homeless animals

Among those who are concerned with animal welfare and the plight of unwanted animals, the debate about no-kill shelters has continued for several years now. With the millions of stray, feral, and unwanted dogs and cats rescued every year, there are no simple solutions. Even for humans with the very best of intentions, there’s a limited amount of space, time, and resources, and there simply aren’t enough “forever homes” to go around for homeless animals.

No-kill shelters vs. traditional shelters

Traditional animal shelters often have a very limited amount of space in which to house dogs and cats, and many only keep those homeless animals that are considered adoptable. When a sick or aggressive animal is brought in, they’re often euthanized immediately. This frees up space and money for the pets with the highest chance of being adopted. Of course, when the space runs out for adoptable pets, even some of these dogs and cats have to be “put down” to make room for new additions.

How long an animal is permitted to stay alive often depends on the adoptability of the animal and on the amount of space available. Some shelters have strict guidelines, while others are more subjective. In our local animal shelter, for example, as long as they have room, they’ll keep adoptable pets for as long as possible.

No-kill shelters don’t euthanize healthy, non-aggressive homeless animals. Some, in fact, don’t even euthanize sick animals. If they have the resources to treat the illness of an individual animal, they will. Some also have trainers on staff who work with dogs and cats that are shy, aggressive, or have other behavior issues. Oftentimes, when space runs out at a no-kill shelter, animals are turned away. Some shelters also use foster homes once all their cages are full.

So which is more humane?

Some animal lovers believe that no-kill shelters are actually less humane than traditional shelters. They think that some fates are worse than death, and that it’s cruel for an animal to spend all its time in a small cage. Others argue that life is always better than death and highly approve of no-kill shelters.

What do I think? I think it depends on the individual shelter. If a dog or cat has to spend the rest of its life in a small cage and never has any interaction with humans or with others of its kind, euthanasia is probably kinder in the long run. If, on the other hand, the no-kill shelter has large runs and the animals get regular “play time,” or if they’re fostered in homes, then these no-kill shelters would seem to be more humane. Also, of course, if the homeless animals are kept alive longer, they have a better chance of eventually being adopted.

How you can help

If you’re concerned about animal welfare, there are lots of things you can do to help. Start at home. If you’re not a dog or cat breeder, have your pets spayed or neutered, and encourage your friends and family members to do the same with their pets. If you have stray dogs or cats around that you feed, have them sterilized, too, and if you’re not going to provide for the strays, take them to your local shelter or pet rescue.

Another way you can help is to donate money to your local shelter. Many animal shelters also accept donations of pet food, toys, and blankets. If you can’t donate resources, donate your time. Our local animal shelter is always looking for volunteers to help out with the dogs and cats. This might include feeding, watering, cleaning pens and cages, washing bedding, or just playing with or exercising the animals. This will improve the social skills of the animals and will hopefully help them find a good home.

If you have room in your home and in your heart, consider fostering an unwanted pet. Being in such an environment will help make the pet much more adoptable, and you’ll be able to provide specific information about the animal’s behavior to potential adoptive owners.

If you're looking for a new furkid, consider adoption of homeless animals. Adopt a dog or adopt a puppy from your local shelter or from an animal rescue group. You can even adopt a dog that's a purebred, especially with breed-specific rescues. If you prefer a kitty, think about cat adoption.

What do you think?

I assume you’re concerned with animal welfare and homeless animals since you’re reading this article. I’d like to hear your views on no-kill shelters vs. traditional animal shelters. Thanks!

Adopt a dog instead of buying one.
Adopt a dog instead of buying one.
Consider cat adoption.
Consider cat adoption.


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    • Highland Terrier profile image

      Highland Terrier 6 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      No kill shelters should be compulsory. No animal should be put down.

      Here Ireland we have the bigest kill rate in all of Europe.

      It is Irelands ever lasting shame. We also have an enormous amount of puppy farms.

      There must be another way of controling the over abunadance of unwanted animals.

      Perhaps we could start by allowing breeders to only breed their dog once every two years and only allowing one female and one male from the litter to breed and to cut out the major problems that come with close breeding they must breed with a dog from another country.

      Somethintg similar could maybe done with all the cross bred dogs.

      It would be certainly better than what happens here in Ireland. We kill hundreds of thousands of dogs and cats every year.

    • Ausemade profile image

      Ausemade 6 years ago from Australia

      Wow... great hub. I was under the impression that all shelters (council run or rspca here in Australia) have a definite time frame before being euthanized. It breaks my heart to think of putting an animal down because no-one wants them, but it would be better then living in a small cage without human or animal interaction... I guess that is what I would want if I was in their position. Our two current dogs are from the rspca and the cat we previously had we only took because the previous owner was going to put it down. The problem is us humans... after all a pet is for life...

    • profile image

      eazy20 6 years ago

      Habee, That's a great Hub.

    • Dog Advisor profile image

      Sarah Falkner 6 years ago from Dog Advice

      There are many of us out here that are conscience of animal neglect, cruelty,and abuse. The problem is that all totaled, there are more endangered animals than those that care. Shelters, kill or no-kill, have made it easier for people to adopt by offering inexpensive costs and mandatory spay or neuter. One step further, free surgery. I know, how can they stay afloat without bringing in some income. This is where awareness and donations as well as state or national funding needs to help. Kill or no kill shelters, those that work and volunteer are amazing people. As much as I love dogs, I could not do the job they do. Thank you for a very thought provoking topic.

    • profile image

      curious 6 years ago

      what do non-kill shelters do when they run out of room? traditional pounds just putt another animal to sleep to make room for the new one, but what about non-kill?

    • Sue826 profile image

      Sue826 6 years ago from Albuquerque

      I volunteer at the city shelter which is a kill shelter. They do the best they can and there are many volunteers who get the dogs out and walk them - to keep them sane while in the pound. Good people. Tough situation.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      2011, thanks for stopping by!

    • profile image

      2011 7 years ago

      i think that we should have more none kill then kill

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Sound advice, Andi, and cute dog!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Dreamer, thanks for stopping by!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Good points, Secret. We need tomake it easier for folks to get their animals "fixed" - especially for those folks who are feeding feral cats.

    • pintoandi profile image

      pintoandi 7 years ago from Panama City Beach, FL

      Great information if more would only read.

      Before getting a pet really give it a lot of thought. What size of pet, how big will it grow, can I afford to take proper care of it, have the time to spend with it,do I need a yard, will I keep it forever? They have feelings, they want a home & some one to love them as they love you in return.

      Should you decide that you can do all those things for your pet, please have it SPAYED OR NEUTERED.

    • daydreamer13 profile image

      daydreamer13 7 years ago

      Great information! Great hub!

    • profile image

      neverasecret 7 years ago

      Very imformative hub. I have worked with animals my entire life and have volunteered both with the County Animal Shelters, with no kill shelters and with Breed Rescue Groups. The truth of the matter is there are no good answers. I have witnessed no kill shelters that were worse than any County Shelter I have seen. Hundreds of dogs kept in pens built out of old doors, old windows, rabbit hutches, etc. Dog food thrown on the ground and water buckets that were filthy. Dogs in the pens with mange, limb injuries, ribs standing out and the operators of the facilities were still going to the County Shelters taking out dogs to be "saved" and placed in homes. On the other hand I have seen County Shelters with ten pens holding 40 dogs with 85% being euthanized. Breed rescues I have dealt with tend to be a little better, but I have seen them adopt out dogs that supposedly were safe, did not bite, loved children, wouldn't kill the kitty. However, the dog ended up back at the Rescue because they killed the kitty or bit a child. Please don't miss understand there are a lot of great dogs and cats in shelters and rescues. The problem is with the people who believe they are doing the animal a favor by getting them out of there and in a home. You have to be very careful when you place these animals. You have to really study the animals not for a week or so, but over a period of time and in a home situation. Just any home is not necessarily a great home.

      Just remember one thing in trying to come up with an answer to this question. The first line of defense against all of these situations is SPAY AND NEUTER your animals. This will slow down the flow of animals into shelters and rescue. Lastly, when an animal is euthanized properly it will never want for water, food, shelter or someone to pet it and love it again.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      XX, it's a very complicated issue. I'm glad you read my hub and left a thoughtful comment!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Exactly, Rosepetals! Owners need to be more responsible. Pets should not be disposable!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Gracie, I agree. I wish our community had periodic free spaying and neutering clinics!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Silver, kudos to you for adopting unwanted pets!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Idea, you are very welcome. Thanks for reading!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Libby, true that humans are sometimes ignorant when it comes to the suffering of other creatures. Sad.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Toby, they charge you to surrender a pet?? That's terrible!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Wealth, it's a sad situation, for sure. I wish we had more shelters and more responsible owners.

    • xxfourthelement profile image

      xxfourthelement 7 years ago from Ohio, USA

      There has been a lot of controversy in my community lately because the dog pound has had a large number of animals euthanized in the past year. Many people in my community cried out for the dog warden's resignation.

      I don't think many of them were thinking critically about the abilities of the government-run dog pound when they made such criticisms. Reading this article definitely could have helped them think critically about the situation instead of just thinking "An animal was killed." Thank you for your more objective view on the matter. It definitely helps readers form their own opinions.

    • GlstngRosePetals profile image

      GlstngRosePetals 7 years ago from Wouldn't You Like To Know

      People just don't understand its not a toy it's a living creature as is a child. You dont just throw away your child nor should you throw away your pet you accepted the responsibility when you took your pet in and need to take care for it. But in the event you should find yourself unable to care for your pet then I do believe a non kill shelter would be the humane thing to do as a last resort. Great article a very challenging subject with no perfect answers as to which shelters are better on one hand I dont believe in killing the animal and on the other dont want to see one suffer so please if you own a pet just take good care of it

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Exactly, HH. Irresponsible owners keep the vicious cycle going.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Jennifer, your thoughtful comment means a lot to me! Like you, I wish everyone cared about the fate of animals.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      sherri, I so agree. I've written letters to the editor and to my congressmen.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Yenajeon, it is sad. We should do better by animals.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Katie, thanks a whole bunch!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Right, CJ. Folks often get a pet without really thinking it through.

    • graciesue94 profile image

      graciesue94 7 years ago

      While I agree that there aren't enough homes, we should eliminate the problem right at the source. If we make spaying and neutering mandatory in the US, we will eventually run low on dogs and cats and then we can revisit the law. I really do not like the idea of killing, so getting most of them fixed, having a few official breeders obtain a license, and maybe even lower the cost of spaying and neutering, seems the better way to go.

    • Silver Poet profile image

      Silver Poet 7 years ago from the computer of a midwestern American writer

      I own three rescued animals, and I can personally attest that the shelters and overflow foster homes are doing a good work. Thanks for this thoughtful article.

    • IdeaMorphist profile image

      IdeaMorphist 7 years ago from Chicagoland

      I love how you shared both points of view. Personally I stand on the side that a poor quality of life is better than the needle! Thanks for sharing info on how we can help in our own communities :)

    • libby101a profile image

      libby101a 7 years ago from KY

      Awesome hub! I believe sometimes death is better than living. If a dog is going to be turned away because there is no more room in a shelter, yet he goes back out into starving then what good has the sheter done for that dog?

      I hate animal abuse. I wish we could save them all, but in reality, it's impossible due to over-breeding and "human" ignorance!

      Voting this hub up!

    • profile image

      Toby Hansen 7 years ago

      Thank you for this Hub, Habee. Not enough people (at least here Oz) realise how cruel and inhumane the majority of "shelters" are.

      One shelter up in Melbourne not only charge you to adopt a pet from them, from also to surrender one. Then, if/when they are unable to find a home for the animal, they destroy them.

      Our shire council will only hold any animal for a maximum of eight days before "putting it down". Being a country area, that includes dogs, cats, cows, sheep, goats and horses.

      We have a local voluntary wildlife rescue organisation for all the small, furry things that inhabit our area. After the Black Saturday fires of 2009, they and the council "shelter" were inundated with injured wildlife, as well as runaway domestic animals.

      Thanks again for a great Hub.

    • Wealthmadehealthy profile image

      Wealthmadehealthy 7 years ago from Somewhere in the Lone Star State

      Good Hub. Except there are no kill shelters which do not house the dogs at the shelter. They actually have people with homes that take care of the dogs until they are adopted. One of my dogs came from such a place. She had a loving home along with 10 other dogs to live in until I adopted her. She was one of the lucky ones.

      A lot of the shelters, yes are in need, but in my hub I actually gave a link to help all the shelters all over the US just by going to the site and giving a click once a day to provide food for the shelter animals.

      It is a way to give if you have no money to send, don't know which place you want to help and you may rest assured that the dogs are fed because you took one moment of your time.

      Many animals have been displaced in the past few years due to the economy and people losing their own homes....I praise God there are shelters which take care of the animals until a proper home is found for them, and feel terrible for the people who used to own them, who are unable to own them anymore.

      Thanks for writing this hub....Have a blessed day!!!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      You have raised avery interesting and important subject. The problem is with human at the beginning. They buying animals as if they were toys and then discard them. This action encourage the dealer or breeder to carry on. To put an animal down because it is in the way or too much is a crime.

    • Jennifer Theories profile image

      Jennifer Theories 7 years ago from Canada

      Obviously, we real animal lovers and caregivers know quality when we see it. This is a very well written article. You have real world knowledge on this subject and thank you so much for sharing it.

      Educating people on animal welfare is a huge part of the job of people that take responsibility for the world's animal welfare issues. I would like to tell you what I think about this issue but it would take me hours. All I can say for now is that I recognize your wisdom on the issue and I think you presented this question about animal shelters with straight forward intelligence. If only a few more million people in the world would give this issue some intelligent thought . . .

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      I agree with C.J. Wright and will take a step further.

      I believe animal ownership requires the same responsibility as raising children and should be legislated accordingly. As an example, owners should be subject to meaningful prosecution for abuse (abuse includes allowing an animal to breed when the owner is not an established breeder). Laws are not nearly strict enough.

      Shelters, no-kill or not, are only tiny bandages on festering wounds. More education and legisation are needed, and your excellent Hub should give readers a lot to think about and act upon.

    • yenajeon profile image

      yenajeon 7 years ago from California

      I'd have to say I'm more in support of no-kill shelters. It's not for us to say or decide how and until what time little kitties and dogs get to live. Maybe they'd rather risk their lives living outside than to just be killed. Such a sad topic!

    • katiem2 profile image

      katiem2 7 years ago from I'm outta here

      habee, As you know we girls are always ready to learn better and do better by our pets and all animals out there. Great awareness on kill shelters and no kill shelters.

    • profile image

      C.J. Wright 7 years ago

      Great article! I think the biggest problem is people making the wrong decisions regarding pet ownership. So many of us live such hectic lives. Lives that are not compatible with pet ownership. This issue I believe, is the root cause of the animal shelter problem.

      how were my commas????

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Lol, Laughing Loon! I like the way you think!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Lucky Cats, it's obvious that you're a fellow animal lover. I enjoy going to our local shelter and playing with the homeless pets, but I always want to take them all home with me!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Michelle, thanks so much for visiting!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Anaya, God bless your aunt for creating such an awesome home for dogs!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Dahoglund, kudos to you for adopting a pet!!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, Scribenet. I really appreciate your thoughtful comments!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Erthfrend, your local SPCA sounds wonderful! We need more like it.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Hi, Pam! How was your Thanksgiving?

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Hi, JOhn. Great to see you!

    • laughing loon profile image

      Lynda -Bailey 7 years ago from South Los Angeles

      Great hub! I go back and forth but last year when all my older animals hit 15 my labrapit with horrible skin just looked at me one day and i knew, but I cried and discussed it for a few days to make sure I was doing the only thing left. About 6 months ago I lost my dalmation with a bad heart at 16. I mis her terribly still. I have a well trained four year old and a new cacachuipoo??? Very cute and tiny only 2 months old but a doll! Some animals should be brought into the world and I always rescue mine. I fed baby puppies that died anyway and I used to have a spot for all the little kitties I got too late but I love the success stories that kept my feet warm and tear up shoes I have no busines wearing.

    • Lucky Cats profile image

      Kathy 7 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      What do I think? I think this is a FANTASTIC hub and I thank you so much for taking the time to write it. Encouraging others to adopt homeless animals is a wonderful thing! And donating to a shelter...whether they are no kill or not, is a great suggestion, too. There are so many ways to extend the life of an incarcerated animal until a suitable, loving home can be found. Encouraging volunteers (this is very difficult when the shelter euthanizes healthy animals as it is so hard to see an animal who has no one and whose time is nearing an end...and you -as volunteer- have no more room at your home), donating food, cleaning items, money towards the cost of keeping an animal including the health/medical/nutritional needs of that animal. I write letters to the editor, speak to friends, I've spoken to the city Commissioners, written to local animal oriented groups (not domestic but other), etc. in my local area...they all know me as the "cat woman." (I love and have dogs, too). We moved here almost 4 years ago and have been overwhelmed w/the need for loving, GOOD homes for animals. This is a primarily agricultural area (very difficult to live in this 'animals as tools' environment) and animals are way down the list of importance. Currently, we have a sanctuary with dozens, dozens and dozens of saved, rescued animals. Anyway...I have done a wonderful deed by writing this intelligent hub. Thank you!!!

    • michelle.dragon99 profile image

      michelle.dragon99 7 years ago

      hello habee, this is a very meaningful hub, great effort indeed

    • Anaya M. Baker profile image

      Anaya M. Baker 7 years ago from North Carolina

      My aunt actually runs a private no-kill dog shelter. She designed it herself, and the set up is actually pretty amazing. All the dogs have a doghouse and a kiddie pool in a private pen, which opens onto a communal area for three other pens, like a little family. Then these pens open onto a larger yard. The dogs take turns in the big yards, in their family groupings. They have a ton of space, and a lot of excellent care. Which is good, because there are plenty of "lifers." These are dogs that have been at the shelter so long they can't adjust to family life, or are just not adoptable. The lifers do have it pretty good as far as shelters go, but it means there's a lot less space for other more adoptable needy dogs.

      I'm a big fan of the no-kill shelter system (while recognizing that very ill or aggressive animals sometimes still have to be put to sleep). But its really true that there just isn't enough what do you do when all the no-kills are full??

      Interestingly, my aunt has a different policy on the cats. Her shelter is only for dogs, but some cats show up anyways, usually dumped on the land or just feral cats that appear. She feeds them and fixes them, but doesn't "keep" them the way she does the dogs. She has a shed they can go into for warmth, but they aren't pets. Without anywhere else to take them, cat shelters are even more crowded than dog, she's kind of stuck with them, and the only choice really is to either euthanize or fix and feed them- she can't afford to build another cat shelter.

      If you build it, they will come. And keep coming, and coming, and coming. We want to do the best, but sometimes there are little options.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      We hqve jsut recently gotten a dog from a rescue shelte. We have leaned that some shelters in cities like Milwaukee have so many stray that they do put dogs down. In some of the smaller communites the shelters will go to Milwaukee and pick up dogs. There is something of an exchange between counties for thsoe who have dogs they cannot find owner for to send them to counties that might have more demand.

    • Scribenet profile image

      Scribenet 7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Habee: Great Hub. There are advantages to both types of shelters! I personally do not like the idea of any pet spending time in a shelter, but it is necessary at times due to unfortunate circumstances. Better there than homeless!

      Some pets are too ill to survive, shortening their suffering is humane. That is easier said than done.

      However turning away ill animals because there is a no-kill policy is even less humane...these animals will die anyway and suffer needlessly.

      Best policy? Like you said: spay and neuter that pet and eliminate having unwanted animals that can't be cared for. There are enough strays and abandoned animals, the most humane act of all is the preventative one!

      Thanks for a Great Hub, voted up and useful!

    • erthfrend profile image

      erthfrend 7 years ago from Florida

      Excellent hub! This subject is one I care deeply about. I of course hate to think of any pets being euthanized but like you said, the very sad truth is that there just arent enough homes for them all. We have a no-kill shelter in our area and also an open admission shelter. I volunteer at the open admission shelter. The truth is that the no kill shelter does not accept every pet. They turn many away. This is how they stay no-kill. They have very little room and depend on fosters so many are turned away. Our spca which is open admission accepts every single animal (many of which probably were turned away by the no-kill). Luckily our spca tries their hardest to adopt out their pets. Adoption rates depend on how creative the staff is, doing many different kinds of fundraisers, etc and this shelter is awesome at that. They even take in pets that have run out of time at other shelters. So even though they do have to euthanize, they really do it as little as possible and sure try hard to adopt as many as possible to good homes.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 7 years ago from United States

      Habee, I didn't know there were no kill shelters. I hate the thought of any animal suffering. I like all your suggestions and thanks for the new information.

    • Hmrjmr1 profile image

      Hmrjmr1 7 years ago from Georgia, USA

      Habee - great info, I was not aware that there are no-kill shelters. I would though have to agree that if space is not adequate for the dogs and cats to live healthy then it is kinder to to give their souls a rest. Thanks for another great hub.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, Oceans. I wish more people cared about animal welfare like we do!

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 7 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Habee, Great hub about homeless animals and no kill shelters vs. the traditional. I especially liked the tips on what people can do. I do care a great deal about animals, and the more knowledge out there on the subject the better for sure.


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