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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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