The Difference Between No-Kill and Other Animal Shelters

What are no-kill animal shelters? What is an open admission animal shelters? Why do animal shelters euthanize pets? Why do some animal shelters put pets to sleep? Which is the best animal shelter to support and why? Why can some animal shelters keep pets alive while others kill them?

Many people want to help the unwanted pets of society, and they turn to the animal shelters to look for places to adopt pets. While this is good, it has also been the cause for some debate and controversy. Some people will only support No-Kill shelters, and advocate donating finances only to them, and encourage adoptions only from them.

Here is the truth of it all in short terms. Adoption from either type of shelter helps animals, donating to either helps animals, volunteering at either helps animals. Ignoring one over the other hurts animals. Understanding how both work is a good place to start.

No-Kill Shelters

  • These operate primarily from private donations. Not all have charitable (non-profit) status. If they have charitable status they can apply for government grants. A few receive local funding.
  • Some are actual buildings while others operate out of a series of homes (called foster homes).
  • When no-kill shelters are full, they simply turn animals away, refusing to accept more than they have space for.
  • Some no-kill shelters are extremely selective about what animals they accept, either taking only the most adoptable (young animals and those of breeds that are in high demand) or taking only specialty animals.
  • Some no-kill shelters only accept owner-surrendered animals and not strays.

Other Animal Shelters - Open Admission Shelters

  • These operate primarily from private donations. Not all have charitable (non-profit) status. If they have charitable status they can apply for government grants. Some receive local funding, particularly those who also operate as the area's pound for strays.
  • Most have an actual building and some also have foster homes.
  • When these shelters are full they have no option but to make room by euthanizing some animals.
  • These shelters can inform people that they are full, and cannot guarantee a pet a home, but most operate in a way that they cannot turn down an animal being surrendered or brought in as a stray.
  • These shelters deal with all the animals turned down by the no-kill shelters.

photo by Author

Dispelling some Myths!

In shelters that do euthanize animals, it is NOT a first choice, nor is it ever easy. It is done on animals who are aggressive, old (and typically unadoptable), or those who have been there too long and have been passed over for adoption time and time again; they are put down to make room for new animals so those pets have a chance at a home.  There are always good reasons why pets are euthanized.

Shelters who take in strays cannot legally put those pets down right away, most areas have a 72 hour law. This means stray pets must be held for 72 hours (longer if the pet is microchipped or tattooed) in order to allow an owner to claim them. After the 72 hours is up the shelter is considered the legal owner of the pet and can put it up for adoption if they feel it is adoptable.

Most shelters, when space allows, hold stray pets for at least 1 week to allow the owner more time to claim it. Microchipped or tattooed pets can be traced to their owners, and in most areas shelters must hold them for 10 days to allow the owner to be traced, or to come forward.

If they decide an animal is adoptable the shelter has it dewormed, vet checked, and vaccinated.  Once they have invested this money into the pet they certainly would rather have it adopted than euthanized.

Shelters do not have unlimited space (or unlimited funds).  In most areas more animals are brought in on a weekly basis than are adopted out. This is why no-kill shelters are forced to be picky and turn pets away when full, it is also why the other shelters are forced to euthanize animals.

Adopting out a dangerous dog, or a sick animal, could mean a lawsuit against a shelter; and as such, lacking funds and/or time to aid such an animal, they are forced to euthanize it to allow safer, and healthy pets, a chance at getting a home. Also, keeping sick animals in their care could spread health concerns to the other animals in their care.

Who Should You Support?

Both are ultimately worth supporting, but turning your back on the shelter that is forced to clean up the surplus number of animals is truly wrong.

Adoption is saving a life, be it from one shelter or the other.

If you look at one shelter and they do not have a pet you want to adopt, check out the other kind of shelter, too.

Look for shelters with charitable (non-profit) status.

If you have to surrender your own pet, you should be honest, is it adoptable? If not then it should be humanely euthanized rather than having it become a burden on an already full shelter. Dumping a problem pet on a shelter is unfair to all the healthy pets in their care, as well as being unfair to the staff.

Related Links

Top 10 Gift Ideas for Animal Shelters

20 Ideas to Help Animals

Tips for Surrendering a Dog to a Shelter

Tips for Surrendering a Cat to a Shelter

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