What Is A No-Kill Shelter?

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For many years, animal shelters typically had policies which regulated how long an animal could stay in the shelter without being adopted. If the animal reached that point, it would be euthanized to make room for another more adoptable pet. About two decades ago, a shelter in San Francisco started what is known as the “no-kill” movement which put an end to this type of policy to guarantee a home for every adoptable pet.

United States Shelter Statistics

There are an estimated 14,000 shelters and rescue groups throughout the United States which take in a combined total of nearly 8 million pets each and every year. Many of these rescue groups are small, run out of people’s homes, and they have a limited capacity. Shelters often rely on volunteers to run the shelter and to provide foster homes for adoptable pets when the shelter has reached capacity. Since the beginning of the no-kill movement, the number of pets euthanized in shelters each year dropped from around 20 million to just 3 million.

Related: New Study To Examine Why Owners Surrender Dogs To Shelters

What is a No-Kill Shelter?

A no-kill shelter is an animal shelter that has a policy against euthanizing healthy or treatable pets, even if the shelter is full. This does not necessarily mean that the shelter doesn’t euthanize any animals – it simply means that euthanasia is reserved for animals that are terminally ill and those that may be considered dangerous. Even shelters with no-kill policies still euthanize an average of 10 percent of the animals that walk through their doors but they make every effort to treat or socialize the animal before considering euthanasia as an option.

Are There Problems With No-Kill Shelters?  

Some organizations have adopted the “no-kill shelter” as a marketing term, as some people do not understand what it really means. Unfortunately, the number of animals available for adoption still greatly exceeds the number of available homes. As a result, many pets spend months (some even spend years) in the shelter system before they are adopted and some of these adopted pets are returned to the shelter (not necessarily a no-kill shelter) after adoption for behavior problems or other issues. As well, many no-kill shelters operate at capacity on a regular basis and, if the shelter is full, they may turn away animals that are in need such as those in abusive situations. Clearly, there are issues with any kind of shelter situation, and no-kill shelters are not immune to the problems that can plague any rescue organization.

Related: How To Help Dog Shelters When You Can’t Adopt

What Can You Do To Help?

The reality of the matter is that there are just too many homeless pets out there for all of them to find a healthy, happy home. Shelters adopt a number of policies to help reduce this problem by spaying/neutering all of their pets and by requiring adopters to fill out applications to help prevent the animals from going to a home where they may be abused or neglected. Many shelters struggle to stay afloat against the rising tide of animal homelessness and they often rely on volunteers and donations because funding simply isn’t available. If you want to help reduce the homeless pet population, do your part by having your own pets spayed/neutered and consider volunteering at or donating to your local shelter.