What is Displacement Killing?

Facilities which kill healthy/treatable pets do so without cause and in spite of clear evidence of proven alternatives such as exist in the dozens of open admission no kill shelters throughout the country.  Pounds may or may not assign a particular “reason” for the killings:  space, illness, injury, too young, etc.  Whether or not a “reason” is provided, there is no justification for killing healthy/treatable shelter pets.  While euthanasia of pets who are medically hopeless and suffering (or dogs deemed dangerous by a qualified party) occurs in all shelters, it is the only time a pet’s life is ended at no kill shelters.  At pet killing facilities, lives are ended regularly based on arbitrary criteria such as date of impound.  This is different from euthanasia and I believe it’s appropriate to call it killing.

There are a growing number of kill shelters who, in an apparent effort to gain positive media attention and bilk unsuspecting donors, have jumped on the import bandwagon.  That is, they “rescue” pets from other kill shelters, often from the southeast, and have them transported to their facilities.  The animals (usually dogs) arrive at their destination and are presumably evaluated for adoption.  If a dog is sick or otherwise deemed unadoptable by the pet killing facility, he may be killed.  This is obviously not a rescue.

But there is a phenomenon, less obvious to the public, but apparent just the same, called displacement killing.  Any facility which kills healthy/treatable pets and then imports more animals from other pounds is guilty of displacement killing.  That is, some of the healthy/treatable animals already at the facility at the time the imports arrive will be displaced and killed.  Again, the facility may or may not provide a “reason” for the killings such as space, etc.

A healthy senior dog whom the kill shelter has failed to market successfully might be displaced by an imported puppy.  The staff might attempt to justify the killing of the older dog by saying things like, “No one wants him because he’s old”, “We’ve kept him a long time already and still no interest from adopters” or “Wouldn’t it be better to use his cage for a puppy who will probably be adopted more quickly and for a higher price?”  This is displacement killing.

A dog with a treatable medical condition such as mange might be displaced by an imported dog with an attractive coat.  The killing of the dog with mange might be explained away as, “Why spend resources on treating a mange dog who will take some time before his coat returns to a healthy appearance which would be appealing to adopters when we are getting this dog whose coat already looks nice?”.  This is displacement killing.

The killing might not correlate directly, one to one, between the existing animals and the imported animals.  It may be a general excuse for killing such as, “We need to weed out all the coughing dogs before the imports arrive so our population doesn’t get them sick” or “Let’s depopulate the large dogs, which we have a disproportionate number of, in order to highlight the small dogs we are importing who we know will be in high demand”.  This is displacement killing.

Displacement killing may be even more vague.  It may simply be a matter of a kill shelter maintaining its live release rate of say, 60% while importing dogs.  This too is displacement killing.  Had the additional animals never been imported and the shelter maintained its 60% live release rate, more lives would have been saved – those of animals already at the facility.  While one could argue that lives were still saved – those of the imported animals – it must be considered that the imports may have been adopted had they been left at their original shelter or might have been rescued by a no kill rescue group or shelter where no displacement would have occurred.

I am all for transporting shelter pets to where they are wanted.  This is how I got Surrey from TN.  But transporting Surrey to my house in SC did not displace any pets since I do not kill animals.  Rather, it freed up a space at the pound where she was on the kill list.  I know there are many other situations where shelter pets can be transported in order to save lives.  But importing additional animals into a facility which already kills pets is counterproductive.

24 thoughts on “What is Displacement Killing?

  1. What about shelters who send animals they don’t want to a kill facility specifically to be killed while importing animals from elsewhere?
    What about shelters who bring in animals from elsewhere instead of just going ahead and getting them from local kill shelters?

    1. In the first case, is the shelter claiming to be “no kill”? Because obviously sending unwanted animals to be killed at a killing facility does not qualify as no kill. I hate that kind of deception.

      In the second case, is there a reason the animals are being imported from other areas? For example, does the local facility refuse to allow rescues to pull?

      1. Yes, local spca’s and hs are bringing in dogs from other areas to be adopted, some routinely, some more random. If you ask them why they are doing this when there are plenty of homeless pets currently in the area shelters or around, they claim it’s because they are all bigger dogs or pitties that no one will adopt.
        Apparently, these dogs fly off the doggy shelf too and people clammer to adopt them. If it’s anything bad, I’ve not heard of it but I doubt that they get the dogs for free which apparently the transport dogs come pre-arranged via donated monies.
        Honestly, I don’t have a problem with moving pets around. If one area has too many and another has none, why not?. Florida is for the most part not an area of low need tho. Like it or not, I sometimes wonder if *some* so called rescue folks just want to keep the numbers up in areas so they can continue to blame the irresponsible public for over-population.

  2. The problem is knowing which shelters do this. Not all shelters break down their statistics to tell where animals come in from, and not all states have great requirements for reporting these breakdowns, Even Virgina, which has one of the best shelter statistics databases only breaks “Received From Another
    Virginia Releasing Agency” out of the incoming statistics, and not “Received from out-of-state releasing agency.” So how are we to know what the import numbers are when evaluating a facility?

    Here in NC our pounds are the ones exporting to the displacement killers, I’m afraid …

    1. One way to recognize a kill facility that imports from other kill facilities is to watch press releases, media coverage and donation pleas. The importing facility will sometimes advertise their so-called rescue of dogs from out of state to the media and donors.

    2. Most of these kill shelters love the publicity about taking in animals from elsewhere while hiding the fact of how high their kill rate is. They will also defend their high kill rate and blame it on illness, aggression, old age, etc. I would like to see the animals that they kill as I do not trust any of them-including the vets! After seeing a photo of a botched spay at the Miami-Dade County Shelter, I wonder who the heck shelters hire as vets! I worry about the evaluations done on seniors as I think most of them are probably wrong! My vet quit volunteering at a shelter in the early 90s because the policy at that time was no dog over the age of 5 was considered adoptable!

  3. dislike – I don’t believe you have the whole story on transport programs. Are they all perfect? No, I’m sure not, but there are some really great ones that hold both sending and receiving shelters to important standards and help both improve operations. But at the bottom of this, wouldn’t you agree that 1 kill = 1 kill … what the hell does where the animal was born or abandoned have to do with the math? There’s a good portion of the public who don’t have the time or will to study and understand as much detail as you might, and this sort of writing that just sort of throws a blanket over the whole thing calling it bad just helps add to public mistrust more than it helps anything. I DREAM OF THE DAY we have transport programs for cats, when there are actually some areas of the country who can reach out to others and help take healthy/adoptable kittens from shelters still killing healthy/adoptables. Days like this take the wind out of my sails, listening to people bitch and bicker, trying to make it seem like such and evil freakin’ thing to save the lives of 5 mutt puppies from the south … what is wrong with striving to become a no kill NATION? Nation, not city, not county, not state. There are so many factors involved – not the least of which is that the adoption revenue from highly adoptable puppies (even though they are just indiscriminately bred, mostly medium sized dogs) technically helps subsidize the costs to also save that senior dog or *gasp* the hundreds of cats who cost shelters about $200 each but have to be given away for less than $20 in order to leave alive. I like a lot of your posts yesbiscuit, but I really wish you would do more research on this one. C’mon, it’s a new approach being tried and tweaked, and it’s funneling a significant amount of funds and expertise from entities like PetSmart Charities to save lives in the immediate (transported animals) and in the long run (funds to improve facilities and support improved practices). It’s CHANGE, it’s trying something new and something that on the surface might seem crazy (much like doing $5 cat adoptions or promoting black cats ON Halloween used to seem) … c’mon! Give it a damn chance and ask yourself how it can work, not why it can’t.

    1. Lisa,

      Did I come across in this post as “throwing a blanket over the whole” idea of transport? That wasn’t my intention. Did I come across as indicating I’m opposed to striving for a no kill nation? Again, that wasn’t my intention. When I re-read my post, I believe I’ve addressed all your points clearly but of course I’m biased. I hope others did not interpret this post as you did.

      1. I interpreted as It could be a good system to help pets but as usual you do have those bad seed people in the shelter business who make a program that could benefit the animals into “what can we get out of it. ” Never mind that a pet has to die as long as we benefit type people. If those people could use their great ability to think up scams like they do and use it to benefit the pets instead we would have a no-kill nation. My 6 year old (she was 3 months at the time.) BabyGirl is a transfer from Virginia to NY State (not city) and I hope another dog was not put down because she arrived. When it all comes down it is PEOPLE who make it the right thing to do or the wrong thing to do.

  4. I’m biased too of course — having seen PetSmart Charities Rescue Waggin’ in action and knowing all the positive impact it’s had for both the animals imported AND the “local” pets … but hearing lies and misconceptions from well-meaning members of the public looking to tear it down (not you) …. I’m a tad defensive. I do think however, by starting out with the term “displacement killing” and ending with “But importing additional animals into a facility which already kills pets is counterproductive.” does leave it likely that most people will walk away with the impression that transport programs are a bad thing. All the stuff in the middle gets lost … how many readers understand all the conflict behind the term “treatable” or have ever really looked at an Asilomar report? Not to say that we can’t keep trying to educate but … there’s a lot to be said for keeping the message as simple as possible. It may not have been your intention, but I think this one comes off like “transport programs are your local shelter being deceitful”. Thanks for listening.

    1. Have I ever really looked at an Asilomar report? Yes, I have.

      As for “all the stuff in the middle”, I know my readers better than that. In fact, I believe they mostly come here for all the stuff in the middle.

      It *is* deceptive if a kill shelter imports animals from another kill shelter and calls it “rescue”.

  5. There are no kill urban shelters here in the Northeast that import dogs from the South because of a perceived lack of local adoptable dogs. However, there are small municipal shelters in rural areas here that are killing adoptable dogs because they lack funding and volunteers to run adoption programs. Rather than setting up elaborate and expensive interstate transport systems, animal welfare advocates should set up databases to link all animal welfare agencies in their state. Available dogs could be posted on the database and pulled by shelters and rescues that would have a better chance of adopting out the dogs. Local transport options are more economical and easier to manage than long distance ones, and the money saved could go towards medical care for treatable pets in need. Collaboration and creativity can make a huge difference.

    1. In the meantime, there’s Facebook! I understand how a small rural shelter might not have the funding/expertise to pay for/create a website to update its pet listings daily but everybody in the country seems to be on FB. If every shelter was listing its pets online *somewhere*, that would at least be something better than what we have now, with many pets being killed without anyone even knowing they were in need.

  6. Try as I might, I doubt I’ll ever understand the obsession with state lines. Why do rescues who choose to focus on one specific dog breed get a free pass for transporting their chosen fave from coast to coast or even other countries, but damn shelters for focusing on healthy/adoptable first, regardless of geography? Who tells breed rescues that they should spend their money on saving pitties instead of weiner dogs? I suspect the vast majority of receiving shelters in the transport system are private, funded by donations not the municipal budget, so they get a little say on how they choose to prioritize their resources. Generally leorahkp, the shelters aren’t the ones putting up the money for the interstate systems, it’s for-profit entities like PetSmart Charities and … I’ve got nothing but gratitude to them for their outpouring of support. I’ve watched people come into a shelter because they saw some publicity about puppies, see them and say “awwww how cute” … then observe a reminder about house-training … and look at the 2-year old black lab in the next kennel and say “Honey, look at this guy, who gave him up? He’s already house-broken and look at his face, we can’t leave him behind!”. I’ve seen shelters achieve 100% placement of healthy/adoptable cats for the first time, in some part because (as I mentioned) regular adoption revenue from transport dogs helped cover the cost of s/n, vaccination and other care that they simply cannot recoup on cat adoption fees. The engagement with adopting public who really, really wants a puppy translates into a positive customer service interaction with the shelter, which tends to trickle down to volunteerism, donations, and advocacy for rescue in the community. There is a tremendous positive side to interstate transport, and we could talk about how the public can support it and the rescue community can learn from best practices … or we can put our energy into coining yet another miserable term, “displacement killing”.

    1. The puppies and little dogs can be sold for a higher price and that money can be used to save some cats? I don’t understand how this could possibly be an argument for killing the displaced big dogs. The point is that it is possible, not just in theory but in practice, to save EVERY healthy/treatable pet at a shelter. We should aim for nothing less.

  7. I think the people who interpret this post as being about transport have failed in reading comprehension.

    Here’s what it’s NOT about: five years ago, I adopted a dog from a no-kill shelter, who’d been imported from a kill shelter in another county. The no-kill shelter, which has a very successful adoption program, had the room & resources to rescue pets outside of its ordinary catchment area, so it did – giving preference to pets pulled from high-kill shelters even if they weren’t in the immediate area.

    Here’s also what it’s NOT about: many years ago, I adopted my first Sphynx kitty from breed rescue – a cat who’d been pulled from a high-kill shelter several counties over from where I lived, and was transported through the network of breeders & fanciers until she was within pickup distance for me. This is how breed rescue works, and transport is often a part of it.

    What it IS about: years back, I found out that a muncipal shelter then more-or-less local to me was pulling small, desirable dogs – principally chihuahuas – while sending other, larger, less desirable dogs who were nonetheless healthy & adoptable out the back in body bags.

    THAT’S displacement killing. And it’s unconscionable. It is, in fact, no better than the possibly apocryphal story about the people who turn in their pets because they’ve remodeled, and their animals no longer fit in with the decor.

  8. To me killing a non-medically hopeless/dangerous animal and then bringing in another animal instead, even if it is labeled as a NK shelter, or its done at another place, is wrong. Killing is killing.

    And to kill a senior dog thats taking up space for a young puppy is the same to me as the whole “Adopt-not shop!” thing, just that they both take place in a shelter.

    IDK maybe Im missing something here, but thats my .02.

  9. Killing an older or less attractive dog for a younger or more attractive dog does not agree with my constitution. Doesn’t it bother the folks making those decisions?

    Moving dogs around where they have a better chance for adoption is great, but at the expence of another’s life is too much to pay. Even if they have to double dogs in each cage, keep longer business hours, have discount adoptions, have an advertisement blitz or give dogs away free, displacement or any killing is wrong wrong wrong.

  10. Houston SPCA! It has a high kill rate yet takes in animals from disasters and other events-like raids from other areas. Anytime there is a raid in TX, I see posts stating “don’t send any to the Houston SPCA or I hope they are sending them to the Houston SPCA”. They also kill pit bulls so don’t send any there. Research any of this you do not believe me!

    Shelters should not take in animals from other areas if they have a high kill rate!

    Quit supporting these groups until they change their policies! Money talks!

    1. Im glad Im not the only one who noticed this. I used to watch ‘Animal Cops’ all the time and they heavily place focus on the Houston SPCA location. It was like 9/10 animals were put down for one reason of another, usually for something stupid. I just thought to myself, not only how awful it is, but why would you videotape yourself killing all of these animals and then hoping for a lot of donations?

  11. “The facility started bringing in hundreds of younger and small-breed dogs from shelters outside Tampa Bay.

    Volunteers were told the shelter had become a warehouse for older and “pit-type” dogs and the agency wanted more variety to increase visitors to the shelter.

    The volunteers also noticed that the shelter, which traditionally took in many aging and large dogs given up by local residents, seemed to take fewer — or at least few made it into the adoption kennels.

    In the past, the number of animals from local residents dwarfed those accepted from other shelters. Now, shelter records confirm, it’s the opposite.”



    1. Ew – the vols complained about killing the big dogs to make room for the imported dogs and shelter officials say the vols are “uncomfortable with change”. I guess that’s one way to put it. Opposed to killing and dishonesty would be another.

Leave a Reply