Defining No Kill Sheltering

Note: Like all posts on this blog, the following is representative of my opinions and not intended to represent the views of any shelter or other group.

Dahlia (ID #633902), an adoptable cat at Austin Animal Center in TX, as posted on Facebook.

What No Kill sheltering is about:

Saving every healthy pet who enters the shelter, regardless of arbitrary criteria such as age or body shape, by adopting them out, placing them with fosters or transferring them to rescue groups.

Saving every pet whose illness or injuries are treatable.

Saving every healthy/treatable feral cat.

Saving every healthy/treatable dog in need of behavioral modification unless –

(a)  Rehabilitative efforts have failed as determined by a behaviorist and no sanctuary options exist OR

(b)   A judge has deemed the dog too vicious to live with people.

Promptly and humanely euthanizing pets who are suffering and whose veterinarian determined prognosis for recovery is poor or grave.

Working with the general public, rescue groups, foster homes, sanctuaries, hospice groups and pet advocates to save pets’ lives.

Aggressive marketing of every pet in the shelter through such efforts as online postings, offsite adoption events and weekend shelter hours.

Maintaining transparency in shelter operations.

Providing environmental enrichment, socialization and exercise to all pets on a daily basis.

Following proven shelter protocols for disease prevention (e.g. vaccination upon intake, cleaning practices, quarantine, etc.)

What No Kill sheltering is not about:

Warehousing (aka “hoarding”) pets including such practices as:

  • Leaving pets in cages 24/7
  • Leaving pets in cages which haven’t been cleaned at least daily
  • Failing to remove deceased pets from cages
  • Failing to seek prompt veterinary care for pets in need
  • Failing to provide clean food and water at least daily
  • Failing to provide comfort items (soft bedding, etc.)
  • Killing pets the shelter has been unable to sell
  • Refusing volunteer assistance

Killing healthy/treatable pets, even if an owner requests the killing.

Threatening to kill healthy/treatable pets.

Allowing pets who are medically hopeless and suffering, as determined by a veterinarian, to continue suffering.

Manipulating numbers, skewing statistics or sharing otherwise false data with the public.

Hiding pet records, statistics or other basic information from the public.

Locking animals away from the public except those few who are in need of quiet recovery, as determined by a veterinarian.

Marketing only a selected portion of the pets at the shelter for adoption.

Requiring adopters to submit to unreasonable screening protocols or charging unreasonable fees for some or all pets at the shelter.

Unidentified kitten at the Edgecombe Co pound in NC.

36 thoughts on “Defining No Kill Sheltering

  1. BRILLIANT! Concise, accurate and very much welcomed as I move forward on the road to achieve No Kill in our area! Thanks, your timing could not have been better

      1. Having once spoken with a no-kill opponent at a party awhile back – so this was no deep discussion, mind – I think maybe what’s meant is that because fostering is counted in the stats as live-release it ‘hides’ the total number of pets remaining within the system off-site. Since a large population of pets = ‘hoarding’ irrespective of their care & condition – not to mention the absence of actual hoarding disorder – it’s a bad, bad thing. Ergo, fostering is bad!

        I think. I was wearing Bloody Mary goggles at the time.

    1. My only logical conclusion is that if people are “hiding” fosters in their home, then the animal is “off the books” and appear to be a positive outcome versus another number of a sheltered pet.

  2. Reblogged this on FixNC and commented:
    I’m reblogging this YesBiscuit post as-is because it’s clears up so many misconceptions about what No Kill is and is not. I have discussions about this topic regularly because so many people mistakenly believe that No Kill means warehousing pets in cages or kennels forever, keeping suffering pets alive despite their pain or adopting out truly vicious dogs. In fact, all No kill means is not killing healthy or treatable (medically or behaviorally) pets by harnessing the compassion, energy and resources of your community to save them.

    1. While I would agree with YesBiscuits outline of what a no-kill shalter should and should not mean, i have to disagree somewhat in your assumption that such as Yesbiscuit’s list actually IS what can be assumed all or even most that identify themselves as no-kill shelters are like. You note conversations with people “uninformed” that ‘mistakenly” believe those ugly things, warehoused unplacable animals, hopelessly sick or injured animals being kept alive to suffer, adopting out dangerous or with other severe behavioral problems, or sick animals, but I think you are being unfair and unrealistic to and about them in their objections and concerns…just because no-kill shelters should or shouldn’t be, whatever, doesn’t mean that actually conform to those definitions or standards. Many do not. At least some ARE exactly what those objecting them beleive them to be. I’ve seen too many of those personally and know too many others that have, to not accept the reality of that.

  3. That last picture is awful. Thats a shelter?! Anyway, I completely agree w/ this post. It is a nice checklist for people to know/keep in mind in order to do the right thing. And it boggles the mind that we still have to have a “what it is not” (i.e. “getting dead animals out of cages”- Seriously?!) checklist in 2012..but then again, apparently we also have to redefine rape in 2012 also. :)

  4. I agree with Julia and Lisa: this is a wonderfully concise description of the topic, and if you’re like me, and tend to get tongue-tied when trying to deal with a tsunami of irrational BS coming at you from these morons, it might not be a bad idea to print this out and laminate it onto a pocket-sized card! How can anyone seriously dispute this argument?

    1. It occurs to me that since this forum is open to pretty much the whole country and maybe other countries, some may not realize that regulation and oversight of shelters, or even what can be called a shelter, vary WIDELY from state to state, even county to county. Here in Texas, out in unincorporated areas, not all those that raise those arguments are ‘morons’….such horrible conditions in so-called shelters are NOT hard to find down here.

  5. Hey Shirley we are preparing our press release regarding the opening of a No Kill open admission county Shelter in GA and wanted your permission to borrow, alright I mean plagiarize some of your eloquent and practical terminology in our release. For example “Promptly and humanely euthanizing pets who are suffering and whose veterinarian determined prognosis for recovery is poor or grave.

    Working with the general public, rescue groups, foster homes, sanctuaries, hospice groups and pet advocates to save pets’ lives.

    Aggressive marketing of every pet in the shelter through such efforts as online postings, offsite adoption events and weekend shelter hours.

    Maintaining transparency in shelter operations.

    Providing environmental enrichment, socialization and exercise to all pets on a daily basis.

    Following proven shelter protocols for disease prevention ”

    This is on the front end. Also wanted your permission to state what no kill is NOT if any objections are made. Let me know asap.

    Thanks in advance,


  6. Ideally I agree with you, but from my experience though the adoption demand isn’t high enough. In my opinion, State spay/neuter laws, like in New Mexico, need to be reenforced to lower the amount of captured strays. Animal control care quality typically depends largely on city taxes as well and then it becomes a question of what our economy can afford. Higher fines and stricter laws regarding spay/neuter and confinement are what’s effective, it means less pets in the shelters and the streets and the fines go to higher animal control care quality. Higher veterinary volunteers would help as well. The stray and unwanted pet population is too high for an effective non-kill system. When I used to work at a rescue shelter, the other non-kill shelters didn’t have enough room and were barely adopting out a percentage of what people were wanting to bring in. I studied wildlife biology and I worked at a rescue shelter, so the no kill way is ideal and what I’d like to see, but right now it’s just impossible. I would like to see it change someday.

  7. Nothing is “impossible” if there is sufficient will. Opposition to no-kill shelters seems to come from the arguments that there are insufficient resources or the shelters are a front for cruelty and/or hoarding. Neither of these are actually arguments against no-kill shelters. They are simply some of the issues that have to be worked through and dealt with. So much death has been and still is perpetrated under the justification that it is sad but there’s no other solution. Once killing is rightly deemed to be abhorrent and unjustifiable, which it will, people will look back in horror and disbelief at the routine, acceptable slaughter of healthy animals

  8. How about the shelter or rescue clearly stating that they are or are not OPEN ADMISSION. I have seen facilities that call themselves “no kill”, but they have a waiting list! Well, of course, it’s a “no kill” if they limit of number of dogs they take!!

    1. Managed admission IS open admission.

      This is something that America is going to have to learn to deal with (and let’s be honest, we’re not awesome at delayed gratification, are we?) as we reform the shelter system in our country.

      But if you can have a person safely care for a friendly stray for a few days until a space opens up, then why not? Especially if you can use that time to post a photo of said animal and maybe get it returned to the owner without ever entering the shelter.

      No Kill is about engaging the community. It’s different than what people are used to. We’ll learn and adapt.

      1. Some distinction needs to be made between shelters that are truly managing their admissions responsibly by setting up surrender appointments while making exceptions in cases where an animal is in immediate need of shelter and those who have a “waiting list” with no time frame of any kind. I received a found puppy several years ago for example, was placed on a waiting list at a shelter and to this day have never been contacted.

        If someone is trying to surrender a pet and is able to hold on to the animal for a mutually agreed upon time frame while the shelter works to keep the animal from ever having to enter and gets the animal vaccinated so he is unlikely to get sick when he does enter, that’s good management. If someone is trying to surrender an animal and the shelter does absolutely nothing other than tell the person their name is being placed on a list and don’t call us, we’ll call you, that is unacceptable and not consistent with no kill.

      2. Agreed.

        Having a “list” isn’t any more of an answer than killing for space if the list isn’t manged properly and as efficiently as possible.

        My local shelter has recently taken over cat intake for the county (to stop the county pound from stuffing them into a gas chamber). The waiting time to surrender a cat right now is approximately 60 days. Too long? Yes, it is. But the reason that it’s that long right now is because people who were desperate to prevent cats from being killed at the pound accumulated them over time. They’ve already taken 25 cats from one person, 49 from another, and a man on the waiting list has 75 cats. This is a very small shelter, doing their best to control the influx of cats so that they can get them vetted, housed, and adopted out again as quickly as possible. All this while also taking in injured and abandoned cats immediately.

        So yeah, during this transition period, the waiting list is going to be long. But I expect this time next year things will be much more reasonable.

  9. I guess my question is: Are the cities, counties, municipalities and rescue groups that say they are “no kill” truly taking in every animal that shows up? Of course, if the animal can be fostered or transferred to another facility that has the room or is better equipped to help it, fine. I want to have clarification on what the admissions policies are for “no kill”.

  10. I agree in theory. However, in reality our society will need some wholesale changes if the end of dog and cat genocide is in any way feasible. The problem right now is that the supply of cats and dogs far exceeds the demand. Until the supply and demand can be brought into balance, then EVERYBODY WHO ALLOWS THEIR DOG OR CAT TO BREED IS CONDEMNING DOGS AND CATS TO BE PUT TO DEATH. It’s a very simple matter of numbers – if you create any additional “product” when the supply of that “product” already exceeds demand, then that means that more of that “product” will go unsold and be thrown away. This is an incredible waste if the product is, say, a wiffle ball, but is reprehensible if the product is an animal. Most shelters do need to improve, but if most shelters wind up putting animals to death, don’t blame the shelters, as they really have no other choice – blame the people who breed animals for money or are too stupid or lazy to spay or neuter their pets.

    1. I disagree with every single sentence in your comment. In fact, I’ve dedicated an entire blog to educating people on why every excuse you offer for killing pets is wrong.

  11. How about a county funded supposedly open admission shelter that is also in charge of animal control of the county stopping owner surrenders and cutting animal control officers from 4 to 1 that is untrained. This shelter is now overfull and dipping into other state funds to further their own operation. Do you think this is fair?

  12. Hi Yes biscuit – I haven’t been on your blog for about 7 years now due to moving into a new area of my city that is literally overrun by stray & feral kitties. Alley Cat Allies has been wonderful about helping out a couple of times. When I first moved in I set up a feeding station and counted over 50 different cats the first week alone. So I knew I had my work cut out for me!

    Every year we have averaged about 50 cats getting rehomed. That is kittens I have domesticated, strays that are returned to owners, or in the event no owner is found it is rehomed, and semi friendly ferals getting moved out to country barns. We TNR as many ferals as possible too.

    A few years I ran into an issue where we were as full as we could possibly be – 16 adult cats & 27 kittens. I had another pregnant females show up – friendly as could be. But we just didn’t have any room. So I contacted a neighborhood shelter. The website said No Kill & everyone I talked to said No Kill. They do immediate intake of sick & injured cats and kittens, but you need to set up an appointment otherwise. So I set up an appointment for like 2-3 days after I found her. Took some work but we managed that small amount of time with minimal stress. That poor thing was about to have those babies & I felt horrible taking her in, but was assured by multiple people how wonderful this place was. So I left her there.

    A couple of weeks went by & I had more room, so I contacted the rescue thinking I could get that little family back off their hands so they didn’t have the extra expense & got some space back open for ones that really needed it. So I made the call only to be informed that they had spayed her the day after I dropped her off!!! I went absolutely nuts. Yes, I admit to screaming, and cussing. I felt so betrayed.

    But I actually have a question – for you and for this community you have accumulated over the years… Is spaying a known pregnant pet still considered No Kill? Obviously, there are situations where a cat gets opened up and they discover she’s pregnant & that can’t be helped unless they do an ultrasound for each spay. But for a pet that is so obvious? One that could give birth any day? Is that normal?

    The group got quite upset with me. (So what.) They banned me from all their social media because I blasted the news that they were not really No Kill. (Again. No biggie.) I honestly do not feel like any rescue, or shelter, can claim the No Kill name if they knowing kill like that. To not give those babies a chance at all. How can that be considered No Kill. I feel like if they’re going to claim the moniker then they need to live up to it in all aspects, not pick and choose. But if I am wrong I am willing to own it. So I’d like to know what others think about this situation.


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