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What is a "No Kill" Shelter

When I am on my usual hunt for foster homes... Sending out pleas to save a dog scheduled for euthanasia, or for one living outside in the cold... someone usually responds by suggesting that I contact some of Maine's no-kill shelters to see if they can take in a dog.

This is a good idea in theory - as we have many wonderful shelters in this State. Once in awhile, when begging fails, I will do just that - but the bottom line is that the term "no kill" makes me nervous, as it does not guarantee that the dog in need will be safe from harm once in the shelter environment.

Many mistakenly believe that "no kill" is the same as "never kill." That an animal released to a "no kill" shelter is safe and will be able to live its life peacefully in the shelter environment until adopted - but this is not the case.

Different shelters and organizations have different definitions of what "No Kill" means. Many people in the animal welfare community believe that "No Kill" means that no animal in a shelter will be killed for any reason, except for an untreatable illness or injury that causes suffering. It also means that no animal will be transferred to any other shelter where it may be euthanized. Some shelters, such as Best Friends in Utah, are considered "No Kill" shelters by this definition.

Most shelters, however, consider themselves "No Kill" if they are not killing animals that are "adoptable." This is where the big debate over what is and isn't considered adoptable comes into play. Thousands of unadoptable dogs and cats are still euthanized at these shelters. Unadoptable pets are pets with medical conditions, injury, personality issues, age issues, or really anything that may make the dog unappealing to potential adopters. Due to the very subjective definition of what is and isn't considered adoptable, which can vary from one person's opinion to the next, or from one day to the next, this is a hotly debated issue!

In general, local humane societies are "No Kill" based on the latter definition. In order to retain their "No Kill" status, however, some humane societies may not accept dogs or cats that are considered unadoptable. Those pets are turned away, and must go to a municipal shelter, leaving municipal shelters with the unfortunate job of euthanizing these animals.

Municipal shelters are government run facilities. They must accept animals from the public, whether they have the space for them or not. This policy leaves these shelter with no option other than to euthanize for space purposes.

In order for the community to become "No Kill" the following must happen:

Spay and Neuter pets...this is the public's responsibility, and every responsible pet owner should have their animal spayed or neutered.

Individual Responsibility and Commitment to Pets....when people buy or adopt pets, they need to take this commitment seriously. Pets are a lifetime responsibility, they are not toys or something to be discarded when the novelty wears off.

Training and Socialization...pets are not to be thrown in the backyard and ignored. They need to be socialized with people and other animals, and properly trained to make them the wonderful companions that they can be. This takes work and commitment. If people are not interested in putting forth the necessary time and effort, they should not get pets.

Increase adoptions from shelters/rescues rather than breeders/stores...simply put, YOU are either part of the problem, or part of the solution. Every time a person buys a pet from a breeder, pet store, or someone advertising in the back of the newspaper, they are contributing to an industry that makes billions of dollars every year, costs taxpayers billions of dollars every year, and ultimately is the reason for the deaths of millions of animals each year.

More Volunteers/Rescue Organizations...volunteer with your local rescues and shelters! Additionally, shelters and rescue organizations need to work together to alleviate overcrowding in the shelters.

Shelters can have all the good intentions in the world; they can build bigger, nicer facilities, and make all the policies that they want. But without active participation on the part of the public, shelters will ALWAYS run out of space for animals, and the supply of unwanted dogs and cats will ALWAYS out number the demand. Under such conditions, a "No Kill" community cannot be achieved.

If you are planning on taking your no-longer-wanted pet to a local shelter, always ask about their euthanasia policy. Ask if pets are ever euthanized at the shelter, and if so, under what conditions. Also, request that you be contacted and given the option of reclaiming your pet before he/she is euthanized for any reason. Give as much honest information as possible about your pet (both positive and negative), to increase the chances for adoption and proper placement. Most potential adopters want to know if your pet is good with other dogs, cats, and/or children, and whether or not the pet is housetrained. Make sure this information is recorded in the pet's records!

If your pet came from a breeder or a rescue group, notify the person that you purchased/adopted the pet from originally. Most responsible breeders and rescue groups require that a pet be returned to them if a placement fails.

If you truly love your pet, try to avoid the shelter entirely. Enlist a trainer or behaviorist to work personality challenges. Hire a dog walker if you work long hours. Put effort into finding housing that WILL allow pets. Re-homing a pet should always be a last resort. The best option for your pet is to remain with its family.

Additional Reading

"Defining No-Kill"

"Why Do Pets End Up in Shelters?"

"Right" and "Wrong" Reasons to Adopt a Dog