No Kill Animal Shelters

by Michael
(Ponca City, OK)

I thought that no kill animal shelters were as described. But I am not sure that is true and I don’t know how many there are. I also don’t understand how a “shelter” can be anything but what it says it is. The word shelter brings visions of a refuge or a haven from danger or distress so I don’t see why they need to incorporate the phrase, “no kill”. If you kill an animal when it gets to a shelter it can’t be a shelter can it? Well, yes it can in the rather strange world of no kill animal shelters in the USA.

I have been educating myself about animal shelters. I am reading a well regarded book entitled: REDEMPTION by Nathan J Winograd. This book caused a bit of stir in the animal welfare business when it came out.

I had thought that the reason why shelters kill the animals in their care was for the simple reason that supply outstripped demand, meaning that there were more homeless cats and dogs than there were new homes for them.

Nathan Winograd, says that this is not the case. Animals in shelters do not have to be killed. There are enough people and homes for them to go to. And his argument is compelling and professionally thought out. I think it is almost too well thought out for the directors and managers of animal shelters. And he has tested his arguments under real life conditions in running the Tompkins County SPCA as Executive Director in 2001. Under his charge Tompkins County became the first community in the US to save:

  • all healthy dogs
  • all healthy cats
  • all sick, injured and treatable cats and dogs
  • and feral cats

Now that is what I call a no kill animal shelter. San Francisco also lead the way on genuine no kill animal welfare.

So, what is the trick, the method and why aren’t all the animal shelters doing it?

As the answer is long and quite involved I thought that I would try and answer it in bite sized pieces and provide an overview here. I will quote bits of the book for accuracy as I am allowed to do. Further discussion follows and it will be linked to this page.

It is the shelter directors who “find killing easier than doing what it necessary to stop it” who are primarily to blame. Then there are the local governments who underfund shelters and “place them under the regressive oversight of health and police departments…” And the shelter managers are also to blame because they protect cruel and uncaring employees. That is not to say that all employees are cruel  – far from it but clearly there are some people who work in animal shelters who should not and that includes it seems a good number of senior people.

Nathan Winograd says that shelter directors blame pet overpopulation for killing animals without testing this clichéd concept and seeing if, with proper all encompassing methods, no kill can become a reality. With proper commitment and energy from shelter directors the problem of  mass killing of animal companions could be a thing of the past.

My comment: the entrenched narrow minded view of some shelters may be a cover for the obvious, namely, that directors of shelters are often on good salaries. What if with proper no kill sheltering and accompanying systems the problem of homeless cats abated? Wouldn’t that jeopardise the “business of animal rescue? HSUS is a massive organisation with a lot of dollars at stake. Winograd argues that they have consistently been against adopting his well tested methods that eliminate the need to kill companion animals. HSUS themselves have a very high kill rate.  Is there a hidden agenda that any form of greater efficiency in animal welfare will jeopardise the business of animal welfare?

Lets look at some figures:

Event Statistic
Cats and dogs killed in shelters each year in USA 4 – 5 million
Percentage of savable animals & the number 90% – 3.6 to 4.5 million
Number of dogs and cats in homes 2009 in USA 165 million
The required percentage increase of the market for shelter pets that would absorb all the savable animals 3 % – note this means a mere 3 % increase in those people rehoming shelter animals would eliminate all killing in shelters


So a 3% increase is required (in 2008 HSUS agreed this). Winograd says that that increase is already in place – it just needs to be tapped into through good shelter management.

Winograd goes on to say the decision to kill kittens is due to a failure to implement a foster care program. Sick cats and dogs can be saved with a proper “targeted program that shelter directors refuse to implement".” Very often it is down to shelter directors and managers making the correct decision. When decisions are made to save rather than kill stunning changes are possible:

Shelter Improvement
Reno, Nevada. New director appointed Adoptions increased by 80%. Deaths fell by 51%


Rather than wait for enlightened shelter management to turn up Winograd says that the running of shelters should be governed by law that enshrines the objective of no kill and which protects the most fundamental right of all animals: the right to life. The large animal welfare organisations like HSUS and PETA need to lead the way to nationwide no kill animal shelters rather than supporting the utterly unacceptable status quo……more to come.

Michael Avatar

From No Kill Animal Shelters to Cats and the Law

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No Kill Animal Shelters

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May 17, 2010
by: Michael

Thanks Gail for your useful comment. It adds nicely to this post.

It is a difficult discussion I feel but one that needs to be aired. I also feel that once all unnecessary killing across the US stops it will show that we truly respect the cat and it might bring in other changes that are in the interests of the cat.

Michael Avatar

May 17, 2010
Ours is No-Kill (with a caveat)
by: Gail (Boston, MA USA)

Hi Michael, I’ve spoken about our local no-kill shelter before and they are, in the true sense of the phrase, ‘no kill’ but there will always be an exception. Exceptions to the ‘NO KILL’ shelter rule are:

1) Terminally ill/in pain animals with no hope for recovery. Very few fall in this category; however, with no quality of life and death on the near horizon – euthanasure is the kindest option to release the unbearable pain.

2) Strays/ferals picked up with feline leukemia – this is highly contagious to other animals and an entire shelter could be wiped out.

3) Rabid animals, with no chance of being saved.

4) Uncontrollable, vicious dogs who have a history of violence, who cannot be re-trained, who fail the temperment tests and is deemed unadoptable due to the aforementioned reasons. Unless another specialized organization steps in to take the violent animal, they will probably be euthanized.

These are never pleasant options, but for the safety of everyone, there will always be isolated cases of euthanasure.

No-Kill shelters will have a TNR program, like we have. A group traps ferals, neuters them, then releases them to the colony they came from. The exception here is if there are tiny feral kittens, young enough to be socialized. We will take them to the shelter, they will be fostered out and adopted out when of appropriate age after being given the appropriate shots, spaying/neutering. For kittens not old enough for neutering, adoptive parents are given a certificate for a free office visit for the procedure.

We’ve had adult stray cats as long as 3+ years, who finally got adopted out. We also take cats back if the adoption doesn’t work out rather than letting it loose.

Many shelters in the USA need to straighten out their act; however, many more are finally seeing the light.

May 17, 2010
A Post Script
by: Michael

I feel that I need to add a bit, an after thought. I am not knocking the good work that animal shelters do. I am concerned by the horrendous level of killing in shelters and like Mr Winograd, I question it. Mr Winograd did far more than question it, he found a solution to the problem.

As I say I don’t know how many shelters there are in 2010, the date of this post, that practice true no kill. Perhaps things have improved since the book was published in 2007 but I would doubt that there has been significant change across the US since then.

If I am incorrect, great. I will be pleased to be corrected.

Michael Avatar

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