Pet Articles

No Kill Shelters

In an ideal world, all animals waiting at animal shelters would quickly find good homes. In a perfect world, there would be no need for animal shelters. We obviously do not live in a world of perfection, but animal lovers everywhere are trying to find ways to bring us closer to this ideal. One potential solution is no-kill shelters.

No-kill shelters sound great since nobody likes the idea of killing animals. What are no-kill shelters? The vague definition of a no-kill shelter is a shelter where animals (that do not have severe behavioural or health issues) will never be euthanized, no matter how long they stay at the shelter. This is based on the idea that every animal is potentially adoptable, and should be allowed to have their chance at adoption.

That’s where the clarity ends. Many shelters differ on what kind of behavioural and health issues are considered severe enough to merit euthanasia. In terms of behaviour, there is not yet a set method of testing to screen for dogs that might be potentially dangerous. Some shelters are criticized for euthanizing animals with minor issues, if the animals are actually adoptable. In many cases it is just a matter of matching not-so-perfect animals with an owner who can tolerate their imperfections. For example, there is always a home that can suit a dog that is not good with other dogs. These dogs are harder to adopt out however and end up staying at the shelter longer than other dogs. An animal’s life hangs in the equation that takes into consideration available space and adoptability. This is not just the case in no-kill shelters; this is a decision that all shelters need to make.

Shelters also need to decide if money will be a limiting factor when treating medical conditions. Many shelters will not spend much money on an animal, even if the condition is treatable. No-kill shelters are generally willing to spend more. The question is: is it acceptable to euthanize an animal that has no other problems other than a treatable condition? Our gut reaction is no but where will the money come from? No-kill shelters are generally not supported by government money. On limited funds, shelters need to be judicious with their money, which often forces them to make difficult decisions about which animals to euthanize.

One of the biggest arguments against no-kill shelters is that these shelters fill-up with animals fast, and then they have to turn away animals that may be euthanized at other shelters, which defeats the purpose of ‘no-kill’. Although this sometimes does happen, the ultimate goal of no-kill is actually to find owners for all of the animals. Successful no-kill shelters budget a large amount of time and money towards running adoption fairs and recruiting foster parents. Adoptions allow more space in the shelter, which, in turn, allows them to save more homeless animals.

If there is not a quick turnover however, animals may stay in the shelter indefinitely. Many shelters are not designed for long-term care. Space may be limited and facilities may be inadequate. Some animals can develop neurotic behaviour if they are limited to a cage for extended periods of time, after which they are very difficult to adopt out. Although no-kill shelters ideally quickly find homes for their animals, some animals inevitably stay longer. Progressive no-kill shelters either put these animals into foster homes, or build larger deluxe areas that allow outdoor access, furniture and toys, and sometimes interaction with other animals.

Right now euthanasia is assumed to be a necessary evil. Millions of animals end up in animal shelters every year. Accidental pregnancies of animals that are not neutered, owners who cannot keep their pets, overcrowding, and many other problems contribute to this situation. The goal of no-kill shelters is to work to save and adopt out as many of these animals as possible. Often, however, this goal is limited by a lack of money and people power. These shelters, when managed properly, bring us closer to helping all of the homeless animals. Hopefully the general public will decide that we need to focus both on how animals are treated at shelters, and also on preventing these animals from ending up in a shelter to begin with.

By Ashley O’Driscoll – writer

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