What “NO KILL” Really Means for Animal Shelters

Most of us in the field of shelter medicine know that “no kill” does not mean that animals are not euthanized. While there are shelters that are genuinely no kill, most often the term designates a shelter that will not euthanize any healthy, adoptable animals. Animals that are not healthy or have behavioral issues, such as aggression, are still able to be euthanized in “no kill” shelters.

What’s ironic about this is that the public loves hearing the term “no kill” and will often throw money at shelters that adopt this “policy.” Many shelters have made the switch from “kill” to “no kill” without any true change in the number of animals euthanized, yet the amount of funding they receive goes up — a lot! It’s a great PR move for most shelters, but once the word gets out about what “no kill” really means for euthanasia in shelters, the public will be shocked and deeply upset.

I personally can attest to the need for shelters to be able to alleviate suffering of animals through the use of euthanasia. When a cat comes into your shelter that has been attacked by a coyote and is missing virtually all of the flesh off it’s back and sides which consists of necrosing tissue crawling with maggots and smelling of rot, you want to relieve the suffering that that animal has been enduring more than anything else. You don’t want that animal to suffer for even a single minute more. Nor do you question what the outcome should be for the Cocker Spaniel that comes into the shelter with maggots crawling in around his snout but with no sign of the source of infection until you go to check out the eyes of the dog which were covered with fur and out pour large juicy maggots from the eye sockets. The dog no longer had eyes and the maggots were crawling throughout the dogs cranium. There was no questioning what we would do — euthanasia was the best choice and I will stand by the veterinarian’s decision.

It’s easy to pass judgment and make sweeping generalizations about shelters or shelter vets & staff. Some accuse us of not caring or wanting what’s best for the animals. I would like to argue with that — we care more than most people! We are in an extremely difficult field and no matter how many times we do it, euthanasia is never easy, many of us cry. We even cry over the dirty, maggot-infested, homeless animals that we don’t even know. These cases break our hearts because we care so much!