Don’t Blame ‘Kill’ Shelters for Animal Euthansia

Healthy animals are euthanized every day in the United States simply because there are not enough homes for them. This tragic fact has led to a lot of rightful anger and concern. But “kill” shelters are often cast as the villains, despite having to bear the brunt of the pet overpopulation problem.

Every year, approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized in the United States, according to the ASPCA. Although that number has been decreasing in recent years, the United States still has a pet overpopulation problem.

“Kill” shelters — more aptly named “open admission” shelters — are usually run by municipalities and therefore are mandated to accept any animal brought to them, no matter how sick, old or unadoptable.

On the other hand, “no-kill” shelters are usually private, nonprofit organizations that can turn away animals they do not want to take in. If people are denied services by a “no-kill” shelter, they may surrender their animal to a “kill” shelter due to a lack of other options. And the “kill” shelter then has to make difficult decisions about the animal’s care.

This does not mean “no-kill” shelters are actually the enemies. Rather, both “kill” and “no-kill” shelters have a role to play in helping to save animals.

people at an animal shelter looking at a cat

Credit: Getty Images

“Kill” shelters are often disparaged in discussions on animal euthanasia because they are the ones euthanizing the animals. But the fact that animal shelters have to euthanize 1.5 million animals a year is a result of our pet overpopulation problem.

Pet overpopulation exists because of irresponsible breeding and insufficient education and resources for spay/neuter. Studies show poverty and a lack of access to veterinary services and transportation are common factors preventing people from spaying and neutering their pets. We should be addressing these problems, so no more unwanted animals are being born in a time when we are already killing animals due to a lack of homes.

While there are certainly instances where “kill” shelters are mismanaged, overall they are an important institution performing a difficult job. Shelter workers do not get joy from watching the animals they have spent weeks, months and even years caring for be euthanized. On the contrary, working in a shelter is often a demoralizing and thankless job, marked by high levels of employee burnout.

The vilification of “kill” shelters sets them up to fail. When the public turns their back on “kill” shelters and refuses to donate and adopt from them, they are making it even more difficult for shelter animals to find a home.

Potential adopters who are upset about the animal euthanasia rate should visit a “kill” shelter and spend time with the less adoptable animals — the dogs who hide in the corner of their kennel or the cats who are older or FIV positive. And we all should support “kill” shelters, even by just correcting someone when they tell us how “horrible” these shelters are for killing animals.

Photo credit: Getty Images


Nicky Heindryckx
Nicky H19 hours ago

I certainly DO NOT defend the "kill shelters", but these shelters also have their limits. When they are equipped for 70 dogs, maybe they can take 90, by putting small ones together. But there definitely is a LIMIT. What we can do about it?? As stated in my previous comment: stop all puppy mill breeders, stop the import of puppies from God Knows What Countries where they try to have a good income by breeding dogs and cats and even snakes, etc.. Oblige all owners to have their pets spayed and neutered. Especially cats because they mostly don't stay indoors and have a lot of fun together... Don't allow people to have 4, 7, 10 or 15 pets. you can not take care of them properly, and when they are not spayed and neutered, in a couple of years you have over30 "darlings". CHIP all pets. Where I live, this is a MUST for over 15 years. When your dog is not chipped, you don't get a booklet from your vet where all vaccinations, etc. are recorded. Without this booklet, you can't travel abroad as Customs Authorities want to see it. For many people, pets are not affordable, because they can't pay the vet bills and treatments or medicines. A solution must be found that either the Government or all vets together raise a fund so that these people can adopt a pet and take good care of them. Certainly there must be more options, but this is just some ideas.

Nicky H
Nicky H19 hours ago

First of all EACH and EVERY SHELTER should be obliged to accept animals in need. Whether old, sick, injured, aggressive or dogs with a "bad" reputation, as a result of which it is difficult to have them adopted (f.i. pit bulls, Staffordshire, etc..) Private shelters who accept only healthy, young dogs even puppies who have a good reputation, have no difficulties in having them adopted, neither spend a lot of money to use social media, local television, etc.. It's very easy to wear the crown of a "no-kill" shelter when you chose what you want, and nothing else. "Drop the others elsewhere, so we have no problems" is what they think and do. Why not have legal directions for ALL dogs and CATS and other animals. Each shelter should accept a certain percentage of old dogs, and dogs with asocial behaviour, mix breeds, dogs with disabilities, or curable diseases, etc. In fact, there is only one reason for this kill shelters, viz. THERE ARE TOO MANY DOGS & CATS and other animals, which people buy because they are so cute when they are little, but after 6 months or a year, they don't suit any longer in their house. AND not to FORGET a better and more accurate war against the puppy mill breeders. Has anyone ever checked how many dogs are dropped off in a "kill" shelter", because of the health issues or others they have because it is puppy mill dogs? I think you easily would reach 30 % or more !!

Past Member
Past Member 19 hours ago

I see some of your points (only a few) BUT there are many more than "instances where kill shelters are mismanaged". Having volunteered at shelters for many years, having run rescue missions to pull dogs that are on the euth list & having fostered & adopted I can confidently say there are MANY really bad kill shelters who are more than "mismanaged". Kill shelters where animals are not given any chance for adoption or time in case they're just a lost dog with owners looking for them. I've seen where the dog owners found them minutes too late. Many of the "kill" shelters do not administer a sedative before the fatal euth poison is given. The animals in that case will die a painful death. There are 'Kill" shelters where vets or even vet techs are not the ones euthanizing. Instead poorly trained assistants who miss veins with the needles or targets if they're using a heart stick when administering the euth poison. The death in those cases is even more agonizing and slower. You have made a few valid points but also glorified "kill" shelters. Many are "horrible"!


This article is seriously defending kill shelters? Wow, unbelievable. Perhaps those wonderful people that work in them should work tirelessly to change the laws in their county or state.

Dot A
Dot A3 days ago

Yes. Judith K's point is spot on. Callousness is a form of denial. Denial is a form of irresponsibility. Perhaps it is those who've been neglected and denied in childhood who are most likely to grow up as neglectful and living a life that requires them to be in denial about their own actions. The emotion of empathy must be developed throughout one's life in order to be a person that understands the importance of responsibility towards others. Human and animal.

Judith K
Judith K3 days ago

Very informative but how can we make humans more responsible in their interactions with our pet animals? Free spay and neuter services might help but even that requires responsible pet ownership. Just recently I signed a petition about someone who had put their dog in a carrier and took it to the wood and left it to starve to death. It was found dead. The callousness of humans is the root cause here so what can we do?

Diane E
Diane E3 days ago

Interesting points. But adopt. Don't fund puppy mills and kitten mills.

Janis K
Janis K3 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

Janet B
Janet B3 days ago


Dot A
Dot A3 days ago

As so many have alluded, - the fault is in ourselves. And, as well, as so many have alluded, the responsibility lies with us. Just look at all the areas of life in the US which have fallen short. Just look at the White House. Just look, and wake up, and don't blame others. We must take responsibility. Many good comments here!