No Kill? No Such Thing

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.

Winnie the Pooh


I love dogs.  Actually I love all animals.  People think that since I train dogs, I eat cats, but quite frankly, I have one, and I’ve rescued more cats than dogs.  Even animals that I have phobias about (worms, namely, as well as leeches), I can never stand to see harmed unnecessarily.

See, the “unnecessarily” part is important.  I recently renovated my backyard, and I’m sure that I harmed quite a few worms in the process.  I didn’t meant to do it, but since I didn’t find them new homes, technically I’m just as much to blame for their demises as anyone else.

Which brings me to the topic of “no kill shelters”.  I have to start by saying to anyone who volunteers at any shelter:  thank you.  It’s tiring, heartbreaking work. Yes, it’s rewarding, but you are definitely working in the trenches trying to make a difference.  Everyone is working towards the same goal, no matter how they go about it.  I’ve never met a shelter volunteer who was in it for the money or glory.  Guess what, there is none.  They are all in it for the animals.  Some shelters are extremely picky about who adopts a dog, hoping to find the perfect match for the perfect animal to keep that animal out of shelters forever.  Some shelters utilize what I call the “buckshot” approach:  maximum amount of potential adopters means that they can get more animals off the streets.  Yes, quite a few are returned, but it’s better to be off the mark on a few potential adopters than to have to euthanize a dog.  Who’s right?  Neither? Both?  Doesn’t matter.  Just two different approaches to the same problem.


But there is one thing all shelters have in common:  all shelters are euthanizing.

I used to volunteer at a “no kill” shelter, and I was amazed at how some of the volunteers spoke about the county kennel, where they euthanized dogs.  They would refer to the county kennel as a “concentration camp” and that the volunteers were murderers.  That there was no reason for such-and-such dog to have been killed.  They hold up their shelters as shiney examples of how a shelter can be no-kill.  It never occurred to them that they were part of the solution that they so detested.  That they had responsibility for these dogs as well.   Information from the Human Society gives us a better perspective:

Just as the U.S. has come a long way over the last few decades in terms of increased pet ownership, it’s also progressed in terms of euthanasia. The number of dogs and cats euthanized each year in shelters has decreased, from 12–20 million to an estimated 3–4 million. However, there’s still work to do: An estimated 2.7 million healthy shelter pets are not adopted each year, and only about 30 percent of pets in homes come from shelters or rescues.


  • 3,500—Number of animal shelters
  • 6 to 8 million—Number of cats and dogs entering shelters each year
  • 25 percent—Percentage of purebred dogs in shelters
  • 3 to 4 million—Number cats and dogs adopted from shelters each year
  • 2.7 million—Number of adoptable cats and dogs euthanized in shelters each year

If there are roughly 6-8 million animals entering a shelter each year, but only 3-4 million being adopted each year, I ask:  where does the overflow go?  No kill shelters are a wonderful thing, but not realistic.  A shelter can claim they are no kill, but what they mean is that they don’t kill the animals at that location.  When a dog comes to their “no kill” shelter, and they don’t have an empty cage, or the dog is deemed too aggressive or sick, what happens?  They don’t accept the dog at their shelter.  The dog is eventually sent to county, where they are euthanized.  It makes me sick that an innocent animal dies, but it is a cold, hard fact: there isn’t enough room for them all. There are no inexhaustible resources from which to draw for support of these animals.  Simply not accepting an animal into your shelter when you don’t have room doesn’t make you a no-kill.  It means you are passing the buck (albeit necessarily), and then deriding the very people who you passed it to for doing what needs to be done.  I understand that most shelters are simply doing the best they can with what they have, but eviscerating kill shelters for simply doing what must be done is unacceptable.

This isn’t an issue that will solve itself quickly.  Euthanasia numbers are looking better and better each year.  But they won’t disappear overnight.  Education helps tremendously.  Spaying and neutering campaigns have made a huge dent in the amount of animals shelters are receiving.  In the meantime, let’s work together to find a solution.  After all, our goals are the same.

I have indeed volunteered at kill shelters.  People asked me how I could stand to work there when the animals could be put down at any moment.  That’s precisely why I volunteered there.  How wonderful is it for a dog’s last thoughts not to be of a terrible, frightening place, but that, hey, here comes my favorite person!  I’ll bet she’s taking me for another walk!  Maybe she’ll play ball with me for a few minutes, too!  Then we can cuddle after dinner. Wow..I’m loved here.  

Yes, you were.  To the very last.

Simba - Gone but not forgotten

Simba – Gone but not forgotten

In memory of Max, Simba, Onyx, Trifecta, Pluto, ‘Lil Girl,  ..and all the other dogs who were wonderful enough to make me cry when their time came.

Keep calm and pilot onKerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland Ohio


8 thoughts on “No Kill? No Such Thing

  1. Pingback: Personally Speaking | Darwin Dogs

  2. I think what most of us are trying to get across to some of these rural shelter is the fact that allowing transparency( as to what dogs are being killed so they can be networked) is what we ultimately want. The mentality in some of these facilities is not one that supports working with rescues. Most people understand that no-kill shelters are not possible right now, but there are wonderful kill shelters such as Robeson County Animal Shelter in NC (which has over 10,000 likes on FB) that reach out to the public to get help for the animals. As soon as a dog or cat comes in the facility they are on Facebook. With 10,000 people networking these animals they get into rescues! Yes, some die and the shelter let’s that be known. They make a plea to the public that their animals only get seven days. Due to lack of funding all this shelter can do is reach out to the public BUT IT WORKS. Another great example is Tipton County Animal Shelter, TN. This shelter works with a separate non profit (Paws and Claws) to get these dogs out of the shelter, into fosters, and ultimately into rescue. I have networked for both groups and they are wonderful! I and a few others have personally tried to work with some rural facilities ( I won’t mention names), that simply are not interested in working with rescues and it is no secret. We (me and some former volunteers) get a sense that networking dog, doing more paper work for rescues and finding fosterer simply creates more work for these people. It is a job and they want to be out the door at 5:30 and off to something else. I am not saying this about every kill shelter because it is simply not the case, but there are some that simply refused to let go of their old ways.

    • Very very well-stated. I agree, that the lack of transparency is revolting. I love what you wrote about Robeson County Animal Shelter: the dogs only have x amount of time, so it sounds like they are looking at that as a deadline that they try to cram full of exposure for the dogs. Doing the best they can with what they have…that’s what it should be all about.

      Thank you for your work in rescue. Dogs are not commodities, nor are they vermin. They are loving, kind souls who, as a species, are in crisis at the moment due to over-population. Thank you for doing the best you can for them, Wendi.


      • Thank you! I wish I could do more! I think shelters become threatened by people wanting transparency and then they don’t want to work with them anymore. It is such a slippery slope and a lot of emotion involved. T

  3. Hi Kerry, Thank you for writing this article. I to worked @ a shelter…It was no secret that we were a kill shelter….it is a mind altering job. I truly loved helping the homeless animals and always left with an ache in my heart and tears for lives lost due to over crowding. It takes special people to be able to handle that very stressful situation. I just felt the need to reach out and let you know that I truly know the feeling.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>