Kill Shelters vs. Low Kill and No Kill Shelters

Kill Shelters vs. Low Kill and No Kill Shelters

To some pet owners it’s unfathomable how someone could surrender a dog or cat to a shelter. The truth is that a lot of times the owners surrendering their pets have no other choice, and outside of their current circumstances they never would have believed that they would have to surrender their pets to a shelter.

Sometimes it’s done for financial reasons, like the loss of a job or home. Other times it’s a sudden allergy developed by a child or family member. And then there are times when it’s the owner’s health — or even death — that leads to a pet being surrendered.

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the need to surrender your pet, or whether you think you will ever have to, knowing the difference between a “kill,” “low kill,” or “no kill” shelter will be of the utmost importance. 

The differences between these three shelter types may seem pretty straightforward, but the reality is much more complex. The decision to euthanize is never something to be taken lightly. In fact, the word “kill” is oftentimes very offensive to animal organizations. When you consider that this is one of the only industries where the primary caretakers are also asked to euthanize their charges that have been deemed unadoptable, it makes a grim situation even crueler. As a result, instead of using words like “kill” versus “low kill” or “no kill,” most shelters classify themselves in terms of their admissions policies, which often determine their euthanasia policies.

Open Admission Animal Shelters

An “Open Admission” shelter is oftentimes referred to as a “Kill Shelter.” This type of shelter will accept all animals.  There is no appointment necessary before surrendering. There are no age limitations, behavioral requirements, or health standards necessary to surrender your animal. As a result, shelters like these are often forced to euthanize in order to protect the health and safety of their general shelter population.

Ringworm, for example, is a treatable illness when it affects a pet in a home environment. However, in the shelter environment ringworm can spread like wildfire. Not only amidst otherwise healthy, adoptable cats and dogs, but also amidst the shelter staff, volunteer population, and potential adopters. 

Because “Open Admission” shelters accept all animals regardless of age, breed, etc., they are often forced to euthanize based on duration of stay in order to have enough cage space available to accept all animals. Sometimes these shelters will send out a “death row” list in an attempt to get people to adopt these animals before their time is up. 

Limited Admission Animal Shelters

The primary difference between a “Limited Admission” shelter, also known as a “Low Kill” shelter, and an “Open Admission” shelter is that they do not euthanize for duration of stay or for cage space. A “Limited Admission” shelter is one that requires an appointment be made before surrendering your animal. This is to ensure that there is enough cage space available to accept your pet. You may need to call a few weeks or even a month in advance to ensure they have a space. Sometimes they will have a wait-list for cage spaces.

A “Limited Admission” shelter only euthanizes for severe medical or behavioral reasons. As a result they often require an intake profile be completed before surrendering your animal. This will give them a better indication as to what your dog’s true personality was in the home versus how it will be in the shelter. Shelters can be very stressful environments for animals, and may result in shows of aggression or fear based behaviors. Having an intake profile may be the difference between a pass or fail on a behavior assessment.

While it’s important to provide as much information as possible, it’s also important to be truthful. If your dog needed to be muzzled at the vet, tell them. It’s a common problem and one that’s manageable. It’s also a much better scenario than if your dog bites the shelter vet.    

No Kill Animal Shelters

These shelters are also commonly referred to as “Limited Admission” shelters as well because they do not accept animals without appointments and have a very through screening process. Additionally, these shelters often will not accept animals over a certain age, or animals that have behavioral or medical issues. These types of shelters are looking for adoptable animals only, either because they do not have the resources to rehabilitate medical or behavioral cases, or because they do not have the resources to euthanize. As a result, sometimes these shelters will transfer animals they discover to be medically or behaviorally unsound to a shelter that has the capacity to do so.

It’s important to note that the definitions of “Kill” shelters vs. “Low Kill” or “No Kill” shelters can vary greatly. Sometimes, an organization’s status will be determined based on the percentage of adoptions made. The important thing to remember is if you ever have to surrender your pet to a shelter, take the time to find out what the pet euthanasia policies are and if you can be notified in the event that your pet is deemed unadoptable. A lot of shelters will give you the opportunity to make other arrangements for your pet rather than euthanize him or her.    

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