What is a No-Kill Shelter?

There are different kinds of shelters to help animals in need, and more cities are adopting no-kill policies.

Many animal shelters have policies in place that regulate how long an animal can stay at its facility. If they didn’t get adopted in that timeframe, the cat or dog would be euthanized.

It wasn’t until about 20 years ago when a shelter in San Francisco started what is known as the “no-kill” movement, ensuring that every shelter animal could stay as long as they needed until they were adopted.

Euthanization Rates in the U.S.

Across the country, there are 14,000 shelters and rescue groups, which take in a combined nearly 8 million pets every year. A shelter can be run by the city or county where it’s located, or they can be run privately by a group of people dedicated to helping homeless pets. These smaller shelters can only offer a limited capacity—they rely on volunteers to help run the shelter and to provide foster homes. Since adopting the no-kill movement, the number of pets euthanized in shelters each year dropped from around 20 million to 3 million.

What is a No-Kill Shelter?

An animal shelter that implements a no-kill policy won’t euthanize healthy or treatable pets, even if the shelter is full. The shelter will still euthanize animals that are terminally ill or those that may be considered dangerous. Even no-kill shelters euthanize an average of 10 percent of the animals they receive, but will make every effort to treat or socialize the animal before considering euthanasia.

Problems No-Kill Shelters Face

Even if a shelter is considered no-kill, it doesn’t mean more pets are adopted. The number of animals available for adoption still exceeds the number of available homes. That means these animals may spend months or even years languishing in the shelter system before being adopted. And even if they’re adopted, some of these pets are returned to a shelter—perhaps not the same shelter they came from—due to behavioral problems or other issues.

Another problem is that no-kill shelters reach capacity on a regular basis. If a shelter is full, pets are turned away, often to another shelter that euthanizes healthy animals. Issues can plague any shelter, and even though it’s well intentioned, no-kill shelters are not immune to common rescue problems.

How Can You Help?

There are too many homeless pets and not enough homes to adopt them. To help combat the issue, shelters spay or neuter all of the pets they rescue, and require adopters to fill out applications to help prevent the animals from going to a home where they may be abused or neglected.

The cost of providing the necessities of life for homeless animals costs a lot of time and money. Shelters rely on volunteers and donations because proper funding isn’t available. You can help reduce the homeless pet population by having your own pets spayed or neutered, and consider volunteering at or donating to your local shelter.

Meet the Author: Amy Tokic

Amy Tokic is the Editor of Petguide.com, the flagship site to over 70 different pet communities, which offers pet parents a one-stop-info-shop for all things dog and cat related. Amy's been with PetGuide since the beginning, guided by the wisdom of her Shih Tzu mix and furry roommate, Oscar. Together, this pet power couple has their paw on the pulse of the pet industry, sniffing out trends, advice, news, tasty treat recipes and other tail-wagging stories.

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