Is the ‘No-Kill' Shelter Movement Leading to Animal Living Conditions Worse Than Death?

Before 'no-kill' many animal shelters functioned more like animal prisons

Once a stray cat or dog taken to an area shelter was likely looking at a death sentence unless it was lucky enough to be adopted in a very prompt manner. That was before the concept of 'no-kill' began to take shape at many shelters across the country. And while those prolonged stays now don't automatically mean a death sentence, there may be an unintended consequence that is troubling to some.

Jennifer Scarlet is a veterinarian and president of the San Francisco SPCA who says she doesn't see 'no-kill' as a practice, but as an aspiration. "The San Francisco SPCA is arguably the father of the 'no-kill.' This is the organization that really pushed it to the forefront in the 90s. Scarlet says before 'no kill' took hold in many shelters up to 90 percent of the cats bought in were routinely euthanized. "30 million animals were euthanized in the 70s," she says. "Today, it's somewhere around a 1 to 2 million."

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According to Best Friends Animal Society, which tracks shelter statistics, in 2019 5.3 million dogs and cats were brought into shelters and 79 percent of them were rescued or reunited with their owners. Best Friends promotes itself as a leader in promoting the no-kill movement by running lifesaving community programs for dogs and cats, providing support and training for animal shelters and rescue groups, and mobilizing community members on behalf of pets in need across the country.

So fewer animal deaths is a good thing... right? Not necessarily so, says Daphna Nachminovitch, senior vice president of cruelty investigations for PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Nachminovitch says the result of shelters instituting a 'no kill' policy has led to an increase in animal abuse cases.

"It's really not 'no kill' at all. It's more like 'slow kill,' says Nachminovitch.

"You have animals whose every single basic necessities of life and need is entirely disregarded. They're warehoused crates or cages. They're stacked one on top of another, " says Nachminovitch. "And with every passing day, they become less adoptable. And so they're essentially stored and they don't have a happy outcome, even if they are alive, so to speak.”

Nachminovitch says the biggest problem PETA is seeing with the movement is a "strive towards a perfect statistic or live release rate or low euthanasia rate" which compromises the individual care that each animal is receiving.

Instead of focusing on no kill statistics, Nachminovitch argues the emphasis should be placed on spaying and neutering.

"Every single animal born takes a chance away from another animal who's already here waiting for a home. And that's the bottom line," she says. ”For us, what's very clear is that the most effective way to tackle the animal overpopulation and homelessness crisis is to prevent it by spaying and neutering and passing laws that require people to be responsible and spay neuter, and really commit to animals for life."