"Kill" vs "No Kill" Animal Shelters and Rescues

What is the difference between no kill and kill animal rescues and shelters?
May 31, 2023
Animal Shelter
Stephanie M. Casey

Let's learn the difference between a "No Kill" Animal Shelter VS "Kill" Animal Rescue...

It may seem natural to only want to support "no kill." We don't want animals to be euthanized, after all!

Generally Speaking:

  • NO KILL refers to private-business / non-profit rescues which may make their own rules
  • KILL refers to municipal shelters which must go by the law of the city or county

Understanding Kill Shelters

Non-profit, "No-Kill" cat and dog rescues can close intake and serve limited amounts of animals and people. "No-Kill" Animal Rescues may simply say, "we are full," or "we are closed for intakes while we manage a disease outbreak."

Getting to be a "No Kill" intake facility is a luxury.

When these "No Kill" rescues say, "we are full - you have to find another solution..." Guess where those turned away animals go? That's right... The Municipal "Kill" Shelter.

"Kill" shelters, also known as open-admission or municipal shelters, have the daunting task of addressing the overpopulation of stray and abandoned animals. These shelters generally do not turn away any animals, regardless of their health, temperament, or adoptability.

Due to limited space, resources, and a high intake rate municipal shelters are often faced with the difficult decision of euthanizing adoptable animals. Dallas Animal Services, for example, averages 40-70 dog intakes, DAILY. There are 300 kennels at this third-largest-in-the-country facility.

In the case of Dallas Animal Services, where I volunteer and foster, the shelter must take in every stray, surrender, abuse case, "owner sick, or died, or arrested," sick, injured, or terrified animal which comes their way. They handle approximately 22,000-30,000 animals a year.

The United States euthanizes up to ONE MILLION dogs and cats a year. We cannot build enough kennels or create enough rescue space to save that many animals, annually. And, even if we could build a million kennels a year, they would need to be staffed for care, funded for food, electricity, water, staff. And permanent kennel life is no life. This is why euthanasia happens. And, buddies - there are worse fates than humane euthanasia.

Teams of hundreds including staff, partner rescues, volunteers, and fosters work around the clock to affect as many positive outcomes as possible.

When adopter, rescue, and foster support resources are slow or at capacity - there is simply nowhere for the animals to go. Yet kennels must be cleared for the never-ending influx of dogs flooding into the shelter. This is when euthanasia of healthy, adoptable dogs happens.

NO ONE wants to be in the position to have to euthanize healthy, adoptable animals. NO ONE.

"No Kill" animal rescue industry standard is defined as 90% live release rate. Meaning 90% of animals which enter that rescue leave, alive. The Dallas Animal Services slogan, "Be Dallas 90" is a reference to this 90% live release rate goal and DAS is always aiming for 90% (and hits it, sometimes!)

Area (and remote!) animal rescues are constantly pulling animals from higher-kill municipal shelters. No-Kill Dog and Cat Rescues are an important piece to the support system of municipal shelters.

Every "No Kill" rescue you support, supports municipal shelters with their efforts. You should, too!

How to stop this? Combat the overpopulation? Curb euthanasia rates? Read the "How To Solve Our Dog Overpopulation" BIG IDEA article about this here.

  1. SPAY & NEUTER- curb production
  2. 3/3/3 RULE - keep dogs in homes
  3. VOLUNTEER - get in the trenches, and help!
  4. ADOPT - not shop
  5. SPREAD THE WORD -  lead by example! be a megaphone! a messenger! an influencer! educate & communicate!

Feeling Compassion Fatigue? Want tips on how to stay positive while supporting this work?


December 2014 NPR "No-Kill Shelters Save Millions Of Unwanted Pets — But Not All Of Them"

Animal Humane Society "What Does It Mean To Be A No Kill"

Best Friends "What No Kill Really Means"

"No Kill" is a luxury municipal shelters do not have.
"No Kill" is a luxury municipal shelters do not have.

Listen - NO ONE wants to be in the position to have to euthanize healthy, adoptable animals. NO ONE.