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03 August 2011


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Cindy Steinle

I wonder, how many of the open door shelters do what I do for CBBR. When people request surrender, I look into reasons. Sometimes all a person needs is a hand getting low cost vet care and dog food for a few months. It takes more effort I am sure to respond and say "What are your reasons for surrendering and while we have no room for the dog can we do something to help you and your family keep your pet?" but saves a few intakes now doesn't it. That relieves room for urgent cases and oh yeah SAVES LIVES!


I wouldn't call it an 'open admission "shelter"' so much as a 'high-throughput killing center'.


And we've seen on the webcams how in Memphis they sometimes take animals in through the front door and directly back to the kill room. That's not "open admission", that's just killing.

H. Houlahan

Christie, are we in psi-link mode?

I was just going to bitch about this website:


In which two of the Pittsburgh-area shelters partner with PETA -- YES, FRICKIN PETA -- to slag on the idea of no-kill.

It's like a complete list of every open and whispered buzzphrase in defense of the slaughterhouse sheltering model.


I agree completely that private animal shelters and humane societies should stop taking in more animals than they can adopt. There is no excuse to euthanize animals if they don't have to.

HOWEVER, many municipal animal controls are mandated by ordinance to take in all stray animals, all "street" dogs, all abuse/neglect cases and in many cases, all owner surrenders. They have no choice but to be open admission centers. Their success rate in getting them adopted can depend on many things: how hard they work, how progressive they are, how glutted the area is with other adoption groups and whether those groups will rescue from them (many groups are picky and will only rescue highly desirable, easy-to-adopt animals), the types of animals they take in (some animal controls take in 65+% adult pitbulls which are difficult to adopt even if they are sweet and almost impossible if they aren't, whether they are in the south or not where heartworm disease and parvo are prevalent, etc etc etc.


My local humane society has appointments for surrendering animals. They offer a lot of support once they find out the reason - food, spay/neuter, training, etc but will take the animal if the owner decides that what s/he needs to do. I'm sure that it has resulted in a lot fewer surrenders and helps folks keep their pets. They also will actively encourage the spay of a mama cat when the owners bring the kittens in. They have recently opened a low cost spay/neuter clinic and it's been busy! Not perfect yet, but making progress!

Christie Keith

Courtney, I would say they DO have a choice. The community can rise up and demand that their lawmakers write better laws. Regulations are changed ALL THE TIME. This is no exception. And a progressive animal control agency, or even more so a private organization holding an animal control contract, will LEAD that effort!

Debbie Tucker

Yes, we must get this argument clarified so that they stop using it to excuse their killing.

And Courtney, you seem not to know about the many places in the country plus New Zealand and Canada)now that have maintained open admission plus a save rate of 90% and better. They do it by using the "No Kill Equation". Lots of info available at nokilladvocacy.org, and fb pages like No Kill Nation, Rescue 50, etc. The no kill movement is gaining momentum through its successes, which are becoming multiplied.



What law could they write? Are you suggesting that animal control not pick up stray dogs roaming the streets if people in the neighborhood are calling and demanding it? Or to not pick up dogs that are attacking kids at the bus stop? Or not pick up dogs that are being neglected or abused? Or not pick up animals that have been hit by a car? etc

I worked at an animal control and we refused to take in owner surrenders at all unless it was an emergency situation and yet we still were over run with too many animals and not enough adopters. If we had a shelter full of toy breeds or purebreds, then we could have adopted them, but we mainly had middle aged pitbulls and pitbull mixes and about a third were heartworm positive and a large portion were not friendly. And we were open 7 days a week including evenings, we went to at least two off site adoptions every weekend, we had 24/7 cat centers at three petsmarts we ran TV commercials and did all kinds of adoption promotions, we provided free heartworm treatments, we had a very active foster program, we worked with every rescue group/animal shelter who would rescue from us (we would beg them to take our animals but they would rarely take pitbulls and they had a hard time adopting anything but highly adoptable animals in our area), we took thousands of our animals on transports up north to no-kills shelters, we had a FREE spay/neuter program and altered thousands of animals and yet with all our work, we still had a euthanasia rate of about 45%. We never euthanized puppies or kittens and had extremely good success in getting cats and non-pitbull dogs adopted. But, as i stated, we were over run with pitbulls. Of course, this was much better than the previous management of the animal shelter that had a euthanasia rate of about 90%.

My point is that there are some circumstances where animal controls have to be open admission and the management is trying to be no-kill but isn't successful, not because they aren't doing everything right but because of the circumstances. The good news is that in our case the solution to the problem was the free spay/neuter and intake went down every year and so did the euthanasia rate every year.

Gina Spadafori

The "open admission" killing facilityshelter line is just the newest twist in wordplay, but the attitude behind it isn't new. More than a decade ago, I had the director of a certain big city's very influential humane group correct my use of the term "no-kill shelter" by inserting "someone else kill shelter" every time "no kill" was mentioned. I mean, every time.

Gina Spadafori

My point is that there are some circumstances where animal controls have to be open admission and the management is trying to be no-kill but isn’t successful, not because they aren’t doing everything right but because of the circumstances.

Comment by Courtney

Give us the examples by name and I bet the folks here can more than put lie to the claim that the agencies/organizations aren't "doing everything right" and that their kill rates have nothing to do with "circumstances" except the inability to actually implement proven no-kill strategies.


I'm sorry but I disagree. I think most open admission shelters can and should do a much, much better job of saving lives. I don't want to see them close their doors though and I don't believe there is a home for every pet. If you have ever worked at an open admissions shelter, you know that there are aniamls who should not be adopted due to health or safety to people or other animals and if all shelters close their doors what do you think will happen to the animals they turn away? Unless you have been there and been threatened with harm and have been told if you don't take this animal, I'm going to shoot it or set it free by people who really would do those things you don't know what you speak of. I am liking the "no Kill" movemnet more and more these days but I think it needs a new name because there is no such thing as "No Kill" in an open admisions shelter.....there is such a thing as try everything you can before killing and working towards only killing sick and aggressive animals which from what I have been reading is what no kill really means. Closing the doors just makes a shelter a rescue with a roof which is not a bad thing and it helps aniamls but then they only take animals that they think they can adopt out. What happens to the rest?


Just to throw this Out There, I wonder how many pets killed by these Open Door shelters end up in rendering plants to be recycled in pet food cans and bags? Fodder for the food chain. Soylent Green as it were.

We know already how little control there is over the pet food industry. We also know that pet carcasses are rendered into pet food. While the monetary return for turning over the carcasses isn't much, but it's better than having to pay for the propane and the attendants and the licenses to operate an incinerator. Just askin'.


Thank you. Good article. I hope something changes.

Gina Spadafori

there is no such thing as “No Kill” in an open admissions shelter

Comment by dervish

Um, yes, there is. No-kill means every adoptable pet finds a home, and yes, there are communities that do that, placing 90 percent of all admitted pets. The 10 percent that remain are too sick or too dangerous to place.


Blurb from my local paper - sounds like one of the financial benefactors is getting involved - can only be a good thing (I think).

DETROIT - Four of 18 board members at the Michigan Humane Society have resigned since June amid questions about the organization's rate of euthanizing dogs and cats that are too sick or have unstable temperaments.

The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News report Thursday the Humane Society defends its euthanasia policy. The organization's overall euthanasia rate increased from 66 percent in 2000 to 70 percent for the past four years, including 17,000 in 2010.

The group's CEO Cal Morgan says the organization takes in all types of animals, including abused ones. He says it puts 100 percent of adoptable animals in homes.

Thomas Mackey, who donated $1 million for a new Detroit animal shelter, has offered to fund an audit and says he'll be reluctant to give if it's not done.


It seems our local shelter is in the recycling business, not the saving lives business. It is appalling the numbers of barrels of carcasses that go to the rendering plant constantly. They refuse to try the no kill because they are in it for the business and the bottom line. Saving lives does not make money. Killing and recycling does for them. They are supported by the county and could implement mandatory spay and neuter, but are swayed by a small few saying it takes away their rights to breed. No, it just forces them to be responsible breeders. If they truly loved animals, they would do all they could to pass the S/N laws. Our governor was an idiot to veto the last S/N bill. I hope Brown is smarter.

Patty Laswick

Thank you! Excellent article.

Christie Keith

Stephanie, without exception, mandatory spay/neuter laws have INCREASED shelter intake and INCREASED shelter killing. What DOES work is targeted low-cost or free, ACCESSIBLE spay/neuter, combined with progressive animal control policies to adopt the pets who are already born.

Mandatory spay/neuter appeals to a lot of people but it doesn't work. I doubt Gov. Brown would EVER sign a law that has an unbroken record of failure wherever it's been tried.


In my county there's animal control and there's the humane society. With a new director at AC, they started to improve the holding areas, and to try and adopt out animals. Our local county commission recently questioned this practice as it "duplicated" what was already there are the HS and it cost MONEY to feed these critters. The HS will take some but not all of the AC animals. Thus they cherry pick the most adoptable, leaving the rest for the dumpster. And right now our HS is stuffed to the gills.


Oops - got the usual drivel back from MHS about why they have to kill so many animals . . . about what I'd expect.


I started doing rescue in 2003 after several people coming to me complaining that the officers were just shooting strays...I decided to do something about it. I became an ACO,2005 the city's nightmare...I fought long and hard and finally they built a shelter, and if animals were not reclaimed they are taken to the vet and humanely euthinized. We are in a small rural town, I tried to save them all took the kill rate from 100% to 19%...but I have to tell you after being an ACO I have seen things worse then death, and dumping them to be eaten by wild animals ran over by cars starved to death or to die of diease is inhumane. Most of us that work in shelters do what we can to save the animals....I have been battered by the ignorance of people sending me hate mail, I am the one in the trenches trying to save the animals. As people sit in their homes with just the love of the animals instead of,opening your home foster these souls, volunteer advicate for spay and neuter being critical behind a computer is easy. It is the fault of the irresponsable owners, not the shelters. DON'T SHOOT THE MESSENGER.

mary murray

people get so confused with the term no kill....even in our own organization. We as an organization are no kill...meaning we will exhaust all efforts to treat animals that are ill, or have temperament issues. We had a wire for two years in our system, when as a board we had decided it more humane to let the dog go. We had exhausted all efforts with medication, training (we had spent 1100.00 on one trainer alone) he saw a behaviorist DVM,we truly did everything we could. When we took him in, my vet and long time friend came in with a folder 3" thick...he sat down, and said, "I went through this folder at lunch today, you have only taken this option four times....those are very good odds, and you should not feel badly."

We also find if owners do a re-homing program with us, as our spaces are reserved for emergency animals....chances are they do change their minds. We establish a rapport with them, give them suggestions...and if we have a member close by they can do an assessment. Usually it is only lack of exercise, and boredom that is the root cause of behavioral issues in our high energy breed. We also send a lot of books on behavior out as a resource, and research trainers in their community to send them to. I think from experience with our situation, it holds true that those given education and resources usually do keep their dogs.


It's always been a reason to stick with responsible breeders (when obtaining a purebred) - and in recent years, good rescues and shelters have also come onboard with this concept: That support "after the sale" is every bit as important as all the "pre-sale screening" that is done. Because - as noted - sometimes the reason an owner is contemplating surrendering their animal is as simple as they just don't know how to approach a problem situation. And that when given information, guidance, and support on how to work through the problem, very often the owner is able to keep their dog after all.

I was really pleased years ago when I began seeing rescues and shelters start to talk more and more about the benefits of providing this very basic level of support that I have always taken for granted from responsible breeders. Definitely an example of one community taking on some of the good ideas of another, and yet another reason breeders and shelter/rescue are anything but enemies of one another.


So, here's my question to you all who are "No kill shelters!" opinionated.

If all of the "kill" shelters close their doors when they're full, where will the animals go? People who are surrendering their animals will have nowhere to put them. They will start dumping them on the streets.

If all of the "kill" shelters become no kill, dogs and cats will sit there for years before getting adopted. It's happened many a time. On facebook I see daily the posts and pleas of no-kill shelters who have dogs that have been there for 3-4 years. A friend of mine adopted a dog only to have to put her down because it had gone kennel crazy and her mind was gone.

Kill shelters, as grisly as they are, have their place. It's torture, and abuse in some form to make those animals sit in shelters for years because they're not cute little puppies and kittens. Someone gives up a 10 year old black pit bull or cat to a no kill shelter. Odds are that pit bull or cat will live the rest of its life in that shelter, in that cage.

How is that fair? How is that humane? Instead of putting your hate to the kill shelters, why don't you put the blame onto the people who deserve it? Are the cause of it? Tell people to fix their damn animals. Tell people to research the breed before getting it. Tell people to stop being ignorant dumbasses who breed their dogs for money, or because "Kittenz R cute!" Without those morons, we wouldn't need kill shelters. We wouldn't need no kill shelters. We wouldn't need rescues. Everyone who works or volunteers at a place like that has the dream of some day their job will no longer be needed. But with this mind set it will never happen.



Real "No Kill" shelters do NOT warehouse animals for YEARS. That's insane. If you have an animal who for some reason or another is not getting adopted in a timely fashion, you find out WHY. Is there a problem with the animal? Is it ugly? Old? Has medical issues? These can all be overcome with good marketing - there are homes out there that LOVE ugly or old or medical issues. They aren't as easy to find as the cute, young, super healthy-loving homes, but they're there and good marketing can find them.

Is it a training issue? Time for a tune up! Trade training time for advertising space on your lobby wall with a local trainer/school.

Or...and this is more common than it should be...is the problem actually the adoption process? Is it too restrictive? Are potential adopters being passed over for not being "good enough" for that animal? Is a life in a cage really preferable to a less-than-perfect home?

Your 10 year old black pit bull or cat can find a good home with someone looking for a mature animal who is marketed to properly. Progressive shelters have "Lucky Cat Sales" where they adopt out black cats for a discount. Give a big black dog an adorable name or one that embraces her color (Inky, Miss Midnight, Satin, etc.) and market her as "gorgeous". Put a bright pink bow or feather boa on her in her adoption photo. Or a bright white pearl necklace to compliment her toothy smile. Use her looks and make them work for her instead of against her. Someone will fall in love with her.

And while I understand your anger against the irresponsible owners who churn out litter after litter and never see anything wrong with it, whacking them with a stick won't get rid of the stupid. Instead, a shelter needs to take a lead role in educating people about the advantages of spay/neuter and working towards making sure that low cost/free options are in place for those who want to do it, but cannot manage the cost. Educational programs, talking to kids in schools, talking to people who are "repeat offenders" with dropping off litters at the shelter - get them a certificate for spaying, offer them a ride to the clinic, offer them free cat/dog food as a "reward" after the surgery, etc.


And again - "No Kill" is about *communities*, not individual shelters.




Great post, good comments. Appreciate the discussion. I'd rather the doors closed than business continue as usual. I know of those who have hung out in the parking lot at Animal Control to *cherry pick* animals. Many people are just looking to get rid of an animal. They don't care where it goes, or who does what with it. Animal Control was grumpy that these parking lot lurkers were *stealing* their business!

I was grumpy that the lurkers didn't always spay/neuter what they took, and were often motivated by profit or glory rather than compassion and a desire to *save* animals.

But I still say, life is usually better than death.

D Vinch



Urgent Death Row Dogs:


Urgent PART2 on Facebook:


Dogs About To Die :(


mary francis

Seems we need to examine the motivation for senseless killing by us as humans -

Two incredble documentaries lately shown on PBS may be critical to understanding the why of all this killing by animal control (I think these films relate to animal control's mass slaughtering of dogs and cats) and may be instructive in ending the killing.

One film was on PBS entitled, Stress: Portrait of a Killer - Robert Sapolsky's work (and others) - not to over simplify but Sapolsky's work with baboons relates to how those with power inflict havoc on others...Basically when the bullies are not in charge the community thrives.

The other film was also on PBS, POV - Enemies of the People.

This documentary has won more than 20 awards and if you watch it you will see why.

One of Cambodia's best investigative reporters, Thet Sambath, who lost many family members to the Khmer Rouge, and British documentarian Rob lemkin, took ten years to gain the trust of ordinary villagers and leaders to find out through interviews how such horrific crimes could have been committed.

Enemies of the People is haunting.

Both films are cautions that warn us -

When the bullies are allowed to take unchallenged control the consequences are tragic.

The bullies have taken over in animal control facilities all over our country and these films I think delve into the mindset that make it possible.

Christie Keith

Dee, I'm going to have to make some comments here.

I understand you're asking people to "be part of the solution" of shelter killing, but I think this approach is sadly part of the problem -- or at least, the mindset that is partly contributing to the problem.

If we want to adopt to people who aren't currently adopting pets, as we have to do if we want to find homes for more pets than we currently find homes for, we HAVE TO leave behind these desperate, sad, guilt-inducing, negative messages about the pets in our shelters.

Research by both the Shelter Pet Project (for which I do some work) and PetSmart Charities has found that negative impressions of shelter pets and shelters is stopping people who WANT to adopt from following through. By framing your adoption messages in these dire and doom-mongering terms -- EVEN IF THEY ARE TRUE -- you are reinforcing these negative impressions and reducing the chance not just that people will adopt these specific pets, but ANY pets.

I know that part of the reason the NYC rescue community is "marketing" the pets from animal control this way is to shine a light on what they see as abuses in the system, and if that's the message you want to get out, that's fine. But please, stop doing it at the expense of these pets. They need EFFECTIVE MARKETING that will actually get them homes, not these "DOGS ABOUT TO DIE!" messages, which send most people into the fetal position, not to the shelter. PLEASE, think hard about this messaging. I believe it is hurting you and hurting New York City's animals.


Comment by Woodsman — August 5, 2011 @ 2:52 am

This means that their cats will die from disease, cat-attacks, animal-attacks, exposure to the elements, being road-kill, starvation, and any other means that drastically shortens the life of those cats. ALL their cats suffering for how many months or years it takes to die that way. In many parts of this country and the world this clearly falls under the guidelines for cruelty to animals, animal-abuse, animal-endangerment, and animal-abandonment laws.

Wow - then I guess we'd better start prosecuting EVERYBODY who continues to allow ANY animal to live in the wild and thereby continue to be subject to dying from "disease, animal-attacks, exposure to the elements, being road-kill, starvation, and any other means that drastically shortens the life" of that animal. After all, it's well-known that the lifespan of pretty much any wild animal is longer on-average when kept in captivity (e.g. in zoos) than when permitted to live out its life in its natural habitat.

Yup - that pretty much indicts all of us for being guilty of "cruelty to animals". Who knew?

Christie Keith

Amelia: This is not an adoption listing. This blog is not a Facebook page or website that aggregates adoption listings.


Christie says:

"Research by both the Shelter Pet Project (for which I do some work) and PetSmart Charities has found that negative impressions of shelter pets and shelters is stopping people who WANT to adopt from following through. By framing your adoption messages in these dire and doom-mongering terms — EVEN IF THEY ARE TRUE — you are reinforcing these negative impressions and reducing the chance not just that people will adopt these specific pets, but ANY pets."

And yet, you write this article in which you claim that shelters "brag" about high kill rates. In what way is that not reinforcing negative stereotypes about kill shelters?

Melinda King

Christie said: "negative impressions of shelter pets and shelters is stopping people who WANT to adopt from following through"

This is SO true. I repeatedly hear friends talk about how they want to adopt, but just could never bring themselves to go to The Shelter (generic, could be municipal pound, local humance society, etc.); unable to bear the thought that the animals they didn't choose would languish in kennels and eventually be put to death. That's why I'm thrilled with the efforts of any organization that makes the whole experience as guilt free as possible for the adopting public.

When I adopted my heart dog from a municipal pound for a whopping $25, I had to steel myself to go there. I'd seen her photo on petfinder, but I dreaded going to the shelter. It was not easy walking down row upon row of kennels to get to the "meet n greet" area. I remember the faces of the dogs we didn't take home with us. And one of the overriding emotions while trying to figure out if Sparky was the right dog for us was the feeling that I could not send her back in there to an uncertain fate. We changed almost everything about our life by adopting her...changed willingly and for the better, for sure! But not everyone is willing or able to do that. Doesn't make them bad potential homes...so we need to bring the pets to The Adopting Public in the most positive way we can rather than guilting them into adoption.


Woodman, vaporized. :) I suspected it wouldn't take long.



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