Kittens are cute, right? Snuggly little babies of pure adorableness, melting our hearts with their little meows. The idea of anyone euthanizing (killing) an animal in a shelter often seems equal to murder, something that must be avoided at all costs. But the hard truth is that, when it comes to euthanasia, shelters are often stuck between a rock and a hard place--and going no-kill isn’t the solution.
No one likes to kill animals. No one wakes up in the morning with a smile on their face because they get to euthanize an old dog that day, or a couple of cats. In fact, according to “The Caring‐Killing Paradox: Euthanasia‐Related Strain Among Animal‐Shelter Workers1”, an article from the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, people who work with animal euthanasia are more stressed and less happy than those who don’t. So why do people euthanize? The answer is long and complicated, but it basically boils down to whether a shelter is open or closed admission.
An open admission shelter is required to take every animals they are brought. They cannot turn an animal away, no matter how sick or dangerous the animal is. They also must take in animals even if they have no more room to house the pets. There are many reasons that a shelter may be open admission, but many are legally required, especially those who are run by the town or county, or at least are given a grant from the government. Closed shelters, on the other hand, can simply turn away any animal they would like. Virtually all no-kill shelters are closed admission. Sick animal? Dangerous animal? Nice animal that they simply don’t have space for? Turned away. The more positive result is that the animals inside their walls are generally safe from euthanasia, but where do these turned away animals go? On the streets, perhaps, or maybe to the nearest open-admission shelter.
Open-admission shelters simply don’t have enough space to house all the animals they are brought. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 6.5 million animals enter US shelters every year, but only about four million are adopted or returned to their owners every year. This leaves an extra 2.5 million animals for shelters to try to accommodate, leading to an overpopulation problem. As said by Allison Gray in an article in Petful, “...every state contains shelters that receive more animals than can be adopted.” If no one adopts these animals, there is only so much the shelters can do while still maintaining a high quality of living for the animals. Euthanasia might be a terrible solution, but until enough pets are being spayed and neutered to keep their population from growing past what can be adopted out, for many it’s the only solution. We can’t remove a solution, no matter how terrible, without first solving the problem.
To make matters worse, many animals brought to open-admission shelters are quite sick or dangerous, and open-admission shelters must take them in. These animals can be the animals turned away from no-kill shelters or animals first brought in. Euthanasia is often the only humane option.
In conclusion, “kill” shelters aren’t the villains they are portrayed as in much popular culture. They aren’t sadistic animal-slaughtering factories, they’re animal shelters forced to accept all animals brought to them, staffed by caring, stressed workers. These shelters deserve our help and appreciation.