No-kill animal shelters, which have recently become popular across America, sound like such a nice idea. One imagines homeless pets lovingly cared for, socialized, given food and medical care, and offered to loving and safe “forever homes.”
Well-meaning adopters, aghast at the idea of county-run shelters that destroy pets with dangerous behavior issues or illnesses, embrace the idea of adopting from a homey no-kill organization. Yet there are little to no regulations or standards for no-kill shelters. No veterinary or boarding experience is required.
Armed with the ability to run a rudimentary website with pictures of adoptable pets, and a place to keep the animals, many such agencies are able to collect hundred of dollars in adoption fees, while foisting ill, contagious or dying animals onto unsuspecting adopters.
In a recent essay in Aeon Magazine, Sabine Heinlein recounts her experience of adopting a cat from a no-kill organization. The shelter assured her that the cat was microchipped, had received basic veterinary care and nutrition, and was given a clean bill of health before the adoption. None of this turned out to be true. But the animal looked well, if thin, and Heinlein and her partner took him home. Once home, however, they began to notice alarming symptoms. After spending $1,500 on “tests, dewormers, antibiotics and dental care,” they learned that their cat suffered from life-threatening diseases that were contagious to humans. Before the cat was completely well, Heinlein and her partner had spent $2,500 on treatment, and discovered the dirty secret of the no-kill industry. Specifically, that sometimes no-kill is the inhumane option.
PETA keeps a running list of no-kill shelters and organizations operating outside of animal welfare laws. All over the United States, on a regular basis, no-kill shelters are found to be hoarding animals in filthy and unsafe conditions. It is not uncommon to hear about dead and very sick animals, living in horrifying situations. Other organizations were found to be complete shams. One such Labrador rescue organization was run by a woman with a website full of stock photos of Labrador dogs. She listed them for adoption, took money from several people, and promised healthy new dogs—that she didn’t have. Victims of the scam received no dogs, nor did they receive refunds. The owner of the site has since been charged with larceny. Still, the situation is not unique.
Many veterinarians oppose no-kill shelters. Peggy Larson, a veterinarian in Vermont, said, “I am very much against the ‘no kill’ movement. For many reasons. Unsuitable and dangerous
animals are being released to the public. Animals in these ‘no kill’ shelters pile up and live horrible lives in tiny cages for long periods of time. They come in without health certificates and carry diseases.”
If no-kill shelters accept all animals, without regard to health or life expectancy, they can quickly become overrun with animals with severe behavioral issues or illnesses, including feline AIDS and leukemia, cat scratch fever, parvo, and other devastating and contagious diseases. Animals who were healthy before entering the shelter may become ill, and most shelters do not have the resources to keep up with their care. What becomes of a place where too many animals need food and medical attention, but either no one is adopting them, or the families who do adopt them find themselves with a nightmare on their hands? It is neither humane nor ethical to simply collect sick animals and continue to house and feed them indefinitely.
Potential pet adopters should know that not every no-kill shelter is a den of animal abuse; many are well-run, caring and responsible organizations. However, it can be difficult to discern the decent from the deplorable, and would-be pet adopters need to be alert for signs that an agency is not legitimate, such as bad reviews online, or demanding payment before adopters can meet an animal.
Adopting pets can sometimes feel like a game of roulette, where you spin for a companion and land instead on a sick and miserable animal who may require more care than you can afford. What should potential pet owners do to ensure the animals they adopt are healthy and safe to bring home? How can one person know if the no-kill shelter in their area is run with care and diligence? Most ethical shelters ask that all residents of the home where the animal will reside meet the animal and agree to adoption. Many shelters ask if the home is rented or owned, and often have questionnaires and applications regarding proper animal care. If the shelter works with a local veterinarian, prospective pet owners should call the vet office to confirm this and to ask about the animals’ condition at their vet visits. Most importantly, prospective owners should be vigilant for signs that the shelter is more concerned about securing their adoption fee than ensuring the animals’ welfare.