Kill vs No-Kill Shelters - Which is Better? - Cat Info Detective

Kill vs No-Kill Shelters – Which is Better?

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Hi cat lovers everywhere! Skye Blake here with a hot topic in animal rescue… “kill” vs. “no-kill” shelters.

Is one better than the other? Let’s track down the real situation…

paw prints coming in from a distance

Who Is Skye Blake?

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, is a curious cat researcher (not a veterinarian) who sniffs out expert, reliable sources about cats, studies their information, then passes it on to you! 

Sometimes there’s not enough evidence for easy answers, so Skye gives you all sides, explains the situation as thoroughly and clearly as possible, and links you to experts on each page. 

All sources are given at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping. 

“Kill” Shelters

dog in kennel - behind fence, shelter

Municipal (“public”) shelters are required by law to take every animal brought to them, which quickly creates overcrowding situations.

They’re considered “kill” shelters, where animals are euthanized to make space available for incoming animals.

Euthanasia is also used to deal with dangerous and feral animals, and when medically necessary.

Usually, they make this painful decision using criteria like the sickest, most aggressive, “unadoptable” animals or those in the shelter the longest time.

“No-Kill” Shelters

animal shelter-dog in kennel

“No-kill” shelters are privately funded and either euthanize animals only when medically necessary or refuse to do it at all.

They’re able to choose what animals they take in and can refuse to take any more when full in order to control overcrowding.

This makes it possible for them to claim they’re “no-kill”.

Mother cat and 3 kittens

This certainly sounds more humane and superior to being a “kill” shelter, but this comparison has created misunderstandings among the public.

When a private shelter says they’re full, where does the person go to surrender the animal?

stray cats-one walking, one lying down; rescue, kill vs no-kill shelters

They either abandon it or go to the municipal shelter that has to take all comers.

If someone abandons an animal and animal control workers pick it up, it’ll end up at the municipal shelter.

The Dilemma of “Kill” vs. “No-Kill” Shelters

cat with his head in a person's hand

There are people who claim that those who work at “kill” shelters are heartless, animal-hating, evil people, when, in fact, they’re dealing with difficult situations with little money, staff and volunteers.

An excellent description of the problem is given by Jennifer Troppman…

“People often times boast that they would NEVER support a kill shelter, never volunteer for one, never adopt from one, never even set foot in one. AND THIS IS THE PROBLEM.

dog sitting on straw by brick building; kill vs no-kill shelters

These shelters are contractually OBLIGATED to take in every animal in their municipality and if they don’t have any adoptions, inadequate staff, and NO support from the community… these animals are senselessly euthanized because of the stigma that the community themselves is creating.

The “kill” shelter, without the support of the community, now reaches out to the “no-kill” shelters for help, but often times that “help” takes time and planning, time that the “kill” shelters DO NOT have.”

person petting a tabby cat's head

While there are arguments for and against both methods of dealing with the problems of too many animals and not enough homes, all shelters can use the support and help of the public.

Now that you’ve learned about “kill vs no-kill shelters”, discover more at “Cat Rescue & Adoption“.

Use our handy checklist to evaluate shelters and rescue groups…


Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.

Primary are always preferable and have the most reliable information because primary sources are original and directly referenced.

Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.

Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own.

So, when I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.

List of Sources

13 Most Inspiring Animal Welfare Organizations“, Dog Product Picker, December 13, 2021

30 Great Animal Organizations Worthy of Your Donations 2020” – Best Choice Reviews – U.S. IRS 501(c)(3) Non-profit List


Adopting a Pet From a Rescue (And Why the Rules Sometimes Seem Wacky)” – Petful

Animal Shelter and Rescue Program“,

Animal Shelters & Rescues Work Together“, Best Friends Animal Society

Animal Welfare Act Quick Reference Guides”, Animal Welfare Information Center, NAL, USDA


Behavioral Assessment in Animal Shelters” by Sheila Segurson D’Arpino, DVM, DACVB (, 2007

Cat Rescue Groups | Life Saving Organizations and Resources” (

Charity Navigator – Advanced Search

Choosing a Reputable Rescue Group – RedRover

“Facility Design, Shelter Animal Housing and Shelter Population Management“, Library – University of Wisconsin-Madison Shelter Medicine Program (


The Importance of Animal Shelters“, Richell USA, November 25, 2019

Laws Regulating Rescue and Foster Care Programs for Companion Animals“, Animal Legal & Historical Center (

How to Start a Rescue or Other Animal Nonprofit” (

NYC Pet Adoption Guide: Animal Shelters For Dogs And Cats” – CBS New York (

Original Purpose of Animal ‘Control’ Shelters, that you might not know” by Donna,

Animal Shelters & Rescues for Pet Adoption“, Petfinder

Position Statement on Responsibilities of Animal Shelters“, ASPCA

Rescue Bank (

Rescue or Rotten? – Catwatch Newsletter

Rescue Best Practice Guide” (


Shelter Resources“, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine

Shelter/Rescue Transport Programs” – Animal Shelter, Inc. of Sterling (

Shelters and rescues FAQ | The Humane Society of the United States

Starting A Pet-Adoption Organization“, Petfinder

Understanding Your Local Government & Animal Control Information for Cats” (

Updated April 5, 2024

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