When the time is right to bring a new furry, scaled or feathered family member home, one of the first questions that arises is, “Where should I adopt from?” It won’t take long for most people to become embroiled in a conversation about no-kill versus kill animal shelters. These terms are alarming, and quickly paint a picture that suggests one is better than another.
Historically, animal shelters have had the reputation of being quick to euthanize animals and, in some cases, doing so simply because of a lack of space or funding. The reality is that this practice has changed significantly over the years as animals have become an important part of people’s family life, which has also encouraged animal advocacy that has brought about positive changes in how animals in sheltering facilities are dealt with. Unfortunately, the no-kill versus kill terminology is still quite active in today’s discussions about animal adoption, although it does not reflect the work being done in each facility to provide care to animals.
Don’t let the term mislead you. No-kill shelters may not euthanize animals, but this may be because they have a limited intake policy. This means that they may be selective in what animals they take into their care due to a lack of space available in the shelter or the funding needed to care for the animals. This may mean that the shelter will exclude taking in animals who are sick or injured, or those that have behavioural problems that will require investment in medical or behaviour treatment, or whom may have little chance of finding adoptable homes. In these cases, the most humane treatment for these animals may be euthanasia. By limiting intake to only healthy and adoptable animals, that don’t require euthanasia, they meet the no-kill criteria.
Realistically, if an animal is suffering and in the care of a no-kill shelter, it would be inhumane not to provide euthanasia. This is why a small percentage of euthanasia does still occur in no-kill shelters. With confusion surrounding the term, a more suitable term that is now being recognized is Limited Admission Shelter.
Despite the mental images the term may conjure, these shelters are also run by people who are just as passionate about animal welfare as their counterparts in nokill facilities. They are, however, saddled with a different burden.
Kill shelters are often those who accept all animals. Commonly, these are your municipal animal control service shelters who have a responsibility to their community to provide safe places for animals and people. Kill shelters often deal with both wild and domestic animals who are sick or injured (or have behavioural issues), and are not able to turn animals away.
These animals need to be dealt with in the most humane way, for both the welfare of the animal and the safety of the community. Kill shelters also want what is best for the animals in their care — an adoptable forever home — but unfortunately, this is not possible for all animals. The work these shelters do every day is incredibly difficult, and to better reflect their approach the term Open Admission Shelter is becoming more common; it better explains that they care for all animals, regardless of health or behavioural status.
It is important to understand that working in any shelter can be a thankless job, especially when work is misunderstood. Ultimately, shelters are caring for animals who have no one to look after them. Whether it’s because animal owners are negligent in their responsibilities to their pets, or because they are doing the responsible thing and surrendering their animals when they can no longer provide for them, it comes at both a financial cost to the facility and an emotional cost to those who fill these roles.
Those working in shelters, regardless of facility type, have a passion to provide the best care for the animals in their charge. No matter what shelter you choose to adopt from, your new family member is just as deserving of a home as pets in other shelters. Let’s not lose sight of this most important detail.

Kristina Cooper is a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) and proud member of the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians (OAVT). She has previously worked in both small animal practice and a municipal animal shelter. With a special interest in the relationship between animal and human health she is currently the Provincial Manager of the OAVT Public Health Rabies Response Program and an active One Health Initiative advocate. She can be reached by email at

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