‘No-Kill’ Is Failing Animals and Communities


An article in The New Yorker by bestselling novelist Jonathan Franzen is lifting the veil on how “no-kill” policies at animal shelters—even those funded by taxpayer money—are causing cats and dogs to suffer.

Joanthan Franzen in yellow and blue circle next to sad cat outdoors

How ‘No-Kill’ Policies Are Harming Animals

As Franzen explains in the article, many shelters prioritize “save rates” over spay rates. Facilities are focused on keeping animals out of their euthanasia statistics even if it means that they suffer and die on the streets. But many shelters aren’t doing nearly enough—if anything—to prevent animals from being born into a world already bursting at the seams with unwanted ones and ending up homeless in the first place.

Some facilities warehouse dogs for weeks, months, or even years and turn away other animals. Many refuse to accept cats altogether, condemning them to abandonment on the streets as “community” cats—a particularly egregious policy, given a new study revealing that cats allowed to roam outdoors terrorize, maim, and kill more than 2,000 species of animals.

These “slow-kill” policies leave the most vulnerable animals with nowhere to go, leading to abandoned dogs and cats not only reproducing and creating even more unwanted animals but also suffering and/or dying of starvation, traumatic injuries, disease, or abuse. Facilities with “no-kill” policies enjoy positive public relations—advertising “90% save rates” that are misleading at best and dishonest at worst—while open-admission shelters, which never turn away animals in need (and are therefore most in need of funding), are vilified.

“A long-serving animal-control officer, who asked not to be identified, described to me a system intensely pressured by No Kill to keep animals moving through it—dangerous dogs and frightened feral cats being placed with unsuspecting adopters, abusive or psychologically disturbed people being given animals without even a basic background check, because there aren’t enough good homes for all the animals. ‘No Kill sounds great,’ the officer said. ‘But it’s a myth.’”

—Jonathan Franzen

Shelters Should Keep Their Doors Open to All Animals in Need

Animal shelters are meant to serve as safe havens. There should be no waiting lists, no admission fees, and no excuses to keep animals out.

If your local shelter has harmful policies and turns away animals, please speak up and encourage humane, responsible “socially conscious sheltering.” The basic steps are simple: Document your experiences, gather support, and make your case. Your involvement could make a world of difference to the companion animals in your community who need you the most.



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