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Main differences between no-kill shelters from kill shelters


A dog waits to be adopted at the Wake County Animal Center in Raleigh, NC on Wednesday, June 22, 2022. As a government-run open intake animal shelter, Wake County Animal Center is legally obligated to accept every small domestic animal brought to its doorstep. But with space running low, the shelter is asking community members for help.


crowded out?

Animal intake rates are spiking across the Triangle. North Carolina has the third-highest rate of animal shelter euthanasia in the country. With many at risk of being put down, will rising numbers of unwanted animals reverse years of progress?

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What is a “no-kill” shelter?

What makes it different than a “kill” shelter?

And does it really mean that animals in a no-kill shelter are never euthanized?

The no-kill movement was founded by the San Francisco SPCA in the late 1980s. Animal shelters and rescue organizations consider themselves no-kill when they do not euthanize animals for reasons of space and time.

No-kill shelters still keep licensed euthanasia technicians on-site, but they only euthanize an animal out of medical necessity, end-of-life care or genuine danger posed by the animal’s behavior, according to the Animal Humane Society.

To account for these cases, animal rescue organization Best Friends considers a shelter “no-kill” when it consistently euthanizes no more than 10% of all the animals that come in the door. By contrast, a shelter where healthy, domesticated animals are routinely put down is referred to as a kill shelter.

Kill shelters may euthanize animals based on how long they’ve been in the shelter or on how many other animals are coming in. Any animal can be legally euthanized in North Carolina after 72 hours if it is a stray or after 24 hours if it has been surrendered by its owner.

At the no-kill shelters The News & Observer spoke with for this story, few animals stayed on site longer than two or three months. Instead, animals that have not been adopted may be transferred to another shelter or rescue group or moved into foster care.

What happens when animals are euthanized?

Euthanasia practices should be designed to end individual animals’ lives with minimal pain and suffering, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Drowning and gas chambers were considered humane euthanasia strategies in the 19th century. They were mostly aimed at suspected rabid dogs and other pets seen as dangerous, said Kristen Hassen, the director of American Pets Alive!, a no-kill education initiative based in Austin, Texas.

Now, many animals in North Carolina shelters and rescues are euthanized by lethal injection. If injected into the heart, the animal must be sedated or anesthetized first, by state law.

The state banned carbon monoxide gas chambers in 2014, at which point only four state-sanctioned shelters still used one, The N&O previously reported.

A 2011 study from UNC found owners felt more comfortable bringing their animals to be euthanized at county shelters that used needles instead of gas.

What happens if shelters run out of space?

Different shelter and rescue models face different challenges if they start to run out of room.

Most North Carolina municipal shelters are open-intake, kill shelters that euthanize for space and time.

They have to take in strays brought in by county animal control but may need to put down older arrivals to make room for newer ones. The Animal Protection Society of Durham County and the Sampson County Animal Shelter are in this category.

Some municipal shelters are no-kill despite having open intake. These organizations face contradicting challenges and could lose their no-kill status if they can’t stay ahead of their intake.

The Wake County Animal Center, Orange County Animal Shelter and Vance County Animal Shelter are in this category.

Since they can’t turn away strays, some no-kill shelters have made it harder for residents to drop off unwanted pets. To slow intake, some now require owners to make appointments for surrendering their dogs and are booked weeks in advance.

This strategy can ease overcrowding, said Tenille Fox of Orange County Animal Services, which uses appointments. However, she said, owners who can’t wait for an appointment may be more likely to abandon or neglect their animals.

Most rescues are no-kill and limited-intake. These private groups may work closely with county shelters but don’t have an animal control team and don’t have to accept strays.

This means any animal that arrives will stay in their care indefinitely, but it also means there will be times when they have no room for those facing euthanasia elsewhere. The SPCA of Wake County and Saving Grace Animals For Adoption in Wake Forest are in this category.

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Ilana Arougheti is a metro reporting intern at The News & Observer. They are a rising senior at Northwestern University, where she was most recently a city desk editor at The Daily Northwestern. You can reach Ilana at


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