Sep 15, 2022

What does it mean to be a “no-kill” shelter?

What does it mean to be a 'no-kill' shelter?

“No-kill” is often used to describe animal shelters/rescues, and although it’s often an important label looked for when bringing in an animal or providing support, it’s often misunderstood.

The term “no-kill” originated in the 1980s and 1990s, during a time when local breeders were the main source for obtaining a pet. The term gained popularity during this time when a large number of healthy animals were being euthanized at animal shelters in the United States. However, as adopting from shelters became more popular, along with more funding support, the number of healthy animals euthanized started to decrease.

What does “no-kill” mean?

Determining a “no-kill” status is inconsistent. There is no organization that universally determines a shelter’s “no-kill” status. According to Best Friends, a shelter or rescue must have at least a 90% placement rate or live release rate for animals in order to be considered “no-kill”, which is generally used in the animal welfare industry.

Each shelter analyzes and reports data differently, which can create an inconsistent determination of a live release rate percentage. Other factors can impact live release rates as well, such as if a shelter is limited versus open admission. A limited admission shelter does not accept every animal that’s brought to them. Animals can be turned away based on space or the animal’s behavior, medical needs, etc. Open admission shelters accept every animal that comes through their doors and won’t turn an animal away.  Given the various animals one shelter takes in versus another, these different operational philosophies also create inconsistencies with life-saving rate percentages.

Both limited and open admission shelters do important work and with both types of shelters working together, animals and people benefit.

“No-kill” shelters still humanely euthanize.
Many shelters that are considered “no-kill”, still humanely euthanize when an animal is suffering or considered dangerous, depending on their euthanasia policy.

Before an animal becomes available for adoption at our shelter, they receive a medical and behavioral evaluation. This helps not only determine the best fit for an adopter but also helps determine if an animal is suffering from pain or illness and/or if it’s dangerous to public safety.


What kind of shelter is the Humane Society for Tacoma & Pierce County?

Due to these various factors, we do not identify as a “no-kill” shelter, nor do we use this term when referring to other organizations. We are an open-admission shelter that does not euthanize for time or space. 

As an open-admission shelter, we take in animals no matter their age, breed, medical issues, or behavioral problems. That means we’re the last hope for many animals that have nowhere else to go and require extensive medical care or have behavioral needs. This also means that we take in animals that are suffering or in severe pain, or that exhibit behavior that is dangerous to public safety. In these cases, our shelter must make the difficult decision to humanely euthanize as the kindest option for the animal.

Our goal is to save every animal we can, and we work hard every day to ensure we give each animal that comes through our doors a chance at finding happiness.

Since we take in many animals in urgent need and in times of limited capacity, we may ask pet owners looking to relinquish their animals to make an appointment to help limit the number of animals we are caring for to ensure they receive the best possible care.


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