No-Kill vs. Open Admission Animal Shelters: What’s the Difference?

Ethan Lopez, Staff Writer

About 6.5 million ‘companion animals,’ meaning domestic cats or dogs, are sent to animal shelters in the U.S. every year.  Over a million end up euthanized due to behavioral issues, lack of space, or even based on their breed. Giving your pet up for adoption at a county shelter could be sending it off to its death; however, there are two main categories of animal shelters available to the public that serve different purposes.

Open admission shelters accept all pets of any breed, meaning they may not refuse a pet based on their behavior or health. Because of this, there may be not enough space to properly house every single animal, leading them to decide who to keep up for adoption and who to euthanize. In shelters at full capacity, they may pick and choose the unadoptable, sick, or more aggressive animals to be put down, mostly in the most humane way possible. This is done to divert more attention and care to rescuable animals in hopes of their safe adoption. While it can be argued that the large number of euthanizations that happen in these shelters are unethical, they are often for the best of all the animals, as it prevents overcrowding and the other issues that go with it.

Limited admission shelters, more commonly known as no-kill shelters, are often rescue groups focused on saving euthanasia only for the illest or most dangerous pets. Because of this, they have less space to house pets and may deny yours based on a number of factors. With this, each animal sheltered here often obtains much more care and attention when compared to open admission shelters, with emphasis on successful adoptions. Only 10% of animals admitted may be euthanized for a shelter to hold the title of “no-kill.” 

With these two main options out there, it would seem that the best option for a pet or a stray you are planning to rehome is to deliver them to a limited admission shelter. Albeit true, your pet may or may not be guaranteed into such a shelter, possibly leaving that option out of question. If rehoming, research your local shelter to ensure space will be available without the chance of euthanization, as long as said pet is healthy and passive. And remember, if you are ever considering adopting a fuzzy pal of your own, always look through these shelters before going to a pet store or breeder; you could be saving a friend in need.