Which to adopt from: No-kill or "kill" shelters?
August 2, 2010 1:00 PM   Subscribe

No-kill vs. kill shelter: is one more "right" to adopt from?

My beloved Bandit passed on a month ago, and while I'm not 100% ready to adopt again I know that I won't be able to stand not having a dog in my life for long. On an abstract level I’ve always felt like a city shelter should be my number one choice, since the animals there are so much closer to being euthanized if nobody adopts them. Bandit came from such a shelter as a puppy and I could never have asked for a better dog. Beyond this, I realize that even no-kill shelters have to decide who to accept or turn away, and universal no-kill policies would be impossible, given the number of homeless animals.

However, I've visited both the city shelter and a no-kill shelter here in Columbia (I volunteer at both to socialize/snuggle the dogs whenever I can), and the no-kill one seems better run: each dog has a customized personality profile on their website; volunteers and staff socialize them frequently; they have better, more spacious "getting to know you" facilities on-site; and there has at least been some level of temperament testing (enough to indicate whether each one seems safe with cats, kids, and other dogs). The city shelter, OTOH, has basically the same description for each dog on their website and doesn't have any real temperament testing info – I don't blame them, I'm sure their budget is minimal, but that does make me feel a little less confident about them.

Compounding this, my girlfriend and I are planning on adopting a teenage or adult dog this time. This makes me think it will be all the more important that we adopt one who is more of a known quantity, since some of their formative period will already be behind them ...

Because of all of this I'm leaning towards the no-kill shelter, but that means I feel like I'm turning my back on dogs in a facility that will euthanize them if they aren't adopted. Is it really as straightforward as that? Am I doing less to help if I go with a no-kill shelter? Part of me wants to think it doesn't matter - adopting from the no-kill shelter opens up one more spot for another dog - but am I just rationalizing it? I guess I feel like my mind is mostly made up, but if I don’t at least ask I’ll always wonder if I'm just fooling myself into thinking I'm still helping if I go with the no-kill shelter ... are there aspects of this decision that I'm not yet considering? Are there reasons I should go with the city shelter instead?
posted by DingoMutt to Pets & Animals (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would suggest visiting both and adopting whichever dog seems like the best fit for you and your home. Every dog has its own personality and needs, and there are pros and cons to either type of shelter. The important thing is that you're giving a dog a chance at a better life and not supporting a vile industry while you're at it.
posted by katillathehun at 1:07 PM on August 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Adopt from the city shelter, donate well to the no-kill.

A dog at the City Shelter is at a high risk of death. A dog being taken to the no-kill that is full may not turn the dog into the city shelter.
posted by Rendus at 1:08 PM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

i was coming in to suggest both what katillathehun and rendus said -

that i would lean towards adopting from the pound and donating to the no-kill - but that ultimately i'd choose the pet that seemed best suited to my home.
posted by nadawi at 1:10 PM on August 2, 2010

Whenever you adopt from the no-kill facility, you are opening a place for a dog that is currently at the city shelter or that would otherwise go there. You should adopt the right dog for you, knowing that in any case, you are helping to save either that specific dog or another one that will make it into the no-kill facility in its place.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:11 PM on August 2, 2010 [17 favorites]

You're still a good person either way. Given good dogs at both locations, I might adopt from the city if I felt like I could adequately judge personalities. It feels like a slightly better deed. Neither shelter is intentionally creating these animals, they're just trying to help them, so they're both good.
posted by parkerjackson at 1:14 PM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Adopt from wherever you can get the right dog for you. Better to adopt from a no-kill -- freeing up space for another dog, after all -- than to adopt from the city shelter and then have to return the dog because you misjudged the personality.

Go to both until you find the right dog wherever you find it.
posted by jeather at 1:17 PM on August 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm with Rendus -- except for my current dog, a rescued Australian Shepherd who the rescue organization got from a pound, I have adopted directly from local city or county shelters, and I contribute to them and to no kill facilities. I admit I like the feeling that I directly rescued my pets from the risk of being killed, although Medieval Maven is correct that many no kill facilities take their animals from the pound.

Having said that, I'd add that if you are looking for a specific breed, a rescue organization or no kill facility may be a better call.

Pet Finders is a great source for animals at both types of shelter, and includes photos too.
posted by bearwife at 1:18 PM on August 2, 2010

The two are interconnected in most areas; the no-kill shelters, once full, don't take any more animals, who have to go to the city shelter. Adopting from the no-kill shelter frees a place for another animal who won't be euthanised at the city shelter; adopting from the city shelter saves the animal a little more directly, but it's the same in the end. Unless the operation and relationship of kill and no-kill shelters are dramatically different in your area, I'd select the animal who is right for you regardless of which shelter it comes from. Either way you are saving an animal.

Also, by adopting an adult you are definitely helping to save an animal who might not otherwise have a chance. I think either way you go is very moral.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:19 PM on August 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

By adopting an animal you are giving it a good home. That's a good deed. Don't worry so much if you are making the best possible choice (can you ever do that?).

You can really go down the rabbit hole with this train of thought. Perhaps you should adopt the most disagreeable animal there is - on the grounds that, if you don't take it, no one will. You might argue that a dog that has been at the no-kill shelter for a year "needs" adoption more than a dog that has just arrived at the city shelter (living in an animal shelter, however nice, is not really a great life for a cat/dog). When you donate money to a charity do you agonize over whether this charity really makes the best use of the money or do you figure "Hey, I like what they do and I know that they do a pretty good job at it"? At some point you just have to quit second (and third and fourth) guessing yourself.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 1:21 PM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

The no-kill shelter that I adopted my dog from routinely takes adoptable dogs from kill shelters when they have room - that's actually how my dog ended up at the no-kill shelter, she was on the euthanasia list when the no-kill shelter took her. Maybe your no-kill shelter does something similar? If they do, then freeing up space at the no-kill shelter will pretty directly benefit a dog that's nearing the end of the line at the kill shelter.
posted by periscope at 1:21 PM on August 2, 2010

Every dog I've ever had has come off the euthanasia list, and every time, my mind has been blown by the idea that the incredible loving creature in front of me would have been just another dead dog had I waited one more day to go to the shelter. This is important to me, which is why I continue to foster and adopt dogs from the kill shelter.

That being said, I can understand your hesitation adopting a dog that may have behavioral problems. Have you tried going to the kill shelter and speaking to the people that work/volunteer there? When I was volunteering, I was able to give a decent amount of information about the dogs based on my daily experiences with them.

This information only goes so far, of course, and maybe I've been very lucky with the dogs I've adopted and fostered, but out of dozens of dogs (all of them adults/older), I've had only one dog with ongoing behavioral issues.

I think that you just need to do what feels right to you. Maybe to help clear your mind, you should check out the kill shelter before deciding for sure that it would be a bad move, then, if you're still not comfortable with it, go to the other shelter.

What you say is generally true, by opening up a space in the no kill shelter, you are preventing an animal getting placed in the kill shelter, so the end result is the same. Some dogs are just in more pressing situations than others.
posted by newpotato at 1:26 PM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are no clear-cut answers here. Philosophically speaking neither are right and none might be wrong. You need to find a friend for life, that's the most important thing. Wherever that friend is, is where you need to adopt from.

posted by watercarrier at 1:35 PM on August 2, 2010

The right shelter dog for you is the right shelter dog for you. It's good karma regardless. Trying to balance kill vs. no-kill is overthinking the proverbial plate of beans.
posted by ambrosia at 1:48 PM on August 2, 2010

I somehow missed on first reading that you already volunteer at the kill shelter. I agree with pretty much everyone else in the thread, you need to do what feels right to you, and know that you've done a good thing.

I am however going to suggest the opposite of most people in this thread and offer instead that you donate to the kill shelter. There was chronic shortage of blankets, towels, beds, treats, etc. at the kill shelter I volunteered at. I was constantly buying/ bringing in things to make an animals last days slightly less uncomfortable.

In my experience, most no kill shelters are rich in comparison to the kill shelters that they coexist with.
posted by newpotato at 1:49 PM on August 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you are volunteering at both shelters and spending significant time with individual animals at both places, adopt the right animal for your home regardless of the shelter.

You are not doing anyone any favors by adopting an animal that is ultimately ill-suited for re-homing, or who requires the rigorous attention of a professional to have a chance at rehabilitation. And that is not always blindingly apparent while the animal is in an institutional situation.
posted by rocketpup at 1:55 PM on August 2, 2010

I agree with the adopt-the-dog-that-best-works-with-your-life mindsets above. Regardless of which shelter to choose, you are freeing up space, and doing so in a way that will least likely to force them to take the dog back because of incompatibility.

And the nice thing about older (non-puppy) dogs is that you can get a really good idea of the personality and temperament before you introduce it to a new household.

Good luck!
posted by quin at 1:56 PM on August 2, 2010

Definitely get the right dog for you, whatever that is and wherever it comes from. Frankly, if you're volunteering at both, you'll likely have a good idea of what the dog is like even if there's no good description online.

Aside: Dogs aren't people. They don't have a great sense of the future. They don't really fear or delight in things that aren't happening right now or in their immediate future. They care way more about quality of life than quantity. Anyway, in principle euthanizing a dog is not that big a deal to the dog. No big existential worries about being near death. The problem in pounds and other kill shelters is not that they kill dogs, it's that they keep dogs in unpleasant-to-dogs conditions, don't always treat their animals very kindly or gently, and don't always euthanize humanely (ie, mass gassings in a room that smells scary).

Anyway, I wouldn't think "I'm going to get a dog from the pound to save it from death." Dogs don't much care about being saved from death, and certainly cannot have the slightest idea while they're in the pound that their days are numbered. They care about being saved from unpleasant conditions.

In your place, I'd get whatever dog felt right and agitate to increase the funding of the city shelter, with an eye towards more pleasant facilities and ensuring that euthanasia is humane.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:11 PM on August 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

I recently went through this with my newest cat. In the end, we chose to adopt from the ASPCA because they were overloaded with animals, and despite a surfeit of private, no-kill shelters in Brooklyn, felt that we felt better about offering a home to an animal that wasn't being blogged about and otherwise exposed to a large public. Super cute kitties all over the internet don't need me to adopt them, but a slightly older fella at the ASPCA did.

No matter what you do you are doing a wonderful thing. And you put your money where your mouth is by volunteering, too.
posted by micawber at 2:15 PM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

You really want to avoid adopting an animal that won't work out for whatever reason. Returning an animal will break your heart, while an excellent match will make you happier and more able to support the causes dear to you.

It's true that adopting from the better shelter will open a place for another animal. Serve your own heart's best interests here, so that you will have enough heart to serve wider interests later. In this case particularly, you're not hurting anyone else by doing what's best for you, and you're probably helping.

The more such shelters are supported, too, the more their way of doing things becomes legitimized and expected.
posted by amtho at 2:47 PM on August 2, 2010

"Kill" shelters in Chicago, and probably other cities, don't put pets up for adoption that they are going to kill. They make the kill/adopt out determination when the animal first comes in to the shelter, and if the animal is violent, very sick or injured, or they determine that they can't socialize it, they will kill it. They try to send other animals to no-kill shelters, and the rest they put up for adoption, where they will stay until someone adopts the animal.

So, adopting from a city shelter does not necessarily mean you are rescuing that particular animal from death. That ship might have already sailed.
posted by jennyb at 3:12 PM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Like others have noted, the local shelter networks are extremely
porous - in our experience, most shelter organizers are in close contact with other shelter contacts and foster group to maximize adoption rates and minimize euthanasia. For instance, a
no kill shelter that gets an
unadoptable aggressive dog might
trade it with the kill shelter (where it goes on the red list$ for an adorable puppy or a litter of

If you're still concerned about making a morally upstanding decision, adopting an adult animal will free up more space and resource than getting a puppy or kitten. Babies are snatched up fast, to the point where it's fairly rare for a kitten to spend more than a month at any given shelter (at least in my
volunteer experience) so its eventual removal is inevitable. Not
so with older animals. I saw many wonderful adult animals languish in no-kill shelters, getting wierder
and less adoptable with each passing month they were cooped up in a kennel.
posted by zoomorphic at 4:08 PM on August 2, 2010

Nthing that you should pick the dog, not the shelter.

Also, I've adopted and fostered many adult shelter dogs, and adult is totally the way to go. You have a better chance of getting a great dog because most people want puppies, and you have a better shot at knowing what you're getting (although even adult dogs' behavior can change and won't necessarily be the same in a home as in a shelter). Moreover, they are usually much less work than puppies and have more interesting personalities. Plus, as others have pointed out, you are doing an even better deed. In other words, congrats, you're doing all the right things!
posted by walla at 6:10 PM on August 2, 2010

I was torn by a similar question when looking for a dog to adopt. I leaned toward adopting from a high-kill shelter because I wanted to save a dog who was out of time. But there was this one dog whose Petfinder profile really caught my eye, and she was at a lower-kill shelter. We ended up going to the lower-kill shelter "just to see", and of course that was that. While filling out the adoption papers, I saw a list of animals that had been transferred from that shelter to other rescue organizations. Some of those organizations also rescued animals from those high-kill shelters, so I told myself that by adopting this dog at least I was freeing up one space in the system.

She's a wonderful dog, a good match for our family, and I think we made the right choice. (Also, I'm really glad we adopted an adult dog vs. a puppy - we already had a pretty good idea of her personality, and as a bonus she turned out to be fully housetrained.)

So I'd say go for the best match for you and either way, you are doing a good thing by adopting.
posted by spiny at 10:06 PM on August 2, 2010

All ethics are comparative: there is a school of thought* that says why are we investing time and energy into dogs when there are people in Africa who are starving.

If you're giving a dog a home from whichever pound or shelter, you're relieving a burden somewhere in the system. If you're taking an older dog, you're nearly certain to be saving it from a lifetime of misery in kennels or euthanasia. As others have said, be comfortable with whatever choice you're making - you're making an ethical choice either way.

I should add, not my school of thought.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:57 AM on August 3, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you for all the wonderful responses thus far - sometimes it helps to get reassurance that what you plan to do actually will be of benefit ... I'm not really looking to do the most "morally upstanding" thing for its own sake, but I do want to do what will help the most ... as a lot of you have pointed out, though, either option will help, and I do intend to continue volunteering at both shelters and donating to the city shelter regardless.

If this question is still open whenever we ultimately do find the right dog to adopt I'll be sure to update with the obligatory photos and all; in the meantime, thanks again for all the great input!
posted by DingoMutt at 12:41 PM on August 3, 2010

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