[updated from my old blog; more relevant than ever]
You've probably heard about no-kill animal shelters, as opposed to shelters that euthanize animals. It seems pretty cut and dried--you probably prefer the idea of no-kill animal shelters.
But consider the following subtleties that you might not be aware of.
Open admission shelters take all animals, no matter their state of health, their temperament, their age, or any other factor.
On the other hand, no-kill shelters only accept highly adoptable animals, and when they're full, they don't accept any animals.
Which means people attempting to relinquish pets or strays at these places are sometimes turned away.
What do you suppose happens to stray animals turned away from "no kill" animal shelters?
Well, I guess if they're lucky, the folks who brought them in to the shelter keep looking until they find another shelter with open admission. If the animals are not so lucky, they are simply let loose again (which means starvation, being hit on a highway, or any of a number of ends that could include undue suffering). No-kill shelters know full well (or they should know full well) that when they refuse to take an animal, they've sidestepped responsibility. Despite their "no kill" status, they may even give out names and locations to the open admission shelters.
For example, the Humane Society in Bellevue has adopted political expediency and a "no kill" outward-looking face. So, when a terrier with a rough-looking demeanor showed up at their door as a stray a few weeks ago, the Humane Society refused to take the dog. Which meant the people who found him made the trek down to King County Animal Care and Control and turned the terrier over there. One of the shelter staff members, wondering if the dog were perhaps merely scared, took the dog home for a week to care for it. A dog the "no kill" Humane Society closed its doors to, kissing its fate up anyone else but itself. [At the time of this writing, I don't yet know the terrier's final outcome.]
So who has the higher 'moral' ground here? Those who pass the buck, or those willing, if necessary, to humanely euthanize an animal that has no prospect for adoption because of health or temperament? Or, in the case of the terrier I noted above, give a questionable animal a second chance?
Of course, all animal shelters have a role. Some no-kill shelters simply don't have the financial resources to employ a veterinarian to treat sick animals, so rather than take any chances, they turn all such animals away. And that's understandable--many of these shelters operate on a very small budget. They do what they can.
However, if animals slip into a no-kill shelter who turn out not to be adoptable, those animals are sometimes "warehoused," which basically means the animal is kept in a kennel or cubby so long that health and temperament slip to the point can justify euthanasia (yes, even at the "no kill" shelter). More considerate "no kill" shelters send these animals to open admission shelters (allowing them to hold on to their "no kill" status despite passing direct responsibility for the animal; at least it's the ethical thing to do).
BUT, a quality open admission shelter [which is no longer the Humane Society for Seattle/King County, I'm sad to say; now it's "no-kill" see here] might have programs, policies, and services in place to make certain every animal surrendered has the absolute best chance for finding its forever home--the Humane Society once had an 80% adoption rate! Its rate is skewed now, because of its new selective intake procedures.
So, to sum-up--"no kill" shelters are merely side-stepping responsibility, rightly or wrongly. I believe wrongly, especially the "no kill" shelters that take every opportunity to denigrate open admission shelters, and for shelters that have the resources to be open admission but choose to jump on the political bandwagon for the sake of public naivete, but at a real cost to stray pets.