Pet Adoption, No-Kill Shelters, and PETA

Over the past year I’ve had the opportunity to become more involved in pet rescue and adoption, leading me to begin a page on Facebook called Sydney Saves. I often post photos of pets in need of adoption, sometimes facing euthanasia, and assist groups in the region who help to place these pets in foster homes. The year has been especially rewarding in that I’ve seen grass-roots efforts succeed in turning high-kill shelters, like Jackson Tennessee’s Rabies Control facility into low-kill shelters. Similarly, I’ve witnessed my own city face the pressures of unwanted animals, poor compliance with spay and neuter programs, and excessive rates of breeding. In fact, I’ve seen the city fail miserably and struggle to regain its credibility. A growing war is taking place, exacerbated by the effects of the recession on pet-owner behavior, and the locus for public debate beyond common support for spay and neuter programs is that of the ethics of animal shelter programming. On the one hand is the emerging interest among metropolitan areas in establishing “no-kill shelters.” A quick search on the term uncovers millions of hits and some handy aggregators such as and Some of the listings on the networks are purists, attempting to save every animal. On the other end of the spectrum, however, are some surprises. Some, like the Monterey County Animal Control in California, simply define an unadoptable animal as any animal they fail to place, which is not different in kind from the Jackson facility. Others, such as PETA, are categorically opposed to no-kill shelters, deeming them unethical in principle. In fact, PETA claims that such an approach actually results in more harm to animals, citing cases where animals are caged for years on end. This kind of emotion-laden question-begging is typical of PETA and fails to recognize any pragmatic answer, any middle ground. Perhaps that explains why PETA has such a miserable record itself for animal adoption, reported in The Atlantic as a mere 2.5%! According to the author of the article (“PETA’s Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Record of Killing Animals”), “Out of 760 dogs impounded, they killed 713, arranged for 19 to be adopted, and farmed out 36 to other shelters (not necessarily “no kill” ones). As for cats, they impounded 1,211, euthanized 1,198, transferred eight, and found homes for a grand total of five. PETA also took in 58 other companion animals — including rabbits. It killed 54 of them.” Something about those numbers seems unethical. A more grounded, reasoned approach can be found at The site does a reasonable job of spelling out the conditions, tests, practices, philosophies, and circumstances for shelters. Admittedly, the issue is a complex one, and the war over the treatment of animals in shelters, either in principle or practice, is far from over, if it is resolvable at all. Take time to get to know what your own city does and why, acquaint yourself with local groups developing grass-roots programs for adoption, and find a way to make a difference where you can. If you have any ideas, any responses, please post them here. We need all the minds, all the hands, and all the hearts we can get in this issue.

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