Euthanasia Policy Q&A

Frequently Asked Questions about
Euthanasia and No Kill

Q: Is the Animal Rescue League of Boston a No Kill shelter?

A: At the moment, the term No Kill doesn’t have a standard, universally-accepted definition.  When most people ask that question, they want to know:

1)      If animals at our shelter have a time limit on how long they can stay,  and

2)      If our shelter puts animals to sleep in order to create space for newly arriving animals.

The answer to those questions is no, the ARL does not put animals to sleep on the basis of length of stay, space, or breed.


Q: How does the ARL manage its shelter population to avoid the use of euthanasia/putting animals to sleep?

A: The ARL has a flexible admissions policy.  We take in animals based on our capacity to care for that particular animal and any physical health or behavioral issues an animal might have.

For instance, if we have a request to take in a food aggressive dog–a condition that is manageable but could make placing an animal in a home more difficult–and we already have several in the shelter, we will try to identify another shelter partner or breed-specific rescue organization that could take in the dog. We never want to put ourselves in the position of having more animals with complex needs to care for than we can reasonable do each day.  If an alternate placement isn’t currently available, we will put that animal on a wait list for admission.

Sometimes because of a complex medical or behavioral issue, an animal in our care cannot be placed in a home.   Again, we will work to identify another program that could help.  For cats that are unable to adapt to indoor life, for example, we work to place them in a barn cat program.

We also maintain a network of dedicated foster volunteers who can take home very young kittens and puppies that are too fragile for the animal shelter.  These volunteers have specialized foster homes also provide more intensive, one-on-one care outside the shelter environment for animals who need to re-acclimate to living with people or are recovering from surgery.

Our flexible admissions policy does mean we cannot immediately take in all animals in need, and we’re always working on our capacity to try and help more animals every day.


Q: What is the ARL’s position on using euthanasia/putting animals to sleep for population control?

A:  Unfortunately, the size of the homeless animal population outstrips the resources available to care for them in most communities right now, and this puts animals at risk.

The problem of unwanted pets is a community issue.  Shelters are just one part of the solution.  They can play an important role in building momentum for  concerted spay/neuter efforts, cultivating relationships among public and private shelters to help animals find permanent homes, and developing more innovative approaches for fostering animals outside the animal shelter system.

But most shelters just do not have the resources to do all these things alone.

They need the support of local governments, municipalities, and individuals to humanely decrease the number of cats and dogs living outdoors and on the streets in our communities.

Q: How many animals did the ARL euthanize in 2014?

A: In 2014, 2,732 cats taken in at ARL shelters, 357 were euthanized for humane reasons.  Of the 881 dogs taken in, 64 were euthanized.  This represents 13% and 7% of the total population brought in for care, respectively.

The percentages and total numbers represent a decline in euthanasia rates from 2013.

Because of the broad scope of our rescue and law enforcement programs, we take in high numbers of physically and behaviorally compromised animals.   Animals from hoarding cases, for example, often have very serious health and behavior conditions due to neglect.

Despite our best efforts to treat the animals we take in, our numbers reflect our commitment to caring for animals as individuals and the recognition that there are times when putting an animal to sleep is the most compassionate, caring, and responsible course for the animal’s well-being and for public health and safety.


Q: What do you think of Nathan Winograd’s movie, “Redemption,” and the issues it raises?

A:  We appreciate the attention it’s bringing to how we deal with the large number of homeless and stray animals we have in this country.

Approximately 7.6 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year, but that’s a fraction of the tens of millions of stray animals living outdoors and on the streets in our communities.

U.S. taxpayers pay an estimated $2 billion each year to round up, house, put to sleep, and dispose of homeless animals.  Animal population control is not just an animal shelter issue; it’s a societal issue that has implications for all of us.


Q: Will the ARL join the No Kill movement?

A:  We are not going to declare ourselves a “no kill” shelter.

Our philosophy is to evaluate every animal individually.  The ARL does not euthanize animals on the basis of length of stay, space, or breed.  If an animal has a serious health or behavior condition, we recognize that humanely putting an animal to sleep could be most compassionate and responsible course for the animal’s welfare and for public health and safety.


Q: What does the future hold for the issue of euthanasia in animal welfare?

A: Interestingly, there is no standard, universally-accepted method for shelters to report the number of animals they euthanize at the moment.  We endorse the current efforts of the Society of Animal Welfare Administrators to discuss definitions and measurement tools, and attempt to build a consensus opinion on language around the issue of animals euthanized or turned away from animal shelters.

In the meantime, the ARL will continue to pursue humane methods to decreasing the number of stray and homeless animals in Massachusetts through prevention with accessible, affordable spay/neuter services and trap-neuter-release programs for feral cats.

We also will continue to find every animal in our care a safe and loving home as quickly as possible so that we can take in more animals in need.

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