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Ask a Vet: No-kill shelters good in principle, bad in practice
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When people start a sentence with “No offense,” they usually know they’re going to offend you. Sometimes they don’t care, sometimes they do and are just saying what needs to be said.

That being said ... no offense, but I detest the designated hitter.

If you’re going to play baseball, play baseball. If you can’t field, you shouldn’t play. I’m a purist, but if you refuse to deal with the difficulties of life, you shouldn’t be allowed all the pleasures.

Which brings me to rescue organizations.

Simplified, two types of rescues exist: those offering a chance at rescue for a short time, then euthanizing the homeless animal; and those deemed “no-kill” shelters.

Previously uncommon, no-kill shelters are becoming more popular as the public learns more about the plight of stray animals in our country. And the idea is beautiful. But a strict, hard-line, no-kill shelter is a beautiful but bad idea.

I want all animals to have a chance to find a home. Rescue facilities and foster homes are essential for this. But what often happens in no-kill shelters is an accumulation of animals that have significant issues that limit their adoptability.

Since the shelter does not euthanize on principle, the animal now lives in the facility, which is often a small bit of hell itself. Behavioral problems arise or worsen. Health is affected negatively by stress.

Plus, the space a young, healthy, easily adopted animal may have used for five days before finding a home isn’t there. No room at the inn. An unadoptable aggressive animal is living there instead.

When a no-kill shelter has such a situation, a difficult decision has to be made. And that’s where shelter directors and their consulting veterinarians and boards of directors come in. If such a decision has to be made, it’s not out of convenience; it’s necessary.

I recently learned of volunteers literally threatening a veterinarian and shelter staff if such an animal was to be euthanized.

Shame on you.

Assuming such a decision is simple or selfish is just wrong. And we all know what happens when you assume.

Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at

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