What it means to be a no-kill shelter

and what this means at KC Pet Project

“No-Kill” is a common term that you hear when speaking about animal shelters, but what does that really mean?

We are frequently asked if we are a No-Kill shelter, and it can be a complicated topic to understand.

Over the past 20 years, the rise of the “No-Kill” movement has been a well-known term used in animal welfare. When KC Pet Project was founded in 2012, our goal was to take a shelter that had previously been euthanizing up to 70% of its animals and turn it around into a “No-Kill” shelter. We did so in just 6 months – a notable achievement.

For some who hear the term “No-Kill”, you may think that means a shelter doesn’t ever euthanize animals. To others, it may mean no healthy or treatable pet is euthanized, or that a shelter never euthanizes pets despite their behavior or the quality of life they are experiencing in the shelter. To most in the sheltering industry, it means that 90% of ALL pets that entered the shelter leave through positive outcomes, such as adoptions, return-to-home, or transfers to other shelters or rescue groups. We call the percentage of pets who leave with positive outcomes a “live-release rate”.

KC Pet Project is a nonprofit that runs the only open-admission, municipal shelter in Kansas City, which means we cannot limit the number of pets that come into our shelter.

We are the only animal shelter serving the entire city of Kansas City, Missouri’s 509,000 residents and their pets.

On average, we receive 40 – 60 new dogs and cats each day, 7 days a week – and each with their own unique story. Our staff and volunteers make it their mission every day to provide everything we can for the pet’s physical, medical, and emotional needs.

New dogs & cats
days a week
Pets in 2022

Over the past two years, the numbers of animals arriving at KCPP have risen from 11,000 pets a year (pre-pandemic) to nearly 16,000 pets arriving in 2022. Despite this record number of pets, we maintained a 96% live-release rate in 2022, which is an incredible accomplishment and a testament to the hard work of our staff and those who volunteer and foster pets for our organization to help us save lives. It is also thanks to our community’s support that we’re able to achieve these numbers.

Veterinary Team

Our veterinary team provides medical care for every animal that arrives — injured or ill, puppies dying of parvovirus, dogs who were hit by vehicles, pets who were poisoned, shot, or victims of physical violence. Abandoned kittens, animals that were neglected, starved, left behind, or were physically abused. Elderly pets, pets whose owners have died or have been incarcerated, and pets whose owners were unable to afford veterinary care for them.

Behavior and Enrichment Team

Our Behavior and Enrichment Team work every day with dogs who are under-socialized, have behavior challenges or are struggling with the emotional, stressful environment shelter life can bring for hundreds of dogs in confinement. Staff and volunteers provide enrichment toys/treats and time out of their kennels for every dog every day, but that may not be enough for a dog living in a stressful, crowded shelter surrounded by 250 – 300 dogs. Some dogs arrive having never lived inside a home or have never lived with other dogs, and our staff work hard to teach them the skills they will need to successfully acclimate outside the shelter setting.

We also have a responsibility to keep Kansas City residents safe by not placing animals that we feel may be unsafe, to relieve a pet’s suffering when they are in pain and discomfort, or when they are experiencing a poor quality-of-life at the shelter.

That is when a humane euthanasia decision is made. These behavior-related decisions are never easy and are made by a cross departmental team of people at KC Pet Project, with final sign off on every animal by our President/CEO. These decisions are shared in writing with our staff (and volunteers who elect to receive this information) with as much notice as possible and staff are allowed to sit with those animals during the procedure. Every one of these decisions weighs heavily on all of us.

When we reach a level of animals that is beyond our shelter’s capacity for providing humane care, we see more pets whose quality of life starts to deteriorate in the shelter environment. Dogs who spend months in a shelter may begin deteriorating and/or medically suffering in the shelter (which can include refusal to eat, losing weight, panting/barking all day long, spinning in their kennels, vomiting and diarrhea, and other concerns), and we must evaluate whether it is humane to keep this animal in our care any longer. We provide medications to help ease their stress, but many animals are so stressed that medications only provide so much relief.

These pets are prioritized for fosters homes, Dog Day Outs, marketing posts on social media, rescue placement, and our adoptions team works to find them homes. But when we see an animal that is suffering from the shelter environment, we want to take all the steps we can to help them leave the shelter before a euthanasia decision is made. If you see a pet that is being marketed on social media that is an urgent placement, it is because we are doing everything we can to not have to euthanize that pet because of their quality of life at the shelter, and we are asking our community for their help. Every pet that enters into our care is at-risk of euthanasia should they begin to experience or exhibit signs of behaviors, medical concerns, or other conditions that would constitute a consideration for humane euthanasia.


Hedwig, adopted, was a dog that was struggling with poor quality of life in the shelter.

Capacity for Care

Currently, the challenges that we face are due to being over our capacity for care with the volume of new pets coming in. According to the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program, “Capacity for Care (C4C), considered holistically, means being able to meet the needs of every animal admitted to a shelter, regardless of how they came in, when they came in or their age, health status and personality. Every sheltering organization must acknowledge their capacity for care and function within it to allow them to be the best resource for the animals and people in their community.” This includes the number of staff available to care for animals each day, our budget, and the number of kennels in our facility. Understanding and maintaining shelter capacity is fundamental to providing humane standards of care, maintaining animal health, and maximizing live outcomes.

When our intake numbers surpass our outcome numbers, when our capacity for care is beyond what we can provide for the animals at our shelter, and when animals begin to suffer as a result, this may be the time when euthanasia is discussed for some animals. The problem of being over capacity is solved largely by reducing the number of animals in need of shelter through preventative programs and by ensuring that the remaining homeless animals pass through shelters successfully through positive outcomes. Maintaining a live-release rate of over 90% is dependent on many variables and each animal and their case is a unique one. We have every confidence in the incredible team of people who dedicate their lives to the pets of Kansas City, MO, in these decisions, and we ask that you have trust in us that we will do all that we can for each and every animal in our care.

Capacity for Care at KC Pet Project

Shelters across the nations are experiencing a sheltering crisis. KC Pet Project is not unique in our current state of crisis capacity.

The Term "No-Kill"

The term “No Kill Shelter” can be confusing to the public.  Organizations with “limited admission facilities” can control and manage their population, and they are not contractually obligated to take in a pet. They can choose what pets come into their shelter. Unlike an “open-admission” municipal shelter (like KC Pet Project) that is contractually obligated to take in all homeless pets for Kansas City, which includes stray/lost pets and owned pets. Whether a shelter is limited or open-admission and the support they receive from their community can be a major factor as to whether a shelter is able to reach and maintain a “No-Kill” status.  But all shelters, unfortunately, have to make euthanasia decisions.  

The important thing to remember is there isn’t a single person that works at an animal shelter that wants to make the decision to euthanize a pet. Every euthanasia weighs heavily on all of us. 

More importantly, there is no agency that governs, oversees, or certifies a shelter for being “No-Kill”. This 90% standard is widely used across the industry, but not regulated. Organizations like Shelter Animals Count (SAC) or Best Friends Animal Society help us analyze the data to get a clear understanding of the number of animals that are currently in shelters across the county and what the national live-release rates looks like.  

KC Pet Project prides itself on being a transparent organization, and a national leader in animal welfare.  Each month, we share our intake/outcomes statistics, along with a comprehensive overview of all organizational programs from our CEO/President, Teresa Johnson. We encourage you to read these reports each month to see the progressive, lifesaving work our team at KC Pet Project is doing for pets and people across our community.  Our community IS the solution, and we hope you’ll get involved with our organization. We cannot be a lifesaving community without our community’s help and involvement.