PAWS Chicago: when killing is not an option

If we try to guess what would be the leading cause of death for healthy dogs and cats in the United States, very few of us came up with the right answer: they are killed in so-called animal shelters. And a broad number of facilities are called with the same word “shelter”. They range from lifetime care facilities for homeless animals to adoption centers to others that are, in simple words, death houses. As we mentioned on a previous post, PAWS Chicago is one of the most prominent charities in the area, also considered the strongest voice in the city when talking about humane treatment of animals. And here is one important reason: they make part of the “No Kill Movement”, a comprehensive organization for animal-shelter reform aiming to promote policies where animals are not killed when healthy or treatable, under no circumstances. It makes a substantial difference to “shelters” where animals are killed when running out of space, animals are unattractive, handicapped or sick. No Kill Shelters save more than 90% of the animals taken in, reserving euthanasia for those animals terminally ill or considered dangerous to public safety.

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Image courtesy of Brad Perkins at

The No Kill principles and strategies

Shelters that refuse to change their paradigms normally argue that pet overpopulation hinders the possibilities of adoptions. They also say local government funding is not enough, thus killing is the only way the job gets done. The No Kill model challenges traditional methods, since the basic principle valuates each individual animal life, and at the same time, aims for the creation of strategies that help to solve the problem. Consequently, No Kill Shelters do everything they can to avoid any killing, unless animals are terrible ill or in pain. Common ways of action for shelters following the No Kill philosophy rely on the use of volunteers to expand its resources, continuous improvement of housing and medical protocols and active campaigning to reduce the number of homeless animals in their area of influence.   

Contrary to what could be expected, the No Kill model is sustainable, cost-effective and fulfills fiscal responsibility. Given that resources are expanded by volunteering and private philanthropy, care and human costs shift from public money to private from individuals or groups. Other components, for instance adoptions, are other sources of economic revenues. Spaying and neutering programs end to be less expensive, which means big savings in terms of reducing the number of animal entering to the system and therefore allocating more resources to saving lives.

PAWS Chicago, a national No Kill Model

The organization focus its work on putting in practice solutions that contribute to end the massacre of homeless pets, by the use of strategies such as adoption, spay and neuter surgeries, volunteering and care medicine. Since its foundation in 1997, the work of PAWS Chicago has remarkably helped to drop the number of pets killing, in more than 70%. Furthermore, PAWS Chicago is a national and international No Kill model, intending to build an animal compassionate city, where pets are no longer killed because of their condition. The organization continually receives shelters all around the country looking for guidance in order to implement the No Kill model.  

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Image courtesy of jeffreyw at

PAWS Chicago general facts

  • In 2015, the organization found a home for 5,987 animals, trough different initiatives, such as no-cage adoption centers in Highland and Lincoln Parks and off-site adoption events. This is a huge difference since animals adopted in 1998 were 168.  
  • Preventing unwanted pets is another strategy on PAWS Chicago model. Trough the Lurie Clinic and the mobile GusMobile, the organization can attend the most problematic areas for homeless pets, where surgeries for families who cannot afford the procedure are either free or at a very low cost. In 2015, PAWS Chicago performed more than 18,000 spay/neuter surgeries. The impact of the reduction on unwanted pet population is huge, since they have spayed/neutered more than 193,000 pets from their beginning in 1998.
  • As No Kill shelters do everything they can to avoid any killing, unless animals are terrible ill or in pain, PAWS Chicago treat thousands of injured and sick pets in their Medical Center. Euthanasia is only reserved to alleviate suffering. In 20015, the organization saved 97.87% of the animals taken in. according to their perspectives, Chicago will become a No Kill city in the next five years, sin numbers of homeless pets killed annually dropped from more than 42,000 in 1997 to less than 10,000 in 2014.
  • Fighting animal cruelty and inhumane practices is another concern for PAWS Chicago. For this reason, the have been involved in different programs, providing resources and information to children about animal care, working with legislators on the raising of standards of care in shelters and sponsoring legislation against gas chambers and making training for euthanasia technicians mandatory in Illinois shelters.

Animals are exploited and abused, it is a fact that is worthy of our attention. Our community should be very proud of the outstanding work of PAWS Chicago.  


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