The Shelter Voice: Open Admission vs. Limited Admission

by: Darlene Duggan

Part two of a multi-part series explaining the differences in the various types of animal shelters. To read part one, click here.

In the last post of “The Shelter Voice” I discussed the basic types of animal shelters. As explained, shelters are as unique as the animals within their walls; even organizations of the same type can have numerous differences in their missions and daily operations, particularly with the way they manage the flow (intake and outcome) of their animal population.

You are probably familiar with terms like “Open Admissions”, “Limited Admissions”, and “No-Kill” when referring to animal shelters. What these terms are describing is how a traditional shelter manages its population. Today, I am going to give you a more in-depth look at the meanings behind these terms.

Open Admission Shelters have an open-door policy, and will help any animal that needs their services. Because their intake is so unpredictable, Open Admission shelters may euthanize a portion of their population as a management tool, although they have become very creative in finding alternative solutions.

Many Open Admission shelters boast thriving foster programs, and a healthy relationship with rescue organizations and other facilities that can transfer the animals to their care and schedule intakes to distribute a more even flow of animals into the shelter. In addition, these types of organizations usually display aggressive spay/neuter efforts within their communities, and booming humane education programs to further prevent unwanted litters and future shelter intake. The drawback to this type of shelter model remains in the potential that the shelter may have to euthanize animals to make room for additional intakes.

On the opposite end of the Traditional Animal Shelter continuum are the Limited Admission Shelters—these shelters are also referred to as No-Kill. Limited Admission shelters control their intake by only accepting some animals into their facility, and by maintaining a wait list for admission. The primary benefit to this technique is that they significantly minimize their euthanasia, most often euthanizing only in extreme cases, or for natural reasons like end of life.

Because they control the intake of their animals, Limited Admissions shelters never have to euthanize for space.

Like Open Admissions shelters, Limited Admission shelters also have strong humane education programs and assertive spay/neuter initiatives within their communities. But, the drawback in this model of traditional sheltering is that Limited Admissions shelters cannot handle all animals in need, and must turn some away.

In order for a community to maximize its life-saving potential it should have a balance of shelters, with at least one large Open Admissions shelter, and at least one (though preferably many) Limited Admissions shelters—a balanced portfolio is best to maximize growth and minimize risk.

Open Admissions shelters take in every animal in need, but are sometimes obligated to euthanize for space. Limited Admissions shelters do not have to euthanize for space, but cannot help all animals in need. Neither scenario is ideal, so animal shelters within a community should work together to balance their homeless animal population at the macro level, rather than solely at the individual shelter level. Then we will truly have a community model with a well managed and well cared for homeless animal population.

The different approaches to managing shelter populations are the result of so much community involvement and growth within the field itself. No one shelter model is better than the other. It stands to reason that the various techniques used to solve the homeless animal population crisis are the result of differing opinions among those impassioned individuals at the forefront of the field. At this time, however, we must think more globally about the animals’ needs, and approach the problem as a community working together towards finding a balanced admissions community of shelters.


For many years, Darlene worked behind the scenes at The Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago–overseeing volunteer programs, problem solving shelter issues, and laboring tirelessly for the welfare of animals. Her bi-weekly column, The Shelter Voice, will explore the complex concepts surrounding animal rescue and welfare usually reserved for discussions amongst those at the very front lines of the industry. She hopes to broaden the understanding and education of shelter supporters so they can act as well-informed advocates for the cause and help spread the adoption and rescue message throughout their community.

To read more from Darlene, check out her Blog–Shelter Report.



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