WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Euthanasia is an emotional and controversial issue.
"This is, to me, one of the most volatile subjects next to pro life and pro choice," said Dianne Sauve, Director of the Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control.
Last year alone about 4 million cats and dogs were euthanized at shelters across the country, according to research from our partners at the Scripps Howard News Service. That's roughly half of the animals rescued by U.S. animal shelters.
With the struggling economy, shelters are getting more abandoned pets than ever before.
"No kill" shelters are popping up across the area, but many people don't know what they are and how they're different from other shelters. Some say the name can be deceiving.
Up to 100 animals are brought to the Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control facility every day.
"There's a limited amount of space and there appears to be an unlimited amount of animals coming in," said Sauve.
The Contact 5 Investigators discovered the shelter euthanized more than 13,000 unwanted, dangerous and sick animals just last year. That includes wild animals and private euthanasia as well.
And they're not alone.
Another 3,400 animals were euthanized at the Humane Society of the Treasure Coast, another 3,000 in Vero Beach.
"Let's face it, who wants to be for killing?" asked Sauve.
It's a question sparked by a growing movement across the country and here in South Florida -- the "no kill" movement.
"There's pressure mounting everywhere," said Sauve. It's the pressure not to euthanize animals.
The Tri County Humane Society in Boca Raton calls itself a no kill shelter.
"Everybody comes to us because they now we're a no kill," said Kimberly Spencer of Tri County.
If the cats and dogs don't get adopted, most will spend the rest of their lives at the facility.
"I think everyone needs one in their community," said Spencer.
The Contact 5 Investigators discovered it's one of about a dozen shelters of its kind in the area. But it doesn't mean every animal gets to live.
"There's a time and a place where you have to do the humane thing and let them go to sleep," said Spencer.
Even at a no kill shelter, Tri County euthanized five animals last year for medical-related issues.
"Because they are a private shelter they are able to say 'we can't take this dog,' " said Sauve.
For many, it all comes down to a shelter's admissions policy.
"I would say it's more about the admissions policies than the term no kill," said Frank Valente of the Humane Society of the Treasure Coast. "Our goal is to save as many lives as possible," he said.
While Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control does have a high euthanasia rate, it's also the only shelter in the county that has an open admission policy. A shelter with an "open" admission policy means it accepts any animal, any day of the week.
"We take everything," said Sauve.
It's the same at the Humane Society of the Treasure Coast.
"We don't turn away any animal for any reason whatsoever," said Valente.
But at Tri County and most other no kill shelters, they limit the number and types of pets they take.
"We do send people away," said Spencer. "We have a limit, we can't get overcrowded," she said.
The no kill shelter turns away animals every day.
The Contact 5 Investigators also discovered those shelters with high euthanasia rates tend to house animals picked up by animal control; animals that are often dangerous or have medical problems.
"It's a dilemma that we really struggle with because we don't want to put an animal to sleep," said Sauve.
"We can solve the problem but we certainly can't do it overnight and we certainly can't just say as of today, we aren't going to euthanize any more animals," said Sauve.
Many shelters have opened up pet "thrift" stores, formed partnerships with pet stores and work with animal rescue groups to keep as many animals alive as possible.
Investigative Producer Lynn Walsh contributed to this story.