On Our Way To No Kill
For decades, millions of healthy dogs and cats have been dying each year in our animal shelters, but exactly how many was anyone’s guess: there was no central data repository, there was no mandated federal reporting for animal shelters, and states and municipalities could choose whether or not to track shelter outcomes, but many didn’t. What data existed was incomplete or inconsistent. Shelters disagreed about the definitions of terms used to describe the outcomes of sheltering companion animals. Indeed, we didn’t even know for sure how many shelters existed in the United States.
To fill in these knowledge gaps, various coalitions of animal shelters, funders, and other key stakeholders combined forces, and with this effort came improvements in outcomes for sheltered dogs and cats — as the old saw goes, “what gets measured, gets managed.” To compile the data, the Best Friends Animal Society built a database to collect information from all U.S. shelters. Statistics included the numbers of animals entering shelters and the outcomes for these animals. They also developed a target for each shelter and community to reach “no kill” status.
Before turning to the results of this study, a few definitions are in order.
- Intakes – Gross Intakes is the total number of Live Intakes at a shelter. Net Intakes subtracts transfers between agencies so that aggregations beyond the shelter level do not double count animals.
- Save rate – at the shelter level, the Save Rate equals (Live Intakes – Died in Care – Lost in Care – Shelter Euthanasia – Owner-Intended Euthanasia) / Live Intakes. Net Intakes is used in this calculation beyond the shelter level, as noted above.
- Number of animals killed – Best Friends defines “no kill” as having positive outcomes for at least 90% of the animals entering a shelter. Thus, the number of animals that die avoidably at a shelter equals (Died in Care + Lost in Care + Shelter Euthanasia + Owner-Intended Euthanasia – (0.10 x Live Intakes). The 0.10 multiplier is used to develop the number of animals that can die and still allow the shelter to reach the 90% threshold.
The news from the 2019 report is very encouraging: data-driven decisions save more lives. The 2019 dataset includes records from 74%, or 3,608, of the 4,850 shelters across the country, and accounts for 92% of all animals entering shelter care. Results from the analysis fall into four categories.
Outcomes By Species
There were 2.474 million dogs and 2.52 million cats, along with 634,000 undesignated animals taken in by shelters in 2019, a .23% increase over 2018. Of the animals killed in shelters, cats make up 69% of the total. More than two cats are killed for every dog. While these figures are dismal by any measure, they still represent an improvement in live outcomes of 19.4% since 2016.
State and Regional Differences
Five states — California, Texas, North Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana — were responsible for 52% of the animals killed in shelters in 2019. And just 100 (2%) of the 4,850 shelters accounted for 41% of dog and cat shelter deaths. The Mountain West has the highest proportion of no-kill shelters. Only two states have save rates less than 70%. Louisiana saves just 60% of its shelter animals, while Hawaii saves barely half, just 52%
Hawaii’s low save rate mirrors its per-capita rate of animals killed. Its shelters kill 10.4 animals per 1,000 residents, the highest rate in the country. This figure is also five times higher than the national aggregate figure of 2.0. And in 35 states, the rate is less than 2.0 per 1,000 residents.
Animal Sheltering Trends in Recent Years
The number of animals killed who were healthy and treatable declined 15%, from 732,797 to 625,400. Since 2016, that number has fallen 58%, an astonishing improvement. The save rate for 2019 reached 79%. Live outcomes, including adoption, return to owner [sic], and return to field (community animals), increased 10.9% from 2016 to 2019. The number of no-kill shelters nationwide now stands at 44%
This report contains a wealth of information for animal advocates. Using the free online data tools provided by Best Friends, they can benchmark their shelter’s or community’s progress towards no-kill. Boards, grant writers, and funders can all use these tools to create or improve on data-driven approaches that will save animal lives while using their limited resources most effectively.