The State of No-Kill

Dogs and cats are still dying in our nation’s shelters. Can we save them all or do we just need to get better at saving more?

What is “No Kill”?

We’ve all heard the term “no-kill”. It is not 100% of shelter animals saved. Best Friends Society, spearheading the “no-kill” movement, designates a shelter as “no-kill” when 90% of the animals entering a shelter are saved. They believe the number of pets suffering from irreparable medical or behavioral issues is not more than 10% of all dogs and cats entering shelters and have established a 90% save as the benchmark for “no-kill”. Some states and some shelters are much closer to achieving this 90% save rate than others. No-Kill states are colored dark green in the map below and low-priority states, light green.

The Toughest States

Red, orange and yellow are priority states who need to move closest to the no-kill benchmark. Some of the states NGPR is busiest in, fall far short of the 90% save rate. The Southeastern U.S. comprises the largest cluster of high and medium priority states designated by Best Friends in the move to no-kill. From Louisiana to Florida, the Southeast falls short of no-kill expectations. Alabama at 77% of animals reported saved, is one of the highest priority states along with Florida. Regional neighbors Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina are not ranked much higher.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the care and protection of animals also receives low priority in many of these states. The 2022 U.S. State Animal Protection Laws Rankings, published by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, places four of the no-kill priority states in the bottom tier of worst states for animal protection laws. These are Mississippi (#49), Alabama (#48), South Carolina (#44), North Carolina (#42), Georgia (#40). Kentucky, also a high priority “no-kill” state, is ranked #45 of the worst states for animal protection.

North Carolina also falls in the bucket of high priority no-kill states with only 77% of shelter animals reported saved, along with Texas (80%) and California (83%). The combined totals for Texas and California, have close to 1 million cats and dogs entering shelters annually. Together Texas, California, North Carolina, Florida and Alabama account for half the pets euthanized in the U.S. We know that Pyr rescues in Texas and California struggle with the large number of incoming animals as well.

When Shelters Can’t Help

Some high-kill shelters now advise owners not to surrender their dog to the shelter. This is because owner surrenders have no hold time. Shelters are required to hold strays for the number of days mandated by law for their owners to claim them. Owner surrenders have no mandated hold time and can be euthanized at any time to make room for incoming strays that shelters are required to hold. The number of people who contact rescues when they can’t keep their dog or after learning a shelter won’t take them is disturbing. Rescue can’t accommodate them all either so we direct them to sources for behavioral advice or how to best place the animal themselves. We hear of dogs being found wandering on the road after being abandoned by their owners. No one tracks abandonment and the impact of shelters advising people against surrendering their dogs.

Is Geography Destiny?

Starting from Florida, heading north through Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana is column of states (all of whom with the exception of Tennessee) receive a high or medium priority no-kill rating from Best Friends. We can speak from experience that this has been the busiest cluster of states for us and we continue to hear of many dogs who are in danger.

Tennessee receives a 88% no-kill rating, which we find surprising. Looking at counties NGPR pulls dogs from, especially in Eastern Northeastern TN, shelter data is incomplete, sometimes with zero shelters participating. We believe this may contribute to a higher than expected performance for the entire state where we find many dogs in peril. We believe Tennessee should be considered a high or medium priority state, along with its neighbors—Kentucky, North Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.

According to Best Friends, we have made progress in moving to no-kill. They believe that the percent of U.S. shelters that are no-kill has doubled in the past six years, from 24% in 2016 to 52% in 2021. This is good news but unfortunately, we still see a lot of dogs falling through the cracks. More has to be done to strengthen laws and change the minds, hearts and culture that causes so many animals to be abandoned and face euthanasia. Less kill will never be “no kill” but the more we understand about shelter intake, the more animals we can save.

For full coverage of Best Friends No-Kill initiative, visit their website.