Ranking the Nation’s Top No Kill Shelters: Part 4 – Final Results

This blog is the fourth and final one in a series on finding the nation’s best no kill animal control shelter. In Part 1, I described the five shelters under consideration and compared the difficulty of their challenges. In Part 2, I rated each shelter’s commitment to respecting life and not killing animals. In Part 3, I compared the effectiveness and efficiency of the shelters’ lifesaving programs. You can read those three blogs herehere and here. In this blog, I rank the five shelters and provide my rationale for doing so.

Final Rankings

5. Pima Animal Care Center

Pima Animal Care Center’s live release programs yielded some impressive results. In 2019, the shelter had the second highest stray dog reclaim rate and shelter-neuter return percentage of total cat outcomes. Additionally, in both 2019 and 2020, Pima Animal Care Center achieved the second highest per capita dog adoption rate. Also, the shelter had the second highest pit bull per capita adoption rate in 2019. Finally, Pima Animal Care Center had the shortest overall and adoption lengths of stay for dogs and cats, as well as for pit bulls and adult cats, by very wide margins. Thus, Pima Animal Care’s had some excellent live release programs.

While Pima Animal Care Center performed impressively for the most part in its live release programs, its cat adoption program fell short. In both 2019 and 2020, the shelter had the second lowest cat adoption percentage of total cat outcomes and per capita cat adoption rate. Additionally, the top ranking shelters outperformed Pima Animal Care Center by wide margins in these metrics.

Pima Animal Care Center’s shelter-neuter-return program sent a significant number of relatively young kittens back to their outdoor homes. Specifically, 15% of these cats were five months or younger (almost all were between three and five months). While some cat experts believe shelters should return such animals to field if healthy, I’m not comfortable doing so given these animals could be more susceptible to outdoor deaths and are easy to adopt out if they are not truly feral. Personally, I think organizations should hold off on shelter-neuter-returning young cats until large scale studies prove animals of this age are at low risk of death on the streets.

The shelter had the second largest decrease in cat intake in the three months after COVID-19 hit and for all of 2020 compared to the prior year periods. While we don’t know whether this was due to good intake reduction programs relating to the shelter’s implementation of the Humane Animal Support Services model of sheltering or simply refusing to take animals in who needed help, the reduction in dog intake was similar to most of the other shelters. Therefore, this suggests the shelter may have took fewer cats in due to its intake policies rather than surrender prevention and other programs to responsibly reduce animal intake.

Despite Pima Animal Care Center having several impressive live release programs, the shelter failed to achieve no kill for both dogs and cats based on my standards. The organization’s 6% dog death rate in both 2019 and 2020, which was the second worst of all the shelters, fell below my and many other no kill advocates 5% benchmark for no kill. In the three months after the COVID-19 pandemic began in the Spring of 2020, the dog death rate rose to 8%. When it came to cats, Pima Animal Care Center failed to even achieve the more lenient generally accepted standard of no kill (i.e. 10% death rate or less). The shelter had cat death rates of 12% in 2019, 17% in the three months after COVID-19 hit in Spring 2020 and 11% in 2020. As a result, Pima Animal Care Center is still a kill shelter.

Pima Animal Care Center was a mixed bag when it came to animals with behavioral issues. The shelter did not kill any cats for behavior/aggression problems since such animals are not a serious threat to people and lifesaving alternatives exist. On the other hand, Pima Animal Care Center killed the second highest percentage of dogs for behavior/aggression in 2019. Even worse, the shelter killed around two and half times the percentage of pit bulls for behavior as the top ranked shelter in 2019. While the overall dog behavior euthanasia percentage was not that much higher than the other shelters in 2019 and the 2020 percentage was similar to the other shelters’ 2019 percentages, Pima Animal Care Center still killed three small dogs for behavior/aggression in 2019 and killed a number of dogs for animal aggression in both years. Furthermore, the shelter killed dogs for behavior reasons quicker than the other facilities (21 days on average) in 2019 that suggests it did not commit as much of an effort as it could to these animals. Thus, Pima Animal Care Center still killed some dogs with manageable behavior problems.

Pima Animal Care Center killed too many dogs and cats for medical issues and allowed too many animals to die. Overall, Pima Animal Care Center had the highest percentages of both dogs and cats euthanized for medical reasons in 2019. Furthermore, the shelter had the highest percentage of cats who died or went missing. In a stunning video from the 2020 American Pets Alive Conference, Pima Animal Care Center’s Director of Veterinary Services admitted the shelter has no written protocols for dealing with animals who come in with serious medical problems and allows the veterinarians to make killing/euthanasia decisions in these cases without any oversight from the shelter director or a euthanasia committee. Even more surprising, the shelter director, Kristen Hassen-Auerbach, collaborated on the behavior parts of a No Kill Advocacy Center guide that also included medical euthanasia protocols requiring shelter directors to sign off on medical euthanasia decisions. Additionally, the shelter killed cats for medical reasons far quicker than the other shelters (3 days on average compared to 10 days to 39 days) that suggests it did not always do everything it could to save these animals. Simply put, Pima Animal Care Center’s leadership team needs to scrutinize its medical euthanasia decisions much more carefully.

The shelter’s results in this blog are consistent with assertions made by a local no kill group several years ago. In April 2018, No Kill Pima County wrote a blog towards the end of Kristen Hassen-Auerbach’s first year at the facility. In that blog titled “Are We There Yet?”, the advocacy organization stated the shelter still killed animals for “treatable medical conditions”, such as “diabetes”, “poor body scores, renal disease, suspected/undiagnosed early cancer, suspected liver issues or calcivirus with mouth ulcers.” While the records I received did not contain this level of detail, the cat death rates in 2019 were not that much lower than they were at the time No Kill Pima County wrote that blog. Additionally, the blog mentioned the killing of “sweetheart dogs who love people but just cannot get along with other dogs and need to be a ‘one and only.’ ” Given Pima Animal Care Center did kill a decent number of dogs solely for animal aggression in both 2019 and 2020, this issue still exists today. As a result, Pima Animal Care Center has not reached the pinnacle that no kill requires.

Pima Animal Care Center’s performance is disappointing given the vast resources it had. Overall, the shelter had the second highest revenue per dog and cat and it was more than twice as much as Lake County Animal Shelter which had significantly lower dog and cat death rates. Furthermore, Pima Animal Care Center had a new state of the art facility during all the periods I examined (no other shelter had one for both years). Additionally, the facility had the second highest level of rescue support. While the shelter did have the second highest per capita dog intake, its facility also had the second greatest amount of time to get animals out alive due to its large size. Furthermore, Pima Animal Care Center had many intangible resources from the shelter’s relationships with both American Pets Alive and Maddie’s Fund. Clearly, Pima Animal Care Center had the resources to achieve no kill.

Ultimately, Pima Animal Care Center’s performance is a story of a missed opportunity. When Kristen Hassen-Auerbach came to lead the shelter, I had huge expectations given her great success at Virginia’s Fairfax County Animal Shelter and at Austin Animal Center. While Pima Animal Care Center did reduce its dog death rate by a good margin (though still not to a no kill level in my book) after she took over the shelter, the cat death rate remained unchanged. Given the organization moved into a brand new state of the art facility at the end of 2017, these results are underwhelming.

Despite Pima Animal Care Center’s disappointing results, it can easily move up this list and achieve the success it should. If the organization improves its veterinary treatment and related protocols and handles its behavior case dogs better, the shelter can rank higher. Given Pima Animal Care Center’s excellent adoption program, short average lengths of stay and innovative programs (e.g. world class foster program), the shelter should be able to accomplish these things. Unfortunately, the shelter will have to do this without Ms. Hassen-Auerbach as she left to join American Pets Alive in October 2020.

4. KC Pet Project

KC Pet Project’s adoption performance stood out from all the other organizations. During 2019 and 2020, KC Pet Project had the highest adoptions percentage of total outcomes and per capita adoption rates for both dogs and cats. Additionally, the shelter’s 2019 pit bull per capita adoption rate was the highest I’ve ever seen.

While KC Pet Project’s adoption program was excellent, it had the worst owner redemption metrics. Specifically, the shelter had the lowest owner reclaim percentage of total dog outcomes in both 2019 and 2020 and the worst stray dog reclaim rate in 2019. Furthermore, KC Pet Project’s owner reclaim percentage of total dog outcomes has barely increased since 2012 (the first year it took over the shelter). This was the smallest improvement of any shelter. While KC Pet Project did not return any cats to field, this is due to legal constraints.

KC Pet Project’s average length of stay was short and in line with the other shelters. While the organization had the second longest average length of stay for both dogs and cats in 2019, it was pretty close to the next two shelters and still short. When we consider KC Pet Project’s heavy reliance on adoptions, which usually take longer than owner reclaims, shelter-neuter-return and transfers to rescues, this makes sense. In fact, KC Pet Project had the second shortest dog adoption average length of stay and third shortest cat adoption average length of stay. Given KC Pet Project’s high per capita adoption rate, these adoption average lengths of stay are impressive since the organization had to find many adopters.

The shelter did not severely limit intake after the COVID-19 pandemic began. In April-June 2020, the decrease in KC Pet Project’s dog and cat intake from the corresponding 2019 period was similar to most of the other organizations. For all of 2020, KC Pet Project had the smallest decrease in dog intake and took in more cats than the prior year (all the other shelters impounded fewer cats). Thus, KC Pet Project did not leave animals at risk on the streets or elsewhere.

KC Pet Project achieved no kill for cats in both 2019 and 2020. In both years, the organization had death rates that achieved the general no kill standard (i.e. 10%) and my stricter standard (i.e. 8%). However, the shelter did not meet either standard during the three months after COVID-19 started in April-June 2020. The shelter had the second lowest cat death rate in 2019 (just behind the top ranked organization), third lowest cat death rate during April-June 2020 and second highest cat death rate in 2020. Most impressively, KC Pet Project had the lowest nonreclaimed cat adoption rate, which excludes cats returned to owners and shelter-neutered-returned, in 2019 when we include Austin Animal Center with Austin Pets Alive rather than Austin Animal Center alone. Additionally, KC Pet Project had the lowest percentage of cats who died or went missing (when combining Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive) and a medical euthanasia percentage in line with the other shelters during 2019. Finally, the shelter did not kill any cats for behavior/aggression in 2019. Considering KC Pet Project could not do shelter-neuter-return due to legal constraints, these results are impressive.

KC Pet Project failed to achieve no kill for dogs. Overall, the shelter had the highest dog death rate in 2019, April-June 2020 and 2020. While the shelter did meet the general no kill threshold of 10% in these periods, the organization did not come close to meeting my higher standard of 5% in any of them. In fact, the shelter barely met the 10% standard for pit bulls in 2019 (10.4% death rate).

The organization euthanized the second highest percentage of dogs for medical reasons in 2019. When looking at medical euthanasia, KC Pet Project euthanized around 3% more dogs and four times the percentage of dogs than the next higher ranking shelter. While I don’t have the shelter’s detailed reasons for these euthanasia decisions, the difference is too large for me to write these all off as truly hopelessly suffering animals.

KC Pet Project’s behavior killing was shocking and shows why it failed to achieve no kill for dogs. During 2019, the shelter killed the greatest percentage of dogs for behavior. In fact, the shelter killed four times the percentage of the next higher ranking organization and ten times the percentage of the top ranking shelter. When we examine the 2019 numbers more closely, KC Pet Project killed 19 dogs for animal aggression (17 were pit bulls), four dogs for extreme anxiety (three were pit bulls), five dogs for extreme arousal (four were pit bulls) and one dog for extreme resource guarding. In 2020, the shelter killed 19 dogs for animal aggression (14 were pit bulls), two dogs for extreme anxiety (one was a pit bull), seven dogs for extreme arousal (six were pit bulls) and two dogs for extreme resource guarding (one was a pit bull). Additionally, the shelter killed six times the percentage of small dogs for aggression as the next closest shelter in 2019 (the other three shelters did not kill a single small dog for behavior). Clearly, KC Pet Project did not fully commit to respecting the lives of dogs. Thus, KC Project failed to achieve no kill for dogs.

The organization faced a tough challenge in 2019. KC Pet Project had the highest per capita intake for dogs, cats and pit bulls in 2019 and the second highest adult cat per capita intake during that year. Also, the shelter’s smaller size gave it the second shortest amount of time to get animals out alive in 2019. Additionally, KC Pet Project had the second least amount of funding per dog and cat and second worst facility during 2019. Thus, KC Pet Project faced significant obstacles.

While KC Pet Project faced a tough situation in 2019, that does not explain why it killed too many dogs. Many shelters with higher per capita dog intake rates have achieved no kill. Additionally, the organization with the least funding per dog and cat and worst facility had a much lower dog death rate and did not kill dogs for treatable or manageable behavior problems. Furthermore, KC Pet Project moved into a state of the art shelter in the beginning of 2020 and continued to kill dogs for the same reasons as it did in 2019. This $26 million shelter, which taxpayers paid $14 million for, has three times the space as the old one and is located in a desirable location near the Kansas City Zoo and a major theatre. As a result, KC Pet Project failed to achieve no kill for dogs due to the organization not fully respecting life rather than it lacking resources.

Despite KC Pet Project killing dogs, it can still easily achieve no kill if it revamps its dog medical and behavior protocols. On a positive note, the shelter generally took a long time before killing/euthanizing animals (i.e. longest and second longest time on average for cats and dogs among the shelters) which suggests the shelter is giving animals a chance. However, the shelter needs to go further when it comes to dogs. If it does, the organization can easily achieve no kill given the many other things it does well.

3. Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive

Austin Animal Center had no kill level death rates in both 2019 and 2020. In 2019, Austin Animal Center had the third lowest dog death rate (second if not counting Austin Pets Alive) and the best cat death rate. The shelter met my stricter no kill thresholds for cats and was well under the 5% dog death rate standard. However, the shelter dropped to third place (including Austin Pets Alive) when we look at the cat nonreclaimed death rate due to the many cats shelter-neutered-returned. During 2020, Austin Animal Center had the second lowest dog death rate and the third best cat death (second lowest if not counting Austin Pets Alive). For both dogs and cats in 2020, the shelter was well below my no kill death rate thresholds. During April-June 2020, Austin Animal Center had the second lowest dog death rate and the second worst cat death rate. While the shelter was well under my more stringent dog death rate threshold for no kill in this three month period, the facility’s cat death rate was significantly above the more lenient 10% no kill threshold.

The shelter euthanized the lowest percentage of animals for behavior/aggression in 2019. Austin Animal Center euthanized no cats and no small dogs for behavior or aggression. Additionally, the shelter euthanized the fewest percentage of dogs for aggression/behavior and finished a close second (including Austin Pets Alive) and first (not including Austin Pets Alive) when looking at pit bull behavior euthanasia. However, it is possible the two shelters euthanized a greater percentage of dogs for behavior based on much more conservative assumptions (Austin Animal Center-Austin Pets Alive would rank third among the five communities’ shelters). Thus, Austin Animal Center had good behavior euthanasia numbers.

Austin Animal Center’s medical euthanasia and cat death metrics were in line with the other shelters in 2019. Overall, Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive euthanized the third and fourth lowest percentages of dogs and cats for medical reasons. However, these percentages were close to the facilities ranking higher. The two shelters also had the second lowest percentage of cats who died or went missing.

The shelter took a decent amount of time before euthanizing animals. Austin Animal Center had the third longest average length of stay for euthanized dogs and cats.

Austin Animal Center’s owner reclaim performance was average among the shelters. In both 2019 and 2020, Austin Animal Center’s owner reclaims percentage of total dog outcomes ranked third. However, the shelter only ranked fourth for the stray dog reclaim rate. Additionally, the shelter’s owner reclaims percentage of total dog outcomes only increased slightly over the last seven years. Nonetheless, Austin Animal Center’s two owner redemption metrics were very close to the shelters just above it.

Austin Animal Center shelter-neutered-returned the most cats by far of all the shelters. The shelter returned nearly three times the percentage of cats to field as the next closest shelter. As with Pima Animal Care Center, Austin Animal Center shelter-neutered-returned a significant number of under six month old kittens (two to five months old) that I have safety concerns about.

Austin Animal Center’s adoption performance was a mixed bag. When we include Austin Pets Alive, the two organizations had the second highest adoption percentage of dog outcomes in both 2019 and 2020. Both organizations had the third highest per capita dog adoption rate in 2019 and either the second lowest (including puppies born from dogs Austin Animal Center transferred to Austin Pets Alive) or the lowest dog per capita adoption rate (not counting these puppies) in 2020. When it came to cats, the two shelters had the second lowest cat adoptions percentage of outcomes in 2019 and 2020. The two combined shelters had the second lowest cat per capita adoption rate in 2019 and either the second lowest (counting kittens born after Austin Animal Center transferred their mothers to Austin Pets Alive) or the lowest cat per capita adoption rate (not counting these kittens) in 2020. However, Austin Animal Center itself (i.e.without Austin Pets Alive) finished dead last in every adoption metric except for the 2020 adoption percentage of dog outcomes (the shelter placed second to last). Thus, Austin Animal Center did a poor job adopting out animals and relied heavily on Austin Pets Alive to find animals new homes.

While Austin Animal Center had pretty good average length of stay metrics, the figures are skewed due to the shelter transferring many animals to Austin Pets Alive. Overall, Austin Animal Center had the second shortest average lengths of stay for dogs and cats. The shelter also had the third shortest dog adoption average length of stay and second longest cat adoption average length of stay. However, this data is misleading since Austin Animal Center transfers so many more animals than the other shelters. Given many animals stay a long time at Austin Pets Alive, an apples to apples comparison with the other organizations would likely show Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive have a much longer combined average length of stay. Thus, Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive’s combined average length of stay metrics likely would rank lower (especially when it comes to adoptions).

Austin Animal Center faced the easiest challenge of all the shelters. While the shelter did have the shortest time to get animals out alive due to the smaller size of its facility (which was due to Austin Animal Center management at the time), the organization also received the second fewest dogs and cats on a per capita basis. In fact, Austin Animal Center took in around only half as many pit bulls and adult cats on a per capita basis as the highest per capita intake shelter. Additionally, Austin Animal Center sent two to three times the percentage of dogs and four to fifteen times the percentage of cats to rescues and other shelters as the other organizations. Austin Animal Center also received significantly more funding per dog and cat than the other shelters. In fact, the shelter received around three times as much as the shelter with the lowest revenue per dog and cat. Finally, Austin Animal Center had a very good physical facility. As a result, Austin Animal Center had far more resources than the other shelters.

The shelter’s results also raise concerns about how it tried to achieve no kill. First, 20% of the cats released through the shelter-neuter-return programs were between two to five months old and may be at higher risk of prematurely dying outdoors. Second, Austin Animal Center took in 72% and 50% fewer dogs during April-June 2020 and in all of 2020 compared to the prior year periods. Similarly, the shelter shelter impounded 74% and 55% fewer cats over these time frames. In fact, no other shelter came close to these decreases except for Pima County Animal Care (cats during April-June 2020). Given this data corroborates local advocates claims about the shelter leaving animals on the streets and the shelter’s management efforts to codify that practice, this is a major issue for me.

Ultimately, Austin Animal Center did not rank higher due to it not performing well enough with its vast resources. While the shelter did have good respect for life data (i.e. death rates, percentages of animals euthanized for behavior and medical reasons), the results did not stand out from the higher ranking shelters with far less rescue help and funding. Furthermore, the shelter seemed to try and take shortcuts to achieve no kill that put animals at risk. Thus, Austin Animal Center’s performance fell short of the the two higher ranking shelters.

2. Williamson County Animal Shelter

Williamson County Animal Shelter had low death rates. In 2019, the shelter had the second best dog death rate (1.8%), which was well below my no kill threshold of 5%, when we combine Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive and the second highest cat death rate (10.8%). The 2019 cat death rate seems like a fluke as the cat death rates in 2017 (9.6%), 2018 (7.0%) and 2020 (April-June: 7.6%; full year: 5.4%) were much lower and met the general or even my more stringent no kill thresholds. In fact, Williamson County Animal Shelter mentioned it struggled with many cruelty cat cases (where the cats must stay in the shelter until the case is adjudicated) in its fiscal year ending 9/30/19 report. During April-June 2020, Williamson County Animal Shelter had the second lowest dog death rate (2.5%) when we combine Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive and the lowest cat death rate. For all of 2020, Williamson County Animal Shelter’s dog death rate tied for second place when combining Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive (including puppies born at Austin Pets Alive) and the shelter’s cat death ranked best. Thus, Williamson County Animal Shelter had impressively low death rates.

The shelter did an excellent job with behavior cases animals. Williamson County Animal Shelter did not kill a single cat or small dog for behavior/aggression in 2019. Additionally, the organization euthanized the third fewest dogs for behavior (0.47%) and was very close to the two higher ranking shelters. While the shelter did euthanize two dogs for animal aggression, the shelter’s questionable dog euthanasia decisions were far fewer than KC Pet Project and Pima Animal Care Center.

Williamson County Animal Shelter’s medical euthanasia statistics were generally good. Overall, the shelter had the second lowest dog medical euthanasia rate and best cat medical euthanasia percentage when combining Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive during 2019.

While Williamson County Animal Shelter’s percentage of cats who died or went missing (7.04%) was second highest in 2019, this was likely an anomaly due to the many cruelty cases that year. In 2017, 2018 and 2020 the percentages were only 5.3%, 3.4% and 2.5%. These percentages would either fall in line with the other shelters in 2019 or rank among the best.

The shelter also did a good job returning dogs to owners. Williamson County Animal Shelter had the second highest owner reclaims percentage of dog outcomes in both 2019 and 2020. Additionally, the facility had the third best improvement in this metric. Finally, the shelter had the third highest stray dog reclaim rate in 2019.

While Williamson County Animal Shelter did not shelter-neuter-return cats, it still had a good size community cat sterilization program. If we counted the shelter’s TNR cats in its statistics, these would have been 11% of cat outcomes.

Williamson County Animal Shelter’s dog adoption performance was pretty good. The shelter had the third and fourth highest adoptions percentage of dog outcomes in 2019 and 2020. The organization had the fourth highest per capita dog adoption rate in both 2019 and 2020. However, the shelter’s high percentage of owner reclaims and lower dog intake (for the per capita dog adoption rate) impacted these metrics. Given we want shelters to return dogs to owners, this is a good thing.

Williamson County Animal Shelter did an excellent job adopting out cats. In 2019 and 2020, the shelter had the second highest adoptions percentage of cat outcomes. Additionally, the shelter had the third best (just behind the facility above it) and second highest per capita cat adoption rate in 2019 and 2020.

While Williamson County Animal Shelter had much longer average lengths of stay than the other shelters, I could not make conclusions due to discrepancies between this data and what the shelter reported. Therefore, I did not incorporate average length of stay into my assessment.

Williamson County Animal Shelter did not leave animals on the streets after COVID-19 began. During April-June 2020, the shelter’s dog intake decreased around the same as most of the other shelters and its cat intake dropped the least. Similarly, Williamson County Animal Shelter’s dog intake decreased around the same as the other organizations and its cat intake dropped by the second smallest percentage for all of 2020.

The shelter’s challenges were about average among the facilities. While Williamson County Animal Shelter had the lowest per capita dog intake in 2019, it had the third highest per capita cat intake that year. The organization had the third shortest time to get animals out alive in 2019. During 2019 and 2020, Williamson County Animal Shelter had the third and second worst physical facility. The shelter had the third smallest amount of funding per animal in 2019. Additionally, the shelter had the second lowest amount of rescue support for both dogs and cats. While the shelter did not break out most dog breeds in 2019, the shelter took in a much smaller number of pit bulls on a per capita basis than the other facilities when it last included this information.

Overall, Williamson County Animal Shelter performed extremely well. The shelter’s balanced approach helped it achieve no kill in a variety of ways (i.e. owner reclaims, community cat sterilization and adoptions). Additionally, the shelter mostly demonstrated good respect for life. So why didn’t Williamson County Animal Shelter rank first? The shelter’s dog breed data and average length of stay data was not sufficient in 2019. More importantly, the top ranking shelter just performed better. Regardless, Williamson County Animal Shelter should be proud of its accomplishments.

1. Lake County Animal Shelter

Lake County Animal Shelter had the lowest dog death rates and achieved no kill for dogs in every period. In 2019, the shelter’s dog death rate was just 1.1%, which was way below my more strict 5% no kill threshold, and was significantly better than every other organization. When we look at just pit bulls in 2019, the 2.1% death rate was around 1.3% to 1.6% lower than the next highest ranking shelter (when combining Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive). The pit bull death rate difference was even larger than for all dogs. During April-June 2020 and all of 2020, Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog death rates were 0.7% and 1.9% and again were significantly lower than the next closest shelter (i.e. 1.8% less and 0.7% less in April 2020-June 2020 and all of 2020). Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter had the best dog death rates and easily achieved no kill for dogs.

The shelter also had low cat death rates. In 2019, the shelter’s 9.0% cat death was less than the general no kill threshold of 10%. While the cat death rate was slightly higher than my more stringent no kill threshold of 8.0%, its possible the shelter’s cat death was lower if some cats I excluded from the calculations as TNR were really shelter-neuter-return (i.e. finder brings cat to shelter as a stray, but then agrees to do TNR and become a caretaker). In fact, the facility’s stray cat intake from finders decreased significantly in 2019 while the number of cats it took in under its Operation Caturday sterilization program increased that year. Even using the 9.0% cat death rate, Lake County Animal Shelter finished in third place and its cat death rate was less than 1% higher than the best performing shelter (when combining Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive). During April-June 2020 and all of 2020, Lake County Animal Shelter’s 7.9% and 6.2% cat death rates were both lower than my more strict no kill threshold. In both periods, Lake County Animal Shelter had the second lowest cat death rate (when combining Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive). Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter did an excellent job with cats.

Lake County Animal Shelter also handled behavior euthanasia decisions extremely well. The shelter did not kill a single cat or small dog for behavior/aggression in 2019. Additionally, the shelter euthanized the second lowest percentage of dogs for behavior (just behind Austin Animal Center) and the lowest percentage of pit bulls for behavior (when combining Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive).

The shelter also limited medical euthanasia to a great degree. In 2019, Lake County Animal Shelter euthanized the smallest percentage of dogs and second lowest percentage of cats (when combining Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive) for medical reasons. Additionally, the shelter’s percentage of cats who died or went missing was in the middle of the range for all shelters and within 1% of the best performing shelter (when combining Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive). Finally, the shelter took a similar amount of time before euthanizing animals as other high performing shelters. As a result, Lake County Animal Shelter did an excellent job treating and saving sick and injured animals.

Lake County Animal Shelter outperformed all the other shelters when it came to returning dogs to owners. In 2019, Lake County Animal Shelter’s owner reclaims percentage of dog outcomes and stray dog reclaim rate were significantly higher than the other shelters. During 2020, Lake County Animal Shelter’s owner reclaims percentage of dog outcomes further increased and was around 12% higher than the next best organization. Furthermore, Lake County Animal Shelter increased its owner reclaims percentage of dog outcomes more in the four years after it went no kill than all the other shelters did over periods ranging from seven to thirteen years. Simply put, Lake County Animal Shelter’s proactive owner redemption program is a role model for all shelters.

The shelter also had excellent community cat sterilization programs. Lake County Animal Shelter had the third highest shelter-neuter-return percentage and ranked close behind the second place shelter. As mentioned above, the organization’s shelter-neuter-return percentage could be higher if some the cat sterilizations I excluded as TNR were really shelter-neuter-return. If we counted all cat sterilizations in total cat outcomes, these would represent 22% of such outcomes and be twice Williamson County Animal Shelter’s percentage. Unlike the two higher ranking shelter-neuter-return facilities, Austin Animal Center and Pima Animal Care Center, Lake County Animal Shelter did not shelter-neuter-return a single cat that was under six months of age. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter’s excellent community cat sterilization programs helped large numbers of cats and did so in a manner consistent with no kill values.

Lake County Animal Shelter dog adoption metrics were in the middle and lower end of the rankings. In 2019, the shelter’s adoption percentage of dog outcomes ranked last and its per capita dog adoption rate was tied for fourth best when combining Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive. However, when we look at harder to adopt pit bulls, Lake County Animal Shelter placed third in both metrics. In 2020, the shelter’s adoption percentage of dog outcomes ranked last, but the shelter’s per capita dog adoption rate was third best.

While these dog adoption results may not seem that impressive, they are when you consider the shelter had fewer dogs to adopt out due to it returning so many dogs to owners. In fact, Lake County Animal Shelter had the highest percentage of dogs returned to owners or adopted out and third highest on a per capita basis. Additionally, the two shelters that had more dogs returned to owners or adopted out on a per capita basis took in more dogs and had much higher kill rates. Therefore, these two higher ranking shelters had more dogs and more easy to adopt ones to place. As a result, Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog adoption results were very good when considering the big picture.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat adoption results were very good. During 2019, the shelter had the third best adoption percentage of cat outcomes and second highest per capita cat adoption rate. Since the organization shelter-neutered-returned a significant number of cats, its adoption numbers were lower than they would have otherwise been. In 2020, Lake County Animal Shelter had the third best adoption percentage of cat outcomes and per capita cat adoption rate (which was more than double the fourth place shelter’s rate). Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter did an excellent job at adopting out cats.

The shelter also placed animals quickly. Overall, Lake County Animal Shelter had the third shortest average length of stay for both dogs and cats. However, the shelter would have had a shorter average length of stay and placed second for dogs, and possibly for cats, if we had Austin Pets Alive’s length of stay data for dogs and cats Austin Animal Center transferred to Austin Pets Alive. Additionally, the 19.2 days and and 29.2 days average lengths of stay for dogs and cats were very short. When we look at average adoption lengths of stay, Lake County Animal Shelter placed fourth for dogs and second for cats. However, the shelter would undoubtedly place third for dogs if we had Austin Pets Alive’s length of stay data. Additionally, KC Pet Project, which ranked just above Lake County Animal Shelter for dog adoptions average length of stay, killed a much larger percentage of dogs and had an easier mix of dogs to adopt out (i.e. have shorter lengths of stay). Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter got animals out alive of its shelter quickly.

Lake County Animal Shelter had a difficult challenge with animal intake and rescue assistance during 2019. While the shelter had the longest time to get animals out of its facility alive, it wasn’t much more than most of the other shelters and was still short. On the other hand, Lake County Animal Shelter had the third highest per capita dog and cat intake (fourth for dogs and second for cats) and the highest per capita dog and cat intake among the low death rate shelters. Additionally, Lake County Animal Shelter had the third highest pit bull per capita intake, which was highest among the low death rate shelters, and highest per capita adult cat intake. Furthermore, Lake County Animal Shelter had the third lowest amount of rescue assistance for both dogs and cats and it was close to the organization transferring the smallest percentage of animals. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter faced a very difficult circumstance with the volume of animals it received.

The shelter had the least financial resources and worst physical facility. In 2019, Lake County Animal Shelter had around 30% less revenue per dog and cat than the shelter with second least funding per animal. Furthermore, Pima Animal Care Center and Austin Animal Center had two to three times the funding per dog and cat as Lake County Animal Shelter. In both 2019 and 2020, Lake County Animal Shelter had the worst physical facility. Additionally, the building was nowhere even close in terms of physical quality as the others in 2020 after KC Pet Project moved out of its old shelter. As a result, Lake County Animal Shelter faced the greatest challenge by far in terms of financial and physical resources.

Overall, Lake County Animal Shelter was the clear winner in this comparison. First and foremost, the shelter demonstrated the greatest respect for life, both inside and outside the shelter. Additionally, the shelter’s balanced approach, such as its proactive owner redemptions, community cat sterilization and high-powered adoption programs, allowed it to achieve no kill in an effective, efficient and sustainable manner. As I mentioned in a prior blog, Lake County Animal Shelter comprehensively implemented all eleven No Kill Equation programs. Furthermore, the shelter achieved this success while facing greater challenges than the other facilities. Simply put, Lake County Animal Shelter stood out from the other organizations and is the nation’s top no kill shelter.

No Kill Shelters Must Show the Utmost Respect for Life

This analysis proves no kill works and disproves anti-no kill arguments. Despite critics claiming no kill is impossible, all the shelters saved 90% or more of their pit bulls and did not kill a single cat for behavior or aggression. Additionally, most of the shelters did not kill a single small dog for behavior or aggression. Finally, the shelters placed animals quickly and did not “hoard” animals.

The blog also exposes a clear divide among shelters claiming no kill status. As the death rate and euthanasia reasons data showed, some shelters showed a great respect for life and some did not. While none of the shelters killed animals left and right, Pima Animal Care Center and KC Pet Project clearly killed some animals and failed to achieve no kill. Even though Austin Animal Center had good death rate and euthanasia reasons statistics, the shelter’s intake and community cat placement data indicate the shelter’s respect for life outside of the facility is not strong enough. Thus, no kill mandates shelters fully respect life.

The lower ranking shelters must refocus on fully respecting life. Ironically, the shelters that publicized themselves and their programs the most, such as through conference presentations, blogs, webinars and sheltering industry Zoom meetings, performed the worst. While these organizations successfully put many excellent programs into place, these shelters still failed to achieve no kill in my view. Why? One could argue these shelters failed to properly implement the No Kill Equation’s Medical and Behavior Prevention and Rehabilitation program and therefore killed treatable animals. However, I believe we must look deeper than this. After all, one might say KC Pet Project did do behavioral rehabilitation for its dogs given the long time it took to euthanize dogs for behavior and aggression. Similarly, Austin Animal Center’s Medical and Behavior Prevention and Rehabilitation program had nothing to do with the shelter’s failure to take in animals off the streets in 2020 or the facility shelter-neuter-returning younger kittens. Instead, these shelters did not fully respect life and made decisions to kill animals or put them at too much risk outside their facilities. Ultimately, progressive shelter programs, such as those found in the No Kill Equation, are a means to ending the killing of treatable animals. In other words, the principal of respecting life reigns supreme. As a result, the lower ranking shelters must refocus on fully respecting life rather than solely concentrating on technical programs to achieve no kill.

Appendix – Data Sources and Raw Statistics

Pima Animal Care Center

2019 Dogs, Adult Cats, Older Kittens and Neonatal Kittens

2019 All Cats

April-June 2020 Dogs and Cats

April-June 2019 Dogs and Cats

2020 Dogs, Adult Cats, Older Kittens and Neonatal Kittens

2020 All Cats

KC Pet Project

2019 Dogs and Cats

April-June 2020 and 2019 Dogs and Cats

2020 Dogs and Cats

Austin Animal Center

2019, April-June 2019 and 2020 and 2020

Williamson County Animal Shelter

2015-2019 Dog and Cat Intakes

2019 and April 2019-June 2019 Dog and Cat Outcomes

2020 and April 2020-June 2020 Dog and Cat Outcomes

2015 Dog and Cat Outcomes

Lake County Animal Shelter

2019 Dog and Cat Intakes and Outcomes

April 2019-June 2019 and April 2020-June 2020 Dog and Cat Intakes and Outcomes

2020 Dog and Cat Intakes and Outcomes