Previously, I wrote about Florida’s Lake County Animal Shelter. After no kill advocates conducted a long campaign, the county hired No Kill Learning to turn the shelter around. Subsequently, Lake County hired the current shelter director, Whitney Boylston, and she implemented a number of innovative programs. In 2019, the shelter had extremely low death rates despite having a run down physical facility and a small budget. The shelter accomplished this by putting in place a number of creative programs. Lake County Animal Shelter out-performed a number of better known shelters with progressive reputations in a comparison using 2019 and 2020 data.
How did Lake County Animal Shelter do in 2021? Did all the reasons shelter industry leaders cite for increased killing in 2021 cause Lake County Animal Shelter to become a kill shelter?
To evaluate Lake County Animal Shelter’s performance, I obtained two key sources of data. First, I analyzed the shelter’s detailed intake and disposition records for each individual animal. You can view PDF and excel versions of this data source here and here. Additionally, I obtained a report detailing the shelter’s average length of stay for animals. You can view that information here.
High Live Release Rates
Lake County Animal Shelter saved virtually every dog that arrived in 2021. Overall, only 1.8% of all dogs, 2.4% of pit bull like dogs, 1.0% of small dogs and 1.7% of other medium to large size dogs lost their lives at the shelter. In other words, Lake County Animal Shelter saved approximately 98% of all dogs, 98% of pit bull like dogs, 99% of small dogs and 98% of other medium to large size dogs. Even if we only look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners, only 2.8% of all dogs, 4.0% of pit bulls, 1.6% of small dogs and 1.7% of other medium to large size breeds lost their lives in 2021. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter saved almost every dog it took in last year.
While the 2021 death rates are slightly higher than the 2019 rates (all dogs: 0.7%, pit bulls: 0.3%, small dogs: 0.5%, other medium to large size dogs: 1.0%), these are not significant. Additionally, the overall dog death rate of 1.8% was actually a bit lower than the 2020 dog death rate of 1.9%. Given shelters nationally killed dogs at a greater rate in 2021 compared to 2020 (animal intake was artificially low due to the pandemic and shelter policies), Lake County Animal Shelter’s 2021 dog death rates are impressive.
Lake County Animal Shelter also had excellent cat numbers. Overall, only 5.7% of all cats, 4.9% of adult cats and 6.5% of kittens lost their lives at Lake County Animal Shelter in 2021. Even if we exclude cats who were reclaimed by owners and placed through the return to field program, only 7.8% of all cats, 9.9% of adult cats and 6.7% of kittens their lives in 2021. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter saved almost all their cats of various ages.
Due to the difficulty of separating cat ages in its report and the immaterial difference I found in 2019, I used the shelter’s adult cat and kitten classification rather than my more precise age breakdowns (1 year old plus cats = adult cats; under 1 year old cats = kittens).
My analysis did not differentiate between older (6 weeks to just under 1 year) and younger (under 6 weeks) kittens due to Lake County Animal Shelter’s innovative “Wait-til-8” program. Under this program, the shelter asks the public to care for kittens until they reach 8 weeks of age. Since young kittens are highly vulnerable to disease in a shelter, this makes sense. The shelter provides wellness services every two to three weeks where the shelter weighs the kittens, deworms them and gives vaccinations. Additionally, Lake County Animal Shelter gives the people supplies, such as food, litter and kitten milk replacements. When the kittens reach 8 weeks, the shelter takes them in. Since Lake County Animal Shelter does not impound these animals until they are older than 6 weeks, these under 6 weeks old kittens are not counted in its statistics. Therefore, the shelter only takes a small number of under 6 weeks old kittens that are typically much more difficult animals. As a result, breaking out under 6 weeks old kittens would not provide useful information and would create a misleading picture when comparing to other shelters.
One can view the shelter’s cat sterilization program in different ways when calculating the cat death rates. Under the “Operation Caturday” program, Lake County Animal Shelter neuters and vaccinates “unowned” and “free-roaming” cats and frequently returns the animals to caregivers or the locations where the cats were found without identified caregivers. Per my discussion with shelter director, Whitney Boylston, the shelter impounds these cats and can place some animals through other programs, such as return to owner or adoptions. Therefore, one can make the argument the shelter should include these animals in its statistics based on the Shelter Animals Count data reporting guidelines that state such cats are included if the animals are “admitted for sheltering” and not “only for a service or services (sterilization and/or vaccination).” On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of Operation Caturday cats are brought in by a caregiver and returned to that caregiver (i.e. shelter operates like a clinic assisting TNR efforts and should not count these cats in its statistics).
To provide full transparency, I calculated alternative death rates using two methods to exclude these animals. Under the first method, I reduced returned to field and total outcomes by the 829 cats brought to the shelter by the public under Operation Caturday. The second death rate calculation decreased returned to field and total outcomes by the 870 cats returned to caregivers. This calculation is more punitive and likely overstates the cat death rate since stray cats may be returned to caregivers (i.e. these should always count in the statistics). Even with the more conservative cat death rate calculations, the shelter still had no kill level cat statistics.
Overall, Lake County Animal Shelter’s 2021 cats statistics are better than its 2019 ones. The shelter’s cat death rate (Adjustment #1) was 7.4% in 2021 compared to 9.0% in 2019. Similarly, the adult cat death rate and adult nonreclaimed cat death rate were about 1%-3% lower in 2021 verses 2019. Additionally, both kitten death rates were about 2% lower in 2021 verses 2019.
While the overall cat death rate in 2021 was higher than in 2020 (7.4% verses 6.5%), 2020 was an unusually low intake year. Regardless, the 2021 cat death rate was quite low especially when one considers the 2021 cat intake figure exceeded both 2020 and 2019 ones.
Animals Quickly Leave Shelter Alive
Lake County Animal Shelter’s dogs and cats quickly left the shelter alive. Overall, dogs and cats left the shelter in 9.95 days and 6.39 days. Dogs and cats were returned to owners on average after 2.57 days and 5.51 days. The shelter returned cats to field in 2.05 days on average. Most impressively, Lake County Animal Shelter adopted out its dogs and cats in 12.92 and 8.69 days on average. Finally, dogs and cats were transferred after 18.75 days and 3.56 days on average. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter quickly placed substantially all of its animals back in their existing or into new homes.
Lake County Animal Shelter’s length of stay data also reveals the shelter makes strong efforts to save dogs and cats. Overall, the shelter euthanized dogs and cats after 44.40 and 10.75 days. Since cats tend to come into shelters more frequently with severe injuries (4 dogs and 27 cats euthanized for this reason), such as from cars hitting them, and severe illnesses (3 dogs and 43 cats euthanized for this reason), the shorter average length of stay for euthanized cats is expected. As a comparison, Humane Rescue Alliance killed dogs and cats after 7.2 days and 4.1 days on average in 2020 and 2019. Clearly, Lake County Animal Shelter makes significant efforts to save the small number of dogs and cats it euthanizes instead of just quickly killing such animals.
Lake County Animal Shelter Only Euthanizes Dogs for Legitimate Reasons
Lake County Animal Shelter limits behavioral euthanasia to truly aggressive dogs. As you can see in the following table listing the reasons Lake County Animal Shelter used to euthanize dogs in 2021, the shelter only euthanized 0.62% of all dogs for behavioral related reasons (i.e. severe behavior issue, court order and dangerous). Remarkably, Lake County Animal Shelter meets the No Kill Advocacy Center behavioral euthanasia target (i.e. under 1%) that even many no kill shelters claim is too lofty. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter limited behavioral euthanasia to truly aggressive dogs.
Similarly, Lake County Animal Shelter only euthanized hopelessly suffering dogs for medical reasons. As the table below shows, the shelter euthanized just 0.53% of dogs for medical issues (i.e. severe illness, severe injury and owner requested).
Overall, these numbers were only slightly higher than the figures from 2019 (0.40% of all dogs euthanized for behavioral related reasons and 0.41% of all dogs euthanized for medical issues). The shelter’s increase in dog behavior euthanasia is due solely to “court order” and “dangerous” dogs cases where the shelter is legally forced to take the lives of these animals. In fact, the shelter euthanized a slightly smaller percentage of dogs for “severe behavior issues” in 2021 than in 2019 (0.22% verses 0.34%).
The shelter also limited behavioral euthanasia for pit bull like dogs to truly aggressive animals. Lake County Animal Shelter only euthanized 1.50% of all pit bulls for aggression, behavior and court order reasons. As with all dogs, Lake County Animal Shelter only euthanized a very small number of all pit bulls for medical reasons (0.75%).
While Lake County Animal Shelter euthanized more dogs for aggression related related reasons in 2021 compared to 2019 (1.50 % verses 0.86%), this increase is due solely to “court order” and “dangerous” dogs cases where the shelter is legally forced to take the lives of these animals. In fact, the shelter euthanized a slightly smaller percentage of dogs for “severe behavior issues” than in 2019 (0.60% verses 0.62%). Lake County Animal Shelter only euthanized a slightly greater percentage of pit bulls for medical reasons in 2021 compared to 2019 (0.75% verses 0.49%).
Lake County Animal Shelter’s reasons for euthanizing small dogs showed it only euthanized one hopelessly suffering animal. The shelter euthanized no small dogs for aggression and other behavioral reasons. Given small dogs do not pose a serious danger to adult people who are dog savvy, this is exactly what we should see at every shelter. As the table below shows, the shelter only euthanized 0.19% of small dogs for severe medical reasons.
The shelter also only euthanized other medium to large size dogs for legitimate reasons. Lake County Animal Shelter euthanized 0.36% of other medium to large size dogs for behavioral related reasons. The rest of the other medium to large size dogs were euthanized for severe medical problems (0.54% of other medium to large size dogs).
Overall, these figures were similar to 2019 (0.36% and 0.37% of other medium to large size dogs euthanized for behavioral related reasons in 2021 verses 2019 and 0.54% and 0.36% of other medium to large size dogs euthanized for severe medical problems in 2021 and 2019). As with pit bulls, Lake County Animal Shelter euthanized a smaller percentage of dogs for behavior when excluding legal cases, “dangerous” and “court order” (.09% in 2021 and 0.37% in 2019).
Finally, Lake County Animal Shelter gave the dogs it euthanized for aggression related reasons significant amounts of time to improve. The shelter euthanized dogs for “severe behavior issues”, “court orders” and “dangerous dog” cases after 78.6 days, 86.5 days and 46.7 days, respectively.
Lake County Animal Shelter Limits Cat Euthanasia to Severe Medical Issues
The table below lists the reasons Lake County Animal Shelter used to euthanize cats in 2021. As you can see, the shelter only euthanized cats for severe medical reasons (i.e. severe illness and severe injury ). Most impressively, Lake County Animal Shelter did not kill a single cat for behavior or aggression. Given shelters should never kill cats for aggression or behavioral reasons, this is an incredible achievement since 3,704 cats had outcomes (2,875 cats excluding the 829 Operation Caturday animals) at Lake County Animal Shelter in 2021.
Lake County Animal Shelter also euthanized no cats for rabies testing. As Hound Manor mentioned in its blog, few animals killed for rabies testing end up having the disease. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter did not needlessly kill cats to test for rabies.
Finally, Lake County Animal Shelter’s small number of cats euthanized for medical reasons indicates the shelter limited this to hopelessly suffering animals. The shelter only euthanized 1.97% of all cats for medical reasons. Even if we exclude the 829 cats the public brought to the shelter under Operation Caturday, this figure only rises to 2.54%. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center euthanized 2.75% of all cats for medical reasons in 2018 even with Austin Pets Alive pulling significant numbers of cats with serious medical issues (some of these probably were euthanized by Austin Pets Alive or died). Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter’s data indicates it limited cat euthanasia to hopelessly suffering animals.
Lake County Animal Shelter is a Role Model Shelter
Clearly, Lake County Animal Shelter is an elite organization. The shelter effectively limited euthanasia to hopelessly suffering animals and dogs that are truly aggressive. Additionally, it accomplished this by quickly finding live outcomes for its animals. Simply put, Lake County Animal Shelter steps up and does what it takes to save its animals.
Lake County Animal Shelter’s 2021 data proved no kill is sustainable in the deep south. The shelter has maintained its no kill status for five years. Furthermore, partial 2022 data I received shows the organization is still performing excellent as a no kill shelter for a sixth straight year. While national organizations blame external factors, such as “veterinarian shortages”, “worker shortages” and ” the eviction crisis” for shelter killing, Lake County Animal Shelter’s results disprove this. As has always been the case, shelter killing is due to poor shelter management and not other factors. The sooner people realize that, the sooner we can end the killing everywhere.