Ranking the Nation’s Top No Kill Shelters

Over the last decade, no kill sheltering spread across the country. As animal control facilities became no kill, others became inspired or pressured to do the same. What was once viewed as a fluke is now fairly common.

While this is the most transformational event in the history of animal sheltering, the question remains are all no kill shelters the same? Do all no kill shelters take the same path to ending the killing of healthy and treatable animals? What things do some no kill shelters do better or worse than others? Are some of these shelters really even no kill? This blog will address these questions.

For those who just want to see the final rankings without reading the full analysis, skip to the end of the blog.

Analysis and Data Reviewed

To answer these questions, I selected five large no kill animal control shelters and computed metrics to evaluate 1) the difficulty of the challenge each facility faces, 2) each shelter’s commitment to the fundamental no kill principal, respect for life, and 3) the effectiveness of each shelter’s programming to get animals out of their facility alive.

The analyses used each shelter’s intake and disposition records. These records list each individual animal the shelters took in and their outcomes. Additionally, these records disclose the reasons why shelters euthanized animals. Also, these records include data to calculate how long animals stayed at the facilities.

I also examined numerous other documents. In the case of one shelter, I used its summary statistics to compute some of its death rates since this information was more accurate than the intake and disposition records (see explanation below). Additionally, I examined government shelter budgets and nonprofit Form 990s to determine each facility’s funding. Finally, I examined each shelter’s web sites and news stories to obtain other information used in this blog.

While 2020 is the most recent year, it is inappropriate to use since shelters took significantly fewer animals in and had to drastically cut back on programming due to COVID-19. Therefore, I used 2019 data to conduct the bulk of my analyses. However, I supplemented the 2019 analysis with a high level review of 1) 2020 data over the first three months of the pandemic and 2) full 2020 data.

No Kill Shelters Used in Analysis

I used the following no kill shelters in the analysis. These shelters are ones I’ve either previously examined or have stellar reputations. In addition, I chose large facilities (i.e. all shelters took in more than 5,000 dogs and cats during 2019) to ensure the analysis focused on those organizations with significant challenges.

  1. Austin Animal Center – Austin and Travis County, Texas: The City of Austin spearheaded the no kill movement over the last decade. After long advocacy efforts and programming created by Austin Pets Alive, Austin Animal Center, the animal control shelter, first exceeded a 90% live release rate in 2012. Subsequently, the shelter significantly improved and I detailed the shelter’s statistics in both 2017 and 2018 here and here. Since Austin Pets Alive, which pulls large numbers of Austin Animal Center’s most challenging animals, plays such a critical role in saving Austin’s no kill effort, I also incorporated Austin Pets Alive in the analysis. Austin Pets Alive is a major force through its American Pets Alive brand (e.g. its annual American Pets Alive Conference) in spreading the no kill message across the country. While not as prominent as Austin Pets Alive, Austin Animal Center also frequently spoke at the American Pets Alive Conference and shared its successes through blogs, webinars, etc.
  2. Pima Animal Care Center – Tucson and Pima County, Arizona: Austin Animal Center’s former Deputy Chief Animal Services Officer, Kristen Hassen-Auerbach, became the leader of Pima Animal Care Center in July 2017 and ran the facility until October 2020. Prior to taking the shelter over, Pima Animal Care Center reported live release rates of 84% for dogs and 88% for cats. Ms. Hassen-Auerbach had a reputation for developing innovative programs at Austin Animal Center as well as at Fairfax County Animal Shelter in Virginia. During Ms. Hassen-Auerbach’s tenure at Pima Animal Care Center, she created many exciting programs. Additionally, Ms. Hassen-Auerbach became one of the most vocal people in the no kill movement through her prominent role at the American Pets Alive Conference and her numerous blogs and webinars.
  3. KC Pet Project – Kansas City, Missouri: KC Pet Project formed in 2011 and took over the the city shelter within a few months on January 1, 2012. After several months, KC Pet Project stated it reached a 90% live release rate. Subsequently, KC Pet Project has been a prominent voice at the American Pets Alive Conference and various other venues.
  4. Williamson County Animal Shelter – Williamson County, Texas: Williamson County Animal Shelter serves most of Williamson County, Texas, which is very close to Austin. The shelter reached a dog and cat combined 90% live release rate in 2013. The shelter was led by Cheryl Schneider as it improved until she retired in Spring 2020. While Ms. Schneider spoke at conferences, such as the American Pets Alive Conference, she did not appear as prominently as some of the directors of the previously mentioned shelters.
  5. Lake County Animal Shelter – Lake County, Florida: Lake County Animal Shelter implemented no kill policies on January 15, 2017 after a long shelter reform effort and bringing in No Kill Learning to create policies and programming. After around six months, the shelter hired Whitney Boylston as the director and she has run the shelter and developed programming since then. You can read my two blog’s on the shelter’s 2019 statistics here and how the shelter achieved its success here. Unlike the other shelters, national organizations have largely not publicized Lake County Animal Shelter as a no kill success story.

Some Shelters Face Tougher Challenges

Before we compare the shelters’ performances, we must examine the difficulties of their missions. If a shelter takes few animals in, receives lots of rescue assistance and is well-funded, it will have an easier job. Therefore, we will compare various metrics measuring these factors.

KC Pet Project Faced the Greatest Animal Volume Challenge

The following table lists the numbers of dogs and cats each shelter took in during 2019. As you can see, Austin Animal Center and Pima Animal Care Center impounded the most animals followed by KC Pet Project, Williamson County Animal Shelter and Lake County Animal Shelter.

While the total dogs and cats received is important, per capita intake is a better measure of a shelter’s animal volume challenge. Since this metric shows how many people can potentially reclaim, adopt and rescue a shelter’s animals, it is a better indicator of the difficulty a facility faces with animal intake. For example, a shelter with higher per capita intake may have a harder time finding enough people to adopt and rescue all their healthy and treatable animals.

The following table lists the per capita intake for each shelter in 2019. KC Pet Project had the highest per capita intake followed by Pima Animal Care Center, Lake County Animal Shelter, Austin Animal Center and Williamson County Animal Shelter. As I mentioned in my prior blog on Lake County Animal Shelter, the facility’s per capita intake might be slightly higher due to me excluding all cats brought to the shelter for sterilization services (some may have been shelter-neuter-return that should be included in intake).

When we look at the most challenging animals for shelters to save, pit bulls and adult cats (i.e. 1+ year old cats), the results change a bit. Since I only had a breakdown of these categories by outcomes, I measured the per capita data this way (total outcomes and intakes are very similar). KC Pet Project impounded the greatest numbers of these animals, as well as pit bulls, on a per capita basis. Lake County Animal Shelter took the second most of these animals in and the most adult cats on a per capita basis.

Shelter capacity also plays a key challenge to facilities trying to become no kill. If a shelter does not have enough space, it may not have enough time to find adopters and rescues to save their homeless pets.

The following tables measure each shelter’s required average length of stay that is necessary for a shelter to avoid overcrowding (i.e. shelters must generate outcomes or put animals into foster homes within these time frames on average). Based on formulas you can find here, we can estimate the average length of stay a shelter must maintain to avoid overcrowding on a regular basis. To do this correctly, we would calculate this metric for both dogs and cats. Unfortunately, some shelters did not disclose separate dog and cat capacity. However, we can still get a sense of the shelter’s capacity resources by looking at the combined dog and cat required average length of stay. As you can see, all the shelters have to get animals out of their shelters quickly. Austin Animal Center (after incorporating a portion of Austin Pets Alive’s shelter capacity) had the shortest time to get animals out followed by KC Pet Project, Williamson County Animal Shelter, Pima Animal Care Center and Lake County Animal Shelter. While Austin Animal Center had the least amount of time to get animals out alive, its likely Austin Pets Alive would use more of its capacity (i.e. which would increase the required average length of stay) in the event Austin Animal Center faced a space crisis.

Lake County Animal Shelter Had The Worst Physical Facility

The physical facility’s condition also impacts lifesaving. For example, poorly designed buildings make it easy to spread disease and also stress animals out leading to behavioral problems.

The following table summarizes my assessments of each physical shelter’s condition in 2019 and 2020 and details when these facilities were built and renovated/expanded. As No Kill Learning noted in its March 2017 progress report on Lake County Animal Shelter, the physical shelter presents significant issues relating to disease management and animal behavior. Therefore, I classified this shelter as being in very poor condition. KC Pet Project also had a very poor physical facility in 2019, but I classified it as poor rather than very poor due to it having more physical space based on my personal visits. In 2020, Kansas City built a state of the art shelter in a desirable location. Both Williamson County Animal Shelter and Austin Animal Center were built within the last 10-15 years and had recent expansions. Based on Austin Animal Center having more modern kennels throughout its entire facility, I classified its condition as very good and Williamson County Animal Shelter as good. Finally, Pima Animal Care Center moved into a brand new state of the art facility at the end of 2017 and it therefore had the best physical shelter in 2019.

Lake County Animal Shelter Faced the Greatest Financial Challenge

The shelters had significantly different levels of funding. As the table describes, I added supporting organizations’ revenues to Pima Animal Care Center’s and Austin Animal Center’s revenues (the rankings would be unchanged without me adding these revenues). Overall, Lake County Animal Shelter had the least funding followed by KC Pet Project. Both Austin Animal Center and Pima Animal Care had much more funding than the other shelters.

Austin Animal Center Receives Massive Rescue Support

Rescues can make an animal control shelter’s job much easier. If rescues take many of the shelter’s pets, the shelter has to do little work. While working with rescues is part of the No Kill Equation, no kill shelters that rely heavily on rescues can divert lifesaving from more needy shelters. Furthermore, no kill shelters relying heavily on transferring animals can regress to killing if rescues stop pulling many pets.

Austin Animal Center received far more rescue assistance than the other shelters. Overall, Austin Animal Center received two to six times more rescue assistance than the other facilities. Not only did Austin Animal Center receive lots of rescue help, Austin Pets Alive pulled many of the shelter’s most challenging animals. Even without Austin Pets Alive, Austin Animal Center transferred 9% of its dogs (i.e. more than all other shelters except Pima Animal Care Center) and 16% of its cats to other organizations (more than all the other facilities). Thus, Austin Animal Center received an unusually large amount of rescue assistance.

KC Pet Project, Williamson County Animal Shelter and Lake County Animal Shelter received similarly low levels of rescue support. While Pima Animal Care Center did not get nearly as much rescue help as Austin Animal Center, it still transferred two to three times more dogs and cats as the other three shelters.

When we look at just pit bulls and adult cats, KC Pet Project and Williamson County Animal Shelter received the least rescue support. Lake County Animal Shelter and Pima Animal Care Center transferred a slightly higher percentage of these animals, but it still was pretty low. Austin Animal Center transferred an even larger percentage of these difficult animals than it did for all dogs and cats (four to nine times the other shelters’ percentages).

Death Rates Reveal Some Shelters Value Life More Than Others

Most people consider a shelter no kill when the facility achieves a specific live release rate. The live release rate is the percentage live outcomes make up of total outcomes in a period. Personally, I prefer the inverse of that, the death rate, which is the percentage non-live outcomes comprise of total outcomes since it focuses on the animals still dying. Generally, most people consider a 90% live release rate (10% death rate) no kill under the assumption that 10% of animals are hopelessly suffering or seriously aggressive dogs that won’t respond to rehabilitation. Personally, I believe a 95% dog live release rate (5% death rate) and 92% cat live release rate (8% death rate) is more appropriate, but I do think the cat figure is a bit more flexible given cats are more susceptible to arriving at shelters in worse condition than dogs (i.e. cats hit by cars, very young kittens that can die from illness).

When calculating the shelters’ death rates, I decided to present alternative figures for both Williamson County Animal Shelter and Austin Animal Center. Unfortunately, Williamson County Animal Shelter did not break out breeds for most dogs in 2019. Therefore, I also presented the various dog death rates from 2015, when the shelter last broke out most dog breeds, since both the total dog intake and dog live release rate were similar to those in 2019. For Austin Animal Center, I included estimated dog death rates based on animals who potentially lost their lives at Austin Pets Alive as explained in the table below. Since Austin Animal Center transfers so many animals to Austin Pets Alive, its important to include these figures.

Overall, the shelters had significantly different dog death rates. As the table below shows, Lake County Animal Shelter had the lowest dog death rate for all types of dogs followed by Austin Animal Center, Williamson County Animal Shelter, Pima Animal Care Center and KC Pet Project. However, after we revise Austin Animal Center’s death rates for estimates of transferred dogs who lost their lives at Austin Pets Alive, Williamson County Animal Shelter and Austin Animal Center swap positions. Most notably, Pima Animal Care Center and KC Pet Project had much higher dog death rates than the other shelters. In fact, KC Pet Project’s pit bull death rate barely stayed within the lenient 10% no kill criteria.

The shelters’ nonreclaimed dog death rates followed the same pattern. Overall, Lake County Animal Shelter had the lowest nonreclaimed dog death rate for all types of dogs followed by Austin Animal Center, Williamson County Animal Shelter (the shelter’s 2015 pit bull nonreclaimed death rate of 4.6% is likely more reflective of the actual 2019 pit bull nonreclaimed death rate due to the small number of pit bulls broken out in 2019), Pima Animal Care Center and KC Pet Project. As mentioned above, Williamson County Animal Shelter and Austin Animal Center swap positions when I add an estimate of the number of Austin Animal Center dogs who lost their lives at Austin Pets Alive. Once again, Pima Animal Care Center and KC Pet Project had much higher nonreclaimed dog death rates than the other shelters.

As the table below shows, the shelters had different cat death rates. Overall, Austin Animal Center reported the lowest cat death rate followed by KC Pet Project, Lake County Animal Shelter, Williamson County Animal Shelter and Pima Animal Care Center. Most notably, Pima Animal Care Center’s cat death rate significantly exceeded both my and the the general no kill death rate thresholds. Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat death rate may have been slightly lower since I excluded all cats brought to the shelter by the public under its Operation Caturday sterilization program. Based on my discussion with the shelter director, Whitney Boylston, people brought some of these cats in as strays, but the shelter convinced the individuals to allow the facility to do shelter-neuter-return (i.e. should be counted in statistics as live releases). While I don’t have any information on Williamson County Animal Shelter, its possible some of their feral cat sterilizations could have been similar and its cat death rate may have been a bit lower.

Some of the cat death rates by age group may not be accurate due to large numbers of cats having no age classification. For example, KC Pet Project, Williamson County Animal Shelter and Pima Animal Care Center had high death rates in the No Age category. If these cats were included in the applicable cat age groups’ death rate calculations, these death rates (especially neonatal kittens) would likely be much higher.

As the table below explains, Lake County Animal Shelter’s neonatal kitten death rate is unusually high due to the shelter’s Wait-til-8 program that resulted in the shelter taking in a small number of very young kittens in extremely poor condition. In addition, the shelter’s use of cat ages at the outcome dates may result in the neonatal kitten death rate calculation omitting some young kittens who had live releases when they were older.

Austin Pets Alive’s Bottle Baby Program helped save many young kittens (i.e. less than six weeks old) from Austin Animal Center. Under this program, Austin Pets Alive operates a kitten nursery that provides around the clock care to very young kittens. Prior to Austin Pets Alive creating this program in 2009, Austin Animal Center killed nearly all these animals. Thus, Austin Pets Alive significantly lowered Austin Animal Center’s neonatal kitten death rate.

The nonreclaimed cat death rates follow the same pattern except for Austin Animal Center. These death rate calculations exclude cats returned to owners and cats shelter-neutered-returned. Overall, these death rates are a bit higher than the normal cat death rates. Due to Austin Animal Center’s large shelter-neuter-return program, the organization’s nonreclaimed cat death rate is higher relative to its cat death rate compared to the other facilities. When looking at this metric, both KC Pet Project and Lake County Animal Shelter moved above Austin Animal Center (Austin Pets Alive adjusted).

Behavior Killing Data Reveals Some Shelters Value Life More Than Others

To better understand how strongly each shelter respects life, I computed the percentage of dogs and cats each shelter euthanized for behavior and medical reasons in the tables below.

Overall, Austin Animal Center euthanized the fewest dogs for behavior followed by Lake County Animal Shelter, Williamson County Animal Shelter, Pima Animal Care Center and KC Pet Project. KC Pet Project’s behavior euthanasia/killing figures were significantly higher than the other shelters. When we just look at pit bulls, Lake County Animal Shelter swaps positions with Austin Animal Center adjusted for Austin Pets Alive. Austin Animal Center, Lake County Animal Shelter and Williamson County Animal Shelter killed no small dogs for behavior while Pima Animal Care Center and KC Pet Project killed a small percentage of these dogs for behavior.

The shelters’ pit bull results reveal a large divide among the shelters. Both Lake County Animal Shelter and the Austin Animal Center (adjusted for Austin Pets Alive) euthanized around 0.90% of their pit bulls for behavior while Williamson County Animal Shelter (2015 figure – see table for explanation), Pima Animal Care Center and KC Pet Project killed/euthanized 1.93%, 2.11% and 4.87% of pit bulls for behavior. Clearly, this data indicates these three shelters did not have the same respect for pit bull lives as Lake County Animal Shelter and Austin Animal Center.

Williamson County Animal Shelter’s, Pima Animal Care Center’s and KC Pet Project’s detailed reasons for euthanizing/killing dogs revealed these shelters didn’t always have the highest levels of respect for life. While Williamson County Animal Shelter generally had good respect for life, it did kill two dogs for dog aggression which I believe is manageable. Similarly, Pima Animal Care Center killed nine dogs for animal aggression. 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. Thus, these shelters, and KC Pet Project in particular, did not always uphold the most fundamental no kill principle of respecting life.

Lake County Animal Shelter euthanized the fewest dogs for medical reasons followed by Williamson County Animal Shelter, Austin Animal Center (adjusted for Austin Pets Alive), KC Pet Project and Pima Animal Care Center. Most notably, KC Pet Project and Pima Animal Care Center euthanized a much greater percentage of dogs for medical reasons than the other shelters.

On a very positive note, all five shelters did not kill a single cat for behavior. Given shelters should never kill cats for behavior since such animals are not a serious threat to people and lifesaving alternatives exist (i.e. TNR, shelter-neuter-return, barn and warehouse cat adoptions, etc.), this is an excellent result.

Austin Animal Center euthanized the fewest cats for medical reasons followed by Williamson County Animal Shelter, Lake County Animal Shelter, KC Pet Project and Pima Animal Care Center. However, when we look at the Austin Animal Center numbers adjusted for estimated Austin Pets Alive euthanasia, Austin Animal Center drops to fourth place. Overall, the top three shelters were very close with Austin Animal Center (adjusted for Austin Pets Alive) and Pima Animal Care Center in particular being further behind.

When looking at the cat age groups, we must consider two other things. The shelters with cats having no age would have had higher medical euthanasia rates if these organizations reported ages for these cats. As mentioned above, Lake County Animal Shelter’s neonatal kitten death rate is high due to the shelter’s Wait-til-8 program that resulted in the facility taking very few young kittens in who were likely in very bad shape. Therefore, this shelter’s percentage of neonatal kittens euthanized for medical reasons is abnormally high.

When we look at the percentage of cats who died and went missing, Austin Animal Center had the lowest figure followed by KC Pet Project, Lake County Animal Shelter, Williamson County Animal Shelter and Pima Animal Care Center. However, KC Pet Project switches positions with Austin Animal Center when we include the estimated number of Austin Animal Center cats who died at Austin Pets Alive. Overall, KC Pet Project, Austin Animal Center and Lake County Animal Shelter had similar results while both Williamson County Animal Shelter and Pima Animal Care Center had a much greater percentage of cats who died and went missing. As with the other metrics, KC Pet Project’s, Williamson County Animal Shelter’s and Pima Animal Care Center’s age class died and missing percentages would be higher if these facilities broke out the ages of all their cats.

All the shelters except for Pima Animal Care Center took a good amount of time before euthanizing dogs. As the table below shows, the shelters other than Pima Animal Care Center on average euthanized dogs after one month. Pima Animal Care Center euthanized dogs after just five days on average. However, the shelter took a bit longer (20.7 days) to euthanize dogs for behavior than for medical reasons (2.1 days). While Pima Animal Care Center did euthanize many very old dogs for medical reasons, it did euthanize a significant number of younger dogs for health reasons as well (average age of dogs euthanized for medical reasons was 9.0 years). Thus, the length of stay data indicates all the shelters except for Pima Animal Care Center made a strong effort to save their euthanized dogs.

The euthanized cats average length of stay data show the same pattern. Since the shelters euthanized all the cats for medical reasons, the average lengths of stay are a bit lower than those for dogs. However, Pima Animal Care Center stood out again for euthanizing cats much quicker than the other shelters.

Austin Animal Center’s and Austin Pets Alive’s combined respect for life data must be interpreted with caution. Since Austin Pets Alive is not subject to the Texas Public Information Act and does not disclose intake and disposition records for individual animals, I had to estimate the number of animals who lost their lives at Austin Pets Alive and the number of those euthanized for medical and behavior reasons. Specifically, these estimates assumed 1) the percentage of Austin Animal Center animals who lost their lives at Austin Pets Alive was the same as the death rate for other animals Austin Pets Alive took in and 2) the allocation of euthanized animals to the underlying behavior and medical reasons was the same as those for animals euthanized at Austin Animal Center. While I don’t have objective data on the types of animals Austin Pets Alive took from places other than Austin Animal Center, I suspect Austin Pets Alive took more difficult behavior case dogs from Austin Animal Center than from elsewhere. In other words, the combined Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive dog death rates and percentage of dogs euthanized for behavior reasons could be higher than the amounts I estimated.

To stress test my estimates, I recalculated the dog death rates and percentages of dogs euthanized for behavior and medical reasons using the overly conservative assumption that all 45 over five month old dogs Austin Pets Alive euthanized were Austin Animal Center dogs and Austin Pets Alive euthanized every single one of these animals for behavior reasons. This assumption changes my Austin Animal Center-APA Estimate – No Born in Care results as follows (the Born in Care results change by similar amounts):

  • Death Rates: All Dogs: 2.2% to 2.5%, Pit Bulls: 3.4% to 3.8%, Small Dogs: 2.3% to 2.6% and Other Dogs: 1.7% to 1.9%
  • Percentage of Dogs Euthanized for Behavior: All Dogs: 0.28% to 0.65%, Pit Bulls: 0.92% to 2.14%, Small Dogs: Remains at 0% and Other Dogs: 0.22% to 0.51%
  • Percentage of Dogs Euthanized for Medical Reasons: All Dogs: 0.98% to 0.83%, Pit Bulls: 1.13% to 0.95%, Small Dogs: 1.21% to 1.02% and Other Dogs: 0.80% to 0.68%

Based on these overly conservative assumptions, Austin Animal Center-Austin Pets Alive would remain in third place for all dog death rates, drop from first to third place for the percentage of all dogs euthanized for behavior reasons and rise from third to second place for the percentage of all dogs euthanized for medical reasons. In reality, the actual figures are probably somewhere between the estimates above.

I strongly recommend Austin Pets Alive disclose their full intake and disposition records for each individual animal to allow the public to determine the exact death rates of Austin Animal Center animals and percentages of Austin Animal Center dogs and cats euthanized for behavior and medical reasons at the two shelters.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s Owner Surrender Policy Does Not Affect Results

Before we conclude this blog’s section on respect for life, we must determine whether Lake County Animal Shelter’s owner surrender policies made its figures look much better. Lake County Animal Shelter conducts an “adoptability assessment” before accepting owner surrenders. Based on my conversation with shelter director, Whitney Boylston, the only animals it won’t accept are the most severe medical and dog behavior cases where euthanasia is the only option. In other words, the shelter does not conduct owner requested euthanasia.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s intake data backs up the assertion that it does not accept very few animals. Overall, the shelter’s dog intake is similar to what it was before the facility went no kill. While owner surrenders in 2019 were a little lower than they were before the shelter went no kill, this could be due to data collection issues the facility had before it went no kill. Even so, the shelter had more owner surrenders in 2018 (when the shelter had a dog death rate of 2.0% compared to 1.1% in 2019) than it did in 2016 (when it was high kill). On the cat side, Lake County Animal Shelter had significantly more owner surrenders in 2019 than it did in both 2016 and 2015 when it was a high kill facility. While total cat intake was a little lower after the shelter went no kill, this was due to the shelter’s Operation Caturday TNR program that neutered and released cats rather than impounding them. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter’s intake data indicates the shelter’s owner surrender policies were not artificially decreasing the facility’s death rate.

To evaluate whether Lake County Animal Shelter’s owner requested euthanasia policy impacted the results, I looked at owner requested euthanasia numbers at the other organizations. Unfortunately, KC Pet Project was the only shelter that broke this data out. KC Pet Project only euthanized 1.1% of its dogs and 0.1% of its cats for owner requested euthanasia. Clearly, this was not significant since 1) the 1.1% dog figure did not come close to making up the 6.8% dog death rate difference between KC Pet Project and Lake County Animal Shelter and 2) the cat owner requested euthanasia figure was tiny.

In order to evaluate whether Lake County Animal Shelter’s owner requested euthanasia policy altered the comparative results with the other organizations, I examined dog and cat death rates excluding owner surrendered animals. Since all the shelters take the most difficult stray animals and dangerous dog cases, we can compare each facility’s respect for life on an apples to apples basis.

The shelters’ comparative dog death rate results did not change after excluding owner surrenders. As you can see in the table below, the shelters’ dog death rate rankings excluding owner surrenders are exactly the same as the overall dog death rate rankings. In fact, all the shelters except for Pima Animal Care Center and KC Pet Project had dog death rates excluding owner surrenders within 0.2% of their overall dog death rates. While these two shelters had lower dog death rates when excluding owner surrenders, both facilities still remained firmly in the last two places.

The organizations’ comparative cat death rates results did not change after excluding owner surrenders. Overall, all the shelters ranked the same as they did using the overall cat death rates. All the shelters’ cat death rates excluding owner surrenders were between 0.5% to 1.5% higher than their overall cat death rates. Given many stray cats come into shelters in very poor condition (i.e. hit by cars, extremely young kittens, etc.), this is not surprising.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat death rates excluding owner surrenders may be artificially high. Since the facility counts young kittens finders bring to the shelter after the animals become a bit older than when originally found, this death rate is higher than it would be if these cats were considered strays (which the cats originally were). If we counted these cats as strays rather than owner surrenders, Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat death rate and cat nonreclaimed death rate excluding owner surrenders would be 9.3% and 11.9%.

2020 Data Confirms Respect for Life Results

2020 was the most unusual year in the history of animal sheltering due to COVID-19. As a result of fewer people losing pets and more restrictive shelter intake policies during the pandemic, facilities across the country took in significantly fewer animals. On the one hand, shelters had to deal with a greater percentage of more challenging animals as facilities continued to take in emergency case animals (i.e. dangerous dogs, severely sick and injured animals, etc.) and impounded fewer healthy and treatable animals. On the other hand, shelters had far more funding, space, time and human resources available for each individual animal. Thus, shelters operated in conditions that could result in either less or more lifesaving depending on the organizations’ commitments to respecting life.

The shelters’ dog death rates in the three months after COVID-19 hit were remarkably similar to those from the same period in 2019. Overall, the death rate changes range from a 0.6% decrease at Lake County Animal Shelter to a 1.4% increase at Williamson County Animal Shelter. Also, the shelters ranked exactly the same in dog death rates as they did in 2019. Once again, both Pima Animal Care Center and KC Pet Project had remarkably higher dog death rates than the other shelters.

Overall, the decrease in dog intake was nearly exactly the same at all the shelters except for Austin Animal Center. Therefore, these shelters except for Austin Animal Center likely faced a similar change in the more challenging types of dogs each facility took in. Given Lake County Animal Shelter already had the lowest dog death rate, its decrease was very impressive and is another fact supporting this facility’s great respect for life. Additionally, Austin Animal Center’s much larger decrease in dog intake supports local advocates’ claims of the shelter not taking pets in who needed help during this time period in 2020.

The shelters’ cat performances were vastly different over the three months after COVID-19 became prevalent in 2020. Both Williamson County Animal Shelter and Lake County Animal Shelter significantly lowered their cat death rates over the same period in 2019 and those death rates were at impressively low levels. While Williamson County Animal Shelter’s cat intake decreased by a much smaller percentage than the other shelters, Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat intake only decreased slightly less than KC Pet Project’s cat intake. Both Austin Animal Center and KC Pet Project had significantly higher cat death rates in April-June 2020 compared to April-June 2019. While Pima Animal Care Center’s cat death rate decreased slightly in April-June 2020 compared to April-June 2019, the overall cat death rate in April-June 2020 was shockingly high. In fact, all the shelters except for Williamson County Animal Shelter and Lake County Animal Shelter had high cat death rates in April-June 2020 despite these organizations having very good or state of the art facilities.

The full year 2020 dog death rates showed the same pattern as the 2019 results and the April 2020-June 2020 results. Once again, Lake County Animal Shelter, Austin Animal Center and Williamson County Animal Shelter had much lower dog death rates than Pima Animal Care Center and KC Pet Project. Lake County Animal Shelter, Austin Animal Center and Williamson County Animal Shelter had slightly higher dog death rates compared to 2019 while Pima Animal Care Center’s and KC Pet Project’s dog death rates decreased slightly. However, these changes did not come close to making up the gap in dog death rates.

Overall, the shelters took fewer animals in compared to 2019, but the decrease was less than the decrease during the spring months. This matches the national animal sheltering data trends that show animal sheltering intake gradually normalizing as 2020 went on. However, Austin Animal Center also stood out again for its much larger decrease in dog intake and suggests advocates’ claims of the shelter leaving animals on the streets may have validity.

Overall, the full year 2020 cat death rates showed almost all the shelters achieved no kill for cats. Williamson County Animal Shelter had the lowest cat death rate followed by Lake County Animal Shelter, Austin Animal Center (adjusted for Austin Pets Alive), KC Pet Project and Pima Animal Care Center. Once again, Pima Animal Care Center failed to achieve no kill for cats and had a much higher cat death rate than the other shelters. Interestingly, all the shelters except for Austin Animal Center (unadjusted for Austin Pets Alive) had lower cat death rates in 2020.

All the shelters except KC Pet Project reported lower cat intake in 2020 compared to 2019. As with dogs, the intake reduction (as measured by total outcomes) was not as much during the full year as it was in the spring months after COVID-19 first hit. In fact, KC Pet Project’s cat intake changed so much that it took in more cats in 2020 than it did in 2019. On the other hand, Austin Animal Center and Pima Animal Care Center still had very large decreases in cat intake during the entire year. As mentioned above, Austin Animal Center’s questionable intake policies may have caused its 55% decrease in cat intake. While Pima Animal Care Center’s sharp drop in cat intake could be due to programs designed to keep animals out of the shelter (the shelter’s director led the implementation of the Humane Animal Support Services shelter operating model in 2020), its possible the shelter may have been more strict in following the National Animal Care and Control guidelines to only take animals in on an emergency basis during the pandemic (the shelter’s director was on the board of this organization before she left Pima Animal Care Center).

Lake County Animal Shelter Excels at Returning Dogs to Owners

The primary purpose of shelters is to return lost pets home. If an animal has an owner, that animal should go to its family rather than to a new place. Due to a variety of reasons, shelters generally only have success returning lost dogs to owners. In other words, almost all shelters have difficulty reuniting stray cats with their families.

Lake County Animal Shelter returned the greatest percentage of its dogs to owners in 2019 followed by Williamson County Animal Shelter, Austin Animal Center, Pima Animal Care Center and KC Pet Project. With the exception of the likely inaccurate 2019 pit bull results from Williamson County Animal Shelter, Lake County Animal Shelter led all the shelters for each dog grouping.

The 2020 total dog results followed the same pattern. In fact, Lake County Animal Shelter outperformed the other shelters by an even greater margin in 2020 than in 2019.

Since the owner reclaims percentage of all dog outcomes might not accurately represent the true percentage of lost dogs shelters return to owners, I also calculated the percentage of stray dogs returned to owners during 2019. Once again, Lake County Animal Shelter returned the greatest percentage of dogs to owners. When looking at this metric, Pima County Animal Care Center jumped from fourth to second place while the other shelters followed the same order as the owner reclaim percentage of total dog outcomes.

While socioeconomic factors drive differences in return to owner rates between shelters, this typically applies to regressive shelters that take a passive approach to returning lost pets to their families (i.e. primarily rely on licenses and microchips rather than doing proactive work). In fact, Lake County Animal Shelter increased the percentage of dogs it returned to owners by a greater amount from 2016 to 2020 than any of the other shelters did over much longer periods of time (periods selected based on first year before no kill effort started, or if not available, the oldest year accessible after the no kill effort started). As I mentioned in a prior blog on Lake County Animal Shelter, the facility achieved this success by doing good old fashioned hard work and using technological solutions.

Shelter-Neuter Return Programs Differ

Austin Animal Center returned the greatest percentage of its community cats to their outdoor homes followed by Pima Animal Care Center, Lake County Animal Shelter and Williamson County Animal Shelter and KC Pet Project. KC Pet Project could not conduct shelter-neuter return due to ordinance restrictions, but the organization is trying to change the statute.

The three shelters conducting shelter-neuter-return had different policies for including young kittens. Under Austin Animal Center’s shelter-neuter-return program, the shelter transfers community cats “who are in good health, older than three months and weigh no less than three pounds” to Austin Humane Society to do the veterinary procedures. However, critics argue Austin Animal Center shelter-neuter-returns too many young kittens (i.e. under six months), which may have higher mortality rates on the streets. In fact, 204 or 20% of the 1,022 community cats Austin Animal Center returned to field in 2019 were two to five months old. Similarly, 15% of Pima Animal Care Center’s shelter-neuter-return cats in 2019 were between one to five months old (almost all were three to five months old). In contrast, Lake County Animal Shelter only shelter-neuter-returned cats that were six months of age and older.

Several shelters conducted significant numbers of cat sterilizations through TNR programs that are not included in the above statistics. If we count these cats, Lake County Animal Shelter and Williamson County Animal Shelter would have returned 22% and 11% of their cats sterilized to their communities. Unfortunately, Pima Animal Care Center did not break out the TNR and owned cat portions of its cat sterilizations at its vet clinics. If we counted all these cat sterilizations, Pima Animal Care Center would have returned 41% of their cats sterilized to their communities. However, this would clearly overstate Pima Animal Care Center community cat sterilizations.

KC Pet Project’s Adoption Results Stand Out

The following table lists each shelter’s dog adoption rates. KC Pet Project had the highest dog adoption rate followed by Austin Animal Center (adjusted for the estimated number of Austin Pets Alive’s adoptions of transferred dogs), Williamson County Animal Shelter, Pima Animal Care Center and Lake County Animal Shelter. Austin Animal Center was dead last due to its heavy reliance on Austin Pets Alive to adopt out its dogs.

Pima Animal Care Center had the highest pit bull adoption rate followed by KC Pet Project, Lake County Animal Shelter, Austin Animal Center (adjusted for Austin Pets Alive and puppies born from transferred dogs), Austin Animal Center (adjusted for Austin Pets Alive) and unadjusted Austin Animal Center. As the table discusses, Williamson County Animal Shelter’s pit bull adoption rate is unreliable, but it was quite high in the most recent year the shelter broke out most breeds.

The 2020 dog adoption rates showed slightly different results. Overall, KC Pet Project had the highest dog adoption rate followed by Austin Animal Center (adjusted for Austin Pets Alive and puppies born from transferred dogs), Austin Animal Center (adjusted for Austin Pets Alive), Pima Animal Care Center, Williamson County Animal Shelter, unadjusted Austin Animal Center and Lake County Animal Shelter.

KC Pet Project had the highest cat adoption rate in 2019 followed by Williamson County Animal Shelter, Lake County Animal Shelter, Austin Animal Center (adjusted for estimated Austin Pets Alive adoptions of Austin Animal Center cats), Pima Animal Care Center and Austin Animal Center (unadjusted). Both Pima Animal Care Center and Austin Animal Center had significantly lower cat adoption rates. In the case of Pima Animal Care Center, this was largely due to its higher transfer percentage and death rate. For Austin Animal Center, this was due to its very high transfer percentage and large percentage of cats shelter-neutered-returned.

The 2020 cat adoption rates followed the same pattern. Specifically, the cat adoption rates rankings were exactly the same as in 2019.

To better assess the scale of the shelters’ adoption programs, we need to look at how many animals the facilities adopt out relative to the human populations in their service areas. For example, a shelter may have adoptions make up a large percentage of total outcomes, but adopt few animals out.

KC Pet Project had the highest per capita dog adoption rate in 2019 followed by Pima Animal Care Center, Austin Animal Center (adjusted for estimated Austin Pets Alive adoptions of Austin Animal Center dogs), Williamson County Animal Shelter, Lake County Animal Shelter and Austin Animal Center (unadjusted). When we just look at pit bulls, Lake County Animal Shelter jumped to third place and Williamson County Animal Shelter fell to last place. Most notably, KC Pet Project achieved the highest pit bull per capita adoption rate I’ve ever seen.

In 2020, the results were similar with a few changes. First, all of the shelters adopted out fewer dogs due to COVID-19 reducing intake. Second, Lake County Animal Shelter jumped up to third place. Third, Williamson County Animal Shelter moved ahead of Austin Animal Center (adjusted for transferred dogs to Austin Pets Alive).

KC Pet Project had the highest per capita cat adoption rate in 2019 followed by Lake County Animal Shelter, Williamson County Animal Shelter, Austin Animal Center (adjusted for estimated Austin Pets Alive adoptions of Austin Animal Center cats), Pima Animal Care Center, and Austin Animal Center (unadjusted). Once again, Austin Animal Center itself had a much lower per capita adoption rate than the other organizations. When we look at just adult cats, both KC Pet Project and Lake County Animal Shelter adopted out far more of these animals than the other shelters.

In 2020, KC Pet Project had the highest per capita cat adoption rate followed by Williamson County Animal Shelter Lake County Animal Shelter, Austin Animal Center (adjusted for estimated Austin Pets Alive adoptions of Austin Animal Center cats and kittens born from those cats), Pima Animal Care Center, Austin Animal Center (adjusted for estimated Austin Pets Alive adoptions of Austin Animal Center cats) and Austin Animal Center (unadjusted). KC Pet Project increased its per capita cat adoptions in 2020 while all the other shelters had lower cat adoptions per 1,000 people figures. Notably, Pima Animal Care Center and Austin Animal Center had much lower per capita cat adoptions than the other shelters in 2020.

When looking at per capita adoption rates, one must also consider several factors. First, shelters with higher animal intake will be able to adopt out more pets, and especially easier to adopt ones. Second, shelters that return fewer animals to owners and shelter-neuter return less cats will have more animals to adopt out. Thus, these factors partially helped increase KC Pet Project’s per capita adoption rates for dogs and cats and Pima Animal Care Center’s per capita dog adoption rate.

As mentioned in my discussion about respect for life, Austin Animal Center’s results may appear better than they really are. Since I used Austin Pets Alive’s overall adoption rates in the tables above, it could overstate the Austin Animal Center-Austin Pets Alive adoption rates if Austin Pets Alive adopted out a greater percentage of animals obtained from places other than Austin Animal Center. Based on Austin Pets Alive’s overall dog death rates only changing a few tenths of a percent using overly conservative assumptions, this would not have large impact on the dog adoption rates. Additionally, I have no data to suggest Austin Pets Alive’s cat adoption rates are radically different for Austin Animal Center cats and cats taken in from elsewhere.

Pima Animal Care Center Moves Animals Out of the Shelter Quickly

Reducing the time animals spend in shelters is crucial to achieving no kill. When animals stay at shelters longer, the animals are more likely to get sick or develop behavior problems. Furthermore, shelters where animals stay too long cost more to run, have frequent serious disease outbreaks and become overcrowded. Simply put, an animal control shelter must have a short average length of stay to achieve and sustain no kill.

Pima Animal Care Center had the shortest average length of stay for dogs followed by Austin Animal Center, Lake County Animal Shelter, KC Pet Project and Williamson County Animal Shelter (see explanation in table for data issues). Impressively, Pima Animal Care Center’s average length of stay was less than half that of the second place shelter. Overall, all the shelters had short average lengths of stay for dogs with the possible exception of Williamson County Animal Shelter.

When we just look at pit bulls, the results change a bit. While Pima Animal Care Center still had the shortest average length of stay, the margin between it and the other facilities was smaller. Also, KC Pet Project had the second shortest average length of stay for pit bulls.

Pima Animal Care Center also had the shortest average length of stay for cats followed by Austin Animal Center, Lake County Animal Shelter, KC Pet Project and Williamson County Animal Shelter (see explanation in table for data issues). Pima Animal Care Center’s average length of stay was around one third that of the second place shelter. All the shelters had short average lengths of stay for cats with the possible exception of Williamson County Animal Shelter.

Since the overall average length of stay can be lower due to killing animals quickly, transferring many animals, returning many animals to owners and shelter-neuter-returning large numbers of cats, its helpful to look at the adoption average length of stay. In other words, this measures the average time it took to adopt animals out.

Pima Animal Care Center had the shortest adoption average length of stay for dogs followed by KC Pet Project, Austin Animal Center, Lake County Animal Shelter and Williamson County Animal Shelter (see explanation in table for data issues). Pima Animal Care Center’s adoption average length of stay was less than half that of the second place shelter. With the possible exception of Williamson County Animal Shelter, all the other shelters had short adoption average lengths of stay.

When we just look at pit bulls, the results change a bit. While Pima Animal Care Center still had the shortest adoption average length of stay, the difference between it and KC Pet Project was smaller. Interestingly, Austin Animal Center’s pit bull adoption average length of stay was much higher than the other shelters. When coupled with its low per capita pit bull adoption rate, this suggests Austin Animal Center needs to do a better job adopting out its pit bulls. As previously mentioned, Williamson County Animal Shelter’s pit bull adoption average length of stay is likely not accurate due to the shelter labeling very few dogs as pit bulls (i.e. data is only for 16 adoptions).

Pima Animal Care Center also had the shortest adoption average length of stay for cats followed by Lake County Animal Shelter, KC Pet Project, Austin Animal Center and Williamson County Animal Shelter (see explanation in table for data issues). Pima Animal Care Center’s cat adoption average length of stay was less than one third of the second place shelter’s figure. All the shelters had short adoption average lengths of stay for cats with the possible exception of Williamson County Animal Shelter. Austin Animal Center’s difference between its cat adoption average length of stay and its overall cat average length of stay was much larger than the other shelters. This is due to Austin Animal Center’s heavy reliance on both Austin Humane Society, for shelter-neuter return, and Austin Pets Alive, for cat rescues.

Finally, when examining the average length of stay figures, readers should consider differences in death rates. Specifically, shelters with lower death rates will have a more challenging mix of animals to save. Thus, all else being equal, these shelters would have longer overall and adoption average lengths of stay.

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

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

Ranking the Nation’s Top No Kill Shelters – Part 3: Lifesaving Programs

This blog is the third 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. You can read those two blogs here and here. In this blog, I’ll examine the efficiency and effectiveness of each shelter’s programs to save lives and ensure the organizations don’t kill animals.

Lake County Animal Shelter Excels at Returning Dogs to Owners

The primary purpose of shelters is to return lost pets home. If an animal has an owner, that animal should go to its family rather than to a new place. Due to a variety of reasons, shelters generally only have success returning lost dogs to owners. In other words, almost all shelters have difficulty reuniting stray cats with their families.

Lake County Animal Shelter returned the greatest percentage of its dogs to owners in 2019 followed by Williamson County Animal Shelter, Austin Animal Center, Pima Animal Care Center and KC Pet Project. With the exception of the likely inaccurate 2019 pit bull results from Williamson County Animal Shelter, Lake County Animal Shelter led all the shelters for each dog grouping.

The 2020 total dog results followed the same pattern. In fact, Lake County Animal Shelter outperformed the other shelters by an even greater margin in 2020 than in 2019.

Since the owner reclaims percentage of all dog outcomes might not accurately represent the true percentage of lost dogs shelters return to owners, I also calculated the percentage of stray dogs returned to owners during 2019. Once again, Lake County Animal Shelter returned the greatest percentage of dogs to owners. When looking at this metric, Pima County Animal Care Center jumped from fourth to second place while the other shelters followed the same order as the owner reclaim percentage of total dog outcomes.

While socioeconomic factors drive differences in return to owner rates between shelters, this typically applies to regressive shelters that take a passive approach to returning lost pets to their families (i.e. primarily rely on licenses and microchips rather than doing proactive work). In fact, Lake County Animal Shelter increased the percentage of dogs it returned to owners by a greater amount from 2016 to 2020 than any of the other shelters did over much longer periods of time (periods selected based on first year before no kill effort started, or if not available, the oldest year accessible after the no kill effort started). As I mentioned in a prior blog on Lake County Animal Shelter, the facility achieved this success by doing good old fashioned hard work and using technological solutions.

Shelter-Neuter Return Programs Differ

Austin Animal Center returned the greatest percentage of its community cats to their outdoor homes followed by Pima Animal Care Center, Lake County Animal Shelter and Williamson County Animal Shelter and KC Pet Project. KC Pet Project could not conduct shelter-neuter return due to ordinance restrictions, but the organization is trying to change the statute.

The three shelters conducting shelter-neuter-return had different policies for including young kittens. Under Austin Animal Center’s shelter-neuter-return program, the shelter transfers community cats “who are in good health, older than three months and weigh no less than three pounds” to Austin Humane Society to do the veterinary procedures. However, critics argue Austin Animal Center shelter-neuter-returns too many young kittens (i.e. under six months), which may have higher mortality rates on the streets. In fact, 204 or 20% of the 1,022 community cats Austin Animal Center returned to field in 2019 were two to five months old. Similarly, 15% of Pima Animal Care Center’s shelter-neuter-return cats in 2019 were between one to five months old (almost all were three to five months old). In contrast, Lake County Animal Shelter only shelter-neuter-returned cats that were six months of age and older.

Several shelters conducted significant numbers of cat sterilizations through TNR programs that are not included in the above statistics. If we count these cats, Lake County Animal Shelter and Williamson County Animal Shelter would have returned 22% and 11% of their cats sterilized to their communities. Unfortunately, Pima Animal Care Center did not break out the TNR and owned cat portions of its cat sterilizations at its vet clinics. If we counted all these cat sterilizations, Pima Animal Care Center would have returned 41% of their cats sterilized to their communities. However, this would clearly overstate Pima Animal Care Center community cat sterilizations.

KC Pet Project’s Adoption Results Stand Out

The following table lists each shelter’s dog adoption rates. KC Pet Project had the highest dog adoption rate followed by Austin Animal Center (adjusted for the estimated number of Austin Pets Alive’s adoptions of transferred dogs), Williamson County Animal Shelter, Pima Animal Care Center and Lake County Animal Shelter. Austin Animal Center was dead last due to its heavy reliance on Austin Pets Alive to adopt out its dogs.

Pima Animal Care Center had the highest pit bull adoption rate followed by KC Pet Project, Lake County Animal Shelter, Austin Animal Center (adjusted for Austin Pets Alive and puppies born from transferred dogs), Austin Animal Center (adjusted for Austin Pets Alive) and unadjusted Austin Animal Center. As the table discusses, Williamson County Animal Shelter’s pit bull adoption rate is unreliable, but it was quite high in the most recent year the shelter broke out most breeds.

The 2020 dog adoption rates showed slightly different results. Overall, KC Pet Project had the highest dog adoption rate followed by Austin Animal Center (adjusted for Austin Pets Alive and puppies born from transferred dogs), Austin Animal Center (adjusted for Austin Pets Alive), Pima Animal Care Center, Williamson County Animal Shelter, unadjusted Austin Animal Center and Lake County Animal Shelter.

KC Pet Project had the highest cat adoption rate in 2019 followed by Williamson County Animal Shelter, Lake County Animal Shelter, Austin Animal Center (adjusted for estimated Austin Pets Alive adoptions of Austin Animal Center cats), Pima Animal Care Center and Austin Animal Center (unadjusted). Both Pima Animal Care Center and Austin Animal Center had significantly lower cat adoption rates. In the case of Pima Animal Care Center, this was largely due to its higher transfer percentage and death rate. For Austin Animal Center, this was due to its very high transfer percentage and large percentage of cats shelter-neutered-returned.

The 2020 cat adoption rates followed the same pattern. Specifically, the cat adoption rates rankings were exactly the same as in 2019.

To better assess the scale of the shelters’ adoption programs, we need to look at how many animals the facilities adopt out relative to the human populations in their service areas. For example, a shelter may have adoptions make up a large percentage of total outcomes, but adopt few animals out.

KC Pet Project had the highest per capita dog adoption rate in 2019 followed by Pima Animal Care Center, Austin Animal Center (adjusted for estimated Austin Pets Alive adoptions of Austin Animal Center dogs), Williamson County Animal Shelter, Lake County Animal Shelter and Austin Animal Center (unadjusted). When we just look at pit bulls, Lake County Animal Shelter jumped to third place and Williamson County Animal Shelter fell to last place. Most notably, KC Pet Project achieved the highest pit bull per capita adoption rate I’ve ever seen.

In 2020, the results were similar with a few changes. First, all of the shelters adopted out fewer dogs due to COVID-19 reducing intake. Second, Lake County Animal Shelter jumped up to third place. Third, Williamson County Animal Shelter moved ahead of Austin Animal Center (adjusted for transferred dogs to Austin Pets Alive).

KC Pet Project had the highest per capita cat adoption rate in 2019 followed by Lake County Animal Shelter, Williamson County Animal Shelter, Austin Animal Center (adjusted for estimated Austin Pets Alive adoptions of Austin Animal Center cats), Pima Animal Care Center, and Austin Animal Center (unadjusted). Once again, Austin Animal Center itself had a much lower per capita adoption rate than the other organizations. When we look at just adult cats, both KC Pet Project and Lake County Animal Shelter adopted out far more of these animals than the other shelters.

In 2020, KC Pet Project had the highest per capita cat adoption rate followed by Williamson County Animal Shelter Lake County Animal Shelter, Austin Animal Center (adjusted for estimated Austin Pets Alive adoptions of Austin Animal Center cats and kittens born from those cats), Pima Animal Care Center, Austin Animal Center (adjusted for estimated Austin Pets Alive adoptions of Austin Animal Center cats) and Austin Animal Center (unadjusted). KC Pet Project increased its per capita cat adoptions in 2020 while all the other shelters had lower cat adoptions per 1,000 people figures. Notably, Pima Animal Care Center and Austin Animal Center had much lower per capita cat adoptions than the other shelters in 2020.

When looking at per capita adoption rates, one must also consider several factors. First, shelters with higher animal intake will be able to adopt out more pets, and especially easier to adopt ones. Second, shelters that return fewer animals to owners and shelter-neuter return less cats will have more animals to adopt out. Thus, these factors partially helped increase KC Pet Project’s per capita adoption rates for dogs and cats and Pima Animal Care Center’s per capita dog adoption rate.

As mentioned in my discussion about respect for life, Austin Animal Center’s results may appear better than they really are. Since I used Austin Pets Alive’s overall adoption rates in the tables above, it could overstate the Austin Animal Center-Austin Pets Alive adoption rates if Austin Pets Alive adopted out a greater percentage of animals obtained from places other than Austin Animal Center. Based on Austin Pets Alive’s overall dog death rates only changing a few tenths of a percent using overly conservative assumptions, this would not have large impact on the dog adoption rates. Additionally, I have no data to suggest Austin Pets Alive’s cat adoption rates are radically different for Austin Animal Center cats and cats taken in from elsewhere.

Pima Animal Care Center Moves Animals Out of the Shelter Quickly

Reducing the time animals spend in shelters is crucial to achieving no kill. When animals stay at shelters longer, the animals are more likely to get sick or develop behavior problems. Furthermore, shelters where animals stay too long cost more to run, have frequent serious disease outbreaks and become overcrowded. Simply put, an animal control shelter must have a short average length of stay to achieve and sustain no kill.

Pima Animal Care Center had the shortest average length of stay for dogs followed by Austin Animal Center, Lake County Animal Shelter, KC Pet Project and Williamson County Animal Shelter (see explanation in table for data issues). Impressively, Pima Animal Care Center’s average length of stay was less than half that of the second place shelter. Overall, all the shelters had short average lengths of stay for dogs with the possible exception of Williamson County Animal Shelter.

When we just look at pit bulls, the results change a bit. While Pima Animal Care Center still had the shortest average length of stay, the margin between it and the other facilities was smaller. Also, KC Pet Project had the second shortest average length of stay for pit bulls.

Pima Animal Care Center also had the shortest average length of stay for cats followed by Austin Animal Center, Lake County Animal Shelter, KC Pet Project and Williamson County Animal Shelter (see explanation in table for data issues). Pima Animal Care Center’s average length of stay was around one third that of the second place shelter. All the shelters had short average lengths of stay for cats with the possible exception of Williamson County Animal Shelter.

Since the overall average length of stay can be lower due to killing animals quickly, transferring many animals, returning many animals to owners and shelter-neuter-returning large numbers of cats, its helpful to look at the adoption average length of stay. In other words, this measures the average time it took to adopt animals out.

Pima Animal Care Center had the shortest adoption average length of stay for dogs followed by KC Pet Project, Austin Animal Center, Lake County Animal Shelter and Williamson County Animal Shelter (see explanation in table for data issues). Pima Animal Care Center’s adoption average length of stay was less than half that of the second place shelter. With the possible exception of Williamson County Animal Shelter, all the other shelters had short adoption average lengths of stay.

When we just look at pit bulls, the results change a bit. While Pima Animal Care Center still had the shortest adoption average length of stay, the difference between it and KC Pet Project was smaller. Interestingly, Austin Animal Center’s pit bull adoption average length of stay was much higher than the other shelters. When coupled with its low per capita pit bull adoption rate, this suggests Austin Animal Center needs to do a better job adopting out its pit bulls. As previously mentioned, Williamson County Animal Shelter’s pit bull adoption average length of stay is likely not accurate due to the shelter labeling very few dogs as pit bulls (i.e. data is only for 16 adoptions).

Pima Animal Care Center also had the shortest adoption average length of stay for cats followed by Lake County Animal Shelter, KC Pet Project, Austin Animal Center and Williamson County Animal Shelter (see explanation in table for data issues). Pima Animal Care Center’s cat adoption average length of stay was less than one third of the second place shelter’s figure. All the shelters had short adoption average lengths of stay for cats with the possible exception of Williamson County Animal Shelter. Austin Animal Center’s difference between its cat adoption average length of stay and its overall cat average length of stay was much larger than the other shelters. This is due to Austin Animal Center’s heavy reliance on both Austin Humane Society, for shelter-neuter return, and Austin Pets Alive, for cat rescues.

Finally, when examining the average length of stay figures, readers should consider differences in death rates. Specifically, shelters with lower death rates will have a more challenging mix of animals to save. Thus, all else being equal, these shelters would have longer overall and adoption average lengths of stay.

In Part 4, I’ll share my overall rankings of the five shelters and my rationale for doing so.

Ranking the Nation’s Top No Kill Shelters – Part 2: Respect for Life

This blog is the second in a series on finding the nation’s best no kill animal control shelter. In Part 1, I described the shelters I’m comparing and the difficulty of their challenges. You can read that blog here. In this blog, we’ll examine each shelter’s commitment to respecting life and not killing animals.

Death Rates Reveal Some Shelters Value Life More Than Others

Most people consider a shelter no kill when the facility achieves a specific live release rate. The live release rate is the percentage live outcomes make up of total outcomes in a period. Personally, I prefer the inverse of that, the death rate, which is the percentage non-live outcomes comprise of total outcomes since it focuses on the animals still dying. Generally, most people consider a 90% live release rate (10% death rate) no kill under the assumption that 10% of animals are hopelessly suffering or seriously aggressive dogs that won’t respond to rehabilitation. Personally, I believe a 95% dog live release rate (5% death rate) and 92% cat live release rate (8% death rate) is more appropriate, but I do think the cat figure is a bit more flexible given cats are more susceptible to arriving at shelters in worse condition than dogs (i.e. cats hit by cars, very young kittens that can die from illness).

When calculating the shelters’ death rates, I decided to present alternative figures for both Williamson County Animal Shelter and Austin Animal Center. Unfortunately, Williamson County Animal Shelter did not break out breeds for most dogs in 2019. Therefore, I also presented the various dog death rates from 2015, when the shelter last broke out most dog breeds, since both the total dog intake and dog live release rate were similar to those in 2019. For Austin Animal Center, I included estimated dog death rates based on animals who potentially lost their lives at Austin Pets Alive as explained in the table below. Since Austin Animal Center transfers so many animals to Austin Pets Alive, its important to include these figures.

Overall, the shelters had significantly different dog death rates. As the table below shows, Lake County Animal Shelter had the lowest dog death rate for all types of dogs followed by Austin Animal Center, Williamson County Animal Shelter, Pima Animal Care Center and KC Pet Project. However, after we revise Austin Animal Center’s death rates for estimates of transferred dogs who lost their lives at Austin Pets Alive, Williamson County Animal Shelter and Austin Animal Center swap positions. Most notably, Pima Animal Care Center and KC Pet Project had much higher dog death rates than the other shelters. In fact, KC Pet Project’s pit bull death rate barely stayed within the lenient 10% no kill criteria.

The shelters’ nonreclaimed dog death rates followed the same pattern. Overall, Lake County Animal Shelter had the lowest nonreclaimed dog death rate for all types of dogs followed by Austin Animal Center, Williamson County Animal Shelter (the shelter’s 2015 pit bull nonreclaimed death rate of 4.6% is likely more reflective of the actual 2019 pit bull nonreclaimed death rate due to the small number of pit bulls broken out in 2019), Pima Animal Care Center and KC Pet Project. As mentioned above, Williamson County Animal Shelter and Austin Animal Center swap positions when I add an estimate of the number of Austin Animal Center dogs who lost their lives at Austin Pets Alive. Once again, Pima Animal Care Center and KC Pet Project had much higher nonreclaimed dog death rates than the other shelters.

As the table below shows, the shelters had different cat death rates. Overall, Austin Animal Center reported the lowest cat death rate followed by KC Pet Project, Lake County Animal Shelter, Williamson County Animal Shelter and Pima Animal Care Center. Most notably, Pima Animal Care Center’s cat death rate significantly exceeded both my and the the general no kill death rate thresholds. Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat death rate may have been slightly lower since I excluded all cats brought to the shelter by the public under its Operation Caturday sterilization program. Based on my discussion with the shelter director, Whitney Boylston, people brought some of these cats in as strays, but the shelter convinced the individuals to allow the facility to do shelter-neuter-return (i.e. should be counted in statistics as live releases). While I don’t have any information on Williamson County Animal Shelter, its possible some of their feral cat sterilizations could have been similar and its cat death rate may have been a bit lower.

Some of the cat death rates by age group may not be accurate due to large numbers of cats having no age classification. For example, KC Pet Project, Williamson County Animal Shelter and Pima Animal Care Center had high death rates in the No Age category. If these cats were included in the applicable cat age groups’ death rate calculations, these death rates (especially neonatal kittens) would likely be much higher.

As the table below explains, Lake County Animal Shelter’s neonatal kitten death rate is unusually high due to the shelter’s Wait-til-8 program that resulted in the shelter taking in a small number of very young kittens in extremely poor condition. In addition, the shelter’s use of cat ages at the outcome dates may result in the neonatal kitten death rate calculation omitting some young kittens who had live releases when they were older.

Austin Pets Alive’s Bottle Baby Program helped save many young kittens (i.e. less than six weeks old) from Austin Animal Center. Under this program, Austin Pets Alive operates a kitten nursery that provides around the clock care to very young kittens. Prior to Austin Pets Alive creating this program in 2009, Austin Animal Center killed nearly all these animals. Thus, Austin Pets Alive significantly lowered Austin Animal Center’s neonatal kitten death rate.

The nonreclaimed cat death rates follow the same pattern except for Austin Animal Center. These death rate calculations exclude cats returned to owners and cats shelter-neutered-returned. Overall, these death rates are a bit higher than the normal cat death rates. Due to Austin Animal Center’s large shelter-neuter-return program, the organization’s nonreclaimed cat death rate is higher relative to its cat death rate compared to the other facilities. When looking at this metric, both KC Pet Project and Lake County Animal Shelter moved above Austin Animal Center (Austin Pets Alive adjusted).

Behavior Killing Data Reveals Some Shelters Value Life More Than Others

To better understand how strongly each shelter respects life, I computed the percentage of dogs and cats each shelter euthanized for behavior and medical reasons in the tables below.

Overall, Austin Animal Center euthanized the fewest dogs for behavior followed by Lake County Animal Shelter, Williamson County Animal Shelter, Pima Animal Care Center and KC Pet Project. KC Pet Project’s behavior euthanasia/killing figures were significantly higher than the other shelters. When we just look at pit bulls, Lake County Animal Shelter swaps positions with Austin Animal Center adjusted for Austin Pets Alive. Austin Animal Center, Lake County Animal Shelter and Williamson County Animal Shelter killed no small dogs for behavior while Pima Animal Care Center and KC Pet Project killed a small percentage of these dogs for behavior.

The shelters’ pit bull results reveal a large divide among the shelters. Both Lake County Animal Shelter and the Austin Animal Center (adjusted for Austin Pets Alive) euthanized around 0.90% of their pit bulls for behavior while Williamson County Animal Shelter (2015 figure – see table for explanation), Pima Animal Care Center and KC Pet Project killed/euthanized 1.93%, 2.11% and 4.87% of pit bulls for behavior. Clearly, this data indicates these three shelters did not have the same respect for pit bull lives as Lake County Animal Shelter and Austin Animal Center.

Williamson County Animal Shelter’s, Pima Animal Care Center’s and KC Pet Project’s detailed reasons for euthanizing/killing dogs revealed these shelters didn’t always have the highest levels of respect for life. While Williamson County Animal Shelter generally had good respect for life, it did kill two dogs for dog aggression which I believe is manageable. Similarly, Pima Animal Care Center killed nine dogs for animal aggression. 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. Thus, these shelters, and KC Pet Project in particular, did not always uphold the most fundamental no kill principle of respecting life.

Lake County Animal Shelter euthanized the fewest dogs for medical reasons followed by Williamson County Animal Shelter, Austin Animal Center (adjusted for Austin Pets Alive), KC Pet Project and Pima Animal Care Center. Most notably, KC Pet Project and Pima Animal Care Center euthanized a much greater percentage of dogs for medical reasons than the other shelters.

On a very positive note, all five shelters did not kill a single cat for behavior. Given shelters should never kill cats for behavior since such animals are not a serious threat to people and lifesaving alternatives exist (i.e. TNR, shelter-neuter-return, barn and warehouse cat adoptions, etc.), this is an excellent result.

Austin Animal Center euthanized the fewest cats for medical reasons followed by Williamson County Animal Shelter, Lake County Animal Shelter, KC Pet Project and Pima Animal Care Center. However, when we look at the Austin Animal Center numbers adjusted for estimated Austin Pets Alive euthanasia, Austin Animal Center drops to fourth place. Overall, the top three shelters were very close with Austin Animal Center (adjusted for Austin Pets Alive) and Pima Animal Care Center in particular being further behind.

When looking at the cat age groups, we must consider two other things. The shelters with cats having no age would have had higher medical euthanasia rates if these organizations reported ages for these cats. As mentioned above, Lake County Animal Shelter’s neonatal kitten death rate is high due to the shelter’s Wait-til-8 program that resulted in the facility taking very few young kittens in who were likely in very bad shape. Therefore, this shelter’s percentage of neonatal kittens euthanized for medical reasons is abnormally high.

When we look at the percentage of cats who died and went missing, Austin Animal Center had the lowest figure followed by KC Pet Project, Lake County Animal Shelter, Williamson County Animal Shelter and Pima Animal Care Center. However, KC Pet Project switches positions with Austin Animal Center when we include the estimated number of Austin Animal Center cats who died at Austin Pets Alive. Overall, KC Pet Project, Austin Animal Center and Lake County Animal Shelter had similar results while both Williamson County Animal Shelter and Pima Animal Care Center had a much greater percentage of cats who died and went missing. As with the other metrics, KC Pet Project’s, Williamson County Animal Shelter’s and Pima Animal Care Center’s age class died and missing percentages would be higher if these facilities broke out the ages of all their cats.

All the shelters except for Pima Animal Care Center took a good amount of time before euthanizing dogs. As the table below shows, the shelters other than Pima Animal Care Center on average euthanized dogs after one month. Pima Animal Care Center euthanized dogs after just five days on average. However, the shelter took a bit longer (20.7 days) to euthanize dogs for behavior than for medical reasons (2.1 days). While Pima Animal Care Center did euthanize many very old dogs for medical reasons, it did euthanize a significant number of younger dogs for health reasons as well (average age of dogs euthanized for medical reasons was 9.0 years). Thus, the length of stay data indicates all the shelters except for Pima Animal Care Center made a strong effort to save their euthanized dogs.

The euthanized cats average length of stay data show the same pattern. Since the shelters euthanized all the cats for medical reasons, the average lengths of stay are a bit lower than those for dogs. However, Pima Animal Care Center stood out again for euthanizing cats much quicker than the other shelters.

Austin Animal Center’s and Austin Pets Alive’s combined respect for life data must be interpreted with caution. Since Austin Pets Alive is not subject to the Texas Public Information Act and does not disclose intake and disposition records for individual animals, I had to estimate the number of animals who lost their lives at Austin Pets Alive and the number of those euthanized for medical and behavior reasons. Specifically, these estimates assumed 1) the percentage of Austin Animal Center animals who lost their lives at Austin Pets Alive was the same as the death rate for other animals Austin Pets Alive took in and 2) the allocation of euthanized animals to the underlying behavior and medical reasons was the same as those for animals euthanized at Austin Animal Center. While I don’t have objective data on the types of animals Austin Pets Alive took from places other than Austin Animal Center, I suspect Austin Pets Alive took more difficult behavior case dogs from Austin Animal Center than from elsewhere. In other words, the combined Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive dog death rates and percentage of dogs euthanized for behavior reasons could be higher than the amounts I estimated.

To stress test my estimates, I recalculated the dog death rates and percentages of dogs euthanized for behavior and medical reasons using the overly conservative assumption that all 45 over five month old dogs Austin Pets Alive euthanized were Austin Animal Center dogs and Austin Pets Alive euthanized every single one of these animals for behavior reasons. This assumption changes my Austin Animal Center-APA Estimate – No Born in Care results as follows (the Born in Care results change by similar amounts):

  • Death Rates: All Dogs: 2.2% to 2.5%, Pit Bulls: 3.4% to 3.8%, Small Dogs: 2.3% to 2.6% and Other Dogs: 1.7% to 1.9%
  • Percentage of Dogs Euthanized for Behavior: All Dogs: 0.28% to 0.65%, Pit Bulls: 0.92% to 2.14%, Small Dogs: Remains at 0% and Other Dogs: 0.22% to 0.51%
  • Percentage of Dogs Euthanized for Medical Reasons: All Dogs: 0.98% to 0.83%, Pit Bulls: 1.13% to 0.95%, Small Dogs: 1.21% to 1.02% and Other Dogs: 0.80% to 0.68%

Based on these overly conservative assumptions, Austin Animal Center-Austin Pets Alive would remain in third place for all dog death rates, drop from first to third place for the percentage of all dogs euthanized for behavior reasons and rise from third to second place for the percentage of all dogs euthanized for medical reasons. In reality, the actual figures are probably somewhere between the estimates above.

I strongly recommend Austin Pets Alive disclose their full intake and disposition records for each individual animal to allow the public to determine the exact death rates of Austin Animal Center animals and percentages of Austin Animal Center dogs and cats euthanized for behavior and medical reasons at the two shelters.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s Owner Surrender Policy Does Not Affect Results

Before we conclude this blog’s section on respect for life, we must determine whether Lake County Animal Shelter’s owner surrender policies made its figures look much better. Lake County Animal Shelter conducts an “adoptability assessment” before accepting owner surrenders. Based on my conversation with shelter director, Whitney Boylston, the only animals it won’t accept are the most severe medical and dog behavior cases where euthanasia is the only option. In other words, the shelter does not conduct owner requested euthanasia.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s intake data backs up the assertion that it does not accept very few animals. Overall, the shelter’s dog intake is similar to what it was before the facility went no kill. While owner surrenders in 2019 were a little lower than they were before the shelter went no kill, this could be due to data collection issues the facility had before it went no kill. Even so, the shelter had more owner surrenders in 2018 (when the shelter had a dog death rate of 2.0% compared to 1.1% in 2019) than it did in 2016 (when it was high kill). On the cat side, Lake County Animal Shelter had significantly more owner surrenders in 2019 than it did in both 2016 and 2015 when it was a high kill facility. While total cat intake was a little lower after the shelter went no kill, this was due to the shelter’s Operation Caturday TNR program that neutered and released cats rather than impounding them. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter’s intake data indicates the shelter’s owner surrender policies were not artificially decreasing the facility’s death rate.

To evaluate whether Lake County Animal Shelter’s owner requested euthanasia policy impacted the results, I looked at owner requested euthanasia numbers at the other organizations. Unfortunately, KC Pet Project was the only shelter that broke this data out. KC Pet Project only euthanized 1.1% of its dogs and 0.1% of its cats for owner requested euthanasia. Clearly, this was not significant since 1) the 1.1% dog figure did not come close to making up the 6.8% dog death rate difference between KC Pet Project and Lake County Animal Shelter and 2) the cat owner requested euthanasia figure was tiny.

In order to evaluate whether Lake County Animal Shelter’s owner requested euthanasia policy altered the comparative results with the other organizations, I examined dog and cat death rates excluding owner surrendered animals. Since all the shelters take the most difficult stray animals and dangerous dog cases, we can compare each facility’s respect for life on an apples to apples basis.

The shelters’ comparative dog death rate results did not change after excluding owner surrenders. As you can see in the table below, the shelters’ dog death rate rankings excluding owner surrenders are exactly the same as the overall dog death rate rankings. In fact, all the shelters except for Pima Animal Care Center and KC Pet Project had dog death rates excluding owner surrenders within 0.2% of their overall dog death rates. While these two shelters had lower dog death rates when excluding owner surrenders, both facilities still remained firmly in the last two places.

The organizations’ comparative cat death rates results did not change after excluding owner surrenders. Overall, all the shelters ranked the same as they did using the overall cat death rates. All the shelters’ cat death rates excluding owner surrenders were between 0.5% to 1.5% higher than their overall cat death rates. Given many stray cats come into shelters in very poor condition (i.e. hit by cars, extremely young kittens, etc.), this is not surprising.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat death rates excluding owner surrenders may be artificially high. Since the facility counts young kittens finders bring to the shelter after the animals become a bit older than when originally found, this death rate is higher than it would be if these cats were considered strays (which the cats originally were). If we counted these cats as strays rather than owner surrenders, Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat death rate and cat nonreclaimed death rate excluding owner surrenders would be 9.3% and 11.9%.

2020 Data Confirms Respect for Life Results

2020 was the most unusual year in the history of animal sheltering due to COVID-19. As a result of fewer people losing pets and more restrictive shelter intake policies during the pandemic, facilities across the country took in significantly fewer animals. On the one hand, shelters had to deal with a greater percentage of more challenging animals as facilities continued to take in emergency case animals (i.e. dangerous dogs, severely sick and injured animals, etc.) and impounded fewer healthy and treatable animals. On the other hand, shelters had far more funding, space, time and human resources available for each individual animal. Thus, shelters operated in conditions that could result in either less or more lifesaving depending on the organizations’ commitments to respecting life.

The shelters’ dog death rates in the three months after COVID-19 hit were remarkably similar to those from the same period in 2019. Overall, the death rate changes range from a 0.6% decrease at Lake County Animal Shelter to a 1.4% increase at Williamson County Animal Shelter. Also, the shelters ranked exactly the same in dog death rates as they did in 2019. Once again, both Pima Animal Care Center and KC Pet Project had remarkably higher dog death rates than the other shelters.

Overall, the decrease in dog intake was nearly exactly the same at all the shelters except for Austin Animal Center. Therefore, these shelters except for Austin Animal Center likely faced a similar change in the more challenging types of dogs each facility took in. Given Lake County Animal Shelter already had the lowest dog death rate, its decrease was very impressive and is another fact supporting this facility’s great respect for life. Additionally, Austin Animal Center’s much larger decrease in dog intake supports local advocates’ claims of the shelter not taking pets in who needed help during this time period in 2020.

The shelters’ cat performances were vastly different over the three months after COVID-19 became prevalent in 2020. Both Williamson County Animal Shelter and Lake County Animal Shelter significantly lowered their cat death rates over the same period in 2019 and those death rates were at impressively low levels. While Williamson County Animal Shelter’s cat intake decreased by a much smaller percentage than the other shelters, Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat intake only decreased slightly less than KC Pet Project’s cat intake. Both Austin Animal Center and KC Pet Project had significantly higher cat death rates in April-June 2020 compared to April-June 2019. While Pima Animal Care Center’s cat death rate decreased slightly in April-June 2020 compared to April-June 2019, the overall cat death rate in April-June 2020 was shockingly high. In fact, all the shelters except for Williamson County Animal Shelter and Lake County Animal Shelter had high cat death rates in April-June 2020 despite these organizations having very good or state of the art facilities.

The full year 2020 dog death rates showed the same pattern as the 2019 results and the April 2020-June 2020 results. Once again, Lake County Animal Shelter, Austin Animal Center and Williamson County Animal Shelter had much lower dog death rates than Pima Animal Care Center and KC Pet Project. Lake County Animal Shelter, Austin Animal Center and Williamson County Animal Shelter had slightly higher dog death rates compared to 2019 while Pima Animal Care Center’s and KC Pet Project’s dog death rates decreased slightly. However, these changes did not come close to making up the gap in dog death rates.

Overall, the shelters took fewer animals in compared to 2019, but the decrease was less than the decrease during the spring months. This matches the national animal sheltering data trends that show animal sheltering intake gradually normalizing as 2020 went on. However, Austin Animal Center also stood out again for its much larger decrease in dog intake and suggests advocates’ claims of the shelter leaving animals on the streets may have validity.

Overall, the full year 2020 cat death rates showed almost all the shelters achieved no kill for cats. Williamson County Animal Shelter had the lowest cat death rate followed by Lake County Animal Shelter, Austin Animal Center (adjusted for Austin Pets Alive), KC Pet Project and Pima Animal Care Center. Once again, Pima Animal Care Center failed to achieve no kill for cats and had a much higher cat death rate than the other shelters. Interestingly, all the shelters except for Austin Animal Center (unadjusted for Austin Pets Alive) had lower cat death rates in 2020.

All the shelters except KC Pet Project reported lower cat intake in 2020 compared to 2019. As with dogs, the intake reduction (as measured by total outcomes) was not as much during the full year as it was in the spring months after COVID-19 first hit. In fact, KC Pet Project’s cat intake changed so much that it took in more cats in 2020 than it did in 2019. On the other hand, Austin Animal Center and Pima Animal Care Center still had very large decreases in cat intake during the entire year. As mentioned above, Austin Animal Center’s questionable intake policies may have caused its 55% decrease in cat intake. While Pima Animal Care Center’s sharp drop in cat intake could be due to programs designed to keep animals out of the shelter (the shelter’s director led the implementation of the Humane Animal Support Services shelter operating model in 2020), its possible the shelter may have been more strict in following the National Animal Care and Control guidelines to only take animals in on an emergency basis during the pandemic (the shelter’s director was on the board of this organization before she left Pima Animal Care Center).

In Part 3, I will analyze how effective each shelter’s live release programs are.

Ranking the Nation’s Top No Kill Shelters – Part 1: Organizations and Difficulty of Their Challenges

Over the last decade, no kill sheltering spread across the country. As animal control facilities became no kill, others became inspired or pressured to do the same. What was once viewed as a fluke is now fairly common.

While this is the most transformational event in the history of animal sheltering, the question remains are all no kill shelters the same? Do all no kill shelters take the same path to ending the killing of healthy and treatable animals? What things do some no kill shelters do better or worse than others? Are some of these shelters really even no kill? This blog will address these questions.

Analysis and Data Reviewed

To answer these questions, I selected five large no kill animal control shelters and computed metrics to evaluate 1) the difficulty of the challenge each facility faces, 2) each shelter’s commitment to the fundamental no kill principal, respect for life, and 3) the effectiveness of each shelter’s programming to get animals out of their facility alive.

The analyses used each shelter’s intake and disposition records. These records list each individual animal the shelters took in and their outcomes. Additionally, these records disclose the reasons why shelters euthanized animals. Also, these records include data to calculate how long animals stayed at the facilities.

I also examined numerous other documents. In the case of one shelter, I used its summary statistics to compute some of its death rates since this information was more accurate than the intake and disposition records. Additionally, I examined government shelter budgets and nonprofit Form 990s to determine each facility’s funding. Finally, I examined each shelter’s web sites and news stories to obtain other information used in this blog.

While 2020 is the most recent year, it is inappropriate to use since shelters took significantly fewer animals in and had to drastically cut back on programming due to COVID-19. Therefore, I used 2019 data to conduct the bulk of my analyses. However, I supplemented the 2019 analysis with a high level review of 1) 2020 data over the first three months of the pandemic and 2) full 2020 data.

No Kill Shelters Used in Analysis

I used the following no kill shelters in the analysis. These shelters are ones I’ve either previously examined or have stellar reputations. In addition, I chose large facilities (i.e. all shelters took in more than 5,000 dogs and cats during 2019) to ensure the analysis focused on those organizations with significant challenges.

  1. Austin Animal Center – Austin and Travis County, Texas: The City of Austin spearheaded the no kill movement over the last decade. After long advocacy efforts and programming created by Austin Pets Alive, Austin Animal Center, the animal control shelter, first exceeded a 90% live release rate in 2012. Subsequently, the shelter significantly improved and I detailed the shelter’s statistics in both 2017 and 2018 here and here. Since Austin Pets Alive, which pulls large numbers of Austin Animal Center’s most challenging animals, plays such a critical role in saving Austin’s no kill effort, I also incorporated Austin Pets Alive in the analysis. Austin Pets Alive is a major force through its American Pets Alive brand (e.g. its annual American Pets Alive Conference) in spreading the no kill message across the country. While not as prominent as Austin Pets Alive, Austin Animal Center also frequently spoke at the American Pets Alive Conference and shared its successes through blogs, webinars, etc.
  2. Pima Animal Care Center – Tucson and Pima County, Arizona: Austin Animal Center’s former Deputy Chief Animal Services Officer, Kristen Hassen-Auerbach, became the leader of Pima Animal Care Center in July 2017 and ran the facility until October 2020. Prior to taking the shelter over, Pima Animal Care Center reported live release rates of 84% for dogs and 88% for cats. Ms. Hassen-Auerbach had a reputation for developing innovative programs at Austin Animal Center as well as at Fairfax County Animal Shelter in Virginia. During Ms. Hassen-Auerbach’s tenure at Pima Animal Care Center, she created many exciting programs. Additionally, Ms. Hassen-Auerbach became one of the most vocal people in the no kill movement through her prominent role at the American Pets Alive Conference and her numerous blogs and webinars.
  3. KC Pet Project – Kansas City, Missouri: KC Pet Project formed in 2011 and took over the the city shelter within a few months on January 1, 2012. After several months, KC Pet Project stated it reached a 90% live release rate. Subsequently, KC Pet Project has been a prominent voice at the American Pets Alive Conference and various other venues.
  4. Williamson County Animal Shelter – Williamson County, Texas: Williamson County Animal Shelter serves most of Williamson County, Texas, which is very close to Austin. The shelter reached a dog and cat combined 90% live release rate in 2013. The shelter was led by Cheryl Schneider as it improved until she retired in Spring 2020. While Ms. Schneider spoke at conferences, such as the American Pets Alive Conference, she did not appear as prominently as some of the directors of the previously mentioned shelters.
  5. Lake County Animal Shelter – Lake County, Florida: Lake County Animal Shelter implemented no kill policies on January 15, 2017 after a long shelter reform effort and bringing in No Kill Learning to create policies and programming. After around six months, the shelter hired Whitney Boylston as the director and she has run the shelter and developed programming since then. You can read my two blog’s on the shelter’s 2019 statistics here and how the shelter achieved its success here. Unlike the other shelters, national organizations have largely not publicized Lake County Animal Shelter as a no kill success story.

Some Shelters Face Tougher Challenges

Before we compare the shelters’ performances, we must examine the difficulties of their missions. If a shelter takes few animals in, receives lots of rescue assistance and is well-funded, it will have an easier job. Therefore, we will compare various metrics measuring these factors.

KC Pet Project Faced the Greatest Animal Volume Challenge

The following table lists the numbers of dogs and cats each shelter took in during 2019. As you can see, Austin Animal Center and Pima Animal Care Center impounded the most animals followed by KC Pet Project, Williamson County Animal Shelter and Lake County Animal Shelter.

While the total dogs and cats received is important, per capita intake is a better measure of a shelter’s animal volume challenge. Since this metric shows how many people can potentially reclaim, adopt and rescue a shelter’s animals, it is a better indicator of the difficulty a facility faces with animal intake. For example, a shelter with higher per capita intake may have a harder time finding enough people to adopt and rescue all their healthy and treatable animals.

The following table lists the per capita intake for each shelter in 2019. KC Pet Project had the highest per capita intake followed by Pima Animal Care Center, Lake County Animal Shelter, Austin Animal Center and Williamson County Animal Shelter. As I mentioned in my prior blog on Lake County Animal Shelter, the facility’s per capita intake might be slightly higher due to me excluding all cats brought to the shelter for sterilization services (some may have been shelter-neuter-return that should be included in intake).

When we look at the most challenging animals for shelters to save, pit bulls and adult cats (i.e. 1+ year old cats), the results change a bit. Since I only had a breakdown of these categories by outcomes, I measured the per capita data this way (total outcomes and intakes are very similar). KC Pet Project impounded the greatest numbers of these animals, as well as pit bulls, on a per capita basis. Lake County Animal Shelter took the second most of these animals in and the most adult cats on a per capita basis.

Shelter capacity also plays a key challenge to facilities trying to become no kill. If a shelter does not have enough space, it may not have enough time to find adopters and rescues to save their homeless pets.

The following tables measure each shelter’s required average length of stay that is necessary for a shelter to avoid overcrowding (i.e. shelters must generate outcomes or put animals into foster homes within these time frames on average). Based on formulas you can find here, we can estimate the average length of stay a shelter must maintain to avoid overcrowding on a regular basis. To do this correctly, we would calculate this metric for both dogs and cats. Unfortunately, some shelters did not disclose separate dog and cat capacity. However, we can still get a sense of the shelter’s capacity resources by looking at the combined dog and cat required average length of stay. As you can see, all the shelters have to get animals out of their shelters quickly. Austin Animal Center (after incorporating a portion of Austin Pets Alive’s shelter capacity) had the shortest time to get animals out followed by KC Pet Project, Williamson County Animal Shelter, Pima Animal Care Center and Lake County Animal Shelter. While Austin Animal Center had the least amount of time to get animals out alive, its likely Austin Pets Alive would use more of its capacity (i.e. which would increase the required average length of stay) in the event Austin Animal Center faced a space crisis.

Lake County Animal Shelter Had The Worst Physical Facility

The physical facility’s condition also impacts lifesaving. For example, poorly designed buildings make it easy to spread disease and also stress animals out leading to behavioral problems.

The following table summarizes my assessments of each physical shelter’s condition in 2019 and 2020 and details when these facilities were built and renovated/expanded. As No Kill Learning noted in its March 2017 progress report on Lake County Animal Shelter, the physical shelter presents significant issues relating to disease management and animal behavior. Therefore, I classified this shelter as being in very poor condition. KC Pet Project also had a very poor physical facility in 2019, but I classified it as poor rather than very poor due to it having more physical space based on my personal visits. In 2020, Kansas City built a state of the art shelter in a desirable location. Both Williamson County Animal Shelter and Austin Animal Center were built within the last 10-15 years and had recent expansions. Based on Austin Animal Center having more modern kennels throughout its entire facility, I classified its condition as very good and Williamson County Animal Shelter as good. Finally, Pima Animal Care Center moved into a brand new state of the art facility at the end of 2017 and it therefore had the best physical shelter in 2019.

Lake County Animal Shelter Faced the Greatest Financial Challenge

The shelters had significantly different levels of funding. As the table describes, I added supporting organizations’ revenues to Pima Animal Care Center’s and Austin Animal Center’s revenues (the rankings would be unchanged without me adding these revenues). Overall, Lake County Animal Shelter had the least funding followed by KC Pet Project. Both Austin Animal Center and Pima Animal Care had much more funding than the other shelters.

Austin Animal Center Receives Massive Rescue Support

Rescues can make an animal control shelter’s job much easier. If rescues take many of the shelter’s pets, the shelter has to do little work. While working with rescues is part of the No Kill Equation, no kill shelters that rely heavily on rescues can divert lifesaving from more needy shelters. Furthermore, no kill shelters relying heavily on transferring animals can regress to killing if rescues stop pulling many pets.

Austin Animal Center received far more rescue assistance than the other shelters. Overall, Austin Animal Center received two to six times more rescue assistance than the other facilities. Not only did Austin Animal Center receive lots of rescue help, Austin Pets Alive pulled many of the shelter’s most challenging animals. Even without Austin Pets Alive, Austin Animal Center transferred 9% of its dogs (i.e. more than all other shelters except Pima Animal Care Center) and 16% of its cats to other organizations (more than all the other facilities). Thus, Austin Animal Center received an unusually large amount of rescue assistance.

KC Pet Project, Williamson County Animal Shelter and Lake County Animal Shelter received similarly low levels of rescue support. While Pima Animal Care Center did not get nearly as much rescue help as Austin Animal Center, it still transferred two to three times more dogs and cats as the other three shelters.

When we look at just pit bulls and adult cats, KC Pet Project and Williamson County Animal Shelter received the least rescue support. Lake County Animal Shelter and Pima Animal Care Center transferred a slightly higher percentage of these animals, but it still was pretty low. Austin Animal Center transferred an even larger percentage of these difficult animals than it did for all dogs and cats (four to nine times the other shelters’ percentages).

In Part 2, I will examine each shelter’s commitment to respecting life.

2017 Dog Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

In a blog from earlier this year, I disclosed New Jersey’s depressing animal shelter statistics. This blog explains why so many dogs are losing their lives in the state’s animal shelters and whether these facilities can end the killing.

Successful organizations set measurable goals and regularly monitor their performance. Examples include financial budgets, customer and employee satisfaction surveys, and product reliability metrics. Unfortunately, many animal shelters for far too long have failed to set lifesaving goals and standards. Municipalities, donors and volunteers need to know where their resources will be best utilized. Time and money are scarce resources and people should allocate these assets to organizations who will best utilize them. As a result, animal shelters need to set goals and hold their leadership and staff accountable for achieving these objectives.

Model Assesses New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Life Saving Performance

In order to assess how good of a job New Jersey animal shelters are doing, I’ve developed an analysis I call the “Life Saving Model.” While shelter performance is dependent on many variables, such as finances, facility design, local laws, etc., the most critical factor impacting potential life saving is physical space. Without having enough physical space, a shelter might not have enough time to find loving homes for its animals. Shelters can overcome financial limitations through creative fundraising or recruiting more volunteers. Similarly, organizations can save their dogs despite having run down facilities if these groups enthusiastically implement policies to get animals into loving homes quickly. As a result, my analysis focuses on making the best use of space to save the maximum number of New Jersey and nearby states dogs.

The Life Saving Model measures the number of local animals a shelter should adopt out, rescue from other facilities, send to rescues or other shelters, and euthanize. The targeted outcomes take into account each facility’s physical capacity and the number and types of dogs the organization receives from its community (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, cruelty/bite cases). I assume a target euthanasia rate, take the number of dogs actually returned to owners and then estimate how many community dogs a shelter should adopt out. To the extent space runs out, I then calculate how many dogs the shelter must send to rescues. If the shelter has excess space after properly serving its local community, the facility uses that room to rescue and adopt out dogs from nearby areas. The targeted results calculated from this model are compared to the actual or estimated actual results from each shelter below.

For shelters with animal control contracts, I place 10% of all dogs that are not reclaimed by owners into the targeted sent to rescue category. Austin Pets Alive used data from Austin Animal Center, which is the local municipal shelter, to determine large dogs with behavioral challenges are part of the last 10% of animals losing their lives. While shelters can save most of these dogs through behavioral rehabilitation and/or foster programs, I decided to put an estimate of these dogs into the sent to rescue category since that is another good outcome for these dogs.

My analysis puts a cap on the targeted numbers of dogs rescued from other shelters and adoptions. While my unmodified targeted numbers of rescued and adopted animals are quite achievable, I want to provide very conservative goals for New Jersey animals shelters. For example, the unmodified model resulted in a statewide per capita dog adoption rate of around 30% to 70% of the level found at some of the nation’s best animal control shelters. Similarly, the unmodified model yielded a statewide pit bull per capita adoption rate (2.0 pit bulls per 1,000 people) that is less than the pit bull per capita adoption rate at one of the best animal control shelters in the country. In my opinion, New Jersey shelters could more easily achieve that per capita pit bull adoption rate given my model includes far fewer dogs from competing breeds than those in this role model animal control shelter.

My modified analysis capped pit bull adoptions at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people within each New Jersey county. In other words, the targeted numbers of dogs rescued from other shelters and adopted below are the lesser of

  1. Number predicted by model
  2. Number determined by capping pit bull adoptions at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people in the county

In simple terms, a shelter is expected to achieve this per capita adoption rate unless the facility lacks enough space. If a shelter does not have sufficient room, it won’t have the time to reach all the potential adopters and requires assistance from rescues and/or other facilities. Given my model assumes 80% of rescued dogs are pit bull like dogs, my targeted numbers of dogs rescued and adopted are quite low as detailed in the section below. For example, shelters in counties where dog adoptions are capped have extra space that they do not use to adopt out other dog breeds.

To read specific details and assumptions used in the model, please see the Appendix at the end of this blog.

New Jersey Animal Shelters Contain Enough Space to Save All of New Jersey’s Dogs and Many More from Other States

New Jersey’s animal shelter system has enough space to save all of the state’s healthy and treatable dogs. The table below details the targeted numbers of dog outcomes the New Jersey animal shelter system should achieve. Out of the 22,391 New Jersey dogs coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2017, 10,928 and 1,590 dogs should have been adopted out and sent to other shelters/rescues by the facilities originally taking the dogs in. However, other New Jersey animal shelters had more than enough capacity to rescue the 1,590 dogs from space constrained facilities. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters should be able to able to adopt out every single healthy and treatable dog taken in from the state and not require any support from rescue organizations without physical facilities from a space perspective.

New Jersey animal shelters have enough excess space to save many dogs from out of state as well. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters had enough physical capacity to rescue and adopt out 10,070 dogs from out of state after achieving a 95% live release rate for New Jersey dogs. To put this number into perspective, New Jersey animal shelters could make both New York City and Philadelphia no kill cities for dogs and increase those cities’ dog live release rates to 95% in 2017 as follows:

  • New York City – 1,304 additional dogs need saving
  • Philadelphia – 935 additional dogs need saving

Additionally, New Jersey animal shelters could save another 7,831 dogs from other locations outside of the state. Of course, some New Jersey animal shelters do pull some dogs from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. However, most of these dogs are likely easy to adopt and therefore have short lengths of stay. As a result, the additional number of dogs New Jersey animal shelters could save from New York City, Philadelphia and elsewhere is probably not much lower than the figures above. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters could make New Jersey a no kill state for dogs as well as many other places.

These adoption goals are quite achievable when comparing the performance of well-run animal control shelters across the country. New Jersey animal shelters would only need to adopt out 2.5 dogs per 1,000 people in the state (1.4 dogs if no dogs rescued from out of state). As a comparison, recent per capita dog adoption numbers from several high performing no kill open admission shelters are as follows:

  • Lynchburg Humane Society (Lynchburg, Virginia) – 10.7 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Longmont Humane Society (Longmont, Colorado area) – 10.5 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Nevada Humane Society (Reno, Nevada and Carson City, Nevada areas) – 8.5 dogs per 1,000 people
  • KC Pet Project (Kansas City, Missouri) – 6.5 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Humane Society of Fremont County (Fremont County, Colorado) – 5.8 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Williamson County Animal Shelter (Williamson County, Texas) – 5.5 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Lake County Animal Shelter (Lake County, Florida) – 4.6 dogs per 1,000 people

Thus, many communities are already adopting out around two to four times as many dogs as the goal set for New Jersey animal shelters.

Some naysayers may claim New Jersey would have a more difficult time due to the state’s shelters taking in many pit bulls. However, this is a myth. My model estimates New Jersey animal shelters would need to adopt out roughly 0.5 pit bulls per 1,000 people to save 95% of New Jersey’s dogs. Our shelters would only need to adopt out around 1.4 pit bulls per 1,000 people if New Jersey shelters also rescued and adopted out the targeted number of pit bulls from other states. As a comparison, I estimate Longmont Humane Society adopts out 2.2 pit bulls per 1,000 people based on the number of pit bulls impounded in 2014 as a percentage of total dogs impounded in 2014 and multiplying that number by the 10.5 dogs per 1,000 people adoption rate in 2017. Furthermore, the pit bull adoption targets are even more reasonable given the model assumes there are roughly 1/8 of the number of dogs from other breeds to compete with in the New Jersey adoption market compared to the Longmont, Colorado area.

2017 New Jersey Dog Targeted Outcomes

Animal Deaths Vary Widely at New Jersey Animal Shelters

The goal of any properly managed animal shelter is to save all of its healthy and treatable animals. In some cases, such as selective admission rescue oriented shelters, it is pretty easy to not kill animals. In addition, other animal shelters with easy to service animal control contracts (i.e. few animals impounded, most strays quickly returned to owners) can avoid unnecessary killing due to having lots of extra space. As a result, some shelters may have an easier time than others in preventing killing at their shelters.

The tables below detail the estimated dog death rates. All dogs missing are assumed “dead” based on the assumption they died or went to a very bad place. As discussed in a prior blog, the estimated death rate includes “Other” outcomes as animals who died or went missing along with dogs reported as killed. Based on my review of a number of shelters’ underlying documents, virtually all of the dogs in the “Other” outcome category died or went missing. Shelters having estimated dog death rates equal to or less than and greater than 5% are highlighted in green and red in the table below.

The Humane Society of Atlantic County and St. Hubert’s-Noah’s Ark had unusually high estimated dog death rates of 11% and 8% (St. Hubert’s estimated death rates reflect an adjustment for the organization’s Sister Shelter Waystation program discussed in this blog). These facilities’ estimated death rates are very high for rescue oriented shelters with no animal control contracts and raise serious questions about how life and death decisions are made by these organizations. The estimated death rates at other rescue oriented shelters, such as Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge and Animal Welfare Association (both had estimated dog death rates of 1%) are much lower than the Humane Society of Atlantic County and St. Hubert’s-Noah’s Ark. Thus, the Humane Society of Atlantic County’s and St. Hubert’s-Noah’s Ark’s estimated dog deaths rate are extremely high for rescue oriented shelters.

Certain shelters may kill a larger percentage of local animals. Since a number of both rescue oriented and shelters with animal control contracts transport large numbers of highly adoptable dogs from out of state, its helpful to look at their estimated death rates for just local animals. Unfortunately, shelters do not provide data to precisely compute this local dog death rate. If we assume these shelters only killed the generally less adoptable local dogs, we can estimate the local dog death rate as follows:

Total Dogs Killed and in Other Outcomes (died, missing)/(Total Dogs Impounded-Total Dogs Transported In from Other States)

When we calculate this estimated local death rate, a number of shelters stand out. The Humane Society of Atlantic County’s estimated dog death rate rises from 11% to 21% under this calculation. Additionally, St. Hubert’s-Madison’s estimated dog death rate increases from 10% to 48% under this calculation. While these facilities may not be only killing local dogs and therefore may have lower local dog death rates, I think its very possible these shelters’ local dog death rates are significantly higher than their total estimated dog death rates in the tables below.

The largest number of dogs unnecessarily dying occurred at a relatively small number of shelters. Specifically, 12 out of 93 or 13% of the shelters accounted for 80% of the estimated 1,507 dogs unnecessarily losing their lives under the model’s assumptions. In fact, Associated Humane Societies-Newark, which broke state shelter law left and right in 2017 per New Jersey Department of Health inspection reports, and Trenton Animal Shelter, which also violated state shelter law last year per a state health department inspection report, accounted for 31% of the dogs needlessly losing their lives at New Jersey animal shelters. Shelters with the greatest number of unnecessary dog deaths (assuming all dogs killed were local animals) are as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies – Newark (338)
  • St. Hubert’s – Madison (138)
  • Trenton Animal Shelter (134)
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter (128)
  • Camden County Animal Shelter (83)
  • Hamilton Township Animal Shelter (76)
  • Associated Humane Societies – Tinton Falls (66)

Thus, the bulk of the dogs unnecessarily dying at New Jersey animals shelters occurs at a small number of facilities.

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Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Require Little Rescue Assistance

Some animal shelters will require more support from rescues and animal shelters with excess space than others. If a shelter has relatively high intake, very limited space, and few stray dogs returned to owners, it will need more help than other shelters. In an ideal world, rescues would take all shelter animals. However, due to limited numbers of foster homes, lesser ability to find foster homes due to many rescue organizations’ small sizes, and most rescues’ restrictive adoption policies, all shelters cannot heavily rely on rescues. The tables below compare the number of dogs a shelter should transfer to other organizations per the model and the number of dogs actually sent to other animal welfare groups. Shelters marked in green are receiving less than the expected rescue support while facilities marked in red are receiving too much rescue help.

Overall, most New Jersey animal shelters require little rescue support if space-constrained facilities fast-track their most highly adoptable dogs. Shelter medicine experts advocate prioritizing the processing of highly adoptable animals to make the best use of space and reduce disease. For example, making sure these animals are the first to get spayed/neutered and vaccinated and receive microchips to ensure they can leave as soon as the shelter finds a good home.

54 shelters received too much help, 17 facilities received just enough assistance and 22 shelters received too little help from other animal welfare organizations. However, the excess dogs rescued (1,743 dogs) at shelters receiving too much assistance was far higher than the rescue deficits at other shelters (232 dogs) resulting in the state’s shelters sending 1,511 more dogs than needed to rescues and other animal welfare organizations. Northern Ocean Animal Facility and Southern Ocean Animal Facility received less rescue support than needed. However, neither of the shelters reported rescues taking any animals, which raises questions as to whether these shelters correctly reported their data (i.e. counting animals sent to rescues as adoptions). Nonetheless, the New Jersey shelter system as a whole is receiving enough rescue assistance, but some shelters are hurt by rescues pulling animals from less needy facilities.

Rescue groups and shelters with extra space should pull dogs from kill shelters with the highest rescue “target” numbers and deficits in the tables below. If shelters not needing rescue support get that extra help, these shelters will not take the steps necessary to properly run their facilities. As a result of enabling poorly performing shelters and not pulling dogs from truly space constrained facilities, rescuing dogs from shelters with enough space leads to less lifesaving.

Shelters receiving less than needed rescue support should also examine their own policies and performance. Are the shelter’s operating processes allowing too many animals to get sick and therefore discouraging organizations to rescue their animals due to subsequent medical costs? Does the shelter actively reach out to rescues/other shelters and treat them with respect? Does the shelter make it convenient for other organizations to pull their animals?

Given killing animals for space is intolerable, the space-constrained shelters need to expand their effective dog capacity. These facilities could use extra space in their buildings to house dogs on a short-term basis. These shelters can enter into arrangements with local veterinarians to house and adopt out some dogs. Furthermore, shelters can create or expand foster programs to increase the number of dogs cared for. Additionally, creating a pet owner surrender prevention program, implementing a proper managed intake policy (i.e. where animals are impounded when in danger and waiting periods for owner surrenders are relatively short) and making serious efforts to return lost dogs to owners could free up space in these shelters. Finally, space-constrained shelters with multiple animal control contracts should terminate some of these arrangements to bring their capacity for care in line with the number of dogs they take in. As a result, space constrained shelters still need to take active steps to reduce killing rather than simply solely relying on rescue support.

In certain circumstances, it may make sense for shelters with excess space to send dogs to rescues. For example, a unique breed or a dog needing very specialized behavioral or medical rehabilitation. However, these cases are accounted for in my targeted sent to rescue figures for animal control shelters.

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Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Fail to Come Close to Reaching Their Local Dog Adoption Potential

We can assess each shelter’s contribution to making New Jersey and nearby areas no kill. While a shelter may be able to avoid killing healthy and treatable animals, it still may not live up to its potential for adopting out local dogs. On the other hand, a space constrained shelter may kill healthy and treatable dogs, but still do a good job adopting animals out.

The tables below compare the number of dogs from New Jersey and nearby states each animal shelter should adopt out with the estimated number of local dogs actually adopted out.

Many rescue oriented shelters likely pull much easier to adopt dogs than the bulk of dogs needing to get rescued from local facilities. Thus, the results from rescue oriented shelters may look better than they actually are.

Few organizations reached or exceeded their adoption targets. Specifically, only 10 out of 93 shelters met the adoptions goals computed by the Life Saving Model. Thus, the overwhelming number of New Jersey animal shelters need to step up their adoption efforts.

A number of other rescue oriented shelters exceeded their adoption targets, but this may at least partially be due to the types of dogs they impounded.  Common Sense for Animals operates more like a rescue oriented than an animal control shelter. While this organization exceeded its adoption targets, the shelter’s figures were off by 128 dogs using the methodology outlined in another blog. This makes me wonder if their adoption numbers were accurate. Somerset Regional Animal Shelter, which also operates more like a rescue oriented shelter than an animal control facility, exceeded its adoption target. However, this shelter appears to mostly rescue easier to adopt dogs from New Jersey animal shelters. Other rescue oriented shelters, such as Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter and Animal Welfare Association also exceeded their adoption targets, but this is likely due to these organizations rescuing easier to adopt dogs from New Jersey shelters. Thus, I believe most of these rescue oriented shelters’ high local dog adoption numbers were due to these organizations selecting easier to adopt dogs.

Pequannock Animal Shelter’s higher than targeted local dog adoption result is a bit misleading. This facility benefited from the method I used to cap adoptions in the county and reduce the adoption targets for these two shelters. For example, the shelter only reached 61% of its adoption target using my unadjusted model only taking the shelter’s physical space into account. Since Morris County has many shelters that collectively have a very large capacity (i.e. very high adoption potential), my model reduces all Morris County animal shelters’ target adoptions to my county adoption cap. Therefore, Pequannock Animal Shelter has a relatively low dog adoption target. Thus, this shelter really didn’t do an excellent job adopting out dogs.

Three animal control shelters deserve mentioning. Camden County Animal Shelter exceeded its adoption target by 40 dogs. As a large county shelter that includes a poor urban area, this is an impressive result. Similarly, Burlington County Animal Shelter, which also takes in many dogs, exceeded its dog adoption target by 82 dogs. Ewing Animal Shelter, which is operated by EASEL Animal Rescue League, adopted out 19 more dogs than its adoption target. Unsurprisingly, all three shelters had dog live release rates exceeding 90% in 2017 (Camden County Animal Shelter: 92%, Burlington County Animal Shelter: 96%, EASEL Animal Rescue League: 98%) and all three facilities provide either condensed or full statistics on their web sites.

Shelters adopting out the fewest animals in total relative to their targets were as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies-Newark – 1,412 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Monmouth SPCA – 629 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Associated Humane Societies-Popcorn Park – 593 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Plainfield Area Humane Society – 486 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Bergen County Animal Shelter – 458 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Tyco Animal Control – Paramus – 388 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Trenton Animal Shelter – 383 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • St. Hubert’s – Madison – 338 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Shake a Paw-Union – 334 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Paterson Animal Shelter – 313 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Jersey Shore Animal Center – 310 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Cumberland County SPCA – 302 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls – 300 fewer dogs adopted than targeted

Unsurprisingly, Associated Humane Societies has archaic adoption policies that make it more difficult to adopt than the procedures recommended from national animal welfare organizations. Furthermore, Associated Humane Societies-Newark, Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls, Trenton Animal Shelter, Paterson Animal Shelter, Monmouth SPCA, Paterson Animal Shelter and Bergen County Animal Shelter had troublesome stories involving the shelters and/or prominent people affiliated with these organizations over the last several years. Shake a Paw-Union’s low local adoption numbers are not surprising since it also operates a for profit pet store and transports almost all of its dogs it rescues from out of state. Finally, Plainfield Area Humane Society’s local dog adoption deficit is quite disturbing since this organization could easily take on Plainfield’s dogs who currently go to the horrific and high kill Associated Humane Societies-Newark.

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Shelters Fail to Use Excess Space to Save Local Dogs

To further examine New Jersey animal shelters’ performance in saving the state’s homeless dogs, I compared the targeted number of dogs each shelter should pull from nearby shelters and compared it to the number actually rescued from local facilities. I assume all reported out of state rescued dogs came from southern or other far away states (except for Animal Alliance due to the shelter stating it primarily pulls out of state dogs from Pennsylvania). While some of the out of state rescued dogs may have comes from nearby areas, I believe this is a small number and does not significantly impact the results.

Virtually all New Jersey animal shelters are failing to rescue the number of local dogs they should. 90 of the 93 shelters should rescue some dogs from other local shelters. In fact, 41 of the 90 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single dog from a New Jersey animal shelter. Of the 90 shelters that should have rescued dogs, the following shelters were the only facilities that met or exceeded their local dog rescue targets:

  1. Animal Adoption Center – 179 more dogs rescued than targeted
  2. Animal Welfare Association – 77 more dogs rescued than targeted
  3. Burlington County Animal Shelter – 76 more dogs rescued than targeted
  4. Somerset Regional Animal Shelter – 73 more dogs rescued than targeted
  5. Humane Society of Atlantic County – 32 more dogs rescued than targeted
  6. Ewing Animal Shelter (EASEL) – 21 more dogs rescued than targeted
  7. Beacon Animal Rescue – 19 more dogs rescued than targeted
  8. Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter – 12 more dogs rescued than targeted
  9. Harmony Animal Hospital – 10 more dogs rescued than targeted
  10. Gloucester County Animal Shelter – 5 more dogs rescued than targeted
  11. Trenton Animal Shelter – 4 more dogs rescued than targeted

As mentioned above, many of these shelters local rescue numbers are inflated due to these organizations cherry picking highly adoptable animals to rescue. Thus, nearly all New Jersey animal shelters with targeted excess capacity are failing to do their share in ending the killing of local healthy and treatable dogs.

Camden County Animal Shelter also deserves mentioning. This facility rescued 380 dogs from other New Jersey shelters last year. While this is an obviously good thing, this may have artificially decreased this shelter’s estimated local death rate by as much as 2% if it only pulled highly adoptable dogs.

Shelters can overcome challenges in rescuing dogs from outside their service area. In some cases, municipalities may frown on government run shelters using taxpayer funds to rescue dogs from elsewhere. However, shelter directors at these facilities can encourage individuals to form a non-profit or raise money on their own to pay for these rescued dogs. Additionally, shelters with limited capacity or even some of the well-off private shelters could contribute funding for each dog rescued. For example, Maddie’s Fund paid an approximate $160 subsidy to rescues pulling dogs from New York Animal Care & Control. Similarly, private shelters with excess space, but limited financial resources, could expand their fundraising efforts to save more local dogs. Thus, perceived obstacles to rescuing local dogs can and should be overcome.

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New Jersey Animal Shelters Need to Form Life-Saving Coalitions

The improper allocation of space within the state’s animal shelter system requires organizations to form coalitions. While putting a competent and compassionate director in every shelter would likely be even more effective, that will likely take time to do. No kill coalitions between animal control facilities and selective admission shelters have been used in places, such as Portland, Oregon, Reno, Nevada, Jacksonville, Florida and Austin, Texas to radically increase life saving. Maddie’s Fund, which has supported using coalitions for over a decade, has many resources for organizations seeking to collaborate with each other. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters need to formally work together, develop quantifiable and measurable goals (such as the targeted outcomes in this blog), and hold each organization accountable for meeting these benchmarks.

Sobering Results Require Shelter Leaders to Critically Examine Themselves

Shelters should examine the reasons why their adoption numbers fall far short of these benchmarks. In some cases, shelters need to expand the hours they are open for adoptions. Many shelters should switch from an overly judgmental adoption process based on black and white rules to a conversational one focused on educating the adopter. Organizations will need to radically increase their off-site events and do same day adoptions. Similarly, many shelters must reduce adoption fees and run frequent promotions. Executive Directors should monitor the latest life-saving programs on Maddie’s Fund’s, ASPCA Pro’s, American Pets Alive Conference’s, and the Best Friends National Conference’s web sites and put some of these policies into place. Shelter management teams will need to ensure their facilities are clean and customers are treated with respect (this can be measured by encouraging the public to complete surveys). Thus, poorly performing shelters need to stop making excuses and do what it takes to reach their adoption potential.

We can turn New Jersey, New York City and Philadelphia into no kill communities. It is time we give our money and volunteer efforts to organizations who raise their performance to help us reach that goal. To do otherwise, would betray all the animals whose lives are on the line.

Appendix – Life Saving Model Assumptions

The Life Saving Model utilizes the following basic animal shelter population equations to calculate the targeted dog outcomes for each facility:

Daily capacity or population = Daily animal intake x average length of stay

Average length of stay = Daily capacity or population/daily intake

Each shelter’s community dog intake (i.e. owner surrenders, strays, cruelty bite cases), number of dogs returned to owners, and maximum dog capacity were taken from its 2017 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health.

This data was then used as follows:

  • Community dog intake and dogs returned to owners were initially estimated for each month by dividing the annual figures by 12. In order to take into account the extra space in low intake months and reduced space in high intake months, we multiply that number by each month’s percentage of the average month. For example, assume 240 dogs were taken in during the year and the average month equals 20 dogs (240/12). In July, the dog intake is 120% higher than the average month and we therefore multiply 20 dogs by 1.2 to equal 24 dogs. If 120 dogs were returned to owners during the year, the estimated number of dogs returned to owners in July would equal 12 dogs (120/12 = 10; 10*1.2). The monthly intake percentages were based off the average of the 2017 dog intake data on New York Animal Care & Control’s and ACCT Philly’s web sites.
  • The estimated number of community dogs returned to owners each month are then assumed to stay 5 days on average at shelters based on data from other shelters across the country. If anything, this estimate is conservative (i.e. average length of stay for dogs returned to owners may be less than 5 days and therefore frees up more shelter space for adoptions) based on some shelters returning the bulk of their dogs to owners within 3 days.
  • The number of community dogs euthanized (including animals who died or are missing) is set to equal 5% of intake. 5% is a reasonable standard euthanasia rate for shelters in New Jersey to meet given few vulnerable stray puppies (i.e. who could die or require euthanasia) arrive in the state’s animal shelters. The average length of stay for euthanized dogs is assumed to equal 14.5 days. Half of dogs are assumed euthanized for untreatable aggression towards people and 21 days is the time estimated to make that determination. The other half of dogs are assumed euthanized for severe and untreatable health issues and I estimate these dogs are euthanized after 8 days (subsequent to the end of the stray hold and owner surrender protection periods).
  • Adopted dogs are assumed to stay at shelters for varying lengths of time. Adoption length of stay was based on data from a study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare and the figures used (except for space-constrained shelters) are located in a prior blog on pit bull adoption. The data primarily comes from Tompkins County SPCA during a time it saved over 90% of its dogs. This was a fairly conservative data set to use as other no kill open admission shelters’ average length of stay are substantially shorter. Specifically, the following assumptions were made:
    1. 80% and 20% of each communities dogs (including pit bulls) were adults 1 year and older and under 1 year.
    2. Pit bulls were assumed to comprise 50%, 35% and 25% of community dog intake at poor, middle/upper middle class, and wealthy area animal control shelters. While some shelters may have pit bulls comprising more than 50% of their shelter dog population at a given time, this is due to pit bulls longer average length of stay. For example, a shelter with pit bulls making up 50% of their dog intake and pit bulls having an average length of stay three times longer than other dogs will have pit bulls constituting 75% of the dog population. Shelters without animal control contracts were assumed to only have pit bulls make up 10% of their community dogs (i.e. strays and owner surrenders) based on most of these shelters’ highly selective admission practices.
    3. Pit bull adoption length of stay was taken directly from the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare study. The average adoption lengths of stay for other breeds from this study were averaged and used for dogs other than pit bulls in the analysis
  • Space constrained shelters were assumed to adopt out their easiest to adopt animals first until they ran out of space. To estimate the average adoption length of stay, I used pit bull adoption length of stay data from Greenhill Humane Society from March 2013 through May 2015. I broke the adoption length of stay data into 5 groups that each made up 20% of the data. The average adoption length of stay for each of these 5 groups was calculated. The average adoption length of stay of each group was divided by the average length of stay for all of the adopted pit bulls in the Greenhill Humane Society data set. Those percentages were then multiplied by the average dog adoption length of stay determined in the previous bullet and used to determine the adoption lengths of stay used for space-constrained shelters.
  • Dogs transferred to rescue or other facilities are assumed to stay at shelters 8 days on average based on the assumption strays can’t be released until the 7 day hold period elapses.
  • Community dogs not returned to owners or euthanized are initially assumed as adopted for each month. However, if the calculated length of stay exceeds the shelter’s required length of stay, dogs are moved from adoption (i.e. longer length of stay) to rescue (i.e. shorter length of stay) until the calculated length of stay each month approximately equals the required length of stay.
  • Animal control shelters have a minimum of 10% of unclaimed dogs go to rescues. To the extent shelters transfer 10% of unclaimed dogs to rescues despite having space (i.e. reclassifying dogs from adoptions with a longer length of stay to rescues with a shorter length of stay), I do not require these facilities to use that space to rescue additional dogs.
  • Required length of stay = Shelter’s reported capacity/adjusted daily intake for the month. Adjusted daily intake for month = Adjusted monthly intake per first bullet above/the number of days in the month.
  • Shelters with excess capacity are assumed to use the extra space to rescue and adopt out dogs from other New Jersey animal shelters. To the extent all healthy and treatable New Jersey animal shelter dogs are saved, I assume additional dogs are pulled from nearby states with similar types of dogs. I assume all rescued dogs will not be killed since the transferring and receiving shelters should evaluate these dogs’ behavior. Based on pit bull type dogs having longer lengths of stay at shelters, I assume 80% of dogs rescued from local animal shelters are pit bulls and 20% are non-pit bulls. 80% and 20% of pit bull and non-pit bull type dogs are considered 1 year and older and under 1 year. The average length of stay for rescued pit bulls and other dogs are the same as the adoption length of stay figures above.
  • Each month’s targeted outcomes are added to determine how many local dogs New Jersey animal shelters should adopt out, send to rescue, rescue from other nearby animal shelters and euthanize.
  • The targeted number of dogs rescued and adopted were capped at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people in each county. If the model yielded a higher result than this cap, the targeted numbers of dogs adopted were set to equal to this cap using the pit bull percentage assumptions above. For shelters in these counties (except Passaic County), I calculated the cap at the county level and then reduced the number of cats adopted for the county to equal the cap. I excluded West Milford from Passaic County due the town’s large distance from the population centers in the rest of the county. Each shelter’s percentage of total targeted adoptions in the county from the unmodified model were applied to the the total reduction in the number of adoptions in the county to yield the targeted numbers of dogs adopted in the modified model. If the shelter also rescued animals from other shelters, the rescued numbers were also reduced since I assume rescued animals are adopted.

2016 Dog Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

In a blog from earlier this year, I disclosed New Jersey’s depressing animal shelter statistics. This blog explains why so many dogs are losing their lives in the state’s animal shelters and whether these facilities can end the killing.

Successful organizations set measurable goals and regularly monitor their performance. Examples include financial budgets, customer and employee satisfaction surveys, and product reliability metrics. Unfortunately, many animal shelters for far too long have failed to set lifesaving goals and standards. Municipalities, donors and volunteers need to know where their resources will be best utilized. Time and money are scarce resources and people should allocate these assets to organizations who will best utilize them. As a result, animal shelters need to set goals and hold their leadership and staff accountable for achieving these objectives.

Model Assesses New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Life Saving Performance

In order to assess how good of a job New Jersey animal shelters are doing, I’ve developed an analysis I call the “Life Saving Model.” While shelter performance is dependent on many variables, such as finances, facility design, local laws, etc., the most critical factor impacting potential life saving is physical space. Without having enough physical space, a shelter might not have enough time to find loving homes for its animals. Shelters can overcome financial limitations through creative fundraising or recruiting more volunteers. Similarly, organizations can save their dogs despite having run down facilities if these groups enthusiastically implement policies to get animals into loving homes quickly. As a result, my analysis focuses on making the best use of space to save the maximum number of New Jersey and nearby states dogs.

The Life Saving Model measures the number of local animals a shelter should adopt out, rescue from other facilities, send to rescues or other shelters, and euthanize. The targeted outcomes take into account each facility’s physical capacity and the number and types of dogs the organization receives from its community (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, cruelty/bite cases). I assume a target euthanasia rate, take the number of dogs actually returned to owners and then estimate how many community dogs a shelter should adopt out. To the extent space runs out, I then calculate how many dogs the shelter must send to rescues. If the shelter has excess space after properly serving its local community, the facility uses that room to rescue and adopt out dogs from nearby areas. The targeted results calculated from this model are compared to the actual or estimated actual results from each shelter below.

This year I made one change to the Life Saving Model. For shelters with animal control contracts, I place 10% of all dogs that are not reclaimed by owners into the targeted sent to rescue category. Austin Pets Alive used data from Austin Animal Center, which is the local municipal shelter, to determine large dogs with behavioral challenges are part of the last 10% of animals losing their lives. While shelters can save most of these dogs through behavioral rehabilitation and/or foster programs, I decided to put an estimate of these dogs into the sent to rescue category since that is another good outcome for these dogs.

To read specific details and assumptions used in the model, please see the Appendix at the end of this blog.

My analysis puts a cap on the targeted numbers of dogs rescued from other shelters and adoptions. While my unmodified targeted numbers of rescued and adopted animals are quite achievable, I want to provide very conservative goals for New Jersey animals shelters. For example, the unmodified model resulted in a statewide per capita dog adoption rate of around one half to one quarter the level found at some of the best animal control shelters. Similarly, the unmodified model yielded a statewide pit bull per capita adoption rate (2.4 pit bulls per 1,000 people) that is close to one of the best animal control shelters in the country. In my opinion, New Jersey shelters could more easily achieve that per capita pit bull adoption rate given my model includes far fewer dogs from competing breeds than those in this role model animal control shelter.

My modified analysis capped pit bull adoptions at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people within each New Jersey county. In other words, the targeted numbers of dogs rescued from other shelters and adopted below are the lesser of

  1. Number predicted by model
  2. Number determined by capping pit bull adoptions at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people in the county

In simple terms, a shelter is expected to achieve this per capita adoption rate unless the facility lacks enough space. If a shelter does not have sufficient room, it won’t have the time to reach all the potential adopters and requires assistance from rescues and/or other facilities. Given my model assumes 80% of rescued dogs are pit bull like dogs, my targeted numbers of dogs rescued and adopted are quite low as detailed in the section below. For example, shelters in counties where dog adoptions are capped have extra space that they do not use to adopt out other dog breeds.

New Jersey Animal Shelters Contain Enough Space to Save All of New Jersey’s Dogs and Many More from Other States

New Jersey’s animal shelter system has enough space to save all of the state’s healthy and treatable dogs. The table below details the targeted numbers of dog outcomes the New Jersey animal shelter system should achieve. Out of the 22,846 New Jersey dogs coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2016, 10,765 and 2,070 dogs should have been adopted out and sent to other shelters/rescues by the facilities originally taking the dogs in. However, other New Jersey animal shelters had more than enough capacity to rescue the 2,070 dogs from space constrained facilities. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters should be able to able to adopt out every single healthy and treatable dog taken in from the state and not require any support from rescue organizations without physical facilities from a space perspective.

New Jersey animal shelters have enough excess space to save many dogs from out of state as well. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters had enough physical capacity to rescue and adopt out 9,738 dogs from out of state after achieving a 95% live release rate for New Jersey dogs. To put this number into perspective, New Jersey animal shelters could make both New York City and Philadelphia no kill cities for dogs and increase those cities’ dog live release rates to 95% in 2016 as follows:

  • New York City – 1,153 additional dogs need saving
  • Philadelphia – 1,453 additional dogs need saving

Additionally, New Jersey animal shelters could save another 7,132 dogs from other locations outside of the state. Of course, some New Jersey animal shelters do pull some dogs from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. However, most of these dogs are likely easy to adopt and therefore have short lengths of stay. As a result, the additional number of dogs New Jersey animal shelters could save from New York City, Philadelphia and elsewhere is probably not much lower than the figures above. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters could make New Jersey a no kill state for dogs as well as many other places.

These adoption goals are quite achievable when comparing the performance of well-run animal control shelters across the country. New Jersey animal shelters would only need to adopt out 2.6 dogs per 1,000 people in the state (1.2 dogs if no dogs rescued from out of state). As a comparison, recent per capita dog adoption numbers from several high performing no kill open admission shelters are as follows:

  • Lynchburg Humane Society (Lynchburg, Virginia) – 18.0 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Longmont Humane Society (Longmont, Colorado area) – 10.1 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Nevada Humane Society (Reno, Nevada and Carson City, Nevada areas) – 7.6 dogs per 1,000 people
  • KC Pet Project (Kansas City, Missouri) – 6.9 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Humane Society of Fremont County (Fremont County, Colorado) – 6.8 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Huntsville Animal Services (Huntsville, Alabama area) – 5.6 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Williamson County Animal Shelter (Williamson County, Texas) – 5.5 dogs per 1,000 people

Thus, many communities are already adopting out around two to seven times as many dogs as the goal set for New Jersey animal shelters.

Some naysayers may claim New Jersey would have a more difficult time due to the state’s shelters taking in many pit bulls. However, this is a myth. My model estimates New Jersey animal shelters would need to adopt out roughly 0.5 pit bulls per 1,000 people to save 95% of New Jersey’s dogs. Our shelters would only need to adopt out around 1.5 pit bulls per 1,000 people if New Jersey shelters also rescued and adopted out the targeted number of pit bulls from other states. As a comparison, I estimate Longmont Humane Society adopts out 2.1 pit bulls per 1,000 people based on the number of pit bulls impounded in 2014 as a percentage of total dogs impounded in 2014 and multiplying that number by the 10.1 dogs per 1,000 people adoption rate in 2016. Furthermore, the pit bull adoption targets are even more reasonable given the model assumes there are roughly 1/7 of the number of dogs from other breeds to compete with in the New Jersey adoption market compared to the Longmont, Colorado area.

2016 New Jersey Animal Shelter Targets

Animal Deaths Vary Widely at New Jersey Animal Shelters

The goal of any properly managed animal shelter is to save all of its healthy and treatable animals. In some cases, such as selective admission rescue oriented shelters, it is pretty easy to not kill animals. In addition, other animal shelters with easy to service animal control contracts (i.e. few animals impounded, most strays quickly returned to owners) can avoid unnecessary killing due to having lots of extra space. As a result, some shelters may have an easier time than others in preventing killing at their shelters.

The tables below detail the estimated local dog death rates. Consistent with the Life Saving Model’s assumptions, the actual dogs euthanized/killed/died/missing assumes these dogs came from the local community. All dogs missing are assumed “dead” based on the assumption they died or went to a very bad place. As discussed in my prior blog, the estimated local death rate includes “Other” outcomes as animals who died or went missing along with dogs reported as killed. Based on my review of a number of shelters’ underlying documents, virtually all of the dogs in the “Other” outcome category died or went missing. Shelters having estimated local dog death rates less than and greater than 5% are highlighted in green and red in the table below.

The Humane Society of Atlantic County had an unusually high estimated local dog death rate. While this number may be higher if some rescued dogs are euthanized/killed (i.e. targeted number assumes no rescued dogs are killed/euthanized) or many terminally ill dogs are surrendered for owner-requested euthanasia, this may possibly point to overly strict temperament testing at this shelter. This facility’s total kill rate of 9% is still very high for a rescue oriented shelter with no animal control contracts and raises serious questions about how life and death decisions are made by this organization. The total kill rate at other rescue oriented shelters, such as Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge and Animal Welfare Association (both had total dog kill rates of 1%) are much lower than the Humane Society of Atlantic County. Thus, I find it difficult to believe the Humane Society of Atlantic County’s larger than expected estimated local dog death rate is due to this organization rescuing a large percentage of their dogs from other shelters.

The largest number of dogs unnecessarily dying occurred at a relatively small number of shelters. Specifically, 12 out of 99 or 12% of the shelters accounted for 80% of the estimated 2,168 dogs unnecessarily losing their lives. In fact, Associated Humane Societies-Newark, which both broke state shelter law left and right this year per New Jersey Department of Health inspection reports, and Trenton Animal Shelter, which also violated state shelter law this year per a state health department inspection report, accounted for 35% of the dogs needlessly losing their lives at New Jersey animal shelters. Shelters with the greatest number of unnecessary dog deaths are as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies – Newark (519)
  • Trenton Animal Shelter (238)
  • Camden County Animal Shelter (171)
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter (145)
  • Cumberland County SPCA (124)

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Thus, the bulk of the dogs unnecessarily dying at New Jersey animals shelters occurs at a small number of facilities.

Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Require Little Rescue Assistance

Some animal shelters will require more support from rescues and animal shelters with excess space than others. If a shelter has relatively high intake, very limited space, and few stray dogs returned to owners, it will need more help than other shelters. In an ideal world, rescues would take all shelter animals. However, due to limited numbers of foster homes, lesser ability to find foster homes due to many rescue organizations’ small sizes, and most rescues’ restrictive adoption policies, all shelters cannot heavily rely on rescues. The tables below compare the number of dogs a shelter should transfer to other organizations per the model and the number of dogs actually sent to other animal welfare groups. Shelters marked in green are receiving less than the expected rescue support while facilities marked in red are receiving too much rescue help.

Overall, most New Jersey animal shelters require little rescue support if space-constrained facilities fast-track their most highly adoptable dogs. Shelter medicine experts advocate prioritizing the processing of highly adoptable animals to make the best use of space and reduce disease. For example, making sure these animals are the first to get spayed/neutered and vaccinated and receive microchips to ensure they can leave as soon as the shelter finds a good home.

54 shelters received too much help, 16 facilities received just enough assistance and 28 shelters received too little help from other animal welfare organizations. However, the excess dogs rescued (3,472 dogs) at shelters receiving too much assistance was far higher than the rescue deficits at other shelters (487 dogs) resulting in the state’s shelters sending 2,985 more dogs than needed to rescues and other animal welfare organizations. Northern Ocean Animal Facility and Southern Ocean Animal Facility received less rescue support than needed. However, neither of the shelters reported rescues taking any animals, which raises questions as to whether these shelters correctly reported their data (i.e. counting animals sent to rescues as adoptions). Nonetheless, the New Jersey shelter system as a whole is receiving enough rescue assistance, but some shelters are hurt by rescues pulling animals from less needy facilities.

Associated Humane Societies-Newark hogged up the most rescue support. While St. Hubert’s-Madison sent the most dogs to rescues, many of these were dogs it recently transported in. Therefore, this shelter acted more like a middle man than a shelter impounding dogs and sending them to rescues. Rescues and other shelters pulled 433 more dogs than needed from AHS-Newark. Even worse, AHS-Tinton Falls also sent too many dogs to rescues as well as other shelters and this facility and AHS-Popcorn Park rescued far fewer dogs from other shelters than they should have. As a result of this poor performance, AHS diverted much needed rescue assistance from more needy shelters in the region.

Rescue groups and shelters with extra space should pull dogs from kill shelters with the highest rescue “target” numbers and deficits in the tables below. If shelters not needing rescue support get that extra help, these shelters will not take the steps necessary to properly run their facilities. As a result of enabling poorly performing shelters and not pulling dogs from truly space constrained facilities, rescuing dogs from shelters with enough space leads to less lifesaving.

Shelters receiving less than needed rescue support should also examine their own policies and performance. Are the shelter’s operating processes allowing too many animals to get sick and therefore discouraging organizations to rescue their animals due to subsequent medical costs? Does the shelter actively reach out to rescues/other shelters and treat them with respect? Does the shelter make it convenient for other organizations to pull their animals?

Given killing animals for space is intolerable, the space-constrained shelters need to expand their effective dog capacity. These facilities could use extra space in their buildings to house dogs on a short-term basis. These shelters can enter into arrangements with local veterinarians to house and adopt out some dogs. Furthermore, shelters can create or expand foster programs to increase the number of dogs cared for. Additionally, creating a pet owner surrender prevention program, implementing a proper managed intake policy (i.e. where animals are impounded when in danger and waiting periods for owner surrenders are relatively short) and making serious efforts to return lost dogs to owners could free up space in these shelters. Finally, space-constrained shelters with multiple animal control contracts should terminate some of these arrangements to bring their capacity for care in line with the number of dogs they take in. As a result, space constrained shelters still need to take active steps to reduce killing rather than simply solely relying on rescue support.

In certain circumstances, it may make sense for shelters with excess space to send dogs to rescues. For example, a unique breed or a dog needing very specialized behavioral or medical rehabilitation. However, these cases are accounted for in my targeted sent to rescue figures for animal control shelters.

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Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Fail to Come Close to Reaching Their Local Dog Adoption Potential

We can assess each shelter’s contribution to making New Jersey and nearby areas no kill. While a shelter may be able to avoid killing healthy and treatable animals, it still may not live up to its potential for adopting out local dogs. On the other hand, a space constrained shelter may kill healthy and treatable dogs, but still do a good job adopting animals out.

The tables below compare the number of dogs from New Jersey and nearby states each animal shelter should adopt out with the estimated number of local dogs actually adopted out.

Many rescue oriented shelters likely pull much easier to adopt dogs than the bulk of dogs needing to get rescued from local facilities. Thus, the results from rescue oriented shelters may look better than they actually are.

Few organizations reached or exceeded their adoption targets. Specifically, only 10 out of 99 shelters met the adoptions goals computed by the Life Saving Model. Thus, the overwhelming number of New Jersey animal shelters need to step up their adoption efforts.

Several rescue oriented shelters exceeded their adoption targets. Beacon Animal Rescue and Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge adopted out more animals than I targeted. While these organizations are both rescue-oriented shelters that appear to pull fewer pit bulls than I target, Beacon Animal Rescue and Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge do at least have a reasonable number of pit bull like dogs up for adoption currently. Additionally, these shelters rescue animals primarily from other New Jersey animal shelters rather than transport large numbers of dogs from the south.

A number of other rescue oriented shelters exceeded their adoption targets, but this may at least partially be due to the types of dogs they impounded. While St. Hubert’s-North Branch has animal control contracts, most of its animals up for adoption are rescued from other shelters. St. Hubert’s uses progressive adoption policies, such as open or conversational based adoptions, adopting animals out as gifts, and adopting out animals almost every day of the year. On the other hand, St. Hubert’s appears to rescue far more adoptable animals than my model assumes (i.e. 80% of rescued dogs are pit bulls) and that likely also explains the organization’s strong performance. Common Sense for Animals operates more like a rescue oriented than an animal control shelter. While this organization exceeded its adoption targets, the shelter’s figures were off by 128 dogs using the methodology outlined in another blog. This makes me wonder if their adoption numbers were accurate. Somerset Regional Animal Shelter, which also operates more like a rescue oriented shelter than an animal control facility, exceeded its adoption target. However, this shelter appears to mostly rescue easier to adopt dogs from New Jersey animal shelters. Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter also exceeded its adoption targets, but this is likely due to this organization rescuing easier to adopt dogs from New Jersey shelters.

Montclair Animal Shelter significantly exceeded its local dog adoption target. In April 2016, a fire destroyed much of this facility. The shelter utilized many foster homes to save its animals. Since I assumed the shelter had no capacity from April through December of 2016, the shelter’s adoption target was very low. Nonetheless, Montclair Animal Shelter deserves credit for aggressively placing its dogs into foster homes and more than doubling its estimated local dog adoptions from the prior year.

Five other animal control shelters exceeded their adoption targets, but this was likely due to factors unrelated to performance. As discussed above, both Northern Ocean Animal Facility and Southern Ocean Animal Facility reported no animals sent to rescues. Personally, I doubt this is the case and it is likely rescues saved a significant number of dogs reported as adopted. Additionally, these two shelters may have benefited from the method I used to cap adoptions in the county and reduce the adoption targets for these two shelters. For example, Northern Ocean Animal Facility and Southern Ocean Animal Facility only reached 94% and 66% of their adoption targets using my unadjusted model only taking the shelter’s physical space into account. Similarly, while Toms River Animal Facility exceeded its dog adoption target, it only reached 45% of my unadjusted model adoption target. Since Associated Humane Societies-Popcorn Park reports a very large capacity (i.e. very high adoption potential), my model reduces all Ocean County animal shelters’ target adoptions to my county adoption cap. Therefore, Northern Ocean Animal Facility, Southern Ocean Animal Facility and Toms River Animal Facility have relatively low dog adoption targets. Thus, none of these shelters may have really done a great job adopting out dogs.

Two animal control shelters deserve mentioning. Camden County Animal Shelter was only three dogs shy of meeting its adoption target (it rounded to 100% on a percentage basis). As a large county shelter that includes a poor urban area, this is an impressive result. Similarly, Ewing Animal Shelter, which is operated by EASEL Animal Rescue League, came very close to meeting its adoption target.

Shelters adopting out the fewest animals in total relative to their targets were as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies-Newark – 1,499 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Associated Humane Societies-Popcorn Park – 1,095 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Monmouth SPCA – 586 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Plainfield Area Humane Society – 468 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Bergen Protect and Rescue Foundation – 449 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Bergen County Animal Shelter – 449 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Shake a Paw-Union – 363 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Paterson Animal Shelter – 323 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls – 282 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Humane Society of Atlantic County – 241 fewer dogs adopted than targeted

Unsurprisingly, Associated Humane Societies has archaic adoption policies that make it more difficult to adopt than the procedures recommended from national animal welfare organizations. Furthermore, Associated Humane Societies-Newark, Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls, Paterson Animal Shelter, Monmouth SPCA, Bergen Protect and Rescue Foundation and Bergen County Animal Shelter had troublesome stories involving the shelters and/or prominent people affiliated with these organizations over the last few years. Humane Society of Atlantic County’s low local adoption figures are not surprising given the large number of out of state transported dogs it brings in and its relatively high estimated local death rate. Shake a Paw-Union’s low local adoption numbers are not surprising since it also operates a for profit pet store and transports almost all of its dogs it rescues from out of state. Finally, Plainfield Area Humane Society’s local dog adoption deficit is quite disturbing since this organization could easily take on Plainfield’s dogs who currently go to the horrific and high kill Associated Humane Societies-Newark.

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Shelters Fail to Use Excess Space to Save Local Dogs

To further examine New Jersey animal shelters’ performance in saving the state’s homeless dogs, I compared the targeted number of dogs each shelter should pull from nearby shelters and compared it to the number actually rescued from local facilities. I assume all reported out of state rescued dogs came from southern or other far away states (except for Animal Alliance due to the shelter stating it primarily pulls out of state dogs from Pennsylvania). While some of the out of state rescued dogs may have comes from nearby areas, I believe this is a small number and does not significantly impact the results.

Virtually all New Jersey animal shelters are failing to rescue the number of local dogs they should. 92 of the 99 shelters should rescue some dogs from other local shelters. In fact, 48 of the 92 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single dog from a New Jersey animal shelter. Of the 92 shelters with the space to rescue dogs from nearby shelters, only the following shelters met or exceeded their local dog rescue targets:

  1. Somerset Regional Animal Shelter – 122 more dogs rescued than targeted
  2. St. Hubert’s-North Branch – 93 more dogs rescued than targeted
  3. Montclair Township Animal Shelter – 83 more dogs rescued than targeted
  4. St. Hubert’s-Madison – 65 more dogs rescued than targeted
  5. Beacon Animal Rescue – 62 more dogs rescued than targeted
  6. Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge – 24 more dogs rescued than targeted
  7. Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter – 21 more dogs rescued than targeted
  8. Montville Animal Shelter – 8 more dogs rescued than targeted
  9. Common Sense for Animals – 6 more dogs rescued than targeted
  10. Randolph Township Pound – 4 more dogs rescued than targeted

As mentioned above, many of these shelters local rescue numbers are inflated due to these organizations cherry picking highly adoptable animals to rescue. Thus, nearly all New Jersey animal shelters with targeted excess capacity are failing to do their share in ending the killing of local healthy and treatable dogs.

Camden County Animal Shelter also deserves mentioning. This facility rescued 320 dogs from other New Jersey shelters last year. While this is an obviously good thing, this may have artificially decreased this shelter’s estimated local death rate by as much as 2% if it only pulled highly adoptable dogs.

Shelters can overcome challenges in rescuing dogs from outside their service area. In some cases, municipalities may frown on government run shelters using taxpayer funds to rescue dogs from elsewhere. However, shelter directors at these facilities can encourage individuals to form a non-profit or raise money on their own to pay for these rescued dogs. Additionally, shelters with limited capacity or even some of the well-off private shelters could contribute funding for each dog rescued. For example, Maddie’s Fund paid an approximate $160 subsidy to rescues pulling dogs from New York Animal Care & Control. Similarly, private shelters with excess space, but limited financial resources, could expand their fundraising efforts to save more local dogs. Thus, perceived obstacles to rescuing local dogs can and should be overcome.

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New Jersey Animal Shelters Need to Form Life-Saving Coalitions

The improper allocation of space within the state’s animal shelter system requires organizations to form coalitions. While putting a competent and compassionate director in every shelter would likely be even more effective, that will likely take time to do. No kill coalitions between animal control facilities and selective admission shelters have been used in places, such as Portland, Oregon, Reno, Nevada, Jacksonville, Florida and Austin, Texas to radically increase life saving. Maddie’s Fund, which has supported using coalitions for over a decade, has many resources for organizations seeking to collaborate with each other. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters need to formally work together, develop quantifiable and measurable goals (such as the targeted outcomes in this blog), and hold each organization accountable for meeting these benchmarks.

Sobering Results Require Shelter Leaders to Critically Examine Themselves

Shelters should examine the reasons why their adoption numbers fall far short of these benchmarks. In some cases, shelters need to expand the hours they are open for adoptions. Many shelters should switch from an overly judgmental adoption process based on black and white rules to a conversational one focused on educating the adopter. Organizations will need to radically increase their off-site events and do same day adoptions. Similarly, many shelters must reduce adoption fees and run frequent promotions. Executive Directors should monitor the latest life-saving programs on Maddie’s Fund’s, ASPCA Pro’s, the 2015 and 2016 American Pets Alive Conference’s, and the Best Friends National Conference’s web sites and put some of these policies into place. Shelter management teams will need to ensure their facilities are clean and customers are treated with respect (this can be measured by encouraging the public to complete surveys). Thus, poorly performing shelters need to stop making excuses and do what it takes to reach their adoption potential.

We can turn New Jersey, New York City and Philadelphia into no kill communities. It is time we give our money and volunteer efforts to organizations who raise their performance to help us reach that goal. To do otherwise, would betray all the animals whose lives are on the line.

Appendix – Life Saving Model Assumptions

The Life Saving Model utilizes the following basic animal shelter population equations to calculate the targeted dog outcomes for each facility:

Daily capacity or population = Daily animal intake x average length of stay

Average length of stay = Daily capacity or population/daily intake

Each shelter’s community dog intake (i.e. owner surrenders, strays, cruelty bite cases), number of dogs returned to owners, and maximum dog capacity were taken from its 2016 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health.

This data was then used as follows:

  • Community dog intake and dogs returned to owners were initially estimated for each month by dividing the annual figures by 12. In order to take into account the extra space in low intake months and reduced space in high intake months, we multiply that number by each month’s percentage of the average month. For example, assume 240 dogs were taken in during the year and the average month equals 20 dogs (240/12). In July, the dog intake is 120% higher than the average month and we therefore multiply 20 dogs by 1.2 to equal 24 dogs. If 120 dogs were returned to owners during the year, the estimated number of dogs returned to owners in July would equal 12 dogs (120/12 = 10; 10*1.2). The monthly intake percentages were based off the average of the 2016 dog intake data on New York Animal Care & Control’s and ACCT Philly’s web sites.
  • The estimated number of community dogs returned to owners each month are then assumed to stay 5 days on average at shelters based on data from other shelters across the country. If anything, this estimate is conservative (i.e. average length of stay for dogs returned to owners may be less than 5 days and therefore frees up more shelter space for adoptions) based on some shelters returning the bulk of their dogs to owners within 3 days.
  • The number of community dogs euthanized (including animals who died or are missing) is set to equal 5% of intake. 5% is a reasonable standard euthanasia rate for shelters in New Jersey to meet given few vulnerable stray puppies (i.e. who could die or require euthanasia) arrive in the state’s animal shelters. The average length of stay for euthanized dogs is assumed to equal 14.5 days. Half of dogs are assumed euthanized for untreatable aggression towards people and 21 days is the time estimated to make that determination. The other half of dogs are assumed euthanized for severe and untreatable health issues and I estimate these dogs are euthanized after 8 days (subsequent to the end of the stray hold and owner surrender protection periods).
  • Adopted dogs are assumed to stay at shelters for varying lengths of time. Adoption length of stay was based on data from a study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare and the figures used (except for space-constrained shelters) are located in a prior blog on pit bull adoption. The data primarily comes from Tompkins County SPCA during a time it saved over 90% of its dogs. This was a fairly conservative data set to use as other no kill open admission shelters’ average length of stay are substantially shorter. Specifically, the following assumptions were made:
    1. 80% and 20% of each communities dogs (including pit bulls) were adults 1 year and older and under 1 year.
    2. Pit bulls were assumed to comprise 50%, 35% and 25% of community dog intake at poor, middle/upper middle class, and wealthy area animal control shelters. While some shelters may have pit bulls comprising more than 50% of their shelter dog population at a given time, this is due to pit bulls longer average length of stay. For example, a shelter with pit bulls making up 50% of their dog intake and pit bulls having an average length of stay three times longer than other dogs will have pit bulls constituting 75% of the dog population. Shelters without animal control contracts were assumed to only have pit bulls make up 10% of their community dogs (i.e. strays and owner surrenders) based on most of these shelters’ highly selective admission practices.
    3. Pit bull adoption length of stay was taken directly from the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare study. The average adoption lengths of stay for other breeds from this study were averaged and used for dogs other than pit bulls in the analysis
  • Space constrained shelters were assumed to adopt out their easiest to adopt animals first until they ran out of space. To estimate the average adoption length of stay, I used pit bull adoption length of stay data from Greenhill Humane Society from March 2013 through May 2015. I broke the adoption length of stay data into 5 groups that each made up 20% of the data. The average adoption length of stay for each of these 5 groups was calculated. The average adoption length of stay of each group was divided by the average length of stay for all of the adopted pit bulls in the Greenhill Humane Society data set. Those percentages were then multiplied by the average dog adoption length of stay determined in the previous bullet and used to determine the adoption lengths of stay used for space-constrained shelters.
  • Dogs transferred to rescue or other facilities are assumed to stay at shelters 8 days on average based on the assumption strays can’t be released until the 7 day hold period elapses.
  • Community dogs not returned to owners or euthanized are initially assumed as adopted for each month. However, if the calculated length of stay exceeds the shelter’s required length of stay, dogs are moved from adoption (i.e. longer length of stay) to rescue (i.e. shorter length of stay) until the calculated length of stay each month approximately equals the required length of stay.
  • Animal control shelters have a minimum of 10% of unclaimed dogs go to rescues. To the extent shelters transfer 10% of unclaimed dogs to rescues despite having space (i.e. reclassifying dogs from adoptions with a longer length of stay to rescues with a shorter length of stay), I do not require these facilities to use that space to rescue additional dogs.
  • Required length of stay = Shelter’s reported capacity/adjusted daily intake for the month. Adjusted daily intake for month = Adjusted monthly intake per first bullet above/the number of days in the month.
  • Shelters with excess capacity are assumed to use the extra space to rescue and adopt out dogs from other New Jersey animal shelters. To the extent all healthy and treatable New Jersey animal shelter dogs are saved, I assume additional dogs are pulled from nearby states with similar types of dogs. I assume all rescued dogs will not be killed since the transferring and receiving shelters should evaluate these dogs’ behavior. Based on pit bull type dogs having longer lengths of stay at shelters, I assume 80% of dogs rescued from local animal shelters are pit bulls and 20% are non-pit bulls. 80% and 20% of pit bull and non-pit bull type dogs are considered 1 year and older and under 1 year. The average length of stay for rescued pit bulls and other dogs are the same as the adoption length of stay figures above.
  • Each month’s targeted outcomes are added to determine how many local dogs New Jersey animal shelters should adopt out, send to rescue, rescue from other nearby animal shelters and euthanize.
  • The targeted number of dogs rescued and adopted were capped at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people in each county. If the model yielded a higher result than this cap, the targeted numbers of dogs adopted were set to equal to this cap using the pit bull percentage assumptions above. For shelters in these counties (except Passaic County), I calculated the cap at the county level and then reduced the number of cats adopted for the county to equal the cap. I excluded West Milford from Passaic County due the town’s large distance from the population centers in the rest of the county. Each shelter’s percentage of total targeted adoptions in the county from the unmodified model were applied to the the total reduction in the number of adoptions in the county to yield the targeted numbers of dogs adopted in the modified model. If the shelter also rescued animals from other shelters, the rescued numbers were also reduced since I assume rescued animals are adopted.

What Great Animal Shelters Do After the End of the Year

Great organizations do big things and make people aware of it. In the business world, companies sell products and services customers love and advertise these facts. Businesses subsequently invest much of their profits to continuously improve these products and services. On the other hand, governments or not for profits run animals shelters and must rely on taxpayer and donor funding as well as volunteer support to help improve the way they do things.

What are some ways successful animal shelters secure the financial and volunteer support they need? How does this differ from the typical high kill shelter?

Do a Great Job

Animal shelters must save lives and inspire the public. Simply put, a shelter must lead by example to obtain public support. Organizations must enthusiastically implement most, if not all, of the no kill equation programs. You can see clear examples of organizations implementing these programs at animal control shelters in Austin, Texas, Kansas City, Missouri, and Lynchburg, Virginia. Thus, great animal shelters must perform at a high level to garner the public support they need.

Share Successes and Challenges from Prior Year

Elite animal shelters provide transparent statistics and summarize performance over the past year. Intake and disposition statistics, which provide specific details on how major types of animals came into and left the shelter, give the public a clear picture of how the organization is doing. In the business world, companies issue financial statements and supplemental disclosures to entice investors to provide funding. Similarly, detailed statistics and supporting commentary give donors and volunteers a reason to support a shelter.

In the upcoming months, many great shelters will voluntarily disclose their full 2016 intake and disposition statistics and also analyze their performance during the year. In general, you will notice several things:

  1. High and/or sharply increasing live release rates
  2. Continuous desire to improve with supporting data
  3. Inspirational tone

However, several elite shelters already provided some of this information for 2016.

Lynchburg Humane Society posted its key 2016 statistics on its Facebook page just nine days into the new year. The shelter’s post was short and contained the following key facts:

  1. Save rate increased to 96% in 2016 from 94% in 2015
  2. Shelter took in over 600 more pets than it impounded in the prior year
  3. Shelter adopted out nearly 800 more dogs in 2016
  4. Nearly 700 more kids participated in the organization’s programs in 2016
  5. Shelter saved around 600 animals from other counties and 300 more than in 2015
  6. Over 1,700 outdoor cats spayed/neutered
  7. Nearly 6,700 spay/neuter surgeries performed
  8. A link to donate to the organization

Clearly, the shelter communicates it is doing great things and improving. Simply put, the shelter inspires confidence and makes choosing to donate an easy decision.

KC Pet Project wrote an engaging summary of the organization’s 2016 performance on its web site shortly after the start of 2017. Some of the key takeaways are as follows:

  1. KC Pet Project quickly transformed a terrible shelter into the nation’s third largest no kill facility several years ago
  2. The shelter’s live release rate of 95% hit a record high in 2016
  3. The organization adopted out a record number of animals in 2016 (over 6,200 pets)
  4. The shelter impounded 4% more animals in 2016
  5. Dog length of stay decreased by 5 days to 18 days in 2016
  6. Cat length of stay decreased by 7 days to 41 days during the year
  7. Over 3,000 animals adopted out at the organization’s off-site adoption centers
  8. Thousands of pets went to foster homes during the year with over 800 of these animals directly adopted out by the fosters through the shelter’s Adoption Ambassadors program
  9. Nearly 100 feral cats adopted out as barn/warehouse cats
  10. Over 1,500 pets received extraordinary levels of care through a special program
  11. A link to donate to the organization

KC Pet Project clearly made the case it is highly successful and continuously improving. Thus, the shelter inspires animal loving people to donate and volunteer.

Austin Animal Center also shared an excellent summary of its 2016 performance on its web site in early January. The shelter’s communicated the following key messages:

  1. Shelter achieved a record high 96% live release rate (98% for dogs, 95% for cats)
  2. Shelter adopted out nearly 8,000 animals and around 500 more pets than it adopted out in the prior year
  3. Shelter returned nearly 2,800 lost animals to their families and ACOs returned an additional 700 more animals to their homes in the field (i.e. never went to the shelter)
  4. Around 800 volunteers contributed nearly 54,000 hours during the year (equivalent to 26 full time employees)
  5. 900 foster families housed 2,500 animals with fosters adopting out 2/3 of the pets themselves
  6. Fosters contributed nearly 82,000 hours in 2016 which is equivalent to 39 full time employees
  7. Shelter takes in 17,000 animal a year and typically cares for 900 animals at a time
  8. Shelter performs more than 5,000 spay/neuter surgeries a year
  9. Shelter achieved this great success despite severe weather events in the area that increased animal intake
  10. Shelter will participate in a pilot program to humanely mitigate human-wildlife conflicts
  11. Shelter started a program to help prison inmates provide care to dogs
  12. Austin Animal Center will help other shelters develop adult dog foster programs

In addition, Austin Animal Center issued detailed monthly statistical reports throughout the year. These reports provided intake and disposition statistics as well as live release rates by major animal class (i.e. neonatal puppy, neonatal kitten, puppy, kitten, adult dog and adult cat).

Austin Animal Center clearly communicates it performs excellent work, keeps improving, and looks to do even better things. In other words, Austin Animal Center’s message is inspiring and encourages people to support the shelter.

New Jersey Animal Shelters Fail to Follow Successful Formula

Hardly any New Jersey animal control shelters voluntarily disclose full statistics on their web sites and social medial pages and summarize their annual performance. In fact, I only recall a couple of shelters occasionally sharing this information. Instead, the state’s largest animal welfare organization, Associated Humane Societies, routinely posts alleged animal cruelty stories and fundraises off them while killing massive numbers of animals in its Newark shelter. As I’ve stated in a previous blog, these money-grubbing tactics make shelter pets seem like “damaged goods” to the average pet owner and reduce life saving. Additionally, these tactics shift the public’s attention from the shelter’s terrible performance to the alleged cruelty of individual people who are not representative of the public at large. Thus, most New Jersey animal shelters must start disclosing more information about themselves and stop shifting the public’s attention from their performance.

Clearly, the New Jersey animal shelter industry has an open niche for progressive organizations to sweep in and replace the many horrible organizations in the state. Now is the time for animal lovers to form a not for profit to do the great work our animals need. A few people formed KC Pet Project to take over the Kansas City animal control shelter. Within a few months, this new organization turned the facility from a high kill to a no kill shelter. If they can do it, so can you. Follow your dreams and use these successful shelters’ operating models as a guide to fix our failing shelters.

Big or Small Animal Shelters: Which are Better?

One key issue in animal welfare is whether animal shelters should serve small or large numbers of people and animals? Unfortunately, I’ve never seen much discussion about this topic. This blog attempts to answer this question and provide practical solutions.

Live Release Rates Are Lower at Large No Kill Animal Control Shelters

Smaller no kill animal control shelters tend to have higher live release rates than similar facilities taking in more animals. While some small to medium sized no kill animal control shelters achieve live release rates in the 97%-99% range, most large no kill animal control shelters are in the 90%-95% range. As a result, smaller facilities tend to have the potential to achieve higher live release rates.

Smaller shelters may take advantage of their limited service areas. Shelters taking in animals from a very limited area can adopt out many animals to people outside the communities they take animals from. From my review of shelters, the only facilities achieving per capita adoption rates exceeding around 23 dogs and cats per 1,000 people were small-medium sized shelters. Of course, if every facility was tiny smaller shelters as a whole would not sustain such sky high per capita adoption rates.

On the other hand, per capita animal intake rates are lower at larger shelters. Smaller shelters may have higher per capita intake rates due to animals coming in from outside their limited service areas. If a shelter serves a relatively small area, stray animals from other communities may come in more often. Also, larger communities may have fewer animal control officers relative to their populations and therefore impound fewer dogs and cats. Thus, larger shelters may have lower per capita adoption rates at least in part due to the facilities impounding fewer animals relative to the human population in the area.

Smaller Shelters Are More Conducive to Getting Animals Adopted

Animal shelter environments are unnatural for dogs and cats. Despite cats being able to live in colonies and with people, these animals are still solitary by nature. In a typical animal shelter, cats must share living quarters with large numbers of other cats as well as potential predators (i.e. dogs). Therefore, animal shelters are usually highly stressful environments for most cats. While dogs are social animals, they evolved to be social with their family or pack (an extended family generally). In fact the dog’s ancestor, the wolf, is fiercely territorial to the point where being killed by other wolves in turf wars is the number one cause of natural mortality. As a result, putting large numbers of strange animals in one building is highly stressful to most dogs and cats.

Larger shelters increase the risk of sickness and behavioral deterioration. Simply put, more animals means more dogs and cats can potentially transmit contagious diseases to each other. Similarly, all else being equal, more animals equals more noise, sights, and scents that can stress animals out. Shelters with a greater percentage of animals becoming sick and developing behavioral problems will have prolonged lengths of stay, increased costs and decreased lifesaving. Thus, shelters that can prevent physical and mental illness in the first place have greater lifesaving potential.

Animal shelters housing more animals tend to have longer lengths of stay all else being equal. If two shelters adopt out the same number of animals and one of the facilities has twice as many animals, each animal will stay twice as long at that shelter. Longer lengths of stay tend to radically increase the chance of cats catching upper respiratory infections in shelters. For example, a recent study found that 40% and 60% of highly socialized cats and other cats at a medium sized animal control shelter developed upper respiratory infections after just 30 days. Similarly, disease rates for dogs are likely higher as well during longer lengths of stay. Additionally, animals are more likely to develop behavioral issues the longer they reside at shelters making adopting those pets out harder. Thus, larger shelters tend to have longer lengths of stay and animals face greater challenges staying happy and healthy in such places.

Smaller shelters with fewer animals up for adoption make it easier for people to select a pet. While extremely small shelters may not have enough animals for people to choose from, most facilities seem to have enough animals for people to find a suitable pet (excluding people looking for animals rarely coming into shelters). Virtually all people prefer to have a reasonable number of potential animals to choose from. Unfortunately, adopters often become overwhelmed when they must select among vast numbers of animals. Often dubbed “The Paradox of Choice”, people tend to buy less of things when presented too many options. In an animal shelter environment, which tends to involve far more emotion than buying typical consumer goods, this effect is likely amplified. In fact, the ASPCA found one shelter increased adoptions and doubled the rate of people who left with a pet after limiting the number of animals on the adoption floor. While a larger shelter can of course reduce the number of animals up for adoption, most do not and consumers have a more reasonable number of animals to choose from in smaller shelters.

Financial Issues Place Greater Challenges on Smaller Shelters

Shelters and any other enterprise have both fixed and variable costs. Variable costs vary with the level of operations. In other words, if an animal shelter takes in more animals, it incurs more costs to care for the animals (i.e. additional kennel staff to care for animals, veterinary expenses, etc.). Fixed costs do not vary with the level of operations in the short-term. Examples include rent, administrative salaries, such as those of an Executive Director, and insurance. If a shelter has a high amount of fixed expenses, it basically starts in a hole and needs significant revenue, such as taxpayer funding, donations and adoption fees to cover these costs.

Fixed costs are more significant at smaller shelters. Typically animal control shelters are funded indirectly based on the number of animals they take in. In other words, shelters expecting to take in more animals receive more money from the contracting municipality than if those shelters anticipated impounding fewer animals. At a smaller shelter taking in fewer animals, that means less revenue comes in. On the other hand, that shelter will typically incur many of the same fixed costs as a larger shelter. As a result, smaller shelters have high costs, but lack the revenue to cover those expenses.

The following example illustrates the financial challenges smaller shelters face. Let’s assume a municipality has 20,000 people. Based on the average New Jersey community taking in around 8 dogs and cats per 1,000 people, the shelter would impound 160 dogs and cats each year. In order to ensure a prompt response to animals in distress at any time of day, the municipality would require at least two ACOs. Additionally, the shelter would require a director to manage the facility. Assuming a $50,000 salary for each ACO and an $80,000 salary for the shelter director, the municipality would spend $180,000 on these employee salaries alone. This works out to a cost of $9 per resident for animal control and sheltering just considering these fixed costs. However, most New Jersey communities only pay around $2 or less per resident for animal control and sheltering. Furthermore, the municipality would spend $1,125 per animal and that would exclude any direct animal care costs and other fixed and variable costs. As a comparison, some no kill animal control shelters spend less than $300 per animal counting all costs. Thus, operating a small animal control shelter is very expensive.

Municipalities often operate under a pound model to compensate for these unfavorable economics. Under a pound model, the shelter has no director and ACOs work in the shelter when not on animal control calls. Unfortunately, most ACOs are not qualified to perform all the specialized tasks at an animal shelter, such as providing veterinary care, customer service, marketing, fundraising, community relations, etc. Often these facilities operate for very limited hours and many times are not open during those times when an ACO is out on a call. Also, many times these pounds only hold animals for a short period of time and then either kill the dogs and cats or send the pets to rescues. Furthermore, many of these pounds often rely on various fines and fees to raise money that result in the facility impounding more animals, more animals staying longer at the shelter and more killing. Examples include aggressive enforcement of animal control laws and high owner reclaim fees. Thus, many of the compensating measures to reduce operating costs of small animal control shelters do not benefit the animals.

Preferred Animal Shelter Operating Models

Municipalities can use shared service arrangements for animal control services while operating a local shelter. While towns operating their animal control operation undoubtedly improve response times, such functions are expensive. Recently, Fair Lawn sought proposals to outsource its animal control operation, but maintain its municipal shelter. Fair Lawn budgeted $141,000 for animal control officers salaries in 2014 when the municipality performed animal control and ran the shelter . In 2015, the Bergen County Animal Shelter put out a bid for just $42,000 to provide animal control services and operate the town’s local animal shelter (Fair Lawn ultimately selected Tyco Animal Control). As a result, a municipality can save significant amounts of money by outsourcing animal control, but keeping the local animal shelter.

Multiple small municipal shelters can collaborate and share expenses. In a small animal shelter, an Executive Director, behaviorist, marketing manager, ACO and a veterinarian would not have enough work to keep busy. However, several small municipal shelters can collectively hire these specialized people to provide such services. For example, the veterinarian can spend a couple of days a week at one shelter, a day or two at other facilities, and go to individual shelters additional times when needed (i.e. an emergency). Typically, many small and medium sized shelters contract with a private veterinarian who prioritizes his or her individual clients over shelter animals. Thus, smaller shelters can work together to obtain the benefits of operating both a small and large shelter while keeping costs down to a manageable level.

Several small shelters can also collaborate to operate adoption centers at pet stores. Typically, a small shelter could not provide enough animals and staff and volunteers to operate a dog and cat adoption center in a Petco or PetSmart. However, several small shelters would have enough animals to place in these venues. Additionally, these shelters collectively could hire the staff and/or recruit the volunteers needed to run the operation. In exchange, the shelters could enter into an arrangement with each other to split the costs and revenues from operating the adoption center in an equitable manner. Thus, small shelters can work together to conduct activities only bigger shelters do.

Small municipal animal shelters can use volunteers to significantly reduce costs. Volunteers provide free labor to perform basic tasks like cleaning the shelter and administrative work. Additionally, volunteers conduct activities requiring highly specialized skills, such as behavioral rehabilitation, marketing and fundraising. For example, Michigan’s Chippewa County Animal Shelter saved 98% of its dogs and cats in 2014 despite receiving only $182 of government funding per dog and cat. As a comparison, Associated Humane Societies takes in around $900 of total revenue in per dog and cat. Chippewa County Animal Shelter, which takes in nearly 1,000 dogs and cats in a year and serves a human population of around 39,000 people, only has a shelter manager and three kennel attendants. In fact, the Chippewa County Animal Shelter credits its volunteer and foster programs for saving lives.  Thus, small shelters relying heavily on volunteers can run efficient and effective operations.

Private volunteer organizations dedicated to helping shelters can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of small shelters. Often these organizations have more time to dedicate to developing and enhancing volunteer programs. For example, an ACO at a small shelter may not have the time or the skills to recruit volunteers as well as a separate volunteer group dedicated to that effort. An example in New Jersey is EASEL and the Ewing Township Animal Shelter. Prior to EASEL taking over the Ewing Animal Shelter several months ago, EASEL helped the shelter attain no kill status through its coordinated volunteer efforts. Thus, independent volunteer organizations can make shelter programs more effective.

Privatizing small municipal shelters can significantly improve efficiency. Municipal shelters of any size face more bureaucratic challenges. For example, the municipal council may have to approve any policy changes, such as lowering adoption fees for a promotion, making it difficult to save lives. Additionally, municipal shelter employees typically are in a union and the union can make it next to impossible to terminate poorly performing staff. In perhaps the most egregious case of unions interfering in shelter operations, the Teamsters Local 210 President defended the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter Director and Assistant Director, who were subsequently charged with animal cruelty, despite ample evidence showing these people committed unspeakable atrocities. Even after the local prosecutor charged the former Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter Director and Assistant Director with animal cruelty, the union continued to fight against Helmetta’s firing of these two people. Thus, private organizations can operate more efficiently than municipal shelters.

Large organizations also can obtain some of the benefits of smaller shelters. Big shelters should operate adoption centers at Petco and PetSmart stores to reduce the number of animals at their main shelters and to increase adoptions. KC Pet Project, which operates Kansas City’s no kill animal control shelter, runs two permanent off-site adoption locations and adopts out 35% of its animals at these locations. Additionally, large shelters can operate smaller facilities and use its leadership to oversee those operations in a manner similar to the collaboration model I describe for smaller shelters above. Thus, large shelters can also obtain some of the benefits smaller shelters enjoy.

At the end of the day, just about any shelter, large or small, can succeed if it enthusiastically implements highly effective programs, such as those making up the no kill equation, to reduce intake and quickly send animals to good homes. However, shelters can operate even more effectively if they utilize some of the business models discussed in this blog. Clearly, homeless animals should expect organizations to operate at the highest possible level given these creatures lives are literally on the line. Thus, municipalities and shelters should act to make their operations more efficient and effective at saving lives.

2014 Cat Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

Cats are losing their lives at an alarming rate in New Jersey animal shelters. Over 20,000 cats or 45% of the cats coming into New Jersey animal shelters in 2014 were killed, died, went missing or were unaccounted for. This blog explores the reasons why this tragedy is occurring and whether we can end the massacre. Additionally, I’ll try and answer the question whether shelters need to resort to neutering and releasing healthy friendly cats or not impounding these cats at all to avoid killing cats in shelters.

Model Assesses New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Life Saving Performance

In order to assess how good of a job New Jersey animal shelters are doing, I’ve developed an analysis I call the “Life Saving Model.” While shelter performance is dependent on many variables, such as finances, facility design, local laws, etc., the most critical factor impacting potential life saving is physical space. As a result, my analysis focuses on making the best use of space to save the maximum number of New Jersey cats.

The Life Saving Model measures the number of local animals a shelter should adopt out, rescue from other facilities, send to rescues or other shelters and euthanize to achieve no kill level save rates. The targeted outcomes take into account each facility’s physical capacity and the number of cats the organization receives from its community (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, cruelty cases). I assume a target euthanasia rate, take the number of cats actually returned to owners and then estimate how many community cats a shelter should adopt out. To the extent space runs out, I then calculate how many cats must be sent to rescue. If the shelter has excess space after properly serving its local community, the facility uses that room to rescue and adopt out cats from nearby areas. The targeted results calculated from this model are compared to the actual results from each shelter below.

The Life Saving Model requires a more complex analysis for cats than dogs in New Jersey. Generally speaking, New Jersey animal shelters receive few litters of young puppies who are vulnerable to disease. On the other hand, local shelters receive lots of young kittens, particularly during the April to October kitten season. These young kittens are highly vulnerable to disease and those without mothers require bottle feeding every 1-2 hours. Therefore, these kittens should not be held in a traditional shelter setting and instead need to go to foster homes or a kitten nursery at or outside of the shelter. During the months outside of kitten season (i.e. November – March), my model assumes shelters with enough physical space will be able to place young kittens into their volunteers’ foster homes and/or in a kitten nursery run by the animal shelter. In kitten season with many young animals coming in, I assume a certain percentage of the cat intake will need to go to rescues or other shelters. For shelters who rescue cats, I assume a small percentage of the cats are young kittens who are hopelessly suffering and will require humane euthanasia. Thus, my Life Saving Model is a bit more complicated than the analysis I did for dogs.

To read specific details and assumptions used in the model, please see the Appendix at the end of this blog.

I modified the methodology for space-constrained shelters for this year’s analysis. Space constrained shelters do not have enough room to adopt out all of the animals they need to. Therefore, these shelters require rescue help. In the past, I assumed these shelters adopted out each cat based on the average time it takes to adopt out all cats. However, many cats require much less time to get adopted. Therefore, I assumed space-constrained shelters adopted out these animals first and then sent the cats taking longer to adopt out to rescues. While this significantly changed the results for space-constrained shelters, this assumption only had a minor impact on the overall results for all New Jersey animal shelters.

I also revised my analysis this year to put a cap on the targeted numbers of cats rescued from other shelters and cat adoptions. While my unmodified targeted numbers of rescued and adopted animals are quite achievable, I wanted to provide very conservative goals for New Jersey animals shelters. For example, the unmodified model resulted in a statewide per capita cat adoption rate less than half the level found at some of the best animal control shelters.

My modified analysis capped cat adoptions at 8 cats per 1,000 people within each New Jersey county. In other words, the targeted numbers of cats rescued from other shelters and adopted below are the lesser of

  1. Number predicted by model
  2. Number determined by capping adoptions at 8 cats per 1,000 people in the county

In simple terms, a shelter is expected to achieve this per capita adoption rate unless the facility lacks enough space. If a shelter does not have sufficient room, it won’t have the time to reach all the potential adopters and requires assistance from rescues and/or other facilities.

Another complexity in this analysis are feral cats. In an ideal world, shelters would practice trap-neuter-return (TNR) or shelter-neuter-return (SNR) for feral cats only. In TNR, the public or a third party typically does the work and the shelter doesn’t take in feral cats. In the variant of SNR I support, the shelter would take in feral cats, neuter them and release them back to where they were found. Unfortunately, many municipalities prohibit these programs and shelters in these places generally catch and kill feral cats.

Ideally, I would perform two analyses as follows:

  1. Modeling a large scale and targeted TNR program by reducing cat intake at shelters needing to implement TNR or improve their existing TNR programs
  2. Estimating the number of truly feral cats taken in and counting these cats as killed

The first analysis assumes TNR could be implemented and would result in fewer New Jersey cats for shelters to place. In a blog I wrote last year, I estimated the impact of a high volume targeted spay/neuter program. Generally speaking, this analysis required many animal control shelters to adopt out more cats, send fewer cats to rescue, and rescue more cats from other shelters due to the extra shelter space resulting from lower local cat intake. In other words, this analysis would require shelters to achieve higher performance targets.

The second analysis assumes local laws cannot be changed and shelters are stuck receiving unadoptable feral cats. Unfortunately, I do not have the data to calculate the percentage of truly feral cats received at each New Jersey animal shelter. Based on an analysis of Michigan animal shelter data, Nathan Winograd estimated at least 6% of cat intake at Michigan animal shelters are truly feral cats. Similarly, Wisconsin’s Clark County Humane Society 2014 cat statistics show feral cats who were trapped, vaccinated and returned to the community made up 7% of cat outcomes. Based on these numbers and the success of barn cat programs in Pflugerville, Texas and the Maryville, Tennessee area, barn cat programs should be able to save most feral cats in similar communities. On the other hand, California’s Orange County Animal Care reported approximately 24% of the cats it took in during 2012, which was before it practiced TNR, were feral and euthanized. However, I suspect at least some of these cats were fearful rather than truly feral and could have been socialized and eventually adopted out. In fact, a recent study documented 18% of impounded cats were feral/aggressive, but all these cats became safe enough to adopt out after people gently touched the cats and spoke to them softly for 6 days. Thus, the number of truly feral cats may be much lower than amount of cats most shelters label as aggressive.

My model assumes shelters are doing the proper thing and practicing TNR and placing the reasonable number of feral cats received as barn cats. Obviously, many shelters do take in a good number of feral cats due to poor laws or misguided policies. As a result, the number of New Jersey cats killed may be higher than my model predicts for some shelters. However, my model’s results using total cat intake rather than assuming a larger percentage of feral cats will not be too much different for the targeted adoption and euthanasia rate metrics as explained in last year’s blog.

The following analysis assumes shelters receive a reasonable number of truly feral cats. As a result, shelters can adopt out these cats through a barn cat program. While I realize some shelters do receive greater numbers of truly feral cats, the purpose of this analysis is to examine whether New Jersey animal shelters can handle the number of cats received.

New Jersey Animal Shelters Contain Enough Space to Save Most of New Jersey’s Healthy and Treatable Cats and Many More from Other States

New Jersey’s animal shelter system has enough space to save most of the state’s healthy and treatable cats. The table below details the targeted numbers of cat outcomes the New Jersey animal shelter system should achieve. Out of the 45,162 New Jersey cats coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2014, 32,501 and 7,583 cats should have been adopted out and sent to other shelters/rescues by the facilities originally taking the cats in. However, other New Jersey animal shelters had enough capacity to rescue 24,931 cats or more than three times the number of cats needing rescue from space constrained facilities. Unfortunately, some of the cats needing rescue, such as very young kittens, should not go to a shelter and still must go to either kitten nurseries or foster homes. That being said, many adult cats are in fact killed in New Jersey animal shelters and many facilities with excess space could save these cats.

New Jersey animal shelters have enough excess space to save many cats from out of state as well. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters had enough physical capacity to rescue and adopt out at least 17,348 cats from out of state shelters or New Jersey’s streets after achieving a greater than 90% live release rate for cats coming into the state’s animal shelters. In reality, the New Jersey shelter system could rescue more than 17,348 cats from out of state shelters or from New Jersey’s streets given the 17,348 figure assumes all cats needing rescue from space constrained New Jersey shelters are sent to other New Jersey shelters as opposed to rescue groups. As explained above, some of the cats needing rescue from New Jersey shelters with a shortage of space are young kittens which should not go into most animal shelters. To put this number into perspective, New Jersey animal shelters contain enough space to make both New York City and Philadelphia no kill cities for cats and increase those cities’ cat live release rates to 92% as follows (per 2014 data):

  • New York City – 3,127 additional cats need saving
  • Philadelphia – 3,786 additional cats need saving

Certainly, some New Jersey animal shelters do pull some cats from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. Even if I assumed all of the out of state cats rescued by New Jersey animal shelters came from New York City and Philadelphia, that number is only 6% of the number that New Jersey shelters could rescue from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. While some of these cats from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters are young kittens which should not go into a normal animal shelter, many other cats could go to New Jersey animal shelters and be adopted out. As a result, the additional number of cats New Jersey animal shelters could save from New York City and Philadelphia is not much lower than the figures above. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters could make New Jersey a no kill state for cats and help other states reach that goal as well.

These adoption goals are quite achievable when comparing the performance of well-run animal control shelters across the country. New Jersey animal shelters would only need to adopt out 6.4 cats per 1,000 people in the state (4.6 cats per 1,000 people if no cats were rescued from out of state and all cats sent to rescue were rescued by other New Jersey animal shelters and adopted out). As a comparison, recent per capita cat adoption numbers from several high performing no kill open admission shelters are as follows:

  • Tompkins County SPCA (Ithaca, New York area) – 16.5 cats per 1,000 people
  • Lynchburg Humane Society (Lynchburg, Virginia) – 11.1 cats per 1,000 people
  • Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA (Charlottesville, Virginia area) – 10.8 cats per 1,000 people
  • Williamson County Animal Shelter (Williamson County, Texas area): 10.0 cats per 1,000 people
  • Nevada Humane Society (Reno, Nevada area) – 9.3 cats per 1,000 people

Thus, many communities are already adopting out significantly more cats than the number I target for New Jersey animal shelters.

Additionally, the adoption target, 6.4 cats per 1,000 people, I set out for New Jersey animal shelters is lower than the state of Colorado’s per capita cat adoption rate of 7.3 cats per 1,000 people. Given Colorado still has some regressive animal shelters and only an 82% live release rate for cats, Colorado’s per capita cat adoption rate can increase. Thus, the cat adoption targets I laid out for New Jersey animal shelters are quite achievable.

2014 Cats Targets

Cat Deaths Vary Widely at New Jersey Animal Shelters

The goal of any properly managed animal shelter is to save all of its healthy and treatable animals. In some cases, such as selective admission rescue oriented shelters, it is pretty easy to not kill animals. In addition, other animal shelters with easy to service animal control contracts (i.e. few animals impounded) can avoid unnecessary killing due to having lots of extra space. As a result, some shelters may have an easier time than others in preventing killing at their shelters.

The tables below detail the death rates for cats at each New Jersey animal shelter. All cats missing are assumed “dead” based on the assumption they died or went to a very bad place. Shelters having cat death rates equal to or less than 8% and greater than 8% are highlighted in green and red in the tables below.

The overall results show too many cats are unnecessarily losing their lives at New Jersey animal shelters. Based on the assumptions above, 15,791 savable cats lost their lives or went missing at New Jersey animal shelters in 2014. Obviously, some of these cats are truly feral and require TNR or placement as barn cats, but surely many others could be adopted out. Thus, New Jersey’s shelter system is failing its cats.

Several animal shelters in South Jersey and elsewhere account for a large percentage of the savable cats unnecessarily losing their lives. Specifically, Atlantic County Animal Shelter, Burlington County Animal Shelter, Camden County Animal Shelter, Cumberland County Animal Shelter and Gloucester County Animal Shelter account for 7,441 of the or 47% of the 15,791 cats needlessly losing their lives. Associated Humane Societies three shelters had 1,818 cats unnecessarily lose their lives in 2014. Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean Animal Facility had 1,344 cats lose their lives needlessly in 2014. Bergen County Animal Shelter, which happens to serve many towns in one of the country’s wealthiest counties, had 805 cats unnecessarily lose their lives in 2014. Collectively, these 11 shelters are 11% of the state’s shelters and account for 11,408 or 72% of the cats needlessly losing their lives.

Rescue oriented shelters generally had fewer cats lose their lives than targeted. While saving large numbers of cats is what we all want, some of these shelters may have achieved this result by taking in easier cats. Austin Pets Alive, which is a rescue oriented shelter in Texas, has developed some of the most innovative cat programs and only had a cat live release rate of 93% in 2014. This was due to Austin Pets Alive taking in many cats requiring significant treatment, such as neonatal kittens, from the city animal control shelter. As a result, some of the rescue oriented shelters with significantly fewer cats euthanized than targeted may have avoided taking in many of the more difficult cases.

Several animal control shelters euthanized the targeted number of cats or fewer. Denville Animal Shelter, Ewing Animal Shelter, Byram Township Animal Shelter, Humane Society of Ocean County, Secaucus Animal Shelter, Trenton Animal Shelter and West Milford Animal Shelter prove municipal animal shelters can avoid killing healthy and treatable cats. While Bergen Protect and Rescue Foundation, North Jersey Humane Rescue Center and Hunterdon Humane Animal Shelter reported low euthanasia rates and have animal control contracts, I cannot rely on their numbers due to the turmoil at these shelters during this time.

2014 Cat Death Rate

2014 Cat Death Rate (2)

2014 Cat Death Rate (3)

Space Constrained Facilities Not Receiving Enough Support from Rescues and Other Animal Shelters

Some animal shelters will require more support from rescues and animal shelters with excess space than others. If a shelter has relatively high intake and very limited space, it will need more help than other shelters. While sending animals to rescues is a good thing, we do want shelters most needing rescue support to receive that help given rescues have limited resources. The tables below compare the number of cats a shelter should transfer to other organizations per the model and the number of cats actually sent to other animal welfare groups. Shelters marked in green are receiving less than the expected rescue support while facilities marked in red are receiving too much rescue help.

Overall, New Jersey shelters are not receiving enough help from other animal welfare organizations. While the overall number of cats rescued was about 82% of the amount needed for the state as a whole, the actual number was 41% since many cats were rescued from facilities which did not require so much rescue assistance. Only 23 out of the 76 facilities needing rescue assistance received the required support. In other words, only 30% of the animal shelters needing rescue help received the amount these facilities require.

We truly need to understand the reasons for this rescue shortfall. While poor data collection (i.e. shelters classifying rescues as adoptions) may explain part of this rescue deficit, the large size of this number points to other causes as well. For example, New Jersey shelters significantly exceeded their dog rescue needs, but only received 82% of their cat rescue requirements. Certainly, some of these cats are feral and not candidates for most rescues. However, many other cats surely are home-able. Many high kill facilities may not reach out to rescues for cats, such as during kitten season, as much as they do for dogs. This data supports the need for the Companion Animal Protection Act (“CAPA”), which requires shelters to contact rescues and other facilities at least two business days before killing animals. On the other hand, shelters with excess capacity may not be doing their part to save cats from space constrained facilities.

Several shelters received too much rescue help. Rescues may want to help these organizations due to rescue friendly policies. Alternatively, these shelters may be relying too heavily on rescues to save their animals. Shelters receiving the most extra rescue support were as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies-Newark – 714 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Cape May County Animal Shelter – 224 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Paterson Animal Control – 221 more cats transferred than necessary (estimated due to the shelter’s incorrect reporting of rescues as adoptions)
  • Trenton Animal Shelter – 195 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Toms River Animal Facility – 181 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Elizabeth Animal Shelter – 140 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Hunterdon Humane Animal Shelter 124 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter – 78 more cats transferred than necessary
  • East Orange Animal Shelter – 71 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Linden Animal Control – 65 more cats transferred than necessary

While Cape May County Animal Shelter is known as a progressive shelter, most of the other facilities are not good in my opinion. Local activists have campaigned to remove Toms River Animal Facility’s Shelter Director, Jim Bowen. Associated Humane Societies-Newark has a history of problems and kills animals for ridiculous reasons. Paterson Animal Control has no volunteer program, no social media page or even a website with animals for adoption. Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed two dogs last year on the day the animals arrived at the facility. Hunterdon Humane Animal Shelter, Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter, East Orange Animal Shelter and Linden Animal Control were all investigated in the last year or two due to serious state shelter law violations. Thus, many shelters receiving greater than expected rescue support seem to do little more than allow rescues to save the day.

On the other hand, many space constrained shelters received far less rescue help than needed. Facilities receiving the lowest amount of rescue support in relation to their needs were as follows:

  • Cumberland County SPCA – 865 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Atlantic County Animal Shelter – 306 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Hamilton Township Animal Shelter – 293 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter – 292 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Vorhees Animal Orphanage – 219 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Camden County Animal Shelter – 177 fewer cats transferred than necessary

The million dollar question is why do these shelters receive very little rescue help? As you will see below, Vorhees Animal Orphanage adopts out many cats and is doing a good job. On the other hand, Gloucester County Animal Shelter pursues an aggressive catch and kill policy for feral cats, routinely illegally kills animals during the 7 day hold period, does not adopt out animals at the shelter on weekends, allows disease to spread like wildfire and violates New Jersey shelter laws to an outrageous degree. As a result, shelters receiving too little rescue help may or may not be doing their part to get that assistance.

Rescue groups and shelters with extra space should pull cats from kill shelters with the highest rescue “target” numbers and deficits in the tables below. If shelters not needing rescue support get that extra help, these shelters will not take the steps necessary to properly run their facilities. As a result of enabling poorly performing shelters and not pulling cats from truly space constrained facilities, rescuing cats from shelters with enough space leads to less lifesaving.

Shelters receiving less than needed rescue support should also examine their own policies and performance. Are the shelter’s operating processes allowing too many animals to get sick and therefore discouraging organizations to rescue their animals due to subsequent medical costs? Does the shelter actively reach out to rescues/other shelters and treat them with respect? Does the shelter make it convenient for other organizations to pull their animals?

Given killing animals for space is intolerable, the space-constrained shelters need to expand their effective cat capacity. These facilities could use extra space in their buildings to house cats on a short-term basis. These shelters can enter into arrangements with local veterinarians and local pet stores to house and adopt out some cats. Furthermore, shelters can create or expand foster programs to increase the number of cats cared for. Additionally, creating a pet owner surrender prevention program and an appointment system for owners willing to delay surrendering their cats could free up space in these shelters. Finally, space-constrained shelters with multiple animal control contracts should terminate some of these arrangements to bring their capacity for care in line with the number of cats they take in. As a result, space constrained shelters still need to take active steps to reduce killing rather than simply solely relying on rescue support.

2014 Cats Rescued

2014 Cats Rescued (2)

cr (3)

Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Fail to Come Close to Reaching Their Cat Adoption Potential

We can assess each shelter’s contribution to making New Jersey and nearby areas no kill. While a shelter may be able to avoid killing healthy and treatable animals, it still may not live up to its potential for adopting out cats. On the other hand, a space constrained shelter may kill healthy and treatable cats, but still do a good job adopting animals out.

The tables below compare the number of cats from New Jersey and nearby states each animal shelter should adopt out with the estimated number of cats actually adopted out.

Rescue oriented organizations may look better than they actually are. Many rescue oriented shelters likely pull much easier to adopt cats than the bulk of cats needing to get rescued from local facilities.

Few organizations reached or exceeded their adoption targets. Specifically, only 8 out of 97 shelters met the cat adoption goals computed by the Life Saving Model. Thus, the overwhelming number of New Jersey animal shelters need to step up their adoption efforts.

Several rescue oriented shelters exceeded their adoption targets. Animal Welfare Association exceeded its cat adoption target by the most of any shelter in terms of total adoptions. Based on the the types of cats currently available for adoption and the cat death rate of 7%, Animal Welfare Association does not seem to just take in highly sought after cats. Animal Welfare Association has reasonable normal adoption fees of $95 for kittens and $65 for adult cats, but runs reduced and no adoption fee promotions as well. Animal Welfare Association also waives fees for certain cats who may take longer to adopt out, such as cats who are older or have behavioral or health issues. Furthermore, the shelter’s “Best Friends” program allows people who adopt a cat to pay just $25 for a second cat who is 1 year or older. Additionally, Animal Welfare Association uses an open adoption process focused on properly matching animals and people rather than an overly judgmental procedure based on black and white rules. To aid its open adoptions process, Animal Welfare Association uses the ASPCA’s Feline-ality program. Animal Welfare Association’s adoption rate increased by 20% and its cat length of stay decreased by 23 days after the shelter implemented the Feline-ality program. Finally, Animal Welfare Association installed perches in their cat enclosures to provide cats more vertical space which keeps the cats happier and more adoptable. Beacon Animal Rescue also exceeded its adoption target and charges a reasonable $75 fee for all cats. Other rescue oriented shelters exceeding their adoption targets were Animal Adoption Center, Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter and Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge. Thus, several rescue oriented shelters exceeded their cat adoption targets and Animal Welfare Associated used a variety of innovative strategies to adopt out many cats.

Several animal control shelters also exceeded their adoption targets. Despite not being open many hours, West Milford Animal Shelter exceeded its adoption goal by the most of any animal control shelter in terms of total cat adoptions. This shelter charges a very reasonable $35 fee for all cats and runs a creative Facebook page called “The Real Cats at West Milford Animal Shelter.” Byram Township Animal Shelter also exceeded its adoption goal. While the shelter has very limited adoption hours, the shelter’s volunteer organization partner also holds frequent adoption days at high traffic retail stores. The shelter’s volunteer organization charges reasonable adoption fees of $75 and $85 for cats and kittens, but also offers discounts when two or more cats are adopted together. Also, adoption fees for senior and special needs cats are only $35, but those fees are currently reduced to $25 for the holiday season. The Humane Society of Ocean County also exceeded its cat adoption target. While the shelter’s hours are fairly limited, the regular adoption fees for cats and kittens are only $50. In addition, the shelter adopts out barn cats who otherwise could not go to most homes. Additionally, the shelter proudly markets itself as a no kill animal control shelter and has a modern in-house veterinary facility that helps keep cats healthy and adoptable. Vorhees Animal Orphanage came close to meeting its adoption goal. This shelter’s normal adoption fees are quite reasonable. For example, cats at the shelter for 6 months or longer are $30, senior cats are $50, adult cats are $65, and kittens are $100. The shelter also is open 7 days a week, including weekday evenings and weekends (except one Wednesday a month and certain holidays), which makes it convenient for working people to adopt animals. Additionally, Vorhees Animal Orphanage adopts cats out at one PetSmart store and three PetValu locations. Thus, several animal control shelters exceeded or came close to achieving their cat adoption goals and therefore prove these adoption targets are achievable.

Rescues should focus on pulling animals from Vorhees Animal Orphanage. This shelter has a high cat death rate and its need for rescues greatly exceeds the amount of animals actually pulled from this organization. While some of these cats may be feral and therefore not adoptable, many other cats surely could be rescued from this shelter. Given this shelter is adopting cats out at a good rate, rescues and other other shelters should help this facility out by pulling more cats from Vorhees Animal Orphanage.

Some municipal animal control shelters may be doing a better job with cats than the numbers below indicate. In some cases, municipalities may frown on government run shelters using taxpayer funds to rescue cats from elsewhere. My suggestion to these shelters is to find ways to use more of your facility’s capacity to expand your lifesaving work to other areas. For example, these shelters should consider taking in animals from other shelters for a fee or even contracting with other municipalities.

Associated Humane Societies performance is particularly disappointing. Specifically, Associated Humane Societies has the physical capacity to significantly reduce the killing of healthy and treatable cats. Associated Humane Societies adoption shortfall of 5,542 cats is 35% of the 15,791 cats unnecessarily losing their lives in New Jersey animal shelters. Associated Humane Societies has the funding to reach these adoption targets as the organization took in over $8 million of revenue last year. This works out to nearly $600 of revenue per dog and cat I project the shelter should take in per my Life Saving Model. As a comparison, Nevada Humane Society, KC Pet Project, and Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Society, which are no kill open admission shelters, took in only $219-$505 of revenue per dog and cat. Activists wanting to increase life saving in New Jersey should focus on changing Associated Humane Societies’ policies given the lifesaving potential of this organization.

Several other shelters had significant adoption shortfalls. Bergen County Animal Shelter’s adoption shortfall of 1,913 cats is quite disappointing. Bergen County is among the top 1% of the nation’s wealthiest counties and the shelter received nearly $500 of funding per dog and cat I project the shelter should take in based on direct support from Bergen County and the revenue from the local charity that helps support the shelter. Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter’s, Gloucester County Animal Shelter’s, Montclair Animal Shelter’s and East Orange Animal Shelter’s adoption shortfalls of 2,361 cats, 1,454 cats, 712 cats, and 253 cats are not surprising given the widely documented problems at these facilities during this time. Thus, many shelters with the ability to adopt out many cats are failing to do so.

2014 Cat adopt

2014 Cat adopt (2)

2014 Cat adopt (3)

Shelters Fail to Use Excess Space to Save Cats

To further examine New Jersey animal shelters’ performance in saving homeless cats, I compared the targeted number of cats each shelter should pull from nearby shelters to the number actually rescued from local facilities. I assume all cats rescued from out of state came from nearby areas, such as Philadelphia and New York City. While some of the out of state rescued cats may have comes from far away areas, I believe this is a small number and does not significantly impact the results.

Virtually all New Jersey animal shelters are failing to rescue the number of cats they should. 91 of the 97 shelters should rescue some cats from other local shelters. In fact, 50 of the 91 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single cat from other animal shelters. Only 3 shelters with significant amounts of space to rescue cats from nearby shelters met or exceeded their cat rescue target. Thus, nearly all New Jersey animal shelters with targeted excess capacity are failing to do their share in ending the killing of healthy and treatable cats.

2014 rescued cats

2014 rescued cats (2)

2014 rescued cats (3)

TNR Is Essential, But Should Not Be An Excuse to Do Nothing

TNR must be instituted to end the killing of healthy and treatable cats. While many shelters may potentially come close to or reach a 90% live release rate, feral cats may still be killed. Simply put, New Jersey cannot become a no kill state without TNR becoming the law of the land. The Companion Animal Protection Act (“CAPA”) prevents shelters and municipalities from taking actions to hinder TNR, such as banning feral cat colony caretakers from feeding cats and lending traps out to the public for catching and killing feral cats. Even without an explicit law allowing TNR, the New Jersey Department of Health should encourage municipalities to implement TNR by changing its neutral stance on TNR to an endorsement of the practice. Furthermore, shelters, especially private facilities with animal control contracts, should refuse to take feral cats from places where TNR is prohibited and the shelter cannot place these feral cats as barn cats or send these animals to reputable sanctuaries per recommendations of many national animal welfare groups.

Shelters should not use anti-feral cat laws as an excuse for failing to institute innovative programs. Too many times shelters blame anti-feral cat ordinances for their outrageously high cat kill rates. However, my analysis proves cats are not dying in New Jersey’s shelter system due to too many cats coming into the state’s shelter system. While TNR certainly would reduce cat intake and make saving lives easier, our state’s shelter system has more than enough space to handle the number of cats that come in. Shelters need to implement key programs, such as foster care, high volume adoptions, and vaccination upon intake. Additionally, shelters need to stay open weeknights and weekends when working people can adopt. Similarly, shelters should use innovative marketing, customer friendly open adoption processes, multiple off-site adoption locations, and frequent discounted adoption promotions to quickly move cats into good homes. Furthermore, implementing a program where fearful and aggressive cats are touched gently and spoken to softly likely will significantly reduce the number of cats labeled as “feral” and increase adoptions. Thus, anti-TNR ordinances do not prevent shelters from implementing other life saving policies.

Shelters Do Not Need to Leave Friendly Cats on the Street

Shelters do not need to neuter and release friendly cats or refuse to take these cats in given enough capacity exists within the New Jersey shelter system. In 2013, a group of animal welfare leaders, which included the Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”) and the ASPCA, prepared a white paper stating a shelter should not impound cats if those cats or other cats in the shelter would subsequently be killed. The evidence supporting this policy, such as cats being more likely to find homes on the street than in traditional shelters, is quite strong. However, my analysis shows the entire New Jersey shelter system does have enough space to handle friendly cats. While certain shelters are space constrained and could benefit from refusing to admit healthy and friendly cats, other shelters in the state have more than enough capacity to step in and find these cats homes. Thus, New Jersey shelters do not need to resort to refusing to take in friendly cats or neutering and releasing friendly cats to avoid killing cats provided these shelters work together and follow best practices.

Kitten Nurseries and Ringworm Wards Key to Saving Vulnerable Cats

Orphaned kittens are typically automatically killed in traditional animal shelters due to the time commitment required to care for these animals. Unweaned kittens require bottle feeding as frequently as every 1-2 hours. As a result, kittens not placed into foster care are typically killed in most animal shelters.

Kitten nurseries or bottle baby wards radically increase the save rate for orphaned kittens still requiring milk. While foster care and rescue programs can save unweaned kittens, kitten nurseries are more efficient and make the job easier. Austin Animal Services, which is the animal control shelter in Austin, Texas, killed 1,200 plus kittens a year before Austin Pets Alive created a bottle baby program. Volunteers work in two hour shifts to feed and care for the kittens. Additionally, nursing mothers are pulled from the city shelter and used to help nurse highly vulnerable young kittens who are orphaned. Kittens are put on antibiotics and treated for fleas and worms immediately to help prevent complications from transitioning from breast milk to formula. Austin Pets Alive has pulled as many as 2,000 kittens a year from the city shelter and saved nearly 90% of these kittens in recent years through this bottle baby program. Best Friends created a kitten nursery in South Salt Lake City, Utah and saved 1,372 kittens from Salt Lake City area shelters. Similarly, several Jacksonville, Florida animal welfare groups created a nursery program called “Kitten University” which was “on track” to saving 1,400 kittens last year. Thus, kitten nursery programs can save young and vulnerable kittens.

Ringworm ward programs easily save cats with this skin fungus. In traditional animal shelters, cats with ringworm are killed due to the risk that other animals and humans will catch this skin fungus. Austin Pets Alive created a specific “Ringworm Ward” program to treat and adopt out these cats. These cats are treated both topically and orally in an isolated area. After the cats are no longer contagious, the cats are sent to foster homes to complete their treatment and regrow their hair. Austin Pets Alive uses steeply discounted adoption fees of only $15 along with catchy slogans like “Adopt a Fun Guy (Fungi)”, “Lord of the Ringworm”, and “Hairy(less) Potter” to quickly place these cats and open up space for additional cats with ringworm. 100% of cats entering this program are saved. Thus, shelters can save cats with ringworm.

Regional kitten nurseries and ringworm wards are the practical solution to saving these vulnerable cats. Given the New Jersey shelter systems has significant excess capacity to care for cats, certain shelters should convert some of that excess space for use as kitten nurseries and ringworm wards. Creating regional centers to care for unweaned kittens and cats with ringworm would allow the programs to run at a large enough scale to work efficiently. Shelters, such as Associated Humane Societies-Popcorn Park, Monmouth SPCA, and St. Hubert’s-Madison appear to have the space and financial resources to implement these programs. Furthermore, the Animal Welfare Federation of New Jersey (“AWFNJ”) should take the steps needed to create kitten nurseries and ringworm wards in regional centers throughout the state. Surely, the AWFNJ has the connections to convince key decision makers to implement these programs and obtain any necessary funding. Thus, New Jersey shelter leaders must immediately take the steps needed to save the large numbers of treatable kittens and cats with ringworm in our state’s shelters.

Results Require New Jersey Animal Shelters to Take Action

The findings from this analysis mandate New Jersey animal shelters change their ways. While TNR remains a significant issue, most shelters are clearly not taking steps to save large numbers of healthy and treatable cats. Many shelters are not vaccinating upon intake, charging excessive adoption fees, making it too difficult to adopt, not being open when working people can go to shelters, leaving cat enclosures empty, not trying to rehabilitate fearful and aggressive cats and not using barn cat, foster care, kitten nursery and ringworm ward programs. Simply put, too many shelters are not doing what it takes to save lives. With nearly half of all cats entering New Jersey’s shelters dying, going missing or being unaccounted for, our state’s shelters are failing their cats.

New Jersey shelters have a cat crisis and it is time for the killing to stop. We have the information and even the blueprints from numerous communities which stopped killing and started saving their cats. It is time the excuses ended and action begins. The public is fed up with the killing and demands shelters save their animals. Our state’s animal welfare organizations need to get on board the lifesaving wagon or risk getting run over by it. Which will they choose?

Appendix Life Saving Model Assumptions

The Life Saving Model utilizes the following basic animal shelter population equations to calculate the targeted cat outcomes for each facility:

Daily capacity or population = Daily animal intake x average length of stay

Average length of stay = Daily capacity or population/daily intake

Each shelter’s community cat intake (i.e. owner surrenders, strays, cruelty cases), number of cats returned to owners, and maximum cat capacity were taken from its 2014 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health.” Unfortunately, 2015 data will not be available until August 2016.

This data was then used as follows:

  • Community cat intake and cats returned to owners were initially estimated for each month by dividing the annual figures by 12. In order to take into account the extra space in low intake months and reduced space in high intake months, we multiply that number by each month’s percentage of the average month. For example, assume 240 cats were taken in during the year and the average month equals 20 cats (240/12). In July, the cat intake is 120% higher than the average month and we therefore multiply 20 cats by 1.2 to equal 24 cats. If 120 cats were returned to owners during the year, the estimated number of cats returned to owners in July would equal 12 cats (120/12 = 10; 10*1.2). The monthly intake percentages were based off 2014 cat intake data on the New York Animal Care & Control web site.
  • The estimated number of community cats returned to owners each month are then assumed to stay 5 days on average at shelters based on data from other shelters across the country.
  • The number of community cats euthanized (including animals who died or are missing) is set to equal 8% of intake. 8% is a reasonable standard euthanasia rate to use given other open admission animal shelters, such as Austin Animal Services, equal or exceed this target and New Jersey’s much lower per capita cat intake makes it easier to save lives. The average length of stay for euthanized cats is assumed to equal 8 days. I assume these cats have severe and untreatable health issues and are euthanized immediately after their required 7 day hold period.
  • The average length of stay used for adopted community cats was 42 days. This estimate was roughly halfway between the average cat length of stay figures for a number of no kill animal control shelters. For example, the average length of stay for cats in recent years was 14.2 days at Texas’s Williamson County Animal Shelter, less than 18 days at Nevada Humane Society, 21 days at Colorado’s Longmont Humane Society, 32 days at Lynchburg Humane Society,  33 days (32 for cats and 34 for kittens) at New Hampshire SPCA, 35 days at Montana’s Flathead County Animal Shelter, 41 days at Colorado’s Ark Valley Humane Society, and 61 days for adopted cats only at New York’s Tompkins County SPCA. While the average length of stay of adopted cats at these shelters other than Tompkins County SPCA may have been slightly higher since this data is for all cats and not just those adopted, the difference is not likely significant given adoptions represent most of the outcomes at these shelters. Unfortunately, I was not able to break down the adoption length of stay figures by age or breed for New Jersey’s shelters like I did in my analysis on dogs due to a lack of detailed cat intake data at New Jersey animal shelters. Upon reviewing cats up for adoption at several New Jersey animal control shelters and a few of the high performing facilities above, I did not see any significant differences in types of cats taken in. In the future, I hope to refine this analysis further.
  • The average length of stay used for community cats adopted out from rescue oriented shelters was 30 days. Rescue oriented animal shelters typically carefully select animals taken into their shelters. Based on the San Francisco’s SPCA’s 21 day and Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation’s 23 day average length of stay figures reported a number of years ago, I used a shorter length of stay for community cats adopted from New Jersey animal shelters without animal control contracts. I chose 30 days as a conservative estimate.
  • Cats transferred to rescue or other facilities are assumed to stay at shelters 8 days on average based on the assumption strays can’t be released until the 7 day hold period elapses.
  • Community cats not returned to owners or euthanized are initially assumed as adopted for each month outside of kitten season (i.e. November-March). However, if the calculated length of stay exceeds the shelter’s required length of stay, cats are moved from adoption (i.e. with a longer length of stay) to rescue (i.e. shorter length of stay) until the calculated length of stay each month approximately equals the required length of stay.
  • During kitten season (April-October), animal control shelters are assumed to send a certain percentage of cats to rescue even if they have excess space. Due to the large numbers of kittens coming into shelters during these months, I assume shelters will not be able to place all of them into foster homes or a kitten nursery at this time. As a result, I assume animal control shelters will send 10% of their annual community cat intake to rescues based on the shelters’ estimated relative cat intake each month. For example, if a shelter took 100 cats in during the year and August made up 50% of the total cat intake from April to November, 5 cats would go to rescue in August (i.e. 100*10% = 10 cats; 10*50% = 5 cats). I used 10% based off the rescue percentage of cat intake in 2014 at Kansas City’s KC Pet Project. KC Pet Project is a no kill open admission shelter with an inadequate facility and is a good comparison for some of our state’s run down shelters. Shelters requiring rescue support due to space constraints are assumed to send these additional cats to rescues during kittens season.
  • Shelters are not expected to use the excess space created by fosters taking kittens to rescue and adopt out additional cats. This is based on the assumption that the kittens will return to shelters once old enough to safely stay at the facilities.
  • Required length of stay = Shelter’s reported capacity/adjusted daily intake for the month. Adjusted daily intake for month = Adjusted monthly intake per first bullet above/the number of days in the month.
  • Shelters with excess capacity are assumed to use the extra space to rescue and adopt out cats from other New Jersey animal shelters. Given some of these cats will be young and highly vulnerable kittens, I assume 5% of these rescues will be euthanized for humane reasons. I used 5% based off Austin Pets Alive’s and Austin Humane Society’s weighted average cat euthanasia rate in 2014. These two shelters pull many cats from Austin Animal Services, which is the city’s animal control shelter, and their cat euthanasia rate is a reasonable proxy for the percentage of hopelessly suffering cats rescued from animal control shelters. To the extent all healthy and treatable New Jersey animal shelter cats are saved, I assume additional cats are pulled from nearby states. The average length of stay for rescued and adopted cats is the same as the cats taken in by animal control shelters (i.e. 42 days). Similarly, I used 8 days as the average length of stay for rescued and euthanized cats from other shelters.
  • Each month’s targeted outcomes are added to determine how many cats New Jersey animal shelters should adopt out, send to rescue and rescue from other nearby animal shelters.
  • Space constrained shelters were assumed to adopt out their easiest to adopt animals first until they ran out of space. To estimate the average adoption length of stay, I used cat adoption length of stay data from Perth Amboy Animal Shelter from 2014 and the first half of 2015. I broke the adoption length of stay data into 5 groups that each made up 20% of the data. The average adoption length of stay for each of these 5 groups was calculated. The average adoption length of stay of each group was divided by the average length of stay for all of the adopted cats in the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter data set. Those percentages were then multiplied by the average cat adoption length of stay determined in the model above and used to determine the adoption lengths of stay used for space-constrained shelters.
  • The targeted number of cats adopted were capped at 8 cats per 1,000 people in each county. If the model yielded a higher result than this cap, the targeted numbers of cats adopted were equal to this cap. For shelters in these counties (except Passaic County), I calculated the cap at the county level and then reduced the number of cats adopted for the county to equal the cap. I excluded West Milford from Passaic County due the town’s large distance from the population centers in the rest of the county. Each shelter’s percentage of total targeted rescues in the county from the unmodified model were applied to the the total reduction in the number of cats adopted in the county to yield the targeted numbers of cats adopted in the modified model. Rescued and euthanized cats for these shelters were reduced based on the modified model’s assumption that shelters adopted out and euthanized 95% and 5% of rescued cats.