Humane Society of the United States Expo Presentation Tells Shelters to Breed Dogs Instead of Rescuing Them

The number of animals killed in shelters decreased dramatically over the last 50 years. In 1973, animal shelters killed approximately 14 million dogs and cats. In 2019, the ASPCA estimated shelters killed 920,000 dogs and cats. Shelter Animals Count data showed killing dropped 39% after the pandemic. If we extrapolate from the 2019 ASPCA data, this suggests shelters killed around 560,000 dogs and cats in 2021.

The dramatic decrease in shelter killing is primarily due to widespread spay/neuter and adoption campaigns. Spay/neuter reduces the number of animals coming into shelters. Adoption campaigns increase the number of animals leaving shelters alive.

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog about a group advocating for shelters to breed animals. The Functional Dog Collaborative is a coalition of breeders, anti-pit bull dog trainers, mass transporters and high kill shelters. What do all these individuals have in common? They have no respect for life and put their personal interests ahead of the needs of animals.

Subsequently, this group conducted a six and a half hour “Learning Lab” at the 2022 Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) Expo. This presentation, “Family dogs for inclusive community: Alternative to puppy mills”, contained documents called “Shelter Messaging and Policies”, “Overpopulation, or too many challenging dogs” and “Determining your community’s dog replacement needs.” Additionally, the presentation included two of the The Functional Dog Collaborative’s “Position Statements” that I previously analyzed on my Facebook page.

What ideas does this group propose? How would those ideas affect shelter animals? If this group got its way, what would the future look like?

Puppy Mill Prevention Propaganda

The Functional Dog Collaborative’s Shelter Messaging and Policies document argues a pet shortage exists, but real world data disproves this claim. As I wrote in my last blog, a pet shortage does not exist nationally as both dog and cat adoptions share of the national pet acquisition market has not decreased over the last decade. In fact, more recent American Pets Products Survey data from 2021-2022 shows the dog adoption market share (40% if just counting dogs adopted from shelters and rescues and 44% if also counting people adopting stray dogs they found) is actually higher than a decade ago. Even in New England where The Functional Dog Collaborative claims the “pet shortage” is greatest, the adoption percentage of the dog acquisition market (26%) is still greater than the breeder, pet store and online sellers percentage of the pet acquisition market (24%). The New England cat market share data shows adoption having an even greater advantage over breeders (39% verses 8%). Furthermore, if a pet shortage really existed, prices of animals would skyrocket, puppy mills would greatly expand and shelter intake would increase as more of those animals breed. In reality, none of this occurred. Thus, a pet shortage does not exist.

The shelter breeding pushers argue they must create more dogs to stop puppy mills, but data shows puppy mills are on the decline. The anti-puppy mill group, Bailing Out Benji, shared data showing a 30% decrease in U.S. Department of Agriculture licensed breeders (i.e. puppy mills) and brokers (middle men who facilitate puppy mill sales) from 2008 to 2021. In fact, Bailing Out Benji stated the following:

While there is a small fluctuation each year in federal and state licensees, the overall trend is showing that more commercial dog and cat breeders are not only going out of business, but many of the worst puppy mills have either been shut down or downsized greatly. 

Furthermore, Omaha World provided data showing half of Nebraska’s commercial breeders closed down:

Nebraska Department of Agriculture records show that half of the state’s commercial dog and cat breeders have left the business over the past seven years. The decline was particularly sharp between June 30, 2018, when there were 216 state-licensed breeders, and the same date this year, when the number was down to 138.

Bailing Out Benji quotes two Nebraska commercial breeders stating anti-puppy mill laws and competition from shelters and rescues are major reasons behind the closing of puppy mills:

Rising overhead costs, laws limiting pet store sales and competition from animal rescue organizations.  

Midwest breeders were hurt by a California law that banned pet stores from selling commercially bred puppies, kittens and rabbits.

In fact, Bailing Out Benji quotes the IBIS World Dog and Pet Breeders Industry’s explanation for the decline in puppy mills (i.e. anti-puppy mills laws):

The Dog and Pet Breeders industry has been subject to a moderate level of revenue volatility over the past five years. Recent efforts to regulate the industry and fight against puppy mills have contributed to strong revenue declines.

Furthermore, the IBIS World Dog and Pet Breeders Industry stated “Adopt, Don’t Shop” campaigns have caused pet stores to stop selling puppy mill sourced animals and to instead offer rescue animals:

Clearly, shelters do not need to breed animals to stop puppy mills. Instead, laws banning pet stores from selling puppy mill sourced animals and “Adopt, Don’t Shop” public campaigns kill the cruel puppy mill industry.

Breed Animals Even When Your Shelter is Full and Killing Pets

The Functional Dog Collaborative’s “Shelter Messaging and Policies” and “Overpopulation, or too many challenging dogs” documents tell many shelters to breed animals. The organization states shelters should breed animals, via helping others do so, when “true overpopulation doesn’t exist.” In fact, The Functional Dog Collaborative says shelters should breed animals even if they “are still working really hard to save animals.” In order to convince shelters to breed animals, The Functional Dog Collaborative tells shelters to do so in the following circumstances:

  1. When the shelter is still killing large numbers of other species, such as cats
  2. When the shelter is still killing all animals in the summer time only
  3. When the shelter is struggling to “save more difficult animals”
  4. When the shelter has lots of puppies, but they are adopted quickly

The Functional Dog Collaborative narrowly defines the circumstances when shelters should not breed. For example, it says shelters shouldn’t breed if the community has “a wide variety of dogs available for adoption nearly all the time” and gives the following indicators:

A wide variety, of all sizes, breeds, and ages, including lots of small & fluffy dogs, and puppies of many different sizes/breeds.

A wide variety of purebred dogs of many breeds and sizes, including a significant percentage of dogs in the AKC top 30 most popular breeds. They are the most common in your community, whether you are seeing those dogs in your shelter or not

Easy, family friendly dogs that are great for first time pet owners, who have other pets & kids.

Furthermore, The Functional Dog Collaborative tells shelters to breed animals in the following circumstances:

  1. When those facilities are killing healthy, friendly dogs/puppies for time and space as long as these organizations aren’t doing so for most of the year
  2. When those shelters transport out certain types of dogs (specific breeds, sizes, ages, health or behaviors) for most of the year

In fact, The Functional Dog Collaborative’s guidance only tells shelters not to breed animals when:

  1. They are killing healthy, friendly dogs/puppies for time and space during most of the year
  2. They can’t find homes for “small & fluffy dogs, and easy family friendly dogs”
  3. They rely on “unrestricted transport” to save “all dogs and puppies”, including “healthy, friendly family dogs”

The Functional Dog Collaborative instructs shelters to breed animals when they are full in the following situations:

Kennels may be full, but it’s nearly all the same type of dog. In most areas, it’s pittie types. In some areas there may be just too many of something else, such as chihuahuas or large hounds

Many or most dogs have significant medical or behavioral issues, such as needs to be the only dog, needs experienced owner, or no kids.

Many or most dogs have restrictions on who can adopt them, which volunteers or fosters are allowed to care for them, and/or behavior plans needed. Appropriate adopters and fosters who are successful with the pets are hard to find.

To illustrate its complete disdain for rescue animals, The Functional Dog Collaborative states some shelters are full with dogs having “significant medical or behavior challenges” that “aren’t matches for the general public looking for an easy/normal family dog.” In other words, the pro-breeding group denigrates treatable dogs by stating they are not “normal” and are unsuitable for most people.

To summarize, The Functional Dog Collaborative wants shelters to breed when people “find it difficult to adopt” the following dogs:

Small & fluffy dogs, puppies of various sizes & breeds

Starter dogs/family friendly dogs – easy pets who can live with first time dog owners, families with kids, people with other pets, people who don’t have experience managing dogs with issues

If someone can’t buy one of these dogs at “an affordable cost” or “with financing” or has to wait for the time a “responsible breeder” requires today, shelters should breed according to The Functional Dog Collaborative.

As you see from the above, The Functional Dog Collaborative wants nearly all shelters, including those that kill and transport out many dogs, to breed animals by helping others in their communities do so.

Massive Breeding Operations Wanted

The Functional Dog Collaborative’s “Determining your community’s dog replacement needs” document illustrates how many dogs this organization seeks to breed. This document uses a formula to estimate how may dogs people acquire each year in a state. Below are the number of dogs several states should produce annually according to this guidance compared to the number of unclaimed dogs those state’s shelters take in a year:

While The Functional Dog Collaborative’s guidance states shelters should reduce these figures by the number of puppies produced from “ethical sources” in the area, I’m skeptical whether many shelters would do so. First, history shows us most shelters, especially those that have little respect for life, rarely do extra work. Second, shelters would have a financial interest to breed and sell more popular animals. Third, many breeders would be reluctant to share confidential data about their business even if shelters sought it. Thus, I’d expect shelters who want to produce puppies inside their shelters or with their breeder partners would create as many as possible to maximize their profits.

In reality, The Functional Dog Collaborative guidance could urge shelters to produce more puppies than the numbers above. Since the organization deems many shelter dogs unworthy of a home with most families, large numbers of the dogs shelters take in wouldn’t count in these calculations of how many dogs shelters and communities should produce.

The Functional Dog Collaborative’s support for commercial breeders (i.e. puppy mills) with supposed better care standards shows how massive breeding would be. In The Functional Dog Collaborative’s “Shelter Messaging and Policies” document, the organization recommends shelters urge puppy mills to pursue a Purdue University certification program. This is extremely disturbing as these “certification” efforts are simply a marketing tool for puppy mills to dupe the public into thinking their operations are humane. Simply put, producing puppies in kennels or factory farms are cruel and barbaric. However, this is a small price to pay for The Functional Dog Collaborative which is trying to kill rescue animals and bring back a world where almost all people buy animals from breeders.

Destroying the System That Decreased Shelter Killing

The Functional Dog Collaborative’s “Shelter Messaging and Policies” guide tells shelters to favor breeding over adoption. Animal shelters successfully used “Adopt, Don’t Shop” campaigns to persuade the public to save lives. However, The Functional Dog Collaborative’s guide tries to convince shelters to end “Adopt, Don’t Shop” campaigns:

Stop using language that implies -or explicitly states- that adoption is the only acceptable option for acquiring pets, such as “Adopt, don’t shop”.

Ensure that your organization is not using generalized language such as “when you buy, shelter pets die”.

In fact, The Functional Dog Collaborative wants to change the “Adopt, Don’t Shop” campaign to “breed local/buy local” in an apparent attack on competition from domestic and international transported rescue dogs:

Reinforce the importance of providing local dogs, locally. Change messaging to actively encourage and support “breed local/buy local”.

To make matters worse, The Functional Dog Collaborative tells the public to breed dogs so their “friends and family can find good dogs.”:

Actively message your community that “good family dogs having some puppies” is how we ensure that people can have dogs from an ethical source

Shift your messaging from “your dog having babies is irresponsible and kills other dogs” to “your successful family dog having babies is a neighborly service to ensure that your friends and family can find good dogs”.

Instead of using veterinarians to increase adoptions, the Functional Dog Collaborative wants shelters use those veterinarians to promote breeding.

Include specific outreach to private practice veterinarians in your community in your messaging

The Functional Dog Collaborative also wants to tear down the country’s spay/neuter infrastructure. Specifically, the organization states the following:

Stop advocating for universal spay/neuter for every animal, without exception.

Ensure that you have eliminated all messaging and storytelling that says or implies that intact animals and/or accidental litters are inherently irresponsible.

Furthermore, the pro-breeding organization tells shelters to do the following:

  • Focus spay/neuter on animals that are being killed in shelters (i.e. pit bulls, feral cats)
  • Stop advocating for spay/neuter on most young animals

If that was not bad enough, The Functional Dog Collaborative instructs shelters to convince the public to breed their animals and not sterilize them immediately:

Encourage people with healthy, behaviorally sound dogs to have a litter or two before bringing the dog in for spay/neuter.

Actively counsel people asking about scheduling a spay or neuter with your organization about whether their dog should be passing on their great genes and having a litter or two before surgery! Where’s the bar for who should be reproducing? At a minimum, animals who have been successfully living with a family, are demonstrating good behavior as a family pet, and are not experiencing known health issues. Preference is a pre-breeding exam to better evaluate.

Shelters Increase Breeding

The Functional Dog Collaborative tells shelters to do the following:

  • “Provide resources to people who are already breeding locally”
  • “Provide resources to people who are seeking puppies and dogs” to help them buy those animals from breeders

When we look at this organization’s specific recommendations, it becomes apparent it is trying to recreate a world where people don’t adopt many animals and instead buy pets from breeders. First, The Functional Dog Collaborative wants shelters to “Help your community understand the ideal pet that should have a litter before being spayed or neutered.” Second, The Functional Dog Collaborative wants shelters to actively help not just “breeders”, but even the worst of the backyard breeders, by providing the following:

Routine vaccinations & parasite control for breeding animals & litters

Classes on best practices for breeding and raising litters

Socialization opportunities: they don’t have kids at home, people in wheelchairs, men with beards: you might provide this under the expertise of your behavior department

If you find that an owner cannot manage the care and raising of a litter, can your organization offer temporary foster care until the puppies are weaned, then mom goes back to her family?

In other words, The Functional Dog Collaborative wants shelters to use their own veterinary, employee and volunteer resources to support breeders, including those who treat animals poorly to make a buck.

Most disturbing, “The Functional Dog Collaborative” wants shelters to sell these breeders’ animals and “coach” the breeders on finding customers:

Offer for the shelter to place the puppies in homes or consider coaching on best practices to the mom’s owner in making placements.

HSUS Makes Lame Excuses for Shelter Breeding Session

After facing severe backlash about its shelter breeding “Learning Lab”, HSUS wrote a “position” document defending its conference presentation on shelter breeding. HSUS claimed it just wanted to have “thoughtful conversations about industry best practices and about current and future challenges – some controversial – faced by local organizations and pet owners.” In response to the public outrage, HSUS also stated none of the speakers worked for HSUS and HSUS didn’t create the presentations. While that is true, that is the case for almost all presentations at conferences. The fact of the matter is HSUS provided shelter breeding zealots a “daylong session” at its conference to sell this pet killing idea.

HSUS attempted to deceive the public into thinking the conference presenters didn’t call for shelter breeding. While the conference presentation didn’t explicitly state shelters should breed animals within their physical facilities, it did say shelters should do everything possible to help breeders, including abusive ones, produce more animals. This includes the following:

  • Using the shelter’s behavior department to make bred puppies more adoptable
  • Using shelter resources to teach people about breeding animals
  • Providing foster homes for breeder puppies
  • Teaching breeders on how to find buyers for their puppies
  • Finding buyers for the breeders’ puppies
  • Ending successful “Adopt, Don’t Shop” marketing campaigns and starting “Breed Local, Buy Local” breeder advertising efforts

The HSUS “position” document used politically deceptive language to help shelter breeders make their case. Specifically, HSUS parroted the arguments from the high kill shelters, such as the high kill Dakin Humane Society and Massachusetts SPCA, who want to breed animals (via third party sources):

they also left space for local shelters to express their concerns that even with robust transport programs, they feel they are not able to meet the demand for adoption and are watching as community members seek out other ways to obtain dogs, including through Internet sites that are keeping puppy mills in business.

whether animal welfare organizations should play a role in ensuring every person who wants a dog can find one from a humane source

while also identifying communities where, due to a lack of dogs at local shelters and rescues, people may be opting to purchase puppies from pet stores or Internet sales that are actually supporting puppy mills.

While HSUS didn’t say the shelters wanted to breed animals, it used the presenters coded language that advocates for shelter breeding. For example, statements, such as shelters that are “not able to meet the demand for adoption”, “ensuring every person who wants a dog can find one from a humane source” and “while also identifying communities where, due to a lack of dogs at local shelters and rescues, people may be opting to purchase puppies from pet stores or Internet sales” are code language for shelters to breed animals.

HSUS stated it opposes shelters breeding animals and supports large scale spay/neuter, but its specific positions are more ambiguous. For example, HSUS supports providing “wellness care” to breeder animals. Additionally, HSUS left the door open for shelter breeding in the future by stating we should be “talking about hard issues” (i.e. shelter breeding) and “support safe and open dialogue that welcomes all viewpoints as a means to reach our collective goal to help pets and stop puppy mills” (i.e. shelter breeders claimed goal). Thus, HSUS opposition to shelter breeding is a weak response to public outrage and appears temporary (i.e. could reverse if it becomes politically palatable).

Shelter Breeding is a Catastrophic Threat to Companion Animals

The Functional Dog Collaborative’s anti-spay/neuter ideas will lead to a massive increase in unwanted dogs. Given dogs can reproduce twice a year and have large litters, these animals can quickly grow their populations exponentially. For example, one spay/neuter group estimates a single female dog can produce 508 puppies over a seven year period. Similarly, The Functional Dog Collaborative believes breeding just 4% of female dogs can create millions of puppies for Americans. In reality, once the social stigma against having intact dogs and breeding ends, many more dogs will be intact and breed intentionally and unintentionally. Thus, we will end up in a 1970s world where animal shelters are overwhelmed with dogs.

The promotion of bred verses adopted dogs will decrease demand for this increased number of homeless dogs. Once the social stigma of “buying” dogs ends, people will be less inclined to adopt a dog in need of a home. As Nathan Winograd recently wrote about, The Functional Dog Collaborative’s attempts to normalize breeding and buying bred animals will return us to the 1970s world where shelters were filled with homeless animals and the public did not adopt most of them. Thus, the Functional Dog Collaborative would return us to an era where shelters kill massive numbers of dogs and people buy most of their animals from breeders.

Nathan Winograd eloquently explained how shelter breeding programs will increase rather than decrease the puppy mill business. First, shelter breeding programs (through their third party partner breeders) will incentivize puppy mills to incorporate as not for profits and breed their own “functional” mixed breed dogs. Second, shelter breeding will cause lawmakers to question pet store bans on the sale of bred animals, which have been highly effective at actually closing cruel puppy mills. For example, if shelters are selling bred animals, why couldn’t pet stores? Third, high kill and regressive shelters will hardly do a better job at getting backyard breeders to treat their animals well given these organizations’ horrific track records with their own animals. As a result, The Functional Dog Collaborative’s shelter breeding idea will increase rather than decrease cruel puppy mill operations.

The Functional Dog Collaborative breeding scheme would destroy animal shelters from within. Shelters and breeders have long competed for pet acquisition market share. However, The Functional Dog Collaborative would have shelters help their competitors and in turn destroy the shelters’ own homeless pets. This is akin to a vegan restaurant encouraging its customers to go to a place selling veal, foie gras and shark fin soup. Similarly, this would be like an anti-smoking organization telling people to buy cigarettes or an environmental group to tell its supporters to give money to polluters. Frankly, The Functional Dog Collaborative’s efforts look like a deliberate attempt to destroy animal shelters and rescues to enrich breeders.

While shelter breeding is an absurd idea, it is a very real threat. First, The Functional Dog Collaborative has many influential members, such as the former Executive Director of PetSmart Charities, an ex-director of behavior at the ASPCA and a PhD veterinarian with great influence in academic circles. Second, powerful animal welfare organizations, such as HSUS, Austin Pets Alive and Maddie’s Fund and Humane Network gave The Functional Dog Collaborative platforms to sell their shelter breeding idea. Third, shelters have a strong financial interest to breed animals (directly or via third parties) rather than rescue them. Thus, shelter breeding could become the norm if its proponents successfully sell their false narrative.

At the end of the day, shelter breeding represents the most severe threat shelter animals have faced in 50 years. As advocates, we must fight this idea tooth and nail. If we don’t prevail, we will return to the 1970s’ world where shelters will kill many millions of healthy and treatable pets. Our society has come too far to allow that to happen again.

The Idiotic Idea to Have Shelters Breed Animals

Recently, a “growing discussion” in animal welfare developed about shelters referring adopters to breeders and having shelters breed animals. Susan Houser, who previously wrote a no kill blog that turned into one defending bad shelters, floated this idea back in 2015. Over the years, I’ve seen others occasionally mention it, but it recently gained momentum. Joyce Briggs, who is the President of the Alliance for Contraception in Cats & Dogs, authored an article that called for shelters to breed animals or outsource the breeding to others. Additionally, she is part of the Functional Dog Cooperative, which is pushing these policies, and members of that group will sell these ideas during an April 2022 HSUS Expo session titled “Family dogs for the inclusive community: Alternatives to puppy mills.” Finally, Ms. Briggs has been doing a series of interviews, such as this one, advocating for this breeding idea.

Proponents argue shelters need to breed pets or outsource the practice to 1) meet demand for dogs, 2) prevent expansion of puppy mills and 3) avoid shelter overcrowding and killing resulting from unscrupulous breeders. Ms. Briggs and her allies claim parts of the country have a severe dog shortage and the rest of the nation will soon experience it. Additionally, the proponents claim we have a cat shortage in parts of the country and we may need to breed more cats.

Are the advocates for shelter breeding and outsourcing the practice correct? Do shelters really need to breed animals to stop puppy mills? Will shelters become overcrowded and kill more pets if we don’t have shelters breed animals?

False Claims of No Kill

In a Functional Dog Collaborative podcast, Joyce Briggs stated the following to insinuate the nation is no kill for dogs:

But for example, there were over 3200 shelters reporting to it in 2019. And in that year, there was an average percentage of about 7% of dogs coming into shelters were euthanized. So you know, and by most cases, they’re talking about “no kill” – a “no kill” being under 10% knowing that there will be some dogs that come into shelters that are either too dangerous to be rehomed or too sick. But, so 7% is pretty good. And actually the trends through that same Shelter Animals Count for 2020. There are… it’s dramatic decrease in intake, but it’s about 5% euthanasia. So it’s even gotten better. 

The Shelter Animals Count data I reviewed does not match up with these claims. When we look at all organizations, both animal control shelters and rescues, 13.3% and 11.3% of all dogs lost their lives in 2019 and 2020 based on net outcomes (i.e. not double counting live outcomes, such as when a shelter transfers an animal to another shelter and that shelter adopts the pet out). From what I could tell, Ms. Briggs did not count owner-requested euthanasia or dogs that died in shelters (i.e. no kill benchmarks must include this data) and used gross intake (i.e. double counting animals impounded by one shelter and transferred to another shelter or rescue). Given no kill level death rates are based on animal control shelters, we should only look at shelters that governments run or private shelters operate under contracts with municipalities. Using this metric 16.5% and 14.1% of dogs lost their lives at animal control shelters in 2019 and 2020. Thus, Joyce Briggs used manipulated and misleading data to claim shelters had a dog death rate less than half of what it really was.

Joyce Briggs used a similar dishonest approach when talking about lower and higher kill regions of the country. She stated New England and the Pacific Northwest had 96% dog “save rates” and Louisiana and Mississippi had an 87% dog live release rate in 2019. Once again, Ms. Briggs appeared to 1) lump rescues and shelters together, 2) not count owner-requested euthanasia and dogs who died in shelters and 3) double count animals who came into shelters or had outcomes. When I look at the real data for animal control shelters, Louisiana and Mississippi animal control shelters had 28.1% and 25.6% dog death rates in 2019 and 2020. New England animal control shelters had dog death rates of 6.6% and 11.1% in 2019 and 2020 compared to the 4% death rate Ms. Briggs claimed. Similarly, The Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland, which Joyce Briggs co-founded, had a 9.7% dog death rate, which far exceeded the phony 4% rate excluding owner-requested euthanasia, and a 13.1% non-reclaimed dog death rate in 2019. Furthermore, these metrics understate the local animals’ death rates as they include easier to adopt transported animals and not just local pets. For example, if we assumed The Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland shelters saved all dogs transported in, the local dogs’ and local dogs’ non-reclaimed death rates would equal 15.3% and 26.3% in 2019. Thus, Joyce Briggs used deceptive data to hide the killing of shelter dogs in New England, the Pacific Northwest and Louisiana and Mississippi.

Ms. Briggs’ use of a 90% live release rate/10% death rate standard itself is a false notion of no kill. As Nathan Winograd, who created the 90% benchmark, repeatedly stated, that benchmark is outdated, obsolete and fails to mean a shelter is no kill. In fact, numerous animal control shelters across the country save around 98% to 99% of dogs, such as Florida’s Lake County Animal Shelter and Williamson County Animal Shelter in Texas. Thus, Joyce Briggs would be wrong to claim communities were no kill for dogs even if she didn’t manipulate her live release/death rates above.

Shelters Animals Count data, which Joyce Briggs relies on to claim many shelters aren’t killing, overstates shelters live release rates. Bad shelters are more likely to not voluntarily report data. Therefore, many high kill shelters won’t submit such information to Shelter Animals Count. For example, only 24 out of 87 or 28% of New Jersey animal shelters who reported statistics to the New Jersey Department of Health in 2019 also reported such data to Shelter Animals Count. Similarly, only 15 out of 71 or 21% of the New Jersey animal control shelters that reported data to the state health department sent that information to Shelter Animals Count. In fact, 6 or 50% of the 12 New Jersey animal shelters that killed the most dogs in 2019 reported data to the state health department and not Shelter Animals Count. As such, it is no surprise that New Jersey animal control shelters had a 7.1% death rate per Shelter Animals Count in 2019 while the more comprehensive state statistics showed a 7.6% dog death rate in 2019. Additionally, Shelter Animals Count data includes rescues without facilities that have much higher live release rates. When we include all reporting facilities in 2019, Shelter Animals Count showed New Jersey organizations had a 5.2% dog death rate while the state health department’s sheltering statistics reflected a 7.0% dog death rate. Thus, Shelter Animals Count data likely makes shelters look better than they really are due to self-reporting bias.

Data Does Not Support Pet Shortage Assertion

Proponents of shelters breeding animals assume pet owners will replace their dogs when the animals die. Based on the 2020 American Pet Products Survey, approximately 85 million dogs exist in the country and pet owners would obtain around 8 million dogs each year to replace those animals that die assuming the pets lived with owners 10 to 11 years. Given dogs live on average 10-13 years, these figures take into account people obtaining older dogs that don’t live with the owner for their entire lives. Thus, the demand side of the equation is reasonably well known.

Advocates for shelters breeding animals have no good data on the supply of dogs to meet this demand. Specifically, the total number of dogs purchased from commercial and hobby breeders is unknown as complete data does not exist. Furthermore, no one has any information about the number of dogs rehomed between pet owners.

So why do people like Joyce Briggs claim a pet shortage exists? She points to the fact that a minority of people obtain their dogs from shelters and rescues (36% in the 2019-2020 American Pets Products Survey). However, rescue animals have long comprised a minority of the total dog acquisition market. That does not mean a dog shortage exists. In an attempt to stretch the truth, Ms. Briggs asserts we can only count shelter and rescue puppies as part of the supply to meet dog owner demand since only these dogs are “new” supply. Given we are measuring demand for dogs as the number of dogs people want to obtain in a year, we absolutely should count almost all shelter dogs in the supply figure. Why? When people surrender a dog or lose a dog, most do not immediately obtain another dog. Thus, Joyce Briggs has no data to support her pet shortage assertion and deliberately tries to overstate this “problem.”

Basic economics prove no dog shortage exists in the United States. If a dog shortage existed, we would see the following:

  1. Price of dogs purchased and adopted skyrocket
  2. Shelter and rescue share of the pet acquisition market dramatically decrease
  3. Vast expansion of commercial and backyard breeders to take advantage of those price increases
  4. Shelter intake increasing dramatically as intact animals breed

While we all have heard of stories of people paying large sums of money for specialized breeds, no data I can find suggests a massive rise in the price of dogs. In fact, the price of pets and pet related products has barely exceeded the rate of inflation from 1997 to 2021. While this figure includes things other than the cost of acquiring a pet, one would except a significant rise if a dog shortage existed.

American Pet Products Survey data shows no decrease in shelter and rescue share of the pet acquisition market. As you can see in the following chart using American Pets Product Survey data, animal shelters’ and rescues’ dog market share has largely been the same over the last decade. In fact, shelters and rescues had a greater share of the dog market in 2019-2020 (36%) than in 2012-2013 (35%).

The cat market share data shows a similar picture. As you can see, shelters and rescues had the same percentage of the cat market in 2019-2020 as these organizations did in 2012-2013. Given cats are far more plentiful in shelters and rescues than dogs, we’d expect a far better trend than we see with dogs if a canine shortage really existed.

Puppy mills and backyard breeders have not expanded in areas of the country with low animal intake at shelters. If the alarmist claims of Joyce Briggs and others were true, we’d see puppy mills and backyard breeders spring up in the northeast to take advantage of the supposed pet shortage. Furthermore, we’d expect to see a surge in the numbers of animals coming into shelters in the northeast due to unscrupulous breeders not sterilizing their puppies and kittens. What does the data show?

As you can see in the following chart, New Jersey animal shelters took in around 30,000 to 35,000 dogs each year from 2013 to 2019 (2020 had an unusual decline in shelter intake due to the pandemic).

When we look at just dogs New Jersey animal shelters impounded within the state, we see a steady decline in dog intake from 2013 to 2019.

At the same time, New Jersey animal shelters total and local dog death rates declined.

New Jersey cat data shows a similar picture with total cat intake dropping approximately 7% from 2013 to 2019 and the cat kill rate decreasing from 40.8% to 16.6% over the same period.

Connecticut animal shelters also have a similar trend of declining dog and cat intake and decreasing numbers of animals killed.

Clearly, a “pet shortage” is not driving up shelter intake and killing. Instead, the opposite occurred with shelters taking in fewer dogs and cats and killing a smaller percentage of them.

Even if the proponents of the pet shortage alarm calls claimed transports temporarily delayed the pet shortage “problems”, the experience with small dogs proves that wrong. Few small dogs have been transported to northeastern states for many years even though these animals are popular. If the pet shortage pushers were correct, we’d see local shelters overwhelmed with small dogs. Instead, local shelters have few small dogs. Thus, the “pet shortage” panic is unwarranted.

In reality, people can always claim a “pet shortage” exists. The American Kennel Club and Fédération Cynologique Internationale currently have 199 and 354 dog breeds. Even when shelters took in and killed the most dogs in the 1970s, people couldn’t walk into shelters and find every, if not most, dog breeds. Similarly, shelters have a very small percentage of the 43 to 71 recognized cat breeds despite these facilities impounding and killing many cats. Thus, the argument we have a dangerous pet shortage is simply absurd.

Similarities to Transport

Regular readers of this blog and my Facebook page know I’m no fan of transports. While transports can serve as a temporary lifesaving measure for the very small number of shelters where high intake may be difficult to handle locally, in practice it is a money-making shell game. On the source shelter side, lazy directors can just ship animals out instead of developing the 11 No Kill Equation programs to responsibly reduce intake, provide elite level care to animals and increase live outcomes. On the destination shelter side, shelters can artificially increase their live release rates by bringing in easy to adopt animals. Additionally, destination shelters make significant amounts of money fundraising off transports and adopting out the animals for high fees.

Most disturbingly, transports harm local animals. When I volunteered at a local animal control shelter, the facility housed lots of large dogs (many of which came from the community) for years in tiny cages and crates. At the same time, the shelter transported in hundreds of easy to adopt puppies each year. When people came to the shelter, the individuals flocked to the puppies and ignored the adult dogs rotting away in tiny cages and crates. Similarly, when we went to adoption events, people ignored the adult dogs and adopted the puppies from our organization and other shelters and rescues. In one memorable instance, a young couple, who volunteered and loved the many suffering adult dogs, “fell in love” with a puppy the shelter just took in on a transport at an adoption event we held primarily for the adult dogs. This couple would have definitely adopted an adult dog. However, this cute puppy was too difficult to resist. Thus, transport harms local animals.

The Shelter Report blog performed an analysis that supports this hypothesis. In the blog, the author found, both in the winter and during kitten season, that having more kittens available reduced adult cat adoptions. This conclusion makes intuitive sense. When stores hold “Black Friday” or other sales with highly sought after items, they only offer a small number of the desirable products to increase foot traffic that enables these stores to sell other items. In contrast, most destination shelters flood their facilities with easy to adopt transported animals that displace the local pets who need more help.

While actual data is needed to determine impacts of puppy availability on adult dog adoptions, I think it would be more significant than the kitten effect on adult cat adoptions. Society seems to view puppies as “cuter” than kittens and shelters typically quickly adopt out puppies.

Dakin Humane Society, which is located in Springfield, Massachusetts, proves transports harm local animals. In 2010, the shelter killed 40.6% of all adult dogs and 52.2% of local adult dogs if we assume it did not kill any transported adult dogs. In 2019, those figures were 44.6% and 51.9%. Those death rates further increased to 61.5% and 62.7% in 2020. On the cat side, Dakin Humane Society killed 32.6% of all adult cats in 2010, when it did not transport in cats, and killed 21.0% (23.3% of local adult cats assuming the shelter did not kill transported adult cats) and 29.4% (33.3% of local cats using the same assumption) of adult cats in 2019 and 2020. However, when we compare this data to the New Jersey Animal Shelters and Connecticut shelters above (which transported in a much smaller percentage of animals), we clearly see how the New Jersey and Connecticut shelters significantly decreased their kill rates over this time period while the mass transporting Dakin Humane Society increased their dog kill rate and had their cat kill rate stay flat/decrease much less. Thus, Dakin Humane Society’s mass transport program hurt local animals in need.

Most importantly, transports devalue the lives of local animals. If an organization is willing to bring in dogs and cats from hundreds or even thousands of miles away, what does that say about how much value the organization places on animals in its own community or even its shelter? Clearly, those animals lives don’t matter as much. Given the data above shows local animals’ live release rates increase when animal intake decreases, which is likely due to shelters being able to divert more time, resources and focus on these pets, transport harms these animals. Furthermore, shelter breeding programs would offer more desirable animals than transports and would hurt local pets even more.

Mass Transporters and Pro Killing Zealots Push Shelter Breeding

Joyce Briggs, who is the most vocal proponent of shelter breeding, started her animal welfare career working in a high level marketing and public relations position at American Humane Association during the mid to late 1990s. Nathan Winograd wrote many articles highlighting American Humane Association’s decades long pattern of supporting animal killing and abuse. For example, the organization frequently held “training” sessions at regressive shelters where American Humane Association killed animals. Additionally, American Humane Association had conference sessions “teaching” people not to feel bad about needlessly killing these animals. Furthermore, American Humane Association gets paid to certify “no animals were harmed” in various films. However, Nathan Winograd asserted animals were in fact harmed in cases, such as 27 animals dying in one film. In another instance, an animal nearly drowned and the American Humane Association inspector said “I think this goes without saying but DON’T MENTION IT TO ANYONE, ESPECIALLY THE OFFICE! I have downplayed the f— out of it.” Furthermore, American Humane Association gets paid by factory farms and slaughterhouses to receive their humane seal of approval. No wonder a prosecutor Nathan Winograd conversed with stated “From being the protectors of animals they’ve become complicit to animal cruelty.” Thus, Joyce Briggs started her animal welfare career off in a key position at an organization that harmed animals and allowed the infliction of violence towards animals in exchange for money.

Ms. Briggs went on to become the Executive Director of another animal exploiting operation called PetSmart Charities. While PetSmart Charities is technically separate from PetSmart, PetSmart Charities is nothing more than a public relations arm and money making vehicle for PetSmart. In 2021 and 2020, 32% and 34% of PetSmart Charities’ revenues came from PetSmart. Why would PetSmart give $26 to $27 million a year to a “charity?” To provide PetSmart customers the illusion PetSmart is doing right by animals. In reality, PetSmart profits off the sale and suffering of many small animals. Furthermore, PetSmart does not allow pit bulls to go to its “Day Camps” or “Play Groups” despite the widespread belief that people and organizations should treat all dogs as individuals. Thus, Joyce Briggs led an organization that enabled PetSmart to profit off the harming of animals and spreading of anti-pit bull bias.

Joyce Briggs created and ran a massive transport program at PetSmart Charities while destination regions still killed large numbers of animals. In 2004, Ms. Briggs launched the “Rescue Waggin” program. Over its 13 year life, the program transported 60,000 of dogs primarily from southern to northern states. While PetSmart Charities claimed “no animals are ever displaced at destination shelters to make room for incoming dogs”, the reality is the organization transported dogs to regions where shelters still killed many animals. In 2004, New Jersey and Connecticut animal shelters killed 43.5% and 11.8% of impounded dogs and cats. In 2006, New Jersey animal shelters killed 23.7% and 51.7% of all impounded dogs and cats. Thus, Joyce Briggs’ Rescue Waggin program transported massive numbers dogs to regions where shelters still killed significant numbers of animals.

The Rescue Waggin program had shocking incidents. The YesBiscuit! blog detailed how the SPCA of Southwest Michigan killed two dogs, which Rescue Waggin said were behaviorally sound. The shelter stated one of the dogs, Buddy, was “mouthy but very sweet.” YesBiscuit! also relayed an account from an SPCA of Southwest Michigan employee stating the shelter killed two dogs to make room for a Rescue Waggin’ transport of 20 puppies to the facility. Thus, Rescue Waggin did in fact cause the killing of local dogs and even some of the transported dogs themselves due to it working with kill shelters.

Joyce Briggs currently is the President of the Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs. Ms. Briggs states she transformed the organization from “all-volunteer” to a non-profit where she conveniently receives approximately $120,000 a year. In fact, her salary made up 44% of the Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs’ total expenses according to the organization’s 2020 Form 990. While the the Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs does do good work in facilitating the development of non-surgical sterilization techniques for dogs and cats, Ms. Briggs states the organization’s board “also supports me spending time” on the shelter breeding animals issue “knowing it’s a passion and knowing and believing it will advance animal and dog interests to do so.” In other words, the Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs board allows its President, who receives almost half the organization’s expenditures, to devote time to push the breeding shelter animals idea. Who is on this board and why would an animal sterilization group do this?

The Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs board has many former and current large and traditional animal welfare organization people. Of the 10 board members, seven, including Joyce Briggs, work or previously worked at large national or international animal welfare organizations. One of these members worked at Colorado’s Animal Assistance Foundation that refuses to give money to organizations calling themselves no kill. Thus, the Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs board is filled with people who appear comfortable with shelters killing animals.

Many traditional national animal welfare organizations also provide funding and “key strategic
and networking support” to the Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs. According to the organization’s notes to its 2018 audited financial statements, its “Council of Stakeholders” include Alley Cat Allies, the ASPCA, Best Friends, HSUS, International Cat Care, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Maddie’s Fund, Petco Foundation and PetSmart Charities. As a result, these organizations are funding and helping Joyce Briggs spend time to push for shelter breeding programs.

Joyce Briggs recently joined the Functional Dog Collaborative Board of Directors as its Treasurer. The organization’s web site states it was “founded to support the breeding and raising of purebred, outcrossed, and mixed-breed dogs while prioritizing the goals below.” Those goals generally attempt to reduce the physical health problems associated with breeding and to minimize behavior problems. While the Functional Dog Collaborative’s goals are admirable, the organization admits they conflict with what many breeders want to achieve (i.e. limited genetic diversity to breed for specific physical traits). In other words, the Functional Dog Collaborative appears to want to continue selective breeding and make it less damaging to dogs. However, the very nature of selective breeding (i.e. limiting genetic diversity to breed for specific traits) often harms the health of dogs. Unsurprisingly, several of the Functional Dog Collaborative board members and advisors are breeders or have close ties to breeding. Thus, Joyce Briggs serves on the board of an organization that is trying to encourage breeding.

The Functional Dog Collaborative inclusion of a person vocally calling for shelters to kill more dogs for “behavior” is far more concerning. Trish McMillan, who was a former director of animal behavior at the ASPCA, serves on the Functional Dog Collaborative’s Board of Directors as its Secretary. During a horrific Animal Farm Foundation video on “Behavioral Euthanasia”, she stated we should kill dogs that were aggressive towards other dogs and even ones that have high prey drives. Furthermore, she advocated for killing shelter dogs with pretty minor behavior issues since they may take up space for a long time and lead to the shelters not having perfect dogs. Even just a few weeks back, Ms. McMillan cheered the Humane Society of Utah’s decision to kill a dog that “attacked” another dog while on leash, but didn’t actually harm the animal.

Ms. McMillan’s philosophy about killing dogs is so extreme that she admits to being down with Sue Sternberg’s views. Sue Sternberg created the infamous “Assess-A-Pet” temperament test that killed and continues to kill huge numbers of dogs across the country. Even worse, Ms. Sternberg gives lectures advocating for shelters to kill many dogs, and pit bulls in particular. In an article Trish McMillan wrote and referenced during the Animal Farm Foundation video, she clearly stated her alignment with Sue Sternberg:

I’ve come a lot more in line with Sue Sternberg’s philosophy that shelters should be where people come to get the best dogs, not to become expert trainers or to have their bank accounts drained.

In a recent podcast, the Functional Dog Collaborative founder, Jessica Hekman, showed her cards in stating she was down with Trish McMillan’s killing many more shelter dogs idea:

I also have been talking with and watching the work of Trish McMillan, who has a lot of interesting things to say about the state of behavior issues in dogs coming out of shelters in the U.S. Obviously when I say that, I do not by any means mean 100 percent of the dogs coming out of shelters, but that she’s seeing an increase in the number of really severe behavior cases. So she does a lot of work around behavioral euthanasia, particularly with dogs coming out of shelters and rescues. All of that started coming together in my head into one thing: the problems with finding a good dog, basically.

AND

This is really what Trish McMillan is grappling with. This is a lot of the work that she’s doing right now, just talking about … she calls it “outsourcing behavioral euthanasia” that she feels that a lot of rescues are not willing to do the hard work of saying, “These animals are not appropriate to place into pet homes and actually there isn’t a place for them.” That euthanasia part is so hard, and I hate talking about it because it sounds like I’m saying we need to kill more dogs.

In reality, a University of Denver study found that severe dog bites did not increase in Austin during the time its dog live release rate skyrocketed to a very high number. Thus, the implication that saving all treatable dogs and public safety are not compatible is simply not true.

If the pro-killing culture of the Functional Dog Collaborative wasn’t bad enough, the organization had no other than Sue Sternberg herself on its Advisory Board until recently. Ms. Sternberg has stated she is down with shelter breeding. In a frightening video, Ms. Sternberg said shelters should not adopt out pit bulls to families with small children by asserting their tails could knock someone’s teeth out.

While I cannot confirm these allegations, I have heard people claim Sue Sternberg publicly calling for shelters to kill many more dogs in the northeast. Specifically, I’ve seen allegations here and here stating Ms. Sternberg wants shelters to kill 75% or more of dogs in the northeast. Most disturbing, many people, including someone I know, pointed to Sue Sternberg seminars where she quickly concluded people should could kill dogs that didn’t seem to have any significant problems.

Sue Sternberg still has these sociopathic and psychopathic views. The rabid anti-pit bull organization, dogbites.org, gleefully shared and analyzed Ms. Sternberg’s Fall 2020 “seminar” at Long Island’s Oyster Bay Animal Shelter. During this “seminar”, Sue Sternberg quickly agreed with the killing of dogs for absurd reasons. For example, Sue Sternberg applauded the killing of a dog named Precious, which caused public outrage, for fence fighting. And how did Sue Sternberg come to that conclusion? Precious showed too much “arousal” and “frustration” as a “fighting stock guarding breed” and she was too “game bred” due to her playing too aggressively with a stuffed animal dog:

Savocchi asks if it is valid for animal “advocates” to say, “Any dog will fight through a fence.” And that Savocchi should not negatively score a dog for fence fighting(1:04)

“No,” Sternberg said. “This is what happens when people only see fighting stock guarding breeds and mixes in the shelters, who have such dog aggression and such arousal and frustration problems, that this becomes normal,” she said. “This is not normal. This is not what dogs do … a normal dog will fence fight and there is no contact. It’s all display” (posturing and noises). Referring to Ruby and Precious, due to their genetics, “there is no place where they are able to be with access to their instincts because they’re not bred as dogs. There is no way to fulfill them. It’s a cruelty to keep them alive. There is no way to provide the enrichment that they would really need in a safe way.”

(1:11) There was a protest after Precious was euthanized. Protesters said, “She’s a good dog. She just needs to go to a house without other animals.” After watching the Dog-to-Dog test, Sternberg goes into the concept of “game” and being “game bred.” Precious was not playing with the stuffed dog — play is reciprocal. “What she is showing, her motor patterns, all of her behaviors are to kill. She’s not doing it out of anger.” She added, “These dogs do not belong in our communities. When shelters place these dogs or send them to rescue and they get loose and hurt somebody else’s dog or a person? The emotional and financial liability? It’s so irresponsible. It’s got to stop. This is all in the name of a complete lack of knowledge of normal dog behavior, and a complete lack of knowledge of the limitations of behavior modification and of dog training.”

Sue Sternberg also stated the following about pit bulls:

You should be afraid of these dogs. These dogs are predators. These dogs are dangerous, the highest level of aggression and risk.

Ms. Sternberg also cheered on the killing of a small intact male pit bull seized from a squatter house. Using Sue Sternberg’s infamous, and scientifically invalid, food guarding test, the dog lightly nipped at the hand after being harassed. In response, Sue Sternberg stated the following in response to the shelter’s trainer asking if she should have rehabilitated the dog:

“No,” Sternberg answers. “You can’t change these aggression thresholds. This isn’t a food bowl issue. This is a resource guarding, a guarding issue. This is a guard dog. Here’s the thing, you neuter him, his appetite goes up. Now, he is worse, if that is even possible. No, this level of resource guarding is so serious. That dog, no sociability to humans. These are really dangerous combinations. These are not pet dogs. So dangerous.”

In reality, scientific studies prove food guarding in a shelter often doesn’t even happen in a home and most people can manage it (i.e. leave dog alone when eating) when it does occur. Of course, that would interfere with Sue Sternberg’s psychotic god complex to kill the many dogs she hates. Therefore, she ignores it. Simply put, the animal welfare community must ostracize the Functional Dog Collaborative for having anything to do with this maniac.

Roger Haston also is pushing the pet shortage panic. In 2019, Mr. Haston infuriated the animal welfare community when he went on a speaking tour where he expressed anti-pit bull views and told shelters to kill more animals. Furthermore, Roger Haston’s views were shaped by a deeply flawed model he previously presented. In 2015, Mr. Haston commented on a vicious anti-no kill blog by Michigan Humane’s CEO by stating “Fantastic Article.” After Nathan Winograd and Animal Farm Foundation strongly criticized Roger Haston’s 2019 presentation, Mr. Haston resigned from his high level position at PetSmart Charities and formed a consulting firm called The Institute for Animals.

Roger Haston recently put together another model to estimate the future supply and demand for dogs in the country. Once again, I have serious concerns about this model. It used unreliable animal shelter data primarily from Shelter Animals Count (see issues above). Additionally, Mr. Haston’s assumed puppy intake at shelters is a proxy for puppies in the community (I’d argue people are less likely to surrender puppies than adult dogs) and owner microchip rates would massively increase in the future. Overall, these assumptions would understate the supply of dogs to meet demand. Unsurprisingly, Roger Haston used this model’s results to argue for shelters and breeders to “work together”:

We never thought we would be here,” Haston said, adding that he believes breeders and shelters will have to work together to figure out where dogs will come from to meet the demand, and how to produce them humanely.

I think we are, on both sides of the equation, ill-prepared,” Haston said. “It’s going to force us to have to have a lot of conversations that maybe weren’t traditionally in our realm that will be uncomfortable for all of us.

The mass transporting and high kill Dakin Humane Society also is down with the “pet shortage” story. In an article from last year, the organization cites Roger Haston’s model to claim a pet shortage exists and transport isn’t enough. It should come as no surprise Dakin Humane Society’s Director of Operations. Karina King, will present at the upcoming HSUS Expo shelter breeding session. In a 2016 HSUS Expo article, this very same person claimed she desperately needed transport since she only had one “one dog available for adoption.” What Ms. King failed to mention is her shelter killed 445 dogs and 36% of all adult dogs the facility took in that year.

The wealthy and high kill Massachusetts SPCA also is down with shelters breeding animals. In a recent Facebook post by Austin Pets Alive Director, Kristen Hassen, Mike Keiley, Massachusetts SPCA Director of Adoption Centers and Programs, stated New England shelters discussed the issue for “30+ years” and “we cannot possibly import dogs fast enough and with enough diversity to satisfy the adoption market” to argue for shelter breeding. What Mr. Keiley failed to mention were his very “adoption centers” catastrophic death rates of 37% to 74% for all dogs, 39% to 76% for adult dogs, 6% to 27% for cats and 8% to 33% for adult cats.

At the same time, Massachusetts SPCA is extremely wealthy. The organization took in $89 million of revenue, with a $12 million profit, in 2020 and and had $142 million of net assets per its 2020 Form 990. When we look at the organization’s 2020 audited financial statements, nearly 80% of that revenue comes from its health and hospital services. These hospital services don’t just include caring for poor folks’ animals, but also offer state of art treatment for people who could easily afford to go to other high end animal hospitals. Where does a lot of Massachusetts SPCA’s revenues go? To its highly compensated executives. In 2020, the two people serving as CEO during the year received $867,033 from the organization (the person serving as the only CEO in 2019 made $777,830). Thus, Massachusetts SPCA is money making scam for its high end executives and a death trap for homeless animals unlucky to find themselves entering Mike Keiley’s “adoption centers.”

Austin Pets Alive and Best Friends Community Sheltering Programs Will Transform Shelters into Pet Stores

Austin Pets Alive and Best Friends are strongly advocating for their Human Animal Support Services (HASS) and community sheltering programs. Under these programs, shelters only take animals in on an emergency basis, such as serious bite cases and severely injured animals, and do not bring in stray and owner surrendered animals. Instead, the public is forced to do the work shelters previously did. While Austin Pets Alive and Best Friends argue shelters will assist people in these efforts, experience shows many shelters simply dump the problem on the public. In fact, El Paso, Texas terminated its HASS program after public outrage resulting from abandoned animals dying on the streets.

While HASS promotional pieces argue shelters can use this empty animal holding space for good uses, such as more expansive kennels and larger adoption counseling areas, this is hopelessly naive. If governments have no animals to house, they will simply stop funding shelters. Therefore, animal control shelters will close or become significantly smaller unless these organizations find new revenue sources.

Shelters will become pet stores if HASS/community sheltering becomes the norm and the pet shortage/breeding idea wins out. While the idea may seem farfetched, it has happened with transport. A decade ago, Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter contracted with numerous municipalities and killed scores of them. At the same time, the shelter transported tons of easy to adopt pets from the south. Why did the borough of Helmetta do this? To bring in revenue to lower taxes. Similarly, private shelters, such as Dakin Humane Society and St. Hubert’s, do similar things albeit without the animal cruelty charges that Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter had. Even though empty shelters could have more than enough pets to adopt out for decades by transporting animals in from other countries, this would cost more due to longer traveling distances and more stringent disease control policies for international dogs. Additionally, breeding will provide the public even more “desirable” dogs than any transport could yield. Furthermore, for people like Trish McMillan and Sue Sternberg, who want to kill any dog that doesn’t fit their submissive and supplicant ideal, breeding dogs in this way will be preferable. Thus, the combination of HASS/community sheltering and the pet shortage ideas winning out will transform shelters into pet stores.

Respect for Life Must Be the Future of Animal Welfare

Shelters should use declining intake to put more focus and resources into animals dying in shelters. When shelters first achieved 90% live release rates over a decade ago, savable animals still lost their lives based on the standards of today. Specifically, the respect for life culture of many individuals utilized advances in animal behavior science and veterinary medicine to save animals previously considered “untreatable.” Eileen McFall of the Final Frontier Rescue Project, which has been at the forefront of saving previously unadoptable behavior dogs in Austin, Texas, recently stated she believes only 1 in 5,000 or fewer shelter dogs truly have unfixable/unmanageable behavior problems. Yet even the best no kill animal control shelters still take the lives of around 1 in 500 dogs for behavior. In other words, we should focus our efforts to save the lives of animals who are still falling through the cracks by developing programs and techniques to address their needs. Thus, shelters must make respect for life of the animals in their care the key focus of their activities.

Nathan Winograd also articulated a broader respect for life approach shelters can take in his recent podcast. Using his work at the San Francisco SPCA in the 1990s as an example, Mr. Winograd envisions a world where shelters proactively attend government meetings and address issues in real time. For example, Nathan Winograd cited an example where the San Francisco SPCA stopped a plan to use glue traps in government buildings and instead rodent proofed the facilities to solve a pest problem. Similarly, I could see shelters working to resolve wildlife conflicts without resorting to killing the animals. Also, shelters can proactively work with pet owners in the community to solve behavior, medical and other problems long before the issues could result in the owners surrendering their animals. Finally, shelters can continue to support retail pet store bans and additional legislation to curb cruel breeding operations. As a result, shelters can spread the respect for life culture far beyond their walls.

On the other hand, the pet shortage pushers disrespect life. Instead of viewing shelters as places to save the lives of homeless animals, the pet shortage proponents want to use these facilities to sell puppies to meet their view of market demand. Of course, good shelters have long altered this market demand by appealing to the public’s deep desire to save lives. Unfortunately, that doesn’t matter to the pet shortage pushers who have long profited off the killing (or enabling) of animals in need. Even worse, folks like Trish McMillan and Sue Sternberg, are on some perverse quest to kill animals and even huge swaths of the dog population. Thus, the pet shortage pushers show a complete and utter disrespect for life.

The pet shortage idea is just another example of the animals welfare industry harming animals. In Nathan Winograd’s recent podcast series “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: Animal Sheltering in the United States”, Mr. Winograd outlined how shelters abandoned the movement’s initial goal of animal protection in favor of profit. After ASPCA founder, Henry Bergh, died in 1888, the ASPCA and other animal protection organizations took over pound contracts and killed animals for money (albeit in a less cruel manner). Subsequently, the animal welfare industry created myths, such as blaming the public, to justify it killing animals for money. Even when lifesaving alternatives existed, such as subsidized high volume spay/neuter, TNR and high powered adoption programs, the animal welfare industry opposed them for long periods of time. Is it any wonder that people who accumulated wealth and notoriety in this system would not respect the lives of animals?

Austin Pets Alive Director, Kristen Hassen, seems to want to have a “conversation” with the pet shortage pushers even if she appears to oppose shelters breeding animals. I disagree. You don’t have a “conversation” with people who have no respect for the lives of animals. You do not talk with people who profit off the killing of animals. Certainly, you do not have a “discussion” with psychopaths like Sue Sternberg, Trish McMillan and the people elevating those two individuals. Instead, you destroy their arguments and crush this idiotic idea before it takes hold.

Joyce Briggs describes herself as a “game-changer” and “serial collaborator” in her Linkedin profile. Animals and their lives are not a “game” and even if they were I wouldn’t want Ms. Briggs to “change” it based on her track record. Collaborating with people like Sue Sternberg and Trish McMillan should disqualify Joyce Briggs from being part of any serious “conversation” in animal welfare. Instead, Joyce Briggs should retire and her shelter breeding idea should never see the light of day.

*This blog’s cover photo is courtesy of: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:French_Bulldog_with_puppies.jpg#/media/File:French_Bulldog_with_puppies.jpg

Humane Rescue Alliance’s Horrible High Kill Shelter

Years ago I thought Humane Rescue Alliance was a progressive no kill shelter. At that time, the organization was called Washington Humane Society and was the animal control shelter in Washington DC. Based on a blog from a former no kill advocate and Washington Humane Society’s claims of having around a 90% live release rate in news stories, I thought the organization might be on the cusp of becoming a no kill leader.

When I examined the shelter more closely, I found Washington Humane Society’s claims were completely untrue. In 2016, I visited the organization’s New York Avenue shelter in Washington DC and noticed something was off. Despite it being a weekend, the shelter had virtually no one visiting. When one coupled the lack of foot traffic and the small size of the shelter, it was impossible to believe Washington Humane Society saved around 90% of their animals. After obtaining the organization’s 2016 animal shelter statistics, I found the shelter only had 69% dog and 81% cat live release rates. Thus, Washington Humane Society completely lied about their live release rates.

Washington Humane Society took over two other organizations in recent years. In 2016, the organization merged with Washington Animal Rescue League, another large shelter in Washington DC, and Washington Humane Society CEO, Lisa LaFontaine, became the leader of the new organization called Humane Rescue Alliance. In 2019, Humane Rescue Alliance merged with St. Hubert’s, which is located in New Jersey, and Lisa LaFontaine and her executive team took control of that organization.

Humane Rescue Alliance significantly increased their executives’ compensation after the mergers. In 2014, Lisa LaFontaine received $229,618 in total compensation. Ms. LaFontaine’s compensation increased to $254,192 in 2015, which was the year before the organization took over Washington Animal Rescue League, and its possible the 11% bump in compensation reflected the expectation that a merger would happen. By 2018, which was the year before the St. Hubert’s merger, Lisa LaFontaine’s compensation jumped to $364,494. In 2019, Ms. LaFontaine’s compensation rose to $382,010. From 2014 to 2019, the Chief Operating Officer, Stephanie Swain, had her compensation nearly double from $106,627 to $209,403. In total, the “highly compensated employees” in the Form 990 received $559,128 in 2014 and $1,214,726 in 2019. This 217% bump in executive compensation likely understates the true increase as 2014, but not 2019, included the organization’s head veterinarian, and Humane Rescue Alliance has many other executives not included in the Form 990s. As a result, Humane Rescue Alliance’s leadership profited from the mergers.

Have Humane Rescue Alliance’s mergers and resulting increases in executive compensation helped Washington DC’s animals? What kind of job is Humane Rescue Alliance doing in Washington DC?

Data Reviewed

In order to get a better understanding of the job Humane Rescue Alliance did recently, I obtained the intake and disposition records for each individual dog and cat the shelter took in during both 2020 and 2019 from Washington DC. Since I obtained records for animals that came in during these years, some outcomes occurred in a subsequent year. You can find those records here. Additionally, I obtained supporting records for a selection of dogs and cats the shelter killed during the two years. You can find those here and here.

Deadly Dog Data

Humane Rescue Alliance had large percentages of dogs lose their lives in 2020 and 2019. Overall, 29% of all dogs, 33% of pit bull like dogs, 27% of small dogs (under 30 pounds) and 27% of other medium to large dogs who had known outcomes lost their lives. If we just look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners, 38% of all dogs, 41% of pit bull like dogs, 37% of small dogs and 35% of other medium to large dogs lost their lives. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance killed large percentages of the dogs it took in during 2020 and 2019.

Humane Rescue Alliance performed similarly with dogs in 2019. Overall, 28% of all dogs, 34% of pit bull like dogs, 23% of small dogs and 27% of other medium to large dogs who had known outcomes lost their lives. If we just look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners, 37% of all dogs, 42% of pit bull like dogs, 32% of small dogs and 34% of other medium to large dogs lost their lives.

Despite taking in significantly fewer dogs during 2020, Humane Rescue Alliance’s 2020 statistics were actually slightly worse than its 2019 ones. In 2020, animal shelters took less dogs in due to the pandemic. Humane Rescue Alliance took in 860 or 28% fewer dogs in during 2020 compared to 2019. Overall, 30% of all dogs, 31% of pit bull like dogs, 32% of small dogs and 27% of other medium to large dogs who had known outcomes lost their lives. If we just look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners, 39% of all dogs, 39% of pit bull like dogs, 42% of small dogs and 37% of other medium to large dogs lost their lives. While Shelter Animals Count reported government run shelters and private shelters with municipal contracts decreased their dog death rates from 14.1% and 13.3% in 2019 to 12.0% and 13.0%, Humane Rescue Alliance’s dog death rate increased from an already high 28% to 30% over these same periods.

Small dogs were not safe at Humane Rescue Alliance. The shelter had 23% of all small dogs and 32% of nonreclaimed small dogs lose their lives in 2019. In 2020, those metrics further increased to 32% and 42%. Frankly, shelters should be able to save nearly all small dogs due to the fact such animals cannot seriously injure dog savvy adult owners. Even the Elizabeth Animal Shelter, which is far from a progressive facility, only euthanized 1% of small dogs and 1% of nonreclaimed small dogs in 2017.

Humane Rescue Alliance killed a much greater percentage of dogs than other large kill shelters. New York ACC, which I found was extremely regressive and ACCT Philly, which made major headlines as a terrible shelter, are not good organizations. As you can see in the following table, Humane Rescue Alliance’s dog death rates were around 1.4 to 1.5 times and 2.2 to 2.7 times higher than New York ACC’s and ACCT Philly’s dog death rates for all three periods examined. Even worse, Humane Rescue Alliance’s nonreclaimed dog death rates were 1.5 to 1.7 times and 2.5-3.0 times higher than New York ACC’s and ACCT Philly’s corresponding metrics for all three periods. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance did far worse than other large high kill shelters in the region.

Humane Rescue Alliance’s data is even worse when we compare it to large progressive animal control shelters. As the table below shows, Humane Rescue Alliance had dog death rates ranging from 3 to 47 times higher than the progressive animal control shelters’ death rates. Similarly, Humane Rescue Alliance’s nonreclaimed dog death rates were 3 to 40 times higher than the corresponding metrics from the progressive animal control organizations. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance performed shockingly bad.

The 2020 dog data painted a similar picture. Overall, Humane Rescue Alliance had dog death rates and nonreclaimed dog death rates that were 4.2 to 15.9 times and 4.3 to 13.6 times higher than the progressive animal control shelters.

Senior Dog Slaughter

Older dogs lost their lives in massive numbers at Humane Rescue Alliance in 2020 and 2019. Overall, Humane Rescue Alliance had 63% of all dogs, 77% of pit bull like dogs, 57% of small dogs and 67% of other medium and large dogs that were 10 years and older lose their lives in 2020 and 2019. If we just look at nonreclaimed dogs, an astonishing 76% of all dogs, 88% of pit bull like dogs, 70% of small dogs and 84% of other medium and large dogs that were 10 years and older lost their lives in 2020 and 2019. While senior dogs are more likely to be hopelessly suffering, its simply inconceivable that around 70% to 90% of these nonreclaimed dogs were in this state of health.

Humane Rescue Alliance’s senior dog slaughter becomes apparent when we compare its performance to no kill animal control shelters. Based on Austin Animal Center’s publicly reported 2018 intake and disposition records, this shelter only had 4% and 8% of all 10 year old plus dogs and nonreclaimed 10 years old plus dogs lose their lives in 2018. Similarly, Williamson County Animal Shelter in Texas only had 5% and 10% of their 10 years old plus dogs lose their lives in 2019. As a result, Humane Rescue Alliance had senior dogs and nonreclaimed senior dogs lose their lives at 13-16 times and 8-10 times Austin Animal Center’s and Williamson County Animal Shelter’s rates.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Humane Rescue Alliance’s killed an even greater percentage of senior dogs than New York ACC in 2018. At the time, I reported New York ACC’s 10 years and older dog and nonreclaimed death rates were 58% and 64%. Despite these rates being sky high, Humane Rescue Alliance’s corresponding rates of 63% and 76% in 2020 and 2019 were significantly higher.

Middle aged dogs also fared poorly at Humane Rescue Alliance. Overall, Humane Rescue Alliance had 28% of all dogs, 39% of pit bull like dogs, 18% of small dogs and 32% of other medium and large dogs that were 5-9 years old lose their lives in 2020 and 2019. If we just look at nonreclaimed dogs, an incredible 40% of all dogs, 50% of pit bull like dogs, 27% of small dogs and 48% of other medium and large dogs that were 5-9 years old lost their lives in 2020. Thus, around half of middle aged pit bulls and other medium and large dogs that were 5-9 years old and needed a new home lost their lives at Humane Rescue Alliance in 2020 and 2019.

Excessive Dog Killing

Humane Rescue Alliance killed large numbers of dogs for several reasons in 2020 and 2019. As the table below shows, the shelter killed 19.6% of all dogs for “owner-requested euthanasia”, 7.1% for behavior and 1.7% for medical reasons. For pit bill like dogs, Humane Rescue Alliance killed 18.0% for “owner-requested euthanasia”, 12.6% for behavior and 1.1% for medical reasons. The shelter killed 22.1% of small dogs for “owner-requested euthanasia”, 1.1% for behavior and 2.8% for medical reasons. Humane Rescue Alliance killed 19.2% of other dogs for “owner-requested euthanasia”, 5.6% for behavior and 1.4% for medical reasons. When looking at 2020 and 2019 separately, “owner requested euthanasia” was even higher in 2020 (21.8% of all dogs, 18.7% of pit bulls, 26.8% of small dogs and 20.6% of other medium to large dogs) and killing for behavior was greater in 2019 (7.9% of all dogs, 14.5% of pit bulls, 2.8% of small dogs and 6.1% of other medium to large dogs).

Humane Rescue Alliance killed an even greater percentage of senior dogs for owner requested euthanasia. Overall, the shelter killed an astonishing 57.5%, 71.6%, 51.8% and 61.5% of 10 years old and older dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large dogs for “owner-requested euthanasia.”

Outrageous “Owner Requested Euthanasia” Numbers

The shelter’s “owner-requested euthanasia” figures of 19.6%, 21.8% and 18.1% for 2020 and 2019, 2020, and 2019 were by far the highest I ever tabulated. New York ACC killed 14.1%, 16.5% and 12.5% of dogs for “owner-requested euthanasia” over the same periods. ACCT Philly only killed 5.5%, 5.2% and 5.8% of its dogs for “owner-requested euthanasia” over 2020 and 2019, 2020, and 2019. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance killed a much greater percentage of dogs for “owner-requested euthanasia” than other regressive animal control shelters in large cities on the eastern seaboard.

Humane Rescue Alliance’s owner requested euthanasia numbers are even worse when we compare them to KC Pet Project. While KC Pet Project ranked low in my “respect for life” grades for dogs in my blog on the nation’s top animal control shelters, the shelter has many progressive policies and took in 1.85 times more dogs in total and 2.6 times as many dogs per 1,000 human residents in 2019 than Humane Rescue Alliance. KC Pet Project’s 2019 owner requested euthanasia numbers were 1.1% for all dogs, 1.0% for pit bulls, 1.4% for small dogs and 1.0% for other medium to large dogs. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance killed all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large dogs for owner-requested euthanasia at 13-18 times the rate of another large city shelter.

The shelter also killed a much greater percentage of dogs brought in for owner-requested euthanasia than Pima Animal Care Center. Specifically, Humane Rescue Alliance killed 1,028 out of 1,062 dogs or 97% of such dogs in 2020 and 2019. When we add 20 of these dogs who died, the shelter had an astounding 99% of dogs brought in for owner requested euthanasia lose their lives in 2020 and 2019. In fact, the shelter only adopted out and transferred six or 0.6% and four or 0.4% of these 1,062 dogs. As a comparison, the former Pima Animal Care Center Executive Director stated at the 2020 American Pets Alive Conference that her shelter only had 15% of their dogs brought in for owner requested euthanasia lose their lives. Since Humane Rescue Alliance uses the “Asilomar Accords” that exclude owner requested euthanasia from its live release rate calculations, the organization may have even encouraged or required owners to sign off on their surrenders as owner-requested euthanasia. As a result, Humane Rescue Alliance made virtually no effort to save dogs brought in for owner requested euthanasia and may have even encouraged or required some owners to sign off on it.

Excessive Killing for Behavior and Medical Reasons

Humane Rescue Alliance killed a greater percentage of dogs for behavior than two other regressive New Jersey kill shelters I previously examined. As you can see in the table below, Humane Rescue Alliance killed 7.9% of its dogs for behavior compared to 3.9% and 6.2% of dogs at Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility (other dog and pit bull data from prior blog adjusted to include American bulldogs in pit bulls to make an apples to apples comparison). While Humane Rescue Alliance’s pit bull and small dog behavior killing percentage was lower than Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility, this is likely due to Humane Rescue Alliance classifying many behavior killings as “owner-requested euthanasia.” Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance killed a greater percentage of dogs with treatable behaviors than these two regressive New Jersey shelters.

When we compare Humane Rescue Alliance’s behavior killing to progressive animal control shelters, we can see the true extent of this organization’s kill first attitude. Overall, Humane Rescue Alliance killed dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other dogs at 3-20 times, 4-16 times, 2-11 times and 3-15 times the rates of the progressive animal control shelters. Additionally, three of the progressive animal control shelters did not kill a single small dog for behavior while Humane Rescue Alliance killed 1.1% of such dogs for behavior. In my view, no shelter should ever kill a small dog for behavior given such animals can be safely managed in the right home. As mentioned above, these differences would be far greater if Humane Rescue Alliance broke out the behavior killings included in its owner-requested euthanasia numbers. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance killed way too many dogs for bogus behavior reasons.

Humane Rescue Alliance’s percentage of dogs killed for medical reasons technically fell between the two regressive New Jersey shelters percentages, but Humane Rescue Alliance likely killed a higher proportion of dogs for health reasons in practice. As the table below shows, Humane Rescue Alliance killed a smaller percentage of dogs for medical reasons than Franklin Township Animal Shelter and a greater proportion than Ocean County Animal Facility (except for pit bulls). However, when we take into account the massive numbers of owner-requested euthanasia, a good portion of which would be for medical reasons, its highly likely Humane Rescue Alliance killed a greater percentage of dogs for medical reasons than both shelters.

The best no kill animal control shelters also killed far fewer dogs for medical reasons than Humane Rescue Alliance. While the two progressive shelters that had less respect for life did technically kill more dogs for medical reasons, this is likely due to Humane Rescue Alliance classifying many dogs killed for health reasons as owner-requested euthanasia. Therefore, Humane Rescue likely killed more dogs for medical reasons when you count those animals. Humane Rescue Alliance killed 1.8 to 4.5 times as many dogs, 1.8 times as many pit bulls, 2.3-7.0 times as many small dogs and 2.1 times to 4.8 times as many other medium to large dogs as the best shelters in the table below. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance killed way too many dogs for treatable medical reasons.

Quick and Immediate Dog Killing

Humane Rescue Alliance’s dog length of stay data revealed the shelter quickly killed dogs. Specifically, the shelter killed all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large dogs after 7.2 days, 10.4 days, 3.2 days and 5.8 days on average in 2020 and 2019 (each of the two years were similar). Clearly, this is not nearly enough time to determine if the shelter can save these animals.

When we look at the average length of stay of killed dogs for various reasons, we see Humane Rescue Alliance quickly killed dogs. Overall, Humane Rescue Alliance killed dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large dogs for “owner-requested euthanasia” after just 2.1 days, 3.5 days, 1.1 days and 1.6 days. The shelter killed dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large dogs for behavior after 21.0 days, 19.3 days, 37.9 days and 19.4 days. Finally, Humane Rescue Alliance killed dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large dogs for medical reasons after 7.8 days, 8.7 days, 7.1 days and 8.3 days. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance hardly made any effort to save the dogs it killed.

The shelter’s detailed reasons for killing also show it quickly killed dogs for silly reasons. As the table below shows, the shelter killed 72 dogs, 55 pit bulls, 1 small dog and 16 other medium to large dogs for animal aggression in 2020 and 2019. Humane Rescue Alliance killed these dogs after just 21.1 days, 19.8 days, 37.7 days and 24.4 days. Given rescues saved 47 out of the 51 Michael Vick fighting dogs, shelters can save almost all dogs with animal aggression issues. Therefore, this amount of killing and the quickness of it is terrible. The shelter also killed dogs for dubious reasons, such as dog reactivity (after 5.7 days), being scared (after an average of 19.9 days), resource guarding (after an average of 11.5 days) and separation anxiety (after an average of 1.0 to 13.4 days). Notably only three or 0.06% of 5,197 dogs and three or 0.1% out of 2,128 pit bulls were deemed by courts as dangerous (i.e. shelter is required to kill these animals). Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance quickly killed dogs for frivolous reasons.

Humane Rescue Alliance killed senior dogs even more quickly. Overall, the shelter killed 10 years and older dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large dogs after just 1.6 days, 1.2 days, 1.9 days and 1.4 days on average in 2020 and 2019. When we couple this with the shelter killing 76%-88% of nonreclaimed 10 years and older dogs, we can see the shelter almost immediately killed nearly all its senior dogs.

The shelter’s quick killing of senior dogs for “owner-requested euthanasia” and pit bulls for behavior was astonishing. Overall, Overall, Humane Rescue Alliance killed 10 years and older dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large dogs for “owner-requested euthanasia” after just 0.8 days, 0.7 days, 0.7 days and 1.0 days on average in 2020 and 2019. Also, the shelter killed 10 years and older pit bulls for behavior after just 12.7 days on average during this time period. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance gave these senior dogs virtually no chance to get adopted.

While the average length of stay data is revealing, the distribution of the lengths of stay of the dogs killed is eye opening. Remarkably, Humane Rescue Alliance killed 51% of the dogs it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. 66% of the dogs Humane Rescue Alliance killed occurred within three days or less. Humane Rescue Alliance killed 80%, 90% and 95% of the dogs it killed within 8, 17 and 35 days. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance gave the dogs it killed virtually no chance to become adoptable.

The distribution of the lengths of stay of dogs killed for “owner requested euthanasia” at Humane Rescue Alliance in 2020 and 2019 is even worse. Humane Rescue Alliance killed 71% of these owner surrendered dogs it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. Humane Rescue Alliance killed 85%, 90%, 95% and 98% of the dogs it killed for owner requested euthanasia within 2, 5, 9 and 15 days. Therefore, Humane Rescue Alliance killed virtually every “owner-requested euthanasia” dog it killed within around two weeks.

When we look at the distribution of the lengths of stay of the senior dogs Humane Rescue Alliance killed, we can clearly see how this shelter gave these animals no chance. Humane Rescue Alliance killed 83% of the 10 years and older dogs it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. Humane Rescue Alliance killed 88%, 90%, 95% and 98% of the senior dogs it killed within 1 day, 2 days, 7 days and 13 days. In fact, Humane Rescue Alliance only killed 7 dogs or 1% of its 10 years and older dogs it killed after 18 days. Given Humane Rescue Alliance killed the vast majority of senior dogs, senior dogs arriving at the shelter faced an almost immediate death sentence.

Dogs Killed for Absurd Reasons

Taz was a 10 month old pit bull mixed surrendered to Humane Rescue Alliance on April 21, 2020 due to the owner not being able to care for Taz and another dog. Despite the owner not surrendering him for killing, Taz living with a 10 year old child and the dog having no bite history, the shelter had the owner sign Taz over as an owner-requested euthanasia “because Taz was unable to be evaluated by behavior and has a home history of growling at strangers.” As he was being surrendered, Taz was frightened as evidenced by him sitting by his owner’s legs with “his body and tail tucked”, “not wanting to leave his owner” and only doing so when the owner “helped encourage him.”

Despite Taz’s obvious fear, Humane Rescue Alliance used a catchpole to give him vaccines three days later.

Over the next couple of weeks, Humane Rescue Alliance’s behavior observations indicated this dog was not a threat to people and was a typical older puppy.

Shortly after these behavior observations, Taz went to a foster home and was returned due to a minor altercation with a dog. Specifically, Taz was on a walk and bit another dog, but did not cause any puncture wounds or draw any blood. In fact, the other dog only had some fur pulled out. After the foster apparently got upset, they returned Taz to the shelter. Upon returning to the shelter, Taz was scared.

Humane Rescue Alliance justified Taz’s fear by killing him and citing “behavior-multiple” as their reason. After the foster returned Taz, the shelter indicated Taz was still an adoption candidate and should not go to a home with another dog or kids. However, the shelter cherry picked and exaggerated Taz’s “concerning behaviors in his history” to justify killing him. Five days later the shelter cited “multiple concerning behaviors, including aggression to people and animals” despite the dog never biting people or causing any real harm to a dog.

Rumble was an 11 month old pit bull mix surrendered to Humane Rescue Alliance on January 14, 2019 due to the owner moving to a place not allowing dogs. Rumble lived with kids under and over 10 years of age, including a six year old. The owner stated he had never bitten a person or an animal. Additionally, the owner stated Rumble didn’t chase animals, people or vehicles and had no medical issues. In fact, the owner stated Rumble “acts slightly human.” Other than some minor nuisance issues, which are typical of a puppy, Rumble’s owner gave no indication Rumble had any serious problems.

Humane Rescue Alliance confirmed the owner’s assessment of Rumble 45 minutes later by stating he was “Easy to handle. Friendly, but seems stressed.”

Despite the shelter behavioral evaluations being scientific invalid and Rumble being “stressed”, Humane Rescue Alliance conducted the deeply flawed SAFER temperament test on him as soon as the dog arrived at the shelter. Even though the shelter put Rumble into a horrible situation, his evaluation wasn’t bad. The evaluator stated Rumble could “do well in a home with a dog-savvy dog that will let him settle in and build confidence” and said they should “Try in a playgroup off muzzle.”

Remarkably, Humane Rescue Alliance put the following “Urgent Note” it listed as “concerning” in his file on the same day after his evaluation. This “note”, which merely stated a person had to carry him back to the kennel after his dog introduction, contradicted the temperament test and frankly didn’t seem very “concerning.”

Humane Rescue Alliance put Rumble on “Behavior Review” after a staff member manhandled Rumble. The employee “easily leashed” Rumble to meet a potential adopter and showed no concerning behaviors. When the employee returned Rumble to his kennel, Rumble didn’t want to go back and then escaped as the staff member tried to put him in the kennel. The employee “easily leashed him” when he went after Rumble. However, this time the staff member held Rumble’s collar as the person tried to leave and the employee claimed the dog “head whipped towards my hand” and “growled” as Rumble tried to escape. Finally, the employee realized they could use a slip leash to leave without letting the dog out. The staff member said Rumble “snarled and lunged” at the kennel bars after the person was outside the kennel.

Clearly, this employee did everything wrong. First, no one should force a scared dog to do anything. Second, grabbing a dog by his collar could choke the dog and is obviously traumatic and abusive. Third, anyone who has brought large and strong dogs into kennels knows to use a slip leash from the start. Fourth, the dog’s reactions were clearly a response to stress. Fifth, the dog snarling and lunging at the bars, otherwise known as barrier aggression, has no relationship whatsoever to real aggression outside of a kennel. Sixth, Rumble was neutered just four days earlier and apparently didn’t have his e-collar on as instructed by the veterinarian. Therefore, he may still have had pain from his surgery. Finally, the employee’s account suggests they lacked experience with Rumble as they stated they “heard he was sometimes difficult to get back in his kennel.”

Humane Rescue Alliance decided to kill Rumble just two days after the incident and eight days after he arrived at the shelter. Specifically, the shelter used this incidenct to conclude that it must kill Rumble, which by all accounts was a good, young dog, for “acute/escalating arousal.” At 10:02 am on the next day, the shelter noted the owner was on their way to reclaim Rumble after calling daily about his status. While I don’t know if the owner actually came or not, the shelter killed Rumble less than three hours later. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance needlessly killed Rumble and also put him through the unnecessary stress of a neuter surgery.

Cyrus was a 2 year old pit bull mix surrendered to Humane Rescue Alliance for “owner-requested euthanasia” on March 23, 2020. According to the owner, Cyrus lived with children under 2 years old and over 10 years old, adults and other dogs. Until recently, Cyrus didn’t have any serious behavior issues. Most related to things like humping other dogs, chasing other animals and cars. However, the owner surrendered Cyrus due to him biting her daughter.

When we examine the details of the bite, we see extenuating circumstances existed. Prior to having an ear infection, Cyrus was “okay” and only then became “aggressive.” The owner noted she had to tie him to a tree on March 22, 2020 to give him medicine. On the very next day, Cyrus bit the daughter after she got up, “stood in front” of him and reached to pet him on the head. Given the great pain ear infections can cause and its normal for dogs in pain to bite, this action is no surprise. Despite Cyrus biting the victim in places that injure easily (i.e. lips, chin nose), the wounds were not serious enough to warrant medical treatment. The daughter simply cleaned the wounds after.

However, this was all that Humane Rescue Alliance needed to conclude Cyrus was not an adoption candidate just one day after arriving at the shelter. The shelter did not review the circumstances of the bite, assess his behavior, treat his ear infection and attempt to rehabilitate his behavior issues. Simply put, Humane Rescue Alliance got their coveted “owner-requested euthanasia” form signed and the shelter could exclude this killing from their phony Asilomar Live Release Rate.

After Humane Rescue Alliance informed the owner it was going to kill Cyrus, the owner was upset and requested they be with Cyrus at that time. However, the shelter would not “guarantee she would be able to be present” since the Cyrus wasn’t an immediate walk in owner-requested euthanasia and that it might conflict with the facility’s COVID protocol. I guess one of the benefits of allowing Humane Rescue Alliance to kill your pet immediately and have it excluded from their fake Asiolomar Asilomar Live Release Rate is you get to be with you dog or cat at the end of their life.

Despite being at the shelter for 11 days, Cyrus still had not received proper treatment for his ear infection. Specifically, Cyrus “continuously shook head due to ear infection.” Later that day, Humane Rescue Alliance killed Cyrus. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance made no effort to save Cyrus, did not alleviate his pain from an ear infection and didn’t even guarantee the owner that she could be there when they killed him.

Santo was a stray two year old 110 pound Cane Corso Mix that Humane Rescue Alliance impounded on August 15, 2020. Despite having a chain around his neck when found by an individual, the shelter described Santo as “super friendly and easy to handle” and “appears healthy.” Later the shelter described the dog as “leash reactive, barking and pulling”, but then said Santo was “friendly – just very energetic, appears unaware of his size and does not walk well on his leash.”

The shelter’s behavioral summary on August 21 indicated Santo was a relatively healthy and adoptable dog. Specifically he “did NOT show aggression on his dog-dog intro” and was “eager to play” with a helper dog. Similarly, the note states he was a “big, strong dog who pulls toward other dogs he sees in order to solicit play.” Additionally, the shelter was able to muzzle Santo and insert a microchip in him.

Humane Rescue Alliance’s adoption profile on August 25 similarly described Santo as “strong, sociable, and sweet.”

The shelter’s veterinary department examined Santo the next day on August 26 and noted he “walks with an odd gait” and suspected he had hip dysplasia. To treat the condition, the veterinarian prescribed the anti-inflammatory drug carprofen and recommended an adopter use this or a similar medicine.

On September 8, Humane Rescue Alliance neutered Santo and took pelvic radiographs after he received an adoption appliction. The shelter stated Santo had “severe hip dysplasia bilaterally” and total hip replacement is the gold standard treatment. However, the shelter would not perform it due to “cost constraints.” While the shelter noted it could do a cheaper femoral head ostectomy (FHO) surgery, it noted the procedure could fail.

After the neutering surgery and giving Santo pelvic radiographs, Humane Rescue Alliance scared off the adopter by stating his hips are in poor shape and he’ll need a $5,000 to $6,000 surgery and pain medicine and management can’t work for him.

Despite this setback, Humane Rescue Alliance veterinary staff recommended Santo be adopted out “as-is”. The shelter also found a foster home soon after. However, someone told shelter staff to stand down and wait for a “conversation” at the “VP level” to determine next steps.

So what did the exorbitantly compensated Humane Rescue Alliance executives decide? Despite Santo’s hips being well enough to strongly pull people holding his leash and veterinary staff recommending he be adopted out “as-is” and him being found “friendly” and adoptable, Humane Rescue Alliance’s executives decided to kill him due to “concerning behaviors along with the high cost and complex medical.” After all, if Lisa LaFontaine decided to save Santo she may have had to give up a little bit of her $382,000 compensation package.

What was Santo’s “concerning behavior?” That Santo growled at two staff members and “they were afraid” of him. However, the behavior staff evaluated Santo again the next day and concluded he was adoptable. One has to wonder if the Humane Rescue Alliance executives deciding Santo’s fate even met him. Thus, Santo’s “concerning behavior” reasoning for killing was simply cover for the exorbitantly compensated executives’ decision to kill Santo to make more money available to themselves.

On September 23, 2020 Humane Rescue Alliance gave Santo a lethal injection of Fatal Plus and killed him citing “Medical-Other.” Once again, Humane Rescue Alliance killed a dog they recently put through the stress of a neutering surgery.

Many Cats Killed

Humane Rescue Alliance’s statistics reveal the shelter killed too many cats in 2020 and 2019. Overall, 15% of all cats, 19% of adult (1 year and older) cats, 3% of older kittens (6 weeks to just under 1 year year), 11% of neonatal kittens (under 6 weeks) and 41% of no age cats who had known outcomes (i.e. excluding those sent to a veterinarian with no outcome listed) lost their lives. If we just look at cats who were not reclaimed by owners and shelter-neutered-returned, 18% of all cats, 22% of adult cats, 4% of older kittens, 11% of neonatal kittens and 100% of no age cats lost their lives in 2020 and 2019. Due to many cats having no age listed and the high death rates of those animals, the adult, older kittens and neonatal kittens death rates are higher in reality. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance had large percentages of their cats lose their lives in 2020 and 2019.

Humane Rescue Alliance performed similarly with cats in both 2019 and 2020. Overall, the 2020 cat death rates were around 1%-3% lower than those in 2019 except for the nonreclaimed older kitten death rate and both death rates for no age cats. Given Humane Rescue Alliance had 628 fewer cat outcomes in 2020 due to lower cat intake, this result is deeply disappointing.

Humane Rescue Alliance killed a similar percentage of cats as other large regressive shelters. As you can see in the following table, Humane Rescue Alliance’s cat death rates fell between New York ACC and ACCT Philly in 2020 and 2019, but were not far apart. In 2020, Humane Rescue Alliance’s death rate was slightly lower than New York ACC’s and four percentage points lower than ACCT Philly’s. However, in 2019, which was a more normal year, Humane Rescue Alliance’s cat death rate was four points higher than New York ACC’s and almost as high as ACCT Philly’s. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance cat death rates were higher than New York ACC’s and nearly as high as ACCT Philly’s over the two year period.

Humane Rescue Alliance’s data is even worse when we compare it to large progressive animal control shelters. As you see in the table below, Humane Rescue Alliance had cat death rates ranging from 1.3 to 2.0 times higher than the progressive animal control shelters’ death rates. When we look at adult cats, the death rate was 1.7 to 4.9 times greater. Similarly, Humane Rescue Alliance’s nonreclaimed cat death rates, which exclude cats reclaimed by their owners and shelter-neutered-returned, were similarly larger than the progressive animal control shelters. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance performed poorly with cats compared to progressive shelters.

Humane Rescue Alliance killed an even greater percentage of cats compared to the progressive animal control shelters in 2020. Specifically, Humane Rescue Alliance’s cat and nonreclaimed cat death rates were 1.3 to 2.7 times and 1.4 to 3.1 times higher in 2020 compared to the progressive facilities.

Older Cats Obliterated

Humane Rescue Alliance killed massive numbers of senior cats. Overall, the shelter had 61% of its 10 years and older cats and 67% of its 10 years and older nonreclaimed cats and cats that were not shelter-neutered-returned lose their lives in 2020 and 2019. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center’s publicly reported 2018 intake and disposition records showed only 10% of this shelter’s 10 years and older cats lost their lives. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance had its 10 years and older cats lost their lives at six times Austin Animal Center’s rate.

Even worse, Humane Rescue Alliance killed a much greater percentage of 10 years and older cats than the high kill New York ACC. Overall, New York ACC had 46% of its 10 years and older cats and 47% of its 10 years and older nonreclaimed cats and those that were not shelter-neutered-returned lose their lives in 2018. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance’s 10 years and older cats and those that were not reclaimed or shelter-neutered-returned lost their lives at 1.3 and 1.4 times New York ACC’s rates from 2018.

Humane Rescue Alliance also killed a very large percentage of middle age cats in 2020 and 2019. Specifically, the shelter had 20% of all 5-9 year old cats and 25% of those 5-9 year old cats that were not reclaimed by an owner or shelter-neutered-returned lose their lives in 2020 and 2019. In other words, 1 out 5 and 1 out of 4 of these cats lost their lives in 2020 and 2019.

Too Many Cats Killed

Humane Rescue Alliance killed large numbers of cats for several reasons in 2020 and 2019. As the table below shows, the shelter killed 6.6% of all cats for medical reasons, 6.2% for “owner-requested euthanasia” and 0.5% for behavior. For adult cats, Humane Rescue Alliance killed 11.3% for “owner-requested euthanasia”, 0.7% for behavior and 5.9% for medical reasons. The shelter killed 2.0% of older kittens for medical reasons, 0.8% for “owner-requested euthanasia” and 0.5% for behavior. Humane Rescue Alliance killed 5.2% of neonatal kittens for medical reasons, 0.7% for “owner-requested euthanasia” and 0.1% for behavior. The organization killed 28.7% of no age cats for medical reasons, 5.0% for “owner-requested euthanasia” and 0.6% for behavior. When looking at 2020 and 2019 separately, “owner requested euthanasia” was higher in 2019 (6.8% of all cats, 11.9% of adult cats, 1.2% of older kittens, 0.9% of neonatal kittens and 6.0% of no age cats) and killing for behavior was greater in 2019 (0.9% of all cats, 0.2% of older kittens, 0.1% of neonatal kittens and 0.7% of no age cats).

Humane Rescue Alliance killed a much greater percentage of senior cats for “owner-requested euthanasia”, medical and behavior reasons. Overall, the shelter killed an astonishing 48.7%, 10.6% and 0.4% of 10 years and older cats for “owner-requested euthanasia”, medical and behavior reasons.

Outrageous Owner Requested Cat Euthanasia

The shelter’s “owner-requested euthanasia” figures of 6.2%, 5.4% and 6.8 for 2020 and 2019, 2020, and 2019 were by far the highest I ever tabulated. New York ACC killed 4.4%, 5.3% and 3.9% of cats for “owner-requested euthanasia” over the same periods. ACCT Philly only killed 2.2%, 2.2% and 2.1% of its cats for “owner-requested euthanasia” over 2020 and 2019, 2020, and 2019. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance killed a much greater percentage of cats for “owner-requested euthanasia” than other regressive animal control shelters in large cities on the eastern seaboard.

Humane Rescue Alliance’s owner requested euthanasia numbers are even worse when we compare them to KC Pet Project. Despite KC Pet Project taking in 1.2 times more cats in total and 1.6 times more cats per 1,000 human residents in 2019, KC Pet Project’s 2019 owner requested euthanasia numbers were only 0.1% for all cats, 0.2% for adult cats, 0.0% for older kittens, 0.0% of neonatal kittens and 0.6% for no age cats. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance killed all cats, adult cats and no age cats at 68, 60 and 10 times KC Pet Project’s rates and killed both older kittens and neonatal kittens for owner-requested euthanasia while KC Pet Project did not kill any kittens for this reason in 2019.

The shelter also killed virtually every cat brought in for owner-requested euthanasia. Specifically, Humane Rescue Alliance killed 417 out of 445 cats or 94% of such animals in 2020 and 2019. When we add 17 of these cats who died, the shelter had an astounding 98% of cats brought in for owner requested euthanasia lose their lives in 2020 and 2019. In fact, the shelter only adopted out and transferred 4 or 0.8% and 2 or 0.4% of these 445 cats.

Humane Rescue Alliance made no effort to save cats brought in for “owner-requested euthanasia.” In addition to the shelters above, I’ve reviewed extensive data sets of cats coming into New Jersey urban shelters in Newark, Elizabeth, Paterson, Passaic and Perth Amboy and have not seen cat owner requested euthanasia numbers like these. Since the shelter uses the “Asilomar Accords” that exclude owner requested euthanasia from its live release rate calculation and many of the dog records indicate the shelter encouraging/requiring owners to sign off on owner-requested euthanasia, the organization likely encouraged or even required owners to sign off on their owner surrenders as owner-requested euthanasia. As a result, Humane Rescue Alliance made virtually no effort to save cats brought in for owner requested euthanasia and likely encouraged or even required owners some owners to sign off on it.

Too Many Cats Killed for Behavior and Medical Reasons

Humane Rescue Alliance killed cats for behavior while the progressive shelters I previously examined did not kill a single cat for behavior. As you can see in the table below, the five progressive shelters didn’t kill any cat regardless of age for behavior in 2019. Given cats do not present a serious danger to people, this is what we should expect from every shelter. However, Humane Rescue Alliance killed cats from all the age classes for behavior, including neonatal and older kittens. As mentioned above, these differences would probably be greater if Humane Rescue Alliance broke out the behavior killings included in its owner-requested euthanasia numbers. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance failed miserably in showing respect for life for cats with so called behavior issues.

The progressive animal control shelters also killed far fewer cats for medical reasons in 2019 than Humane Rescue Alliance. As with Humane Rescue Alliance’s behavior killings, its medical killings are understated due to many medical killing being classified as “owner-requested euthanasia.” Therefore, Humane Rescue Alliance likely killed more cats for medical reasons when you count those animals. Even with its understated medical killing numbers, Humane Rescue Alliance killed 1.3 to 1.9 times as many cats for health reasons. While Humane Rescue Alliance killed a smaller percentage of adult cats, older kittens and neonatal kittens for medical reasons than Pima Animal Care Center, this is likely due to Humane Rescue Alliance classifying many medical killing as “owner-requested euthanasia” (Pima Animal Care Center does not use the “owner-requested euthanasia” classification as a reason for killing) and having many no age cats with a very high medical killing percentage. In addition to these reasons, Lake County Animal Shelter’s higher neonatal kittens’ medical euthanasia rate is due to the shelter’s “Wait-til-8” program where most very young kittens are not counted in the records until they are older as explained here. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance killed way too many cats for treatable medical reasons.

Instant Cat Killing

Humane Rescue Alliance’s cat length of stay data revealed the shelter quickly killed cats. Specifically, the shelter killed all cats, adult cats, older kittens, neonatal kittens and no age cats after just 4.1 days, 4.6 days, 6.9 days, 6.2 days and 109.3 days on average in 2020 and 2019 (each of the two years were similar). Clearly, this is not nearly enough time to determine if the shelter can save these cats.

When we look at the average length of stay of killed cats, we see Humane Rescue Alliance quickly killed cats in 2020 and 2019. Overall, Humane Rescue Alliance killed all cats, adult cats, older kittens, neonatal kittens and no age cats for “owner-requested euthanasia” after just 1.7 days, 1.8 days, 1.1 days, 0.6 days and 0.2 days. The shelter killed all cats, adult cats, older kittens, neonatal kittens and no age cats for behavior after just 19.1 days, 22.5 days, 18.6 days, 0.3 days and 0.3 days. Finally, Humane Rescue Alliance killed all cats, adult cats, older kittens, neonatal kittens and no age cats for medical reasons after just 5.2 days, 7.8 days, 6.4 days, 7.1 days and 0.7 days.. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance made virtually no effort to save cats it decided to kill.

Humane Rescue Alliance’s quick killing of senior cats for various reasons was quite apparent from the data. Overall, the shelter killed 10 years and older cats for “owner-requested euthanasia”, medical and behavior reasons after just 1.3 days, 11.2 days and 18.3 days in 2020 and 2019. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance gave these senior cats virtually no chance to get adopted.

The shelter’s detailed reasons for killing also show it quickly killed cats for silly reasons. As the table below shows, the shelter killed 11 cats, 10 adult cats and 1 older kitten for “Aggression-Humans.” Humane Rescue Alliance killed these cats after just 26.1 days, 27.3 days, 13.7 days. Humane Rescue Alliance killed another 11 cats, 8 adult cats and 3 older kittens for being “Fractious-Non-feral.” The organization killed these cats after just 14.0 days, 12.1 days and 19.3 days. The shelter also killed 6 cats, 2 adult cats, 1 older kitten and 3 no age cats for “Urinary Issues” (i.e. not using a litter box). Humane Rescue Alliance killed a number of other cats for other ridiculous reasons, such as “Behavior-Multiple” (3 cats), “Behavior-Other” (1 cat) and “Fearful-Severe” (1 cat). Given no cat is a serious danger to humans, all these reasons for killing are absurd.

While the average length of stay data is revealing, the distribution of the lengths of stay of the cats killed is horrible. Remarkably, Humane Rescue Alliance killed 57% of the cats it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. 76% of the cats Humane Rescue Alliance killed occurred within three days or less. Humane Rescue Alliance killed 81%, 90% and 95% of the cats it killed within 4, 9 and 23 days. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance gave the cats it killed virtually no chance to become adoptable.

The distribution of the lengths of stay of killed “owner requested euthanasia” cats at Humane Rescue Alliance in 2020 and 2019 is even worse. Humane Rescue Alliance killed 74% of the cats it killed for “owner-requested euthanasia” on the very day they arrived at the shelter. Humane Rescue Alliance killed 84%, 90%, 95% and 98% of the cats it killed for owner requested euthanasia within 1, 3, 6 and 19 days. Therefore, Humane Rescue Alliance killed virtually every “owner-requested euthanasia” cat within around one week to two and half weeks.

When we examine the distribution of the lengths of stay of the senior cats Humane Rescue Alliance killed, we can clearly see how this shelter gave these animals no chance. Humane Rescue Alliance killed 72% of the 10 years and older cats it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. Humane Rescue Alliance killed 84%, 90%, 94% and 96% of the senior cats it killed within 2 days, 6 days, 10 days and 14 days. In fact, Humane Rescue Alliance only killed 11 cats or 3% of its 10+ years and older cats it killed after 19 days. Given Humane Rescue Alliance killed the vast majority of senior cats, senior cats arriving at the shelter faced an almost immediate death sentence.

Cats Killed for Crazy Reasons

Oriole was a friendly stray cat that was adopted from Humane Rescue Alliance during the 2017 “Clear the Shelters” adoption event. At the time, the adopter was upset the shelter didn’t accommodate their schedule, but it appears it ended up working out. However, nine months later the adopter contacted the shelter about Oriole scratching and biting at nighttime.

On the next day, Humane Rescue Alliance stated the adopter “had a bit of an attitude” and then provided guidance to the adopter. Specifically, the shelter recommending committing at least 15 minutes per day to play sessions that would simulate hunting and utilize food puzzle games.

Ten months later the adopter returned Oriole to Humane Rescue Alliance due to aggression.

After Humane Rescue Alliance received Oriole back, its behavior staff indicated the cat was not treated well in his home. An employee stated the adopter declined to have a virtual training to correct the behavior issues. Instead, the adopter used a pheromone product called Felliway and an anti-depressant Fluoxetine, which is sold under the brand name Prozac in humans. Furthermore, the adopter used a spray bottle to punish the cat, which obviously can cause a cat to become scared and act aggressively.

Despite this, the shelter noted Oriole had no serious behavior issues during his evaluation and observations. The behavior staff noted he “made eye contact, approached, head bunted and cheek rubbed the assessor’s outstretched hand” and “stayed near by for petting head to tail, leaning in, rubbing, bunting, then laying on the floor doing social rolls.” Furthermore, Oriole “was relaxed and comfortable being picked up by the assessor, remaining calm and purring.” Three days later the behavior staff noted Oriole again “head bunted, cheek rubbed my hand” and “leaned into petting from head to tail.” Finally, shelter notes on the next two days stated Oriole “appeared healthy and friendly” and “leaned into head scratches.”

Oriole had an incident with a potential adopter’s child a few days later. A mother and her two sons played with Oriole. The 11 year old boy picked Oriole up and played with the cat and had no issues. However, the seven year old boy was scratched, but the scratches were “superficial.” The shelter put Oriole on “behavior review.”

Humane Rescue Alliance didn’t waste much time in killing Oriole. Less than a day later, the behavior team stated the 20 month old cat was not an adoption candidate. At no time do the records indicate Oriole receiving the anti-depressant Fluoxetine or indicate whether he was still on it before coming to the shelter. Certainly, withdrawal symptoms from an anti-depressant could trigger aggressive behavior. Even worse, the shelter didn’t even use any of its own advice it gave to the previous adopter and commit to playing with Oriole for at least 15 minutes per day or even attempt any behavioral rehabilitation.

What about Oriole’s social behavior? The shelter used that against him. Specifically, the behavior team said “due to his social behavior, solicitous nature and low threshold for arousal, he is not a candidate for the BCC program” otherwise known as Blue Collar Cats (i.e. warehouse/barn cats). Instead, Humane Rescue Alliance killed Oriole around an hour after making the decision to take his life and used “owner-requested euthanasia” as the excuse. In other words, Humane Rescue Alliance got to kill Oriole and not count him in their phony Asilomar Live Release Rate.

Bing Bing was a one year old Siamese mix cat brought to Humane Rescue Alliance due to the owner not being able to afford medical treatment. Specifically, Bing Bing couldn’t go to the bathroom and the local animal hospital wanted $2,500 to treat him. Of course, Humane Rescue Alliance had the owner sign Bing Bing over as an owner-requested euthanasia, but the owner wanted to reclaim Bing Bing if the shelter “medically cleared him.”

Less than four hours later Humane Rescue Alliance killed Bing Bing based on it stating “there was nothing we can do for this kitty.” Specifically, the shelter stated Bing Bing had severe constipation or obstipation due to a deformed pelvis. However, veterinary web sites do not cite this as a common reason for obstipation. Instead, reasons such as decreased water intake, lack of exercise, nerve issues and even tumors are cited, and treatment depends on addressing the underlying cause. Humane Rescue Alliance made no attempt to try any treatment, or even consult with an outside animal hospital, and killed a young cat from a sought after breed that the owner wanted back. Then again, why spend money on treating this young cat when you can cite her as an “owner-requested euthanasia” and exclude the animal from your fake Asilomar Live Release Rate?

Big Grey was a stray cat trapped and brought into Humane Rescue Alliance for shelter-neuter-return on July 10, 2019. Later that day, the shelter weighed Big Grey, noted he weighed 8.7 lbs.(i.e. healthy enough to be neutered and released) and neutered him. After his neuter surgery, Humane Rescue Alliance did a FIV/FeLV test and stated he tested positive. While still on the table, the shelter killed Big Grey for the crime of testing positive for FIV.

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus or FIV is a disease similar to HIV that weakens a cat’s immune system. Generally speaking, FIV is difficult to spread as it is only passed to other cats through deep bite wounds. While the disease can compromise a cat’s immune system, some cats can live many years pretty much like a normal cat. Practically speaking, FIV cats should be altered and live either alone or with other cats that are compatible with them. However, an outdoor cat that goes through SNR or warehouse/barn cat programs doesn’t live in confined spaces and is neutered, which reduces aggression, and therefore poses little threat to spread the disease. While FIV cats may need extra care, progressive shelters save these animals and also adopt them out.

Due to the needless killing of healthy cats with FIV, shelter medicine experts advise shelter not to test cats who are not experiencing symptoms like Blue Grey. Subsequently, Humane Rescue Alliance stated it will stop testing cats it adopts out for FIV and FeLV, but its unclear if that applies to cats it neuters and releases. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance should never have killed Big Grey simply for testing positive for FIV.

Finally, if the cat was owned by someone other than Humane Rescue Alliance and that person didn’t allow the shelter to kill Big Grey, it would have violated the city’s seven day stray/hold period for animals with IDs (cat was microchipped).

Salsa was an eleven month old stray cat brought to Humane Rescue Alliance on February 6, 2020. Upon arrival, the staff noted she was not happy and possibly pregnant, but they were able to vaccinate her after “burrito wrapping” her. Additionally, the shelter noted Salsa was happy and healthy outside.

Around a week later, Humane Rescue Alliance failed Salsa in a “behavior assessment” and stated she was “not a candidate for adoption.” How did the shelter determine this? Humane Rescue Alliance noted she growled and hissed inside her kennel and acted out (growled, hissed, swatted) while in the assessment room. Given this cat was not happy when she arrived at the shelter, it shouldn’t be a surprise the cat acted out after receiving zero socialization and other efforts to make her adoptable. Instead, the shelter stated it would consider TNR and its warehouse/barn cats program for Salsa.

On the very next day, the shelter spayed Salsa. Unfortunately, there is no mention of whether she was actually pregnant. If she was, the shelter would have performed a forced abortion and killed her kittens.

Humane Rescue Alliance killed Salsa five days later claiming she was aggressive. How did the shelter make this determination? Based on a staff member stating Salsa “charge me, growling, hissing and vocalizing” and she “knock over her litter box” when they tried to clean her cage. First, one has to wonder why the shelter didn’t spot clean the cage as HSUS and the Koret School of Shelter Medicine recommend. This is especially so for a cat deemed feral. Second, Salsa’s actions were no different than during her behavior assessment that apparently led to her being spayed for the shelter’s warehouse cat program. Instead, the organization marched her off to the kill room later that day and ended her life. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance needlessly killed a healthy cat and unnecessarily put her through the stress of spay surgery and possibly killed her kittens.

Awful Adoption Numbers

Humane Rescue Alliance adopted out few dogs compared to the progressive shelters in 2019. As the table below shows, the other shelters had per capita adoption rates that were 2.3 to 3.7 times, 1.9 to 3.3 times, 1.8 to 2.7 times and 3.7 to 6.3 times higher for dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other dogs in 2019.

The shelter performed similarly in 2020 compared to the progressive shelters. Overall, the other shelters had per capita adoption rates that were 1.9 to 4.6 times higher for dogs.

Humane Rescue Alliance did a poor job adopting out cats compared to the progressive shelters in 2019. The progressive shelters per capita cat adoption rates were 1.2 to 2.1 higher than Humane Rescue Alliance’s rate. While Humane Rescue Alliance did not have the lowest per capita adoption rates for some age groups, other shelters had per capita adoptions that were 1.6 to 2.0 times, 1.9 to 3.4 times and 2.0 to 2.7 times higher for adult cats, older kittens and neonatal kittens.

The shelter also had much lower per capita adoption rates compared to progressive shelters that didn’t drastically reduce cat intake in 2020. As mentioned in my prior blog, Austin Animal Center and Pima Animal Care Center significantly reduced cat intake after the pandemic in 2020 and that explains these shelters low per capita adoption rates. When we look at the other shelters, these progressive organizations had per capita cat adoption rates that were 1.5 to 2.8 times higher than Humane Rescue Alliance’s per capita cat adoption rate in 2020.

Humane Rescue Alliance Took Few Animals In

Humane Rescue Alliance took significantly fewer dogs and cats in during 2019 (the last normal year of sheltering) than the progressive facilities. As the following table shows, the progressive facilities took in 1.7 to 2.6 times as many dogs and 1.3 to 1.6 times as many cats on a per capita basis than Humane Rescue Alliance

Even when we look at pit bulls and adult cats, all the shelters, except for the two Texas organizations, received more of these animals. Specifically, Pima Animal Care Center, Lake County Animal Shelter and KC Pet Project took 1.6 to 2.2 times as many pit bulls in during 2019 on a per capita basis. KC Pet Project and Lake County Animal Shelter took in 1.3 to 1.4 times as many adult cats during 2019 on a per capita basis. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance can’t use high intake as an excuse for its killing.

Massive Funding Doesn’t Save the Animals

Humane Rescue Alliance’s abysmal performance becomes clear when we do a detailed financial comparison with other shelters that also do animal control or have animal control organization revenue data available. Overall, Humane Rescue Alliance received 2.7 to 7.2 times more revenue per dog and cat impounded despite having higher death rates. In fact, Humane Rescue Alliance’s $2,849 of revenue per dog and cat ($2,742 per dog and cat excluding St. Hubert’s) is one of the highest amounts of revenue per dog and cat I ever saw. Additionally, the shelter’s animal control contract revenue from Washington DC, which was $676 per dog and cat, vastly exceeded all revenue per dog and cat from ACCT Philly and Lake County Animal Shelter.

When we look at the shelter’s additional reserves, we can see the shelter’s funding advantage is far larger. Specifically, Humane Rescue Alliance had $3,711 of net assets, not counting those received from the St. Hubert’s acquisition, per dog and cat in 2019 and this was 30.2 to 41.7 times the amount of the other non-profit shelters.

Even after Humane Rescue Alliance took over St. Hubert’s and had more animals to care for, its revenue per dog and cat in 2020 (based on its year ending 9/30/20 income statement) was still $2,231 per dog and cat and its net assets per dog and cat (based on 9/30/20 net assets) was an astounding $4,709 per dog and cat after subtracting out estimates of dogs and cats the shelter quickly transfers in and out through its WayStation program. Thus, Humane Rescue Alliance is swimming with money after taking over St. Hubert’s.

When we examine management compensation, we can see Humane Rescue Alliances executive team is benefiting from all this money. Based on the nonprofit shelters’ Form 990 Part VII Section A, which lists out these organizations highly compensated employees, Humane Rescue Alliance paid its executives $180 per each dog and cat the shelter took in. As a comparison, the other non-profit shelters highly compensated employees only received between $7 to $31 per dog and cat. In other words, Humane Rescue Alliance paid its highly compensated executives 5.8 to 25.7 times as much money per dog and cat impounded. To put it another way, Humane Rescue Alliance’s high ranking executive team diverted around $149-$173 per every dog and cat the shelter took in. Imagine how this could have helped these animals and their owners? Instead, Humane Rescue Alliances greedy leadership team took that money from the animals, killed many of them and kept those funds for itself.

Humane Rescue Alliance’s greed becomes more apparent when we examine the shelter directors’ compensation at the non-profit organizations. Specifically, Lisa LaFontaine alone received $57 per dog and cat Humane Rescue Alliance impounded. As a comparison, the other shelter directors only received $7-$10 per dog and cat received. In other words, Ms. LaFontaine received 5.7 to 8.1 times more compensation than the other shelter directors. Simply put, Lisa LaFontaine alone diverted around $47-$50 per dog and cat. No wonder she and her team killed so many treatable dogs and cats. She cashed in on not spending money on those creatures.

Racism and Other Serious Allegations

Earlier this year, I made a post on my Facebook page about Humane Rescue Alliance’s terrible employee reviews on job web sites. Many employee reviews focused on how the 11 member executive team had no people of color in a city where around half the population is African American. Additionally, the following review mentioned how people of color are “largely ignored” and “paid poverty level wages”:

There are zero people of color on the board or senior executive team. White woman continue to be promoted from within, or brought in from the CEO’s hometown in wealthy white New England. Front line staff, primarily people of color born and raised in Washington, DC are largely ignored in the area of ideas and vision, paid poverty level wages, and “acknowledged” with pizza.

Other reviews raised serious allegations about the staff’s working conditions and that the shelter wasn’t doing right by local residents (half of which are African American).

Represent organization as national leader in animal/people welfare, but actual work doesn’t match up. Reports on expenditures for some programs misrepresent actual expenditures. Hostile to employees who speak up.

Concerns raised by staff regarding current work environment and commitment to the community in DC has been treated as unimportant and hidden from the public and donors. Actual expenditures don’t seem to match with promised program goals.

Another review alleged Lisa LaFontaine uses the organization a “personal resume builder” and ignores Washington DC residents, but uses those residents as fundraising props.

“CEO has taken an agency that was established to serve the residents of DC, and turned it into her personal resume builder, sinking millions of dollars into buying up shelter in New Jersey, assisting animals in other states, and flying in cats from Dubai. All the while thousands of District residents are unable to afford care for their pets. HRA uses these residents’ plights to highlight their false sense of community, cherry picking specific incidents, rather than dedicating their budget and resources to all of DC.”

Humane Rescue Alliance’s racism also extends to legislations it is pushing in New Jersey. Recently, the organization enthusiastically testified in support of New Jersey bill S4058, which is a “cost of care” bill, that allows shelters to take ownership and kill pet owners’ animals if they are accused, but not convicted, of animal cruelty due to to their inability to pay extortion fees charged by shelters. Given many people are falsely accused of animal cruelty and such laws are disproportionately enforced against people of color, this bill will steal innocent people of color’s pets and kill many of them.

Later on in 2021, I made a post on my Facebook page about St. Hubert’s employee reviews on job sites describing the toxic culture at the organization. Specifically, many reviews allege the shelter bullied people, abused staff and had a high turnover. While some of the reviews were from before Humane Rescue Alliance took over, reviews after the merger indicate the toxic environment continued.

“The organization is run by bullying and intimidation; the organization has no structure and minimal SOP’s; senior management screams and berates people while pointing in their faces and whacking them with paper.”

In the comments to both of these Facebook posts, former Humane Rescue Alliance and St. Hubert’s employees confirmed these allegations and provided additional details. Also, a number of former St. Hubert’s employees alleged in the comments and in private conversations with me that the shelter went significantly downhill after Humane Rescue Alliance took over.

Austin Pets Alive and Maddie’s Fund Promote Humane Rescue Alliance as a Role Model Organization

Austin Pets Alive’s and Maddie’s Fund’s Human Animal Support Services (HASS) initiative placed Lisa LaFontaine on its Executive Committee until recently and heavily promotes her and Humane Rescue Alliance. The HASS initiative, which has been very controversial and is designed to “transform animal sheltering” into a “community sheltering” model, is staffed with Austin Pets Alive and Maddie’s Fund employees. Additionally, the HASS model aims to end the racist actions the sheltering industry has been taking for decades. As you can see here, HASS frequently portrays Ms. LaFontaine and Humane Rescue Alliance as role models. In addition, Humane Rescue Alliance also is on the HASS Government Body and Communications Policy working group whose goal is to “provide local-level guidance, messaging and data to elected officials on the benefits of HASS and innovative animal sheltering services.” Thus, Austin Pets Alive and Maddie’s Fund send the message that Humane Rescue Alliance is a role model shelter and allows it to have a strong voice about the “future” of animal sheltering.

Humane Rescue Alliance Is a Money Making Scam That Betrays Washington DC’s Animals and People

At the beginning of this blog I asked the following questions:

Have Humane Rescue Alliance’s mergers and resulting increases in executive compensation helped Washington DC’s animals? What kind of job is Humane Rescue Alliance doing in Washington DC?

Clearly, Humane Rescue Alliance’s mergers and increased executive compensation only benefitted the organization’s leadership team. Overall, the high death rates in 2016, which was the year of the first merger, barely improved and lag behind the death rate decreases nationally over that time. In fact, Humane Rescue Alliance killed a much larger percentage of dogs than both the high kill New York ACC and ACCT Philly despite receiving significantly more funding. Similarly, Humane Rescue Alliance’s cat death rates were higher than New York ACC’s and barely lower than ACCT Philly’s. When compared to progressive animal control shelters with significantly less money, Humane Rescue Alliance’s death rates were much higher for both dogs and cats. When we looked at the detailed reasons for killing, we see outrageous abuse of using “owner-requested euthanasia” labels to exclude the killing of healthy and treatable animals from the shelter’s “Asilomar Live Release Rate” and excessive killing of dogs and cats for treatable behaviors and medical conditions. Furthermore, Humane Rescue Alliance’s executive compensation was many times greater than the other non-profit shelters I examined and all that personal enrichment diverted significant amounts of money from local animals in need and the people who care for them.

Humane Rescue Alliance’s mergers increased money for the executive team and helped the organization hide the truth about how it handles Washington DC’s animals. After Humane Rescue Alliance acquired Washington Animal Rescue League in 2016, Humane Rescue Alliance’s net assets increased by $12.4 million and doubled from what they were previously. Based on a blog from 2015, it appeared Washington Animal Rescue League may have taken in easier animals as the blog claimed it had a higher live release rate than Washington Humane Society. However, Washington Animal Rescue League also had a nice adoption and veterinary facility that likely allows Humane Rescue Alliance to fundraise off even though it still kills treatable animals. Similarly, Humane Rescue Alliance’s net assets increased by $20.1 million and nearly doubled after it acquired St. Hubert’s in 2019. In addition, Humane Rescue Alliance has a lucrative fundraising engine though St. Hubert’s transport program where it acts as a middle man facilitating transports from source shelters to destination shelters. Furthermore, Humane Rescue Alliance, like St. Hubert’s before, counts these animals as intakes and live outcomes and artificially lowers its death rate (for years I’ve excluded estimates of such animals from my St. Hubert’s death rate calculations). Thus, the Humane Rescue Alliance mergers have simply enriched the organization’s executives and helped them deceive the public about what is going on at its shelters.

Results Require Action

Animal advocates, employees and ex-employees at Humane Rescue Alliance and St. Hubert’s must start a campaign to reform the organization. Specifically, they must pressure elected officials to demand wholesale change, which includes removing the entire Humane Rescue Alliance and St. Hubert’s leadership team. Additionally, they should push for the Companion Animal Protection Act and better yet New Jersey shelter reform bill S1834 and A3632 that would require the shelter to take common sense lifesaving actions.

Legislators and other elected officials must not take Humane Rescue Alliance’s lobbying efforts seriously. Simply put, the organization is not an advocate for companion animals or the communities it serves. Instead, Humane Rescue Alliance is simply focused on personally enriching its leadership.

Austin Pets Alive and Maddie’s Fund must completely separate from Humane Rescue Alliance. While its obvious their leadership teams developed close personal relationships with Humane Rescue Alliance, particularly Lisa LaFontaine, this relationship is discrediting Austin Pets Alive and Maddie’s Fund own work. Humane Rescue Alliance has no respect for life and its actions are completely opposed to no kill. Austin Pets Alive and Maddie’s Fund should have realized this earlier based on Humane Rescue Alliance hosting and promoting Roger Haston, who was calling for shelter killing and pushing negative pit bull stereotypes. More and more, animal advocates, and the public at large, see Austin Pets Alive and Maddie’s Fund as inauthentic and an actual opponent of no kill. In fact, Nathan Winograd, who is the leading voice of the no kill movement, recently came out and stated this. Thus, Austin Pets Alive and Maddie’s Fund must separate itself from organizations like Humane Rescue Alliance that kill and mislead the public.

At the end of the day, Humane Rescue Alliance is a money making scam and not a friend to the animals, its own employees and the communities it serves. The sooner everyone realizes this, the sooner we can change things for the better.

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.

Austin Attains Amazing Live Release Rates in 2018

Austin, Texas has become synonymous with no kill success. While Austin Animal Center exceeded the 90% live release rate some people consider as being no kill in 2012, the shelter’s live release rate increased sharply in 2016. The shelter’s success in 2016 was spearheaded by Director of Animal Services, Tawny Hammond, and Deputy Chief Animal Services Officer, Kristen Auerbach, both of whom came over from Fairfax County Animal Shelter in Virginia.

Hound Manor performed a fantastic analysis of Austin Animal Center’s 2016 results. This analysis utilized various computer programming techniques to extract incredibly useful data from Austin’s open public data on its web site. While I don’t have the skills to replicate such an analysis, I was able to obtain some key data I frequently use in my New Jersey animal shelter analyses. Using this data, I did an analysis of Austin Animal Center’s 2017 results last year. This data showed the shelter achieving extremely high live release rates for cats, dogs, pit bulls, young kittens and other types of animals.

Tammy Hammond left Austin Animal Center in May 2017 to join Best Friends and Kristen Auerbach resigned in July 2017 to take over Pima Animal Care Center in Tuscon, Arizona. How did Austin Animal Center perform in 2018? Did the shelter continue its success without two of its key leaders?

Incredible Live Release Rates

Austin Animal Center saved virtually every dog that arrived in 2018. You can find a link to the data I used here. Overall, only 1.2% of all dogs, 1.1% of pit bull like dogs, 1.5% of small dogs and 1.0% of other medium to large size dogs lost their lives or went missing at the shelter. The death rates for all dogs and other dogs decreased by 0.1% and 0.2% from 2017 while pit bulls’ and small dogs’ death rates remained the same as in 2017. Even if we only look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners, only 1.6% of all dogs, 1.8% of pit bulls, 2.1% of small dogs and 1.3% of other medium to large size breeds lost their lives or went missing in 2019. Thus, Austin Animal Center saved almost every dog it took in last year.

Austin Animal Center’s pit bull numbers are especially noteworthy. Despite taking in 1,930 pit bull like dogs in 2018, Austin Animal Center saved 99% of these dogs. On a per capita basis, Austin Animal Center impounded 1.6 pit bulls per 1,000 people compared to my estimate of New Jersey animal shelters taking in just 0.8 pit bulls per 1,000 people from the state. In other words, Austin Animal Center saved 99% of its pit bull like dogs even though it took in twice as many of these dogs on a per capita basis as New Jersey animal shelters. Similarly, Austin Animal Center adopted out 0.7 pit bulls per 1,000 people compared to the 0.5 pit bulls per 1,000 people New Jersey animal shelters would need to adopt out to achieve a 95% dog live release rate. Furthermore, Austin Pets Alive and other local rescues adopt out additional pit bulls in the Austin area. As a result, Austin Animal Center’s results prove New Jersey animal shelters can do a far better job with their pit bull like dogs.

Austin Animal Center 2018 Results

Austin Animal Center also had amazing cat numbers. Overall, only 4.4% of all cats, 5.9% of adult cats, 1.9% of kittens 6 weeks to just under one year and 7.0% of kittens under 6 weeks lost their lives at Austin Animal Center in 2018. As compared to 2017, the all cats’, adult cats and neonatal kittens death rates decreased by 0.9%, 1.3% and 1.5% while the older kittens death rate remained the same. Even if we exclude cats who were reclaimed by owners and placed through the shelter-neuter return program, only 5.4% of all cats, 9.5% of adult cats, 2.1% of kittens 6 weeks to just under 1 year and 7.0% of kittens under 6 weeks lost their lives in 2018. Thus, Austin Animal Center saved almost all their cats of all ages.

Austin 2018 Cat Statistics.jpg

Austin Animal Center Only Euthanizes Dogs for Legitimate Reasons

The table below lists the reasons Austin Animal Center used to euthanize dogs in 2018. As you can see, 74% of the euthanized dogs were due to severe medical reasons (i.e. suffering, at veterinarian).

Austin Animal Center limits behavioral euthanasia to truly aggressive dogs. Hound Manor’s blog on Austin Animal Center’s 2016 data found the shelter euthanized a similar percentage of dogs for behavioral reasons in the final quarter of fiscal year 2016 as the No Kill Advocacy Center targets (i.e. under 1%). As you can see below, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.10% of all dogs for behavioral related reasons (i.e. aggression, behavior, court/investigation). Even if we add rabies risk and none, Austin Animal Center would have only euthanized 0.14% of all dogs for behavioral reasons. Thus, Austin Animal Center limited behavioral euthanasia to truly aggressive dogs.

Austin Animal Center also reduced the number and percentage of dogs euthanized for rabies risk. As Hound Manor mentioned in its blog, few dogs killed for rabies testing end up having the disease. In fact, the New Jersey Department of Health’s guidelines state shelters should not euthanize dogs for rabies unless they have clinical signs of the disease. Austin Animal Center euthanized two dogs (0.02% of all dogs) in 2018 for rabies risk compared to the five dogs (0.05% of all dogs) from 2017 and 14 dogs (0.14% of all dogs) reported by Hound Manor in fiscal year 2016.

Austin Animal Center Dogs Euthanized Reasons

The shelter also limited behavioral euthanasia for pit bull like dogs to truly aggressive animals. Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.05% of all pit bulls for aggression, behavior and court/investigation reasons. In fact, this number was only one half of the percentage of all dogs euthanized for behavioral related reasons. In other words, pit bull like dogs were significantly less likely to be aggressive than other similar size dogs. Most of the rest of the pit bulls euthanized were suffering (0.41%). 0.1% of pit bulls (two dogs) were euthanized “at veterinarian” or for “medical reasons”, but its quite possible these animals were also hopelessly suffering. When you couple this data with the results of a recent study showing severe dog bites did not increase after Austin implemented its no kill plan, it proves shelters can in fact safely adopt out large numbers of pit bull like dogs.

Austin Animal Center Pit Bulls Euthanized Reasons 2018.jpg

Austin Animal Center’s reasons for euthanizing small dogs followed this same pattern. The shelter euthanized no small dogs for aggression and other behavioral reasons. Given small dogs do not pose a serious danger to adult people, this is exactly what we should see at every shelter. Almost all the other small dogs were euthanized for severe medical issues (i.e. suffering, at veterinarian). While two dogs did not have a reason for their euthanasia, its possible they could have been hopelessly suffering.

Austin Animal Center Small Dogs Euthanized Reasons 2018

The shelter also only euthanized other medium to large size dogs for legitimate reasons. Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.18% of other medium to large size dogs for behavioral related reasons (i.e. aggression, behavior, court/investigation). Even if we add rabies risk and none, Austin Animal Center would have only euthanized 0.22% of all other medium to large size dogs for behavioral reasons. Almost all the rest of the other medium to large size dogs were euthanized for severe medical problems.

Austin Animal Center Other Dogs Euthanized Reasons

Austin Animal Center Limits Cat Euthanasia Primarily to Severe Medical Issues

The table below lists the reasons Austin Animal Center used to euthanize cats in 2018. As you can see, around 90% of the euthanized cats were due to severe medical reasons (i.e. suffering, at veterinarian). While 4% of the euthanized cats and 0.1% of all cats who had outcomes cited “medical”, its possible these were severe medical issues that warranted humane euthanasia. Similarly, Austin Animal Center’s very low numbers of cats euthanized for no documented reason (2 cats, 1% of euthanized cats and 0.03% of all cats who had outcomes) may indicate clerical errors rather than the shelter killing cats for no good reason. Most impressively, Austin Animal Center did not kill a single cat for behavior or aggression or for being underage.

Austin Animal Center also euthanized few cats for rabies risk. As Hound Manor mentioned in its blog, few animals killed for rabies testing end up having the disease. Austin Animal Center euthanized 11 cats (0.18% of all cats who had outcomes) for rabies risk in 2018 compared to 7 cats (0.11% of all cats who had outcomes) in 2017 and 23 cats (0.34% of all cats who had outcomes) reported by Hound Manor in fiscal year 2016.

These statistics indicate Austin Animal Center pretty much only euthanizes hopelessly suffering cats. Given shelters should never kill cats for aggression or behavioral reasons, this is an incredible achievement since Austin Animal Center impounded 6,036 cats during the year who had outcomes.

Austin Animal Center Cats Euthanized Reasons

Austin Animal Center’s Partner Helps the Shelter

Austin Pets Alive has been a major reason the community achieved no kill status. Historically, this organization pulled animals directly from the kill list at Austin Animal Center. In other words, instead of cherry-picking easy to adopt animals like many rescues do, Austin Pets Alive takes on the most difficult animals. As a result of taking on these tough cases and the organization’s strong desire to make Austin no kill, Austin Pets Alive developed and implemented a host of cutting edge programs. Examples, such as dog playgroups, a Canine Good Citizen training and certification program and large scale fostering help save the lives of large dogs that are most likely to lose their lives in shelters. Other programs, such as parvo and ringworm treatment and barn cat placements save vulnerable animals. In addition, Austin Pets Alive’s owner surrender prevention program helps owners keep animals and avoid giving them to Austin Animal Center. Thus, Austin Pets Alive has historically focused on its community to help Austin Animal Center achieve no kill status.

Austin Animal Center is relying less on Austin Pets Alive than in the past. In 2012, when Austin Animal Center first exceeded a 90% live release rate, it sent 29% of its dogs and 51% of its cats to Austin Pets Alive and other shelters and rescues. Last year, it only sent 21% of its dogs and 27% of its cats to Austin Pets Alive and other organizations. As a result, Austin Pets Alive has been able to assist other Texas shelters since its local animal control shelter truly achieved no kill.

Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive Use Many Foster Homes

Austin Animal Center sent 722 dogs, 139 pit bulls, 172 small dogs and 411 other medium to large size dogs to foster homes. Overall, 7% of all dogs went to a foster home after arriving at Austin Animal Center. Unfortunately, we don’t know how many of these were very short-term fosters, such as overnight breaks from the shelter, to determine how much extra capacity all these foster homes created. However, the data indicated virtually all these dogs were in fact eventually adopted either by the people fostering the dog or another person.

Austin Animal Center sent a good number of large dogs into the program. Specifically, significant numbers of both pit bulls and other medium to large size dogs aged four months and older went to foster homes. In other words, people weren’t just fostering cute puppies that the shelter would have quickly adopted out with or without the help of foster homes.

Austin Animal Center Fostered Dogs in 2018

Austin Pets Alive has an even larger dog foster program. According to a presentation made during the 2018 American Pets Alive Conference, Austin pets Alive adopted out 2,300 dogs from foster homes and had 671 active dog foster homes as of September 2017. In addition, Austin Animal Center’s dog and cat foster programs doubled the shelter’s capacity per 2016 data from a presentation at a past Best Friends National Conference. Given fostering dogs can eliminate perceived dog behavior problems, significantly increase a shelter’s capacity to hold animals, reduce sheltering costs and bring in adoption revenues, growing foster programs is a huge priority for many progressive shelters.

APA Dog Foster Program Size

Austin Animal Center also sent many cats to foster homes. Overall, the shelter sent 13% of all cats, 4% of 1+ year old cats, 25% of kittens aged six weeks to just under one year and 5% of kittens under 6 weeks of age to foster homes at some point. While we don’t know how many of these cats were temporary or short-term fosters, the shelter ultimately adopted out nearly every single one of these animals.

Austin Animal Center Cats Sent to Foster 2018

Austin Pets Alive has an even larger cat foster program. According to a presentation at the 2018 American Pets Alive Conference, Austin Pets Alive places thousands of cats each year in over 650 foster homes. Thus, both Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive, which focuses on making sure Austin Animal Center achieves the highest live release rates, have huge cat foster programs.

APA Cat Foster Program Size

No Kill Culture Raises Lifesaving to New Heights

While Austin Animal Center has attained very high live release rates, local no kill advocates continue to raise the bar. Certainly, Austin Pets Alive has created innovative and groundbreaking programs to save the animals people previously believed were destined for euthanasia. Similarly, the Final Frontier Rescue Project has been advocating for the few remaining dogs being euthanized at Austin Animal Center. In addition, this group rescues many of the most challenging dogs (i.e. the last 1%-2% at risk of losing their lives) Therefore, the no kill movement in Austin continues to improve and pressure Austin Animal Center to do better.

That being said, Austin Animal Center is not perfect. The shelter lost three of its shelter directors in the last couple of years. Additionally, there is no doubt that room for improvement exists.

Austin Sets a New Bar for Lifesaving

Austin Animal Center has continued to improve over the years. While Austin Animal Center benefited from having an amazing rescue oriented shelter, Austin Pets Alive, help, Austin Animal Center has really stepped up its game. You can see some of the innovative programs, such as progressive animal control, breed neutral adoption policies, a large scale foster network, innovative social media use and a huge and effective use of volunteers in this story. As a result of these efforts, Austin Animal Center has effectively limited euthanasia to hopelessly suffering animals and dogs that are truly dangerous.

While Austin Animal Center’s success is hard to match, the animal control shelter serving the area just to the north, Williamson County Animal Shelter, also is extremely successful. Despite having a significantly smaller budget per animal than Austin Animal Center (approximately 50% less after adding an estimated $200 per animal to Williamson County Animal Shelter’s budget for animal sheltering only) and receiving less rescue support for both dogs (Austin Animal Center: 21% of outcomes; Williamson County Animal Shelter: 7% of outcomes) and cats (Austin Animal Center: 27% of outcomes; Williamson County Animal Shelter: 5% of outcomes), Williamson County Animal Shelter came close to reaching Austin Animal Center’s live release rates for dogs (Austin Animal Center: 98.8%; Williamson County Animal Shelter: 98.1%) and cats (Austin Animal Center: 95.6%; Williamson County Animal Shelter: 92.0%).

Williamson County Animal Shelter also had very impressive adoption numbers. While Austin Animal Center’s per capita adoption rates of 3.9 dogs and 2.5 cats per 1,000 people are good, Williamson County Animal Shelter’s per capita adoption rates of 4.9 dogs and 4.7 cats per 1,000 people are even higher. This is reflected in the Williamson County Animal Shelter’s short average length of stay figures (dogs: 8.8 days, cats: 11.6 days).

The key point is that Austin Animal Center is not unique. Since an animal shelter taking in 6,371 dogs and cats in fiscal year 2018 (i.e. almost as many animals as the largest New Jersey animal shelter) next door to Austin can achieve similar success, this proves Austin Animal Center was not taking homes away from animals in nearby areas. If anything, Austin’s animal shelters and Williamson County Animal Shelter likely spurred innovation at facilities in both communities through raising standards and learning from each other.

New Jersey animal control shelters can achieve similar success. In 2017, Associated Humane Societies, New Jersey’s largest animal sheltering organization, took in an estimated $1,194 of revenue per dog and cat impounded based on the Associated Humane Societies June 30, 2017 Form 990 and its reported animal intake during 2017. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center had a budget of $884 per dog and cat and Williamson County Animal Shelter only had a budget of $463 per dog and cat and $538 of total revenue per dog and cat after adding $200 per dog and cat for animal control services (shelter does not pick up animals). Thus, New Jersey’s largest animal welfare organization takes in more money per dog and cat yet its Newark facility is high kill and had horrific state health department inspection reports.

Clearly, shelters like Austin Animal Center and Williamson County Animal Shelter prove most animal control shelters can achieve high live release rates and attain real no kill status (i.e. only euthanize hopelessly suffering and truly dangerous dogs). The time for excuses has stopped and its now time for action.

2017 Cat Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

Cats are losing their lives at an alarming rate in New Jersey animal shelters. New Jersey animal shelters killed nearly 9,000 cats or 22% of those cats having known outcomes in 2017. Additionally, a number of other cats died or went missing. 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 and nearby areas 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 live release 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, animal welfare organizations should not hold these kittens in a traditional shelter setting and instead should send these animals to foster homes or a kitten nursery at or outside of the facility. 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.

My analysis puts a cap on the targeted numbers of cats rescued from other shelters and adoptions. While my unmodified targeted numbers of rescued and adopted animals are quite achievable, I wanted to provide very conservative goals for New Jersey animal shelters. For example, the unmodified model resulted in a statewide per capita cat adoption rate that is less than those 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 several years ago, 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 places such as 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 16% of the cats it took in during 2017 were returned to field. However, I suspect at least some of these cats were friendly or 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 the 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 my blog from several years ago. 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 43,225 New Jersey cats coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2017, 27,957 and 7,578 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 25,747 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 18,169 cats from out of state shelters or New Jersey’s streets after achieving a 92% live release rate for cats coming into the state’s animal shelters. In reality, the New Jersey shelter system could rescue more than 18,169 cats from out of state shelters or from New Jersey’s streets given the 18,169 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 to 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 2017 data):

  • New York City – 482 additional cats need saving
  • Philadelphia – 1,451 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 3% 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 to 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 5.8 cats per 1,000 people in the state (3.9 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:

  • Lynchburg Humane Society (Lynchburg, Virginia) – 13.6 cats per 1,000 people
  • Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA (Charlottesville, Virginia area) – 11.8 cats per 1,000 people
  • Nevada Humane Society (Reno, Nevada and Carson City, Nevada areas) – 9.8 cats per 1,000 people
  • Williamson County Animal Shelter (Williamson County, Texas) – 7.4 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, 5.8 cats per 1,000 people, I set for New Jersey animal shelters is not much higher than Colorado animal shelters’ per capita cat adoption rate of 4.6 cats per 1,000 people. In addition, New Jersey animal shelters would just need to achieve a per capita adoption of 3.9 cats per 1,000 people, which is nearly 20% lower than Colorado animal shelters are already achieving, to end the killing of healthy and treatable cats. You can find Colorado’s 2017 animal shelter and rescue statistics here and No Kill Colorado’s summary of the state’s animal shelter data here. Given Colorado still has some regressive animal shelters, 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.

2017 Cat Model 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 cat kill rates at each New Jersey animal shelter. These figures do not include cats who died or went missing. Shelters having cat kill 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. New Jersey animal shelters needlessly killed 5,540 cats in 2017. Furthermore, additional cats died or went missing from many of these facilities. Obviously, some of the cats shelters killed were truly feral and required TNR or placement as barn/warehouse cats, but surely many others could have been 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, Gloucester County Animal Shelter, Cumberland County SPCA, Burlington County Animal Shelter and Atlantic County Animal Shelter account for 2,974 or 54% of the 5,540 cats needlessly killed. Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility had 938 cats lose their lives needlessly in 2017. Associated Humane Societies three shelters had 612 cats unnecessarily lose their lives in 2017. Hamilton Township Animal Shelter, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Tyco Animal Control, which have three of the highest cat kill rates in the state, needlessly killed 392 cats. Collectively, these 12 shelters are 13% of the state’s shelters and account for 4,916 or 89% of the 5,540 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 90% in 2017. 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.

2017 NJ Cat Kill Rates 1

2017 NJ Cat Kill Rates 2.jpg

2017 NJ Cat Kill Rates 3

2017 NJ Cat Kill Rates 4

2017 NJ Cat Kill Rates 5.jpg

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 New Jersey animal shelters sent more cats to rescues than my model targeted, the actual number was 59% since many cats were rescued from facilities which did not require so much rescue assistance. Only 34 out of the 71 facilities needing rescue assistance received the required support. In other words, only 48% 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 as a whole significantly exceeded their dog rescue needs and a much smaller number of shelters failed to receive enough rescue support, but just 48% of shelters needing cat rescue assistance received the needed support. 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 New Jersey to pass shelter reform bill S725 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 (excluding St. Hubert’s which transfers cats as part of national rescue campaigns) receiving the most extra rescue support were as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies-Newark – 441 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Paterson Animal Control – 259 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Camden County Animal Shelter – 202 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Monmouth SPCA – 169 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Passaic Animal Shelter – 153 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Associated Humane Societies – Tinton Falls – 135 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Trenton Animal Shelter – 123 more cats transferred than necessary

Associated Humane Societies-Newark, Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls, Paterson Animal Control, Trenton Animal Shelter and Passaic Animal Shelter are terrible facilities. Associated Humane Societies-Newark has a history of problemskills animals for ridiculous reasons and its Executive Director had animal cruelty charges filed against her. Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls made headlines for the wrong reasons after it temporarily banned volunteers from its facility several years ago. Paterson Animal Control has no volunteer program, no social media page or even a website with animals for adoption and violated state law left and right. Trenton Animal Shelter violated state law in 2017 per a New Jersey Department of Health limited scope inspection report. Passaic Animal Shelter operates a high kill shelter and makes little effort to save lives. 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:

  • Burlington County Animal Shelter – 787 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Vorhees Animal Orphanage – 293 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Cape May County Animal Shelter – 282 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Bergen County Animal Shelter – 254 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Northern Ocean County Animal Facility – 124 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Southern Ocean County Animal Facility – 101 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Hamilton Township Animal Shelter – 82 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter – 56 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • St. Hubert’s – North Branch – 56 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Franklin Township Animal Shelter – 53 fewer cats transferred than necessary

The million dollar question is why do these shelters receive very little rescue help? Some, such as Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility, reported no cats sent to rescues and may incorrectly count these animals as adopted. Bergen County Animal Shelter counted cats it took in for TNR in its intake and outcome numbers. Therefore, the shelter released many cats through its TNR program rather than adopting out these cats or sending these animals to rescues. As you will see below, Vorhees Animal Orphanage adopted out many cats and is doing a good job. On the other hand, Gloucester County Animal Shelter routinely illegally killed animals during the 7 day hold period, allowed disease to spread like wildfire and does not adopt out animals at the shelter on Sundays and Mondays. 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. Similarly, many shelters can use their bargaining power to require municipalities to allow TNR. As a result, space constrained shelters still need to take active steps to reduce killing rather than simply solely relying on rescue support.

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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 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 91 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 adoption target by the most of any shelter in terms of total adoptions. Animal Welfare Association 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. Animal Welfare Association also waives cat adoption fees for active military personnel and veterans in its Pets for Vets program. The shelter also waives adoption fees for senior citizens adopting certain senior pets. 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 adult cats and offers military personnel and veterans discounted adoption fees. Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter also exceeded its adoption target by a significant amount. From what I can tell, this shelter is customer friendly and also has a strong cat foster program. Thus, several rescue oriented shelters exceeded their cat adoption targets and Animal Welfare Association used a variety of innovative strategies to adopt out many cats.

Several animal control shelters also exceeded their adoption targets. EASEL Animal Rescue League, which operates the Ewing Animal Shelter, also exceeded its adoption target. This organization strives to make Mercer County no kill and it is no surprise this organization does a good job adopting out its cats. St. Hubert’s-Madison also exceeded its adoption target. This shelter is open seven days a week, including all holidays except Thanksgiving and Christmas, and has a very customer friendly adoption process. Vorhees Animal Orphanage also exceeded its adoption goal. 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. Cape May County Animal Shelter, which also exceeded its adoption target, has reasonable adoption fees of $70 for kittens, $35 for 1 to 3 year old cats and $20 for cats 4 years and older. Despite not being open many hours, West Milford Animal Shelter almost met its adoption goal. 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.” 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’s cat kill rate is too high 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 (i.e. leaving empty cat cages). 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 5,536 nearly equaled the 5,540 cats who unnecessarily lost their lives in New Jersey animal shelters in 2017. Associated Humane Societies has the funding to reach these adoption targets as the organization took in $7.6 million of revenue for the year ending 6/30/17. This works out to $598 of revenue per dog and cat I project the shelter should take in per my Life Saving Model. Given many no kill animal control shelters take in significantly less revenue per dog and cat impounded, Associated Humane Societies could achieve these adoption targets and effectively end the killing of healthy and treatable cats in its facilities and in all the state’s shelters. Activists wanting to increase life saving in New Jersey should focus on changing Associated Humane Societies’ policies given the lifesaving potential of this organization and its recent dismal performance.

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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. 85 of the 91 shelters should rescue some cats from other local shelters. In fact, 41 of the 85 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single cat from other animal shelters. Only 6 shelters with significant amounts of space to rescue cats from nearby shelters met or exceeded their cat rescue targets. 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.

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