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.

2019 Dog Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

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

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

Model Assesses New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Life Saving Performance

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

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

The model expands facility capacity to include the number of foster homes shelters should use. Based on a target American Pets Alive and other progressive shelter directors communicated at the 2019 American Pets Alive Conference, shelters should have 3% of their annual dog intake in foster homes at any one time. These estimates are based on what several no kill animal control shelters already accomplish. Given fostering increases capacity and provides more humane care to animals, it is critical shelters have large scale foster programs. Therefore, I added 3% of each shelter’s annual dog intake to the shelter’s physical capacity.

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

This year I modified the model to have shelters euthanize 1% of the dogs rescued from other shelters. While I believe my model in prior years accurately reflected the New Jersey animal shelter system as a whole, the model’s euthanized dog targets for shelters who primarily rescue animals from other shelters may have been a bit too strict.

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

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

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

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

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

New Jersey’s animal shelter system has enough space to save all of the state’s healthy and treatable dogs. The table below details the targeted numbers of dog outcomes the New Jersey animal shelter system should achieve. Out of the 20,531 New Jersey dogs coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2019, 9,834 and 1,092 dogs should have been adopted out and sent to other shelters/rescues by the facilities originally taking the dogs in. However, other New Jersey animal shelters had more than enough capacity to rescue the 1,092 dogs from space constrained facilities. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters should be able to able to adopt out every single healthy and treatable dog taken in from the state and not require any support from rescue organizations without physical facilities from a space perspective.

New Jersey animal shelters have enough excess space to save many dogs from out of state as well. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters had enough physical capacity to rescue at least 12,429 dogs from out of state after achieving a 95% live release rate for New Jersey dogs. To put this number into perspective, New Jersey animal shelters could make both New York City and Philadelphia no kill cities for dogs and increase those cities’ dog live release rates to 95% in 2019 as follows:

  • New York City – 1,047 additional dogs need saving
  • Philadelphia – 417 additional dogs need saving

Additionally, New Jersey animal shelters could pull at least another 10,965 dogs from other locations outside of the state. Of course, some New Jersey animal shelters do pull some dogs from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. However, most of these dogs are likely easy to adopt and therefore have short lengths of stay. As a result, the additional number of dogs New Jersey animal shelters could save from New York City, Philadelphia and elsewhere is probably not much lower than the figures above. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters could make New Jersey a no kill state for dogs as well as many other places.

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

  • Lynchburg Humane Society (Lynchburg, Virginia) – 14.3 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Longmont Humane Society (Longmont, Colorado area) – 9.0 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Lake County Animal Shelter (Lake County, Florida) – 4.6 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Williamson County Animal Shelter (Williamson County, Texas) – 4.6 dogs per 1,000 people

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

Some naysayers may claim New Jersey would have a more difficult time due to the state’s shelters taking in many pit bulls. However, this is a myth. My model estimates New Jersey animal shelters would need to adopt out roughly 0.4 pit bulls per 1,000 people to save 95% of New Jersey’s dogs. Our shelters would only need to adopt out around 1.5 pit bulls per 1,000 people if New Jersey shelters also rescued and adopted out the targeted number of pit bulls from other states. As a comparison, Florida’s Lake County Animal Shelter adopted out 1.32 pit bulls per 1,000 people in 2019. However, the shelter director believes the number is actually higher since the facility adopts out a good number of pit bull like dogs without a pit bull label. Furthermore, the pit bull adoption targets are even more reasonable given the model assumes there are roughly 1/3 of the number of dogs from other breeds to compete with in the New Jersey adoption market compared to Lake County, Florida.

Animal Deaths Vary Widely at New Jersey Animal Shelters

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

The tables below detail how many dogs should lose their lives at each state animal shelter per my model and the actual numbers of dogs that did. The model’s targets have shelters euthanizing 5% of community dogs (strays, owner surrenders, cruelty/bite cases, etc.) and 1% of dogs rescued from other shelters. All missing or lost dogs are assumed “dead” based on the assumption they died or went to a very bad place. Based on my review of a number of shelters’ underlying documents, virtually all of the dogs in the “Other” outcome category died or went missing. Shelters having the number of dogs losing their lives at or below my targets and above my targets are highlighted in green and red in the tables below.

The largest number of dogs unnecessarily dying occurred at a relatively small number of shelters. Overall, 880 dogs needlessly lost their lives at New Jersey animal shelters in 2019 (i.e. the sum of all shelters killing too many dogs). 13 out of 92 or 14% of the shelters accounted for 81% of the dogs unnecessarily losing their lives under the model’s assumptions. Associated Humane Societies’ three shelters needlessly killed 87 dogs per the model or 10% of the total dogs unnecessarily dying in the state’s shelters. Trenton Animal Shelter, Gloucester County Animal Shelter, Bergen County Animal Shelter and Paterson Animal Control, which all broke state law in recent years, needlessly killed 177 dogs per the model or 20% of the total dogs unnecessarily dying in the state’s shelters. Shelters with the greatest number of unnecessary dog deaths are as follows:

  • St. Hubert’s – Madison (104)
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter (90)
  • Associated Humane Societies – Newark (69)
  • Toms River Animal Facility (62)
  • Atlantic County Animal Shelter (58)
  • Bergen County Animal Shelter (56)
  • Trenton Animal Shelter (51)
  • Humane Society of Atlantic County (48)
  • Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center (41)
  • Liberty Humane Society (40)
  • Burlington County Animal Shelter (34)
  • Paterson Animal Control (31)
  • South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter (25)

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

Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Require Little Rescue Assistance

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

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

46 shelters received too much help, 26 facilities received just enough assistance and 20 shelters received too little help from other animal welfare organizations. However, the excess dogs rescued (1,653 dogs) at shelters receiving too much assistance was far higher than the rescue deficits at other shelters (173 dogs) resulting in the state’s shelters sending 1,480 more dogs than needed to rescues and other animal welfare organizations. Some shelters, such as Elizabeth Animal Shelter and Paterson Animal Control, report transfers to rescues and other shelters as adoptions. While I made adjustments for these facilities based on my reviews of these facilities underlying records in past years, its certainly possible other shelters incorrectly reported their data (i.e. counting animals sent to rescues as adoptions). Nonetheless, the New Jersey shelter system as a whole is receiving enough rescue assistance, but some shelters are hurt by rescues pulling animals from less needy facilities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Few organizations reached or exceeded their adoption targets. Specifically, only 7 out of 92 shelters met the adoption goals computed by the Life Saving Model. Thus, the overwhelming number of New Jersey animal shelters need to step up their adoption efforts.

Common Sense for Animals exceeded its adoption target, but this may at least partially be due to inaccurate records. While this organization exceeded its adoption targets, the shelter’s figures were off by 69 dogs using the methodology outlined in another blog.

Morris County animal shelters’ higher than targeted local dog adoption results are a bit misleading. These facilities benefited from the method I used to cap adoptions in the county and reduce adoption targets. For example, St. Hubert’s Noah’s Ark’s actual adoptions percentage of its targeted adoptions figures dropped from 159% to 64% when I looked at the unadjusted model. Similarly, Pequannock Animal Shelter’s and Denville Animal Shelter’s actual adoptions percentage of their targeted adoptions figure dropped from 240% to 100% and 100% to 40% when I looked at the unadjusted method. Since Morris County has many shelters that collectively have a very large capacity (i.e. very high adoption potential), my model reduces all Morris County animal shelters’ target adoptions to my county adoption cap. In addition, Pequannock Animal Shelter lists a dog capacity of just one dog at its shelter that is significantly less than the number of dog kennels I’ve seen at the facility in the past. Also, Tri-Boro Animal Welfare lists an unusually small dog capacity of just four dogs which lowered their adoption target. Therefore, these shelters have relatively low dog adoption targets. Additionally, St. Hubert’s-Noah’s Ark may rescue a number of dogs from other St. Hubert’s facilities and those dogs may come from out of state. Thus, these shelters really didn’t do an excellent job adopting out local dogs.

Similarly, Humane Society of Atlantic County and Humane Society of Ocean County also benefited from my model capping adoptions in their counties. Since much larger shelters exist in those counties, these smaller shelters had their adopting targets capped at a relatively low level. Humane Society of Atlantic County’s and Humane Society of Ocean County’s actual adoptions percentage of their targeted adoptions figures dropped from 106% to 91% and 125% to 44% when I looked at the unadjusted method.

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

  • Associated Humane Societies-Newark – 1,241 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Monmouth SPCA – 529 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Associated Humane Societies-Popcorn Park – 506 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Plainfield Area Humane Society – 494 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Tyco Animal Control – Paramus – 433 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Bergen County Animal Shelter – 428 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter – 388 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Burlington County Animal Shelter – 358 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Atlantic County Animal Shelter – 335 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Paterson Animal Control – 311 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Shake a Paw-Union – 310 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Greyhound Angels – 290 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Montclair Township Animal Shelter – 280 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • New Jersey Humane Society – 275 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Hamilton Township Animal Shelter – 274 fewer dogs adopted than targeted

Several shelters’ poor performance is quite predictable. Associated Humane Societies-Newark, Paterson Animal Shelter, Shake a Paw-Union, New Jersey Humane Society, Gloucester County Animal Shelter, Monmouth SPCA, Hamilton Township Animal Shelter and Bergen County Animal Shelter had troublesome stories involving the shelters and/or prominent people affiliated with these organizations in recent years. Tyco Animal Control performed poorly due to this for profit company having a regressive view of animal sheltering. Shake a Paw-Union’s low local adoption numbers are not surprising since it also operates a for profit pet store. Monmouth SPCA and Montclair Township Animal Shelter transported in many dogs from outside of New Jersey during 2019 that reduced their ability to save local dogs.

While Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center (formerly Camden County Animal Shelter) did not meet my adoption target, it came close. This shelter does offer fee waived adoptions of senior animals to people over 60 years old and free adoptions to those who served in the military. Additionally, the shelter has a pretty customer friendly adoption process.

Shelters Fail to Use Excess Space to Save Local Dogs

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

Virtually all New Jersey animal shelters are failing to rescue the number of local dogs they should. 90 of the 92 shelters should rescue some dogs from other local shelters. In fact, 43 of the 90 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single dog from a New Jersey animal shelter. Of the 90 shelters that should have rescued dogs, only four shelters met or exceeded their local dog rescue targets. However, two of those shelters, Humane Society of Atlantic County and St. Hubert’s-Noah’s Ark, may not have truly helped the number of medium to large size local dogs they should based on these shelters taking easier to adopt animals and possibly out of state animals (i.e. St. Hubert’s-Noah’s Ark may have rescued out of state transported dogs from other St. Hubert’s facilities that originally came from the south).

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

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

New Jersey Animal Shelters Need to Form Life-Saving Coalitions

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

Sobering Results Require Shelter Leaders to Critically Examine Themselves

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

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

Appendix – Life Saving Model Assumptions

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

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

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

Each shelter’s community dog intake (i.e. owner surrenders, strays, cruelty bite cases), number of dogs returned to owners, and maximum dog capacity were taken from its 2019 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health. Additionally, I added 3% of each shelter’s annual dog intake to account for foster capacity shelters should use based on American Pets Alive guidelines. Thus, total dog capacity equaled the shelter’s capacity plus foster capacity.

My model revised Tom’s River Animal Facility’s and Pennsville Township Pound’s community intake due to errors in their Shelter/Pound Annual Reports resulting in owner reclaims exceeding the beginning population plus 2019 community intake. Therefore, I increased the 2019 community intake to ensure the beginning population plus 2019 intake equaled the ending population.

Harmony Animal Hospital’s number of dogs returned to owners in community intake were reduced since the shelter had no beginning population or 2019 community intake. The model assumed these dogs were returned to the facilities the shelter rescued the animals from in 2019.

This data was then used as follows:

  • Community dog intake and dogs returned to owners were initially estimated for each month by dividing the annual figures by 12. In order to take into account the extra space in low intake months and reduced space in high intake months, we multiply that number by each month’s percentage of the average month. For example, assume 240 dogs were taken in during the year and the average month equals 20 dogs (240/12). In July, the dog intake is 120% higher than the average month and we therefore multiply 20 dogs by 1.2 to equal 24 dogs. If 120 dogs were returned to owners during the year, the estimated number of dogs returned to owners in July would equal 12 dogs (120/12 = 10; 10*1.2). The monthly intake percentages were based off the average of the 2019 dog intake data on New York Animal Care & Control’s and ACCT Philly’s web sites.
  • The estimated number of community dogs returned to owners each month are then assumed to stay 5 days on average at shelters based on data from other shelters across the country. If anything, this estimate is conservative (i.e. average length of stay for dogs returned to owners may be less than 5 days and therefore frees up more shelter space for adoptions) based on some shelters returning the bulk of their dogs to owners within 3 days.
  • The number of community dogs euthanized (including animals who died or are missing) is set to equal 5% of intake. 5% is a reasonable standard euthanasia rate for shelters in New Jersey to meet given few vulnerable stray puppies (i.e. who could die or require euthanasia) arrive in the state’s animal shelters. The average length of stay for euthanized dogs is assumed to equal 14.5 days. Half of dogs are assumed euthanized for untreatable aggression towards people and 21 days is the time estimated to make that determination. The other half of dogs are assumed euthanized for severe and untreatable health issues and I estimate these dogs are euthanized after 8 days (subsequent to the end of the stray hold and owner surrender protection periods).
  • Adopted dogs are assumed to stay at shelters for varying lengths of time. Adoption length of stay was based on data from a study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare and the figures used (except for space-constrained shelters) are located in a prior blog on pit bull adoption. The data primarily comes from Tompkins County SPCA during a time it saved over 90% of its dogs. This was a fairly conservative data set to use as other no kill open admission shelters’ average length of stay are substantially shorter. Specifically, the following assumptions were made:
    1. 80% and 20% of each communities dogs (including pit bulls) were adults 1 year and older and under 1 year.
    2. Pit bulls were assumed to comprise 50%, 35% and 25% of community dog intake at poor, middle/upper middle class, and wealthy area animal control shelters. While some shelters may have pit bulls comprising more than 50% of their shelter dog population at a given time, this is due to pit bulls longer average length of stay. For example, a shelter with pit bulls making up 50% of their dog intake and pit bulls having an average length of stay three times longer than other dogs will have pit bulls constituting 75% of the dog population. Shelters without animal control contracts were assumed to only have pit bulls make up 10% of their community dogs (i.e. strays and owner surrenders) based on most of these shelters’ highly selective admission practices.
    3. Pit bull adoption length of stay was taken directly from the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare study. The average adoption lengths of stay for other breeds from this study were averaged and used for dogs other than pit bulls in the analysis
  • Space constrained shelters were assumed to adopt out their easiest to adopt animals first until they ran out of space. To estimate the average adoption length of stay, I used pit bull adoption length of stay data from Greenhill Humane Society from March 2013 through May 2015. I broke the adoption length of stay data into 5 groups that each made up 20% of the data. The average adoption length of stay for each of these 5 groups was calculated. The average adoption length of stay of each group was divided by the average length of stay for all of the adopted pit bulls in the Greenhill Humane Society data set. Those percentages were then multiplied by the average dog adoption length of stay determined in the previous bullet and used to determine the adoption lengths of stay used for space-constrained shelters.
  • Dogs transferred to rescue or other facilities are assumed to stay at shelters 8 days on average based on the assumption strays can’t be released until the 7 day hold period elapses.
  • Community dogs not returned to owners or euthanized are initially assumed as adopted for each month. However, if the calculated length of stay exceeds the shelter’s required length of stay, dogs are moved from adoption (i.e. longer length of stay) to rescue (i.e. shorter length of stay) until the calculated length of stay each month approximately equals the required length of stay.
  • Animal control shelters have a minimum of 10% of unclaimed dogs go to rescues. To the extent shelters transfer 10% of unclaimed dogs to rescues despite having space (i.e. reclassifying dogs from adoptions with a longer length of stay to rescues with a shorter length of stay), I do not require these facilities to use that space to rescue additional dogs.
  • Required length of stay = Shelter’s total capacity/adjusted daily intake for the month. Adjusted daily intake for month = Adjusted monthly intake per first bullet above/the number of days in the month.
  • Shelters with excess capacity are assumed to use the extra space to rescue and adopt out dogs from other New Jersey animal shelters. To the extent all healthy and treatable New Jersey animal shelter dogs are saved, I assume additional dogs are pulled from nearby states with similar types of dogs. The model assumes shelters adopt out 99% of rescued dogs and euthanize 1% of them. Based on pit bull type dogs having longer lengths of stay at shelters, I assume 80% of dogs rescued from local animal shelters are pit bulls and 20% are non-pit bulls. 80% and 20% of pit bull and non-pit bull type dogs are considered 1 year and older and under 1 year. The average length of stay for rescued pit bulls and other dogs are the same as the adoption length of stay figures above. Due to immateriality, I assumed the dogs rescued and euthanized stayed at the shelter the same amount of time as the dogs adopted out.
  • Each month’s targeted outcomes are added to determine how many local dogs New Jersey animal shelters should adopt out, send to rescue, rescue from other nearby animal shelters and euthanize.
  • The targeted number of dogs rescued and adopted were capped at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people in each county. If the model yielded a higher result than this cap, the targeted numbers of dogs adopted were set to equal to this cap using the pit bull percentage assumptions above. For shelters in these counties (except Passaic County), I calculated the cap at the county level and then reduced the number of dogs adopted for the county to equal the cap. I excluded West Milford from Passaic County due the town’s large distance from the population centers in the rest of the county. Each shelter’s percentage of total targeted adoptions in the county from the unmodified model were applied to the the total reduction in the number of adoptions in the county to yield the targeted numbers of dogs adopted in the modified model. If the shelter also rescued animals from other shelters, the rescued numbers were also reduced since I assume rescued animals are adopted.

How Lake County Animal Shelter Became an Elite No Kill Facility

In my last blog, I detailed how Lake County Animal Shelter performed exceptionally well in 2019. Despite meager funding, having an inadequate physical facility and receiving little rescue support, Lake County Animal Shelter attained sky high live release rates, adopted out many dogs and cats and placed its animals quickly. So how did Lake County Animal Shelter accomplish this?

No Kill Learning provided excellent analyses in an August 2017 blog and in a January 2019 documentary film. After a five year shelter reform effort led by advocate Steve Shank, voters elected certain Board of County Commissioners in 2016 that supported no kill. Around this time, Lake County decided to take over the shelter from Lake County Sheriff’s Office. Lake County Sheriff’s Office operated the facility as a traditional kill shelter. During this time and for a period after taking the shelter over, Lake County used Mike Fry from No Kill Learning to help the county make the facility no kill. On January 15, 2017, Lake County took over the shelter and began to operate it as a no kill facility.

While other no kill consultants do good work, No Kill Learning stands out due to his comprehensive approach. No Kill Learning focuses on shelters fully implementing the No Kill Equation. The No Kill Equation, which was created by Nathan Winograd, consists of 11 programs to responsibly reduce the number of animals coming into shelters and increase the number of pets leaving those facilities alive. Additionally, these programs improve animal care while the pets are in shelters. In other words, this approach makes sure shelters run as proper no kill facilities.

Lake County Animal Shelter hired Whitney Boylston as the shelter director in the middle of 2017. Whitney formerly was a teacher and a counselor for pregnant teens. Additionally, she worked in a high volume spay/neuter clinic and assisted in Hurricane Katrina animal rescue efforts during her college years. Also, Whitney previously volunteered with Lake County Animal Shelter when it was a kill shelter and co-founded LEASH Inc in 2015. LEASH Inc focuses on helping Lake County Animal Shelter and other local facilities save lives and provide quality care to their animals. Like many successful no kill shelter directors, Whitney did not work in an animal shelter prior to her hiring.

Whitney clearly fullfills the No Kill Equation’s “Hard-Working, Compassionate Shelter Director” program. As Nathan Winograd states, this “is the most important” No Kill Equation program since the shelter director implements the other ten programs. Based on my conversations with Whitney, I was struck by her commitment to not killing. Specifically, Whitney, who makes all euthanasia decisions and personally euthanizes almost every animal, will only make that call if she would do the same for her personal pet. Additionally, Whitney is very sharp and understands the importance of targeting programs for vulnerable animals, such as the “Wait-til-8” program that keeps vulnerable young kittens out of the shelter until they are older. Similarly, Whitney uses a very data driven approach to make decisions that I rarely see in animal sheltering. Finally, Whitney is very personable, which may be due to her background working with people, that clearly is beneficial to implementing the other No Kill Equation programs that require great people skills. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter has the right person at the top to operate as an elite no kill facility.

Data Reviewed

To understand how Lake County Animal Shelter became so successful, I obtained the shelter’s “Kennel Statistics Report” for 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. These reports list the total numbers of animals coming into the shelter and their outcomes. Additionally, these reports break out not just major intake and outcome categories, such as owner surrenders and adoptions, but also list key subcategories. Therefore, its easy to understand a lot about the shelter from just looking at these reports.

In the tables below, I compared the shelter’s outcome results for 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. I labeled 2015 and 2016 “Pre-No Kill” and 2017, 2018 and 2019 “No Kill” (technically the facility was a kill shelter for the first 14 days of 2017, but I labeled the year as “No Kill” since the shelter was no kill for the other 351 days). Over the years, the shelter refined and improved its subcategories of intakes and outcomes. Therefore, some changes over the years resulted from data categorization revisions rather than substantive events. As a result, I focused on the real movements in the data and also talked with Whitney Boylston to get a better understanding of the shelter’s performance during these years.

No Kill Culture Ceases Dog Killing

Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog death rate data clearly shows the shelter’s no kill culture. While the shelter had modest decreases in the dog and nonreclaimed dog death rates from 2015 to 2016, these death rates dropped like a rock when the shelter went no kill in 2017 and significantly decreased in 2018 and 2019. Given dogs are far more challenging to save when a shelter has a very low death rate, the shelter’s improvements in 2018 and 2019 are extremely impressive.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s rationales for euthanizing animals over the years illustrate this culture change. Once the shelter went no kill in 2017, behavioral euthanasia dropped by 55%. In 2019, behavioral euthanasia dropped significantly more and was 93% lower than in 2016. Similarly, Lake County Animal Shelter’s medical related euthanasia (not counting owner requested euthanasia) significantly dropped after the shelter went no kill and continued to decrease in both 2018 and 2019. Most telling, the shelter euthanized 7.63% of all dogs for owner requested euthanasia in 2016, 0.45% in 2017, 0.00% in 2018 and 0.07% in 2019. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter stopped killing for convenience after the shelter went no kill and continued to raise the lifesaving bar afterwards.

The shelter uses a unique enrichment method to prevent dogs from developing behavior problems at the shelter. Whitney Boylston applied her teaching background to treat the shelter like “pre-school.” Dogs get “story time”, where they listen to an audio book, “music time”,  the “scent of the day”, where different scents are sprayed for the animals to sniff, “snack time”, where they get special treats, “nap time”, where no one enters the kennels during the lunch hour, and most importantly, “playtime.” Playtime consists of dog playgroups, which the shelter got around 75% of the dog population into each day during 2019. The dog playgroup program alleviates stress, particularly for large dogs like pit bulls, and also helps volunteers and shelter staff understand the animals to make good matches with adopters. Therefore, Lake County Animal Shelter put in place the No Kill Equation’s behavior prevention and rehabilitation programs.

The shelter’s no kill culture allows it to save dogs that many other facilities would quickly kill. Lake County Animal Shelter treats every dog as an individual and considers past problems in context. For example, a dog that had bitten once before before due to a specific trigger or an extraordinary circumstance that wouldn’t exist in a different home. The shelter fully discloses the animal’s past history both in a conversation and in writing and counsels the adopter to ensure the adopter can handle the animal. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter works with its community to save lives instead of just automatically killing animals with manageable issues.

Lake County Animal Shelter also made numerous improvements to its veterinary care after it went no kill. The shelter director reallocated her budget to increase veterinary spending by around 50%. Also, the shelter does as much veterinary work in-house as possible to save funds. The shelter also created a parvo ward in a barn on the grounds of the shelter that eliminated parvo deaths. In addition, the shelter’s managed intake program for owner surrenders requires such animals receive vaccinations 2 weeks prior to admission. Finally, the “Wait-til-8” program, which keeps young vulnerable kittens out of the shelter, reduces kitten deaths and the risk of more widespread disease outbreaks. As a result, the shelter fully implemented the No Kill Equation’s medical prevention and rehabilitation programs.

Despite the shelter ending the killing of healthy and treatable dogs, the shelter did not limit dog intake after it went no kill. In the pre-no kill years, Lake County Animal Shelter took in an average of 2,947 dogs each year compared to an average of 3,044 dogs in the no kill years.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s managed intake and pet retention programs ensure the shelter only takes in owned animals requiring re-homing. Under the shelter’s managed intake program, the shelter counsels adopters to help see if the owner can keep the animal or safely re-home the animal on their own. However, the program has proper guardrails around it where the shelter immediately takes in emergency cases and admits animals typically within two to three weeks (i.e. not an endless wait-list that some shelters have). The shelter also provides a list of low cost veterinarians, free food and dog training classes to owners wanting to surrender their animals (adopters also get free dog training classes). Finally, the shelter gives pet food to a human food pantry to ensure pet owners in need are able to feed their animals. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter implemented the No Kill Equation’s pet retention program.

Owner Reclaims and Adoptions Drive Dog Live Release Up

The following table details what outcomes increased Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog live release rate from 2016 to 2019 (note the “Transfer % number in the “Change” column does not compute exactly due to rounding). As the table shows, the shelter sent more dogs to their owners and to new adopters after the facility went no kill. In fact, these live outcomes increased so much they more than made up for rescues pulling significantly fewer dogs.

Innovative Programs Send More Lost Dogs Back to Their Families

Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog return to owner improvement is among the best I’ve ever seen. Typically, I see socioeconomic factors drive differences in return to owner rates between shelters. In other words, wealthier people tend to microchip and/or license their dogs and also can afford steep reclaim fees. Since almost all shelters make little effort to find the owners of lost pets, the socioeconomic status of the people in a shelter’s service area generally explain differences in owner reclaim rates. In fact, I only know of two shelters that have had significant success in increasing the percentage of dogs returned to owners. The first, Sacramento, California’s Front Street Animal Shelter, had its dog return to owner percentage of outcomes increase 8% from 2016 to 2019. However, this was less than Lake County Animal Shelter’s 10% improvement over the same period. Additionally, much of Front Street Animal Shelter’s efforts, such as low cost microchips, free license tags and giving pet owners resources to find their pets after the owner text messages the shelter, puts the onus on the pet owner rather than the shelter. Finally, Front Street Animal Shelter’s return to owner rate increased significantly after it received $250,000 from the Petco Foundation in 2018 to fund its text message based lost pets program. While Dallas Animal Services has had an impressive increase in its dog return to owner rate, much of this was due to its animal control officers returning dogs to owners in the field (i.e. without going to the shelter). Since Lake County Animal Shelter does not do field services, returning dogs to owners in the field is not something it can do. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter’s performance with lost dogs is among the best I’ve ever seen.

Lake County Animal Shelter makes great efforts to return dogs to their owners rather than taking the passive approach most shelters use. First, the shelter does thorough investigations when there is any potential lead on an owner. For example, the shelter may 1) contact microchip companies to find an owner of an animal with an unregistered chip and 2) look on social media for the owner or their relatives when the shelter doesn’t have current owner contact information. Similarly, if someone thinks the dog might belong to someone they only know the first name of, the shelter will search property records in the neighborhood. Additionally, the shelter has volunteer “pet detectives” that look at the shelter’s dog intake records and stray dog photos and match those with lost dog reports in the community (such as on lost pet Facebook pages). Finally, the shelter waives/reduces reclaim fees when the owner has a financial hardship, drives pets to owners homes if needed and allows owners to reclaim their animal before or after normal operating hours. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter actively tries to find pet owners under its “proactive reunification” program.

The shelter also uses several technological solutions to help owners find their animals at the shelter. First, the shelter offers $10 microchips to owners who reclaim their pets. Second, the shelter lists all stray dogs, cats and other animals, including photos, on the stray animals section of its web site. This web site section also contains a link to Finding Rover, which takes a photo of the pet that the owner uploads and matches it against a photo of that animal if its on the shelter’s web site. Third, the stray animals section of the shelter’s web site has a link to pawboost.com, which allows owner of lost pets and finders of lost pets to have the animals automatically posted to the lost and found pet Facebook page in the area. Fourth, people can directly schedule an appointment to reclaim their pet on this part of the web site. Finally, this web site section has a link to the ASPCA’s guide for helping owners find their lost pets. As a result, the shelter gives owners of lost pets great resources to help find their animals.

The following tables show how these programs collectively increased the number of dogs returned to owners and the percentage of dogs returned to owners after the shelter went no kill.

The potential impact of specific return to owner programs are detailed in the following table. The “Microchip” category likely reflects aggressive efforts to find hard to locate owners of pets with microchips as well as the $10 microchips the shelter offers to owners of reclaimed pets. The “Web” category includes people reclaiming their pets through the shelter web site, social media and an app, such as Finding Rover. Therefore, the stray animals web site section as well as the pet detective program likely impact these numbers. The “Adoption” category has return to owners where the shelter reduces the reclaim fee to the shelter’s much lower adoption fee and vets the animal as if it were adopted (i.e. spay/neuter, vaccinations, microchip, ID tag). Finally, the “Field” category reflects dogs that Lake County Sheriff’s animal control officers drove back to their owners. While its difficult to pinpoint the precise impact of every return to owner initiative, its clear these programs collectively increase owner redemptions.

High Powered Dog Adoption Program Drives Lifesaving

Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog adoptions skyrocketed after the shelter went no kill. In the no kill initiative’s first year, dog adoptions increased by 46%. By 2018 and 2019, dog adoptions increased 77% and 61% from the 2016 levels. While total dog adoptions decreased from 2018 to 2019, this was primarily due to the shelter taking fewer dogs in during 2019. On a percentage of outcomes basis, dog adoptions increased the dog live release rate by 15%, 20% and 19% in 2017, 2018 and 2019 from the 2016 metric. Thus, dog adoptions played a huge role in making Lake County Animal Shelter no kill.

The shelter does several things to increase adoptions. First, the shelter became much more welcoming to the public and has a “much more positive atmosphere.” Second, the adoption fees are low ($20 for dogs, $10 for cats and those adopting a second cat pay no fee). Additionally, the shelter places great efforts in offering an excellent adoption counseling experience. As part of that experience, the shelter and its volunteers get to know the animals well and make great matches between pets and people. Even with the shelter adopting out far more challenging animals than most facilities, Lake County Animal Shelter had a normal dog adoption return rate of 9% and an extremely low cat adoption return rate of 3%. Additionally, the shelter takes very engaging photos of their pets, and shares them on active and creative Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages as well as Petfinder and Adopt a Pet. Finally, the shelter gives adopters a chance to adopt animals for 24 hours before a rescue can take the pet. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter aggressively markets their pets and offers great customer services to adopters when they visit the shelter.

Lake County Animal Shelter also does not include breed labels on its cage cards. A peer reviewed study, which you can find here, found breed labels, particularly for pit bull like dogs, prolonged length of stay and reduced the adoption chances of these animals. While the shelter does include breed labels in the adoption paperwork an adopter receives, leaving the breed label off the cage card allows an adopter to fall in love with a dog without being negatively biased by breed. Thus, removing breed labels from cage cards helps the shelter adopt out dogs, particularly its pit bulls.

No Kill Equation programs that get animals out of the facility also assist Lake County Animal Shelter’s adoption efforts. The shelter’s very large foster program, which I discussed in my last blog, 1) allows potential adopters too see if animals are a good fit (i.e. trial adoptions), 2) gives animals, particularly longer stay dogs, a break from shelter stress and 3) gets young kittens that are vulnerable to disease out of the shelter. Lake County Animal Shelter makes it easy to foster by allowing people to apply online and also notifying individuals when animals are available for fostering. The “Wait-til-8” program has a similar effect of keeping young vulnerable kittens out of the shelter until they are older and highly adoptable. Thus, the shelter is able to help many vulnerable animals, whether its due to behavioral issues or susceptibility to disease, get/stay out of the facility or become placeable until people can adopt these animals.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s volunteer, managed intake and medical and behavior rehabilitation programs also help the shelter adopt out animals many other facilities would kill. As described above, these programs make the animals healthier and more adoptable.

The shelter’s excellent public relations and community involvement engages the public to adopt and help save lives. The shelter routinely appears on media, such as radio shows. In one great example, Whitney Boylston did a short video for a local newspaper talking about the shelter’s success and asking the public to adopt after the facility received an influx of animals. Another example is where the shelter talked with a local newspaper to ask the public to watch movies and eat popcorn with shelter cats (i.e. reduces stress to make cats less susceptible to disease and helps the cats become more socialized to make the animals more adoptable). In another example, the shelter teamed up with local firefighters on a local news channel to promote an adoption event. Similarly, the shelter’s Facebook page used creative videos to engage the community to foster, adopt pets that get delivered on Christmas under the Santa Paws program and adopt dogs from play groups. Additionally, Whitney Boylston reached out to the fire department for them to help build cat portals, which reduce shelter stress and risk of illness and help shelters adopt cats out quicker. Thus, the shelter’s strong outreach to the community significantly aids its adoption efforts.

The following table details the dog adoption subcategories from 2015 to 2019. While some of the groupings changed over the years, we can glean some interesting information. Over the years, the Pend HW TX adoptions, which is where the shelter adopts out a heartworm positive dog and the adopter must schedule a heartworm visit (the shelter tracks to see if treated or not), increased. The Pre program, which is where up to three people sign up to adopt a dog during the stray/hold period if the owner does not reclaim the animal, resulted in many adoptions after the shelter started the initiative in the last couple of years. Also, dogs adopted out of foster homes increased a lot in recent years likely due to the shelter’s large foster program. Finally, offsite adoptions, which take place at a local PetSmart, increased after the the shelter started the initiative in 2017.

Rescue Efforts Focused on Most Vulnerable Animals

While “rescue partnerships” are a key No Kill Equation program, shelters need to put parameters around them. Certainly, high kill shelters should allow rescues to pull any animal. On the other hand, no kill shelters only need rescues to pull the most vulnerable animals that the shelters cannot save or would have great difficulty doing so. Therefore, no kill shelters should institute policies to encourage rescues to save the most vulnerable pets, whether those animals are at the facility or at other shelters.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s policies and performance encourage rescues to save the most vulnerable pets. As mentioned above, Lake County Animal Shelter gives adopters a chance to adopt animals for 24 hours before a rescue can take the pet and also lets adopters reserve animals during the stray/hold period. These policies ensure rescues only pull animals that wouldn’t otherwise be quickly adopted out. Finally, Lake County Animal Shelter’s high live release rates encourages rescues to pull from other shelters that kill many animals.

The tables below show rescues pulling fewer dogs in total and on a percentage of outcomes basis after the shelter went no kill. In other words, Lake County Animal Shelter significantly increased its dog live release rate despite receiving less rescue assistance.

The dog transfers subcategories show rescues primarily pull vulnerable animals. Specifically, rescues mostly pulled dogs for medical and behavior reasons and nursing puppies and their mothers.

No Kill Cat Culture 

As I mentioned in my last blog, one can calculate the cat live release by including or excluding cats brought to the shelter and returned to caregivers under the Operation Caturday program. Under the “Operation Caturday” program, Lake County Animal Shelter neuters and vaccinates “unowned” and “free-roaming” cats and frequently returns the animals to caregivers or the locations where the cats were found without identified caregivers. In order to make an apples to apples comparison to prior years and present conservative figures, I excluded 226 cats (211 adults and 15 kittens) in 2018 and 636 cats (587 adults and 49 kittens) in 2019 from the outcomes in the tables below.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat death rates massively decreased after the shelter went no kill. As the tables below show, the shelter’s cat death rate dropped from 44% just before the facility went no kill to just 9% in 2019. When we look at just adult cats, 51% of cats lost their lives in 2016 and under 10% lost their lives in 2019. Similarly, the kitten death rate decreased from 35% to 9% from 2016 to 2019.

The shelter’s decision to stop killing cats for behavior, such as being feral, significantly helped cats. Just prior to the shelter going no kill in 2016, Lake County Animal Shelter killed 25% of cats, 37% of adult cats and even 10% of kittens for behavior. In both 2018 and 2019, the shelter did not kill a single cat for behavioral reasons.

Lake County Animal Shelter also significantly decreased its killing/euthanasia of cats for medical related reasons. Overall, the shelter killed/euthanized 10-12% of cats for health reasons before it went no kill and only euthanized 4% of cats for medical reasons in 2018 and 2019. While the shelter euthanized significantly fewer adult cats for medical reasons after it went no kill, the drop in kitten killing/euthanasia from 13%-14% before the shelter went no kill to just 3% in 2018 and 2019 is notable. Most impressively, the shelter stopped taking in healthy strays after it went no kill. Therefore, the shelter took in a greater percentage of more challenging cats after it implemented the no kill policies. Clearly, the shelter’s veterinary care improved and the shelter’s commitment to not killing treatable animals became strong. Additionally, the “Wait-til-8” program that keeps vulnerable young kittens out of the shelter until they are older also likely contributed to the decreased kitten euthanasia for medical reasons in 2018 and 2019.

The shelter’s data on cats who died or went missing also shows the no kill effort’s success. Often, shelters going no kill will have a somewhat high number of cats dying due to the shelter making efforts to save animals that traditional shelters kill. Despite Lake County Animal Shelter going no kill, cats who died or went missing did not increase. In fact, the percentage kittens that died or went missing substantially decreased from 2016 to 2019. The “Wait-til-8” program almost certainly contributed to this.

As with dogs, the shelter stopped killing cats under the guise of “owner requested euthanasia” after it went no kill.

Despite Lake County Animal Shelter saving so many more cats, it did not reduce the number of cats going through its doors. While actual cat intake (which excludes 226 cats in 2018 and 636 cats in 2019 brought to the shelter and returned to caregivers) slightly decreased after Lake County Animal Shelter went no kill, the total number of cats the shelter impounded or helped through Operation Caturday was similar before and after Lake County Animal Shelter went no kill.

When we look at the cat intake numbers more closely, we see Lake County Animal Shelter took in more cats that needed sheltering. As the table below shows, Lake County Animal Shelter impounded significantly more owner surrendered cats after the shelter went no kill. When the public views a shelter as a safe place, those individuals are more likely to be willing to surrender their animals when they can’t care for them. On the other hand, stray cat intake, and especially feral cat and over the counter cat intake, significantly decreased. Shelters should not take in healthy stray cats who are not in danger since such cats 1) clearly are receiving good care in the community, 2) are far more likely to find their way home and 3) often experience stress and disease risk in even the best shelters. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter took in more cats that needed sheltering after it went no kill.

The cat intake data also shows how the Operation Caturday program saves lives. Based on my discussions with Whitney Boylston, the shelter often is able to redirect stray cats brought to the shelter by the public (i.e. “Stray OTC”) to Operation Caturday where the shelter sterilizes, vaccinates and returns the cats to their outdoor homes. When we examine the stray OTC data over the years, the decrease is almost entirely offset by the increase in the number of cats neutered, vaccinated and returned under the Operation Caturday program. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter is redirecting its resources to save cats now and in the future by investing in its community cat sterilization program.

Adoption and Return to Field Programs Save Cats 

The following table details what outcomes increased Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat live release rate from 2016 to 2019 (note some numbers in the “Change” column do not compute exactly due to rounding). As the table shows, the shelter adopted out many more cats and also released more cats to outdoor homes after the facility went no kill. While cats returned to owners did not increase, adult cats, which are likely harder for owners to find, did get returned to owners more often possibly due to the shelter’s lost pet reunification efforts discussed above. As with dogs, these live outcomes increased so much they more than made up for rescues pulling significantly fewer cats.

Cat Sterilization Program Saves Cats at and Outside of the Shelter

Lake County Animal Shelter’s return to field data shows this program saved significant numbers of cats. After the shelter went no kill, it started sterilizing, vaccinating and returning cats to their outdoor homes. In 2018, Lake County Animal Shelter created Operation Caturday and significantly increased the scale of this program. Under Operation Caturday, the public pays just $10 for the spay/neuter and vaccination services. As the tables below show, Operation Caturday had a significant impact on the adult cat live release rate.

The shelter also sterilized many additional cats through the Operation Caturday program. As mentioned above, I excluded cats brought by the public to the shelter for spay/neuter and vaccination services under this program. While these cats do not impact the shelter’s live release rate, these services do the following:

  1. Help limit future cat intake by reducing kitten births
  2. Significantly reduce outdoor kitten deaths, due to large percentages of newborn kittens typically dying outdoors, as a major study showed

If we counted these cats in the shelter’s outcomes, 19% of all cats and 32% of adult cats served by the shelter went through this program. When we add the cats returned to field counted in the statistics above, 22% of all cats and 38% of adult cats served by the shelter went back to their outdoor home spayed/neutered and vaccinated. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter implemented the No Kill Equation’s “High Volume, Low Cost Sterilization” and “Community Cat/Dog Sterilization” programs to help control cat intake at the shelter and reduce kitten deaths on the streets.

Cat Adoptions Dramatically Increase After Shelter Goes No Kill

Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat adoption data shows the shelter’s transformation after it went no kill. After going no kill, the shelter doubled its cat adoptions in total and more than doubled them on a percentage of outcomes basis. In fact, Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat adoptions have steadily increased on a percentage of outcomes basis in the years after the facility went no kill. As described above in the dog adoptions section, many initiatives increased cat adoptions.

The shelter’s adoption subcategories reveal the success of certain No Kill Equation programs. After Lake County Animal Shelter went no kill, the shelter reported many cats adopted from foster homes. While the shelter previously didn’t have this subcategory, the significant growth in the foster program certain contributed to these numbers. Additionally, the Pre program, which is where up to three people sign up to adopt a cat during the stray/hold period if the owner does not reclaim the animal, resulted in many adoptions after the shelter started the initiative. Also, the shelter adopted out working or barn cats after it went no kill. While these adoptions did decrease after 2017, this may be due to the shelter returning more sterilized cats to the community through the Operation Caturday program. Finally, offsite adoptions, which take place at a local PetSmart, increased after the the shelter started the initiative in 2017.

Rescues Take Cats Most Needing Help

Lake County Animal Shelter’s transfers data in the following tables show the shelter relying far less on rescues after it went no kill. While the adult cats transferred decreased significantly, the number of kittens transferred decreased much more. This is due to Lake County Animal Shelter adopting out more kittens as well as the shelter’s “Wait-til-8” program keeping vulnerable kittens out of the shelter.

As the tables below show, rescues primarily pulled cats with medical issues, cats who stayed at the shelter a long time and kittens that are typically vulnerable to disease in a shelter. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter allowed rescues to focus on the cats most needing help.

Comprehensive Implementation of the No Kill Equation Makes Lake County Animal Shelter an Elite Facility

At the end of the day, Lake County Animal Shelter succeeds since it comprehensively implements the No Kill Equation. As the following table shows, Lake County Animal Shelter fully implemented the No Kill Equation. These programs responsibly reduce animal intake, improve animal care, increase live animal outcomes and generate community support to do so in a fiscally responsible manner. Simply put, Lake County Animal Shelter does what it takes to save lives and is a role model for all shelters to follow.

Florida’s Fantastic Animal Shelter

Lake County Animal Shelter is a large animal control facility in central Florida. The shelter takes significantly more animals in than the largest animal control facility in New Jersey. On a per capita basis, Lake County Animal Shelter impounds more than twice as many animals than New Jersey animal shelters take in from within the state.

Lake County went no kill on January 15, 2017. Before this time, Lake County Sheriff’s Office ran the facility as a traditional kill shelter. After a long shelter reform effort, Lake County (i.e. Lake County Animal Services) took over the shelter on January 15, 2017. Prior to taking the shelter over and for a period of time after, Lake County hired No Kill Learning to ensure the shelter properly operated as a no kill facility. No Kill Learning’s documentary video tells this moving story in greater detail. You can watch that video here.

What kind of job did Lake County Animal Shelter do in 2019? How does Lake County Animal Shelter compare to traditional shelters?

Data Reviewed

To better understand Lake County Animal Shelter’s performance, I obtained detailed shelter intake and disposition records. Intake and disposition records list each individual animal the shelter took in and their outcome. I used the 2019 records to conduct the analyses below. Additionally, I used the 2018 report to calculate the length of stay for some animals that came in during 2018, but had an outcome in 2019. You can find the 2019 report here and the 2018 report here. Also, you can find a summary of the 2019 statistics here.

In order to see if the shelter did not count any animals it euthanized/killed, I also reviewed additional documents. Specifically, I checked the shelter’s Controlled Substance Logs for euthanasia drugs and outside veterinarian bills. These documents indicated the shelter did not euthanize/kill any animals “off the books.”

Finally, I obtained Lake County Animal Shelter’s 2019 fiscal year budget and 2020 fiscal year budget as well as Lake County Sheriff’s 2019 fiscal year budget for animal control and the same budget for 2020 fiscal year. I compared this data, which covered the 2019 calendar year, to financial information from other shelters below.

Amazing Live Release Rates

Lake County Animal Shelter saved virtually every dog that arrived in 2019. Overall, only 1.1% of all dogs, 2.1% of pit bull like dogs, 0.5% of small dogs and 0.7% of other medium to large size dogs lost their lives or went missing at the shelter. In other words, Lake County Animal Shelter saved approximately 99% of all dogs, 98% of pit bull like dogs, 99% of small dogs and 99% of other medium to large size dogs. Even if we only look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners, only 1.5% of all dogs, 3.1% of pit bulls, 0.8% of small dogs and 1.1% of other medium to large size breeds lost their lives or went missing in 2019. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter saved almost every dog it took in last year.

To better reflect Lake County Animal Shelter’s pit bull statistics, I included American bulldogs in the pit bull data. Typically, I only include traditional “pit bull” like breeds, such as American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers and bull terriers. In the shelters I’ve reviewed, the facilities took few American bulldogs in. However, Lake County Animal Shelter impounded large numbers of American bulldogs during 2019 as the following table shows. Furthermore, the American bulldog statistics, which were excellent, were not quite as good as the traditional pit bull data. Thus, I included American bulldogs to provide a more clear picture of Lake County Animal Shelter’s pit bull performance.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s pit bull numbers are especially noteworthy. Despite taking in 811 pit bull like dogs in 2019, Lake County Animal Shelter saved 98% of these animals. On a per capita basis, Lake County Animal Shelter impounded 2.2 pit bulls per 1,000 people in 2019 compared to my estimate of New Jersey animal shelters taking in just 0.9 pit bulls per 1,000 people from the state in 2018. In other words, Lake County Animal Shelter saved 98% of its pit bull like dogs even though it took in around two and a half times as many of these dogs on a per capita basis as New Jersey animal shelters. Similarly, Lake County Animal Shelter adopted out 1.3 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. As a result, Lake County Animal Shelter’s results prove New Jersey animal shelters can do a far better job with their pit bull like dogs.

Lake County Animal Shelter also had excellent cat numbers. Overall, only 7.3% of all cats, 5.9% of 1 year old plus cats and 9.1% of kittens under 1 year old lost their lives at Lake County Animal Shelter in 2019. Even if we exclude cats who were reclaimed by owners and placed through the return to field program, only 9.7% of all cats, 9.4% of 1 year old plus cats and 9.9% of kittens under 1 year old lost their lives in 2019. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter saved almost all their cats of various ages.

My analysis did not differentiate between older (6 weeks to just under 1 year) and younger (under 6 weeks) kittens due to Lake County Animal Shelter’s innovative “Wait-til-8” program. Under this program, the shelter asks the public to care for kittens until they reach 8 weeks of age. Since young kittens are highly vulnerable to disease in a shelter, especially one with a poor physical design like Lake County Animal Shelter, this makes sense. The shelter provides wellness services every two to three weeks where the shelter weighs the kittens, deworms them and gives vaccinations. Additionally, Lake County Animal Shelter gives the people supplies, such as food, litter and kitten milk replacements. When the kittens reach 8 weeks, the shelter takes them in. Since Lake County Animal Shelter does not impound these animals until they are older than 6 weeks, these under 6 weeks old kittens are not counted in its statistics. Therefore, the shelter only takes a small number of under 6 weeks old kittens that are typically much more difficult animals. As a result, breaking out under 6 weeks old kittens would not provide useful information and would create a misleading picture when comparing to other shelters.

One can view the shelter’s cat sterilization program in different ways when calculating the cat death rates. Under the “Operation Caturday” program, Lake County Animal Shelter neuters and vaccinates “unowned” and “free-roaming” cats and frequently returns the animals to caregivers or the locations where the cats were found without identified caregivers. Per my discussion with shelter director, Whitney Boylston, the shelter impounds these cats and can place some animals through other programs, such as return to owner or adoptions. Therefore, one can make the argument the shelter should include these animals in its statistics based on the Shelter Animals Count data reporting guidelines that state such cats are included if the animals are “admitted for sheltering” and not “only for a service or services (sterilization and/or vaccination).” On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of Operation Caturday cats are brought in by a caregiver and returned to that caregiver (i.e. shelter operates like a clinic assisting TNR efforts and should not count these cats in its statistics).

To provide full transparency, I calculated alternative death rates using two methods to exclude these animals. Under the first method, I reduced returned to field and total outcomes by the 636 cats brought to the shelter by the public under Operation Caturday. The second death rate calculation decreased returned to field and total outcomes by the 678 cats returned to caregivers. This calculation is more punitive and likely overstates the cat death rate since stray cats may be returned to caregivers (i.e. these should always count in the statistics). Even with the more conservative cat death rate calculations, the shelter still had no kill level cat statistics.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s statistics are more impressive given the physical facility is poor and the shelter receives little rescue assistance. 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. In other words, the physical facility makes it difficult to save large dogs with behavior issues and cats who have medical problems or are vulnerable if they become sick. Additionally, rescues pull few animals from Lake County Animal Shelter (10% of dogs and 4% of cats). While rescues pulling few pets due to Lake County Animal Shelter taking care of business is great news (i.e. rescues can pull animals in danger at kill shelters), it presents a challenge to achieve very high live release rates/low death rates. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter’s performance is remarkable given these challenges.

Animals Quickly Leave Shelter Alive

Lake County Animal Shelter’s dogs quickly left the shelter. Overall, all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size dogs left the shelter in 19.2 days, 29.0 days, 7.3 days and 20.2 days. Additionally, Lake County Animal Shelter adopted out all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size dogs in just 30.0 days, 43.9 days, 10.3 days and 31.4 days. Given this shelter’s extremely high dog live release rate and it transferring few dogs to rescues (i.e. Lake County Animal Shelter adopts out more challenging dogs than most shelters), these short adoption length of stay figures are impressive.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s length of stay data also reveals the shelter makes strong efforts to save all dogs. Overall, the shelter euthanized all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size dogs in 31.4 days, 40.1 days, 44.7 days and 17.9 days. As a comparison, Animal Care Centers of NYC killed all dogs, large dogs, medium dogs and small dogs in just 3.6 days, 6.0 days, 3.9 days and 0.9 days in 2018. Clearly, Lake County Animal Shelter makes significant efforts to save the small number of dogs it euthanizes instead of just quickly killing such animals.

The shelter’s pit bull length of data looks better without including American bulldogs. As the table below shows, American bulldogs stayed at the shelter longer than the traditional pit bull breeds. If we only look at traditional pit bull breeds, these dogs had an overall average length of stay of just 22.6 days and were adopted out in 36.3 days. Thus, the pit bull length of stay data would look better if I did not include American bulldogs.

Almost all Lake County Animal Shelter dogs left the shelter quickly. The following table shows the distribution of the dog lengths of stay. Remarkably, 69% and 80% of dogs left the shelter within 10 days and 19 days. In fact, 96% of all dogs left the shelter within 96 days. Simply put, substantially all dogs left the shelter within three months or so. While a very small number of dogs did stay a lot longer, this is normal at high performing no kill shelters that strive to save rather than take lives. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter achieved no kill by quickly placing almost all of its dogs.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s cats also quickly left the facility alive. Overall, all cats, 1 year old and older cats and kittens less than 1 year old left the shelter in 23.6 days, 19.7 days and 28.5 days. Additionally, Lake County Animal Shelter adopted out all cats, 1 year and older cats and kittens less than 1 year old in just 33.3 days, 33.6 days and 33.1 days. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter achieved a high cat live release rate by quickly placing these animals.

While the shelter euthanized cats quicker than dogs, this make sense. Since the shelter euthanized cats for severe medical reasons rather than for behavior, cats should be euthanized quicker. Additionally, injured cats, such as those hit by cars, often have a much more dire outcome than dogs.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s overall cat length of stay was still short even if we exclude cats returned to caregivers. If we exclude these cats, the overall average length of stay was 29.2 days, 27.9 days and 30.6 days for all cats, 1 year old and older cats and kittens less than 1 year old. Similarly, these figures would only rise to 29.6 days, 28.4 days and 30.7 days for all cats, 1 year old and older cats and kittens less than 1 year old if we exclude all cats returned to field (i.e. with or without an identified caregiver). Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter’s cats quickly left the shelter alive even without its return to field program.

Substantially all Lake County Animal Shelter cats left the facility quickly. The following table shows the distribution of the cat lengths of stay. 57% and 70% of cats left the shelter within 13 days and 32 days. In fact, 96% of all cats left the shelter within 89 days. As with dogs, a small number of cats did stay substantially longer, but this is normal at a high performing no kill shelter that strives to save virtually every animal. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter achieved no kill by quickly finding live outcomes for substantially all of its cats.

Lake County Animal Shelter Only Euthanizes Dogs for Legitimate Reasons

Lake County Animal Shelter limits behavioral euthanasia to truly aggressive dogs. As you can see in the following table listing the reasons Lake County Animal Shelter used to euthanize dogs in 2019, the shelter only euthanized 0.40% of all dogs for behavioral related reasons (i.e. severe behavior issue, court order and dangerous). Remarkably, Lake County Animal Shelter meets the No Kill Advocacy Center behavioral euthanasia target (i.e. under 1%) that even many no kill shelters claim is too lofty. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter limited behavioral euthanasia to truly aggressive dogs.

Similarly, Lake County Animal Shelter only euthanized hopelessly suffering dogs for medical reasons. As the table below shows, the shelter euthanized just 0.41% of dogs for medical issues (i.e. severe illness, severe injury and owner requested).

The shelter also limited behavioral euthanasia for pit bull like dogs to truly aggressive animals. Lake County Animal Shelter only euthanized 0.86% of all pit bulls for aggression, behavior and court order reasons. Lake County Animal Shelter also met the No Kill Advocacy Center all dogs behavioral euthanasia target (i.e. under 1%) for supposedly difficult to save pit bulls. As with all dogs, Lake County Animal Shelter only euthanized a very small number of all pit bulls for medical reasons (0.49%).

Lake County Animal Shelter’s separate traditional pit bull and American bulldog data shows the same pattern. The shelter only euthanized 0.95% of traditional pit bull breeds and 0.70% of American bulldogs for behavioral reasons. Similarly, the shelter only euthanized 0.57% of traditional pit bull breeds and 0.35% of American bulldogs for medical reasons.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s reasons for euthanizing small dogs showed it only euthanized hopelessly suffering animals. The shelter euthanized no small dogs for aggression and other behavioral reasons. Given small dogs do not pose a serious danger to adult people who are dog savvy, this is exactly what we should see at every shelter. As the table below shows, the shelter only euthanized 0.39% of small dogs for severe medical reasons.

The shelter also only euthanized other medium to large size dogs for legitimate reasons. Lake County Animal Shelter only euthanized 0.37% of other medium to large size dogs for behavioral related reasons. The rest of the other medium to large size dogs were euthanized for severe medical problems (0.36% of other medium to large size dogs).

Lake County Animal Shelter Limits Cat Euthanasia to Severe Medical Issues

The table below lists the reasons Lake County Animal Shelter used to euthanize cats in 2019. As you can see, the shelter only euthanized cats for severe medical reasons (i.e. severe illness, severe injury and rabies test). Most impressively, Lake County Animal Shelter did not kill a single cat for behavior or aggression. Given shelters should never kill cats for aggression or behavioral reasons, this is an incredible achievement since 3,376 cats had outcomes (2,740 cats excluding the 636 Operation Caturday animals) at Lake County Animal Shelter in 2019.

Lake County Animal Shelter also euthanized almost no cats for rabies risk. As Hound Manor mentioned in its blog, few animals killed for rabies testing end up having the disease. The shelter killed just one cat to test for rabies. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter did not needlessly kill cats to test for rabies.

Finally, Lake County Animal Shelter’s small number of cats euthanized for medical reasons indicates the shelter limited this to hopelessly suffering animals. The shelter only euthanized 3.17% of all cats for medical reasons. Even if we exclude the 636 cats the public brought to the shelter under Operation Caturday, this figure only rises to 3.91%. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center euthanized 2.75% of all cats for medical reasons in 2018 even with Austin Pets Alive pulling significant numbers of cats with serious medical issues (some of these probably were euthanized by Austin Pets Alive or died). Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter’s data indicates it limited cat euthanasia to hopelessly suffering animals.