Community Dashboard FAQs

1. How does Best Friends determine if a community is no-kill?

Generally, we determine that a community is no-kill when it passes two tests:

  • Each municipal-contracted shelter serving the community has a save rate of 90 percent or higher.
  • The aggregate (combined) save rate of all municipal-contracted shelters serving the community and all private shelters in the community is 90 percent or higher.

Here is the save rate calculation used for the dashboard:

[(live intakes, including owner-requested euthanasia) minus (died in care) minus (lost in care) minus (shelter euthanasia) minus (owner-requested euthanasia)] divided by live intakes

See our methodology to learn more.

2. Why are municipal shelters required to meet the benchmark on their own rather than simply being included in the aggregate combined save rate? 

Municipal shelters typically are mandated by the government to handle stray and homeless pets in their communities. We believe that governments themselves should support and strive for no-kill principles as a best practice standard, and that government leaders and other organizations and community members should strive to help their municipal shelters achieve that 90 percent benchmark. Holding municipal shelters accountable for achieving the 90 percent benchmark (or meeting the philosophical definition of no-kill) helps us emphasize the need to create programming and support to ensure their success.

3. Why do you use 90 percent as the threshold for no-kill?

A 90 percent save rate for all pets entering a given shelter system — without regard to subjective qualifications such as health, adoptability or behavior — is a reasonable threshold when assessing a community’s performance with respect to achieving no-kill.

Pets who are irremediably suffering due to age, injury or disease, or dogs who are too dangerously aggressive to be safely rehomed, typically should not normally comprise more than 10 percent of all pets entering the shelter system. That 10 percent includes pets turned over to the shelter by their people for owner-requested euthanasia. (See the next Q&A for more information.)

We believe that any community operating at or above a 90 percent save rate deserves the designation of no-kill. However, experience shows that many communities, having achieved a 90 percent save rate, go on to save an even higher percentage of animals. This is often because the impact of no-kill policies and programs goes beyond the walls of the shelter to create a general culture of lifesaving and responsible pet ownership in the community.

We recognize that in some situations, however, the reverse may be true. Some communities may incorporate the philosophical principles of no-kill but not meet the statistical benchmark. In these cases, the shelters in a community that don’t meet the statistical benchmark have two options for their community to be considered no-kill in the Best Friends dashboard. Each shelter under the 90 percent benchmark can request an independent review by a review panel made up of Best Friends experts and outside parties, and/or they can display on their website the following statement:

Our shelter has committed to saving all savable pets entering our care. We do not euthanize healthy or treatable pets even at a pet person’s request. We only euthanize a pet if:

  • A veterinarian has assessed that there is no chance of recovering an acceptable quality of life, or
  • It would be clearly inhumane or unsafe not to do so immediately, or
  •  in cases of extreme aggression when (1) a veterinarian has eliminated medical treatment as a solution; (2) rehabilitation by a qualified behaviorist has failed; and (3) staff and public safety cannot be reasonably assured, or other management protocols seriously compromise quality of life.

If all shelters under a 90 percent save rate within a community pass the review process or commit to displaying the above on their website, that community can then be designated as no-kill. In certain cases, if a shelter displays the above statement but credible claims suggest otherwise, we may request that the shelter undergo the review process to continue to be designated on the dashboard as a no-kill community.

4. Why do you include owner-requested euthanasia in your save rate formula?  

We feel that all intakes and outcomes should be accounted for, to get an accurate picture of the data. We do not assume that an owner-requested euthanasia will always meet our definition of true euthanasia. We recognize, however, that some shelters may be providing this community service for pets who truly do meet our definition of euthanasia and that their save rates might be lower than those who don’t perform this service as a result. If the latter is the case, and if that results in a community not meeting the 90 percent benchmark, please see our methodology and the previous question to learn more.

Some shelters that operate both public clinics and animal shelters ask about how we distinguish between owner-requested euthanasia in a clinic setting versus a shelter setting and how that affects the data. While individual shelters operate differently, we believe that if a shelter operates a clinic where a veterinarian meets with a human client with a pet and the veterinarian determines that pet is irremediably suffering with no chance of recovering an acceptable quality of life, that euthanasia would not be considered a shelter intake.

If the veterinarian deems that the pet is treatable or able to be rehabilitated, but the pet’s person still requests euthanasia, that pet should then be referred to the shelter to be relinquished and would then be considered shelter intake. If a shelter doesn’t have a clinic where a veterinary/client relationship is established, then the pet would be taken in by the shelter. And while a pet’s person may request euthanasia, we recommend that the shelter take full legal possession of that pet and only then determine (on the advice of veterinary staff) what the best course or outcome is for that individual pet. 

5. Does “no-kill” mean that shelters never euthanize a pet no matter what? 

The no-kill principle supports true euthanasia — that is, ending the life of a pet to end irremediable suffering, when a veterinarian has assessed that there is no chance of recovering an acceptable quality of life. We also understand there may be rare times when forgoing a veterinary assessment is appropriate. For instance, when it would be clearly inhumane not to do so immediately (e.g., when an animal control officer encounters an animal hit by a vehicle and the animal is clearly suffering and death is imminent); or clearly unsafe (e.g, an dog is in the process of attacking and seriously physically injuring a person and law enforcement intervenes to protect the person).  Also, the no-kill principle acknowledges that euthanasia may be an appropriate choice in cases of extreme aggression in which (1) a veterinarian has eliminated medical treatment as a solution: (2) rehabilitation by a qualified behaviorist has failed: and (3) staff and public safety cannot be reasonably assured, or other management protocols seriously compromise quality of life.

6. What can I do if my community isn’t no-kill? 

The best approach is to become a positive part of the solution. Many communities began their journey to no-kill because a few citizens took it upon themselves to collaborate with local government, area shelters and the general public on developing positive approaches to increase lifesaving. Some people may feel upset when they learn that their community isn’t no-kill and while this emotion is understandable, we believe that the solution almost always lies in providing more help and support to our local shelters.

Vilifying or criticizing shelters that have not yet achieved no-kill, but who are striving for and making progress toward no-kill, can harm and alienate shelters that should be viewed as partners and beneficiaries of support. It is important to remember that the people who work in shelters do so because they love animals and it is our collective responsibility to help shelter workers as much as it is our responsibility to help shelter pets.

Please see the information below the dashboard for more details on how you can get involved locally.

7. What is the difference between save rate and live release rate?

There are many different ways in which shelters measure the intake and outcome of pets in their care. The community dashboard displays both a save rate and a live release rate for each shelter. While similar, these rates vary slightly. Because a lot of shelters use live release rate, it is displayed for each organization in the dashboard. In order to measure progress toward no-kill consistently and clearly across the country, Best Friends uses save rate with a benchmark of 90 percent or greater.

Here’s an explanation of each rate and the formulas:

  • Save rate: Pets saved (not deceased) as a percentage of total intake.
    Formula: [(live intakes, including owner-requested euthanasia) minus (died in care) minus (lost in care) minus (shelter euthanasia) minus (owner-requested euthanasia)] divided by live intakes
  • Live release rate: Pets with live outcomes as a percentage of total outcomes (excludes owner-requested euthanasia from total outcomes).
    Formula: live outcomes divided by [total outcomes minus owner-requested euthanasia]

8. Why don’t you accept either live release rate at or above 90 percent or save rate at or above 90 percent as an acceptable benchmark for no-kill status? 

Best Friends believes that the best current standard for measuring community progress toward no-kill is the save rate formula and since we needed a consistent way to measure community progress, we chose the save rate formula. With that said, we understand that live release rate has been historically the standard used by many shelters, so we chose to display (and respect) both. We do encourage communities to consider transitioning to a save rate as their own internal standard.

9. How do you determine what a “community” is?

A community is generally a city, town, village, borough or other area designated as a “place” by the U.S. Census Bureau. In some cases, unincorporated communities and census designated places and are included as well.

10. How do you determine which shelters are listed for each community? 

Shelters are listed for each community as follows:

  • If a shelter holds a contract for animal sheltering services for a community, it will be listed, regardless of where the shelter is physically located. Information on contracted services is based on Best Friends research. However, we know that this information changes frequently and can sometimes be difficult to ascertain, so it will be reviewed on a regular basis.
  • All private shelters (without a municipal contract for animal sheltering services) are only listed in the community in which they are physically located.
  • There are rare instances in which municipal shelters are physically located in a community they do not serve. In these cases, their lifesaving efforts are attributed to the communities they do serve. If those areas are unincorporated, we choose to include them on the map.

If you feel that a shelter should be added or removed from your community’s list based on these criteria, please let us know using the feedback form.

11. Why aren’t rescue groups or foster-based organizations listed here?

Best Friends tracks brick-and-mortar shelters in the community dashboard. Foster-based rescue groups are not included if they do not have a government contract to provide animal control. There may be times when a rescue group represents a significant portion of a community’s intakes, and in such cases, they may be included.

It is extremely difficult to identify and routinely track the activity of all rescue groups across the nation. While still complex, it is more straightforward to identify and track the activity of all brick-and-mortar shelters. We encourage and support rescue groups as key stakeholders in the no-kill movement, and their exclusion from the reporting is not meant to diminish their important contribution. We also believe foster-based organizations should be transparent and publicly publish their animal intake and outcome statistics. It is assumed that most rescue groups, while key to help Save Them All, are already no-kill.

12. Why can’t I find my community?  

Communities can be defined in many ways, and the list of communities included on the dashboard is based on information provided by the U.S. Census Bureau. If your community is not displaying on the map, it could be for one of these reasons:

  • Your community is not on the list provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • We have not identified any shelters that are located in the area where you live or that service your community.

If you think this is incorrect, either because you believe your community should be in census data or you know of shelters located in or serving your community, please let us know by filling out the feedback form.

13. Why does it say “incomplete data” for my community? 

This designation happens when we know that a shelter is in or services a community, but we cannot gain access to its data or cannot share it publicly.

14. Why is my community’s save rate lower than the individual shelter save rates?  

Communities with data for more than one shelter use a net save rate calculation, which removes transfers between shelters. The resulting save rate may be lower than the save rates of the individual shelters, which are calculated using gross intakes (including transfers). See methodology for more details.

15. Our community is no-kill, but your dashboard says it isn’t. Why? 

One or more of these things may be true:  

  • Your community’s shelter(s) may use a different formula for calculating their lifesaving progress. 
  • Your community’s shelter(s) may define no-kill differently than we do.  
  • Our data may be inaccurate.
  • It’s possible that, unbeknownst to us, a community meets our philosophical definition of no-kill but does not meet the benchmark of a 90 percent save rate.
  • We are missing data for a shelter in your community.  

We welcome any information that will improve our data collection efforts. If shelter staff feel that their shelter meets our philosophical definition of no-kill, but the shelter does not meet the 90 percent benchmark, we welcome them to contact us.

16. My city is very small, but the numbers reported for my community are very large. How could that be?  

The figures represented for each community include combined numbers for all the jurisdictions that shelter serves. So if you live in a small city, but your city is contractually served by a large shelter that serves multiple cities, you will see their statistics displayed.

17. My shelter serves a number of different communities and when I click on each of those communities in the dashboard, the statistics for those communities appear exactly the same. Why? ?  

The figures given for each community include combined numbers for all the jurisdictions that shelter serves. Most shelters track and/or publicly report their shelter statistics in aggregate, meaning they don’t break down their statistics by the individual jurisdictions they serve. From a no-kill tracking point of view, this is less than ideal, since some jurisdictions contracting with a shelter may pass policies and provide resources to the shelter that allow that individual jurisdiction to be no-kill, while other jurisdictions may not provide that level of support. We hope that in future iterations, the dashboard will be able to break down the statistics by individual jurisdiction.

18. Why does my shelter show a different rate on their website than you are showing?

There are many different ways in which shelters measure the intake and outcome of pets in their care. Each has pros and cons. We chose to use the save rate formula for consistency across the nation. Our primary goal at Best Friends is to help the nation reach a 90 percent aggregate save rate by 2025. We will use this save rate formula to determine whether that goal has been met. (For more information, see the question about save rate and live release rate.)

19. Why isn’t my local shelter listed on the dashboard?

The dashboard only shows information for brick-and-mortar shelters; it does not include animal rescue organizations that don’t have facilities. Best Friends conducted research to identify all the brick-and-mortar shelters in the country. Even though this research was thorough, the list of shelters will change as we continue to discover new shelters and add them to the list. Please use the feedback form to let us know about your local shelter so we can make sure it’s included.  

20. My local shelter isn’t a Best Friends Network partner. How do they join?  

The Best Friends Network, comprising thousands of shelters, rescue groups and other animal welfare organizations around the country, is committed to saving the lives of homeless pets through collaboration and implementation of effective lifesaving programs. We are leading the way by implementing proven methods and inspiring communities to end the killing of dogs and cats in America’s shelters. Participation is free and open to all organizations that meet the application criteria. To learn more, visit our Network Partners website.

21. I’m trying to find data for several communities, but I don’t know their ZIP codes. How do I find those communities?

We’re working on new search functionality that will allow you to search by city name, but until this is ready, you can search for ZIP codes by city here.

22. What do my community’s historical statistics look like?

We’re currently working on adding a new layer to the dashboard tool that will allow you to see improvements over time. In early 2019, we will be adding badges to celebrate achievements such as increases in save rates and live outcomes.