How the progress maps are developed

Sources for shelter data include public websites, government-provided data, voluntary data submissions and Shelter Animals Count (SAC) data that is self-reported by an organization that has opted into a Best Friends–led coalition. Organizations that operate multiple locations or shelters may choose to report their data in aggregate or broken down by location. Their information will be presented on the map as it is reported to us. For SAC-derived data, SAC specifically disclaims all responsibility for any analysis, interpretations, conclusions and opinions contained in the information presented in the maps. While Best Friends attempts to validate data sources, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of these sources.

How save rates are calculated

For shelters, a gross save rate calculation is used:

[(Live Intakes) - (Lost in Care) - (Shelter Deaths*)] divided by [(Live Intakes)] 
* Shelter Deaths = animals euthanized, killed, or died in care

At the state and national levels, a net save rate calculation is used:

[(Live Intakes) - (Transfers In) - (Lost in Care) - (Shelter Deaths*)] divided by [(Live Intakes - Transfers In)] 
* Shelter Deaths = animals euthanized, killed, or died in care

The no-kill gap

The no-kill gap is the number of cats and dogs who would have had to be saved last year in order to achieve the 90% save rate threshold. Best Friends applies the following calculation to determine that gap:

(Shelter Deaths* + Lost in Care) – (Live Intakes *10%) 
* Shelter Deaths = animals euthanized, killed, or died in care

If the resulting number is 0 or less, then there is no longer a statistical no-kill gap because the shelter is either at or above the 90% threshold.

How the number of animals “killed” is calculated

Shelter outcome designations in which animals are not leaving the shelter alive include Shelter Deaths and Lost in Care.

In recognition of the no-kill benchmark of a 90% save rate, Best Friends applies the following calculation to determine the number of animals “killed” from those non-live outcomes:

Sum of each shelter’s non-live outcomes [(Shelter Deaths*) + (Lost in Care)] – 10% of total intake 
* Shelter Deaths = animals euthanized, killed, or died in care

The resulting number of dogs and cats killed is the focus of Best Friends efforts to achieve the no-kill benchmark nationwide by 2025 and does not include the estimated 10% who are euthanized based on presumed humane decisions related to irremediable suffering from medical or behavioral conditions.


Methodology for community and shelter views

A “community” is represented as a U.S. county, which is an administrative or political subdivision of a state that consists of a geographic region with specific boundaries.

A “shelter” is defined as a brick-and-mortar facility with open adoption hours for the public. In addition:

  • For organizations without a government contract, they must take in more than 200 animals annually, be open to the public at least two days a week, and have a non-residential sheltering facility.
  • For government animal services and organizations with a government contract, they must take in more than 20 animals annually and cannot transfer all their animals to another shelter.

The map represents the total number of inhabited U.S. counties that have their own shelter or are serviced by a shelter. Population data is obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey Claritas annual estimates (2022 projections).

A community is considered no-kill when every brick-and-mortar shelter serving and/or located within the community has a save rate of 90% or higher. A community is recognized as no-kill when it meets the following criteria:

  • Best Friends has access to data for all brick-and-mortar shelters located in or providing municipal shelter services to the community.
  • All shelters, including municipal shelters, providing services to the community meet the 90% benchmark.

While the 90% benchmark offers a meaningful measurement by which to gauge the progress of shelters and communities, we recognize that there may be special circumstances in which a community could be successfully implementing no-kill principles and practices but not reach a 90% save rate.

In these rare cases, the shelters in a community that do not meet the statistical benchmark can obtain a no-kill designation in the pet lifesaving dashboard by displaying the following statement on their website and/or giving Best Friends permission to display the information on the shelter’s page of the pet lifesaving dashboard:

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

  • A veterinarian or trained medical staff under guidelines set by a veterinarian has deemed the prognosis to be poor or grave, 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 irremediable canine aggression, (1) a veterinarian has eliminated medical treatment as a solution; (2) rehabilitation by a specialist in canine behavior has failed; and (3) staff and public safety cannot be reasonably assured, or other management protocols seriously compromise quality of life.”

The goal is for every shelter to make a clear commitment to lifesaving and transparency (being honest and open about their data and operations) while striving for no-kill rather than simply working to obtain a no-kill designation.

Any shelter seeking an exception should contact the local regional Best Friends team:

Methodology for national and state views

Dataset: This dataset represents collected data from 3,261 brick and mortar shelters, and estimated data for the remaining 803 shelters (typically smaller in size) in the country. Collected data was sourced from Shelter Animals Count Best Friends–led coalitions, and from any viable and authorized data sources (which may or may not have included 100% of shelters reporting.) Best Friends uses the most recent full calendar-year data available from the most recent of 2021, 2020 or 2019.

For 2021 national reporting, Best Friends made small adjustments in how we calculate the entirety of U.S. shelters to reduce the impact of data from early in the pandemic. The adjustments do not impact data displayed at the individual shelter, county or state level.

Collected Datadata: These 3,261 reporting shelters represent 80.2% of total brick-and-mortar shelters, and an estimated 93.5% of the total sheltered animals in the country (reported intake as a percentage of total intake).

StateRate of Collected Data  
Rate of Shelters Reporting
District of Columbia100.0%100.0%
New Hampshire100.0%100.0%
New Jersey100.0%97.3%
New Mexico99.3%90.9%
New York87.4%57.9%
North Carolina98.6%89.5%
North Dakota91.5%80.0%
Rhode Island100.0%100.0%
South Carolina95.5%83.1%
South Dakota49.7%39.1%
West Virginia96.0%70.6%


Estimated data: Collected data for brick-and-mortar organizations in complete counties was used to develop a regional per-capita rate for intakes, number of deaths and number killed. A broad conservative increase was then applied to minimize the probability of underestimating the national death rate. Using the master shelter list,* this rate was then applied to areas serviced by the 803 shelters with unreported data.

  • If no brick-and-mortar groups are in the master shelter list, it is a non-service area and no estimation is applied.
  • If none of the shelters in a county have collected data, the estimation factor was used.
  • If some (but not all) shelter data is collected for a county, the collected data plus a 15% estimation factor was used.

The estimation methodology was formulated by the Best Friends business intelligence team in consultation with an outside research advisor and economist. These estimates, when combined with collected data, totaled 4.66 million intakes and 354,571 animals killed.


* The master shelter list is an evolving list since shelters open and close all the time. It was compiled through manual research, state by state and county by county, to find all organizations with a physical location that admit and house animals. Additional research was then conducted to identify the service area coverage for all organizations. During this process, comparisons were made by community population to ensure that communities with significant populations (50,000+ populations were verified) had coverage.