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 in to 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.

For the community and shelter views of the pet lifesaving dashboard, SAC data is used only for organizations that have opted in to one of our Best Friends–led coalitions. Per the SAC user agreement, we do not use SAC data for these views unless an organization has opted in to our coalition. 

How save rates are calculated

For all individual shelters and communities, 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:

(Died in Care + Lost in Care + Shelter Deaths*) – (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 Died in Care, Lost in Care, and Shelter Deaths.

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 [(Died in Care) + (Lost in Care) + (Shelter Deaths)] – 10% of total intake

The resulting number of dogs and cats killed is the focus of Best Friends efforts to achieve no-kill 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 the Pet Lifesaving Dashboard

Methodology for shelter and community views

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, government structures, unincorporated communities and other census-designated places are included in order to be consistent with census bureau data.

The map represents the total number of inhabited U.S. communities 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. If you don’t see your community on the map and you think it should be there, please contact us.

A community is considered to be 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:

  1. Best Friends has access to data for all known brick-and-mortar shelters located in or providing municipal shelter services to the community.
  2. 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 don’t 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 their 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 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 irremediable canine aggression when (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 will need to complete and display a checklist provided by Best Friends explaining the special circumstances surrounding data related to animals who died in their care or were euthanized. That checklist is as follows:

The reason(s) our shelter falls below the 90% benchmark is (please check all boxes that apply):

Died in care – Our shelter has a relatively high number of animals who die in care because:

  • We have a neonatal kitten program. Neonatal kittens have fragile immune systems and often arrive at the shelter as orphans and with compromised health. We make every effort to treat and care for kittens until they are eating on their own and are healthy enough to go to a foster home, but some lives are still lost despite those efforts.
  • We accept and provide medical care to old, injured and sick animals. Some do not make it, despite our best efforts.

Euthanized – Our shelter has a relatively high number of animals who are euthanized in our care because:

  • We serve a community that has few, if any, veterinary resources. We provide a compassionate end-of-life service for members of our community who request euthanasia and could not otherwise afford the service at a veterinary clinic.
  • We provide emergency/ambulance services for stray animals.
  • We provide hospice and/or sanctuary care for animals and so we are responsible for end-of-life care for that population.
  • Other (please explain):

If all shelters within a community that are below a 90% save rate commit to displaying the above on their website and/or on each shelter’s page in the pet lifesaving dashboard, that community can then be designated as no-kill. In certain cases, if a shelter displays the above statement but credible claims suggest otherwise, the shelter may undergo a review process to continue to be designated as no-kill.

Methodology for national and state views

Data set: Each data set represents a geographical area, usually an area circumscribed by the county/FIPS code (the unique official code given to each county by the U.S. Census Bureau). In this map, a data set percentage that is listed as “Percent Known” represents areas from which data was collected. This data was collected or reported through the Shelter Animals Count national database and Best Friends–led coalitions, or from any recent viable and authorized data sources (which may or may not have included 100 percent of shelters reporting). The data was then accumulated into a statewide view. (Note that the most recent reporting year of collected data spans 2017 - 2019.)

Known data: “Percent Known” does not mean there is reported data from every organization within that county. A data set percentage that is listed as “Percent Estimated” represents an area from which no data has been collected from a known shelter or where partial estimates were required for missing shelter data. The known data percentage represents collected intake as a percentage of total intake.

Estimated data: Known/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 lacking known/collected data as follows:

  • 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 known data, the estimation factor was used.
  • If some (but not all) shelter data is known for a county, the collected data plus a 15% estimation factor was used.

The estimated data percentage represents estimated intake as a percentage of total intake.

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 known/collected data from the most recent of 2017, 2018 or 2019 sources, totaled 5.360 million intakes and 625,400 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.