Community Lifesaving Dashboard Frequently Asked Questions

For the past 150 years, Best Friends and like-minded organizations have worked in the dark to end the killing of pets in shelters because we lacked accurate information about the scale, scope and nature of the problem we were trying to solve. How many animals are being killed? What type of animals are being killed? Where in the country it’s happening and why? We relied on best-guesses and one-size-fits-all programs that might or might not yield desired results. Today, that guesswork is over.

Best Friends has created a new digital lifesaving tool that will help modernize a 150-year-old animal welfare field that, until recently, didn’t even know how many animal shelters existed in the country. The community lifesaving dashboard is the culmination of a two-year effort involving outreach to every shelter in America, extensive research, data analysis, and technology development. We collected data directly from shelters, state and local coalitions, government websites, and any public sources where shelter data is available.

Below, you will find answers to frequently asked questions about this new tool and our data collection process.

What determines if a community is no-kill?

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.

The save rate calculation used for the community and shelter views on the dashboard:

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

See the methodology to learn more.

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Why is 90% used as the benchmark for no-kill?

A 90% total save rate for all animals in a shelter system is a simple, effective method for measuring a community’s progress toward no-kill. It’s an important metric, and it’s used in service of a core goal: saving the life of every animal who can be saved.

Overall, the number of pets who are suffering from irremediable medical or behavioral issues that compromise their quality of life and prevent them from being rehomed typically does not make up more than 10% of all pets entering the shelter system.

Any community operating at or above a 90% save rate deserves the designation of no-kill. However, 90% is not the end goal. Experience shows that many communities go on to save an even higher percentage of animals because the impact of no-kill policies and programs creates a general culture of lifesaving and responsible pet ownership in the community.

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 community 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 community 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 special circumstances surrounding data related to animals who died in their care or were euthanized (e.g., shelters that provide hospice or sanctuary-style care, shelters that accept unusually high numbers of at-risk animals, such as neonatal kittens).

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 community 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.

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Does “no-kill” mean that those animal shelters never euthanize a pet, no matter what?

No-kill means healing the animals who can be healed, treating behaviors that can be treated, and prioritizing the safety of both pets and people in our communities. When we value those objectives, humane euthanasia is used as a last resort in instances when an animal is deemed too ill or too dangerous for rehabilitation. Community safety and quality of life for the animals are guiding principles of the no-kill philosophy and are made possible through animal welfare professionals engaging in best practices and protocols.

Euthanasia is appropriate when a veterinarian has assessed that there is no chance of recovering an acceptable quality of life for that animal. We understand that 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., when a dog is in the process of attacking and seriously physically injuring a person and law enforcement intervenes to protect the person).

The no-kill philosophy does also acknowledge that euthanasia may be an appropriate choice in rare cases of irremediable canine aggression in which (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 would seriously compromise the pet’s quality of life.

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How is owner requested euthanasia accounted for in the save rate formula for animal shelters?

Owner requested euthanasia (ORE) is included in the save rate formula. We know that this is a complex issue in animal sheltering with many variables to consider, some of which are discussed below.

ORE is an important service in many communities that shelters use to assist low-income pet owners who cannot afford veterinary services for end-of-life care for their pets and when no other low-cost services are available.

This fact is one of the reasons why the no-kill benchmark is set at 90% rather than 100%. Animals who are suffering irremediably from conditions related to age, injury or disease, or dogs suffering from irremediable aggression that would prevent their safe rehoming, typically do not comprise more than 10% of all pets entering the shelter system. Euthanasia in these situations is justifiable and therefore should be accounted for in a no-kill benchmark.

We advocate for shelters providing owner requested euthanasia services only for pets who meet the euthanasia standard that is described below. We do recognize that this standard has not been universally applied within our movement, and while many shelters do adhere to this or a similar standard, we have seen a number of other practices that do not.

For instance, some shelters will honor an owner’s request because historically it has been viewed that an owner has the right to determine the fate of a pet (who, under the eyes of the law, is considered property). Many shelters have changed their policy in recent years to require that pet owners surrender healthy or treatable animals (rather than honoring a euthanasia request) so that the shelter can determine the best outcome for that animal.

The standard for qualifying an ORE as true euthanasia is as follows. Each pet, regardless of whether he/she was surrendered as an ORE, is only euthanized 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.

This issue is further complicated by different shelter operating models across the country. Some shelters that operate both public clinics and animal shelters ask 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, the recommended standard for not counting a euthanasia as part of the shelter’s admissions data should be the following: a shelter operating 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.

If the veterinarian deems that the pet is treatable, 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 part of the shelter’s data. 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, the recommendation is 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.

This is a complex issue and Best Friends is committed to continuing this sensitive conversation with shelters around the country.

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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. While this emotion is understandable, the solution almost always lies in providing more help and support to our local shelters. Shelters can only provide lifesaving programs if people participate in them and communities actively support them.

Shelters that have not yet achieved no-kill should be viewed as community partners. It’s important to remember that the people who work in shelters want to help the animals in their care and that it’s our collective responsibility to help them as much as it is our responsibility to help the pets in the shelter. We can’t support one without supporting the other.

On the shelter view of the community lifesaving dashboard, you can read a brief message about the shelter(s) serving your community and click through to their website to learn how to get involved.

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How is a “community” defined in the community lifesaving dashboard?

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 are included as well.

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What determines which animal 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 and, wherever possible, validated by the shelter. Our goal is to have all information validated by each shelter annually, as jurisdiction information changes frequently. Shelters can submit corrections to our information by using the animal shelter validation form on the Best Friends website.
  • All private shelters (without a municipal contract for animal sheltering services) are only listed in the community in which they are physically located. While we recognize that some private agencies have a larger regional mission and impact than the communities in which they are located, it is virtually impossible to identify and divvy up that impact within the other areas served. This is one reason why we give shelters the opportunity to describe the scope of their work in narrative form on their page in the dashboard.
  • 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.

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What is the difference between an “open admission animal shelter” and a “limited admission animal shelter”?

An open admission shelter admits every stray and/or surrendered animal from within its jurisdiction. This type of shelter may be legally obligated by a municipal mandate or contract to admit every animal, or it may choose to be open admission according to its own organizational mission and policies.

A limited admission shelter is not required to accept every animal and can select which animals it admits, according to its mission, policies and resource limitations.

Both open and limited admission shelters often incorporate what is referred to as “managed admission” policies. These policies are designed to explore alternatives to admission that may benefit the pet owner and pet and increase the chance for a positive result for that animal.

Open admission and limited admission shelters often establish collaborative partnerships in which resources are shared and the differences in operating models are applied in a complementary fashion in order to maximize the number of pets being saved. Similarly, because rescue groups are limited admission by definition, they also play critical supporting roles for open admission shelters.

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Why aren’t animal rescue groups or foster home organizations listed here?

Best Friends tracks brick-and-mortar shelters in the community lifesaving dashboard because those are the agencies and organizations that are officially held accountable for pets in their communities. However, rescue groups are key stakeholders and essential partners in the no-kill movement. Collaborative partnerships between brick-and-mortar shelters and rescue groups are often vital to that community’s lifesaving status.

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 the pets in need of rehoming in a given community, and in such rare cases, they may be included.

Foster-based organizations should be transparent and publicly publish their data, including the number of animals admitted to and leaving their care. It is assumed that most rescue groups are already no-kill since they are able to choose which animals they admit.

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 and assume that rescue organizations are supporting and supplementing the lifesaving work of those shelters, as well as being transparent with their own data.

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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 displayed 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 completing our feedback form.

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Why does it say “waiting on shelter 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. If you would like to follow up on this designation for your community, please let us know by completing the feedback form.

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My community’s animal shelter data or status in the community lifesaving dashboard does not match the information posted by my local animal shelter. Why?

If you notice a discrepancy between information that appears on the community lifesaving dashboard and information on a shelter’s site, one or more of the following may be true:

Best Friends chose to use a consistent method for representing this data so that people viewing the information will have an “apples to apples” view across different shelters and communities. This is one of the reasons why Best Friends invested in national data collection. Similar to how policymakers rely on standardized U.S. census data to make informed choices for their communities, this dashboard will provide a more complete picture of lifesaving progress and needs, and give communities the tools required to create positive change.

We would love to receive any additional information that can support and improve our data collection efforts. If staff at a shelter feel that they meet the philosophical definition of no-kill, but the shelter does not meet the 90% benchmark, we encourage them to contact us at CommunityDashboard@bestfriends.org.

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My city is very small, but the animal shelter data numbers reported for my community are very large. How is that possible?

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

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My animal 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.

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Why does my animal shelter show a different save rate on their website than what appears on the community lifesaving dashboard?

There are a number of ways in which shelters measure the admissions and outcomes of pets in their care, and each method has pros and cons. The save rate formula below has been used for consistency across the nation.

An alternative metric called the live release rate is being used by many shelters, and we encourage shelters to consider transitioning to the use of save rate as their own internal standard, particularly because live release rate formulas may vary from shelter to shelter.

Here’s an explanation of each rate and the formulas often associated with the rates:

  • Save rate: Pets saved (not deceased) as a percentage of total intake.
    Formula: [(Live Intakes) - (Died in Care) - (Lost in Care) - (Shelter Deaths*)] divided by (Live Intakes) 
    * Shelter Deaths = animals euthanized, killed, or died in care
  • 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 - Owner Requested Euthanasia]

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Why isn’t my local animal shelter listed on the community lifesaving dashboard?

The dashboard only includes information for brick-and-mortar shelters; it does not include animal rescue organizations that don’t have physical facilities. Best Friends conducted extensive 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 that it’s included.

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My local animal 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. Participation is free and open to all organizations that meet the application criteria. To learn more, visit our network partner page.

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What do my community’s historical animal shelter statistics look like?

As we collect and update data each year, you will be able to view the lifesaving progress of individual shelters over time. On the shelter view of the dashboard, progress badges are added next to the shelter’s status to indicate when a shelter has reduced the number of animals entering its shelter, increased the number of animals leaving its shelter or increased its save rate.

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