Frequently asked questions about the pet lifesaving dashboard

For decades, 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 still need saving? What type of animals are most at risk? Where in the country is the problem the worst and why? How many animal shelters exist in the U.S.? What support do shelters need to save all the savable animals in their care? For far too long, we relied on best guesses and one-size-fits-all programs that might or might not yield desired results. Today, that guesswork is over.

In 2018, Best Friends created a new digital tool called the pet lifesaving dashboard that helped modernize the 150-year-old field of animal welfare. The pet lifesaving dashboard is the culmination of continuous outreach to gather data, as well as 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 tool and our data collection process.

How is a "community" defined in the pet lifesaving dashboard?

A community is defined as a county in the pet lifesaving dashboard.

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What determines if a community is no-kill?

A community is considered to be no-kill when every brick-and-mortar shelter located within the county has a save rate of 90% or higher.

Here's the save rate calculation used for the county 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 total save rate of 90% 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 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 is committed to saving every animal in our care who can be saved. We do not end the life of 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.

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How does a shelter seek an exception?

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 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.

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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 (for example, 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 (for example, when a dog is in the process of attacking and seriously injuring a person physically 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 shelters that do not.

For instance, some shelters will honor an owner's request because of the historical view 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 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.

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 the pet is suffering irremediably 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 residents 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 pet 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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What determines which animal shelters are listed for each county?

Shelters are represented within the county where the shelter is geographically located.

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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-admission 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 the 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 have 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 pet 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 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 does it say "waiting on shelter data" for my county?

This designation happens when we know that a shelter is in a county, 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 county, please let us know by completing the feedback form.

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My community's animal shelter data or status in the pet 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 pet 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 provides a more complete picture of lifesaving progress and needs, and gives 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 lifesavingdashboard@bestfriends.org.

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Why does my animal shelter show a different save rate on their website than what appears on the pet 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:
    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

  • 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 pet lifesaving dashboard?

If your shelter isn't listed, visit the dashboard methodology page for information on how we define a shelter.

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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 increased its save rate or reduced the number of animals killed at the shelter.

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