Best Friends’ 2022 dataset points to no-kill progress

Black and tan dog standing on a gray cushion
By Julie Castle

Today, Best Friends released our 2022 national dataset, which is the most comprehensive and accurate dataset for dogs and cats in shelters nationwide. And folks, I’m feeling motivated. Despite some setbacks, great progress is still being made. Data shows that the number of no-kill shelters is at an all-time high, no-kill counties have increased, and Vermont joined New Hampshire and Delaware as the country’s third no-kill state. This forward momentum tells me that we are at the tipping point of the no-kill movement.

Let’s dive in.

Nearly 57% of U.S. shelters are no-kill.  
In 2016, when I first put the stake in the ground declaring that we would lead the effort to make every shelter and every community no-kill by 2025, only 24% of shelters were no-kill. Together, we’ve made steady progress increasing the number of no-kill shelters across the country since then, and in 2022, we saw an all-time high with nearly 57% of U.S. shelters achieving no-kill!

What’s also promising is that the vast majority of shelters that were no-kill in 2021 were able to sustain it, with 93% of them achieving no-kill once again in 2022. So what does that tell us? No one wants to see healthy animals die, and once lifesaving progress is made no one wants to step backward. Now, with 2025 on the horizon, this is the crucial time to support your local shelters to make every shelter and every community no-kill.

I said earlier that there were some setbacks. Let’s talk about them. 
The national dog save rate dropped significantly to 83%, down from 87% in 2021, because sadly adopting has lost ground to shopping. More people are buying pets from breeders than adopting from shelters.

Data shows that dogs acquired from breeders and pet stores have been steadily increasing over the past few years, while dog adoptions have plateaued. Just under 1 million dogs were adopted nationwide last year, and shelter intake of dogs increased by about 100,000. The national cat save rate and adoptions have remained steady for three years straight, at 80% and 1.1 million, respectively. This is where the rubber meets the road on lifesaving, and you can help save pets in shelters by fostering, adopting, and encouraging those in your circle to do the same.

But what about the big picture? In 2022, the number of cats and dogs killed in U.S. shelters increased to around 378,000. 
This increase can largely be attributed to shelters experiencing higher intakes, while adoptions couldn’t keep pace. That means more animals in shelters for longer periods of time, causing an increased strain on shelter staff and worsening the current crisis of most shelters being at or over capacity. And when that happens, more pets are at risk for being killed due to space. In 2022, more than 1,000 cats and dogs were killed in shelters every day just because they didn’t have safe places to call home.

Here's the thing, though: Nearly 60% of the increase in dogs and cats killed from 2021 to 2022 came from just 1% of shelters.

We know which shelters they are — large municipal shelters in bigger cities and counties — and we know the key programs and actions that will help to save more lives within them. This includes Best Friends scaling up targeted programs and initiatives, such as the Prince and Paws Shelter Collaborative Program, nationwide adoption promotions, shelter embeds, and cat- and large dog-focused initiatives. We’re also continuing to grow our network partners and expand our advocacy work. But Best Friends can’t do this alone. It’s going to take strong shelter leadership, a real commitment to no-kill by local elected officials, and on-the-ground community support.

But we are still seeing major progress. 
As I said, Vermont joined New Hampshire and Delaware as the country’s third no-kill state. But what’s also exciting is that four more states were only a few lives saved shy of no-kill in 2022: Rhode Island with three, North Dakota with 37, Maine with 121, and Montana with 152. That kind of lifesaving progress demonstrates what is possible, and we’ll see even more of it through this year as we move closer to 2025.

Lifesaving setbacks are painful; there’s no doubt about it. But I want to put in perspective for you just how far we’ve come. In 1984, when Best Friends was founded, 17 million animals were dying in America’s shelters every year. That is 45 times the number of animals killed in shelters last year. We know that no-kill policies and programs are working, and a minor setback will not deter us from finally putting an end to this barbaric practice that dates back to the mid-1800s.

There is still a lot of work to be done, but we are closer than ever to making every shelter and every community no-kill by 2025. And you can make a difference. Visit the pet lifesaving dashboard to see how your community stacks up and the kind of help your local shelter needs. Tell your local officials that no-kill is a priority for you; speak at a city council meeting, or send a quick email or letter. The shelters that have yet to get to no-kill won’t be able to without local government and community support. Let’s continue to make lifesaving a priority.

I know we can do this.

Together, we will Save Them All.

Follow Julie Castle on Twitter and Instagram.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society