NKUT launches: Final stretch to take entire state of Utah no-kill

My work in animal welfare has been an extraordinarily fulfilling journey, but it hasn’t always been fun nor has it been easy. Oftentimes, it’s required a great degree of scrappiness and a “when in doubt, figure it out” attitude. My memories of the early days of our undertaking to end shelter killing in Utah are loaded with seat-of-the-pants exploits to get the job done and generate public awareness on a very finite budget. One of my favorites was launching skydivers dressed in cat and dog costumes from a plane onto the state capitol to generate PR, or the time we were in very rural Utah with the Big Fix mobile clinic and local farmers traded a truckload of watermelons with us in exchange for spay/neuter surgeries to get their animals fixed. There are literally dozens and dozens of stories from my work in Utah that end with “you just can’t make this stuff up!”

So launching No-Kill Utah (NKUT) yesterday in Salt Lake City, and ushering it in with a 76 percent shelter save rate from January for the entire state of Utah, makes all of the thin times worth it.

NKUT includes a steering committee comprised of representatives from the Humane Society of Utah, Salt Lake County Animal Services, Davis County Animal Care and Control, Friends of Animals Utah, Community Animal Welfare Society, and Best Friends. The entire coalition includes 36 animal welfare partners. All are on board for Utah to become the largest no-kill state in the country.

But our work to end the killing in Utah didn’t just start this year. With a generous grant from Maddie’s Fund to get the ball rolling in those early years, we’ve been working since 2000 with a coalition of rescue groups, business and government leaders, and 59 shelters around the state to save thousands of lives. Back then, there were 81,000 dogs and cats entering the Utah shelters each year. Last year, that number was 62,000. In 1999, 43 percent of animals entering the shelter system were saved. In 2013, 71.5 percent were saved! This year, so far in Utah, 90 percent of the dogs are finding homes or being returned to their owners, and we’ve now racked up 23 no-kill communities, despite a 30 percent increase in human population growth. Collectively, since 2000, the coalition has supported more than 261,000 spay/neuter surgeries and nearly 112,000 adoptions!

Staggering progress, but we still have work to do to close the gap and save the remaining 12,000 animals who represent the rest of the 90 percent of healthy and adoptable animals being killed in Utah’s shelters. NKUT represents the final push to the finish line — the final push to end the killing for good.

The no-kill branding, with the striking photography in black and white, may be familiar. Two years ago, Best Friends Animal Society launched the groundbreaking campaign No-Kill Los Angeles (NKLA). The NKLA Coalition is now more than 70 groups strong and includes the six government-operated open-admission shelters, local governments, business leaders, and one of the strongest volunteer corps on the planet.

The results have been incredible, with a dramatic increase in the L.A. Animal Services’ save rate and parallel reductions in shelter intake and shelter deaths. The progress there is ahead of schedule, and we expect to reach the 90 percent save rate threshold for a no-kill community in 2017. You can read about the work in L.A. here. We are excited to bring the look and feel of that campaign, along with its energy, effectiveness and urgency to Utah.

Having personally spent nearly seven years developing strategies and programming in Utah, it’s been an amazing ride, with a lot of creative lifesaving programming, many of them “firsts” in animal welfare, that helped set the stage for other organizations across the country to follow. Our programs in Utah have always been positioned as a proving ground and leader in innovation for Best Friends and the entire field of animal welfare, all with a primary goal of ending shelter killing and mainstreaming the no-kill movement.

Some of these include Furburbia pet adoption centers in malls (taking pets out of the shelter to the public); pet super adoptions (adopting hundreds of animals at a time over a weekend), the first coalition-based effort to end the killing; the Big Fix statewide mobile clinic, serving every nook and cranny of the state and cranking out more surgeries than any other mobile clinic of its kind (around 100,000 surgeries during its time); creative corporate partnerships, including Squatters Chasing Tail Ale and Hooters for Neuter; the first statewide community cat trap/neuter/return (TNR) programs; and the first dedicated shelter program to save pit bull terriers (the Pit Crew). And, of course, maybe most notably, the dog walking fundraising event Strut Your Mutt, which has now become a national fundraiser for our Network rescue partners across the country, raising millions for local rescue efforts.

There will be more to come on the particulars of the NKUT initiative, but the strategy is simple. We’re aiming for fewer animals entering the shelter system, and more animals going out. Aggressive, targeted spay/neuter programming will help reduce the influx of animals. We’ll work with communities across the state to implement progressive, humane alternatives for cats. And, of course, we’ll be doing one of the things we do best: finding animals homes.

This is an epic moment in my life. Thinking back through the years on all of the people and organizations who have contributed so much to save so many is very moving. Having worked so closely in Utah for so long, seeing this come to fruition is something very special. It’s not often that people get to be involved in transformative social change, but we are first-hand participants in the no-kill movement. We are making a difference for our home state, the country, and for all of those individual animals now safe and warm in a loving home.

Together, we will Save Them All.

Cat Dog No-Kill 2025