Progressive leaps in Texas and Georgia, 5,500+ no-kill communities, and a crisis that has cat hair all over it. Buckle up, we’ve got new shelter data for you!

By Julie Castle

I’ve always believed that anyone can help homeless pets. You don’t need a rescue label, special credentials or permission to help save animals. You just need reliable information and resources paired with a collaborative, community-minded spirit to guide you. Individual community members are the no-kill movement’s greatest resource and a central piece of Best Friends’ work is providing you with the tools and data you need to create the kind, compassionate world you want to live in.

Today, I’m excited to say we’ve got some enlightening new information to share based on our 2019 national shelter data collection and analysis.

For the past several years, and since better data has become available, Best Friends and progressive shelters nationwide have been changing the way we do business and relate to the communities we’re serving. Central to those efforts are proven practices and strategies such as simplifying adoption policies and requirements to be more friendly and inclusive, building out community foster care programs, implementing trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs for community cats, passing more pet-friendly legislation to combat the retail sale of dogs from puppy mills and breed discrimination, advocating for more pet-inclusive housing, and using technology to remove barriers for the public to help pets. And it’s making a difference.

There’s a lot to say about the progress made over the last year, but here are some of the big takeaways:

The number of dogs and cats killed each year in America’s shelters has dropped from around 733,000 in 2018 to 625,000 in 2019. While that’s still far too many animals dying unnecessarily in our nation’s shelters, we’re making tremendous progress. Since I announced our 2025 goal four years ago, Best Friends and lifesaving organizations around the country have reduced the number of pets being killed nationwide by 58%! This phenomenal progress is a direct result of animal shelters and partner groups, big and small, working to transform their lifesaving models to help more pets, and the communities those shelters serve stepping up to take collective responsibility for supporting those efforts.

Targeted, data-driven lifesaving efforts in key states like Georgia and Texas are paying off in major ways. Georgia, which was one of the top five states most in need of lifesaving help in 2018, achieved a 31% reduction in the number of animals dying in its shelters (more than 12,000 fewer pets) and has dropped out of that top five. Texas, the state responsible for the highest number of animals killed in shelters in 2018, saw a reduction of 15% (17,000 fewer animals). States where animals are entering shelters in the greatest numbers are finally getting the data, resources and support they need to fill lifesaving gaps and create a brighter future for local pets and the people who love them.

The numbers of no-kill communities and no-kill shelters nationwide are growing, but we can do better. There are now more than 5,500 no-kill communities nationwide and more than 2,000 no-kill shelters. We are now at a point where 44% of animal shelters in America are no-kill. And it wasn’t all that long ago when you could count these numbers on one or two hands.

We need to get serious about saving more cats. This recent data set reveals that we are doing a fabulous job of saving the lives of dogs nationwide, but we must do more to save cats. Of the total number of pets killed in shelters in 2019, 31% were dogs and a staggering 69% were cats. That’s more than two cats dying for every dog, and that’s even with the fact that the number of dogs entering shelters every year is 10% higher than that of cats. We need communities to support effective, sustainable cat policies starting today. We need the public to understand that for many cats, the community is their safe, loving home and that implementing programs that use trap-neuter-return is far more humane and desirable than continuing to scoop up free-roaming cats and take them to the closest shelter.   

Despite nationwide disruptions and closures for shelter operations due to COVID-19, an initial look at 2020 data suggests that lifesaving has not been dramatically affected overall. In fact, because of the pandemic, many shelters were forced to implement more progressive programs and policies sooner than they planned to and, as a result, are already making more community-based lifesaving progress than originally expected. What’s important to note there is the “community-based” part. None of these shelters can transition to more progressive programs like managed admissions unless community members are willing to support that work.

Anecdotally, we’re seeing individuals around the country step up to support the positive shift in policies and programming by local shelters. The pandemic put shelters in a position where they had to ask their communities for help. It turns out that, when asked to do so, people are more than willing to step up and pitch in to help pets in need. That’s the kind of collaborative trend that must continue if we are going to achieve no-kill nationwide and sustain it.

We have five more years to meet our 2025 no-kill goal. Now is the time for individual community members across the country to rally around their local shelters, create collaborative lifesaving teams, take action for pets and people in need, and pave the way for more community engagement and the implementation of lifesaving programs so that dogs and cats will no longer be killed simply because they don’t have safe places to call home.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society