Zeroing in on no-kill nationwide by 2025

By Holly Sizemore

We all want the same thing for dogs and cats who end up in our local animal shelters: We want them to go on to live happy lives outside of the shelter. That’s happening more than ever before, but there are pockets around the United States where animals are still being killed in high numbers. Those shelters, those communities and those animals need help. But where to begin?

Historically, there has been a lack of information about where the problem areas lie in a community, in a state and in the country. But not anymore. Best Friends Animal Society is striving to collect data from every shelter and every community (yes, even your community) so that we and our partners can prioritize where we put our resources, and offer help where help is needed the most. The state-level shelter data is published here.

So, where are the trouble spots? Of the approximately 800,000 dogs and cats killed in shelters each year, half of them are in just five states. Our goal is to reach no-kill nationwide by 2025, and animal shelters in these five states have the toughest road to getting there.

Five states where the most animals are killed each year

Here are the approximate numbers of animals killed in a recent year:

  1. Texas: 125,000   
  2. California: 110,000
  3. Florida: 66,000
  4. North Carolina: 62,000
  5. Georgia: 43,000

For the five states listed above, the data is a starting point for helping shelters create programs to save many lives right away. For example, in California, 75% of the animals killed in shelters are cats. In fact, cats are faring worse than dogs in all top five states except for Texas, where the animals at risk are nearly 50% dogs and 50% cats. It’s clear that most places need programs and support to save more cats. The good news is that community cat (aka stray and feral cats) programs are incredibly effective. Shelters just need resources and expertise to get the programs up and running.

It’s not as simple as looking only at numbers of cats and dogs killed, though. Each community has unique strengths and challenges, and that’s where relationships and partnerships come in. It’s an opportunity for other shelters that are doing well and have reached no-kill, even if they’re located in a different state, to step up and help.

Right now, Best Friends staff and our partners are working directly with shelters that need help to reach no-kill. While we have partners in all 50 states, we’re putting more resources into shelters in the five states that need it most.

How Best Friends is helping animal shelters

A key part of our work at Best Friends is helping shelters to pinpoint ways they can save more lives, and then start doing it. We can help them analyze their data and recommend programs to save more animals. We can give them grants or help them apply for funding. We can send staff to help them. We can pair them up with another shelter that has had success with the kinds of programs they need. The Best Friends Network, which includes more than 2,600 partner organizations, is a powerful force when they start to support each other and collaborate, rather than working alone. And we can roll out Best Friends programs to kick-start the lifesaving.

Here are some of the programs with which Best Friends is helping animal shelters, in the communities that need it most:

  • Community cat programs: Community cats (free-roaming, stray or feral cats) are among the animals most at risk of being killed in shelters. Community cat programs (CCPs) keep them out of shelters — while also preventing more kittens from being born — through targeted trap-neuter-return and return-to-field strategies.
  • Kitten care: Newborn kittens need round-the-clock care, which most shelters can’t provide. Best Friends programs prevent kittens from entering shelters, help expand foster networks and, in some cases, establish or expand kitten nurseries to provide lifesaving care.
  • Pet transport: Pet transport programs give at-risk dogs (and, at times, cats) lifts from overcrowded shelters to communities where they’re more likely to find homes faster. Transports are a way to save lives immediately while a shelter works on long-term solutions to prevent the need for transport in the future.
  • Targeted spay/neuter: Lack of access to affordable spay/neuter is a significant barrier to lifesaving in the five focus states. Existing spay/neuter providers are booked for months in advance and are inaccessible to rural communities or to people who have limited transportation options. Shelters even have difficulty accessing spay/neuter services for the pets in their care, which delays adoption.
  • No-kill technical assistance and training: Best Friends is creating a new culture of lifesaving in shelters that’s not only effective, but sustainable. By leveraging the expertise of our staff, we’re helping to grow the lifesaving impact of other animal welfare organizations through technical assistance, education and capacity-building programs.
  • Policy and advocacy: Policies can help or harm animals. Nationwide, and especially in the five states listed above, Best Friends is backing legislation that removes barriers to saving lives, in particular for at-risk animals such as community cats and large dogs. Advancing policy to support lifesaving helps ensure that changes will last.

As we collectively work toward no-kill nationwide by 2025, please visit the website often. Check the maps to see how your state is doing; we’ll update the maps over time. Information is power, but power is useless without putting it into action. Everyone can do something. Your “something” might be signing up to foster kittens this summer. It might be getting involved in an animal welfare coalition in your area or helping to raise funds.

If your community has already reached no-kill, that’s worth celebrating. (Check the no-kill community map to find out.) And it’s a sign that you might be able to help save pets who desperately need saving in a shelter not far away. If the work feels never-ending, remember that 20 years ago the number of pets killed in shelters each year was 17 million. Things are better now than they ever have been for pets in almost every single community. But with lives at stake, better isn’t good enough. Together, we can get every community to no-kill. Together, we can Save Them All.

No-Kill 2025

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society