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2020 Data Shows Significant Decrease in Animals Killed in Shelters

Glenn Polyn//June 22, 2021//

Puppy locked in the cage

2020 Data Shows Significant Decrease in Animals Killed in Shelters

Glenn Polyn //June 22, 2021//

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Press release: Best Friends Animal Society

Best Friends Animal Society, a leading animal welfare organization, has released its sixth annual pet lifesaving dataset, which shows that about 347,000 cats and dogs were killed in America’s shelters in 2020, down from 625,000 in 2019. This is the largest yearly reduction in dogs and cats killed in the nation’s shelters (44.5 percent) to date, putting the nation at an 83 percent save rate. Best Friends has the most comprehensive national data on sheltered animals, representing an estimated 93 percent of all sheltered dogs and cats in the country.

“This was a monumental year for cats and dogs in America’s shelters,” said Julie Castle, CEO of Best Friends Animal Society. “We saw communities, shelters, and individuals step up for animals in ways we couldn’t have imagined, and now we are closer than ever before to achieving our goal of no-kill by 2025.

“Since we announced our no-kill goal the number of cats and dogs killed in shelters has decreased by 76 percent, down from about 1.5 million in 2016. This is incredible progress, but we must never lose sight that there are still over 950 cats and dogs killed every day just because they do not have a safe place to call home.”

New Hampshire is now the second state in the nation to achieve no-kill, joining Delaware, with Rhode Island and Vermont closely behind. The top six states where pets need to be saved are Texas, California, North Carolina, Florida, Alabama and Louisiana, which make up 50 percent of the dogs and cats still being killed in the nation. Although they continue to represent the largest lifesaving gaps, these states have seen significant progress in lifesaving over the past year. To view the full state-by-state breakdown, click here.

The data also shows that cats continue to be killed at a rate of more than two cats to one dog, even though intake of dogs is roughly five percent higher. Outdoor community cats make up the majority of cats killed in shelters. Communities with trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs have seen a notable reduction in the number of cats entering shelters and significant improvements in save rates.

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted this year’s data, as many shelters or services had to partially close or reduce services. Communities and individuals filled that gap through volunteering, fostering and adopting. As a result, we saw fewer pets entering shelters and more lives being saved.

“This year’s progress has been exceptional, from what we have seen with community support and involvement and the lifesaving numbers as a result,” Castle continued. “It is crucial that we build on this momentum to keep pets out of shelters and in loving homes where they belong. This is how we will get to no-kill.”

Other notable highlights include:

  • About 4.26 million cats and dogs entered shelters in 2020 (compared to about 5.4 million in 2019), and about 3.9 million were saved, resulting in an annual save rate of 83 percent compared to 79 percent in 2019.
  • Almost half of all shelters in the US are now no-kill, and one-third of all counties that offer sheltering services are now no-kill.
  • The top 15 states that killed the most dogs and cats in 2020 were, in order: Texas, California, North Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Oklahoma, Illinois, Michigan, Hawaii, Indiana, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Virginia. These states make up more than 75% of the nation’s killing.
    • In 2019, 14 states made up 75 percent of the nation’s killing. They were, in order, California, Texas, North Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma, Hawaii, Michigan, Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Illinois.
  • Hawaii has the lowest save rate in the nation at 60.95 percent, an improvement from 52% in 2019.

A 90 percent save rate is the nationally recognized benchmark to be considered “no-kill,” factoring that approximately 10 percent of pets who enter shelters have medical or behavioral circumstances that warrant humane euthanasia rather than killing for lack of space.

For the past six years, Best Friends has spearheaded a one-of-a-kind extensive data collection process that involved coordinated outreach to every shelter in America followed by additional research, data analysis, and technology development. The dataset is the most comprehensive on sheltered animals, based off data directly from shelters, state and local coalitions, government websites, and even FOIA requests. This year, Best Friends launched a complete overhaul of its pet lifesaving dashboard, which displays the data clearly and further inspires community members through highlighting the areas of greatest need to help homeless pets in their communities.