200+ Communities Saving 90% or More

The right sidebar of this blog has a list of communities that are saving 90% or more of their animal shelter intake. In order to be listed, the shelter that takes in strays for the community and the organizations that take in owner surrenders (if different from the shelter) must as a whole be saving at least 90% of their intake, and they must have maintained that rate for at least one year.* Today, I added the 200th community to the right sidebar (and the 201st). Taken together, these communities have over 7 million residents.

When I first started researching shelters in early 2011, there were about a dozen communities in the United States that had been identified as saving 90% or more of their intake. Several communities hit the 90% mark in 2011, and by January 1, 2012, I had listed 26 communities. By January 1, 2013, the number of identified 90% or better communities was approaching 100. And now, with more than two months still to go in 2013, the number has exceeded 200.

And that’s not all. I’m currently researching more than a dozen cities and counties that are candidates for listing as sustained 90% communities, and additional ones pop up all the time. Then there are the many communities, including several large cities and counties, that have just recently achieved 90% or have live release rates in the 80th to 89th percentile and are improving (many of these communities are listed in the Worth Watching tab and category).

One thing to note is that the year a community is identified and listed by the blog is not necessarily the first year that the community attained 90%. There appears to have been at least one community that achieved and sustained the 90% rate back in the 1990s, and by 2010 there were many more 90%+ shelters than anyone knew about (since there is no national registry for shelter statistics). Most of the communities I’ve listed have attained 90% since 2010, though. The pace of change is rapid and it’s accelerating. People across the country are realizing that their own animal shelter could be saving 90% or more and they are organizing to make that happen. There are conferences and seminars all over the country where successful shelter directors tell packed audiences how they can reform their local shelter. I can’t wait to see what 2014 brings.

I’d like to thank all the people who have sent me tips and suggestions for communities to research. Keep in mind that the whole community has to be at a 90% or better live release rate in order to be listed. I don’t list individual private organizations that do not take in strays, even if they are saving 90% or more of their intake, because without the strays they don’t represent the entire community. A community doesn’t qualify for a listing unless all the intake organizations in the community, taken together, are at or above 90%.

*Although the general rule for the blog is that a community that has saved 90% or more of shelter animals for at least a year qualifies for a listing in the right sidebar, there are a couple of exceptions. I won’t knowingly list a community that has a shelter that uses a gas chamber, and I won’t knowingly list a community that has a breed-specific ban (communities with breed-specific restrictions are evaluated on a case-by-case basis).

20 thoughts on “200+ Communities Saving 90% or More

  1. Terry Ward

    Somehow there is never an answer to these questions.
    Ever optimistic, I will try here.

    What is the definition of ‘community’ in this context?
    How many shelters are we talking about?

    • Susan Houser Post author

      I can only answer for my blog, not for anyone else. In the context of my blog, a community is typically a jurisdiction. This is because stray-intake shelters almost always have a particular jurisdiction or jurisdictions that they serve, either as a municipal agency or by contract. As for the number of shelters, I suppose you could go through and count the shelters mentioned in each post if you wanted to. Sometimes the stray-intake shelter is the only intake shelter in a community, but very often there are contract or private shelters that also do intake. Sometimes there is more than one stray-intake shelter. I don’t keep track of the number of shelters because I don’t think it’s a very meaningful number — for example, if you have a private 501(c)(3) that takes in 50 animals a year from the public, do you count that as a separate “shelter”? And many private shelters serve several jurisdictions, so do you count them for each jurisdiction? It’s much more meaningful, in my opinion, to look at communities as a whole rather than individual shelters.

      • Terry Ward

        Thank you.
        But I cannot grasp the logic of this.

        If I am looking for a trauma center or a maternity hospital or a senior managed-care facility or a homeless shelter I will not be given a vague list of ‘communities served’.
        I will be given a list of names and addresses.

        If Aunt Zelma needs a woman’s shelter she will not be directed to Chippewa County or Duluth as if she were a three-legged boxer or a one-eyed cat.
        What is the rationale behind this?
        I cannot begin to believe that you believe the needs of dogs and cats are so secondary to the needs of humans.
        It makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever.

        • Susan Houser Post author

          If anyone in any of the communities I list needs help with an animal issue — say a cat stuck in a tree or a stray dog that may need medical attention — they can call animal control for the jurisdiction in which they reside. Just as with other services such as police or fire department, they can get the number for animal control from their local phone book or an internet search.

          • Terry Ward

            Oye.
            ” if you have a private 501(c)(3) that takes in 50 animals a year from the public, do you count that as a separate “shelter”?
            Why would you NOT?
            There are 5 no-kill shelters within driving distance of my front door. They have been no-kill for many years and are amazing places run by amazing dedicated people.
            I suspect there are many such shelters all across the country.
            Why are they not listed?

            “It’s much more meaningful, in my opinion, to look at communities as a whole rather than individual shelters.”
            Why?
            A community is not responsible for-nor does it house -an animal. The shelter is, and does.

            Susan, can you try and look at this from another angle?
            That all this begins to look like some secret society?
            That this insistence upon listing amorphous and generally undefined ‘jurisdictions’ as opposed to specific brick &mortar shelters is an attempt to inflate the numbers?
            Especially as the number of these shelters has dropped from last year to this.
            And more especially as they represent only 2 % of the entire United States population.
            (2.2% possibly, according to your figures.)
            Does not common sense tell you that the achievement of such shelters, regardless of the number of them. should be a source of pride, not something to obfuscate?

            Sooner or later someone is going to have to deal with all this……dust settles, wiser and more balanced minds emerge and people begin to ask questions.

          • Susan Houser Post author

            Terry, in saying that the communities I list are “amorphous” and “undefined,” you are simply wrong. My most recent listing, for example, covered Chaffee County in Colorado, and its cities of Buena Vista and Salida (I even included the wiki links). I bet the residents of those communities would be very surprised to hear that you think they are “undefined.” I’m also puzzled at your idea that I want to keep shelters “secret,” since I name “specific brick & mortar shelters” in every single post I make about a community. I even put in links to the shelter websites. You are also wrong that the number of shelters listed in my posts has “dropped from last year to this.” Instead, the number has gone up — very sharply up. Finally, I’m extremely puzzled that you think my listing by community instead of by shelter is “an attempt to inflate the numbers.” If I listed every single shelter separately (including ones that take in only a few animals per year), as you apparently want me to do, my list of shelters would run into the thousands. I’m all for dialogue, but you aren’t making much sense.

  2. Terry Ward

    Susan, you know very well that the vast majority of people are going to see ‘200+ Communities Saving 90% or More’ and take that to mean shelters. I was married to the advertising industry for far too long not to understand that.
    “amorphous” and “undefined,” is exactly the correct point, because ‘community’ is defined in many different ways, depending upon whom you ask and what discipline you are engaged in.
    ‘Animal shelter’ however, has one very clear meaning, regardless of whom you ask.

    I am all for clarity, especially when the issue concerns the lives of animals.

    If I were wrong- that the number of shelters has dropped from last year to this, I apologize.
    Those figures came from Winograd’s blog, not yours. That was careless of me…I thought you two were on the same page.
    Listing every single shelter separately , including those that take in ‘only’ a few animals per year,
    would be, in my opinion, and enormously worthy task.
    (And is it possible that ‘only’ was not the word you had in mind, in the context of saving lives?)
    What is the sense…or the good of…allowing the public to think there are only 72 or so no-kill shelters when there are thousands?
    That is precisely what I meant by ‘secret society’.
    This one makes the grade, that one doesn’t.
    Saving a life is saving a life….there is no hierarchy, no scoreboard, no comparative merit badges.
    This should all be very simple.

    • Terry Ward

      Thank you by the way, for taking the time to answer my questions.

    • Susan Houser Post author

      If someone hears “shelter” when I say “community,” that’s on them, not me. As far as “secret society,” I have no idea what you’re even talking about. I haven’t belonged to one of those since I was about 8 years old. As far as answering your questions, I hope you’re done now, because you’re wandering pretty far afield and getting into stuff that’s off topic for the blog (as I’ve said many times before, my list is not intended to be a list of No-Kill communities, because not everyone agrees that 90% constitutes No Kill).

  3. Terry Ward

    Fair enough.
    Maybe in the interest of public education you could spend some time explaining the ins and outs of ‘live release’.
    There is much confusion about this, especially in peeps who are not actually engaged in the day-to-day of animal shelters.
    Also much confusion exists around ‘accepts owner surrenders unconditionally’ and ‘takes in owner surrenders when they have room”.
    What happens to the animal if there is no room and it cannot continue to stay with the owner?
    And I see that many on the list “accept owner surrenders with a $100 fee’ ( or 20 or 40 etc)
    What does one do when he/she finds 8 puppies on the side of the road, or when any of the numberless animal owners who refuse to spay/neuter has an ‘accidental’ litter of 12?
    Much of the conflict regarding ‘no-kill’ (as it has been recently redefined) has to do with these caveats attached to the surrendering/accepting of animals.
    It is one thing to claim a no-kill status for the animals in your care, but quite another to accuse other shelters of ‘killing’ when you limit the number of animals you accept, or charge fees for accepting them…fees that few could afford.
    I’m sorry to toss these questions at you Susan, but there is absolutely no place to ask and/or get an (intelligent) answer without being accused of the most nefarious deeds.

    • Susan Houser Post author

      The issue of how shelters handle owner surrenders is a very important one. In the old days, “shelters” took in every animal that came in the door and then they killed the great majority of them. People are no longer willing to accept that, and so shelters all over the country have been experimenting with how to handle owner surrenders. I suggest that you read the recent draft whitepaper for California shelters that has signatories including the HSUS, ASPCA, and Maddie’s Fund. They recommend a balanced approach that uses an appointment system to determine if the shelter can help the owner keep their pet and a new policy for community cats not to intake them unless they can be adopted out. Some people have argued that this whitepaper is specific to California because of state laws, but the CEO of HSUS affirmed and expanded upon the recommendations as to cats in his blog, which was clearly not specific to California. Other people have criticized the whitepaper by arguing that animals “turned away” by shelters will be dumped in the street. Personally, I feel that shelters ought to offer to take in animals immediately when an owner cannot wait for an appointment or a waiting list — but the fact is that there is no proof whatsoever that people react to these modern shelter techniques by dumping their pets. In fact, the Lynchburg, VA, city shelter documented a drop in intake of strays in its own county and also in surrounding counties after they instituted an appointment system — exactly the opposite of what you would expect if people were dumping their pets. I think that the great majority of people want the best outcome for their pet and they are willing to help the shelter help their pet. I also think that it sends the wrong message when a shelter accepts an owner surrender with “no questions asked.” It sends the message that it’s OK for a person to turn their back on a pet and require the taxpayers to take care of it. This is not a simple or an easy issue, it’s not black and white, and it’s something that I think everyone in the animal welfare community should be able to talk about in order to find the best way forward. Unfortunately, some people have demagogued the issue for their own reasons. I frequently see people say that all shelters that have high live release rates are limited admission. That’s simply not true — for example, my most recent community profile on Chaffee County featured 2 shelters that take in any animal from their jurisdictions with no restrictions, and they save 96%. But on another level, what matters is not the owner surrender policy of any particular shelter. What matters is whether the animals in the community are safe. If one shelter takes in strays but not owner surrenders, and another shelter in the same community takes in owner surrenders, and both are saving every savable animal, then those are highly successful shelters in spite of the fact that some people would label both of them “limited admission.” This is another reason that I list communities rather than individual shelters, because the context in which each shelter operates really matters.

  4. Terry Ward

    Interesting…thank you.
    ” the fact is, there is no proof whatsoever that people react to these modern shelter techniques by dumping their pets.”
    Alas, this is so.
    There are no hard numbers as to the abuse of animals happening outside the shelters.
    Despite the fact that no day goes by without some horrible account of it.
    And despite the fact that those of who are involved in rescue know all too well and how dangerous the streets are, and how much dumping goes on and have the ridiculous and mostly heartless reasons for the dumping tattooed behind our eyeballs, we are expected to accept…thanks to the lack-of-data loophole… the white paper as gospel.
    Documenting strays’ is an interesting concept.
    It is not possible to quantify what you cannot see.
    So again we are expected to accept something purely speculative as gospel.
    I wish any of this provided confidence.
    But it does not.

    I will leave you in peace.
    Thank you Susan for taking the time to answer my questions with good grace.

    • Susan Houser Post author

      So because there are instances of cruelty and abuse, you think it’s better for shelters to just kill animals rather than try new techniques to save them. I don’t mean to be insulting, but that sounds crazy to me.

      • Terry Ward

        Susan, obviously we have come to the end of a civil conversation.
        You should know better than to attempt an argument based on logical fallacy.
        At least with me.
        Possibly that works on a certain type of mind…one with inadequate functional abilities.
        And now you have the option to leave ‘you think it’s better for shelters to kill’ as the last word.
        So be it.
        You do understand that that is a last refuge of a losing argument….

        • Susan Houser Post author

          Terry, I assume you would say spay-neuter is the answer and that shelters would not have to kill if everyone was responsible and spayed-neutered their pets. If you read the whitepaper and other studies on community cats, though, you know that spay-neuter by owners won’t ever work for cats because so many cats are unowned. Also, you criticize the new shelter techniques for lack of proof that they work, but there is no proof that spay-neuter works to bring down kill rates. Dr. Jefferson headed up a big spay-neuter effort in Austen and after 10 years of very little success, she changed her focus to adoptions, and Austin met the 90% mark within a year. I’ve been doing shelter research now for 3 years and I’ve documented over 200 successful communities and I’ve seen what works — and it’s a comprehensive program that includes spay-neuter but does not expect spay-neuter to work by itself. I think that spay-neuter is a convenient ideology for some people because it puts the blame on the so-called “irresponsible public” and absolves shelter workers and rescuers of all responsibility. That allows you to sit back and comfortably blame others rather than taking responsibility and becoming part of the shelter reform movement. Note: Some people cite Peter Marsh’s work in New Hampshire as proof that spay-neuter by itself works and that an emphasis on pet retention and adoptions does not work, but Peter Marsh himself has a more nuanced view (which includes socioeconomic factors) and – most importantly – the New Hampshire shelters refuse to make their statistics public, so no one can really see how they’re doing. I’ve been trying to get NH shelter statistics for a year now and have run into a brick wall — just sayin’.

  5. Terry Ward

    I don’t recall mentioning spay&neuter here.
    Comprehensive mandatory spay& neuter for all pets would solve a world of problems but it is never going to happen any more than a comprehensive cure for child poverty is going to happen.
    Human society is very very bad at prevention.
    Plus I have been in the rescue trenches for far too long to be convinced that the root cause of this mess
    (other than unfettered breeding which will never stop either) does NOT lie with the irresponsible public.
    So much so that I am inclined to believe that anyone who claims otherwise has never been involved in actual hands-on rescue whatsoever.
    “I criticize the new shelter techniques for lack of proof that they work”
    I do not, and never have.
    I rail at the assertion that what works in one place is proof that it can be achieved in another place.
    This is such a glaringly illogical assumption that I cannot believe educated adults would dare utter it.
    A is skinny, B is fat.
    B is fat because B does not do exactly what A does.
    Greenwich Connecticut has successfully cut their homicide rate to zero.
    If Greenwich can do it Detroit can do it.

    The illogic of this sort of thinking was taught in the 5th grade.

    ” I’ve been trying to get NH shelter statistics for a year now and have run into a brick wall”
    is quite similar in spirit to ‘I have been trying to get a list of specific brick&mortar shelters with the total number of animals served for a year now and have run into a brick wall.”

    • Susan Houser Post author

      OK, point taken. But if you disapprove of the California whitepaper intake principles, and you don’t think spay-neuter is the answer, then what solution do you have? You seem to be incensed that I concluded that your solution was for shelters to kill animals as a pre-emptive to letting them return to society where they might be abused, but the fact is that if a shelter is not going to kill animals, they need to have a plan that they can put into effect — what is yours?

      • Terry Ward

        There is no comprehensive solution.
        No matter how much we might wish it or how much some folks claim there is.
        Most of the great evils in the world have no comprehensive solution.
        We can apply band-aids.
        The shelters you have listed seem to be good at band-aids….certainly better than some other places.
        But as long as we are producing dogs and cats like Purdue produces chickens there will be no answer and we will continue to hemorrhage dumped animals like an open artery.
        As long as we breed cats and dogs at a geometric rate while humans procreate at a numerical rate we will never have a solution.
        The math will always win.
        Even if by some magic incantation we were able to create one cat or dog per household, , there would still be a problem because 40% of households do not keep pets and of the other 60%, some keep animals other than cats and dogs.
        You appear to want to believe that it is the concept of NoKill that I, and many others, are resistant to.
        And worse, you imply that we ‘want to kill’ shelter animals simply because we take issue with the rhetoric.
        This is as fallacious an assumption as is saying because I would give women the right to abortion means I ‘want to kill’ fetuses.
        It is not the concept of the New NoKill that causes such contention, it’s the dishonesty.
        And the accusations and the hyperbole and complete lack of civility and logic.
        And the worst of it is, by lying to the public …by telling them that ‘there is an adopter for every shelter animal’
        you are giving the public a reason to not get involved, not to take the route of adoption because ‘someone has it handled’.
        The public is notorious for not getting involved if they can find any reason whatsoever.
        The public is notorious for not changing their habits if they can find any excuse whatsoever.
        The public has their own problems and will use any excuse not to take on more.
        This is public relations 101.
        And what is it, eight years now of screaming murder and killing and claiming every atrocity under the sun and yet the list represents maybe 2 percent of the entire population?
        Wouldn’t it have been so much more efficacious if someone had said ‘Hey, I have some really great ideas how to reduce shelter euthanasia. Quite a few places have put my ideas into practice and they are working and we are saving animals’ lives. Lets all work together and help put my ideas in motion in other places’.
        Do you not think that EVERY one of us would have stood in line to board that bus?
        Stood in the rain and the snow and the cold and braved ALL elements to try and help?
        But that did not happen.
        And that is a tragedy.
        So, in answer to your question, there is no solution….just band-aids.
        ………….
        It now occurs to me Susan, that there is nothing that I have said since the beginning of this conversation that you do not know. You are smart, educated articulate and experienced.
        This is curious to me.

        • Susan Houser Post author

          So, to put what you’re saying into a nutshell, if I’ve got this right, you’re angry at some people in the “No Kill” movement for “screaming murder and killing” etc., and if they used better public relations you would have “stood in line to board that bus” even though you believe there’s no real solution for shelter animals because there’s just too many of them. First of all, not everyone in the No Kill movement uses the type of rhetoric you’re talking about – you may not realize this, but most of the leaders of the No Kill movement do not use that type of rhetoric. Second, it’s a fact that shelter animals are killed in the millions each year — calling it “euthanasia” or “putting to sleep” doesn’t change the fact that it’s ending the life of a living creature — surely you can understand that this fact is deeply upsetting and emotional to lots and lots of people. Third, and perhaps most important for purposes of this discussion, you’re underestimating the current success of the shelter reform movement by at least half, and you’re not paying attention to the most salient fact, the rate of change. I’ve been listing communities as fast as I can, but there are still lots out there that I haven’t listed yet, and many, many shelters do not post their stats because they don’t see any reason to. I would estimate that the true percentage of the population that lives in a 90% or better community is at least 4-5% right now, and it’s been more than doubling every year. At that rate, the entire country will be at a 90% or better save rate in 5 years. Math is a wonderful thing. Fourth, if you thought the “bus” might actually be going somewhere, why wouldn’t you get on it even if you did hate the rhetoric? Why would you spend your time attacking the movement just because you don’t like its public relations? I do want to say something about your argument about pet overpopulation. I’d like to ask you to really study the situation in Jacksonville. Jacksonville is a big city in the deep South, which is traditionally the part of the country that has the highest shelter intake. Yet Jacksonville has been saving over 80% of its intake since the beginning of 2013, and their save rate has been rapidly going up. Jacksonville uses the full panoply of modern shelter techniques — yes, they do spay-neuter and TNR, but they also have mega-adoption events, offsite adoption venues, lots of publicity, volunteers and community outreach, and they have a public-private partnership. If 90% can be achieved in Jacksonville, it can be achieved anywhere. Instead of saying that you don’t like the rhetoric of “No Kill,” or that you won’t be convinced that the goal is achievable until it has been achieved, why don’t you join the people who are working to achieve it? Otherwise, if you truly love animals, you’re going to feel awfully bad in a few years when you realize that you missed out on and opposed the biggest and most effective shelter reform movement in history. Don’t let the rhetoric of a few people who you don’t like stop you. It’s a big bus.

  6. Terry Ward

    The no-kill movement was around and growing long before the screaming murder began.

    And just because something cannot be implemented 100% or even 20 % does not mean that people should not work for it.
    Knowing that I cannot save them all does not stop me from trying to save as many as I am practicably able. Actually it causes me to save and care for more than is personally practical, but that is neither here nor there.

    And even if -as you say- the number is 4 or 5, (you certainly know this better than I) ..that leaves a remaining disinterested population of 95%, after nearly 6 years of screaming murder.

    If it is such a good plan, one would expect better numbers, especially as the goal is so undeniably worthy.

    And why you continue to insist ‘ if Jacksonville can do it Detroit can do it’ I cannot understand.
    You know this is faulty logic most spurious.

    Otherwise there is not much else to reply to as you seem to have ignored the spirit of whatever I said previously.
    Not sure what I may have said to cause the sudden rhetoric and grandstanding.

    Just because I abhor the rhetoric and the disinformation it does not follow that I oppose shelter reform.

    And I assure you that my love of animals is not predicated on whether I ‘miss out’ on this or that.

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