The State of No Kill: Southeast

This post looks at how No Kill did in the Southeast in 2015. We can break the area down into two regions:

Upper Southeast – Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina
Deep South – South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi

The surprising thing about the southeast in 2015 was that the most inspiring stories came from the Deep South – an area that we have traditionally thought of as terrible for shelter animals. For many years the only real hope for homeless dogs in the Deep South was to be transported to northern shelters, and the only real hope for cats was to avoid being caught by animal control at all. Today, we have communities in the Deep South, including some large cities, that are on the cutting edge of new No Kill techniques.

I had the privilege of visiting LifeLine Animal Project’s two open admission county shelters serving the city of Atlanta this past year. LifeLine took over the shelters in 2013, and both are now running at about an 85% live release rate. That’s up very sharply since they took over – a true reversal of what went before. They have all the problems of big-city shelters, including a high intake of pit bulls, and they have very little outside help. LifeLine is an example of what No Kill can do even with few resources.

Jacksonville, Florida, is another phenomenal story. They have a great coalition of three partners working together in harmony – the city shelter, the Jacksonville Humane Society, and First Coast No More Homeless Pets. That’s very nice to see because there are so many other cities where egos get in the way of cooperation and people go around with a chip on their shoulder.

Scott Trebatoski, who managed the city shelter in Jacksonville before being lured away to Hillsborough County, Florida (where the city of Tampa is located), has been making great strides in a place that was previously a death knell to No Kill attempts. The shelter there has been running at a save rate of over 80%. Another big story of 2015 was Miami, which is now reporting that it was over 90% for the year. Miami is getting a new shelter this year, which should help with even better lifesaving for the almost 30,000 dogs and cats they take in annually.

There are success stories in smaller cities in the Deep South too. Gainesville, Florida, has been making steady progress. I don’t think Gainesville is quite to No Kill yet, but one bright spot is the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where Dr. Julie Levy has been doing great research on TNR and RTF. Huntsville, Alabama (yes, Alabama!) has been running at over 90% lately. Southern Pines Animal Shelter in Mississippi is over 90% (they need donations to shore up their shelter building against a landslide emergency). Columbia, South Carolina, has already cut its kill rate by half, and wants to go the rest of the way to No Kill. A committee has proposed a promising plan, with the exception of mandatory spay-neuter for pit bulls. Hopefully that idea will not make it into the final plan.

The upper Southeast did not have the kind of big headline No Kill stories last year that the Deep South had, but progress is being made. Virginia has more and more communities that are No Kill. Three of its communities are examples of the best in No Kill – Richmond, Lynchburg, and Charlottesville. Lynchburg is one of my favorite No Kill stories. The city’s median household income is below average for Virginia and for the United States as a whole, and yet the Lynchburg Humane Society has not only been No Kill for years now, it also opened a state-of-the-art new shelter in 2015.

The city of Asheville, in North Carolina, seems to be ramping up to become a No Kill powerhouse. The Foothills Humane Society in Polk County, North Carolina, has reportedly been No Kill for some time now. West Virginia has made it onto the board with the Charleston shelter. Tennessee has a few towns that are doing well, as does Kentucky. But North Carolina, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky have few bright spots.

It’s interesting to speculate on why the Deep South has all these cities that are making such fast progress toward No Kill. Whatever the reasons behind the groundswell of progress in the region, though, it’s a great thing to see. One possible problem for the future is that northern shelters may lose their supply of dogs transported from the south. That’s a good problem to have, because it means that northern shelters will be able to start reaching out to more dogs in need, perhaps from overseas.


I would give the Upper Southeast a D, with the Deep South getting a C-. I would love to give the deep South a higher grade to recognize the rapid progress that is being made, but the majority of shelters there have not joined the bandwagon – yet.

20 thoughts on “The State of No Kill: Southeast

  1. p.k. van

    Rather than continuing to truck big loads of dogs and puppies cross country to provide shelter merchandise in areas where there are dog shortages, how about instead working to reduce “oops” litters by increasing low-cost and free spay/neuter services in low-income neighborhoods and in rural areas? Pet owners without cars can’t drive their pets to a vet, even if they have a free spay/neuter voucher. Also, vets are businesses, so they set up their offices where there are plenty of customers—not out in sparsely-populated rural areas. Bring spay/neuter services to the areas that are the primary sources of unplanned litters via mobile clinics and establish pick-up and delivery services to get pets to-and-from a clinic. If there are resources available to support sending airplanes and trucks filled with dogs cross-country from areas without good low-cost spay/neuter services to areas with dog shortages, then surely there are resources to drive owned dogs to the closest clinic to be sterilized at the owner’s request.

  2. Susan Houser Post author

    I think efforts to help low-income people with spay-neuter and vet care are very important, but keep in mind that if shelters do not have dogs for people to adopt, then people will buy dogs from commercial breeders, including back yard breeders and puppy mills. That means that the breeder dogs held by those commercial interests will continue to suffer. As some one who has done puppy mill rescue I have seen how these animals are treated, and it is terrible. We as No Kill advocates need to be expanding our presence in the pet market, not seeking to contract it.

  3. al smith

    WHAT?/ Expanding your presence”in the market” are you saying No Kill is now a business? You are advocating for more street dogs to be bred and more random breedings to supply shelters with products to sell.? What kind of logic is that? That dog don’t huft’round here( that is a deep south saying in case you did not know)

  4. Susan Houser Post author

    Anybody can participate in a market, not just businesses. For example, if you agree to mow someone’s lawn in exchange for them painting your porch, you have just engaged in barter, a classic type of market transaction. Neither you nor your neighbor is a business, and no money changes hands.

  5. Susan Houser Post author

    Pets should come from people who have their sole motivation as what is best for the pet, not from people who are motivated in whole or in part by money or by success in the show ring.

  6. Barbara Foster

    Are these “no kill” shelters simply shuffling unadopted dogs/cats to a kill facility, to keep their no-kill status?
    Stats look good, but the reality is not as pretty.
    I mean, how are they maintaining no kills? Low cost and accessible spay/neuter is a great feature, but it is not magically reducing to zero the number of unwanted, ignored pets.

  7. Susan Houser Post author

    Hi Barbara – if you want to know more about how no kill is done, I suggest you visit a successful no kill shelter. You can send an e-mail to the blog with your location and I could suggest one near you. Or you could go to the yearly Best Friends conference.

  8. bestuvall

    “Pets should come from people who have their sole motivation as what is best for the pet, not from people who are motivated in whole or in part by money or by success in the show ring.”

    LOL that this funny but does not answer the question so i will put it a different way who should be “allowed” to breed dogs if anyone? and do people who work in shelters and no kill places work for free? Anyone at “Best Friends” make a salary? If they did not make a salary would they still work there? Do you think those who work in shelter are not motivated by money? LOL.In order to have pets SOMEONE has to breed them.. or do you prefer that animals be left alone to randomly breed on their own? Oh wait that’s right you want shelters to breed dogs.. great idea .. not

  9. Susan Houser Post author

    Shelters could have adequate supply for many years by bringing in homeless dogs from overseas. Beyond that, if volunteers want to breed dogs for adoption, so that people do not have to buy from commercial breeders, then they have a right to do that and I would applaud that. And I don’t know who would oppose that except for commercial breeders.

  10. Josie McPherson

    Where should pets come from – how about someone who actually wants to health test and temperament test the parents and make sure the pups or kittens are well socialised, healthy and suited to their homes.

    Reality is that obviously some “rescues” are just becoming pet flippers, milking the sob story of the origin of the animals in order to gain more donations and a high adoption fee – sorry price tag whilst trying to shame anyone who dares to want to buy a purebred from a breeder, as if they have no right to do so.

  11. Josie McPherson

    I’m sorry what???? Volunteer breeders – so what you are really saying is that so long as the motive is “pure” according to you, then they can breed whatever they like and it’s fine. So what about those pesky things like health testing, genetic screening, animal husbandry, housing, licensing etc – or is it merely that because they are not a commercial enterprise that it’s magically ok. So tell me, if the rescue pays its employees wages, houses animals here there and everywhere in foster homes (that might not be up to standard required for permit requirements) breeds without any testing or assessing, charges fees for their animals (whilst still collecting donations for all the operations, including of course all the breeding costs) how are you now any different, if not now worse, than the model you claim was so evil.

  12. Ashley

    Hi, Barbara. I volunteer for one of the Atlanta shelters, so I can tell you that LifeLine is not shuffling animals to a kill facility. The shelters they are now running – Fulton County and DeKalb County’s shelters – ARE the local county animal control/kill shelters. There is no other facility to shuffle unadopted animals to!

    (I’m just a volunteer and do not speak on behalf of the shelter, and I may not be up to date on the latest policies, but this info is accurate to the best of my knowledge.)

    I started volunteering at the Fulton shelter in 2012, when another organization ran it under a contract with the county. It was awful then. The save rate was around 35%. Most of the staff didn’t care about the animals – they were mostly felons who needed a job, any job, to remain eligible for parole. There was basically no marketing, other than the dogs’ intake photos being populated automatically to petfinder. They didn’t have a dedicated member of the staff to deal with rescues, and when they finally did, that person was the rescue, volunteer, and foster coordinator. There were only a handful of foster homes, and the shelter’s management and staff were pretty hostile to volunteers. Animal Control officers picked up cats despite there being no leash law for cats, and any cat who wasn’t particularly happy about his situation during intake was labeled “feral,” held for a week in a fenced enclosure in the “barn,” and then killed. Friendlier kitties didn’t do much better. Management’s attitude was, “we’re doing the best we can.”

    In March 2013, LifeLine was awarded the Fulton County AC contract. They brought in a new director whose attitude is, “we’re doing a good job, but there is always room for improvement.” All of the staff had to re-apply if they wanted to work there, and new staff was hired. Employees had to pass a criminal background check. They hired people who had experience working with rescues and actually cared about animals. They gave employees health benefits. They actually do marketing. They have adoption specials and do offsite adoptions at a busy PetSmart every Saturday and Sunday. The shelter is open 7 days a week, until 6pm weekends and 7 pm weekdays, so adopters have time to visit the shelter after work. Adoption counselors never tell an adopter, “sorry, we stop taking adoption applications 30 minutes before closing,” like the old staff did. Those ladies will stay all night if necessary to save animals. The staff will often stay after closing to make videos and take photos of dogs to promote them on the shelter’s Facebook page. When the shelter was way over capacity around Thanksgiving, instead of quietly killing a whole bunch of animals, the shelter’s director went on the news and pleaded with the public to come adopt, and they had almost 200 adoptions over the long weekend. There is now a separate position for volunteer coordinator, foster coordinator, and rescue coordinator. The foster program was expanded from a handful of foster homes to about 200. A former volunteer coordinator came up with the idea for a Dog for the Day program, and the shelter’s leaders gave it a chance (sounds like that wouldn’t be a big deal, but 90% of shelter directors’ first instinct would be to say no and come up with a bunch of excuses not to try anything new that could lead to one iota of extra work). Now volunteers, especially local college students who can’t have a dog of their own, can check out a shelter dog that has been fixed and had all its vaccines for a day of hiking, running, or just lounging on the sofa. Dogs wear an “adopt me” vest while out as a Dog for the Day, and the shelter has had many adoptions thanks to the program. The staff and volunteers now work together, instead of against each other. The shelter is transparent about any issues that crop up, so the suspicion and animosity is gone. The rescue coordinator and adoptions manager hustle to get dogs and cats into rescue groups. They maintain excellent relationships with rescues. In the first 6 months LifeLine was running the shelter, they did over 1,000 transfers to rescue groups, and, during the same period the previous year when the shelter was under the old management, only about 150 animals were rescued. They now have a partnership with North Shore Animal League, who transports animals up to their shelter monthly. When an animal comes in with a serious injury after the vet is gone for the day, the shelter will send the animal to an emergency vet, and rescue staff will immediately start contacting rescues for assistance. In the old days, I witnessed a German Shepherd brought in late by an AC officer after being hit by a car lie in pain in a kennel, waiting until the shelter’s vet got there the next morning. Parvo positive puppies were immediately killed, but now the shelter tries to find rescue groups to take them and has been pretty successful. The shelter now has a surrender counselor, too, so when people say they want to give up their pet, the surrender counselor will find out why and try to help solve the problem so they can keep their pet. If someone doesn’t have money for food and supplies, she finds them free food; if there is a behavioral issue, she refers them to free training resources; if it’s rental issues, she tries to help with pet-friendly rental options, etc. In Fulton, LifeLine also manages the animal control officers, so they gave each officer a microchip scanner so they can try to reunite animals with their owners out in the field instead of bringing them all to the shelter to scan for a chip. They encourage officers to try to ask around and knock on doors to find an owner if a dog is wandering around. The officers don’t respond to stray cat calls unless the cat is sick or injured, since there is no law against letting cats roam free. A lot of people’s cats used to end up at the shelter, and their owners would just assume they were out having a good time, and by the time they realized the cat may be missing, the cat’s stray hold at the shelter would be up and it would already be dead. Now, unless a cat is injured, AC officers don’t go pick up cats. If a member of the public brings in a cat, it is kept for the mandatory period then put up for adoption of no owner shows up, and, if the cat is feral, it is spayed or neutered and returned to where it came from if that can be done safely. Right now, the shelter kills very, very few cats. Maybe ones in considerable pain with little or no help for recovery. The cat room was also recently remodeled, as was the adoption office. They added several outdoor fenced in play yards, thanks to a generous LifeLine board member. They also cut down the trees and brambles obscuring the view of the shelter from the road. LifeLine has two low-cost spay/neuter clinics they continue to operate, too, along with their dog and cat shelter. There is so much more I could detail for you, but I think that’s a pretty good overall picture.

    So, in sum, they are not passing the buck to another shelter. They just work their rears off trying to find ways to keep animals out of the shelter, and, once an animal is in the shelter, ways to get it out through adoption, foster, or rescue. It’s a lot more work than just killing animals, but they have an awesome staff (many of whom hold college degrees and even left corporate jobs to work in animal welfare), headed by a leader who isn’t afraid to try new things, is willing to put saving animals above everything but the public’s safety, and isn’t satisfied with an 85% save rate.

    I saw some pretty atrocious things back in 2012, and I did not think Atlanta could ever get this close to No Kill status in just 3 years. I am absolutely giddy over the progress. No more staying late to clean the puppy cages because the actual staff couldn’t be bothered. No more paying to take injured animals to an emergency vet myself because the shelter wouldn’t pay for it. No more needing to get a few beers after every volunteer shift because the other volunteers and I needed to decompress. No more carrying a hidden camera and pepper spray with me when I go to the shelter. No more googling the staff’s names and looking through their mugshots. No more writing letters to county commissioners and officials. No more organizing offsite adoptions on my own because the shelter wouldn’t do it themselves. No more having to tell a family that just looked at a dog 20 minutes earlier that it was no longer available because by the time they were done meeting another dog and talking it over, the shelter had killed her. On a Saturday afternoon. The shelter is now run by people who really, really care, and I would trust all of them with my own dogs.

  13. Susan Houser Post author

    Josie, those “pesky things” you mention – i.e. breeding for the health and well-being of the puppies – is the best argument there is for volunteer breeders. In my experience the commercial breeders aren’t doing those things. I never saw so many genetic defects as in the breeder dogs we rescued from puppy mills. I think they keep the handicapped dogs for breeding because they can’t sell them. One dog we rescued, who was 4 years old and had numerous registered litters, literally could not walk when we got her due to her severe bilateral patellar luxation. She had to drag herself by her front legs. How’s that for responsible breeding? And try going to a puppy mill close-out auction sometime – if you didn’t know better you would get the impression that half the dogs in the world have cherry eye. And don’t even get me started on the (lack of) proper socialization of the puppies. Your argument that people who are breeding dogs for money would do a better job than volunteers is ridiculous.

  14. Sandra Siksta

    Omg! You have been through so much despicable horror and you are still there! Thank you sooooo much! You are awesome!

  15. Ashley

    I don’t think we’ll be at a place where we would need to think about volunteers breeding pets because the supply of animals in shelters is too low to meet demand for a long, long time. Like, as in, not in our lifetime. If communities in one part of the country have empty shelters, I absolutely believe we should transport animals from areas where homeless and lost pets are still being killed for lack of space. If we are ever so fortunate as to see the day when our homeless pet problem is solved throughout the country, we should turn our focus to dogs in other countries. But I think it will be a long time before we even need to debate whether volunteers should breed pets to meet demand. I personally believe that, while millions of animals are dying in shelters annually, there is no such thing as responsible breeding.

  16. Wendy

    this article does not make sense. The goal you are writing about is “no kill” but you dont want mandatory spay/neuter of pitbulls in lynchburg, VA. Why would you want more unwanted pitbulls born when they are killing them like crazy in south florida shelters., and i imagine other parts of the country. And miami save rate of 90% would be great if there werent so many dogs starving, pregnant, abused, on the streets, in the woods, everywhere down there.

  17. Susan Houser Post author

    The reason I oppose MSN is that it has the opposite of the effect it is supposed to have. Instead of people obeying the law they “go underground” and breed their dogs anyway.

  18. Shay

    I’m not sure where the statistics on Miami-Dade are being obtained. Since this county (and others in Florida) have Breed Specific Legislation, many dogs are euthanized for their genetics or “look.” I would continue to grade areas with these (Miami-Dade in Florida and Denver in Colorado) with an “F.”

  19. Susan Houser Post author

    A shelter isn’t responsible for the stupidities of local politicians, and in places like Denver that have pit-bull bans, the shelters are often doing heroic work in transferring pits out to neighboring jurisdictions that do not have dumb BSL. So the dogs are saved in spite of the ban. I think we do need to have an asterisk for places with BSL when we talk about their statistics, but I don’t agree that they should automatically get an F even if they are saving their PBs. That said, I understand where you are coming from. BSL is so stupid and regressive that it’s hard to believe that any community that remotely cares about animals still has it.

Comments are closed.