In just the last few years we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of major cities and metro areas in the United States whose animal shelters have either reached "No Kill" status or are getting close. People define "No Kill" in different ways, but the most common definition of a No Kill community is one where all the shelters in the community, taken together, save 90% or more of the community's homeless pets.
Six years ago there were no large cities that were No Kill by that definition. The first one was Austin, in 2011. Back then it was thought that large cities would probably be the last places where No Kill was achieved, because city shelters take in lots of animals and budgets are often tight. Yet today, just five years after Austin achieved No Kill, big cities are leading the way.
One common way big cities get to No Kill has been by cooperative public-private efforts. Austin, for example, has a large non-profit, Austin Pets Alive!, that takes a substantial number of animals from the city shelter and finds adoptive homes for them. Austin also has another large non-profit, the Austin Humane Society, that does trap-neuter-return (TNR) for feral cats. Jacksonville, Florida, similarly has three organizations that are working closely together to make the city No Kill. The Jacksonville city shelter works with First Coast No More Homeless Pets, which does TNR and mega-adoption events, and the Jacksonville Humane Society, which pulls animals from the city shelter. Both Austin and Jacksonville had extremely high community save rates last year, in the mid-90% range.
The non-profits in Austin and Jacksonville also work with surrounding communities to help them improve their save rates. The leadership of Austin Pets Alive! has been very instrumental in the success of San Antonio, whose city shelter just achieved a 90% save rate last December. And First Coast No More Homeless Pets has helped neighboring counties increase their shelter lifesaving.
Some metro areas have large coalitions of shelters spanning several jurisdictions that work together. In the Portland, Oregon, metro area, shelters from four counties serving over two million people have achieved shelter save rates over 90%. The Denver metro area also has a large coalition that has reported save rates over 90% (although Denver's success is marred by a long-standing pit-bull ban). Colorado's shelters are saving about 90% of intake across the state. That includes thousands of dogs from other states that Colorado shelters take in each year.
Another way that No Kill can happen is when advocates start a non-profit that bids on and wins the contract to run the city shelter. Then they reform it. This can be difficult in cases where the non-profit has to go it alone, but it has the virtue of putting advocates in complete control of the shelter. A good example of this method is Atlanta. Ten years ago probably few people in the United States would have believed that Atlanta would be No Kill in 2016, yet that is the goal of LifeLine Animal Project, the non-profit that in 2013 won the contracts to run both of the city's shelters. LifeLine does not have a partner comparable to what we see in Austin or Jacksonville, yet it has already increased the save rate at both of its shelters to about 85%.
In Kansas City, Missouri, as in Atlanta, a non-profit formed by No Kill advocates won the city contract. The Kansas City Pet Project was formed only just in time to make the bid. They managed to make the city No Kill in record time, within six months of their start date. They showed that it was not going to be business as usual when they held their grand opening on New Years Day, the first day of their contract in 2012.
These cities are not flukes. There are similar stories in Baltimore, Washington DC, Seattle, Miami, the Salt Lake City metro area, the Richmond metro area, and San Francisco. There are large metro counties like Fairfax (outside of Washington DC) and San Diego that are on board. And many medium-sized cities and metro areas such as Asheville, Williamson County (just north of Austin), and Washoe County (home to Reno) have outstanding programs.
Perhaps the most surprising transformation has been happening in New York City. The city shelter system in New York serves all five boroughs and takes in some 30,000 animals every year. The system has struggled with a lack of resources since the city took over animal control and sheltering from the ASPCA in 1994. In 2003, a non-profit named the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals, headed by Jane Hoffman, began to build a unique system for helping the city shelter. The Mayor's Alliance is a large consortium of shelters and rescues, currently numbering well over 150 organizations, that pulls animals from the city shelter. The Mayor's Alliance has evolved to the point that it now provides an interface for the complicated task of coordinating so many organizations in the placement of many thousands of animals. It's a big, messy system that seems chaotic sometimes, but in 2015 the New York City shelter system had an 86% live release rate.
There is no reason why every city in the country cannot do what these cities have done. With high-intake cities like San Antonio, Austin, Kansas City, and Atlanta going No Kill, there is no longer any room for excuses. The deciding factor is not how wealthy or progressive the city is, but whether local humane advocates are willing to step in and make No Kill happen. LifeLine Animal Project, Kansas City Pet Project, First Coast No More Homeless Pets, the Jacksonville Humane Society, the Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland, and the Mayor's Alliance are examples of how it gets done.