Best Friends Blog

Benchmark results from Los Angeles point to bright future for no-kill

In 2011, Best Friends laid the groundwork for a coalition-based initiative to lead the city of Los Angeles to no-kill. Working closely with Brenda Barnette, general manager of Los Angeles Animal Services, and a small group of leaders of local animal welfare agencies (Found Animals Foundation and FixNation on the spay/neuter front, Downtown Dog Rescue and Karma Rescue on dog issues, and Stray Cat Alliance and Kitten Rescue for cats), we laid out a plan based on the coalition model that we had refined in Utah several years earlier.

Best Friends had had long-standing relationships with the city and the local rescue community, but it was important to establish buy-in from as many partners as possible for this quantum leap of engagement. We also conducted an in-depth analysis of the problem for this incredibly diverse, sprawling city on a shelter by shelter, zip code by zip code basis. What types of animals were entering which shelters from which neighborhoods? What resources were available or lacking? Where would our target efforts be most effective and what should those efforts be?

The result of all that work and consultation was a broad coalition that comprised the nucleus of the NKLA initiative that Best Friends Animal Society launched at the beginning of 2012.

I am very proud to report to you that the effort has worked exactly as planned. Well, not exactly. It’s worked better than that. Shelter deaths in Los Angeles have been cut nearly in half in just two years.

In 2011, the year before the NKLA initiative began, the number of healthy or adoptable animals who died in L.A. shelters was 17,400. By the end of 2013, that number had dropped to 9,075.

The NKLA initiative has been an all-out blitz on the city of Los Angeles for the last two years. If you live in L.A. or have been following the initiative through our reports in the Best Friends Web pages, you are likely to have seen the beautiful and striking NKLA ads featuring powerful black and white images. The ads and the public look and feel of the initiative were created for Best Friends, pro bono, by legendary advertising genius Lee Clow and his team at TBWA\Chiat\Day. Their genuine commitment to the cause catapulted the NKLA initiative to the forefront of public attention from the beginning.

Charlie is adopted

But the heart of the effort is the NKLA Coalition. Today, 75 like-minded rescue, spay/neuter and animal welfare organizations are working together to end the killing. That’s a pretty incredible feat, and their sharing of resources and information is a large reason for the dramatic decrease in deaths.

I believe initiatives like NKLA are essential to our movement’s success and mission achievement. Coalition members do not have to agree on every single point within the animal welfare world; the essential bargain within a coalition is to focus the groups’ combined energy and resources on the overarching and urgent goal of ending shelter killing. And, for NKLA, that goal is to end the killing in L.A.’s animal shelters.

How we’re achieving this isn’t exactly rocket science. High-volume adoptions and economically targeted spay/neuter have been the priorities for the first two years of the coalition.

On the adoption side, coalition partners are moving more animals out of the shelters backed by support from Best Friends and increasingly refined and effective promotions.

A big boost has been the two pet adoption centers operated by Best Friends. The relatively new NKLA Pet Adoption Center has been a welcome addition, allowing the members of the coalition to showcase their animals in a state-of-the-art facility in trendy West L.A.

The larger Best Friends Pet Adoption and Spay/Neuter Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles operates out of a recently constructed city shelter that never opened to the public because of budget shortfalls. Thanks to a public/private partnership with the city, Best Friends took occupancy in January of 2012. Every day, hundreds of dogs and cats from the six L.A. city shelters are showcased for adoption there. Combined, the two centers in 2013 report roughly 3,800 adoptions!

For spay and neuter, the goal has been to increase access and delivery of services to the communities most in need. Coalition partners are providing better access to spay and neuter services for low-income people with pets and are offering shelter surrender intervention services for those with few resources. The beneficiaries are the pets of L.A. residents who care deeply for their animals, but are unable to afford expensive surgery or, in some cases, transportation to the clinic. Increasingly, the underserved are now being served, and we’re seeing the effects from that in fewer animals entering the shelter system.

As part of this effort, the Best Friends Mission Hills spay/neuter clinic has performed 6,183 surgeries in 2013 alone. Roughly half of those were for pets of low-income families.

These are incredible results. Our goal for L.A. to become No-Kill Los Angeles by 2017 is very much in reach. But we’re not there yet, nor are we stopping.

This initiative for Los Angeles to become a sustainable, no-kill community offers a template for how the same can be replicated in other large cities around the country. No-kill is the future of sheltering and we are excited to see it unfold.

Together, we will Save Them All®.


Gregory Castle
Best Friends Animal Society

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  • Kim C

    Thank you so much to everyone involved for your amazing hard work! I am happy to hear it is paying off! I admire your drive to change such a long standing horrendous issue and I can only hope that your success will infiltrate other communities as well!

  • TuxedoLover

    This is wonderful! When the economy dropped, one of the first places Governor Jerry Brown cut funding was from the animal shelters of Los Angeles. I had a bumper sticker that read, “I brake for strays, not Jerry Brown” but this is much more effective! Thank you Best Friends! And remember, the rescue groups of the coalition can always use volunteers and donations.

  • kklaire

    Best Friends! So grateful to you for your mission and your work that strives to meet it.

  • Nancy

    I feel good that I live in Prescott, Arizona, where the No Kill ethic is firmly in place. Our Humane Society Shelter has a 97% live release (return to owner or adoption) rate, one of the best in the country. There are several other organizations in town that contribute to the success of the program. I am proud to live in a city that has reached this status in a few short years, after being one of the worse towns in Arizona, and to volunteer to help find HS cats good homes.

  • Micky McConn

    Please consider expanding your operations to San Bernardino City and County. We have an extremely high kill rate, many animals mis-labelled as aggressive and immediately killed, lackadasical government officials, and virtual killing field.

    • jaspurranddude

      I agree! I crosspost for the San Bernardino shelter animals constantly to give them more exposure but it’s like a bloodbath there. So many very adoptable dogs and cats there that never make it out alive.

    • kklaire

      Yes! I see these animals posted all the time through PetsConnectus – these dogs and cats with no chance coming out of Devore and San Bernadino. I’m not sure who is responsible but it almost appears as though the shelters “enjoy” putting these animals no chance. Do they get some kind of kickback for euthanized animals. Its’ really really messed up. Anyway, Best Friends! So glad you are in the area and hope you will make your way to those counties with such horrible practices.

  • Lori

    I live in a small town in Georgia and have been working with the county government to try get them to commit to moving toward no-kill status. Though there are a lot of great rescuers here, the prevailing thought is “we can’t save them all.” Frankly, I believe that there are a lot of people that would come out in support of a no kill initiative, but they’re waiting for someone to take the lead and produce a workable plan. The local governments position is “Ok, we’ll do it if you can show us how to make it work financially.”

    3000 animals die here annually…most of them are treatable. While those numbers are better than they use to be thanks to some low cost spay and neuter programs and some active rescue work, they need vast improvement.

    I need to see the step by step plan of how other places are getting it done. I understand many of the components, but I need details of a plan that is working to present to the powers that be.

    Can someone please assist me with that information? For the moment I am a one woman show and i need all the ammo I can get!

    Thanks in advance.

    • MelissaLMiller

      Hi Lori,

      Thanks for all that you’re doing to help homeless pets in your community! I’d recommend checking out some of the presentations from last year’s No More Homeless Pets conference, which you can download for free here: There are presentations from Marc Peralta, Executive Director of Best Friends Los Angeles, as well as leaders from no-kill communities throughout the country, including Dr. Ellen Jefferson, Bonney Brown, Rick Ducharme and Brent Toellner.

      We’d also love to have you join us for this year’s conference to hear first-hand about successful programs. It will be held in Las Vegas October 23-26. You can learn more about the conference here:

      Thanks again for all you’re doing for homeless pets.

      Melissa Miller
      New Media Coordinator

    • dutchessoto

      Lori, there is a wealth of information on how
      to successfully start and operate a no kill shelter from Nathan Winograd who started the No Kill Advocacy Center. You can find both pages on Facebook. Good luck.

  • Nancy Young

    Can you share the statistics that supported your decisions to provide only low-income vouchers. If your study was based on zip code, what resources did you use to determine average income and what is your income criteria?

    • MelissaLMiller

      Hi Nancy,

      We did a zip code analysis by available census data and laid that over shelter surrender and found stray records. The residents of some zip codes in Los Angeles are so uniformly below the poverty line that we decided that we could offer free spay/neuter to any resident with strong assurance that we were providing economically targeted services and at the same time eliminate the means testing requirement for that zip code. Residents of zip codes that are economically mixed have to provide some evidence of income status. We don’t provide vouchers, but we do provide grants to coalition partners who execute the programs that deliver services to the target communities. Economically targeted spay/neuter has proven effective in reducing shelter intake in previous studies, and we’ve already seen intake decrease in the two years since NKLA started.

      I hope this helps to answer your question. Thanks for all that you do to help homeless pets!

      Melissa Miller
      New Media Coordinator

  • Bette Gae Dart

    I hope all cities follow this example.

  • Sue Canale

    Awesome news..