When Best Friends started the Sanctuary in southern Utah in 1984, the number of pets killed in American shelters was estimated to be 17 million a year — a number that is, quite frankly, unimaginably large. Since that time, thanks to the efforts of millions of pet lovers, rescue groups, humane societies and municipal shelters, the number has decreased significantly. But we truly haven’t known precisely how many animals are being killed. That’s due to many factors, but mostly because the information available has been limited.
Best Friends, for a number of years, based on the information available, estimated the number of cats and dogs killed annually to be 4,000,000 a year. Other organizations shared different estimates – some lower and some higher. We do know that having the most accurate data is essential to ending the killing of cats and dogs in shelters.
That’s why, through the Shelter Animals Count database, we’ve been working extensively with other animal welfare organizations to collect truly accurate data that we can all use in the upcoming years. In addition, as part of our 2025 Save Them All initiative that started last year, we launched an enormous data collection effort to examine the country’s shelter numbers county by county. If that sounds like a daunting task, it was, especially because there are no uniform metrics from one state to the next and sometimes records within a given state are not managed uniformly. This research is the first to dive so deeply and broadly into the details. And we are pleased to announce that we have the results.
Our findings show that the number of dogs and cats being killed in the U.S. each day has dropped from more than 9,000 per day to 5,500 per day (or two million per year) over the last six years.
Please take a moment to reflect on this. It’s a big accomplishment — not only because of the decrease in the number of animals killed, but also because we are finally able to measure our lifesaving progress on a national scale.
Now is the time to finish the job and save every last life. We can do this. We now have the data to prove what an enormous impact we have when we all work together.
There are still obstacles ahead. For example, as our chief national programs officer, Holly Sizemore, said earlier in the week, ending the killing of pets in shelters has been made more complicated because of the removal of the USDA’s APHIS database. Not knowing where puppy mills are located, or whether they’re meeting minimum standards of care, harms our movement. Reducing transparency at the federal oversight level is just one roadblock facing our movement, but Best Friends remains resolute in our commitment to bring the entire country to no-kill.
We know that today more than 300 communities (and counting) have achieved the no-kill threshold of saving 90 percent of pets coming into their shelters. This movement led by Best Friends has tremendous momentum and public support. People are no longer willing to accept the killing of dogs and cats in shelters as a “necessary evil,” and now that solutions have been found, they expect their communities to utilize those solutions.
Best Friends has deployed successful programs that have given us the road map to end the killing of animals in shelters. For example, through our NKLA effort in the city of Los Angeles and our statewide NKUT effort in Utah, broad coalitions of organizations are working collaboratively — driven by data and a shared goal of ending the killing. Through our No More Homeless Pets Network, we share expertise about our programs and those of our partners so that other groups can implement proven lifesaving strategies in their own communities. Our partnerships encourage an environment of continued learning, in which we can all learn from one another and grow together.
And above all, of course, we have our members. People like you who are dedicated to saving the lives of every homeless dog and cat, until “two million per year killed in our nation’s shelters” becomes “none, and never again.”
We have many hurdles ahead of us. But together, we will Save Them All.
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CEO Best Friends Animal Society