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  • Writer's pictureSusan Houser

The State of No Kill: Northeast

This is the first in a series of posts on the regions of the United States and how each one is doing at No Kill as we begin 2016. These posts are impressionistic to some extent, because we do not have very much hard data on shelter statistics. And there is lots of variation within each region. Even so, there are some things we can say about the different regions of the country.

Today’s post is on the Northeast. For analyzing No Kill success, we can break the Northeast down into two regions:

  1. New England – Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island

  2. Mid-Atlantic – New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia

New England

New England overall is probably the most successful region of the country at No Kill. If the entire United States was like New England we would be very close to being a No Kill nation. New Hampshire is No Kill and has been for a while. The word is that Maine is No Kill and that seems likely to be true, although data for the state is not available. New England, as well as the northeast in general, is a destination region for transports. I don’t know how many animals are transported into the Northeast each year, but my guess would be 20,000 or more.

If I were going to find a fault with New England (and, to some extent, with the entire Northeast region), it would be that many of the organizations there could do even better if they were more willing to be creative and transparent. I think this is, in large part, because of the way animal sheltering developed in the Northeast. In the years from 1866 to the end of the Progressive Era around 1920, the United States saw the first wave of formation of humane societies and SPCAs. Since the northeast part of the country was the most settled at that time, a lot of the animal-welfare organizations in that region today trace their roots back into the 1800s and early 1900s.

Many of these organizations seemed to be shaped and constrained by the weight of their own history. The mere knowledge that they have been in existence for 100 years or more makes them conservative and unwilling to risk their legacies by breaking with tradition. And one tradition is not being transparent with the public. In a sense you cannot blame them, because there is much downside and not a lot of upside in posting statistics. Another reason they may not be very concerned with posting statistics is that they feel like they are doing quite well and there is no reason for the public to be concerned. There is a whiff of paternalism about some of these legacy organizations.

But again, New England is doing extremely well, and if the only problem we have there is a little ossification in the legacy humane societies, we are in good shape. Why does New England do so well? The director of one humane society told me she thinks it is because people in New England have been pushing spay-neuter and owner responsibility for 40 years now, longer than other areas of the country, and they are reaping the rewards of all that work that went before. I think that analysis is probably correct, but I would add that in general people in New England tend to have more education than average and higher household income, which means they are less likely to have to give up a pet. They are also less likely to put up with cruel or incompetent shelter management. The climate and terrain may also play a part, since high shelter save rates seem to correlate with cold weather, snow, and rocky terrain.


The Mid-Atlantic region is a really mixed bag for No Kill, with many successful cities and counties and many that are not doing so well. Over all I would rate these states as better than average, but there is a lot of room for improvement. Some rural areas of New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, and some parts of New Jersey, present big problems.

New York City, the District of Columbia, and Baltimore have all reported 80% or better live release rates, although Baltimore’s rate had not been sustained for a year as of the end of 2014. It is worth asking the question why these cities seem to be able to achieve 80%+ but then have trouble getting to 90% or above (although I would not be surprised if DC hit 90% in 2015). One possibility might be that in a large city you get a different population of shelter animals than you have in a small town. Another might be that in a city you will have a wide spectrum of household income and education levels, whereas many of the communities with 90%+ live release rates have a concentration of wealthy and educated residents. Another possibility is simply that with very large intake numbers it may be inefficient for one organization to have to do it all. Two large cities that are excellent examples of sustained live release rates over 90% — Jacksonville and Austin — both have large non-profit partners that pull a substantial percentage of the city shelter’s intake. And they both have organizations that do TNR/RTF for feral cats.

One Mid-Atlantic state to watch in 2016 is Delaware. The state took over animal control as of the first of the year, and contracted out animal sheltering to a private organization, the Chester County SPCA. The Chester County SPCA seems to be thoroughly committed to No Kill, and I think it is very possible that the entire state of Delaware may finish 2016 with a live release rate of 90% or better.


Overall, I would give the Northeast region a B, with New England getting an A- and the Mid-Atlantic getting a C+. The region deserves a great deal of credit for the large numbers of animals it transports in.



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