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  • Writer's pictureSusan Houser

The State of No Kill: Western U.S.

West Coast – Washington, Oregon, California Upper Rockies – Idaho, Montana, Wyoming Middle Rockies – Nevada, Utah, Colorado Lower Southwest – Arizona, New Mexico Non-Contiguous – Hawaii, Alaska

The western United States, like most other regions of the country, has a mixture of very good and very bad shelter systems, with a lot in between. Some parts of the western United States are as good at No Kill as you can find anywhere in the country, but at least two states in the region are among the worst for No Kill.

The West Coast area has several cities that are models for No Kill. Seattle and its metro area, including Kitsap County, do not provide consolidated statistics, but the area certainly appears to be No Kill. The Portland metro area, consisting of four counties that have formed a coalition, is saving more than 90% in its population area of over 2 million people. Oregon is also home to the city of Eugene, which is No Kill.

In Northern California, the city of San Francisco has had a consolidated live release rate of over 90% since 2013. The San Francisco SPCA partners with the city of Stockton to help them increase their save rate. Sacramento, which has faced a lot of challenges, had a 78% save rate in 2015 with intake of almost 11,000. Sacramento apparently includes died/lost in their live release rate calculation, so with the standard calculation they might be over 80%. Chico, California, is notable for the stunning success it has had with the new community cats paradigms. Its shelter reduced cat intake from 2,839 to 442 and cat euthanasia from 1273 to 88 after it implemented a community cat program. This success story was featured in the March/April 2015 issue of the HSUS Animal Sheltering magazine.

Southern California is rapidly improving. Best Friends is helping with a massive effort in Los Angeles that is paying off in substantially increased lifesaving. The San Diego coalition reported that it has reached 90%. Ventura County has also reported reaching No Kill.

The Upper Rockies have a lot in common with the Western Midwest – both are areas where we do not have much information about how No Kill is doing. My impression is that these states are making progress, though. There is a correlation between mountainous terrain and cold weather and No Kill. And these states are becoming more progressive and have many resort areas, both of which also correlate with No Kill. There are several small No Kill communities in Montana and Wyoming. I have heard reports of shelters that are doing well in Idaho, although I have not researched those shelters.

The Middle Rockies states are amazing. Colorado is a No Kill state, as measured by the state’s shelter reporting system. Best Friends has had a project to make Utah a No Kill state ongoing for several years now, and they have been very successful, with the Salt Late City metro area and a double-digit number of smaller cities and counties with live release rates of 90% or more. The giant Humane Society of Utah, which is open admission for owner surrenders and pulls lots of animals from public shelters, recently announced that it had a 90%+ live release rate in 2015.

Nevada is home to Washoe County, where the shelter system has been No Kill for years. The Nevada Humane Society, which has been a crucial partner to Washoe County and the cities of Reno and Sparks, is now working on making Carson City No Kill. Las Vegas has a serious No Kill effort underway in which a large local No Kill group, No Kill Las Vegas, is participating. It is great to see a terrific No Kill group like NKLV assisting the local shelter to succeed.

Unfortunately, there is less good news in the remaining regions of the west. The Lower Southwest has some areas where reported stray numbers are high and kill rates are high. This part of the country, like Houston, Dallas, and Detroit, seems stuck back in the 1970s, with a large number of homeless animals roaming the streets. There have been sporadic efforts to improve save rates, as with Albuquerque’s cat project. Pima County, Arizona, has been making an effort. One bright spot is the Yavapai Humane Society, which has contracts in the Prescott, Arizona, area, and has reported 90%+ save rates for several years now. In general, though, Arizona and New Mexico do not seem like good places to be a homeless pet. It may be that a major intervention in low-cost spay neuter is needed in the area to get the stray problem under control.

Animals in the Non-Continguous states of Hawaii and Alaska were in the news in 2015, and not in a good way. The Kauai Humane Society received heavy criticism of its practices and kill rate. In Alaska there are persistent reports of mistreatment of sled dogs. Working sled dogs get a lot of exercise, which can be a good thing, but it appears that they typically spend most of their non-working time chained outdoors or in small kennels. The Iditarod race is the focus of concern about cruelty to sled dogs, but the Iditarod happens only once per year and the year-round treatment of sled dogs deserves attention too.


Both the Middle Rockies and the West Coast get a B+. They are doing splendidly well, closing in on New England (and a lot more transparent than New England). I’m going to give the Upper Rockies a C, but it is possible that if we had more data it would reveal them to rank a little higher. The Lower Southwest unfortunately gets a D-, the lowest grade of any region in the United States. The Non-Continguous states get a D.



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