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What Does It Mean to be a “No-Kill” Animal Shelter?

Most People Don’t Know What it Means to be a “No-Kill” Animal Shelter

While there is no universal standard adapted by our industry – most leaders agree that “no-kill” means two things… The first is that the organization’s save rate is 90% or better. Save rate is defined as the number of animals who enter an animal shelter each year and leave alive. The second is that animals are only euthanized for severe medical or behavioral reasons. In other words, animals are not euthanized because the facility has run out of space to care for incoming pets.   


The most common question we are asked – whether it’s by donors, volunteers, or the community-at-large – is “are you a no-kill animal shelter?” Often, the question implies people only want to support a shelter that doesn’t euthanize animals. Most people do not realize how complicated and nuanced that question is. The further our leadership team digs into the heart of the topic with our community, the more sophisticated our community’s understanding of animal welfare challenges becomes.  


Our team is on a mission to educate the community about the complexities of managing an animal shelter and what the role of an animal resource center is in 2023. We aim to shift the measure of success from “no-kill” language to save rate and how animal resource centers, like the York County SPCA, are working to manage the complex animal care needs in their community.     

In 2018, the York County SPCA’s save rate was 53%, meaning almost half of the animals who entered our shelter that year did not have a live outcome. In 2022, we increased our save rate by 42 percentage points to 95%. How did we reach this milestone when so many animal shelters nationwide struggle with high euthanasia rates? Through hard work, implementing progressive lifesaving programs and policies, and tremendous support from our community.  

Many shelters are so close to achieving no-kill status but cannot get to that critical 90% or better save rate threshold for a variety of reasons. That does not mean these shelters are not worthy of support. On the contrary, it is often EXACTLY what they need. Animal shelters are just one part of a community-based approach to saving every pet that has a chance at a live outcome.  

Listen to us on WITF's "The Spark" 

Recently, I sat down with Scott Lamar of WITF’s “The Spark” to discuss ”no-kill” language, challenges facing animal shelters across the country, and how our local animal resource center is becoming a national leader in the animal services industry. To listen, click here!