According to new data from Best Friends Animal Society, American shelters saved 3.9 million dogs and cats in 2020, reducing the number of animals killed by 44.5 percent.

By Austin Cannon
June 22, 2021
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Woman and her son hold a white and grey kitten
Credit: chendongshan / Getty

It turns out 2020 did have a bright spot: Way, way fewer dogs and cats were killed in American animal shelters last year. 

In fact, shelters across the country experienced their biggest annual reduction in euthanized dogs and cats, according to new data released by Best Friends Animal Society. It reported that American shelters killed roughly 347,000 dogs and cats in 2020-a 44.5-percent drop from 2019 when 625,000 were euthanized.  

In a news release, Best Friends pointed to several reasons for such a decline. Many pets were fostered or adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping animals from entering shelters in the first place. (In fact, more than 1 million fewer dogs and cats went into shelters compared to 2019.) For cats, cities' and counties' trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs prevented additional outdoor cats from arriving at shelters. 

"This was a monumental year for cats and dogs in America's shelters," Best Friends CEO Julie Castle said in the release. "We saw communities, shelters, and individuals step up for animals in ways we couldn't have imagined, and now we are closer than ever before to achieving our goal of no-kill by 2025."  

Its data accounts for about 93 percent of shelters in the United States. In all, 3.9 million of the 4.26 million dogs and cats who entered shelters last year were saved (83 percent). A save rate of 90 percent is necessary to consider a shelter or state "no-kill," taking into account the roughly 10 percent of animals whose irreparable medical or behavioral issues require humane euthanization.   

Sadly, about 950 cats and dogs are euthanized daily across the country because of lack of space, Castle says. Cats are killed more than twice as frequently as dogs, even though about 5 percent more dogs enter shelters, Best Friends reports. 

"This year's progress has been exceptional, from what we have seen with community support and involvement and the lifesaving numbers as a result," Castle adds. "It is crucial that we build on this momentum to keep pets out of shelters and in loving homes where they belong. This is how we will get to no-kill."

Two States Reach No-Kill Status

New Hampshire has joined Delaware as the pair of states reaching the 90-percent no-kill threshold, the news release says. According to Best Friends' data, two other northeastern states barely missed out. If Rhode Island had saved 18 other dogs and cats, it would've made it. Vermont was 53 animals short. 

On the other end of the list, the most animals were euthanized in the country's two most populous states: Texas (52,106) and California (39,111). You can see how well your state did here.

In all, Best Friends reports that 48 percent of the nation's animal shelters have earned no-kill status. Want to do your part to help your shelter or state reach no-kill status? Check out our adoption guides for dogs and cats and bring your own furry friend home.