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Live Release Rates (LRR): Real or Artificial?

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

For the purposes of this chat, we won’t distinguish between Live Release Rates, Save Rates or “No-Kill" but rather address them in whole as the differences are not the point today. Let’s instead talk about what they tell us.

Live Release Rates and Save Rates are the percentage of animals leaving the shelter alive. This could be through adoptions, return-to-owners (RTO), transfers to local rescues/shelters, transporting to rescues/shelters in another state or even shelter-neuter-return (SNR).

(Note: According to Best Friends Animal Society, a shelter or rescue must have at least a 90% placement rate or live release rate for animals in order to be considered “no-kill.” This is the generally accepted standard in the animal welfare industry.)


What does this all mean? People want the great feeling that comes with being associated with “no-kill” and love to donate to the shelters that have achieved that status. We are talking about BIG donations and the support, praise and status that follow.


But does “no-kill” status mean that shelter operations result in less death? The answer is NO. Shelters do not want to kill animals. If shelters are still full after adoptions and RTOs, then what? Many shelters have answered this with transfers and transports which has allowed for higher live release rates for the transporting shelter. Sending an animal to someone else for help/saving may work and it certainly improves save rates for the shelter but it is an artificial result because it transfers the work of saving to someone else. And those who receive the animals get no financial assistance from the shelter.


These animals are shuffled elsewhere but leave the shelter as a live outcome. No one knows what the end result is for any of these animals. Like with “No-Kill”, we like to picture happy endings. But is that the truth?


Transfers and transports have become a growing percentage in sheltering, even being the highest percentage outcome in some shelters. This is like kicking the can down the street. Little is done from the original shelter to lower intake through spay/neuter. Instead, we have chosen to limit intake and make it someone else's problem. Now transfer/transport is the latest rally call.


As an example, a well-known public animal shelter in Texas transferred/transported 56.6% of dog and cat intake in 2022. It also has a kill rate of 9.5%, giving it "No-Kill" status. These animals are shuffled elsewhere for others to do the real work to save them. (I am not naming the shelter because my purpose is not to attack any shelter but to show what is really happening in the sheltering industry.


This shuffling allows live release rates to reflect "no-kill" status. It’s an artificial status because it doesn’t show the truth about shelter operations. There is more focus on save rates than on saved animals.



Beth Frank is founder/president of Community Cats United, Inc, Fixfinder and Proactive Animal Sheltering. Beth has spent endless hours researching animal sheltering and analyzing shelter data from all over the US, including over 400 shelters. Click here to follow Proactive Animal Sheltering on Facebook.


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