NKLA Milestone

Alicia Bailey

In 2012, the city of Los Angeles was drenched in moving black and white imagery of homeless animals that served as an announcement that a new day was on the horizon for the city’s homeless pets. First piquing our interest from our cars and sidewalks with billboards, then moving into our digital spaces with an equally impactful digital campaign— the point was to engage and educate the entire city. And it did.

The No-Kill Los Angeles Initiative (NKLA) was created and launched by Best Friends Animal Society (BFAS) with a singular goal: to end the killing of animals in LA’s animal shelters. At the time of the launch, the city had a 56% live release rate—meaning only a few more than half of homeless pets entering shelters were surviving and leaving alive. A grisly fact that outraged animal advocates and animal lovers, and one that BFAS and NKLA was determined to change.

The sweeping no-kill strategy for Los Angeles involved building community involvement and creating a movement around the reality of what was happening in the city’s animal shelters. Rescue partners, super adoption events, grassroots adoption events, and robust campaigns formed the benchmarks of this life-saving effort, along with fostering, volunteering, fundraising, and programs to keep pets with their people.

“It’s difficult to overstate the enormity of this moment and its place in the history of the no-kill movement,” said Julie Castle, chief executive officer, Best Friends Animal Society. “NKLA has demonstrated what’s possible when an entire community works together, and if Los Angeles can do it, any city can.”

When 2020 threw the curveball of COVID- 19, with its social distancing and stay-at-home orders, animal shelters found themselves tackling challenges they had never faced before. But one unexpected silver lining during that time was a sharp rise in the numbers of pet adoptions, fosters, and volunteers. This surge of community involvement, coupled with the momentum of the already imprinted NKLA movement, kept the effort on track, and by the end of 2020 Los Angeles recorded a 90.49% live release, or “life-saving,” rate.

Currently, the United States has a collective 79% save rate. A 90% save rate is the nationally recognized benchmark to be considered “no-kill,” factoring in that approximately 10% of pets who enter shelters have medical or behavioral circumstances that warrant humane euthanasia rather than killing for lack of space. —Best Friends Animal Society

Brenda Barnette, who recently retired after 11 years as general manager of LA Animal Services, said, “Collaboration is key to saving lives, and this coalition has certainly proved that to be true. We’re so grateful to Best Friends, our many rescue partners, staff, volunteers, and the community who responded to foster and adopt the animals in our Centers during the pandemic, which helped us achieve our 90.49% life-saving rate by yearend 2020.”

The NKLA coalition steering committee members include Angel City Pit Bulls, FixNation, Heaven on Earth Society for Animals, Kitten Rescue, Kitty Bungalow Charm School for Wayward Cats, Michelson Found Animals Foundation, Paws for Life K9 Rescue, The Spay Neuter Project of Los Angeles (SNPLA), and Stray Cat Alliance. A full list of the Best Friends and NKLA Partner Network can be found at bestfriends.org.

This achievement in the city of Los Angeles serves a model for other cities and states who want to reach no-kill status and save the lives of homeless pets in their community. Best Friends is also close to reaching the 90% save rate in Utah through the No Kill Utah Initiative (NKUT), and the organization continues to lead the charge toward making the United States a no-kill country by 2025. To learn more or find a shelter near you, visit bestfriends.org/2025-goal.