Building the Right Foundation

The Basics 101.

Below is a list of what we consider to be the essentials to getting your community to zero.


A. The shelter must be collecting and analyzing accurate data. The foundation for managing the shelter population of animals and assessing staffing needs rests solely on accurate statistics for dogs, cats, puppies, neonatal puppies and neonatal kittens. Intake categories should include stray, owner surrender (field or at the shelter if an enforcement organization), cruelty, court or bite cases. Outcome categories should include return to owner (field if enforcement organization or at the shelter), adoption, transfer, rescue, foster care, owner requested euthanasia (if performed), shelter euthanasia, died in care and lost/missing/escaped.

The analysis of this basic information is crucial for many reasons including daily population management, identification of high risk animals, impact of or need for programs, staffing requirements and budget projections.

All information regarding an animal that enters a shelter should be entered into a database in real time so reports can be retrieved using a variety of measures. Due to the unique nature of shelters, whether public or private, it is imperative that a software designed specifically for animal welfare organizations is utilized. There are several companies that provide software specific to animal shelters:

To calculate a shelter’s save rate, we recommend the standard matrix developed by the National Federation of Humane Societies.

B. Leadership must commit to a goal of a 90+% live release rate

Target Zero acknowledges that certain large breed shelter dogs may have non rehabilitative aggression issues and other shelter pets are too critically ill to save. It is estimated that both of those groups could add up to 10% of the shelter animals, so a goal of a 90+% live release rate is considered reasonable.

Accurate statistical reporting and transparency of data for all shelters handling homeless animals is crucial when creating the most impactful life-saving programs. Knowing your shelter’s current inventory and live release numbers will help you determine areas of need. The goal of achieving a 90% or greater live release rate should always be the driving force that will determine programming needs.

All efforts should be made to reunite a pet with their rightful owner. Beyond that, minimal hold times are essential for moving animals quickly through the shelter to a live outcome. Lengthy stays burden the shelter’s staff and financial resources and increase the risk of disease transmission. The shorter the length of stay, the greater the number of animals that can be saved.

C. There should be effective population management

Effective population management is crucial to all life saving efforts. Information between upper management and line staff must be free flowing through up to date Standard Operating Procedures, regular staff meetings, staff newsletters, emails and bulletin board postings. Daily team rounds must be done with key staff to ensure there is a plan of action for each pet that leads to a live outcome with the shortest possible length of stay.



Target Zero strongly believes that achieving a 90+% shelter save rate requires the collaboration of animal control, limited and open admission shelters, adoption partners, and high volume spay/neuter clinics within a community or city. First Coast No More Homeless Pets Founder Rick DuCharme helped lead Jacksonville, Florida to zero through ongoing and intensive collaboration with Jacksonville Animal Care and Protective Services and the Jacksonville Humane Society. Each organization has its own challenges and opportunities, but by joining together to capitalize on all of the positive aspects, an exponential impact -- in lives saved -- has been made.

Collaboration encourages the animal welfare organizations to look past their own agency’s mission and focus on how to achieve the overall life saving goal of the city. It strengthens bonds between the organizations and presents a unified front which, in turn, enhances public support, trust and confidence. Collaboration maximizes resources and promotes effective, targeted programs that both decrease shelter intake and increase the number of shelter animals saved.

To start a collaborative effort in your area, invite the leaders of each major animal welfare group to a meeting to discuss the goal of getting to zero. Groups need to overlook any negative interactions in the past, not hold grudges and have the shared goal of saving lives. A leader should be chosen who can help unify everyone around that shared goal, act as a diplomat to resolve issues and keep the group going on the right track.

More information on effective collaboration-building can be found on the Maddie’s Fund website.  




Targeted Spay/Neuter is an important aspect in the quest for a sustainable 90+% save rate, so having a high-volume program is imperative. Studies show that at least five (5) surgeries subsidized for low income pet owners for every one thousand (1,000) people in the area in question will decrease shelter intake. Decreasing shelter intake is associated with decreasing euthanasia.

Other key groups to target include community cats, middle-income pet owners without the discretionary funds to spay/neuter, and certain breeds at risk of relinquishment. Targeting these particular groups in addition to low income pet owners will make the greatest impact on shelter intake.

High-volume, high quality spay/neuter clinics (HVHQSN) play an important role in reducing pet overpopulation in the cities and communities they serve and are defined as those whose surgeons each perform 30-40 sterilizations per day. There are a variety of models that dictate how the program operates financially and programmatically, but subsidizing targeted groups should always be an integral part.




In most communities, at least 50% of the animals entering shelters are felines and on average only (3) three out of ten (10) cats leave alive. Many cities across the country have adopted a Community Cat Diversion program (sometimes called Feral Freedom) and have seen immediate life saving results. These cities include, but are not limited to, Jacksonville, Florida; San Jose, California; Austin, Texas; Charleston, South Carolina; Albuquerque, New Mexico; San Antonio, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia; Baltimore, Maryland; Waco, Texas; Indianapolis, Indiana and Alachua County, Florida.

When Jacksonville first started its Feral Freedom program in August 2008, there was a 50% reduction in euthanasia immediately as half of the cats entering the shelter system qualified as community cats and were returned to their original habitat after sterilization, vaccination and ear tipping. These results have been replicated in every city that has started a community cat program in conjunction with their open admission shelters.

Jacksonville Animal Care and Protective Services - Cat Intake and Outcome


Figure 1: Shows the decrease of cat intake and euthanasia numbers after the Feral Freedom (Community Cat) program was implemented in August 2008. *These figures are through December 31, 2016*.

There are many benefits to having a Community Cat Diversion program including reducing cat intake and euthanasia, increasing the save rate of cats that are admitted to the shelter, decreasing nuisance complaints, and improving public health. Fewer shelter admissions allows employees more time to devote not only to the care of the animals on-site, but also to potential adopters.  




We encourage everyone to carefully go through our Pyramid Program.

For example, we feel that Mega Adoptions are an increasingly important piece to achieve a 90+% save rate. Target Zero mentors stakeholders within a Fellow Community to collaborate for Mega Adoption events because just one weekend can result in 800-1000 adoptions! An Adoption in a Box guide is now available for any organization to replicate the Mega Adoption successes taking place in Jacksonville and other cities.