Commentary: Delaware first no-kill state for shelter animals

Best Friends Animal Society announced at its annual conference that Delaware has the distinction of becoming the first “no-kill” state in the country. Best Friends Animal Society is a national organization that combines advocacy, education, funding, collaboration and direct life-saving programs focused on their mission to “Save Them All.”

The recognition resulted from a national initiative called No-kill 2025, which aims to help the entire country achieve no-kill by the year 2025. The data backbone for No-kill 2025 is a program called Shelter Animals Count. Delaware is fairly unique in that legislates statewide mandatory recording of shelter statistics. Shelter Animals Count uses shelter reporting into a national database with standard methodologies across all states. (Reference:

This prestigious milestone for Delaware has resulted from hard work by all of the state’s shelters and rescues, legislators who advocate for animals, state leadership and especially the community supporting progressive policies and engaging in important activities like adoption and fostering.

Delaware’s private, limited admission shelters have consistently operated at no-kill levels for some time. The challenge has been the contracted service provider operating an open admission shelter with live release rates that pulled down the overall state performance.

Several steps pushed the live release rate over 90% starting in 2016. A big influence was consolidating animal control for dogs and humane law enforcement at the state level under the Delaware Office of Animal Welfare to ensure all communities have coverage rather than relying on individual townships or counties and implementing a state-wide provider for the associated animal services.

We at the Brandywine Valley SPCA were proud to take that animal services role starting in late 2015 with a fiv-year contract with the Office of Animal Welfare. We have invested more than $5 million from private donations and grants from funders like the Petco Foundation to build a supportive infrastructure, including shelters and low-cost veterinary clinics in New Castle County, Sussex County and in a few months also Kent County.

Walt Fenstermacher

That infrastructure supports more than 60% of the state’s shelter intakes. In total, the BVSPCA has a live release rate of 95% for the more than 14,000 animals in our care each year.

All of the shelters and rescues have contributed to this amazing achievement, which has gotten national recognition in media outlets across the country. Our contributions from the BVSPCA to help achieve no-kill include:

• Progressive adoption practices such as implementing open adoptions and holding “mega” adoption events, in which most of the state’s shelters participate

• A nationally recognized return to field program for cats with limited adoption options otherwise

• A behavior program to help dogs needing a little more support

• Humane education programs to raise awareness and teach compassion among young people

• Programs that focus on keeping pets out of shelters and with families that love them, such as low-cost veterinary clinics, free shot clinic days, mobile wellness services, and a pet food pantry

Having our state recognized with this honor doesn’t mean we stop there. Achieving “no-kill” means at least 90% of animals in a shelter (or in this case the collective shelters in our state) have a positive outcome. It is widely recognized that there will always be a small portion of animals entering a shelter that are medically untreatable and suffering or are considered a risk to the community.

The key to continued progress is helping animals on the fringe of adoptability, continuing to implement progressive programs in the community, and ongoing work to find solutions to lifesaving for cats. At the BVSPCA, for instance, we opened the Animal Rescue Center in Georgetown to specifically focus on animals needing assistance for adoption, such as behavior and training for dogs, support for medical cases and infants, and victims of disasters. We also implement community TNR programs and have new owned cat programs about to roll out.

Being the first no-kill state is national recognition for which everyone involved should be proud — the hard-working shelters and rescues, the legislators advocating for change for the animals, the Office of Animal Welfare, and especially everyone in the community who stands up for the animals and participates in saving the animal lives depending on us all to work together on their behalf.

Walt Fenstermacher is senior director of operations with the Brandywine Valley SPCA.

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