Saving 99% of Intake: How Much Does It Cost at UPAWS?

One of the most common excuses used by directors of pet killing facilities to explain why they aren’t doing their jobs is that saving lives is too expensive. Even in some shelters where the save rate is significantly higher than the national average, there are claims made that saving the last X% is too costly and the resources are better directed toward the many vs. the few.

I wanted to know how much it actually costs to save literally every healthy/treatable animal in a shelter. So I asked UPAWS in Marquette Co, MI about their cost per animal handled since they saved approximately 99% of their dogs and cats in 2012, reserving euthanasia for rare cases when a pet was medically or behaviorally hopeless and suffering.

My original intent was to get a figure from UPAWS and include it in a post. I was going to explain that when looking at cost per animal, one must consider fundraising and community involvement as well since these things directly correlate. I was going to say a lot of things but then something unexpected and exciting happened.

I received from UPAWS a 3 page document explaining in detail what their cost per animal was back when they killed pets for population control (they adjusted the figures for inflation) vs. what it is now that they save every healthy/treatable animal under their roof. Their document is quite a bit more than I expected and says everything I wanted to say so much better.

UPAWS board president Reva Laituri writes:

The figures being provided should be considered as a case study. They represent how things have played out for UPAWS. Our experiences, methods of resolution, and results are most likely unique to us. We are not saying anything we did or are doing is the best way or the only way. Every shelter has its own sets of strengths, weaknesses, and obstacles and the path each needs to travel will be slightly different depending on those factors. What works for one shelter, will not necessarily work for another.

But that does not mean the killing can’t be stopped; it only means that shelters will need to be creative in finding what works for them. There are key areas that every shelter must address in order to be successful. The differences lie in the specifics which vary by shelter.

What is important is the unwavering decision to not kill healthy, treatable, adoptable animals. Once that decision is made and everyone (board, staff, volunteers) are committed to that goal, it can be done. It won’t be easy, there is no cookie-cutter approach, and there is no slacking off. Obviously finances are a concern in running any shelter and have to be taken into consideration, but finances should not be an excuse to stop evolving. Rather they should serve as a prompt telling you that a particular area requires more creative thinking to get what you need.


In FY 2005/2006, UPAWS admitted 1,456 animals, 530 left our shelter alive resulting in a save rate of 36.4%. Our cost per animal was $190.85. In FY 2012/2013 we admitted 1,620 animals, 1,628 left our shelter alive resulting in a save rate of 100%. Our cost per animal was $207.58, or $16.73 (8%) more per animal. Looking at it from a strictly numbers viewpoint, by killing 63.6% of the animals, we were also basically throwing away the corresponding revenue those animals represented (after all, we didn’t fulfill our mission to save and re-home them). That amounts to $178,636 when for another 8% ($15, 660) we could saved nearly every one of those 936.

But, and this is the reason we don’t look at cost-per-animal, the numbers do not end with expenses. While cost-per-animal rose, two other areas also rose. First the figure of $207.58 includes a number of services and programs we were not providing seven years earlier.

By 2013, we were open seven days a week and one evening, including every holiday except Christmas (instead of being open only five days a week). Advertising animals through the UPAWS website, print-radio-TV media, and social media and keeping the public updated from start to finish in terms of adoptability and outcome, became standard. Pet sponsorships became and continue to play a huge role in getting animals adopted (donors can opt to pre-pay for medical care, vaccinations, or all or part of adoption fees for specific animals). Promotions with accompanying adoption fee reductions or waivers were being used on a regular basis. We had implemented reduced adoption fees for seniors and “Lonely Hearts” (those animals who have been in the shelter 3 months or longer). People willing to adopt animals for what would equate to hospice care had fees waived. All animals were being microchipped and we were Felv/FIV testing all cats and heartworm testing all dogs. In addition, staff and volunteers began making a more concerted effort at reuniting lost pets with their owners and becoming more pro-active in pet retention efforts.

Also, not included in the cost-per-animal, a community spay-neuter program was instituted to assist pet owners in getting their animals altered which ultimately reduces the numbers of litters being admitted and a Home-2-Home program that allows owners to use the UPAWS website to advertise pets that need re-homing, thus preventing them ever being admitted to the shelter. (A number of restrictions were put in place to avoid advertising by breeders.)

The second very important component that cannot be ignored is that while the cost-per-animal rose 8%, we also saw an increase in donations of 43% and a net increase in fundraising efforts of 294% for an overall increase in revenue of 61%. This is where the transparency and trust, mentioned above, enters the equation. Obviously, the increased revenue more than makes up for the cost-per-animal, and has allowed us to implement more services, become pro-active and plan for a future (including plans for a new shelter).

Thank you UPAWS for providing this detailed information. I hope many shelter directors and staff members will read the document and use it as a tool to assist them in developing their own plan to increase their live release rates.  Just knowing that finances are not an obstacle in saving every healthy/treatable pet at UPAWS will hopefully be inspiring for other shelter directors who want to save more lives.

Download the 3 page document in its entirety here.  (Added, November 16, 2013Here is the same document, but on UPAWS letterhead.)

Read about the changes UPAWS made in order to move from killing to saving pets here.

16 thoughts on “Saving 99% of Intake: How Much Does It Cost at UPAWS?

  1. We all need to link this to all of the animal control and shelter directors. It can be done and UPAWS is doing it. Thanks for saving the animals who are lucky enough to come into your care. You continue to impress and amaze and I’m guessing you have/are creating a more animal-friendly community, too.

    MHS, ASPCA, HSUS, etc – with your money and marketing look at the good you COULD be doing. Why aren’t you?

  2. We need so many more shelters to do this kind of thing. I so wish I was in a position to move somewhere that needs help and really try to work on it. I’ll have to settle for keeping myself alive and work towards being in that position someday.

  3. Well HALLELUJAH! this just proves that it CAN be done and there IS STILL HOPE!!! Thank you so much for posting this my dear friend!! It just makes my day.. This needs to be sent to every pound and shelter in the country.. even the world.. if they can do it, so can everyone else! Praise God for at least ONE shelter that is trying and actually NOT killing everything that comes in the door! <3

  4. Bravo to UPAWS for evolving and documenting their performance statistics. The reason some of the larger organizations (H$U$, A$PCA, et al) are not doing more with their donated arsenal of funds is that they are too busy attacking animal enterprises, and if all shelters were even close to as successful as UPAWS, the donations (used for lobbying, propaganda, and salaries) would dry up. Since these animal rights-led organizations *use* animals to persecute animal industries by lying to the public, documented results by organizations such as UPAWS is very important and needs to get out there everywhere.

    1. Please feel welcome to share this (or any) post anywhere you like. There are share buttons at the bottom of the post and of course the old copy-link-and-paste works too,

  5. When YesBiscuit asked us (UPAWS) this question – my immediate, simple response to that question was, “What does it matter on the cost per animal?…. UPAWS does whatever we have to do to save him/her. We don’t think about it that way. How can you? Look at the individual animal…REALLY look at them. They have a face, a story, a soul. Isn’t that what No Kill means? Saving and finding homes for every healthy/treatable pet? Reva and our UPAWS Manager Lareina and Lynn (another Board member) went above and beyond putting together this case study. I thank them for that. I guess numbers can tell a story : ) ~ Ann Brownell UPAWS Board

  6. This is not only inspiring for the lives saved … it’s also a swoon-worthy example of what can be done with good record-keeping and analysis. Because as much as we’d like it to be, it’s not just about the animals … it’s also about boards of directors, departmental heads, city councils, public hearings, potential donors, grant applications, loan and mortgage officers. And what all these people will want to hear about, in addition to the lives saved, is what it all costs and what that means in context.

  7. UPAWS, please come down to Kalamazoo and show every one how it is done! We’ve been trying to bring no kill to our county and our local kill shelter director is pretty cavalier insisting all y’all successful in no kill are clearly “fudging your numbers.” Sigh.

    1. We need to put these folks in charge of all the facilities in Michigan! Don’t give up in K’zoo or anyplace else.

  8. As treasurer for UPAWS now for the last 8 years I can tell you that it has been so exciting to be involved with a board & shelter that is 100% committed to saving animals lives. I do hear the old excuse “would you waste $10,000.00 on a single animal saving it’s life or use that money to save several lives?”. I tell that naysayer that we can do both. When we have a special case we make a separate plea to the public and they step forward and donate 100% of the cost for the animal (over and above what they are already donating). It’s so thrilling to see this when you consider how bad we used to be and how much we did NOT receive from the public in financial support. Now when an animal comes to our shelter it is evaluated not for how much it is going to cost us but how special is this animal and what can we do to find them a forever home. It just breaks my heart when I hear of other shelter still killing and following the old line of thinking. We’ve been there and I KNOW it can work to be an open admission no-kill shelter. It’s what the general public wants and will support. If we can do it with a worn out shelter, limited funds and a handful of committed volunteers & staff, then anyone can do it.

    1. TAnd how much better it is to keep financial support in the local community instead of donating blindly in response to the national animal-using millionaire organizations that can afford to put sad-faced animals on multiple TV ads and beg for non-local support for their questionable agendas.

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