target zero

Target Zero: Successful Formula to Achieve No-Kill Goal

Target Zero: Who, What, Why and How?

If you are even remotely familiar with the issues surrounding dog and cat overpopulation, neglect and abuse, you will also probably know that these problems often result in correspondingly high surrender rates to animal shelters and high euthanasia rates. So, what is being done to address these issues and improve the welfare of our companion animals and reduce not only the euthanasia rates but intake rates at our shelters?

Who is Target Zero?

Onpets was privileged to speak with Target Zero, a charitable initiative which has implemented an innovative approach to working with shelters to produce real and measurable decreases in both euthanasia and intake rates.  Target Zero works with public and private open admission shelters (i.e. shelters which accept all surrendered pets) which apply to be accepted for a Target Zero fellowship.  Target Zero’s professionals work on-site with, and mentor, shelter staff and government officials, on a pro-bono basis (i.e. no cost to the community or shelter) in communities around the country to implement progressive, proven measures to achieve the twin goals of reducing shelter intake and euthanasia rates.

What is Target Zero’s Mission?

To teach and help implement best practices that productively decrease shelter intake and achieve/maintain a 90%+ save rate of both dogs and cats.  Animal welfare advocates now have more data, studies and information about sheltering and life saving strategies than ever before. As a charitable initiative, Target Zero underwrites its work with shelters and animal welfare organizations to help them implement progressive measures, using proven best practice strategies supported by all the reputable national animal welfare groups.

Here is some data which shows before and after save rates for shelters Target Zero has worked with:

save rates before and after target zero assessment

How does Target Zero achieve results with the shelters?

The Target Zero team provides community and shelter assessments and makes recommendations to provide alternatives to surrendering of one’s pet to a shelter (referred to as “managed intake” or “safety net” programs) to assist pet owners and Good Samaritans outside the shelter system, community cat diversion and targeted spay/neuter programs.  If an animal does end up in a shelter, Target Zero helps the shelter create fail proof systems and processes to get the animal out quickly, thus increasing save rates.

By providing access to subsidized spay/neuter services to owners and caregivers of certain populations of animals, and by working on free-roaming cat colonies, shelter intake rates decrease. As per Peter Marsh, co-founder of Target Zero and author of Getting to Zero and Replacing Myth with Math, explains, the vast majority of animals entering shelters are intact (i.e. non-spayed/neutered) and from low-income pet owners.  Marsh’s research has shown that there is a direct and inverse relationship between subsidizing the cost of the surgery for this group of pet owners and shelter intake and euthanasia.  In other words, the more surgeries are provided, the lower the intake and euthanasia rates go.  In addition to addressing the issue of low-income owners who would otherwise not be able to pay for spay/neuter surgeries for their pets, Target Zero works with shelters to address free roaming communities of cats that reproduce exponentially if left untended .  Cats can get pregnant over and over again, even while still lactating from the prior litter of kittens.

jacksonville, Florida assessment Huntsville Alabama assessment Waco Texas assessment

Why Target Zero’s methods work to reduce both intake and euthanasia rates for cats (especially community cats)

Current best practices include diverting healthy cats ‘found’ outdoors and brought to a shelter, to a spay/neuter/vaccination/ear-tipping process and then returning them to their original outdoor home and colony.

Community cat (friendly or feral) facts include:

  • Studies show that cats are 7 to 10 times more likely to find their way home or find another home from the street than they are from a shelter.
  • Many cats are inside/outside or outside only and are not actually lost. These owned cats are brought to the shelter by a Good Samaritan so their owners can find them but…..
  • According to ASPCA data, fewer than 5% of shelter cats are reclaimed by their owners.
  • Most shelter cats in US shelters are euthanized. Simply trapping and then euthanizing the cats does not address the exponential reproduction of the cats left behind outside.
  • Well over 600 communities nationwide have successful Community Cat Diversion/TNR programs.
  • These programs drastically decrease shelter intake which increases the chance that cats who do have to enter the shelter adoption program (such as indoor only cats) will find forever homes.

Exciting new grant and public-private program

 In an unprecedented, large public~private partnership, Target Zero brought together municipalities and non-profits to make an impact in Northern Kentucky. The state of Kentucky is divided into development districts made up of 9-15 counties of varying sizes that work together on social issues with a non-profit arm. Target Zero accepted the Northern Kentucky Area Development District as its first region (NKADD). The NKADD is made up of Kenton, Boone, Grant and Campbell Counties, with shelters which accept both cats and dogs, and Pendleton, Carroll, Galitan and Owen Counties, with shelters which accept dogs only.

In July of 2015, Target Zero completed a needs analysis for the Joanie Bernard Foundation, a non-profit group that funds cat programs in the greater Cincinnati area.  Based on the results of the needs analysis, Target Zero recommended that a $500,000 grant be awarded through the non-profit arm of the NKADD for sterilization of (a) shelter cats returning to their outside home; (b) community free roaming cats; and (c) owned cats.  The Foundation agreed and granted the recommended funds in October 2016 for Target Zero to work with the NKADD to implement its targeted surgery protocols.

Local service providers were recruited to participate in the effort, including private veterinarians throughout the NKADD Counties, the United Coalition of Animals  Spay/Neuter Clinic (UCAN) and the Ohio Alleycat Resource and Spay/Neuter Clinic (OAR), both in the Cincinnati area and which are reimbursed $65 per cat for each spay/neuter surgery and vaccination.  Cat owners who do not qualify for the community cat or low-income program may be charged up to $20 per surgery, still a bargain!

Why Target Zero?

 Prior to working with Target Zero, the Joanie Bernard Foundation did not fund programs for municipal shelters nor did the NKADD do any work in animal welfare. Target Zero was able to educate both organizations on the communities’ needs and the lifesaving impact that spay/neuter funding would achieve due to the proven correlation between targeted spay/neuter and decreased shelter intake.

The Foundation grant is being used to provide free surgery for:

  • Cats belonging to low-income owners
  • Community free-roaming cats
  • Shelter cats from 4 Counties which return cats to their outside homes

What are the NKADD program goals?

 The goal for Year 1 is to do 6,000 surgeries.  Target Zero is happy to report that in the first two months of the program, 1,112 cat spay/neuters were completed so the program is on track to reach the Year 1 goal in plenty of time before the end of the year.

In addition, the save rates at NKADD shelters accepting cats all increased in the first two months of the program:

2015 Save Rate Jan-Sept 2016 Save Rate Oct-Nov 2016 Save Rate YTD 2016 Save Rate
 Boone 77% 82% 88% 83%
 Kenton 22% 42% 77% 62%
 Campbell 30% 49% 94% 57%
 Grant 86% n/a n/a 95%

What else you should know

Many communities have antiquated local ordinances prohibiting community cats, including leash laws for cats and subjecting outdoor cats to a stray hold when they end up in a shelter, even though a minute percentage of cats are reunited with their owners.  In the communities Target Zero works with and tracks the data, less than 2% of owned cats are reunited with their owners, a heart-breaking statistic.  Target Zero has successfully helped update relevant ordinances in 12 communities around the country, including Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties in the NKADD.


 If you would like to learn more about the NKADD program, please contact Meghan Sandfoss, the NKADD grants administrator, at

If you know of, or are involved in, a great spay/neuter program or other innovative effort to improve the welfare of our animal companions, please let us know!  We would love to hear from you and share your story with the Onpets community.



©Onpets, LLC 2017.  All rights reserved.

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