Can Utah become the largest no-kill shelter state in the U.S. by next year? Gov. Cox thinks so.

Gov. Spencer Cox declared 2024 as “No-Kill Shelter Year” in Utah on Tuesday.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Adult cats for adoption at the North Utah Valley Animal Shelter, Aug. 23, 2022. Gov. Spencer Cox declared 2024 as "No-Kill Shelter Year in Utah" on Tuesday.

The Capitol’s hall of governors was packed with attendees Tuesday — many with four legs and furry tails — as officials announced Gov. Spencer Cox’s declaration of 2024 as “No-Kill Shelter Year” in Utah.

Utah currently has 13 municipal kill shelters sitting in six of the state’s 29 counties: Salt Lake, Utah, Summit, Uintah, Tooele and Beaver, according to Utah-based animal welfare organization Best Friends Animal Society.

Best Friends defines no-kill shelters as those that save every dog or cat that staffers can — meaning about 90% of a shelter’s animals, when accounting for the 10% or less that suffer from irreparable medical or behavioral issues that may compromise their quality of life.

The group has been working to make Utah a no-kill state since 1999, said Best Friends CEO Julie Castle.

“The animals that are dying in this state are dying in municipal shelters,” Castle said Tuesday. “Those municipal shelters have oversight by county elected officials, or local elected officials. This really is at the end of the day something that taxpayers are paying for.”

With resources at hand in Utah — including guidance from Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, which is the largest no-kill shelter in the U.S. — the goal is “within reach” for Utah to become the largest no-kill state in the U.S., the governor’s declaration states.

Developing relationships with local officials in counties that still have kill-shelters is a big step in the process. But Best Friends has also pointed to methods they say can help shelters meet the organization’s 90% benchmark for animals saved — which Castle said are also cost-effective.

“The fact Governor Cox made it a priority and made a proclamation to help save lives — it’s going to help county officials sit up. It’s going to help other states,” Castle said. “I think this is a game changer, in a big way. It’s going to have a domino effect.”

To help with shelter overcrowding, Best Friends encourages animal adoption and fostering. The organization provides low-cost spay/neuter services and also recommends “community cat” programs — which are trap-neuter-vaccinate-return initiatives for free-roaming outdoor felines.

Resources like these helped Cedar City shelter manager Brittany McCabe achieve no-kill status in 2022.

“Up until about 10 years ago, nearly half of the animals that came through the shelter were euthanized,” McCabe said during the Tuesday news conference. “Over the last nine years, our euthanasia numbers have continued to drop. And as of 2023, our number is in an all time low.”

She pointed to a partnership with Best Friends that helped achieve that goal. “We got here because of them,” she said.