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Animal Shelter Euthanasia

National euthanasia statistics are difficult to pinpoint because animal care and control agencies are not uniformly required to keep statistics on the number of animals taken in, adopted, euthanized or reclaimed. While many shelters know the value of keeping statistics, no national reporting structure exists to make compiling national statistics on these figures possible.

However, American Humane is one of the founding members of the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy. The mission of the National Council is to gather and analyze reliable data that further characterize the number, origin and disposition of pets (dogs and cats) in the United States; to promote responsible stewardship of these companion animals; and based on the data gathered, to recommend programs to reduce the number of surplus/unwanted pets in the United States.

Unfortunately, the most recent statistics published by the National Council are from 1997, and only 1,000 shelters replied to the survey at that time. Using the National Council's numbers from 1997 and estimating the number of operating shelters in the United States to be 3,500 (the exact number of animal shelters operating in the United States does not exist), these estimates were made:

  • Of the 1,000 shelters that replied to the National Council's survey, 4.3 million animals were handled.
  • In 1997, roughly 64 percent of the total number of animals that entered shelters were euthanized -- approximately 2.7 million animals in just these 1,000 shelters. These animals may have been euthanized due to overcrowding, but may also have been sick, aggressive, injured or suffering from something else.
  • 56 percent of dogs and 71 percent of cats that enter animal shelters are euthanized. More cats are euthanized than dogs because they are more likely to enter a shelter without any owner identification.
  • Only 15.8 percent of dogs and 2 percent of cats that enter animal shelters are reunited with their owners.
  • 25 percent of dogs and 24 percent of cats that enter animal shelters are adopted.

It is estimated that approximately 3.7 million animals were euthanized in the nation’s shelters in 2008. This number represents a generally accepted statistic that is widely used by many animal welfare organizations, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

For more information on the studies done by the National Council, please visit www.petpopulation.org

Practical solutions for reducing euthanasia numbers

American Humane believes that all dogs and cats adopted from public or private animal care and control agencies must be sterilized before being allowed to leave the shelter and supports passage of state laws mandating this practice.

American Humane supports the establishment and operation of low-cost spay/neuter clinics. The reduction in cost motivates those who cannot and those who will not pay the full cost for the operation and has proven successful in reducing euthanasia rates in communities across the nation.

American Humane believes the percentage of animals reunited with their owners would greatly increase if more pets were properly identified:

  • Be sure your pet wears an identification tag, rabies license, and city license. Include your name, address, phone number and pet's name.
  • Keep licenses current, as they help shelters locate pet owners.
  • When moving, put a temporary tag on your pet. Include a phone number of someone who will know how to reach you and/or your cell number.
  • Don't assume that your indoor pet doesn't need tags. Many strays in shelters are indoor pets that escaped.
  • Purchase special cat collars with elastic bands to protect your cat from being caught in trees or on fences.
  • In addition to ID tags, consider getting your pet microchipped. Always remember to keep this information current and provide an emergency contact.

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