There are thousands of animal shelters and rescue organizations across the country dedicated to the welfare of endangered dogs and cats. And although every life saved is a victory in itself, it is crucial that our work is measured quantitatively and qualitatively. Our cause is too important not to constantly analyze the data and look for ways to increase our impact, which is why ASPCA has always relied on research as the basis of its work.
In line with this philosophy, we recently analyzed national shelter data to identify trends in the number of dogs and cats entering U.S. shelters, as well as their outcomes. The statistics we have compiled provide a closer look at the efforts to save and protect the millions of dogs and cats that are taken in by the shelters each year, the path traveled, and what we need to do next.
I am pleased to announce that the news is encouraging, that our progress is solid, but also that our commitments and our ongoing opportunities are very clear.
Our report shows,:
- About 6.5 million pets came to shelters in the United States in 2016, down from 7.2 million in 2011.
- An estimated 1.5 million pets were euthanized at shelters in the United States in 2016, down from about 2.6 million in 2011.
- An estimated 3.2 million animals were adopted in 2016 (1.6 million dogs and 1.6 million cats), compared to 2.7 million adoptions in 2011. This reflects an 18.5% increase in national adoptions.
It is equally important to understand what policies and social dynamics have motivated these improvements than to acknowledge them. Emily Weiss, our vice president of research and development, who oversaw the research, attributes the positive trend to factors such as:
- Less financial constraints and other barriers for adopters
- Easy community access to affordable sterilization/sterilization services
- Increasing the number of lost animals united with their owners
- Widespread awareness that protective animals make loving and faithful animals
It is important to see this trend not as a fixed performance, but as a sign that we are moving in the right direction. That should motivate us to step up our efforts – not relax— to foster adoption, foster family, shelter support, and programs that help families and their pets stay together.
These essential efforts include the support of local administrations, which have the capacity and responsibility to support community animals by financing local services and facilities.
Getting to zero is Unrealistic
Although there is a lot of rhetoric around the idea of reducing euthanasia and reception to absolute zero, unfortunately, there will still be dogs and cats that are too sick or injured to have an acceptable quality of life, or that are so extremely aggressive that they are too peril to get into a house. These injuries and assaults are often caused by cruelty and neglect.
Pushing to set unrealistic goals is not only ill-advised; this is counterproductive, building shelters and rescue organizations in trouble, critical, and destructive, although what you and your animals need is support and resources to be made.
To reduce the number of animals at risk of euthanasia that are difficult to adopt, we are exploring innovative programs that rehabilitate mid-word and neglected animals, as well as our determined opposition to breed-specific laws that unfairly limit the chances of adopting animals.
More obstacles and opportunities
Although these general trends are encouraging, our research also shows clear regional differences, particularly in parts of the South and West. We have met this challenge by moving animals from overpopulated areas to places where certain types of dogs and cats are rare, improving their chances of adoption. The ASPCA now has three destination routes – on the West Coast, Midwest and East Coast— on which it has transported more than 25,000 dogs and cats since 2014 and will transport another 28,000 dogs and cats in 2017.
We also see more cats than dogs being euthanized in the shelters. This reinforces the need for cat owners to provide their pets with identification collars and microchips so that these animals can be sent home in the event of loss. We also encourage support for local trapping neutralization return (TNR) programs that reduce the size of community cat colonies.
One of the biggest areas of opportunity concerns not what happens inside a shelter, but outside. Previous research by the ASPCA shows that providing low-cost or free services to disadvantaged pet owners effectively puts dogs and cats at risk in their homes. Programs that act as a “safety net” for the ANIMAL WELFARE ASSOCIATION like this are currently in place in some parts of Los Angeles and New York, and plans are in place to expand these services to communities in need of Miami.
These services, designed primarily to keep animals out of shelters, represent an obligation to address the causes of animal unsheltered and suffering, not just the consequences. If communities focus on keeping animals in their safe and loving homes, more animals will be saved from suffering and more space will be available in local shelters for other animals in need.
Finally, we must end the individual and organized cruelty that endangers many of these animals even after they are rescued. These include active support for laws and regulations that action puppy factories and dog action, as well as delinquent penalties that correspond to the nature of the crimes of animal cruelty.
Keep Our Commitment
We welcome the downward trend in euthanasia, but that does not mean that we should reduce our efforts or weaken our resolve to help endangered animals in our communities. The fact is that too many of them are still in crisis—whether in a crowded refuge, in a household with financial difficulties, or in a mid-word or perilous environment. And helping them is not just the work of rescuers, defenders, and local leaders; it is the work of all of us.
Therefore, support the animal welfare organizations and advocates in your community—including shelters, veterinarians, and local rescue groups-and ask yourself how you can also be part of the solution.