Only 2% of Dogs Die in Shelters Yearly

New data released by the ASPCA, HSUS, and the American Pet Products Association‘s National Pet Owners Survey show that shelter killings are at an all time low in both whole numbers and percent of pet dogs in America.  Down from a high of nearly 25% of all dogs per year in the 1970s, as little as 2% of dogs now find their end in US shelters per year, the majority of them are pit bulls.

Despite both the human and pet dog populations in America rising, the number of dogs entering and dying in shelters has fallen steadily for decades. While this vast improvement hasn’t stemmed the degree of vitriol against “breeders” by those in the shelter/rescue community, a look at statistics shows that there is little foundation for their anger.  The situation is getting better every year and very little of the past or remaining problems have anything to do with hobby breeders or people who buy their dogs.

There are now an estimated 78.2 Million pet dogs in the United States. Source: APPA 2012

The most significant factor in the steady decline in shelter intakes is widely credited to the advancements made in spay/neuter programs.  Nearly four out of five pet dogs are now desexed.  Despite making up only 1 in 5 pet dogs, intact dogs account for 9 out of 10 shelter intakes, a staggering asymmetry.

78% of dogs are spayed or neutered. The vast majority of dogs entering shelters are still intact. Source: ASPCA

Purebreds are under-represented in shelters versus their proportion of the 78 million pet dogs, but up to a quarter of intakes are deemed to be pure versus 75% deemed mixed-breed.  The most significant disparity between the general population of dogs and dogs that enter shelter and are euthanized is being designated as a “pit bull” or a pit bull mix.

Whereas the percent of dogs desexed has increased since spay/neuter programs were widely introduced in the mid 70s, the popularity of pit bulls and their share of euthanized dogs has steadily increased from as little as 2% in the 1980s to the 60% we see today.

The sources and destinations of American dogs; Shelter intake and euthanasia rates per year.

The 2.4 to 3.5 million Pit Bull type dogs that are currently pets make up between 3% and 4.5% of the owned dogs in the USA yet the 1.1 million that enter shelters each year account for nearly 30% of all shelter intakes and 60% of all dogs euthanized.  That means that more pit bulls are killed than all other breeds combined.  Pit bulls also account for 60% of fatal dog attacks with Rottweilers coming in second with 14%.  Fatal attacks are fleetingly rare, but bites and maulings are not, and even pit bull apologists will admit that their aggression propensity towards other dogs and cats is significantly higher than it is towards humans.  Yet the average age of dogs entering shelters is only 18 months, so a staggering share of these failed relationships are occurring with adolescent dogs and problems with dog aggression or anything similar doesn’t even register on the top 10 reasons people report for why they are abandoning the dog at the shelter.

The biggest lie in dogdom today is that there is an “overpopulation” problem. This ignores the steady increase in both percentage of homes that have dogs, the rising number of dogs per home, the increase in population and the increase in pet dogs.

The next biggest lie is that breeders are to blame and that every purchased puppy condemns a shelter dog to death.  This ignores that the majority of dogs are acquired for little to no cost from friends or family, not from breeders, and that every aspect of buying a dog from a breeder decreases the chance that the dog will ever see the inside of a shelter.

  • Purebreds are less likely to end up in shelters than mixed-breeds.
  • Dogs purchased from breeders or pet stores are less likely to end up in shelters.
  • Dogs given as gifts or acquired for more than $100 are less likely to end up in a shelter.
  • Dogs acquired for less than $30 or dogs adopted from a shelter are more likely to end up in a shelter.

Pit bull rescuers will wail and complain and blame puppy mills, hobby breeders, and puppy buyers with the most heinous of crimes against dogs and humanity.  But the truth is that the foster pit bull at their feet is more likely to end up back in a shelter and more likely to get put down than any puppy mill dog sold in a mall, any purebred dog sold by a hobby breeder to a family that paid for it, or even the most carelessly bred oops mutt.

In fact, those pit bulls are making all other breeds of dog and dog enthusiasts look worse than they are.  Without pit bulls in the picture, the yearly euthanization rate could be less than 1% of dogs.  If you’re decrying dead shelter dogs and the first words out of your mouth are “breeders” and “buyers” or “overpopulation,” and not “pit bull culture” then you’re dangerously misinformed.

The rising status of dogs in our families combined with spay/neuter, foster and rescue, and no-kill programs have made the last 30 years an increasingly better time to be alive for dogs.  While there’s still work to be done, and there will always be animals in need, the old paradigm of blame and internecine hatred–especially attacks aimed at people who endeavor to do right by their dogs from conception to old age–are misguided and distract from the real problems.


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About Christopher

Christopher Landauer is a fifth generation Colorado native and second generation Border Collie enthusiast. Border Collies have been the Landauer family dogs since the 1960s and Christopher got his first one as a toddler. He began his own modest breeding program with the purchase of Dublin and Celeste in 2006 and currently shares his home with their children Mercury and Gemma as well. His interest in genetics began in AP Chemistry and AP Biology and was honed at Stanford University.