Substantial drop in shelter animal euthanasia in the USA

It is reported that there has been a substantial drop in the number of dogs and cats euthanized in American animal shelters during 2020. It is hoped that this is a trend. However, I think that it is fair to say that statistical accuracy is hard to come by.

The first thing to say, though, is that this is great news. The biggest blot on the landscape of the domestication of cats and dogs is the vast number euthanised at shelters because they are unwanted. A symptom of failure in the domestication of these animals.

Shelter cat
Shelter cat. Image by Mimzy from Pixabay
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

44.5% drop in euthanized cats and dogs at shelters

Best Friends Animal Society reported a 44.5% drop between 2019 and 2020 of euthanized shelter cats and dogs from 625,000 to 347,000. That is a huge reduction and I sincerely hope that it is correct. It is perhaps worth pointing out that the ASPCA, in their article on “Pet Statistics”, state that each year about 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized. They break that down to 670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats. They also state that the number euthanized at US shelters annually has reduced substantially since 2011 when about 2.6 million were euthanised.

You can see that the figures are quite variable. The point I’m making is that the ASPCA page is still on the Internet and it is undated. Therefore, they are stating that today the number euthanised is about 1.5 million annually. That number clearly clashes with the Best Friends Animal Society’s statistics, which is why I have queried their accuracy.

It is also worth that the word “euthanasia” and “euthanized” is a slight misrepresentation. This is because many of these cats and dogs are perfectly healthy. Euthanasia is meant to be the humane and gentle killing of sick or injured animals. Arguably when a healthy and adoptable cat or dog is euthanised it is better described as a killing.

San Diego animal shelter kitten
San Diego animal shelter kitten. Photo: K.C. Alfred

Increased adoptions

The big decline in numbers has been put down to various factors including the Covid pandemic during which many companion animals were fostered or adopted. This pushed down the shelter numbers. It is said that more than 1 million fewer dogs and cats entered American animal shelters in 2020 compared to 2019.

They also state that TNR programs prevented additional outdoor cats from entering shelters. I would dispute this because during Covid, as I understand it, many TNR programs were suspended for reasons of social distancing.

It appears that the biggest factor is a surge in adoptions of cats and dogs, primarily dogs in the UK but it may be the same in the USA. These long periods of isolation during lockdowns resulted in a desire to adopt a companion animal. It is believed, though, that a percentage of these animals will find their way back into shelters because of a lack of preparation by the adopters.

Cat in shelter
Cat in shelter. Picture in public domain.

USA no-kill status

Best Friends Animal Society also state that their information comes from 93% of shelters in the US. Overall, 83% of cats and dogs at shelters were saved. This means that the USA as a whole is quite close to a no-kill status with respect to animal shelters. A saving rate of 90% indicates a no-kill shelter when you take into account the necessity to euthanise about 10% of the animals for various reasons such as health and behaviour. I would, incidentally, argue that this figure may be wrong because cats in particular sometimes behave abnormally at shelters. This behaviour can be seen as making them unadoptable when in fact they are very adoptable if placed in a caring home.

They state that 3.9 million of the 4.26 million cats and dogs at shelters were saved. Due to a lack of space at shelters, 950 cats and dogs are euthanized daily in the US. Twice as many cats are euthanised as dogs. The only possible reason for this is because less people adopt cats from shelters compared to those who adopt dogs. Lost dogs are more often reunited with their owners than cats. The reason is not because there are more dogs at shelters than cats. ASPCA say that there are about 3.3 million dogs and 3.2 million cats and shelters.

On a slightly separate but linked subject, owners take their dogs to a veterinarian more often than owners of cats. This is probably because there is a misconception about the independence of cats and how they can look after themselves. It means that there is a slight disconnect between many owners and their domestic cat companion which leads to neglect which leads to a failure to take their cat to a veterinarian when they are ill.

Based on these statistics, progress is fantastic in terms of saving lives. Both New Hampshire and Delaware are US states reaching the magical 90% no-kill threshold. Vermont and Rhode Island are two other states who almost made that threshold. They were 53 animals and 18 animals short respectively.

The worst states with respect to euthanasia at shelters are Texas and California. These are the two most populous states. Best Friends say that almost 50% of America’s animal shelters are at the no-kill status.

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