Is There Really a Shortage of Adoptable Dogs?

Shelter dogs by Shutterstock.
Shelter dogs by Shutterstock.

A pet-industry organization called the Pet Leadership Council recently put out a press release with the headline: “Dog Shortage? New Study Reports Availability of Shelter Dogs at an All-Time Low.”

In the release, PLC Chairman Bob Vetere said, “When you consider that it’s estimated as many as 20 million dogs were euthanized a year in the 1970s, it’s truly astounding to see how effective the efforts of shelters and the responsible pet industry have proven. We believe this new research demonstrating the progress we have made will inspire an increasingly strong demand for and focus on efforts to ensure responsible breeding and opportunity to meet the growing desire for dogs in our country.”

The headline in the PLC press release seems to suggest that there are not enough adoptable dogs to go around, and the content of the press release indicates a need for increased breeding of dogs. Although the study, conducted by researchers at Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, concluded that the availability of dogs in animal shelters is at an all-time low, PLC’s spin on the data is misleading at best. 

According to the study’s results, U.S. shelters take in 5.5 million dogs annually. Of those dogs, 2.6 million are adopted, 969,000 are returned to the owner, 778,000 are transferred, and 776,000 are euthanized. The study looked at a small number of shelters (413) that fit certain criteria, then extrapolated the data using survey and capture/re-capture methodology.

Shelter dog by Shutterstock.
Shelter dog by Shutterstock.

Looking at the study, do we really have a shortage on adoptable dogs? Not really. Compared to the estimated 20 million pets euthanized every year in the 1970s, 776,000 is definitely an improvement. It’s a testament to all of the hard work being done in the animal welfare industry. But it’s still nearly 1 million dogs euthanized every year.

Exact adoption and euthanasia numbers have always been a guess. However, various animal welfare organizations have published their own estimates over the years. For instance, the ASPCA estimates that approximately 7.6 million pets enter U.S. animal shelters annually (3.9 million dogs and 3.4 million cats), and of those, 2.7 million animals are euthanized (1.2 million dogs and 1.4 million cats). ASPCA also estimates that about 2.7 million shelter pets are adopted annually (1.4 million dogs and 1.3 million cats).

“There is no question that dog adoption rates and other indicators have substantially improved, thanks to the efforts of shelters, rescues, and national groups including the ASPCA,” said the ASPCA in a statement responding to the press release. “However, homeless dogs are still at risk in communities throughout the U.S., and adoption remains a viable and compassionate option for many families. This study, funded by the commercial pet industry, is being spun to deny that reality by exploiting progress in the field of animal sheltering to justify the mass production of puppies produced solely for the purpose of profit.”

The statement also points out that the MSU study looked at a small number of animal shelters, but did not take into account other means of acquiring a pet. “Pet owners traditionally acquire their dogs from a variety of sources including friends, family and neighbors, shelters, rescue groups, and breeders – with shelters being only one slice of that diverse pie, “ASPCA said.

For people wanting to adopt, countless homeless pets abound. Whether you choose to adopt from a shelter or a private rescue group, or even adopt from a friend or neighbor who can no longer care for their pet, it is not hard to find a pet who already exists in need of a home.

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