Animal Shelters & Solutions to Homeless Animals

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

Animal Shelters and No Kill Solutions

The American Humane Society estimates that there are about 3,500 animal shelters in the U.S. In addition, there are 10,000 private shelters, funded by donations, and non-profit rescue groups, some of which focus on particular breeds, others accept animals based on need.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, a no-kill organization for animals with no other chances of adoption, estimates that 4,100 animals a day are euthanized in shelters. Best Friends has determined that there is a better way, and their mission slogan is "Save Them All." They are one of the leaders in the No-Kill Movement. Below is a documentary about how 31 people got together to create this vision and how the movement started.

Shelters that are publicly funded will euthanize for space, meaning that perfectly adoptable animals are killed to make room for the next group of animals. If Wednesday is euthanasia day, when Wednesday rolls around, whoever is left may be terminated.

Most shelters do the best they can with not enough resources. It is not unusual for a big city to receive a hundred animals a day. Some shelters call themselves “no-kill,” meaning that they do not euthanize for space (only for humane reasons, for sick or injured animals that can't recover, or are too aggressive to be adoptable.) The goal is to reach a 90% or more live adoption rate. The no-kill movement is growing, but often these shelters who aspire to No Kill are not "open admission." This means that if they don't have space, they won't accept a stray or owner surrender.

How Many Animals Are Killed in US Shelters Each Year?

Because there is no legal requirement for accurate or central reporting of animal euthanasia in shelters, the numbers are estimated, but the top organizations are showing approximately the same information. Here are the figures from The Humane Society.

The Humane Society of the United States estimates the following:

* 3 million cats and dogs euthanized in shelters each year.

Of these, approximately 2.4 million (80%) are healthy and treatable and could have been adopted into new homes

* Percentage of cats euthanized in shelters: 70%

* Percentage of total shelter intake comprised of cats: Approximately 50%-75%

(in some regions), of a shelter’s population, is cats

* 3,500 brick-and-mortar animal shelters in the US

* 10,000 rescue groups and animal sanctuaries in North America

* 6-8 million cats and dogs entering shelters each year: (down from 13 million in 1973)

* 4 million cats and dogs adopted from shelters each year

* Percentage of cats euthanized in shelters: 70%

* Percentage of total shelter intake comprised of cats: Approximately 50%

(in some regions, 2/3 of a shelter’s population is cats).

70% of cats who enter shelters will be euthanized. Neonatal kittens and feral cats have the highest euthanasia rate.

Neonatal Kitten Rescue - Kittens under six weeks

The National Kitten Coalition’s mission is to increase the survival rates of rescued kittens. They have many online educational resources and do public outreach. Their website states:

"We know that many animal shelters do not have the resources and/or knowledge to care for neonatal kittens in particular; therefore, we believe neonatal kittens or “bottle babies” are one of the most vulnerable populations in many animal shelters and are subsequently euthanized. Our vision is that all neonatal, sick, and other at-risk kittens are given a chance to grow and thrive through life-saving educational programs and positive partnerships among shelters, rescues, veterinarians, and the public. We want to partner with shelters and rescues and help these front-line animal heroes with their life-saving efforts. We know that education, training, outreach and information sharing will move us closer to our vision for the future and are proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with shelter and rescue staff and volunteers as we work to reduce euthanasia in kitten populations across the United States."

Note: Spaying and neutering are important! Remember a female cat can produce three litters in one year, and the average number of kittens in a litter is four to six.

Alley Cat Allies, a trap, neuter and release, rescue organization, says that nearly 100% of feral cats taken to shelters will be euthanized. They also say that 70% of healthy, adoptable cats in shelters will be euthanized.

Basic Obedience Training Can Reduce Owner Surrender

There are many reasons owners surrender their pets to shelters. Sometimes they made an impulsive decision to adopt a puppy and didn't realize what they were in for. Or they overestimated how much time they would have -- and a dog left alone all day can become bored, anxious, or destructive. Or perhaps they have lost their housing or are not allowed to have a particular breed in their new location. Sometimes they can't afford medical care, but a common reason is that pets are untrained, and are demonstrating behaviors the owners don't want to deal with or don't know how to train them to stop. In the context of so many great and deserving animals in shelters, it is imperative that the public be educated on a variety of issues, such as the importance of spaying and neutering, the horrors of puppy mills, and how basic training can improve the relationship between people and their pets.

This video below is not easy to watch but it tells the truth about what happens to most dogs who are owner surrender in kill-shelters. Many of these dogs are euthanized within 72 hours after being taken to a shelter.

Avoid puppies sold in pet stores or on the Internet

Should It Be Illegal to Sell Pets in Pet Stores? Some cities, like San Francisco, are exploring laws to eliminate purchasing pets in pet stores.

Here's what the Humane Society of the United States says about pet stores who get their pets from cruel puppy mills.

"Pet stores that care about puppies don’t sell them. That’s because the majority of pet stores that sell puppies carry dogs from cruel and inhumane puppy mills. Puppy mills are like dog-making factories where the mother dogs spend their entire lives in cramped cages or kennels with little or no personal attention or quality of life. When the mother and father dogs can no longer breed, they are discarded or killed. Consumers who purchase puppies from pet stores or over the Internet without seeing a breeder’s home firsthand are often unknowingly supporting this cruel industry. If a breeder will not show you how and where the puppies are being raised and cared for, as well as show you the maternity and paternity records, you should not do business with them. If you feel the breeder's interests and motivations are profit-driven, you should not deal with them.

Help stop this cycle of cruelty simply by choosing to adopt your next pet from a shelter or rescue group, or by purchasing a dog only from a responsible breeder who will show you where your puppy was born and raised."

And if you are not sure you are ready for pet ownership, consider fostering a pet from a rescue organization or shelter to see having a pet is right for you.