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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.

Source: The Humane Society of the United States

Time to Prevent Unenlightened Cruelty

While most human beings lovingly care for their dogs and other animals, unfortunately, for the most part, as a species, we have not viewed our canine companions as sentient beings. As noted earlier, human society has perpetrated and tolerated egregious mistreatment, even in so-called advanced societies, where inhumane activities such as dog fights, dog racing, and use as laboratory animals. In many laboratory experiments the dogs have never been outside, and are so psychologically damaged after the experience that the facility euthanizes them without ever giving them the chance to be adopted.

The Veterans Administration conducts painful experiments with taxpayer funding. Many of these experiments that are unnecessary and don't really prove anything valuable for human medical research. White Coat Waste Project has been fighting to stop this. They are still fighting to let the animals be adopted rather than just euthanized. Thousands of kittens are euthanized each year, even though they could be adoptable.

Puppy mills breed without regard to genetic well being, and the puppies are reared in deplorable and unsanitary conditions. According to the website there were 17,000 cases of animal abuse in 2012 in the U.S., many were horrific. Cases of animal cruelty abound, and when exposed, without laws to sufficiently protect animals, (which are viewed as property), result in minimal consequences to the perpetrators.

This video below made by the Humane Society, is not easy to watch, it shows the reality of puppy mills. It is important to educate the public too how horrific puppy mills are.

Greyhound Racing

An example of the consequences of people not viewing animals as emotionally sensitive beings is the way that racing greyhounds are treated.

In the words of Jeffrey Masson: "Many people assume that because racing dogs make money for their owners, they are treated well. In fact, they are kept confined to small cages except for when they’re racing, and are never shown any affection, on the grounds that they need to be aggressive to win and affection lessens the aggression….Although gentle, (racing greyhounds) spend their entire lives in cages. After brief careers, they are no longer profitable and are difficult to place as pets, so they are often simply destroyed. It is truly a gruesome sport that allows this infamy."

President Emeritus of the ASPCA Roger Caras points out that “Every year racing greyhound breeders kill about fifty thousand healthy dogs simply because they can no longer perform at the track.”

In spite of this genocidal practice, a few are saved by rescue organizations, such as several in California who create sanctuary for greyhounds that have lost races or are about to be euthanized. The rescuers have all noticed that once in a safe place, many of the greyhounds turned into gentle beings who are very anxious to connect in loving ways with humans. Even though they have been mistreated their entire lives, many are forgiving, and come around with proper and kind care.

Many Greyhound rescue groups are all volunteers, and many go on to having a great life with a loving family. I have met many greyhound rescues who became amazing therapy dogs, letting go of their pain and bringing joy to humans -- even after humans were cruel and heartless to them in their racing career.

As humans, we could learn from dogs’ ability to show profound forgiveness. If you step on their foot by accident, and immediately apologize and regret your error, petting them lovingly, they instantly seem to understand that you did not do it on purpose, and are completely ready to resume wonderfully friendly relations. One can only imagine how human society would change if we had the same impressive ability to forgive and instantly move forward.

It is hoped that as the society becomes educated into the true purpose of the role of dogs in our world, more humane treatment will ensue. By recognizing their incredible potential as partners in healing, (whether that be through Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs, Companion Dogs, Cancer Detection Dogs, or pets and best friends), dogs are essential to the quality of human life, and perhaps even our evolutionary potential.

Please help educate others as to how all animals should be treated.

Genie Joseph, PhD


The Human-Animal Connection



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