Overpopulation in domestic pets
|This article may rely excessively on sources too closely associated with the subject, preventing the article from being verifiable and neutral. (December 2013)|
Overpopulation in domestic animals refers to a surplus of domestic animals, such as cats, dogs, and exotic animals. In the United States, an estimated 6 to 8 million animals are brought to shelters each year. Of these, an estimated 3 to 4 million are subsequently euthanized, including 2.7 million considered healthy and adoptable. Euthanasia numbers have declined from the 1970s, when U.S. shelters euthanized an estimated 12 to 20 million animals. Most humane societies, animal shelters and rescue groups urge animal caregivers to have their animals spayed or neutered to prevent the births of unwanted and accidental litters that could contribute to this dynamic.
Critics such as the No Kill Advocacy Center, led by animal advocate Nathan Winograd, argue that overpopulation is a myth that many animal control agencies use to avoid criticism and justify low numbers of adoptions. Winograd argues that traditional shelters kill animals primarily out of habit and convenience, even when space is available for the animals (p. 6). When shelters implement methods that Winograd has outlined in the No Kill Equation, such as trap-neuter-return for stray and feral cats (p. 4), Winograd asserts that they have been able to save all healthy and treatable animals, and raise their save rates to at least 90% of all impounded animals.
Estimates of animals brought to shelters and of animals subsequently euthanized in the U.S. have issues with their reliability. The Humane Society of the United States provides shelter statistics with this caution: "There is no central data reporting system for U.S. animal shelters and rescues. These estimates are based on information provided by the (former) National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy." The HSUS provided numbers of 6 to 8 million animals taken to shelters, 3 to 4 million animals euthanized, and 2.7 million of the euthanized animals being healthy and adoptable, as estimates for 2012-2013, and also for annual figures in an August 2014 article.
The National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy conducted a survey over four years, 1994-1997, and cautions against the use of their survey for wider estimates: "It is not possible to use these statistics to estimate the numbers of animals entering animal shelters in the United States, or the numbers euthanized on an annual basis. The reporting Shelters may not represent a random sampling of U.S. shelters." Summary statistics from the survey state that in 1997, 4.3 million animals entered the surveyed shelters; the shelters euthanized 62.6% of them, or 2.8 million animals. These numbers broke down to 56.4% of dogs euthanized, and 71% of cats. The original survey was sent to 5,042 shelters housing at least 100 dogs and cats each year, of whom only 1,008 shelters participated in 1997.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals provides alternate numbers, stating that there are about 13,600 community animal shelters in the United States. "There is no national organization monitoring these shelters", and "no government institution or animal organization is responsible for tabulating national statistics for the animal protection movement." That said, national estimates are provided of 7.6 million animals entering shelters each year, with 2.7 million of them euthanized.
A 1993 study of U.S. dog populations considered a wider range of sources than animal shelters. The study found that 4 million dogs entered shelters, with 2.4 million (or 60%) euthanized (p. 203).
The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS) has been collecting statistics from Canadian animal shelters since 1993 (p. 2). A survey in 2013 included data from 100 of 186 humane societies and SPCAs (p. 2). However, municipal animal services agencies were not included, hence "the data in this report represents only a fraction of homeless companion animals in Canada" (p. 2). In 2012, the surveyed shelters took in just over 188,000 animals, and euthanized 65,423 animals, representing 35% of all intakes (Appendix). Six times as many cats were euthanized as dogs, or 41% of cats and 15% of dogs (p. 5). The report noted a gradually improving trend, but that cats have a far worse outcome than dogs: "More than twice as many cats enter shelters than dogs, and though adoption rates for cats are similar to those for dogs, fewer cats are reclaimed and many more are euthanized" (p. 7).
Reasons for relinquishment
Unwanted dogs and cats may have been acquired from any source. Large numbers of animals are placed in shelters by pet owners each year for reasons such as moving, allergies, behavioral problems, and lack of time or money. Another common reason for surrendering a pet is because of milestones, like marriage or the birth of a new baby.
One contributing factor in domestic animal homelessness is the cultural preference for young, purebred animals. Many people who prefer purebred animals choose to purchase them, often at significant cost, from breeders. One reason some owners choose to purchase a pet through a breeder or store is because people know what size and characteristics the animal will eventually have. This is not often possible with puppies acquired at a shelter. It should be noted, however, that approximately 25% of the dogs who enter animal shelters are purebred.
Recognizing the high demand for purebred animals, some people choose to engage in backyard breeding or operate puppy mills. This practice, where operators breed purebred animals for profit, is often without concern for the health or welfare of the animals involved. These animals may be sold through pet stores or directly from the breeders themselves.
Additionally, individuals seeking purebred animals may not realize that a homeless animal adopted from a shelter can have many advantages: often the shelter will have performed all necessary veterinary procedures, such as spaying or neutering, vaccination, deworming, microchipping, etc. Also, the personality of a kitten or puppy is not always an indicator of how the animal will behave in adulthood. Many shelter animals have reached adulthood and their personalities are apparent, allowing the would-be caregiver to select an animal with a personality that suits them. However, disease issues should be considered with shelter animals. Some shelter animals are transported to Northern states where there is no overpopulation problem. Such animals may be incubating disease or have parasites. Animals without a documented history may also have behavioral issues.
There are several nonprofit organizations that are attempting to solve the problems associated with the overpopulation of animals, like euthanasia and high costs, through spay and neuter services.
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) 
- American Humane Association 
- Sante D'or Foundation in Southern California 
- Pet Project Rescue in the Twin Cities in Minnesota 
- AnimalKind in North Carolina 
- Project CatSnip in Georgia
Dealing with a population of unwanted domestic animals is a major concern to animal welfare and animal rights groups. Domestic animal overpopulation can also be an ecological concern. It is also a financial problem: capturing, impounding and eventual euthanasia costs taxpayers and private agencies millions of dollars each year. Unwanted pets are also commonly released to the wild, sometimes contributing to severe damage to ecosystems (e.g., the effect of introduction of exotic snakes to Florida's Everglades).
Organizations such as the No Kill Advocacy Center, led by animal advocate Nathan Winograd, argue that overpopulation is a myth. "Based on the number of existing households with pets who have a pet die or run away, more homes potentially become available each year for cats than the number of cats who enter shelters, while more than twice as many homes potentially become available each year for dogs than the number of dogs who enter shelters.... As a movement, the humane community has accepted the idea that the best shelters can do for homeless animals is to adopt out some and kill the rest. To try to avoid criticism for this, to justify a paltry number of adoptions, these groups have perpetuated the myth that there are simply more animals than homes, something that is patently false (even though most people believe it)."
Winograd argues that traditional shelters kill animals primarily out of habit and convenience, even when space is available for the animals (p. 6). When shelters implement proven life-saving methods that Winograd has outlined in the No Kill Equation, including for example trap-neuter-return for stray and feral cats (p. 4), he asserts that they are able to save all healthy and treatable animals, and raise their save rates to at least 90% of all impounded animals. Winograd states that hundreds (p. 1) of No Kill Communities have been created across the U.S., and they are increasing in number throughout the world. In September 2014, the website "Out the Front Door" documented 215 communities in the U.S. which have reported saving more than 90% of impounded animals.
In a 2008 article, dog advocate Loretta Baughan claimed that underpopulation was the reality rather than overpopulation. She pointed out that the great majority of pet owners have spayed or neutered their pets, and some shelters were importing large numbers of dogs from other jurisdictions.
- No-kill shelter: an animal shelter that does not euthanize animals due to overpopulation
- Animal shelter
- Cat colony
- No Kill Equation
- Nathan Winograd, (2009), Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America. Almaden Books, 2nd edition. ISBN 978-0979074318.
- "Pets by the numbers", HSUS, January 30, 2014.
- "Why You Should Spay/Neuter Your Pet: Curb pet overpopulation and make your pet healthier", HSUS, August 24, 2014.
- "A Humane Nation: Wayne Pacelle's Blog: Setting Aside Semantics: Not Killing Pets Must Be Our Goal", HSUS, Dec. 8, 2007.
- "The Book HSUS and PETA Don’t Want You to Read", Sept. 10, 2007, Center for Consumer Freedom, archived at webcitation.org.
- "Disproving the Lie at the Heart of Shelter Killing: The Myth of Overpopulation", No Kill Advocacy Center, accessed Sept. 6, 2014.
- "No Kill 101: A Primer on No Kill Animal Control Sheltering For Public Officials", No Kill Advocacy Center, accessed September 2, 2014.
- "When is No Kill Truly No Kill?", Nathan Winograd, PAWS Chicago, accessed Sept. 6, 2014.
- "The Shelter Statistics Survey, 1994-97", National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, accessed Sept. 19, 2014.
- "Misc: Pet Statistics", ASPCA, accessed Sept. 10, 2014.
- "Animal Shelter Euthanasia", American Humane Association, accessed Sept. 19, 2014.
- "Are there too many dogs and cats?: Pet overpopulation myths and Facts", Norma Bennett Woolf, National Animal Interest Alliance, March 19, 1997, referring to Gary J. Patronek and Andrew N Rowan, "Determining Dog and Cat Numbers and Population Dynamics", Anthrozoos Vol. 8, No. 4, (1995), pp. 199-205; that article referred to the original 1993 study: "Development of a Model for Estimating the Size and Dynamics of the Pet Dog Population", Gary J. Patronek, Anthrozoos, Vol. 12, 1993; No. 7(1), pp. 25-42.
- Gary J. Patronek and Andrew N Rowan, "Determining Dog and Cat Numbers and Population Dynamics", Anthrozoos Vol. 8, No. 4, (1995), pp. 199-205, at pp. 202-203.
- "Animal Shelter Statistics", Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, Dec. 18, 2013, available for download at link provided.
- "Pet Overpopulation". Americanhumane.org. Retrieved 2012-07-24.
- "Puppy Mills : The Humane Society of the United States". Humanesociety.org. Retrieved 2012-10-16.
- "ASPCA Launches National Relocation Program for Shelter Animals". Prweb.com. 2011-05-12. Retrieved 2012-10-16.
- "The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals". ASPCA. Retrieved 2012-07-24.
- "Sante D'Or Foundation - An Atwater Village Animal Rescue —". Santedor.org. 2011-11-16. Retrieved 2012-07-24.
- "Pet Project Rescue". Pet Project Rescue. 2012-05-08. Retrieved 2012-07-24.
- "**". Animalkind.org. Retrieved 2012-07-24.
- "Project Catsnip — Experts in Feline Spay-Neuter". Projectcatsnip.com. Retrieved 2012-10-16.
- "New Research Exposes High Taxpayer Cost For ‘Eradicating’ Free-Roaming Cats". Prweb.com. Retrieved 2012-10-16.
- "The lie at the heart of killing: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation", Nathan Winograd and Jennifer Winograd, March 12, 2013.
- "The Book HSUS and PETA Don’t Want You to Read", Sept. 10, 2007, Center for Consumer Freedom, archived at webcitation.org.
- Dollars & Sense: The Economic Benefits of No Kill Animal Control: A Guide for Public Officials", No Kill Advocacy Center, accessed Sept. 6, 2014.
- "Introduction", Out the Front Door, accessed Sept. 6, 2014.
- "Pet underpopulation: The Pet Shortage in the U.S. by Loretta Baughan", Loretta Baughan, Spaniel Journal, Vol. 6, Issue 4, Jan.-Feb. 2008.
- National Council on Pet Population
- ASPCA Official Website
- Addressing the Problem of Pet Overpopulation: The Experience of New Hanover County Animal Control Services
- American Humane Association on pet overpopulation
- AnimalKind in NC
- Chesley V. Morton v. Georgia Department of Agriculture and Tommy Irvin in his Official Capacity as Commissioner