Shelter Euthanasia: How You can Reduce The Number of Dogs + Cats Killed

When we picture a healthy dog or cat going into a shelter, for whatever reason, we imagine that they are going to find their forever home.

Unfortunately, that's not always the case though.

Today, I want to talk about how many shelter dogs are euthanized every year and why neutering your pet is vital when it comes to reducing this number.

If you want a powerful demonstration of why, then make sure you watch this video:


This post was prompted by a number of comments on my when to spay dogs and neutering cats videos, detailing the risks and benefits of these procedures. Some people obviously took offense to the fact that their dogs or cats should be neutered or should consider having them neutered in the first place.

These comments range from "you should be castrated," "it's absolutely cruel,” "it's ridiculous,” ''there are no problems at all," to "there are absolutely no benefits to being castrated or spayed."

we all have a responsibility to reduce the number of dogs and cats entering shelters and being euthanized

Your Dog’s Desire to Breed

A lot of the comments also talk about how we are taking away from our pets ability to be mothers or fathers and their desire to be mothers or fathers.

This is anthropomorphism at the highest level. Meaning that we are putting human emotions onto our pets. Feelings that they don't have.

Cats and dogs really do not have a desire to be mothers or fathers. They do not dream of their puppies while growing up, imagining and having a litter of puppies or kittens of their own.

If you neuter, castrate, or spay your pet they don't regret. They don't mourn for the loss of their potential family.

This is just simply not the case.

If we take your dog’s hormones away, we just remove the desire to breed, the desire to mate, and the desire to have puppies. It has no psychological impact on your dog or cat.

Puppy Re-homing

Neutering is clearly directly linked to the number of dogs that are euthanized in shelters every year.

Every year, puppies are being born where the breeder owners are unable to then find homes for them.In many cases, the puppies are taken to a shelter and abandoned. 

The owner simply absolve themselves of all responsibility.

If that doesn’t happen then, rather than only releasing a puppy to an ideal home, sub-optimal owners are found.

The puppies might go to homes they are clearly not suitable to. They might be mistreated, neglected, or the owner just simply can't cope with having a puppy in the house. The relationship only lasts a short time and they need to be re-homed. As a result, they are given to a shelter.

Breeding too many puppies and kittens is absolutely responsible for a large number of these dogs and cats entering the shelter system.

neutering your dog or cat does not have a psychological impact on them

How Many Pets Enter Shelters Each Year

This is not an insignificant problem because every year in the U.S. alone, about 6.5 million dogs and cats enter the U.S. shelter system. Of these, 3.3 million are dogs and 3.2 million are cats.

In the UK the total number of abandoned dogs is about 50,000 each year, and in Australia this figure is estimated at 200,000 dogs.

Reasons for Euthanasia

As lovely as it would be to have all of these animals re-homed to loving forever homes, this is not the case.

There are a number of reasons why these dogs and cats will be euthanized.

  • Health reasons. some will be suffering from chronic debilitating, or life-threatening diseases that make them unsuitable for re-homing. In some cases it might actually be beneficial from a welfare point of view for that individual animal to be euthanized.

  • Behavioral problems. Severe behavioral problems, such as extreme aggression, again make some individuals unsuitable for re-homing.

  • A loving home cannot be found. The tragic reality is that if a home can not be found, no matter how healthy and friendly an individual, it may be that they are euthanized.

Animal shelters are generally doing the best job that they can. But they have limited space, limited financial resources, and limited volunteers to help look after these abandoned dogs and cats.

They just can't keep admitting animals into their shelter if the resident animals aren't leaving.

The only way to combat this is to either completely refuse to take any more animals, or to euthanize those that they are not able to find homes for, or are not suitable for re-homing.

No Kill Shelters

If you hear that a shelter is classified as “no-kill”, what do you think?

It’s probably that they don’t euthanize any pets!

This is not true, and there is actually no certifying body, or hard and fast rules that govern the use of this term. Instead, it’s generally understood as being a shelter that has a “release rate” of at least 90%. Meaning that at least 9-in-10 animals are successfully re-homed.

They will euthanize sick animals as well as those with severe behavioral problems. They may even euthanize a small proportion of healthy animals and still be able to call themselves a no-kill shelter.

No shelter could successfully treat every single individual. Some diseases are just untreatable, or the cost of treatment is astronomical and resources needed are immense.

It may also be that no-kill shelters place strict restrictions on the pets they accept. Only taking on the healthier, more re-homeable pets. The older,sicker, behaviorally challenged dogs and cats need to then be taken to a different shelter which don’t have such strict rules on those they admit, as well as those they euthanize.

Don’t get me wrong, no-kill shelters are awesome. It’s just not nearly as simple as no-kill = good and all other shelters = bad.

How Many Dogs + Cats Are Euthanized In Shelters?

A lot…

...of the 6.5 million pets that enter the US shelter system each year, 1.5 million dogs and cats are euthanized every year. Of these, the majority (860,000) are actually cats, compared to 670,000 dogs.

20% of dogs and 27% of cats entering the shelter system are euthanized!

Of course, this is not just a US problem. A large number of dogs are euthanized in other countries. 5,000 dogs are killed in the UK and 50,000 in Australia annually.

What can YOU do to Reduce Euthanasia

While the number of dogs and cats that are euthanized is tragic, it is reducing.

In the 1970’s, 12 million - 20 million dogs and cats were killed every year.  

There is clearly still work  to be done and we all need to take responsibility for continue reducing the number of shelter animals euthanized every year.

we have a lifetime of responsibility when we bring a pet into our lives

This is what you can do:

Neuter Your Pet

If you have a dog or cat, and you do not want puppies or kittens, then if you can not absolutely 100% guarantee that they are not going to get mated or jump the fence to breed with the female down the road, then you absolutely need to get your dog spayed or castrated.

Don’t think your pet won’t try.

They will, and they will also be successful.

Rehome Puppies + Kittens Responsibly

If you want puppies or kittens from your pet, which can be a wonderful experience, then you need to be absolutely sure that you are going to be able to find them all forever homes.

Don’t just rehome to the first people who come enquiring. Be picky, and if a suitable home (or homes) doesn’t materialize instead you need to be prepared to keep the puppies or kittens yourself until it does.

This is not necessarily as easy as you think it is. The people who say that they will definitely take a puppy or kitten if your dog or cat ever breeds will often fall by the wayside and disappear into thin air when the actual event happens.

Breeding is a big commitment, something I discuss further in my post all about should you breed your dog.

Adopt Don’t Shop

The other step that you can take to help reduce the number of cats and dogs that are being euthanized in shelters every year is to get your next pet from a shelter, rather than a breeder or other source.

Shelters have so many different breeds available. They have different sized dogs with different temperaments, as well as different ages right the way through from puppies to seniors.

Visiting your local shelter and there is almost certain to be the perfect pet for you.

Accept Responsibility

Finally, and something that won’t need elaborating on if you’re reading this far, is to accept responsibility for your pet.

I’ve said it before, pet’s are not disposable.

Pets are living creatures. You are responsible for their life and it should be a relationship that lasts a lifetime. If circumstances dictate that you can no longer care for them, you need to do your utmost to find them the best home possible. Don’t assume that your local shelter will do this for you. The outcome for your pet could be tragic.