• Barry KuKes

The Streets of Heaven are Too Crowded with Animals Tonight

Updated: Apr 21

Every year in the United States, approximately 733,000 shelter animals are euthanized (approximately 40% dogs and 60% cats). The number of dogs and cats euthanized in U.S. shelters annually has declined from approximately 2.6 million in 2011. In fact, 1,867,000 less shelter dogs and cats were euthanized in 2019 than in 2011. This reduction is amazing and due to improved education, the practice of spay/neutering, the transformation of animal shelters into adoption centers, and people becoming more concerned with animal rights and the elimination of animal cruelty.

There are 3,500 animal shelters (animals cared for on-site) and 11,500 animal rescues (foster parent focused) in the U.S. today. No-kill shelters attempt to save 9 out of 10 animals and maintain an LLR-live release rate of 90% or better. The other 10% are typically either terminally ill or unadoptable due to uncorrectable behavior issues. (i.e. wild feral cats that cannot be domesticated)

About 6.5 million animals enter animal shelters across the U.S. annually. The good news is 710,000 stray animals are reunited with their owners each year. This number has more than doubled since 2011 thanks to the advent of the microchip. Please microchip your pet so they can be reunited with you should they lose their way.

Just 23% of dogs in the U.S. were adopted from an animal shelter in 2019. The balance of pets were purchased from independent pet stores, breeders and puppy mills. If people chose to give a loving home to a shelter dog instead of paying a breeder thousands of dollars for a designer dog, up to 77% more dogs could have been adopted from a shelter further reducing the euthanasia rate below 733,000.

Around 30% of animals in shelters were left there by their owners. Animal shelter statistics from 2018 indicate that around 3.3 million dogs and 3.2 million cats enter shelters each year. The average age of animals entering shelters is under 18 months old.

Statistics about animal shelters show that the insignificantly low number of animals that are spayed or neutered could lead to “overpopulation,” and thus, an even greater number of euthanized animals. It’s estimated that an unspayed dog and her puppies can produce 67,000 dogs exponentially in just a six-year period if left unchecked. One female cat that has not been spayed, along with her offspring, can create 420,000 cats in seven years.

What percentage of pets are adopted? Well, another 1.6 million cats are adopted from animal shelters each year, making the total number of adopted pets reach 3.2 million. This means that of the 6.5 million cats and dogs brought into shelters last year, just under 50% were adopted. Even though adoption rates are increasing, there is still much to be done to reduce the number of animals in shelters. For comparison, 34% of the 78 million dogs owned in the U.S. were bought from a breeder.

In 1984, 17 million shelter animals were killed in the U.S. This shockingly large number prompted animal activists to take charge and initiate the no-kill movement across the U.S. It took 35-years to decrease the euthanasia rate by 16,267,000, which is an amazing accomplishment, but we can do better. The streets of heaven are too crowded with animals tonight.

At the end of every column I ask, “adopt, don’t shop.” Some of you are listening but surely not enough. The streets of heaven are too crowded with animals tonight, so I am now begging you to adopt, don’t shop. A very lonely cat needs your caress. An undernourished dog needs to feel secure in your home. Animals depend on us for everything. Your perfect companion and new best friend is waiting to meet you.

The streets of heaven are too crowded with animals tonight. Adopt, don’t shop.

Barry KuKes is the community outreach director at Halifax Humane Society. He recently published a collection of his columns titled "Why do People Have Pets?" which is available at amzn.to/2RWr2d4

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