Pets - Shelters, Pounds, And Euthanasia

animals animal rescue dogs

Despite the popularity of pets, millions of them wind up in public and private shelters each year. The vast majority are dogs or cats. They are turned in by owners who no longer want them or are picked up as strays. Some are lost pets that can be reunited with their owners, but many are homeless animals with no place to go. According to information on the Web site of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in 2005, there are 4,000–6,000 shelters operating in the United States that receive six to eight million dogs and cats each year. Approximately half of these animals are euthanized (killed). The remainder are adopted or reclaimed by owners.


According to the HSUS, the first public "pounds" were constructed during the 1700s to impound stray livestock. As American society changed from rural to urban, these facilities switched their focus to stray dogs and became dog pounds. Rabies was a serious public health threat well into the twentieth century, with thousands of cases reported each year. The vast majority of cases were contracted by people from domestic dogs, so animal control departments operated dog pounds as part of public health and safety programs. Their mission was to protect people rather than to ensure the welfare of the dogs.

Following World War II (1939–45), rabies vaccinations for dogs became mandatory in the United States. This program, combined with effective stray dog control, dramatically reduced the occurrence of rabies in dogs. The New York State Health Department recorded up to 200 rabid dogs in the state each year between 1925 and 1944, but by 1959 that number had dropped to twenty to fifty each year, and by 1989 dog rabies had been virtually eliminated in the state. Similar results were obtained across the country. Pounds continued to pick up stray dogs (and cats, by this time) but did so more to control aggressive and nuisance animals and "clean the streets" than as rabies protection. Pounds also became centralized facilities for people to get rid of unwanted pets.

Dog pounds came to be called animal shelters. They held stray animals for a few days (if there was room) to see if their owners would reclaim them. If not, unwanted strays and pets were sold to research laboratories or given to anyone who wanted them. Unclaimed and unplaced animals were killed using whatever means were available. Public animal shelters received little funding from local governments, and humane treatment and euthanasia were not a priority in most jurisdictions.

This began to change as the animal welfare movement gained momentum during the 1960s and 1970s. Shelters came under increasing pressure to focus on welfare issues in addition to public health and nuisance concerns. Some municipal governments began contracting their shelter operations to nonprofit animal welfare organizations, like local humane societies and rescue groups. These organizations held fund-raisers and were able to secure private donations to help shelters operate. However, most shelters continued to euthanize large numbers of animals as the homeless animal population surged out of control.

Shelter euthanasia of owned animals, 1973, 1982, 1992, and 2000
SOURCE: Deborah J. Salem, and Andrew N. Rowan, "Table 1. Shelter Euthanasia of Owned Animals," in The State of the Animals: 2001, Humane Society of the United States, 2001

Year Total owned dogs and cats Euthanized Approximate % of owned animals euthanized
1973 65 million 13.5 million 21.0
1982 92 million 8–10 million 10.0
1992 110 million 5–6 million 5.5
2000 120 million 4–6 million 4.5


The word "euthanasia" comes from a Greek term meaning "good death." During the 1800s, it was first used to describe mercy killing conducted with the approval of the law. In the twentieth century euthanasia of shelter animals was conducted on a massive scale.

Shelter euthanasia rates are tracked nationally by the HSUS and a group called Animal People. Animal People was founded in 1992 and publishes information about animal protection groups worldwide. In general, euthanasia rates have been dropping since the late twentieth century. The HSUS reports that the number of euthanized cats and dogs has dropped considerably in the United States, from about 13.5 million deaths per year in 1973 to four to six million deaths in 2000, while over the same period the total number of cats and dogs has nearly doubled. (See Table 9.1.) In early 2005 the HSUS Web site estimated that three to five million dogs and cats were euthanized annually in American shelters.

Statistics from Animal People are provided in Figure 9.2. They estimate that 4.2 million shelter animals were euthanized in 2002, a record low. The group bases its estimates on data collected from individual cities or states around the country. In 2002 data collected represented nearly 40% of the U.S. human population.

According to Animal People there are regional differences in the data. In general, shelters located in the Northeast have the lowest euthanasia rates, while shelters in the Southeast have the highest rates. This is attributed to several factors, including the weather, the availability of low-cost spay-neuter programs, and animal control policies. The cold winters in the Northeast lower the fertility rates of dogs and cats and claim the lives of stray animals so that fewer end up in shelters to begin with. Animal welfare organizations are much more predominant in the Northeast and provide low-cost spay-neuter programs that help keep down populations of unwanted animals. Many Northeastern municipalities charge pet owners licensing fees with higher amounts for unfixed animals. This is far less common in the South.

Euthanasia Methods

Although the public assumes that animals euthanized at shelters are killed by lethal injection, this is not always true. The AVMA maintains a list of approved euthanasia methods for various types of animals. According to the AVMA, "Euthanasia techniques should result in rapid loss of consciousness followed by cardiac or respiratory arrest and the ultimate loss of brain function. In addition, the technique should minimize distress and anxiety experienced by the animal prior to loss of consciousness." However, the AVMA admits that "the absence of pain and distress cannot always be achieved."

Acceptable euthanasia methods for dogs and cats include intravenous injection of barbiturates (such as sodium pentobarbital or secobarbital) or potassium chloride/anesthetic or gassing the animals with inhalant anesthetics (such as ether), carbon dioxide, or carbon monoxide gas. In addition, gassing with nitrogen or argon is considered acceptable with some reservations on dogs and cats, as are the use of electrocution and penetrating captive bolts (bolts shot at point-blank range from a gun into the animal's skull, which if shot at the proper location destroy enough brain tissue to kill the animal instantly) on dogs only. Each of the methods, along with its advantages and disadvantages, is described in the "2000 Report of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia" published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association on March 1, 2001.

The report notes that injection of barbiturates intravenously (within a vein) is the preferred method of euthanasia for horses, dogs, cats, and other small animals. Advantages include rapid and smooth action, minimal physical distress to the animal if the procedure is performed correctly, and relatively low cost compared to other options. The main disadvantages are that each animal must be personally restrained for the procedure, and personnel must be properly trained in giving injections. Also, barbiturates are federally controlled substances that can be purchased only using a Drug Enforcement Administration registration and order form. Their use is controlled by state law, and there are specific record-keeping requirements that must be met.

As of 2005, the HSUS recommended injection of sodium pentobarbital as the preferred euthanasia method for companion animals. Intravenous injection is the recommended route of delivery, but intraperitoneal (within the peritoneal cavity in the abdomen) injection is considered acceptable for cats, kittens, and puppies in which intravenous injections cannot be administered easily. Intracardiac injection (within the heart) is considered acceptable only if the animal is already unconscious. Intrahepatic injection (within the liver) is not considered acceptable, because of lack of scientific study on the procedure. The HSUS recommends that euthanasia of each animal be carried out by two people—one to hold FIGURE 9.2
Number of animals euthanized in shelters, 1970, 1980, 1992, and 1999–2002
SOURCE: Adapted from "Latest Data Shows Shelter Killing Down to 4.2 Million/Year," in Animal People News, Animal People, Inc., July/August 2003, February 22, 2005)
the animal and one to administer the injection. Both the AVMA and the HSUS stress that shelter personnel performing euthanasia must be well trained.

Lethal injection is a hands-on procedure in which animals and personnel come into close physical contact. When shelters first began practicing humane euthanasia, it was thought that a hands-off approach would be easier for the workers performing euthanasia. Gas chambers were common because the euthanizer could perform the procedure from outside the chamber by opening a valve or flipping a switch.

Many shelters still use gassing to euthanize unwanted animals. Although the use of poisonous gases is considered acceptable by the AVMA, the organization notes that "any gas that is inhaled must reach a certain concentration in the alveoli before it can be effective; therefore, euthanasia with any of these agents takes some time." Animal welfarists roundly condemn gassing as a means of euthanasia. In 1998 the state of California passed a law prohibiting the use of carbon monoxide chambers for euthanizing shelter animals.

In August 2003 the news organization CNN reported a story about a dog who survived a gas chamber at the animal shelter run by the city of St. Louis, Missouri ("Miracle Dog Survives Gas Chamber," August 7, 2003). An animal control officer says that when she opened the door after the gassing, the dog was standing there, wagging his tail. She asked a local rescue group (Stray Rescue of St. Louis) to take the dog, saying she did not have the heart to gas him again. The head of the rescue group called the dog's survival "a miracle or divine intervention." The dog was given the name Quentin (after the infamous San Quentin prison in California) and put up for adoption.

Animal shelter workers have an incredibly stressful and emotionally demanding job. Many get into the line of work because they care about animals. Most humane organizations believe that the solution to the euthanization problem lies in aggressive sterilization campaigns, better education of pet owners, and successful adoption programs.

Spaying and Neutering

Overpopulation of dogs and cats is a tremendous problem. It is aggravated by the fact that these animals reproduce at very high rates. According to data available in 2003 on the Web site of SpayUSA, a nonprofit organization founded in 1992 to educate people about pet FIGURE 9.3
Number of dogs and cats produced by one unspayed female of each species, her mate, and all of their offspring
overpopulation, approximately 70,000 puppies and kittens are born every day in America. This means that twenty-five million more dogs and cats require homes each year. Figure 9.3 shows the number of dogs and cats resulting over just a few years from one unspayed female.

Experts generally agree that massive and sustained birth-control methods must be implemented on dog and cat populations to bring the problem under control. Surgical sterilization of female animals is called spaying, or removal of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus. Male animals are neutered or castrated by having their testicles removed. Pet owners commonly refer to these sterilization procedures as "fixing" or "altering" an animal. Increasingly, animal groups use the term neuter to refer to sterilization of either males or females.

Veterinarians have been promoting spaying and neutering of pets for several decades. According to the AVMA, sterilization has many medical, behavioral, and social benefits, including:

  • Female pets do not go into heat (have fertile cycles) during which scents are emitted that attract male animals. Dogs in heat also discharge blood droplets. Sterilization eliminates bloodstains on floors and carpets and the problems associated with male animals that gather and often fight over females in heat.
  • Sterilization usually stops male cats (toms) from marking their territory by spraying strong-smelling urine.
  • Sterilization makes pets more attentive to their owners and more likely to stay at home than wander.
  • Sterilized females cannot develop uterine infections and are less likely to develop mammary cancer.
  • Sterilized males usually become less aggressive.
  • Sterilization causes most pets to be more affectionate and gentle with their human companions.
  • Sterilization helps reduce the number of stray and unwanted animals in the community. This is advantageous for public health and safety reasons and reduces the enormous cost to taxpayers and private agencies of capturing, impounding, and destroying millions of unwanted animals each year.

Some pet owners are resistant to spaying and neutering their pets. Their reasons can include one or more of the following common myths:

  • Surgery costs too much or is too painful for the pet.
  • Having a litter can be good for the pet and educational for the children.
  • Fixed animals get fat and lazy.
  • Backyard breeding is a fun hobby that brings in extra money.
  • Male animals do not need to be fixed because they do not have litters. FIGURE 9.3
    Number of dogs and cats produced by one unspayed female of each species, her mate, and all of their offspring [CONTINUED]
    SOURCE: Adapted from "Did You Know?" in How Quickly Cats Can Multiply Pyramid and How Quickly Dogs Can Multiply Pyramid, Spay USA, The Pet Savers Foundation, 2005, (accessed March 17, 2005)
  • Neutering male dogs robs them of their masculinity and makes them less protective as guard dogs.
  • Sterilization is unnatural. Many states and municipalities actively encourage spaying and neutering of pets as a means to reduce over-population. Those with licensing programs usually charge pet owners a lower registration fee if their pets are sterilized. In 2005 the fees for unfixed pets were typically $10–$25 higher than for fixed pets. A number of states also sell special license plates that benefit spay/neuter programs.

Increasingly, animal shelters spay and neuter dogs and cats prior to adoption or require new owners to do so within a certain time period after adoption. In 1998 California passed a law that requires pre-adoption sterilization of dogs and cats. The San Francisco SPCA was one of the first humane groups in the United States to offer low-cost and early spay/neuter surgery.

Low-cost clinics are often run by humane organizations. They operate under nonprofit status, which allows them to save on overhead and tax costs. They offer discounted rates either to the general public or to those people who have adopted an animal from their shelter. The rates can be as much as 50% less than those charged by veterinarians in private practice. Such clinics are not without controversy. Some veterinarians complain that the clinics have an unfair advantage because of their nonprofit status. A few states have passed laws that prohibit veterinarians associated with nonprofit groups from operating low-cost spay/neuter clinics. Advocates of the clinics insist that they provide a much-needed service and help to reduce animal overpopulation.

In the past, veterinarians recommended sterilization for dogs and cats around six months of age. During the mid-1990s, many humane organizations began advocating early spay/neuter (ESN) programs. Most clinics practicing ESN will perform the surgery on kittens and puppies at least eight weeks old. Shelters flooded with kittens and puppies have heartily embraced the practice because it allows them to sterilize young animals before they are adopted. Some veterinarians are worried about the long-term effects of ESN surgery on the animals' young bones and express concern that it could cause abnormalities in skeletal growth. However, as of 2003, no definitive scientific studies had proven this. Veterinarians report that puppies and kittens that undergo ESN recover from the surgery much quicker than their older counterparts.

In April 2003 the FDA approved use of the drug Neutersol (zinc gluconate neutralized by arginine) for chemical sterilization of three- to ten-month-old puppies. The drug is injected into the testicles and works by stopping the production of sperm. It does not eliminate the hormone testosterone, as traditional neutering does. This may be a drawback, as testosterone is considered a major factor in behavior problems seen in unaltered dogs. According to the manufacturer, Neutersol is 99.6% effective, and the injection does not require that the puppy be put under general anesthesia. The FDA recommends that puppies be sedated prior to the injection to eliminate movement and to help with any pain. Neutersol is expected to be used mostly at animal shelters that wish to sterilize dogs prior to adoption but do not have ready access to a surgical clinic.

No-Kill Shelters

Some animal welfarists and members of the public criticize shelters for using euthanasia at all. They believe that every animal that enters a shelter deserves the opportunity to be adopted no matter how long it takes. Critics say that this viewpoint is unrealistic. They point out that some animals are too aggressive, injured, or sick to be adopted. There is no practical alternative but to euthanize them. Also, some pet owners rely on shelters rather than private veterinarians to euthanize their sick and elderly pets.

During the 1990s the concept of "no-kill" shelters became very popular. The name implies that no animals are ever euthanized in these shelters—an idea that appeals to many people. In reality, most no-kill shelters still euthanize animals that are unadoptable due to illness or temperament. Some traditional shelters (or open-admission shelters, as they are called) do not like the use of the term no-kill. They feel it can be very misleading and accuse some organizations of using the phrase just to gain financial support and political favor. Welfare organizations argue among themselves about the exact definition of no-kill and which animals are adoptable.

The truth is that all shelters (public and private) operate with limited space, personnel, and financial budgets. The people who run them must make life-and-death decisions about the animals that enter the facilities. These decisions are based on moral, political, social, and financial considerations. Professor Taimie Bryant teaches courses about animal law and nonprofit organizations at the UCLA law school. In a 1998 article, Bryant argued that traditional shelters are reluctant to give up the use of euthanasia, seeing it as a necessary evil and an issue that pits themselves, performers of a public service, against a public that refuses to spay and neuter its pets ("No-Kill Movement: No-Kill Legislation,", accessed June 11, 2005). Shelters, on the other hand, feel euthanasia is the most compassionate option, though not at all a desirable one. In the January-February 1996 issue of its Animal Sheltering magazine, for example, the HSUS noted, "Euthanasia of shelter animals to make room for others is a tragic necessity that prevents animal suffering."

While the HSUS wishes euthanasia were not necessary, it also recognizes some of the practical drawbacks of the no-kill idea. In the January-February 2002 issue of Animal Sheltering, authors Nancy Lawson and Carrie Allen published a series of articles entitled "What Would It Take?" The articles describe how the no-kill idea became an advertising and fund-raising slogan for some animal organizations that use it to set themselves apart from traditional shelters.

Popularization of the no-kill idea is generally credited to Richard Avanzino, president of the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) from 1976 to 1999. During this period, the city achieved the lowest euthanasia rate of any urban city in the nation. The San Francisco SPCA started adoption, spay/neuter, and animal management programs that became models for every other welfare organization. In 1992 Avanzino spoke at an HSUS workshop in Las Vegas on the no-kill movement. He advocated no-kill as a concept and a mission for welfarists, not as a weapon to use against traditional shelters in fund-raising campaigns.

The "What Would It Take?" articles also recount the difficulties that some organizations encountered when they tried to become no-kill shelters. In 1995 the Humane Society of Gallatin Valley in Bozeman, Montana, decided to institute a no-euthanasia policy. However, as the only shelter in the city it also decided to continue accepting any animal that was relinquished. The shelter soon became overwhelmed, and animal welfare suffered. The director reported that "animals who came in adoptable quickly became unadoptable in a crowded environment that wore on their temperaments and made them sick."

The same problem led some organizations to limit their shelter admissions. Critics say that such shelters do not really serve their communities by accepting only the "cute and cuddly" and turning away difficult-to-adopt animals. This practice is seen as self-serving. It allows these shelters to practice a true no-kill policy but burdens neighboring shelters with the animals they turn away. Yet the opposite policy can be just as troublesome. In "What Would It Take?" various people described well-meaning shelter groups that refused to euthanize any animals, even typically unadoptable animals such as aggressive dogs. These animals took up cage space and resources that could have been devoted to animals with a reasonable chance of being adopted. Deciding which course of action is a better one is difficult.

The no-kill label is a powerful public relations tool. Many people prefer to donate money to an organization or shelter that advertises itself as no-kill, but no-kill does not necessarily mean no euthanasia. It also does not guarantee that the animals are being properly cared for and kept in clean, uncrowded, disease-free conditions. Critics say that some people who want to warehouse or hoard animals adopt the label in order to raise funds. Others may begin with the best intentions and quickly become overwhelmed by the number of animals with severe physical and emotional problems requiring extensive surgery and/or rehabilitation.

Several major cities are already operating or working toward no-kill status. In 1994 the San Francisco SPCA formed an adoption pact with city animal control officials to become the first U.S. city with a no-kill policy. Shelters in Miami, Florida; Richmond, Virginia; and Austin, Texas, have followed suit.

Some organizations and shelters that follow the no-kill philosophy downplay use of the label to describe themselves. For example, the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary was founded in 1984 and is the largest animal sanctuary in the United States. Funded by private donations and located on 23,000 acres near Kenab, Utah, the sanctuary housed roughly 1,500 animals as of 2005. Most are dogs and cats. The remainder includes horses, burros, birds, rabbits, goats, livestock, and other animals. Best Friends takes in animals from all over the country and occasionally from other countries. Some come from shelters where they were considered unadoptable and were going to be euthanized. They may be old, crippled, or sick with chronic illnesses, or may have been traumatized by abuse or neglect. In exchange for taking these animals, the sanctuary asks many of the shelters to take back adoptable animals from Best Friends.

According to information available on the Best Friends Web site in 2005, approximately 75% of the animals that come into the sanctuary are readily adoptable or become so following rehabilitation. Others are kept permanently at the sanctuary. Best Friends founder Michael Mountain is a solid supporter of the no-kill policy. The sanctuary defines no-kill as follows: "No-kill means that animals are not destroyed except in cases of terminal and painful illness, when compassion demands euthanasia because there is no reasonable alternative." As of 2005, Best Friends did not display a no-kill label on its Web site. Instead, it used the slogan "No More Homeless Pets."

Another major organization that supports the no-kill idea is called Maddie's Fund. It was founded by billionaire TABLE 9.2
Ten reasons Maddie's Fund recommends becoming a nokill shelter
SOURCE: "Ten Reasons Your Shelter Should Consider No Kill," in Ten Reasons Your Shelter Should Consider No Kill, Maddie's Fund, 2005, (accessed March 17, 2005)

  1. Boosts adoptions.
  2. Attracts and retains more volunteers.
  3. Improves staff morale.
  4. Generates greater community support.
  5. Creates better alignment with charitable mission.
  6. Enhances image.
  7. Increases management skills.
  8. Generates more funding.
  9. Expands organizational options.
  10. Establishes eligibility for Maddie's Fund grant.

Dave Duffield and his wife, Cheryl, and named after their beloved miniature schnauzer Maddie, who died of cancer in 1997. According to information available on its Web site in 2005, Maddie's Fund is a pet rescue foundation "helping to fund the creation of a no-kill nation." Maddie's Fund advocates a community approach in which animal control agencies, shelters, humane organizations, and private-practice veterinarians work together to achieve no-kill status. Table 9.2 shows the top ten reasons given by Maddie's Fund for a shelter to consider implementing a no-kill policy. Maddie's fund provides grants to community coalitions, veterinary medical associations, and colleges of veterinary medicine for programs that advance the no-kill goal.

Six spay/neuter programs had been completed by Maddie's Fund as of January 2005:

  • A $9.5 million program to alter feral cats operated by the California Veterinary Medical Association from July 1999 to May 2002 performed free spay/neuters on 170,334 feral cats.
  • A $2.4 million spay/neuter program operated by the California Veterinary Medical Association from July 2001 to May 2002 performed low-cost surgeries on more than 37,000 dogs and cats belonging to low-income caregivers in California.
  • A $241,276 spay/neuter program operated by the Utah Veterinary Medical Association assisted 4,820 dogs and cats of low-income Utah residents and feral cats in the state.
  • A $400,000 spay/neuter program operated by the Texas Veterinary Medical Association in 2002–03 assisted 6,000 dogs and cats of low-income residents.
  • A $2 million spay/neuter program operated by the Alabama Veterinary Medical Association in 2002–03 performed low-cost surgeries on 36,047 dogs and cats of low-income residents. TABLE 9.3
    Organizations participating in the Mayor's Alliance for New York City's Animals
    SOURCE: "Mayor's Alliance Participating Organizations," in Funded Projects: Community Projects: Maddie's Pet Rescue Project in New York City, Maddie's Fund, 2005, (accessed February 18, 2005)
    Abandoned Angels Cocker Spaniel Rescue Long Island Bulldog Club/Rescue
    A Cause for Paws Long Island Greyhound Transfer
    Adopt A Boxer Rescue Loving Touch
    Adopt-A-Dog Metropolitan Maltese Rescue (MeteroMalts)
    American Bulldog Rescue Mighty Mutts
    American Bullmastiff Association Rescue Program Miss Rumple's Orphanage
    American Foundation for Animal Rescue (AFAR) My Lovable Rescues
    ASPCA Neighborhood Cats
    Animal Adoption Network New England Border Collie Rescue
    Animal Care and Control of New York City (AC&C) New England Old English sheepdog rescue
    Animal Haven New Hampshire Humane Society
    Animal Rescue Force (ARF) New York Siamese Rescue
    Animals Can't Talk (ACT) The Noah's Ark Project
    Animal Welfare Society North Country Animal League
    Art for Animals Northeastern Boxer Rescue
    Bide-A-Wee Nutmeg Golden Rescue
    Bobbi & the Strays NY PET-I-CARE Adoption Program
    Boxer Angels Rescue Only Hope Cat Rescue
    Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition (BARC) Orphaned Pets, Inc.
    Cat Assistance Inc. Paws All Around
    The Cat Lady Paws to Love Adoptions
    City Critters People for Animals
    Companion Animal Network Peppertree Rescue
    CSM Stray Foundation (USA) Inc. Pet Adoption League, Inc./Chow Rescue of NY
    Doberman Rescue Unlimited P.L.U.T.O Rescue of Richmond County
    Earth Angels Canine Rescue Rawhide Pet Rescue
    Feline Rescue of Staten Island Red Hook Dog Rescue
    For Our Friends Renaissance Project Animal Rescue
    Francis's Friends S.A.V.E. Animal Rescue
    French Bulldog Rescue Network Scottish Terrier Club of Greater New York
    German Shepherd Rescue of Southeastern Pennsylvania in Brooklyn, NY Second Chance Labrador Retriever Rescue
    Glen Highland Farm/Sweet Border Collie Rescue The Sheltering Wing Bird Preservation and Adoptions
    Glen Wild Animal Rescue Shore Hearts Golden Retriever Rescue
    Gotham City Kitties Slope Street Cats
    Green Mountain Pug Rescue Small Paws Rescue-Bichon Frise
    Heart and Hand Society Social Tees Animal Rescue Foundation
    Herding Dog Rescue Spay/Neuter Intervention Project (SNIP)
    House Rabbit Society Staten Island Council for Animal Welfare (SICAW)
    Humane Society of New York Stray from the Heart
    Husky House NYC Tails in Need
    Internet Miniature Pinscher Service Tigger Foundation
    Italian Greyhound Rescue-NYC Tri-State Basset Hound Rescue
    K9Kastle United Action for animals
    KittyKaretakers of Queens Urban Cat League
    KittyKind Waggin' Train
    Patricia H. Ladew Foundation Waggytail Rescue
    Le Cats on the Water Willing Hearts Dalmatian Rescue
    Little Shelter Animal Rescue & Adoption Center Woof Dog Rescue
    Linda's Feral Cat Assistance
  • A $920,666 cat–altering program operated by the California Veterinary Medical Association in 2000–01 assisted 16,525 cats of low-income caregivers.

In February 2005 Maddie's Fund pledged $15.5 million to help New York City achieve no-kill status. In December 2002 officials in New York City announced plans to convert all of the city's shelters to no-kill by the year 2008. The effort is being spearheaded by the Mayor's Alliance—a coalition of dozens of animal welfare groups. (See Table 9.3.) Experts believe that the program has an excellent chance of success because the Mayor's Alliance is a neutral party rather than a particular animal group with its own agenda. Animal welfare organizations in the city do not have a history of working well together on common goals. The program will increase public awareness about adoptions and spay/neuter programs at the shelters. A new agreement was reached on how the city's animal control operations will coordinate with rescue groups and shelters to reach the no-kill goal.

The grant money provided by Maddie's Fund included $9.5 million to bolster the city's adoption programs and $6 million to subsidize spay/neuter programs for low-income residents. New York City's shelters housed 56,175 dogs and cats in 2003 and euthanized 31,701 of them. Maddie's Fund estimated that approximately 14,000 of the euthanized animals were healthy.

The top 10 reasons for pet relinquishment
SOURCE: "The Top Ten Reasons We Give Up Our Pets," in Exploring the Surplus Cat and Dog Problem, National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, 1997

Dogs Cats
  1. Moving
  2. Landlord issues
  3. Cost of pet maintenance
  4. No time for pet
  5. Inadequate facilities
  6. Too many pets in home
  7. Pet illness(es)
  8. Personal problems
  9. Biting
  10. No homes for littermates
  1. Too many in house
  2. Allergies
  3. Moving
  4. Cost of pet maintenance
  5. Landlord issues
  6. No homes for littermates
  7. House soiling
  8. Personal problems
  9. Pet illness(es)
  10. Inadequate facilities
Note: The listings here represent responses given as reasons for relinquishment. Up to five reasons could be given for each animal as owners often cite multiple issues. Animals relinquished for euthanasia due to illness or age, and animals turned in as strays were excluded from this list as these reasons do not necessarily represent breaking of the human-animal bond. Eight of the top ten reasons for both species are shared.

Owner Turn-ins

Many of the animals turned into shelters are pets that people have tired of, do not want, or cannot take care of anymore. The National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP) was formed in 1993. It is a national group of humane organizations, breeder groups, and veterinary associations with the goal of lowering the number of surplus pets in the country.

NCPPSP researchers performed a survey in 1997 at twelve shelters around the country to find out why dog and cat owners were turning in their pets. The top ten reasons that owners gave are shown in Table 9.4. Many owners gave multiple reasons for giving up their pets. In general, the study found that the owners had unrealistic expectations for their pets and lacked the knowledge or will to work out problems that arose.

Moving was the number one reason given by owners relinquishing their dogs to the shelters. (See Table 9.4.) However, the researchers found upon interviewing these owners that there were deeper issues involved, mainly behavior problems. In other words, owners that were moving decided to give up their dogs rather than take them along, because the dogs were unruly. The survey indicated that if the dogs were better behaved, they might have been kept and taken along to the new residence. Similar findings have been reported by humane organizations investigating dog turn-ins at other shelters.

Many organizations believe that shelters need to place greater emphasis on behavior problems. Some shelters now offer training classes to new dog owners or have volunteers work with shelter dogs on basic obedience lessons. It is hoped that this will reduce the number of shelter-adopted dogs that are later relinquished. Breeders and veterinarians are being urged to encourage new dog owners to enroll in obedience classes or seek help from professional trainers. All people involved in reducing pet overpopulation agree that pet owners need to be better educated about the responsibilities and issues involved in raising pets.

Pound Seizure

Following World War II, the use of animals in laboratory testing and experimentation increased greatly. Researchers turned to pounds and shelters for a quick and cheap supply of unwanted animals. Many states passed laws that required publicly operated shelters to turn over animals to institutions that requested them, a practice called pound seizure. Animal welfarists were disturbed by this development and blamed the National Society for Medical Research (now the National Association for Biomedical Research) for pushing pound seizure legislation. Many welfare organizations contracted with their local municipalities to privatize shelter operations so that their shelter would not be subject to the laws.

In 1990 the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) was amended to set a minimum holding period of five days for shelter animals before release to research institutions. This is designed to provide a window of opportunity for owners to find their missing pets or for the animals to be adopted by new owners. The AWA also includes record-keeping requirements for dealers who sell shelter animals to research institutions.

Animal rights activists and welfarists universally condemn pound seizure. According to the Web site of the American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS), in 2005 three states—Utah, Oklahoma, and Minnesota—still required publicly funded shelters to provide dogs and/or cats for research purposes. Most states legally allow pound seizure or do not address the issue. In some states the decision is left up to local government authorities. A few states require owners giving up animals to indicate whether or not they give permission for release to research institutions. On its Web site, the AAVS includes a state-by-state listing of laws regarding pound seizure.

According to information on the Web site of the organization In Defense of Animals (IDA) in 2005, thirteen states had outlawed pound seizure: Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia. IDA claims that some cash-strapped shelters engage in pound seizure illegally to raise funds. There are also accusations that shelters hide some animals from public view during the required five-day holding period and then sell them to dealers or research facilities. IDA suggests that pound seizure puts all pets in a community at greater risk of being stolen.

The Michigan Society for Medical Research (MSMR) says that Massachusetts alone prohibits the use of pound-seizure animals in medical research, and that the other twelve states listed above specifically prohibit the use of pound-seizure animals obtained from in-state shelters. In other words, these twelve states do permit the use of pound-seizure animals obtained from out-of-state shelters only. This means that forty-nine states allow pound seizure in some form.

Those who support pound seizure argue that animals that are going to be euthanized by shelters anyway should be used in research. They feel the benefits to humans outweigh animal welfare concerns. Welfarists fear that pets turned over to laboratories will suffer from poor care and die slow, painful deaths as the subjects of medical experiments. They believe that euthanasia at the shelter is preferable to this alternative.

The Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) is a nonprofit organization concerned with medical issues. The group advocates alternatives to animal experimentation for educational and research purposes. According to PCRM, research institutions prefer test animals that are relatively calm, well socialized, and easy to handle. However, these types of animals are also the most likely to be adopted from shelters. Therefore, PCRM disputes the claim that pound seizure is justified because the animals involved would be euthanized anyway.

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over 8 years ago

Extremely helpful information!! Thank you!

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over 7 years ago

I am doing a research project and this website is exactly what I need. Thanks!

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almost 8 years ago

Is it possible to obtain the latest figures from about2008to 2011 for ekuthanasia of canines in New York City and New York State.We are a
501(c)3 animal rescue orgn, 20 years in operation - website We are looking into why North Shore Animal League is taking numerous animals from our shelters here in Columbia, SC and other areas south of New York state and are wondering if NY State has a shortage of animals to be euthaized!

This is disturbing to us and was quite frequent when we started PETS, Inc in 1992 and were even approached by North Shore fo 'select' puppies. Having lived in NY years ago and volunteered with rescue groups, I find these actions, to say the last, bizarre!
Patricia McQueen, PETS Inc, The Carolinas Humane Society. 2010 Recipients of Lifetime Angel Award
from SC Secretarly of State.

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almost 8 years ago

this is NOT helpful!!

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about 8 years ago

RE: RE: A few states have passed laws that prohibit veterinarians associated with nonprofit groups from operating low-cost spay/neuter clinics //
Do you have a list of the states in which the above law has been passed? Thank you for this info and all the info on your website.

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over 8 years ago

This is cool that people are able to get the mortgage loans moreover, it opens new chances.

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over 8 years ago

If this email gets read I have an idea I would like to discuss.
Please email me if you are interested. Domestic animal related issues.

Thank You

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