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JoAnna Lou
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Overpopulation by the Numbers
The sobering statistics of puppy mills and shelters

The pet overpopulation problem can feel really overwhelming at times and it can be hard to see if rescue efforts are making a real difference. I recently read an article that looked at the juxtaposition of compassion and cruelty--the side of the pet world that pampers our animals like children versus the side that kills millions of them each year. The statistics are sobering, but also provides a little hope (we've greatly reduced euthanasia numbers over the last few decades). I found that looking at the statistics helped me better understand the problem and some of the possible root causes, so I wanted to share a few of the most haunting numbers.

  • At any given time approximately six to eight million pets are in a shelter
  • Only about half of shelter animals will find a forever home
  • Three to four million pets are euthanized each year at shelters across the country
  • Of the pets received by shelters, 30 to 50 percent are "owner surrenders" (the most common reasons: the new landlord didn't allow pets, they had too many animals, and they couldn't afford the cost of food and veterinary care)
  • Puppy mills produce approximately two million animals a year
  • The Animal Welfare Act, the sole federal law regulating puppy mills, only requires that an animal be kept in a cage six inches longer than its body in any direction
  • A study on pet shops and puppy mills in California found that 44 percent of those visited had sick or neglected animals

The article also talked about the rise of puppy mills after World War II. According to dog rescue organizations, the U.S. Department of Agriculture encouraged farmers devastated by the Great Depression to breed puppies as a new "cash crop" for the growing pet store market. That combined with a general view of animals as disposable, overcrowded shelters by 1970 and led to the euthanasia of over 20 million animals.

The good news is that the euthanasia number has decreased significantly to three million. While still huge, we've certainly made a lot of progress since 1970. I think this is due in part to a changing view of pets as part of the family and the internet as an educational resource. This has also spurred spay/neuter efforts, an increase in rescue and advocacy organizations, and an increase in legal action for animal cruelty.

So while the numbers can feel insurmountable, it’s important to see the progress we’ve made and how we can use the statistics to fuel future efforts.

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by Life Lenses/flickr.

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