More Dogs Than Ever Euthanized as Shelters Hit Capacity

Nevena Nacic
by Nevena Nacic

Each year millions of cats and dogs enter shelters and rescues nationwide. Almost a million more animals have entered and lingered in the nation’s shelters in the last three years, resulting in an ongoing capacity crisis. 

Last year, 3.2 million dogs entered shelters and rescue organizations nationwide. More than 359,000 dogs were euthanized in 2023, compared to 330,000 cats that were euthanized last year. This marks a four-year peak in non-live outcomes for dogs and the first time the number of dogs euthanized has surpassed the number of euthanized cats.  

These heartbreaking findings were published in an annual report of shelter populations compiled by Shelter Animals Count, an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization founded in 2012. 

“Everywhere you turn, the shelters are in crisis,” said the organization’s executive director Stephanie Filer. “It’s truly about an imbalance of animals coming in at faster rates than they’re leaving.”

According to Filer, for years cats were considered most at risk because they entered shelters at high rates, but faced low adoption rates. However, focused efforts to reverse these trends are giving results, and the newest data shows a positive shift.

“We have seen major positive change,” said Filer. “Adoption rates are high and intakes have decreased, and there are efforts to keep cats at home or in their communities.”

Unfortunately, dog programs are suffering, with adoption rates significantly lower than in recent years. 

“Too many dogs are entering shelters and being left behind,” added Filer, according to USA Today. “Unlike cat adoptions, which continue to increase, dog adoptions have essentially flatlined.”

When people think of animal shelters, most imagine scores of large-sized mixed breeds and pit bulls. But in reality, there are purebreds like huskies, French bulldogs, Labradors, and even designer dogs.

The one thing no animal advocate thought possible happened - the rates of dog euthanasia surpassed the rates of cat euthanasia for the first time in a long time. 

The real reason we’re saying, ‘Wow,’ is that it wasn’t that way for a lot of years. And now it is,” said Filer.

More than 6.5 million cats and dogs ended up in U.S. shelters and rescues in 2023. While the number of intakes remained relatively steady, this was the fourth consecutive year of overpopulation. While more dogs were adopted in 2023 than in 2022, the adoption rates were insufficient to meet the demand.

The high cost of living, job loss, and housing cost challenges are the main reasons adoption rates aren’t keeping up with animal intake. At the end of 2023, an additional 70,000 cats and 107,000 dogs are waiting for a forever home in one of the many shelters and rescues nationwide. 

With more animals entering shelters than leaving, animal welfare organizations and their communities need to continue working together to keep pets in loving homes and out of shelters, including finding ways to increase access to veterinary care and advocating for pet-friendly housing policies,” said Matt Bershadker, president and the CEO of ASPCA.

Experts agree that the promotion of shelter adoptions is the best way to solve the ongoing capacity crisis. Adopting an animal from a shelter saves a life, but it also supports the struggling shelters and their staff. 

Although adopting a cat or a dog from a shelter isn’t possible for everyone, there are other things you can do to help. Volunteering in your local shelter, fostering a pet, or donating are great ways to get involved and help alleviate the shelter crisis.

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Nevena Nacic
Nevena Nacic

Nevena is a freelance writer and a proud mom of Teo, a 17-year-old poodle, and Bob, a rescued grey tabby cat. Since childhood, she had a habit of picking up strays and bringing them home (luckily, her parents didn't know how to say NO). When she's not writing for her fellow pet parents, Nevena can be found watching Teo sleep. To her defense, that's not as creepy as it sounds!

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