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The President’s Blog: Are Animal Shelter Outcomes Improving?

Matt Bershadker, ASPCA President & CEO, shares recent trends in nationwide shelter data that show how far we’ve come as a field—and what we need to do next.


While each life saved is a victory unto itself, it’s crucial that our work in the animal sheltering field is measured quantitatively as well as qualitatively. Our cause is too important to not be constantly analyzing data in search of ways to increase our impact, which is why the ASPCA has always relied on research as a foundation for our work.

In keeping with that philosophy, we recently analyzed nationwide shelter data with the goal of identifying trends related to the number of dogs and cats entering U.S. shelters as well as their range of outcomes. The statistics provide a sharper look at where we are as a field, how far we’ve come and what we need to do next.


By the Numbers

Our report reveals:

  • Approximately 6.5 million companion animals entered U.S. animal shelters in 2016, a decrease from 7.2 million in 2011.
  • An estimated 1.5 million companion animals were euthanized in U.S. animal shelters in 2016, a decrease from about 2.6 million in 2011.
  • An estimated 3.2 million shelter animals were adopted in 2016 (1.6 million dogs and 1.6 million cats), up from 2.7 million adoptions in 2011. That reflects an 18.5 percent increase in national adoptions.

Dr. Emily Weiss, our Vice President of Research & Development who oversaw the research, attributes the positive trend to factors including:

  • Fewer financial restrictions and other barriers for adopters 
  • Easier community access to affordable spay/neuter services
  • Increased numbers of lost animals reunited with their owners
  • More widespread awareness that shelter animals make loving, loyal pets

Getting to Zero Is Unrealistic

Though there’s plenty of rhetoric around the idea of reducing euthanasia and intake rates to an absolute zero, there will unfortunately always be dogs and cats too sick or injured to have an acceptable quality of life, or who exhibit such extreme aggression that they are too dangerous to place in a home.

Pushing unrealistic goals is counterproductive, setting up struggling shelters and rescue organizations for destructive criticism when what they and their animals need most are constructive support and resources.

To bring down the number of hard-to-adopt animals at risk of euthanasia, at the ASPCA we’re exploring innovative programs that rehabilitate abused and neglected animals and continuing our opposition to breed-specific legislation that unfairly limits animals’ chances at adoption.


More Obstacles and Opportunities

Our research also shows clear regional disparities, specifically in parts of the South and West. The field has been addressing this challenge by relocating animals from areas of overcrowding to locales where certain types of dogs and cats are in short supply. The ASPCA now has three targeted routeson the West Coast, Midwest and East Coastthrough which we have transported over 25,000 dogs and cats since 2014; we’ll move an additional 19,000 in 2017.

We also see more cats than dogs euthanized in shelters. This reinforces the need for cat owners to provide their pets with ID collars and microchips. We also join the field in encouraging local trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs to reduce the size of community cat colonies. To further address issues specific to at-risk cats, we recently joined forces with Maddie’s Fund® and the Million Cat Challenge. If you’re unfamiliar with the Challenge, learn more and become an official “Challenger” here.

One of the greatest areas of opportunity isn’t about what happens inside a shelter, but outside it. Past research conducted by the ASPCA shows that offering low- or no-cost services to pet owners in need effectively keeps at-risk dogs and cats in their homes. The ASPCA is conducting programs like these in parts of Los Angeles and New York City, and plans are in place to expand to high-need communities in Miami.

Finally, we need to end the individual and organized cruelty that puts many animals in peril even after their rescue. This includes active support for laws and regulations that combat puppy mills and dog fighting, as well as criminal sentences that match the nature of animal cruelty crimes committed.


Maintaining Our Commitment

We are thrilled to see the downward trend in euthanasia, but that doesn’t mean we should cut back efforts or weaken our resolve to help vulnerable animals in our communities. The fact is, too many animals are still in crisis. It’s important to see these trends not as fixed accomplishments, but as a sign that we’re moving in the right direction. Let them also serve as motivation to redoublenot relaxour efforts. 


What does this research mean for your work, and for our field in general? We welcome your comments.


Matthew Bershadker has been president and CEO of the ASPCA since May 2013. A nearly 15-year veteran of the nation’s first animal welfare organization, Matt previously served as senior vice president of the ASPCA Anti-Cruelty Group, the division responsible for programs and initiatives that confront animal cruelty and suffering on all levels across the country.





Related Links

“Message from the President: ASPCA Position Statement on Responsibilities of Animal Shelters”

“Research Update: New National Estimates Are In!”

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