From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1993:

estimate of euthanasia rates produced by Phil Arkow of the
Humane Society of Pike’s Peak indicates the pet overpopu-
lation problem may be only half as bad as the most opti-
mistic previous projections. Factoring in additional infor-
mation apparently unknown to Arkow, ANIMAL PEO-
PLE extrapolates a current annual euthanasia rate of about
six million dogs and cats per year––half again higher than
Arkow’s figures, but still significantly lower than older
estimates, which ranged as high as 20 million per year 20
years ago, and have gradually fallen to below 10 million.

Most previous estimates of the number of ani-
mals euthanized in shelters each year have been based on
the returns from the American Humane Association’s
annual shelter survey. The AHA numbers have shown a
steady decline in number of euthanasias over the past sev-
eral years, to 11 million as of 1991, the last year for
which complete figures are available. However, the AHA
shelter survey has often been criticized because the returns
are not proportionally weighted, and the majority of
respondents tend to be with the largest shelters.
Believing the AHA estimates are too high,
Andrew Rowan of the Tufts Center for Animals and Public
Policy in early 1992 developed a much lower esti-
mate––6.5 million––based on response to a telephone sur-
vey of every pound and shelter in New Jersey. The Rowan
estimate held up when compared with the findings from a
Massachusetts SPCA survey of all the pounds and shelters
in that state, but may still be inaccurate, as Rowan him-
self explains, because New Jersey has had a unique
statewide neuter subsidy program for more than a decade,
while Massachusetts has an unusually high per capita
income and level of education. Both education and
income appear to be factors in reducing euthanasia rates,
since on average educated people of secure financial status
are more likely to have their pets neutered.
On the other hand, while these factors would
tend to depress the New Jersey and Massachusetts
euthanasia rates, most animal control agencies in the New
Jersey have a mandate to pick up cats, to prevent the
spread of rabies––which most animal control agencies in
other states do not. Thus New Jersey may be euthanizing
far more cats per capita than the national norm.
Arkow tried to broaden the Rowan data base by
factoring in the findings of surveys of all shelters in
Colorado, Iowa, Oregon, and Washington, in addition to
New Jersey and Massachusetts. So doing, he projected an
estimate of only 4.1 million euthanasias of homeless ani-
mals per year––half the lowest previous AHA estimate and
only two-thirds of Rowan’s estimate.
However, the Arkow estimate could be low by
50% or more because it is derived from an an even more
unrepresentative data base than Rowan’s. All four states
Arkow added are heavily rural; rural animal control
departments typically pick up and euthanize only a fraction
as many homeless animals, and very seldom pick up cats.
All the states but Iowa in Arkow’s sampling also rank high
in mean level of education and all, including Iowa, are
among the upper third in per capita income.
In addition, adding the other states shifted the
ethnic mix of the human population well away from that of
the U.S. as a whole. Ironically, New Jersey alone is more
ethnically representative of the U.S. than the Arkow com-
bination of states: according to U.S. Census data, 21% of
New Jersey residents belong to ethnic minorities, com-
pared with 20% for the U.S. as a whole and just 13% for
the six states whose records Arkow examined.
While Arkow expanded the Rowan data base to
include the 1991 euthanasia information for six of the
seven states for which it is available, he missed Texas,
apparently unaware D. Byerly and L. Marks of the Texas
Humane Information Network had gathered the necessary
Adding the Texas data improves geographic bal-
ance by bringing in the South, and raises minority repre-
sentation to 17%. With Texas included in the projection
base, the number of euthanasias performed in the U.S. in
1991 would appear to have been 5.3 million––about
halfway between the Rowan and Arkow estimates, but
likely to rise toward the Rowan estimate if data from a
heavily urbanized state such as New York or California
could also be included.
Arkow’s estimate was published in the spring
1993 issue of The Latham Letter, the newsletter of the
Latham Foundation, founded in 1918 to promote humane
education. Aware of the potential for error, Arkow con-
cluded his article by asking humane organizations in other
states to tabulate euthanasia information.
––Merritt Clifton
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