Count finds 5 million euthanasias a year–– AHA SAYS 12 MILLION; WANTED TO DISCREDIT PET BREEDERS

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1993:

ENGLEWOOD, Colorado––
Knowing that an ongoing shelter-by-shel-
ter, state-by-state count has demonstrated
the annual U.S. euthanasia toll due to pet
overpopulation to be under six million
animals per year, the American Humane
Association on September 7 told mass
media that, “In 1992, a dog or cat was
euthanized every two seconds in this
country––12.1 million dogs and cats in
all.” The AHA release also maintained
that euthanasias are again increasing after
eight years of decline.

Days later, ANIMAL PEO-
PLE added the results of a shelter-by-
shelter count of euthanasias in New York
state to the numbers for nine other states
already gathered by Phil Arkow of the
Humane Society of the Pikes Peak
Region and published in our July/August
issue. With New York included, the
count now includes the records of more
than 500 shelters in states including 39%
of the total U.S. human population, and
approximately the same ethnic, econom-
ic, educational, and urban/rural demo-
graphic profile as the U.S. as a whole.
Arkow’s projection of
euthanasias based on nine states was 5.7
million a year. With New York included,
the projection drops to almost exactly five
million a year––4.97 million, including 3.5
million cats and 1.5 million dogs.
The remainder of the U.S. would
have to euthanize animals at more than three
times the known rate of the 10 states count-
ed for the national total to begin to approach
the AHA figure. Further, the 140% known
margin of error in the AHA estimate over-
whelms the 11% increase in euthanasias that
the AHA alleges. The euthanasia toll could
as easily have continued declining, as indi-
cated by the figures from all of the states
where exact euthanasia counts from multiple
years are available.
The AHA figures were projected
from responses to an annual questionaire
mailed to about 3,500 shelters every year
since 1985. In 1992, 126 shelters respond-
ed, 37 of them also included in the state-by-
state count. The AHA questionaire data has
never been proportionately weighted to
accurately reflect demographic factors.
Advised of the discrepancies
between its projections and actual statistics
late in the day September 7, the AHA wait-
ed a week and then refused ANIMAL
PEOPLE’s offer to compute, free of
charge, the margin of error between the sur-
vey returns and actual state counts, and then
recalculate the national statistics going back
to 1985 using the correction factor thus
obtained. This would have permitted accu-
rate assessment of the direction of euthana-
sia rates.
The AHA claimed such recalcula-
tions could not be done because, “The data
from these studies may no longer exist on
computer tape,” and even if the tapes still
exist, they are not at the AHA head office.
But computer tapes would not have been
needed––just photocopies of the question-
aires returned by shelters in the ten states for
which exact intake and euthanasia informa-
tion is now available.
According to AHA Animal
Protection Division Associate Director Carol
Moulton, “We did not release our statistics
because of what they say about the gross
numbers of animals entering and exiting
shelters, but because of what they show
about trends over time. Whatever the flaws
of the study, its data has been gathered in a
consistent manner since 1985. To introduce
other factors at this point, such as data gath-
ered by Phil Arkow, would make it impos-
sible to compare apples to apples when
looking at the changes in rates between 1985
and 1992.”
However, as Center for Animals
and Public Policy director Andrew Rowan
pointed out as far back as 1986, the AHA
surveys have never gathered statistically
valid data because the returns have always
come disproportionately from the largest
and most active shelters, and have never
been proportionately weighted. “If you have
random accumulations of invalid data for
every year since 1985, you aren’t comparing
apples to apples; you’re comparing random
accumulations of invalid data to more ran-
dom accumulations of invalid data, and if
there is a consistent distortion factor, which
in this case there is,” Rowan told ANIMAL
PEOPLE, “you are merely compounding
the distortion, because the margin of error
is greater than the rates of difference you
are finding from year to year in the figures.”
The bottom line, said Moulton, is
that, “There are those in the breeding and
pet industry who are using AHA’s 1985-
1990 statistics to make the point that
euthanasia rates are declining on their own,
and that more aggressive activity to end pet
overpopulation is therefore not called for.
Since our 1991-1992 statistics prove that
their statement is no longer true, we
thought it would help the animals to publish
our data and take the wind out of the sails of
those who would use our statistics to fight
breeding control legislation. We feel they
cannot validate their point of view with our
statistics through 1990, and then claim that
statistics gathered in the exact same way in
1991 and 1992, which disprove their case,
are too flawed to rely on.”
However, a steep decline in ani-
mal shelter intakes and euthanasias over the
past decade is confirmed by many other
compilations of data, including the shelter-
by-shelter, state-by-state statistics that are
available for multiple years. No other
research suggests the recent rise in
euthanasias that the AHA claims to have
discovered. Where total intakes and
euthanasias are up, the usual reason is not
an apparent increase in pet overpopulation,
but rather that some animal control agencies
which formerly handled only dogs are now
handling cats as well.
Said Margaret Anne Cleek of the
Alaskan Malamute Club of America, “By
publishing euthanasia statistics far in excess
of numbers reported by competent
researchers using appropriate stratified sam-
pling techniques, American Humane will
once again polarize the dog and cat fancy
against the humane community. This is
unfortunate, as I was beginning to see evi-
dence of a collaborative strategy to address
unwanted pets. Many fanciers who were
beginning to believe our common interest in
animal welfare would allow us to work
together will see this retreat to hyperbole as
evidence that the agenda of the humane
community is indeed to initiate breeding
bans to annihilate our purebreds. When will
they get the picture? You don’t need to
jerry-rig the data and get fantastic numbers.
Attack the true sources of unwanted pets
and the fancier/breeders will be with you all
the way.”
Concluded Cleek, who has been
trying to open a problem-solving dialog
between fancier/breeders
and humane
activists, “The AHA’s lament that ‘the dog
ate our base rate data’ is pretty lame.
Apparently, AHA has learned the propagan-
dist’s strategy well. It doesn’t matter if your
data is correct; it only matters if it is fantas-
tic enough for the media to report. By the
time their faulty data is exposed, it will be
old news and not worth printing. This is
either ignorant or dishonest.”
––Merritt Clifton
Where the figure of five million animals euthanized comes from
Actual state-by-state, shelter-by-shelter intake and euthanasia statistics have been compiled over the past two years by a variety
of different groups and individuals, using similar methods: usually a questionaire sent to every shelter in a given state, followed up
with a telephone call to nonrespondents. Because not all the surveyors asked the same questions, figures are missing from some of the
columns. Percentages of U.S. population were taken to the second decimal in projecting the national totals, but are rounded off for sim-
plicity’s sake in presenting this table. Dog and cat intake add up to a slightly different figure than total intake in some cases because
some shelters report rounded numbers for some categories rather than exact figures, producing a minor cumulative distortion.
State %/U.S. Dog intake Cat intake Total %/pets Dogs euth. Cats euth. Total euth. % pets
CA 12% 533,000 504,000 1, 037,000 8.0% 306, 000 411,000 717,000 5.5%
CO 1% 84.365 58,867 143,232 8.1% 31, 666 38,100 69,766 4.0%
IA 1% 43,573 32,237 77,810 6.5% 23,094 24,700 48,653 4.0%
MA 2% 150,000 3.3% 79,500 3.3%
MD 2% 90,000 4.9%
NJ 3% 145,711 5.6% 75,263 2.9%
NY 7% 108,821 107,582 217,590 4.2% 38,492 59,735 98,714 1.9%
OR 1% 116,490 6.7% 79,713 4.6%
TX 7% 759,340 8.9% 597,591 7.0%
WA 2% 90,000 90,000 179,883 6.5% 48,086 66,404 114,490 3.9%
Percentages of the national pet population are taken from The Veterinary Service Market for Companion Animals 1991, published by
the American Veterinary Medical Association. California statistics were gathered in 1991 by the California Veterinary Public Health Unit.
Colorado statistics were collected through a 1992 survey coordinated by the Humane Society of the Pike’s Peak Region. Iowa statistics were
compiled in 1991 by the Iowa Federation of Humane Societies. Maryland statistics come from 1990 and 1991 surveys by animal shelter offi-
cials. Massachusetts statistics come from 1990 and 1991 surveys coordinated by the Massachusetts SPCA. New Jersey statistics come from
the New Jersey Department of Public Health. New York statistics come from Elizabeth Forel, a volunteer whose expenses were partially cov-
ered by Spay USA. Actual data was obtained from shelters serving 87% of the New York human population, both urban and rural, and project-
ed over the rest of the state. Oregon statistics come from a 1991 survey by the Oregon Animal Welfare Alliance. Texas statistics come from
1990 and 1991 surveys by the Texas Humane Information Network. Washingtonstatistics come from a 1991 survey by the Progressive Animal
Welfare Society.
––Phil Arkow & Merritt Clifto
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