First regions with low-cost dog & cat sterilization are still making the most progress
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2006:
The U.S. regions where the first low-cost and free dog and
cat sterilization programs started, between 30 and 50 years ago,
still are making the fastest progress in reducing the numbers of dogs
and cats killed in animal shelters.
The 13th annual ANIMAL PEOPLE projection of the U.S. shelter
killing toll shows that the rate of killing per thousand humans
appears to have fallen back to the low of 14.8 that was achieved in
2000-2001, after a steep rise in 2001-2002. Because the U.S. human
population and the numbers of dogs and cats kept by humans have all
increased, the current annual toll of about 4.38 million dogs and
cats killed in shelters is still about 180,000 higher than the toll
of five years ago.
Overall, U.S. shelters appear to have killed about .8 fewer
animals per thousand humans in the past 12 months than in the 12
months preceding–but the northeast and west coast, where low-cost
and free sterilization began, made faster gains than the U.S. as a
whole. Appalachia, however, which a year ago had the highest
regional toll per thousand humans, made progress at approximately
three times the national rate.
The Gulf Coast region, West and Midwest may have slipped
backward slightly, but the slippage in each case appears to be less
than the possible margin of error in the projections. Hurricane
Katrina was not a factor in the Gulf Coast data because most of the
project base is from data collected before Katrina.
The growth of the Spanish-speaking population in the
Southwest, often mentioned as a possible factor in shelter intake,
is plainly not a factor, since southern California, with the
largest and fastest-growing Spanish-speaking population, has shown
the most improved numbers over the past five years, paced by Los
Angeles and San Diego.
The major reason for relative stasis in Gulf Coast, West,
and Midwest progress may simply be that–as affirmed by several
recent veterinary practice surveys–these are the parts of the U.S.
most afflicted by an increasingly acute global shortage of
U.S. shelter killing per thousand humans stood at 17.4 in
1996, according to the ANIMAL PEOPLE projections, which since 1996
have been based on data from all major shelters within defined human
population units, such as cities, counties, regions, or states,
collected during the three most recent fiscal years.
By 2001 the total number of animals killed in U.S. shelters
projected to be a record low of 4.2 million–less than a fourth of
the 1985 toll, estimated by an American Humane Association survey,
and about a sixth of the toll circa 1970-1973, which was
retrospectively estimated by ANIMAL PEOPLE from a representative
sampling of old shelter reports.
The 2001 high-tech stock market slump and terrorist attacks
brought a brief but catastrophic dip in charitable and governmental
funding for dog and cat sterilization.
Shelter intakes and killing rose enough during the next
fiscal year to erase five years of progress–but the increase was
almost entirely attributable to an explosion in popularity of pit
bull terriers, coinciding with resurgent dogfighting, an activity
which in the early 1980s was believed to have been virtually
eradicated from most of the U.S.
Pit bull terriers
Pit bull terriers had historically never made up more than
about 1% of the U.S. dog population, according to ANIMAL PEOPLE
counts of press mentions and listings of dogs offered for sale in
newspaper classified ads, 1900-present, using
<www.NewspaperArchive.com>. A 1993 ANIMAL PEOPLE survey found that
pit bulls then made up about 5% of the U.S. shelter dog population.
By 2004, however, pit bulls were up to 5% of the U.S. dog
population, and 26% of the shelter dog population.
Police seizures of fighting dogs rose from circa 300 in 1998
to more than 700 in the first six months of 2002, and nearly as many
in the first six months of 2005, but fell back to 307 in the first
six months of 2006. Whether this indicates actual lasting gains
against dogfighting will take more years of data to see.
Along with the rise of dogfighting came a parallel rise in
attacks by pit bulls kept as pets, parallel to a general increase in
life-threatening and fatal dog attacks.
Pit bulls have accounted for roughly half of all
life-threatening and fatal attacks by pet dogs in every year since
1982, according to data logged since September 1982 by ANIMAL
PEOPLE editor Merritt Clifton, but 601 of the 1,067 pit bull attacks
severe enough to qualify for listing have occurred since 2000,
including 50 of the 95 pit bull fatalities and 345 of the 586 cases
of permanent disfigurement inflicted by pit bulls.
During the same six years, total dog attacks, fatalities,
and permanent disfigurements have slightly more than doubled, with
Rottweilers, their mixes, and pit bull mixes accounting for most of
the rest of the increase.
Attacks by Rottweilers have trended sharply downward during
the past 12 months. Attacks by pit bulls have declined relative to
the total number of attacks, but attacks by pit bull mixes have
Twenty-eight Americans were killed and 227 were permanently
disfigured by pet dogs between publication of the ANIMAL PEOPLE
shelter killing surveys for 2005 and 2006. Six fatalities and 76
disfigurements were by pit bulls; five fatalities and 11
disfigurements by Rottweilers. Four fatalities and 25
disfiigurements were by close mixes of pit bull or Rottweiler, with
no other breeds involved at statistically significant frequency.
Neuter/return had apparently caught on well enough by 2001
that the feral cat population continued to drop, but at a slower
rate than in the 1990s. This trend is continuing.
Evaluation of roadkill studies, shelter intake data, and
feeder/rescuer surveys indicates that the U.S. feral cat population
currently ranges between about six million in winter and 12 million
at the peak of summer “kitten season,” for a year-round average of
about nine million.
This is less than a fourth of the numbers projected by ANIMAL
PEOPLE in 1992, just before neuter/return caught on in the U.S.,
and less than half of the total projected in 1954 by John Marbanks,
who published the first serious U.S. dog and cat population studies
in the long defunct American Humane Association magazine National