U.S. shelter killing toll drops to 3.7 million dogs & cats

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2007:

U.S. animal shelters as of mid-2007 are killing fewer dogs
and cats than at any time in at least the past 37 years, according
to the 15th annual ANIMAL PEOPLE evaluation of the most recent
available shelter data.
The rate of shelter killing per 1,000 Americans, now at
12.5, is the lowest since data collected by John Marbanks in
1947-1950 suggested a rate of about 13.5–at a time when animal
control in much of the U.S. was still handled by private contractors,
who often simply killed strays or sold them to laboratories instead
of taking them to shelters, and unwanted puppies and kittens were
frequently drowned.
The ANIMAL PEOPLE projection each year is based on
compilations of the tolls from every open admission shelter handling
significant numbers of animals in specific cities, counties, or
states. The sample base each year is proportionately weighted to
ensure regional balance. Only data from the preceding three fiscal
years is included.

Using a three-year rolling projection tends to level out
flukes that might result from including different cities, counties,
and states each year, but has the disadvantage of sometimes not
showing significant changes in trends until a year or two after they
start. Thus the effects of the post-2001 slump in funding for dog
and cat sterilization programs only became evident in 2004.
Comparably, trends involving Internet-assisted adoption, adoption
transport, feral cats and pit bull terriers that were just gathering
momentum in 2004 are major influences on the 2007 findings.
As of 2004, about a third of all U.S. dog and cat adoptions
were believed to be Internet-assisted, via web sites where animals’
photographs and descriptions are posted. Anecdotally, at least two
thirds of adoptions are Internet-assisted today, with dogs
benefitting most, since dog adopters are more likely to be seeking a
specific breed or mix, who may be readily found only through
Adoption transport also chiefly benefits dogs, since cats
are still abundant in all parts of the U.S., but small dogs,
puppies, and purebreds are relatively scarce in shelters along both
coasts and in the northern Midwest.
Soaring shelter receipts of pit bull terriers in 2001-2004
outraced progress in sterilizing feral cats, causing total shelter
killing to soar by the end of 2004 to the highest level since 1997.
For the first and only time since ANIMAL PEOPLE began quantifying
shelter killing, more dogs were killed in 2004 than cats. The 1997
toll was 53% cats, 47% dogs, about the same balance as had
prevailed since the mid-1980s, but the 2004 toll was reversed, at
47% cats, 53% dogs.
About half of the dogs who were killed in 2004 were pit bull
terriers, ANIMAL PEOPLE confirmed by surveying shelter directors in
23 representative metropolitan areas.
Salathia Bryant of the Houston Chronicle was shocked in
February 2007 to discover that local shelter intakes of pit bulls had
increased from 5% of all dogs in 2000 to 15% in 2002 and 27% in 2006.
Actually this was right on the national norms found by ANIMAL PEOPLE
nearly two years earlier.
Los Angeles residents were shocked in June 2007 when
Department of Animal Regulation chief Ed Boks lamented that 40% of
the dogs who were killed in the city shelters during the preceding
year were pit bulls. Yet as many as 70% of the dogs killed in some
other major cities are pit bulls–who are reportedly 65% of the
animal control dog intake in Milwaukee, and may account for more
than two-thirds of the dog intake in Detroit and Philadelphia.
While pit bull intake has not slowed down since 2004, and
appears to be still rising, the total canine death toll in U.S.
shelters has fallen by more than 750,000 since 2004, with pit bulls
the main beneficiaries.
Increasing use of standardized temperament tests to determine
whether dogs are safe for adoption appears to be driving the change.
Traditionally, behavioral suitability for adoption tended to be
judged from anecdotal assessments by animal control officers, kennel
workers, and people who surrendered animals to shelters. Relatively
few shelters ever categorically refused to adopt out pit bulls and
other breeds of dog who are considered high-risk, though some did
and still do, but the breeds of dogs tended to weigh heavily, if
not always consciously, in the judgments.
When most shelters were killing a relatively high percentage
of the dogs received, and no one breed predominated, this was not
an issue. As pit bulls came to disproportionately fill shelters,
however, concern about “breed discrimination” on the one hand and
soaring liability insurance costs on the other caused shelter
directors to seek ways to support their decisions. Standardized
temperament tests offer shelters a way to explain in relatively
objective terms why a particular dog may be unsuitable for adoption,
and to adopt out some pit bulls with confidence that the adoptions
will succeed.
Whether temperament tests really prevent dog attacks and
liability is still a matter of debate, with several relevant court
cases pending. ANIMAL PEOPLE in January/February 2002 published data
suggesting that the breed-specific patterns of fatal and disfiguring
attacks among dogs who have cleared behavioral screening are the same
as among all dogs.
However, though pit bulls tend to flunk the most popular
standardized behavioral tests more often than any other breed,
enough pit bulls pass that they have become the breed most often
adopted in New York City and Los Angeles. Despite several
high-profile failures of pit bull adoption programs in the 1990s,
many other cities are now trying similar approaches, based on
checklists of behavior that can be taken into a courtroom more
persuasively than the intuitive and subjective opinions of animal
Currently, U.S. shelters kill about 1.4 million dogs per
year, including about 750,000 pit bulls and close mixes of pit bull.
While fewer pit bulls are dying in U.S. shelters, the cat
toll is rising again for the first time since neuter/return feral cat
control caught on in 1991-1992. Across the U.S., the shelter toll
is now 63% cats, 37% dogs–the most lopsided that it has ever been.

Tweety & Sylvester

The 2006 projected total of 2.3 million cats killed in
shelters represents an increase of about 300,000 from the level of
the preceding several years,
Yet this is not because there are more cats at large.
Repeatedly applying various different yardsticks to measure the U.S.
feral cat population, including shelter data, roadkill counts, and
surveys of cat feeders, ANIMAL PEOPLE has found since 2003 that the
projections consistently converge on estimates of about six million
feral cats at large in the dead of winter, with about twice that
many after the early summer peak of “kitten season.” This is down by
more than 75% from the feral cat population of circa 1990, which was
up by about a third from the total indicated in the studies done by
John Marbanks in 1947-1950.
Data collected for the National Council on Pet Population
Study indicates that the U.S. pet cat population has not reproduced
in excess of self-replacement since approximately 1994. The marked
increase in the U.S. pet cat population over this time, from just
over 60 million to about 90 million, has been driven by adoptions of
feral cats–mostly feral-born kittens. Kitten removals from the
feral population, together with neuter/return, has reduced feral
cat reproductive capacity to substantially less than replacement.
Taking feral cats’ places are other mid-sized predators including
growing populations of urban and suburban coyotes, foxes, bobcats,
hawks, owls, and eagles.
But intolerance of free-roaming cats, especially feral cats,
is the longtime official policy of all U.S. federal government
agencies, as well as many state agencies responsible for managing
property where feral cats formerly dwelled. Under intense pressure
from birders and conservationists trying to save endangered species
of birds and small mammals, federal and state agencies have
intensified efforts to extirpate feral cats.
Organized opposition to neuter/ return feral cat management
before 2003 came chiefly from the Humane Society of the U.S. and
PETA, which held that feral cats were suffering and should therefore
be killed to end their misery, and the American Bird Conserv-ancy,
a relatively small organization that originated as a project of the
World Wildlife Fund. Soon thereafter, HSUS adopted policies
favoring carefully managed neuter/return–but in April 2003 the
National Wildlife Federation membership magazine National Wildlife
came out strongly against neuter/return. Only The Nature
Conservancy, whose policy is to extirpate all nonnative species from
their land holdings if possible, has more influence among U.S.
wildlife policymakers.
Feral cat colony caretakers have often not helped their cause
by maintaining colonies near sensitive wildlife habitats, and by not
sterilizing enough cats, fast enough, to reduce the visible
population to none within the three-to-five-year average lifespan of
a feral cat who survives kittenhood.
Cape May, New Jersey, for example, has has an active
neuter/return network since 1992, encouraged by animal control chief
John Queenan. ANIMAL PEOPLE mentioned the Cape May project as a
model for other communities in 1993. But Cape May is perhaps the
most frequented resting and feeding area for migratory birds along
the entire Atlantic flyway. Many visiting species are in decline,
including the tiny red knot, which flies each year all the way from
the Antarctic to the Arctic and back. Cape May is also among the
nesting habitats of the endangered piping plover.
The Cape May economy is driven by birders’ visits. When Cape
May still had an estimated 500 feral cats in 2003, ten years into
the neuter/return program, the city allowed neuter/return advocates
to maintain 10 cat feeding stations and weather shelters, but the
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service began demanding that feral cat feeding
be ended.
Many cats were removed from sensitive areas and housed in two
trailers, one belonging to Cape May Animal Control and the other to
Animal Outreach of Cape May County, the primary local cat rescue
group since 1995. On May 19, 2007, however, the trailers caught
fire, killing 37 cats.
Cape May is currently considering withdrawing support for
neuter/return and prohibiting feeding cats outdoors.
A similar situation may have a happier outcome on Big Pine
Key, Florida, home of the endangered Hefner rabbit, Sylivilagus
palustris hefneri. The rabbit was named for Playboy magazine
founder Hugh Hefner after he funded the study that put it on the U.S.
endangered species list more than 20 years ago. Blaming feral cats
for a catastrophic collapse in rabbit numbers at the National Key
Deer Refuge, refuge manager Anne Morkill in June 2007 announced that
the cats would be trapped and taken to animal control shelters,
where they would probably be killed. Hefner then donated $5,000 to
Stand Up For Animals, whose founder, Linda Gottwald, told
Stephanie Garry of the St. Petersburg Times that she would use the
funding to sterilize and relocate as many of the cats as possible.
Among the regional variations of note in the 2007 ANIMAL
PEOPLE roundup of shelter killing data are that the dog/cat balance
is 72/28 in the Northeast, 65/35 in the Midwest, 63/35 in the
Mid-Atlantic region, and 60/40 along the West Coast, but is 54/46
in the South, where intakes and killing of both dogs and cats are
highest. Among the possible explanations are that Southern animal
control agencies may put more emphasis on picking up dogs, and that
communities with more dogs at large tend to have fewer feral cats.
Virginia and Florida data, however, more resembles the data
from the rest of the U.S., reflecting the demographic influences of
Washington D.C. and migration to Florida from other parts of the

Midwest progress

The Midwest has made the most impressive recent gains,
almost catching up to the West Coast in reduction of dog and cat
overpopulation through high-volume low-cost sterilization. Many of
the most ambitious dog-and-cat sterilization projects started within
the past decade are in the Midwest, including Pets Are Worth Saving,
founded by Paula Fasseas in Chicago, and the Foundation Against
Companion Animal Euthanasia, founded by Scott Robinson, M.D., in
A global veterinary shortage is especially acute in the
Midwest, where organizations including the Michigan Humane Society,
based in Detroit, and M’Shoogy’s Animal Rescue, near Kansas City,
have at times had to cut back services simply because they could not
find vets to fill their open positions.
The same problem afflicts the Appalachian states, where
progress achieved in the 1990s has largely been lost, most markedly
in Knoxville. Handling both city and county animal control
sheltering out of a World War II-vintage Quonset hut, and operating
a major local dog and cat sterilization program, the Humane Society
of the Tennessee Valley had reduced shelter killing to 24.5 dogs and
cats per 1,000 humans by 1999–well above the then-national average
of 16.6, but among the best records in the South.
A coalition of local no-kill rescue groups then convinced
Knoxville officials that a city-and-county-run shelter working
cooperatively with them could operate on less money and save more
animals. ANIMAL PEOPLE warned at the time that Knoxville could not
realistically try to achieve no-kill sheltering until the animal
control intake volume fell by at least half. Instead of lowering
the shelter toll, the first five years of animal control under the
new agency saw shelter killing increase by 22%.

Regions quit counting

A frustrating aspect of the 2007 ANIMAL PEOPLE shelter toll
analysis is that while we received enough data from both the
Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions to project reliable totals and
trends by comparison to past data, including the dog/cat balance,
no individual or agency relayed complete enough new data from cities
other than New York City and Philadelphia–the biggest cities in
those regions–for us to list totals for any others.
This is markedly different from the first years of our annual
updates, when the most complete counts we received were from the New
England states, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland.
As shelter killing rates in those states have stabilized at
very low levels, many of the agencies that formerly collected
shelter tolls appear to have refocused on collecting information
about adoption transport programs, a very small part of shelter
activity 15 years ago, but now the source of half or more of the
animals many shelters offer for adoption.
–Merritt Clifton


U.S. animal shelter data broken down by city,  county,  state,  and region

           Animals killed  YEAR  1,000s   Animals
          per 1,000 people      of people  killed

New York City        2.0  2007  8,143    16,489

NORTHEAST (24%)      1.7       33,495    56,857

NEW JERSEY           4.7  2005  8,725    40,706
Philadelphia        19.9  2006  1,448    28,774

MID-ATLANTIC (33%)   7.3       30,759   225,116

Broward County       7.3  2006  1,788    13,000
Richmond, VA         8.3  2006    194     1,615
West Palm Beach     13.5  2005  1,216    16,411
Palm Beach County   15.5  2006  1,288    20,000
VIRGINIA            17.5  2005  7,568   132,400
Alachua Cty, FL     18.2  2006    224     4,071
Orlando/Orange Cty  18.6  2005  1,023    19,000
Tampa area          19.9  2006  2,489    49,557
Tallahassee         22.4  2004    239     5,350
Duval County        22.6  2006    826    18,672
Coweta Cty, GA      22.6  2004    101     2,288
NORTH CAROLINA      27.9  2005  8,683   242,935
Columbia, SC        37.0  2004    332    12,275
Polk County,  FL    40.3  2005    511    20,566
Augusta,  GA        45.3  2004    198     8,967
Orangeburg Cty, SC  49.5  2006     91     4,500

SO. ATLANTIC (56%)  22.3       47,368 1,021,048

Dallas              10.8  2005  2,306    25,000
Dallas/FtWorth rgn  14.2  2005  5,753    82,000
Austin/Travis Cty.  17.4  2005    888    15,411
Houston             22.2  2004  3,596    80,000
Birmingham          23.8  2005    818    19,438
Fort Worth          24.9  2005    603    15,000
Conroe area, TX     26.8  2006    378    10,120
Lafayette, LA       28.0  2004    195     5,439
Mobile              30.1  2005    401    12,071
Tuskaloosa, AL      30.1  2006    169     4,982
El Paso, TX         31.4  2004    700    22,000
Gulfport            31.8  2006    194     6,16
Baldwin County, AL  33.3  2006    163     5,432
Blount County, AL   38.6  2006     56     2,153
San Marcos          43.9  2004     43     1,888
Shreveport/Caddo    48.0  2005    250    12,000
Tupelo, MS          55.4  2006     78     4,320
Longview, TX        70.8  2005    114     8,070

GULF COAST (41%)    21.3       34,863   742,582

Mission Viejo, CA    1.0  2005    166       113
San Francisco        2.2  2005    744     1,646
Snohomish Cty, WA    4.7  2005    639     3,000
Santa Barbara        5.0  2004    403     2,002
San Diego            5.9  2004  2,931    17,421
Tehama County, CA    6.8  2006     62       421
Los Angeles          7.2  2006  9,948    71,357
Portland/Multnomah   7.2  2005    673     4,841
Silicon Valley       8.5  2005  1,668    14,097
OREGON               8.9  2005  3,641    32,235
Eugene, OR          10.1  2005    336     3,378
WASHINGTON [prjtd]  11.1  2005  6,132    68,054
Merced Cty, CA      12.2  2006    246     3,011
Lodi, CA            13.9  2005     57       788
Monterey County, CA 14.4  2006    412     5,912
Lindsay/Porterville 14.6  2005     56       817
Visalia, CA         15.5  2006    420     6,521
Santa Cruz Cty, CA  20.0  2005    251     5,000
Kern County, CA     20.4  2006    780    15,922
Douglas County      24.0  2005    104     2,519
Valley Oak,  CA     25.4  2005    210     5,336
Bakersfield, CA     26.2  2005    644    16,904
Kings County, CA    27.2  2005    147     4,013
Clovis, CA          27.5  2005     90     2,471
Modesto             30.5  2004    489    14,903 
Madera County, CA   35.2  2005    144     5,071
Tulare Cty, CA      40.3  2005    154     6,203
Fresno, CA          42.3  2005    787    33,255

PACIFIC (64%)       11.0       48,000   528,000

Terre Haute          4.6  2005    169       78
Milwaukee            4.8  2005  1,700     8,162
Chicago              6.9  2005  2,869    19,706
MICHIGAN            11.7  2006 10,096   117,919
Indianapolis        18.5  2005    783    14,444
Winnebago Cty, IL   19.2  2004    284     5,449
Kansas City, KS     21.6  2004    158     3,412
Oklahoma City       22.2  2004    677    15,000
Fort Wayne, IN      28.6  2004    340     9,724
Athens, OH          46.6  2004     64     3,000

MIDWEST (27%)       11.5       63,810   733,815

Nashville, TN       18.9  2004    511     9,647
Chattanooga         22.5  2004    307     6,918
Knoxville           29.9  2006    405    12,090
Spartanburg TN      32.8  2004    261     8,562
Louisville          42.9  2005    700    30,000

APPALACHIA (17%)    30.1       12,915   388,742

Salt Lake City       6.0  2005  1,016     6,094
Weld County, CO      8.5  2005    211     1,800
Larimer Count, CO   11.6  2005    267     3,093
Billings            14.6  2004    133     1,941
UTAH                14.4  2005  2,352    33,854
Phoenix/Maricopa    16.3  2006  3,636    59,093
Albuquerque         26.9  2004    581    15,600
Santa Fe, NM        38.2  2005    130     5,000

WEST (41%)          17.3       17,721   306,573

U.S. TOTAL          12.5      296,410 3,696,160

	(The regional and national totals appearing in bold are not 
tallies of the data used to produce them,  but are rather estimates 
proportionately weighted to reflect demography.  The percentage 
figure in parenthesis is the percentage of the human population 
encompassed within the shelter service areas from which the totals 
were derived.  The stated U.S. population is the median 2004-2007, 
not the 2007 total.)

U.S. progress vs. shelter killing

Year  Millions of dogs    Killed per
        & cats killed     1,000 humans

1970         23.4          115.0
1985         17.8           74.8
1997          4.9           21.1
1998          4.9           19.4
1999          4.5           16.6
2000          4.5           16.8
2001          4.4           15.7
2002          4.2           15.3
2003          4.5           14.8
2004          4.9           17.4
2005          4.4           14.8
2006          3.7           12.5

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