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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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