Fewer animals killed–but pit bulls & Chihuahuas crowd shelters

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2012:

Fewer animals killed–but pit bulls & Chihuahuas crowd shelters

Only three years after U.S. animal shelters killed fewer than four million dogs and cats for the first time in about half a century, the toll appears to have fallen below three million–just barely.

ANIMAL PEOPLE has produced estimates of U.S. shelter killing of dogs and cats annually since 1993, at first projected from whole-state surveys done by other organizations. Since 1997 we have combined recent whole-state data where available with data from the city and county level, wherever the local data includes all animal control shelters and other open admission shelters within a particular jurisdiction. Each ANIMAL PEOPLE annual estimate includes the most recent available data from the three preceding fiscal or calendar years.

Thus the 2012 projection includes data only from fiscal or calendar years ending in years 2010 or later, except in North Carolina, where a whole-state survey done in 2009 appears to be more representative than numbers received more recently from far fewer communities–notably, communities that are eager to show off their progress, in contrast to others which have not released new data. ANIMAL PEOPLE has taken into account the newer North Carolina local data, where available, in doing our 2012 regional and national projection, but has kept within our projection base the 2009 data from communities not reporting since then

The 2012 ANIMAL PEOPLE projections are based on data from a geographically balanced selection of animal control jurisdictions serving 51% of the total U.S. human population. The projected toll of 2,988,566, just about evenly divided between cats and dogs, is so close to three million that the actual total of dogs and cats killed could still be slightly more than three million per year, if the actual toll from the remaining 49% of the U.S is significantly more than we estimate. This, however, is unlikely, based on older data from many of the major jurisdictions not included in the 2012 projection.

Recent rapid progress in reducing shelter killing is evident in all parts of the U.S., incuding in New York City, whose shelters fifty years ago killed upward of a quarter of a million dogs and cats per year. The New York City toll began to drop after the first American SPCA sterilization clinic opened in 1968. New York City shelters killed only 16,489 dogs and cats in 2007, 2.0 animals per 1,000 human residents. Among major U.S. cities, only San Francisco killed fewer dogs and cats per 1,000 humans. That New York City could go lower seemed unlikely, and indeed, the New York City toll rose to 18,703 in 2008. But the downward trend resumed in 2009. New York City has now cut shelter killing of dogs in half during the two-and-a-half-year tenure of current Center for Animal Care & Control director Julie Bank, to just 1.0 per 1,000 human residents, surpassing San Francisco, whose own numbers have continued to improve.

Much of the region from New York City northeast to the Canadian border could now be considered to be unofficially “no-kill,” with dogs and cats killed only for very serious health or behavioral reasons. Older whole-state counts indicate that Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont shelters have killed fewer than two dogs and cats per 1,000 people for five to 10 years now. Maine and Rhode Island shelters appear likely to be currently killing between two and three dogs and cats per 1,000 people.

Upstate New York, the western half of the Northeast region, shares more demographic characteristics with the Mid-Atlantic states than with New York City and most of New England. This shows in the shelter statistics.

Shelters in both the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions kill far more cats than dogs, as do the shelters in the West, and West Coast regions. This is the reverse of the trend in Appalachia, the Gulf Coast states, and the Midwest, where dogs are more often kept outdoors, more often roam at large, are less often sterilized, and birth more accidental litters. The norms of dog-keeping are similar in the South Atlantic region, but South Atlantic shelters kill more cats than dogs, apparently because more rapid progress has been made in sterilizing dogs.

The West Coast region appears to be killing more dogs and cats per 1,000 human residents for the first time than the inland West, especially the Rocky Mountains states. A closer look at the numbers shows that the “West Coast” jurisdictions killing significantly more dogs and cats than the regional average are all far inland, sharing more demographic characteristics with the rural inland Southwest than with either coastal cities or major inland cities such as Denver, Reno, Phoenix, and Las Vegas.

Like Appalachia, the Gulf Coast states, the South Atlantic region, and the Midwest, the inland portions of the “West Coast” region and the rural inland Southwest are culturally agrarian, and were slower to develop low-cost dog and cat sterilization programs.

The ANIMAL PEOPLE annual data compilations have shown since 1993 that accidental litters and mixed-breed dogs other than pit bull variants are steadily diminishing components of the shelter killing toll. The typical shelter dog of the past decade-plus was bred deliberately, either to a purebred conformation standard; to produce a popular mix such as “Labradoodles” and “Cockapoos”; or to produce pit bulls.

Pit bulls, mostly bred and sold by noncommercial “backyard breeders,” as recently as 1993 constituted less than 1% of the U.S. dog population, as measured by retrospective surveys of newspaper classified ads offering dogs for sale. By 2003, however, pit bulls had increased about fivefold in popularity–and accounted for 23% of the dogs admitted to U.S. animal shelters, and 50% of the dogs killed in U.S. shelters.

ANIMAL PEOPLE now conducts separate annual surveys of dog breed popularity, common dog breeds in animal shelters, and the rate at which pit bulls are killed in shelters.

Electronic surveys of online classified ads offering dogs for sale or adoption offer both a measurement of breed popularity, especially when averaged over several years, and an estimated birth rate for each breed. This in turn permits estimating the sterilization rate for each breed.

Single-day surveys of dogs actually in shelters on a randomly chosen date provide a snapshot of shelter admissions and holding patterns.

The pit bull death rate in shelters is derived both from shelter reports and from comparing the pit bull populations of open admission and selective admission shelters.

As of June 2012, 29% of the dogs at open admission shelters responding to ANIMAL PEOPLE survey questions were pit bulls. By contrast, only 11% of the dogs at selective admission shelters were pit bulls–and this includes the numbers at selective admission shelters specializing in pit bull placement. The open admission shelters had 79% of the total dog inventory, meaning that the pit bulls at selective admission shelters were only 2.3% of the total number of dogs.

If the dogs at selective admission shelters were mostly transferees from open admission shelters, and if 11% of the dogs rehomed by selective admission shelters are pit bulls, perhaps 11% of the dogs rehomed by open admission shelters are also pit bulls. Altogether, between transfers and adoptions, open admission shelters may avoid killing about 13.3% of their total pit bull intake–meaning that they kill 86.7%.

Of 11 major shelter systems providing actual pit bull killing data, the Los Angeles Department of Animal Regulation killed the smallest percentage: 53% of pit bull intake. Among the 10 other systems furnishing breed-specific killing totals, the pit bull toll ranged from 75% to 99%. The average among the 11 systems was 80%.

As of 2011, pit bulls accounted for 30% of the dogs admitted to U.S. animal shelters and 60% of the dogs killed. These numbers remain almost unchanged. Between July 2011 and July 2012, ANIMAL PEOPLE found, pit bull admissions to U.S. shelters decreased as a percentage of incoming dogs by about three-tenths of 1%. Pit bulls continued to be about 60% of the dogs who were killed–and 29% of total shelter killing, counting both dogs and cats. The total number of pit bulls killed in U.S. animal shelters fell from 930,000 to 888,000, but that 5% drop was much less than the 16% reduction in shelter killing achieved for all other dogs and cats.

ANIMAL PEOPLE found a 13% decrease in the numbers of pit bulls offered for sale or adoption, but a 28% increase in the numbers of pit bulls offered for sale or adoption relative to other dogs. This paradox occurred because ANIMAL PEOPLE found 40% fewer dogs offered for sale or adoption in June 2012 than in June 2011.

Among breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club, the offered numbers of dogs declined 57%. Most of the increases were in the range that might result from breeding fewer than 50 more dogs–the typical population of a mid-sized commercial breeding kennel.

The falling numbers of dogs offered for sale or adoption may partially reflect lower shelter intake, in turn reducing the numbers of cast-off dogs accessible to rescues.

The biggest factor, however, appears to be the breeder response to new regulations now in effect in Missouri, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Texas. In each state the regulations in final form are much less stringent than animal advocates had hoped, but in each state breeders went out of business, suspended operation, or bred fewer dogs during several months of uncertainty as to what might be required.

Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture executive deputy secretary Michael Pechert in May 2012 reported that, “We’ve gone from nearly 350 commercial dog breeding facilities to 52.” In Oklahoma, the Board of Commercial Pet Breeders in two years of existence licensed only 230 of the 1,900 dog breeders who were believed to have been operating in Oklahoma as of 2010. The board has now been merged into the state department of Agriculture, Food, & Forestry.

The apparent 40% reduction in dogs bred should logically translate into a continuing drop in the numbers of dogs impounded and killed by shelters–but maybe not right away, as illustrated by the Chihuahua paradox.

Since 1997, when the Taco Bell fast food chain first used Chihuahuas in popular television ads, through 2010, the U.S.

Chihuahua population increased as rapidly as the pit bull population. By 2010, Chihuahuas accounted for 2.4% of the dogs offered for sale or adoption. Only large retrievers and pit bulls were bred in greater numbers. But overbreeding saturated the demand for Chihuahuas. The ANIMAL PEOPLE classified ad surveys suggest that only about 15% as many Chihuahuas were whelped in 2012 as two years earlier.

Especially in California and Arizona, however, shelters are receiving more Chuhuahuas than ever. Nationally, ANIMAL PEOPLE found that Chihuahuas were 18.5% of the June 2012 U.S. open admission shelter dog inventory–and 93% of the Chihuahuas were in California, including 47% of the dogs at the Peninsula Humane Society in San Mateo, 25% of the dogs in the Los Angeles County shelter system, 23% of the dogs in the Los Angeles city shelter system, and 21% of the dogs in custody of San Diego County Animal Services.

The present glut of Chihuahas in shelters would appear to be a delayed result of the breeding peak reached in 2010. Most of these dogs were sold into homes, as cute puppies, but were dumped after they matured into adults.

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