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Signs of Progress

Pet overpopulation problem may be improving, according to this report from two Michigan State University researchers.

Pet overpopulation problem may be improving, according to this report from two Michigan State University researchers.

Pet overpopulation has been notoriously hard to measure. Many attempts to count the number of pets euthanized at shelters have relied on voluntary surveys with low response rates, and organizations that provide data are not representative of all shelters.

The overlapping jurisdictions of many private and municipal shelters also pose a challenge, making it difficult to extrapolate comprehensive statistics from locally reported numbers. And if data are not available from all shelters within a defined geographical area, it is impossible to accurately determine euthanasia rates for the general pet population.

This article is the researchers’ summary of their own survey. To read their full report, see the Spring 2005 issue of the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science.

While a national system of measurement for shelter statistics is still years away, two states have recently made major progress in data collection—and what they’ve found is a sign of hope.

In 1997, Michigan law required all licensed shelters to report dog, cat, and ferret admissions and discharge statistics; six years later, a concerted effort was made to compile shelter statistics from all 176 licensed shelters in the state.

Of the 140,653 dogs in Michigan shelters in 2003, 56,972 (40 percent) were euthanized and 40,005 (28 percent) were adopted. Expressed another way, 2.6 percent of the state’s estimated canine population was euthanized in animal shelters that year. Of the 134,405 cats entering Michigan shelters in 2003, 76,321 (57 percent) were euthanized and 32,251 (24 percent) were adopted. The number of euthanized cats represented an estimated 3.1 percent of the population of owned cats.

Small shelters had higher adoption rates than their more sizeable counterparts, and private shelters had higher adoption rates than local government facilities. Rural and urban shelters experienced no differences in adoption and euthanasia rates.

Virginia officials also surveyed their state’s animal shelters in 2003. The 60,625 dogs euthanized that year represented 3.9 percent of the estimated canine population. The 73,175 cats euthanized represented 4.1 percent of the estimated population of owned cats. These statistics, as well as those from Michigan, include euthanized animals who were old, sick, aggressive, or otherwise not adoptable.

If other states are similar to Michigan in pet ownership and handling patterns, extrapolation of the survey results to the national level suggests that approximately 1.6 million dogs and 2.2 million cats were euthanized in shelters nationally in 2003. If the Virginia data is used, we would estimate that 2.4 million dogs and 2.9 million cats were euthanized nationally in 2003. Either way, these recent estimates are far lower than the estimates of 7 to 17 million made only a decade ago.

The most likely interpretation of the recent data from Michigan and Virginia is that, while pet overpopulation remains a problem, national efforts to promote responsible pet ownership appear to be making progress.


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