True Facts About Animal Euthanasia

As time moves forward, the daily challenges we face in animal shelters involving euthanasia continues to occur in alarming rates. Nearly 8 million animals will enter shelters this year alone and of the 8 million, 4 million will be euthanized largely due to lack of funding. While there is still much to be done to ensure that we end the euthanasia of healthy and adoptable dogs and cats, it is useful to look at the trends and try to determine what programs have led to improvements over the past three to four decades:


Before 1970

Milestone: Shelter populations and euthanasia rates peak: 100 cats and dogs killed per 1,000 people.

Prior to 1970, it was general knowledge that animal euthanasia rates were continuously increasing and shelters were routinely euthanizing over 100 dogs and cats per 1,000 people in their communities.



Milestone:  First low-cost spay/neuter clinic opens in Los Angeles

The 1970's proved to be a defining decade in decreasing euthanasia trends in animal shelters. In 1971, the first low-cost spay/neuter clinic was established by an animal shelter (in Los Angeles). This clinic launched an impassioned national debate about the issue and private practice veterinarians began to perform surgical sterilizations at a much greater rate.

The impact of this change in the behavior of private practitioners can be seen by the increased proportion of licensed dogs (from 10 percent in 1971 to 51 percent in 1975) that were sterilized in Los Angeles. It can be calculated that, in order to increase the proportion of sterilized dogs by this amount, the private practitioners had to perform about 90 percent of the sterilization operations with the low-cost clinic doing the rest. The number of animals handled annually by shelters entered a period of rapid decline



Milestone: Decline shelter numbers level off

The decline in the number of animals handled by shelters leveled off in the 1980s. I speculate that sterilization procedures were viewed as an elective option in private veterinary clinics and performed only when requested by the clients..



Milestone: Euthanasia rates of dogs and cats in shelters drop to 10 percent of 1970 figure.

By the 1990s, private practice veterinarians were starting to offer young animal health programs that included sterilization procedures as part of the wellness and vaccination check-ups. Clients now had to "opt-out" if sterilization was not wanted.

As a result, shelter dog numbers began to decline again while the numbers of cats inched up somewhat—leading to the widespread feeling that cat numbers were "out of control."

This led to the launching of numerous feral cat TNVR programs and we also began to see an expansion of high volume spay/neuter programs. Today, the rate of euthanasia of dogs and cats in shelters has dropped to around 12.5 dogs and cats per 1,000 people—or about 10 percent of what it was in 1970!



Milestone: The number of cats and dogs in U.S. households has more than doubled in the past four decades.

As a nation, Americans have become much more aware of animal welfare issues in the past four decades. As the human population has increased, the number of animals welcomed into American homes each year has also gone up. National shelter statistics show that the number of cats and dogs has steadily increased (even though the percentage of households with cats and dogs has remained relatively steady).

From 1973 to 2007, the number of cats and dogs in U.S. households more than doubled and animal shelter euthanasia rates dropped by more than 60%.

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