Why do so many dogs end up in shelters?

In North Carolina, the shelters are only required to keep intake statistics and include the number of returned dogs, the number of adopted, and the number euthanized. There is no requirement to record why dogs (or cats) are surrendered, whether they are healthy or sick, aggressive, have behavior problems. Therefore, in North Carolina we have no clear answer for the numbers in shelters.

In studies that have been undertaken in other areas, the top reasons for owner surrender are: hyperactivity, excessive barking, housetraining accidents, aggression to people and aggression to other pets. Nearly 41% were obtained from another person, and nearly 20% obtained from a shelter. See Conference discusses pet overpopulation.

How many animals are adopted from shelters?

According to the spay neuter summary reports for 2002 and 2003 the percentage of combined adoptions for cats and dogs is approximately 13.5% of the intake.

Why aren’t more adopted?

For simplification, we will divide shelter dogs into 3 categories: Unadoptable, Adoptable but not wanted, Adoptable.

Unadoptable: Is an animal that cannot, in good conscience, be released to a home. Either the animal has temperament/behavioral issues or its health is in jeopardy. We have to remember that 90% of animals are turned over to shelters due to some sort of temperament / behavioral / training issue that the owners were unable / unwilling to correct. Animals with poor health and very elderly are also unadoptable.

Adoptable but not wanted: Are healthy animals without any huge issues, that people simply don't want. A big dog in a condo community, a tiny dog in a rural community, a media-maligned breed, etc. It's not the dogs fault, but if the right type of home doesn't enter that shelter at that time - they might as well be unadoptable. This is why there are so many rescue groups that take these types of animals and promote them to the types of homes that WILL want them.

Adoptable: Are typically younger animals in good health that don't exhibit any extremes (aren't too big, too small, too excited, too hairy, etc.)

There is a subcategory in “Unadoptable” of animals that are generally healthy but have a short term condition or a chronic disease that can be managed with medication. Some shelters euthanize as unadoptable dogs with mange, dogs or cats with earmites, dogs that test positive for heartworm, etc. Others will treat these dogs then place them.

What can be done to increase adoptions?

More aggressive adoption programs at shelters; public education on training methods and available local facilities could possibly help a dog with minor behavior problems become a well-adjusted pet for a new owner. Contact could also be made with rescue groups that specialize in 'Special needs' dogs (senior dog rescue, groups that can work with blind or deaf dogs).

What can be done to decrease shelter populations?

Again – education. Education programs for the public on choosing a dog that works with their lifestyle, spay/neuter benefits, basic training methods. Community involvement with training and obedience classes. Follow up on spay/neuter requirements of animals adopted from shelters. Enforcing leash laws to keep dogs from roaming and prevent unwanted mating and litters. These are just a few of the ideas to help people become responsible owners and reduce shelter populations.

The reasons for dogs/cats being surrendered to shelters also needs to be defined. Statistics are required by law to be collected, but without a reason attached to the “intake” figure, the statistics have little meaning and cannot serve as a guide to work toward a solution.

Permission to reprint is granted by North Carolina Responsible Animal Owners Alliance