Updated Sep 1, 2023 - Economy

Euthanasia rates across U.S. animal shelters reach 3-year high

Euthanasia rate for dogs in shelters, 2023
Data: Shelter Animals Count; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Animal shelters are overrun with stray or owner-surrendered pets this year, leading to spiking post-pandemic euthanasia rates across the country.

Why it matters: Animal intakes at both public and private shelters across the country are expected to reach a 3-year high this year, and adoptions or returns to owners are not keeping pace, according to the Shelter Animals Count database (SAC).

  • About 51,000 dogs were euthanized from January to July 2023, a 37% increase from that same period in 2022, according to data submitted by organizations that report to SAC.

What's happening: More dogs than cats are coming into shelters in many major cities, driven largely by an increase in strays, according to SAC.

  • A pause in spay and neuter surgeries during pandemic restrictions is also increasing the animal population in cities like Chicago and San Antonio.

By the numbers: Denver's city shelter, for example, as of late August had euthanized 866 dogs and cats — the most in at least five years.

  • Overcrowding at Detroit's shelter is forcing the city to double up animals in kennels or use pop-up cages.
  • There have been 1,147 euthanasias this year to date out of a total intake of 3,771, for a rate of 31.9%. That's a significant jump from 2019's 23.7%, or 1,043 total euthanasias out of a total intake of 4,622, according to Detroit Animal Care and Control.
  • San Antonio has euthanized 4,393 animals so far this fiscal year, which is already much higher than last year's count of 2,956 dogs and cats.

Between the lines: Housing instability fueled by the end of pandemic eviction moratoriums or increasing rents is driving a lot of pet relinquishment, including in Des Moines, Indianapolis and Tampa Bay.

  • A shortage of affordable housing can mean rentals that don't allow pets or higher fees, especially for dog owners.

Yes, but: In places like Columbus and Tampa Bay, adoptions are up and euthanasia rates are either steady or lower than past years.

  • The animal kill rate in Tampa Bay's Hillsborough County is at a five-year low of less than 5% so far this year, and has been on a steady decline since 2018, according to Axios Tampa Bay. That's partly due to the county's focus on working with pet owners.

What they're saying: "We've started to think more owner-centric and less pet-centric," Hillsborough County Pet Resources shelter director Scott Trebatoski says. "Pets aren't going to get better care unless the owner is going to be able to provide it to them."

State of play: Cities with high adoption rates have been hosting "Clear the Shelters" promotional events, where adoption fees are waived or free microchips are offered.

  • Franklin County, where Columbus is located, has been asking people who find friendly, healthy lost dogs to temporarily house them, with the shelter providing any necessary food or supplies.
  • Indianapolis' Indy CARES and Chicago Animal Care and Control both provide financial support to owners who want to keep their pets but need help affording things like medical care or food.

The intrigue: Denver Animal Shelter recently hired the department's first social worker in an effort to take a "proactive approach" to pets being surrendered. The social worker will target underserved communities and provide free resources for their pets, like transportation to vet appointments.

Be smart: Stephanie Filer from SAC reminds potential pet owners they can often find specific breeds at shelters, rather than going to breeders.

  • As the saying goes, "Adopt, don't shop."
  • In addition to local shelters, petfinder.com is a great option.

Go deeper: Read dispatches from Axios Local reporters in Chicago ... Charlotte ... ClevelandColumbusDetroit ... Des Moines ... Denver ... IndianapolisPhiladelphiaSan Francisco ... San Antonio ... Twin Cities ... Tampa Bay.

Contributors: Alissa Widman Neese, Arika Herron, Annalise Frank, Kathryn Varn, Alayna Alvarez, Megan Stringer, Sam Allard, Jason Clayworth, Torey Van Oot, Kate Murphy, Katie Peralta Soloff, Zachery Eanes and Mike D'Onofrio.

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