Aug 30, 2023 - News

Denver Animal Shelter euthanizations hit five-year high

Cats and dogs euthanized at Denver Animal Shelter
Data: Denver Animal Shelter; Chart: Axios Visuals

The number of dogs and cats being euthanized at Denver Animal Shelter is spiking as more pets and strays are being left at its doors.

By the numbers: As of Sunday, the shelter had already euthanized 866 dogs and cats this year — the most in at least five years, according to data provided to Axios Denver.

  • At the same time, the number of cats and dogs being surrendered is also soaring. As of Sunday, 1,184 dogs and cats had been given up by their owners compared to 1,129 in all of 2022.

What's happening: A slew of factors are driving euthanasia numbers, shelter director Melanie Sobel tells us. For starters, inflation costs are hurting people's ability to afford veterinary care, food and supplies for their pets.

  • Denver's affordable housing shortage is at play, too. "It's very, very difficult to find an affordable place, let alone find an affordable place that allows animals," Sobel notes.

Zoom in: A vet shortage is also driving up pet care prices and leaving animals unspayed and unneutered, spurring more strays at the shelter.

  • Meanwhile, pets foregoing medical care are having compounding health issues, pushing many cash-strapped owners to abandon them.

Between the lines: The shelter euthanizes dogs and cats on a case-by-case basis — typically those that are severely injured or a danger to the community — and strays are required by law to be held for at least five days.

  • Sobel notes that her team has seen an uptick in problematic behavioral issues among large, adolescent dogs that have gone largely unsocialized and kept inside during the pandemic, which has also driven up shelter euthanasia rates.
  • Under normal circumstances, the shelter would work with difficult animals until a transfer partner can take them — but "transfer partners are full because everyone's asking them to take behavioral-issue dogs," so the only option is euthanasia, she says.

Of note: Some shelters in the area that practice no-kill policies have changed their intake rules recently, only adding to the numbers at Denver Animal Shelter, Sobel says.

  • In Aurora, for example, the city is no longer accepting surrendered dogs amid an influx of animals.
  • Denver's shelter is open-admission, however, meaning it's legally required to accept any animal that comes through the door.

Reality check: Denver Animal Shelter has seen higher euthanasia numbers in the past. Fifteen years ago, 2,673 dogs and cats were euthanized, accounting for a third of animals the shelter took in that year, city data shows.

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

  • The number of dogs that were euthanized, died or lost in care — referred to as "non-live outcomes" — is up nearly 30% from last year and a shocking 74% from 2021.
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