Aug 30, 2023 - News

San Diego's euthanasia rates dropping even as animal shelters fill up

Illustration of a dog collar with a metal pendant in the shape of an emergency symbol with an exclamation point.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The San Diego Humane Society hit record capacity last month as shelters have taken in thousands of strays or owner-surrendered pets; but the organization has managed to prevent a spike in its euthanasia rate.

Zoom out: That's contrary to the national trend, in which shelters are grappling with a surge of animals and adoptions or returns to owners are failing to keep pace, leading to spiking post-pandemic euthanasia rates.

What's happening: While its shelters have been over capacity for months, the San Diego Humane Society says it does not euthanize animals based on space limitations or length of stay.

  • The nonprofit, which operates animal services for the city, provides advanced medical procedures and behavior programs for fearful and under socialized animals.
  • It also uses fostering and adoption incentives that helped more than 2,000 pets find homes during its month-long Clear the Shelters annual event, which runs through August.

Yes, but: They're still asking the community to help by fostering and adopting these pets.

Catch up quick: The local Humane Society branch doubled in size in 2018 when it took over animal services for San Diego and five other cities. The change was prompted by the county halting its services after nearly 50 years.

By the numbers: The San Diego Humane Society runs animal services for 14 of 18 cities in the county across five facilities, mostly caring for cats and dogs. In the 2021-22 fiscal year, the most recent data available, there were:

  • 29,088 intakes, up from 23,188 the prior fiscal year
  • 17,829 adoptions, up from 13,213
  • 2,416 animals euthanized, up from 2,036
  • 92% live release rate, up from 90%

Of note: After seeing three years of rising rates of euthanasia from about 5% to 9%, San Diego saw a reversal in 2019-20, dropping below 8% in 2021-22.

  • That includes euthanasias for cats, dogs and other pets that are unhealthy and untreatable for medical or behavioral reasons and excludes owner-requested euthanasias.

The other side: Euthanasia rates at the two animal shelters still run by the county have risen to 12% this year — more than 660 animals, county data shows. More animals are coming in, primarily strays, and fewer animals are being adopted.

Between the lines: Housing insecurity, financial hardship and limited access to affordable, basic veterinary care are driving the trend, County Animal Services director Kelly Campbell told Axios via email.

  • San Diego's expensive and competitive housing market, plus restrictive policies by landlords and insurance companies can make it difficult for residents to keep pets.
  • Meanwhile, California's shortage of veterinarians is making care less accessible, Campbell said. It's also making spay/neuter surgeries hard to get, leading to unplanned litters that continue the cycle of breeding and pet homelessness.

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