Are there enough dogs to go around for all the folks who want to adopt? No, really — are the United States facing a dog shortage?
Some recent reports claim that may be the case.
In the first study of its kind, a national survey of shelters conducted by the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine projected that shelters may be able to provide only 2% of the 8 million dogs American households are expected to adopt.
Euthanasia Rates Continue to Decline
The Mississippi study found that about 5.5 million dogs entered shelters in 2015. About 2.5 million of those were adopted out, leaving 776,970 dogs euthanized by shelters and another 750,000 or so transferred to other shelters or rescues.
While 776,970 dogs being destroyed is very distressing, that number is significantly down from previous rates of 12 million dogs euthanized in past years. The dogs killed by shelters in 2015 were euthanized because they were deemed too sick or unadoptable, or they were victims of high-kill shelters where unwanted dogs are still all too common.
Many dog lovers will still go the purchase-a-puppy route from a reputable or disreputable breeder. People who look to adopt from shelters, thinking the facilities are loaded with tons of adoptable dogs just waiting for homes, may be sorely disappointed.
Depending on where you live, you may have already been surprised to find your local shelter devoid of dogs or dogs that fit your needs, even if you’re not being overly picky.
Changing Trends in Dog Adoption
In the Northeast, I have seen an amazing change in adoption trends.
Our local shelters have fewer and fewer adoptable dogs. Most of the runs house full-grown large dogs and pit bull mixes, dogs who often have not been sufficiently trained or socialized, making them more difficult to adopt.
People who think they will have their “pick of the stray litter” or find rows of sweet, fluffy faces waiting patiently for a loving home are often sadly disappointed. So where do they turn to find the next family dog?
Often, people will find a dog to adopt online, a pup being transported by animal welfare or rescue groups. These groups move dogs from high-kill areas, like the South, to areas with empty shelters, like Connecticut.
If current trends continue, however, where animal welfare activists continue to educate, advocate for spay/neuter programs and make progress on lowering the euthanasia rate around the country, shelters and rescue groups will not have enough dogs to go around in years to come, no matter where you live.
Adopting vs. Purchasing
The progress made on lowering euthanasia rates will continue. The good news is that there will be fewer homeless dogs stranded in shelters.
So what’s the bad news? As our population grows and dog popularity continues to rise in America, how will we find the 5 million-plus dogs needed to fill the gap that shelters cannot fill?
People who really want a dog and are not willing to work harder to find a dog through pet rescue options are going to turn more quickly to buying a dog.
I have already seen some of my clients walk in with a new pup they bought over the internet because they just couldn’t find a homeless dog to adopt. They went to shelters several times without any luck, got on a few waiting lists and just got tired of waiting.
If folks who used to adopt turn to purchasing a dog in the future, now is the time for pet advocates and veterinarians to work on improving ethical breeding practices. Pets are big business, and puppies and dogs are seen as a moneymaking venture by many bad actors.
Although puppy mills and “backyard breeders” have been a problem for a long time, unethical breeding is expected to get worse as demand goes up.
“Breeders” don’t have to own AKC dogs or “purebreds” anymore to make a nice chunk of change. Breed anything that’s little and fluffy, and Americans will pay handsomely.
Studies are underway to establish humane standards for dog breeding.
As animal welfare advocates, we can cautiously pat ourselves on the back for continually decreasing euthanasia rates, but we’ve got a huge amount of work ahead to improve the dog breeding industry and deliver it from the dark ages.
Ethical breeding means ending puppy mills as they sadly exist today and codifying how individual breeders should raise dogs and conduct business.
The dog import business is a bigger can of worms — most of this pet trade is done illegally. An estimated 1 million dogs are generated from countries with poor human rights track records, let alone humane animal welfare practices. You may not even know that you are buying a dog bred in an Asian, Middle Eastern, or Eastern European country.
Check out these wonderful rescue dogs (hint — keep the tissues handy):
Find That Stray
If you are dedicated to giving a needy dog a loving home, you will still be able to do that. It will just take a bit more work.
Local shelters and rescue groups will work with you to find you the right dog. You may have to travel a bit to meet your new family member who’s arriving from another state, but it will be well worth your time and effort.