The statistics are staggering.  Every year, the number of dogs admitted to shelters far exceeds the number of people coming forward to adopt.  The result is the killing of literally millions of healthy dogs in North America annually.  The reality is heartbreaking. While I choose to focus primarily on solutions, and to celebrate every positive outcome, and every single life saved, it is important to also face reality.   To that end, this blog post is written to cast a light on the overwhelming numbers relating to homeless dogs in Canada and the United States.

**For the record, euthanasia is defined as the act or practice of killing one who is very sick or injured in order to prevent any more suffering.  What is happening in shelters across North America is not mercy killing, it is not euthanasia.  It is destroying healthy, adoptable dogs for reasons of lack of space or resources to keep them.  Much of the time I am referring to euthanasia so as not to turn away the reader, but I am not kidding myself.

In Canada, the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS) collects data from humane societies and SPCAs across the country in order to compile national statistics on shelter animals. The most recent report captures data from 2014.  At that time, there were 168 humane societies and SPCAs nationwide, with only 89 organizations providing statistics for the 2014 report. While the data shows that the numbers of homeless animals in Canada are decreasing, the outcome for many dogs is still bleak. Roughly 38,000 dogs were admitted to shelters in 2014. Of these, 42% were adopted, 10% were euthanized, 28% were returned to their owner, and an additional 12% remained in shelters. The data reported actually represents only a fraction of the homeless dogs in Canada as only 52% of CFHS organizations reported, and other organizations such as municipal animal shelters, private shelters, rescue and foster groups were not polled. One could safely assume that the number of dogs destroyed in Canadian shelters each year is at least double the 3,800 cited in the annual report.

The picture in the United States is far different.  As is the case in Canada, it is difficult to get accurate numbers. There is no government institution or animal organization responsible for tabulating national statistics for the protection movement. There are about 13,600 community animal shelters nationwide that are independent. The terms “humane society” and “SPCA” are generic, and shelters using those names are not part of the ASPCA or the Humane Society of the United States, thus there is no requirement for shelter statistics to be reported. The following are national estimates only, and again the data may not accurately represent the reality.

  • Approximately 3.9 million dogs enter animal shelters nationwide every year.
  • Each year, approximately 1.2 million dogs are euthanized
  • Of the dogs entering shelters, approximately 35% are adopted, 31% are euthanized and 26% of dogs who came in as strays are returned to their owner.

Our challenge is to find a way to approach this desperate situation without a sense of desperation.  No doubt, many turn away from the problem for fear of becoming overwhelmed and heartbroken.  The truth is; however, if everybody did something – just one little thing – the situation would be greatly improved.  Have I cried and felt sad after reading posts about dogs losing their lives while still waiting to be adopted and loved?  Yup, I certainly have.  In fact, I have done so today.  But, I’ve also adopted a sweet little dog, given him a loving home, and felt the joy that goes with that.  It also gives me joy to think that I might be able to make a difference in the lives of others, dogs and humans alike, by sharing my passion.  So….here is my call to action for you.   If you are thinking of adding a pet to your family, please consider rescue. Spread the word to friends and family.  Get involved and support local rescues in your neighbourhood.  

Credit: Statistics quoted from the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA®)


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