Where do dogs go when they die? According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), a pet will make it to an animal shelter or be adopted out to a new owner after about two weeks.
What happens to a pet after the two weeks? If the owner is no longer in contact with the shelter, and the animal is not adopted, it will likely be killed. In order to meet their euthanasia quota, shelters regularly kill animals at one-fifth the rate they take in new ones.
The shelter is your responsibility, even if you did not intend to ever bring your pet into it. As Animal Legal Defense Fund lawyer Peter Ball explains, “it is just not reasonable to expect that the pet owner will pick up the tab for what the shelter ultimately determines to be the best option.”
It’s also a problem for shelters: An Animal Legal Defense Fund study has shown that a shelter’s ability to get more animals is directly proportional to how many of them die. The more of them die, the less time shelters have to “re-purpose” the facility, and the less space they have to get new animals. This can leave them with no choice but to euthanize.
Why are animals killed?
Pet overpopulation is a problem, especially for small shelters like those operated by Animal Services, the public animal care and control agency in many cities and towns.
In Massachusetts, animal shelters have to comply with state law and the Massachusetts’ Animal Shelter Standards &, Guidelines. (We’re glad you made it this far.) One provision of those guidelines says a shelter has to take a “reasonable” number of animals into their care each year. If they don’t do that, their number of animals killed increases.
While the shelters in some areas take a higher percentage of pets from the general public than in others, the bottom line is that a shelter’s ability to humanely house and care for the animals in its care depends on how many of them it gets, so when more animals arrive than it can take, that’s how it has to act.
“The best they can do is reduce the shelter population, and that will reduce the number of animals that need to be euthanized,” said Sarah Toth, the director of public policy at the Humane Society of the United States. “This is a perfect storm.”
How do shelters get animals?
There are a lot of ways. The Humane Society notes that shelters often rely on a mix of in-person, telephone and online donation requests.
That said, most of the “adoptable” dogs and cats that come into shelters are from the local veterinary hospitals. Veterinarians do most of their adoptions in person, and they can give their pets to shelters for a free “holding” period, which the Humane Society says is the most effective way to give shelter pets a fair chance at finding a new home.
And of course, it’s also possible for animals to be surrendered directly to shelters by their owners, which means they’ve taken the animals to the vet, but for whatever reason, have decided they no longer want to care for them.
Still, the biggest problem shelter animals face isn’t just finding new homes, it’s the fact that many Americans view shelter pets as disposable items, and don’t believe the animals are important enough to be given a second chance.
“When it comes to pets, we think of them as a burden, a cost, something to do or pay, rather than something to care for and love,” said Amy Schatz, senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States. “And, unfortunately, we have a system that encourages that thinking.”
In fact, when it comes to adopting pets from the Humane Society, nearly 90 percent of those pets do not come from local animal shelters. Instead, they come from pet-adoption drives, where potential pet owners pay to place their pets with one of the Humane Society’s shelters.
“We often get people who think they’ll only be at the shelter for three days and then move on to their next animal,” Schatz said. “We tell them that, if they really love their dog, or their cat, they should consider adopting. They should make that decision after three days, at the end of their stay, rather than making it during the adoption process.”
Some people may think the shelters get a raw deal, having to pay thousands of dollars to house pets while not being able to keep any profits from the adoptions. But, Schatz said, most shelters have their costs covered by public donations and proceeds from adoption, not by the pet owners.
And when the pet owners do end up adopting, the animals get to stay with them for far longer than they would if they had bought their pet at a store. For example, the Humane Society has contracts with pet stores where pets can be adopted for as little as $40. The Humane Society also works with several large retail chains, such as Petsmart and Target, where pet owners can adopt pets at no cost to them, according to Schatz. The Humane Society is also in the process of setting up partnerships with grocery stores and other retail businesses.
“We really want people to consider adopting,” she said. “Because, if they make that decision now, they can keep the pet for the rest of its life.”
And that’s important. While the pets may no longer be in shelters, they still need care. The Humane Society says that every animal should live a healthy, stress-free life and that most animal shelters are able to accept adoptable animals for years after they are saved. This means that most shelters don’t have the resources to give unwanted animals a chance to be adopted again.
And that’s the problem, the Humane Society says.
According to the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP), in 2007 there were more than 4.2 million pets in animal shelters nationwide. The most recent numbers for 2012 are not yet in, but it is estimated that at least 3 million pets and 1.1 million cats were euthanized in 2012.
And that’s not good for the pets.
The NCPPSP says that the pets that are abandoned and have to be put down are just as important to society as the ones who end up being adopted.
“Euthanasia in a shelter is not about killing, it’s about making the decision to not keep a pet in the shelter for the rest of its life,” says Dr. Laura P