U.S. shelter killing toll drops to 3.7 million dogs & cats by Merritt Clifton and Ed Boks

U.S. animal shelters as of mid-2007 are killing fewer dogs and cats than at any time in at least the past 37 years, according to the 15th annual ANIMAL PEOPLE evaluation of the most recent available shelter data.

The rate of shelter killing per 1,000 Americans, now at 12.5, is the lowest since data collected by John Marbanks in 1947-1950 suggested a rate of about 135–at a time when animal control in much of the U.S. was still handled by private contractors, who often simply killed strays or sold them to laboratories instead of taking them to shelters, and unwanted puppies and kittens were frequently drowned.

The ANIMAL PEOPLE projection each year is based on compilations of the tolls from every open admission shelter handling significant numbers of animals in specific cities, counties, or states. The sample base each year is proportionately weighted to ensure regional balance. Only data from the preceding three fiscal years is included.

Using a three-year rolling projection tends to level out flukes that might result from including different cities, counties, and states each year, but has the disadvantage of sometimes not showing significant changes in trends until a year or two after they start. Thus the effects of the post-2001 slump in funding for dog and cat sterilization programs only became evident in 2004. Comparably, trends involving Internet-assisted adoption, adoption transport, feral cats and pit bull terriers that were just gathering momentum in 2004 are major influences on the 2007 findings.

As of 2004, about a third of all U.S. dog and cat adoptions were believed to be Internet-assisted, via web sites where animals’ photographs and descriptions are posted. Anecdotally, at least two thirds of adoptions are Internet-assisted today, with dogs benefitting most, since dog adopters are more likely to be seeking a specific breed or mix, who may be readily found only through web-searching. Adoption transport also chiefly benefits dogs, since cats are still abundant in all parts of the U.S., but small dogs, puppies, and purebreds are relatively scarce in shelters along both coasts and in the northern Midwest.

Soaring shelter receipts of pit bull terriers in 2001-2004 outpaced progress in sterilizing feral cats, causing total shelter killing to soar by the end of 2004 to the highest level since 1997. For the first and only time since ANIMAL PEOPLE began quantifying shelter killing, more dogs were killed in 2004 than cats. The 1997 toll was 53% cats, 47% dogs, about the same balance as had prevailed since the mid-1980s, but the 2004 toll was reversed, at 47% cats, 53% dogs. [Boks: In LA it is 65% cats and 35% dogs.]

About half of the dogs who were killed in 2004 were pit bull terriers, ANIMAL PEOPLE confirmed by surveying shelter directors in 23 representative metropolitan areas.

Salathia Bryant of the Houston Chronicle was shocked in February 2007 to discover that local shelter intakes of pit bulls had increased from 5% of all dogs in 2000 to 15% in 2002 and 27% in 2006. Actually this was right on the national norms found by ANIMAL PEOPLE nearly two years earlier.

Los Angeles residents were shocked in June 2007 when Department of Animal Regulation chief Ed Boks lamented that 40% of the dogs who were killed in the city shelters during the preceding year were pit bulls. Yet as many as 70% of the dogs killed in some other major cities are pit bulls–who are reportedly 65% of the animal control dog intake in Milwaukee, and may account for more than two-thirds of the dog intake in Detroit and Philadelphia.

While pit bull intake has not slowed down since 2004, and appears to be still rising, the total canine death toll in U.S. shelters has fallen by more than 750,000 since 2004, with pit bulls the main beneficiaries.

Increasing use of standardized temperament tests to determine whether dogs are safe for adoption appears to be driving the change. Traditionally, behavioral suitability for adoption tended to be judged from anecdotal assessments by animal control officers, kennel workers, and people who surrendered animals to shelters. Relatively few shelters ever categorically refused to adopt out pit bulls and other breeds of dog who are considered high-risk, though some did and still do, but the breeds of dogs tended to weigh heavily, if not always consciously, in the judgments.

When most shelters were killing a relatively high percentage of the dogs received, and no one breed predominated, this was not an issue. As pit bulls came to disproportionately fill shelters, however, concern about “breed discrimination” on the one hand and soaring liability insurance costs on the other caused shelter directors to seek ways to support their decisions. Standardized temperament tests offer shelters a way to explain in relatively objective terms why a particular dog may be unsuitable for adoption, and to adopt out some pit bulls with confidence that the adoptions will succeed.

Whether temperament tests really prevent dog attacks and liability is still a matter of debate, with several relevant court cases pending. ANIMAL PEOPLE in January/February 2002 published data suggesting that the breed-specific patterns of fatal and disfiguring attacks among dogs who have cleared behavioral screening are the same as among all dogs.

However, though pit bulls tend to flunk the most popular standardized behavioral tests more often than any other breed, enough pit bulls pass that they have become the breed most often adopted in New York City and Los Angeles. Despite several high-profile failures of pit bull adoption programs in the 1990s, many other cities are now trying similar approaches, based on checklists of behavior that can be taken into a courtroom more persuasively than the intuitive and subjective opinions of animal handlers. [Boks: please visit The Truth About Pit Bulls for more information on pit bull temperament that varies from ANIMAL PEOPLES’ analysis.]

Currently, U.S. shelters kill about 1.4 million dogs per year, including about 750,000 pit bulls and close mixes of pit bull. [Boks: In the City of LA we kill about 6000 dogs annually of which nearly 2,300 are pit bull/mixes.]

While fewer pit bulls are dying in U.S. shelters, the cat toll is rising again for the first time since neuter/return feral cat control caught on in 1991-1992. Across the U.S., the shelter toll is now 63% cats, 37% dogs–the most lopsided that it has ever been. [Boks: In the City of LA our cat intake is 45% and dog intake is 55%.]

Tweety and Sylvester

The 2006 projected total of 2.3 million cats killed in shelters represents an increase of about 300,000 from the level of the preceding several years. [Boks: In the City of LA we decreased cat euthanasia every year for the past six years. 28% decrease in cat deaths over the past six years with a 13% decrease over just the past twelve months.]

Yet this is not because there are more cats at large. Repeatedly applying various different yardsticks to measure the U.S. feral cat population, including shelter data, road-kill counts, and surveys of cat feeders, ANIMAL PEOPLE has found since 2003 that the projections consistently converge on estimates of about six million feral cats at large in the dead of winter, with about twice that many after the early summer peak of “kitten season.” This is down by more than 75% from the feral cat population of circa 1990, which was up by about a third from the total indicated in the studies done by John Marbanks in 1947-1950.

Data collected for the National Council on Pet Population Study indicates that the U.S. pet cat population has not reproduced in excess of self-replacement since approximately 1994. The marked increase in the U.S. pet cat population over this time, from just over 60 million to about 90 million, has been driven by adoptions of feral cats–mostly feral-born kittens. Kitten removals from the feral population, together with neuter/return, has reduced feral cat reproductive capacity to substantially less than replacement. Taking feral cats’ places are other mid-sized predators including growing populations of urban and suburban coyotes, foxes, bobcats, hawks, owls, and eagles.

But intolerance of free-roaming cats, especially feral cats, is the longtime official policy of all U.S. federal government agencies, as well as many state agencies responsible for managing property where feral cats formerly dwelled. Under intense pressure from birders and conservationists trying to save endangered species of birds and small mammals, federal and state agencies have intensified efforts to extirpate feral cats.

Organized opposition to neuter/return feral cat management before 2003 came chiefly from the Humane Society of the U.S. and PETA, which held that feral cats were suffering and should therefore be killed to end their misery, and the American Bird Conservancy, a relatively small organization that originated as a project of the World Wildlife Fund. Soon thereafter, HSUS adopted policies favoring carefully managed neuter/return–but in April 2003 the National Wildlife Federation membership magazine National Wildlife came out strongly against neuter/return. Only The Nature Conservancy, whose policy is to extirpate all nonnative species from their land holdings if possible, has more influence among U.S. wildlife policymakers.

Feral cat colony caretakers have often not helped their cause by maintaining colonies near sensitive wildlife habitats, and by not sterilizing enough cats, fast enough, to reduce the visible population to none within the three-to-five-year average lifespan of a feral cat who survives kittenhood.

Cape May, New Jersey, for example, has had an active neuter/return network since 1992, encouraged by animal control chief John Queenan. ANIMAL PEOPLE mentioned the Cape May project as a model for other communities in 1993. But Cape May is perhaps the most frequented resting and feeding area for migratory birds along the entire Atlantic flyway. Many visiting species are in decline, including the tiny red knot, which flies each year all the way from the Antarctic to the Arctic and back. Cape May is also among the nesting habitats of the endangered piping plover.

The Cape May economy is driven by birders’ visits. When Cape May still had an estimated 500 feral cats in 2003, ten years into the neuter/return program, the city allowed neuter/return advocates to maintain 10 cat feeding stations and weather shelters, but the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service began demanding that feral cat feeding be ended.

Many cats were removed from sensitive areas and housed in two trailers, one belonging to Cape May Animal Control and the other to Animal Outreach of Cape May County, the primary local cat rescue group since 1995. On May 19, 2007, however, the trailers caught fire, killing 37 cats. Cape May is currently considering withdrawing support for neuter/return and prohibiting feeding cats outdoors.

A similar situation may have a happier outcome on Big Pine Key, Florida, home of the endangered Hefner rabbit, Sylivilagus palustris hefneri. The rabbit was named for Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner after he funded the study that put it on the U.S. endangered species list more than 20 years ago. Blaming feral cats for a catastrophic collapse in rabbit numbers at the National Key Deer Refuge, refuge manager Anne Morkill in June 2007 announced that the cats would be trapped and taken to animal control shelters, where they would probably be killed. Hefner then donated $5,000 to Stand Up For Animals, whose founder, Linda Gottwald, told Stephanie Garry of the St. Petersburg Times that she would use the funding to sterilize and relocate as many of the cats as possible.

Among the regional variations of note in the 2007 ANIMAL PEOPLE roundup of shelter killing data are that the dog/cat balance is 72/28 in the Northeast, 65/35 in the Midwest, 63/35 in the Mid-Atlantic region, and 60/40 along the West Coast, but is 54/46 in the South, where intakes and killing of both dogs and cats are highest. Among the possible explanations are that Southern animal control agencies may put more emphasis on picking up dogs, and that communities with more dogs at large tend to have fewer feral cats.

Virginia and Florida data, however, more resembles the data from the rest of the U.S., reflecting the demographic influences of Washington D.C. and migration to Florida from other parts of the country.

Midwest progress

The Midwest has made the most impressive recent gains, almost catching up to the West Coast in reduction of dog and cat overpopulation through high-volume low-cost sterilization. Many of the most ambitious dog-and-cat sterilization projects started within the past decade are in the Midwest, including Pets Are Worth Saving, founded by Paula Fasseas in Chicago, and the Foundation Against Companion Animal Euthanasia, founded by Scott Robinson, M.D., in Indianapolis.

A global veterinary shortage is especially acute in the Midwest, where organizations including the Michigan Humane Society, based in Detroit, and M’Shoogy’s Animal Rescue, near Kansas City, have at times had to cut back services simply because they could not find vets to fill their open positions. [Boks: LA critics find fault with local veterinary shortages not recognizing this is a national crisis. Not withstanding, Animal Services has significantly rebuilt its medical program and has four outstanding veterinarians on staff and more applying all the time.]

The same problem afflicts the Appalachian states, where progress achieved in the 1990s has largely been lost, most markedly in Knoxville. Handling both city and county animal control sheltering out of a World War II-vintage Quonset hut, and operating a major local dog and cat sterilization program, the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley had reduced shelter killing to 24.5 dogs and cats per 1,000 humans by 1999–well above the then-national average of 16.6, but among the best records in the South.

A coalition of local no-kill rescue groups then convinced Knoxville officials that a city-and-county-run shelter working cooperatively with them could operate on less money and save more animals. ANIMAL PEOPLE warned at the time that Knoxville could not realistically try to achieve no-kill sheltering until the animal control intake volume fell by at least half. Instead of lowering the shelter toll, the first five years of animal control under the new agency saw shelter killing increase by 22%.

Regions quit counting

A frustrating aspect of the 2007 ANIMAL PEOPLE shelter toll analysis is that while we received enough data from both the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions to project reliable totals and trends by comparison to past data, including the dog/cat balance, no individual or agency relayed complete enough new data from cities other than New York City and Philadelphia–the biggest cities in those regions–for us to list totals for any others.

This is markedly different from the first years of our annual updates, when the most complete counts we received were from the New England states, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland.

As shelter killing rates in those states have stabilized at very low levels, many of the agencies that formerly collected shelter tolls appear to have refocused on collecting information about adoption transport programs, a very small part of shelter activity 15 years ago, but now the source of half or more of the animals many shelters offer for adoption.
–Merritt Clifton

[Boks: Visit http://www.laanimalservices.com/about_stats.htm for two comparisons of national shelter killing stats. Click on 2007 National Stats or 2007 National Stats Direct Comparison.]

[ANIMAL PEOPLE is the leading independent newspaper providing original investigative coverage of animal protection worldwide, founded in 1992. Their readership of 30,000-plus includes the decision-makers at more than 10,000 animal protection organizations. They have no alignment or affiliation with any other entity. E-mail: anmlpepl@whidbey.com Web: www.animalpeoplenews.org $24/year; for free sample, send address.]

June 07 and Fiscal Year 07 Record Breaking Recap by Ed Boks

When talking about “no-kill”, it is important to understand how this term is defined. At LA Animal Services “no-kill” means using the same criteria a compassionate veterinarian or loving guardian would use when deciding if euthanasia is appropriate. That is, euthanasia is only appropriate when an animal is terminally ill, terminally injured, or dangerously aggressive. When euthanasia is compassionately available for these animals alone we will have achieved “no-kill”.

LA Animal Services contends there is a loving home somewhere for all other categories of animals (the healthy, the treatable, and animals with behavioral issues that do not put people or other animals at serious risk of injury). Until all these animals are safely placed in loving homes Los Angeles has not achieved No-Kill. Until LA is not killing animals for reasons of space or limited medical resources we have not achieved No-Kill.

June 07 Statistics
Let’s look at the June 07 numbers. They reveal a timely snapshot of where we are now, but the real story is the consistent life saving trend we can document over the past five years.

June 07 dog and cat adoptions are up 26% compared to June 06 (1,552 from 1,233).

Dog adoptions are up 14% (839 from 733) and cat adoptions are up 43% (713 from 500).

The increase in cat adoptions appears to be the result of the community rallying to our calls for help with this year’s influx of cats.

New Hope Placements for dogs and cats is down slightly, 5.5% (344 from 376). Our New Hope program is a partnership with over 150 rescue organizations in California who help us place healthy and treatable animals at risk of euthanasia. New Hope placements for dogs is down 14% (291 from 340) but up 8% (235 from 217) for cats.

Where Animal Services Adoption and New Hope program’s synergistic efficiency truly reveals itself is in the euthanasia numbers. Dog and cat euthanasia in June 07 is down 30% (1,847) compared to June 06 (2,647). Dog euthanasia is down 30% (523 from 752) and cat euthanasia is also down 30% (1,323 from 1,895).

LA Animal Services implemented an aggressive orphan neonate kitten foster program this year. Neonates are kittens too young to survive on their own and in need of intensive foster care in order to survive. Neonates are animals state law defines as “unadoptable”, but LA Animal Services’ reverence for life No-Kill philosophy requires us to do everything we can to save these, the most helpless of all creatures.

In June 07 neonate kitten euthanasia decreased 59% (328 from 804). May 07 saw a 40% decrease in neonate mortality (192 from 319). These remarkable life saving results are being achieved by LA Animal Services employees and nearly 100 volunteer foster care givers who refused to let these animals die! I want to thank each and every one of you for your compassion and commitment to life!

In addition to the extraordinary efforts of our foster care givers, I want to thank our wonderful employees and volunteers for taking the time to help the public understand that by keeping these animals at home with momma until they are weaned they can greatly improve these babies’ chances of survival and, of course, for distributing Spay/Neuter Vouchers to get momma spayed after she weans this last batch of babies. These efforts resulted in a 21% decrease in the number of neonates coming into our Centers in June 07 compared to June 06 (862 from 1,095).

Fiscal Year 06/07 Statistics
In Fiscal Year (FY) 06/07, LA Animal Services took in 25,419 (55%) dogs and 20,898 (45%) cats.

34% (15,808) of all dogs and cats were owner relinquished, unwanted. 66% (30,686) were rescued by LA Animal Care Officers who found them as lost, roaming the streets, uncared for and perhaps just as unwanted.

LA Animal Services returned nearly 16% (4,037) of all incoming animals to their very grateful guardians. LA Animal Services consistently maintains the highest “return to guardian” rate in the country.

32% (6,634) of all cats taken (20,898) in were orphaned neonates.

Pit bull and pit bull mixes represent 25% (5,408) of all dogs taken in (25,493), 15% (1,463) of all dogs adopted, 4% (408) of all dogs placed through New Hope, and 41% (2,574) of all dogs euthanized.

In FY 06/07, LA Animal Services dog and cat adoptions are up 6.8% (15,098 from 14,125). Dog adoptions are up nearly 12% (from 8,772 to 9,813) and cat adoptions are down about 1% (5,285 from 5,353).

New Hope placements are down 1.7% (5,918 from 6,023). However, the combination of adoptions and New Hope placements is 21,016 – making LA Animal Services the highest volume pet adoption agency in the world.

In FY 06/07, Los Angeles euthanized (or killed) 17,314 dogs and cats. This represents the fewest number of dogs and cats euthanized in LA ever in a one year period. This is an 11.25% decrease from the previous Fiscal Year in which 19,508 dogs and cats were euthanized. LA Animal Services has consistently reduced euthanasia over the past five years in the double digits. 15% in 02/03. 12% in 03/04. 16% in 04/05. 10% in 05/06. 11.25% in 06/07. This represents a 50% decrease over the past five years from 34,329 to 17,314.

A sincere thank you to all of you who are helping to make No-Kill an achievable goal in LA!

Year to Date and April 2007 Numbers and Where We Go From Here by Ed Boks

Year To Date Numbers:
Despite a 3.45% increase in the number of dogs and cats rescued by LA Animal Services in the first four months of calendar year 2007 (from 11,532 to 11,930), the City’s euthanasia rate continues to decrease!

The euthanasia rate for Calendar Year to Date compared to the first four months of 2006 shows a 13.25% decrease (from 3198 to 2774)! Keep in mind that 2006 was a historic record year for euthanizing the fewest number of animals and now 2007 appears to be on track to be another record year!

Adoptions Year to Date are up 2% (from 4349 to 4437) and New Hope placements are up 3.2% (from 1919 to 1982).

LA Animal Services continues to lead the nation in returning lost pets to their frantic and grateful owners with a 1.2% increase Year to Date over last year (from 1385 to 1402). This rate is four times higher than any other large municipal program.

April Numbers:
April 07 showed a 5.3% increase in the number of animals rescued by LA Animal Services (up from 3395 to 3577) compared to April 06. The continual increase in the number of animals coming into LA City Animal Care Centers demonstrates the need for widespread support of the California Healthy Pet Act (www.cahealthypets.com).

Despite this increase in numbers, LA’s April euthanasia rate is the lowest April ever recorded, down a whopping 22.7% (from 1099 to 849)! This follows March’s historic all time low euthanasia month!

Although Adoptions were down 5% (from 1102 to 1044) our New Hope partners picked up the slack and adopted 9.4% more animals this April than last April (from 622 to 681)!

Where We Go From Here:
While these numbers may appear to paint a rosey picture to some, I want to make sure we don’t fool ourselves with respect to the challenge before us.

LA Animal Services is criticized from both sides. When euthanasia is up we are criticized for being a “death camp”. When euthanasia is down we are criticized for being a “concentration camp”.

LA Animal Services walks a very difficult line – we must try to maintain a high quality of life for our sheltered animals while attempting to not unnecessarily sacrifice the life of any animals when we need more space for incoming animals.

To ensure LA Animal Services continues to trend towards No-Kill we have or are implementing the following strategies:

1. When an animal is healthy and has a good disposition, we hold that animal for at least 45 days to maximize our efforts to adopt it out. Most municipal shelters hold animals for a week or less. During those 45 days staff becomes well acquainted with each animal so as to better plead its case to both adopters and our New Hope partners. If after 45 days none of our 120 New Hope partners or anyone of our 4 million residents steps up to adopt an animal, we then stress the urgency for help with that animal by posting him/her on a seven day Red Alert on our website. This step provides anybody and everybody one last opportunity to save that animal.

Even then this is not an automatic death sentence. Staff can, and often do, take animals off the seven day Red Alert when they think that animal just needs a little more time. That is how and why we often have animals in our Centers for months at a time. I cannot find ANY municipal shelter in the world that DOES MORE to save lives than LA Animal Services!

2. LA Animal Services will continue to promote adoptions and will continue to find ways to maximize the resources of our New Hope Partners. Working with our New Hope Partners, LA Animal Services is placing nearly 21,000 dogs and cats every year. I cannot find ANY animal adoption program anywhere in the world placing more animals than LA Animal Services. And we are committed to doing better! In addition to that, we reunite over 4,000 lost pets with their owners each year!

Please help us promote our current Be Kind To Animals Week Adoptathon in which we offer half off adoption fees!

3. As many of you know, LA Animal Services is in the process of vacating our East Valley and West LA Animal Care Centers to move into our new facilities. Our new facilities will increase our holding capacity by over 400%!

So what to do with our old facilities? LA Animal Services is developing a Request for Qualifications to identify one or more animal welfare organizations willing and able to manage our old facilities in partnership with LA Animal Services and in support of our No-Kill goal.

4. LA Animal Services continues to provide more and more spay/neuter surgeries for the pets of our residents each year, nearly 40,000 pets in 2006 and we are on track to do 44,000 in 2007. I cannot find ANY municipal program ANYWHERE that is doing more to provide spay/neuter services to its residents.

Later this year we will be opening our Spay/Neuter Clinics in order to provide even more spay/neuter services to our residents. South LA’s Spay/Neuter Clinic is already operational and we hope to have North Central operational soon, with five additional clinics coming on line no later than next spring.

5. LA Animal Services is one of the original drafters and supporters of AB 1634. Now we have the support of the Mayor and the entire City Council! Our efforts on this state initiative laid the foundation for us implementing a City spay/neuter ordinance which is on a parallel track even now.

Never was more being done to end the senseless killing of lost and homeless animals in the City of LA! I want to thank every employee, volunteer, and partner in helping us achieve the remarkable numbers of the last five years. But we have a long way to go and we need your help. Please consider ways of helping support the above initiatives, and/or consider joining our Volunteer Program.

Its an old but true maxim, that if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.