New Data Shows Increase in Number of Pets Killed in U.S. Shelters for the First Time in 5 Years

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U.S. animal shelters are experiencing a setback in their lifesaving efforts, according to new data.

Best Friends Animal Society — an animal welfare organization dedicated to ending the killing of cats and dogs in shelters by 2025 — recently collected new data that shows in 2021, there was an increase in the number of shelter pets euthanized before they could find homes.

The nonprofit found that the number of pets killed by the U.S. shelter system increased from 347,000 to 355,000. In a release, Best Friends noted that this is the first time in five years that the number of pets euthanized each year in U.S. shelters has increased.

"Unfortunately, the setback in lifesaving is largely due to the historic decreases in pets entering shelters in 2020," Julie Castle, the CEO of Best Friends Animal Society, said in a statement. "As shelters began to reopen in 2021 in increasing numbers, so did the number of pets entering their facilities. Throughout 2021, shelters saw an 8.1 percent increase in intake, and sadly, the number of pet adoptions could not keep pace with the increased intake."

The data collected by Best Friends shows that dogs were significantly affected by these fluctuations, with dog intakes increasing by nearly three times the rate of dog adoptions in 2021.

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The animal welfare organization's data also revealed positive findings. In their release, Best Friends highlighted that the national save rate for dogs and cats in shelters is 83 percent, representing a 77 percent reduction in dogs and cats killed in shelters since 2017. Additionally, half of all U.S. shelters are now no-kill compared to 22.5 percent in 2017.

"A 90 percent save rate is the nationally recognized benchmark to be considered 'no-kill,' factoring that approximately 10 percent of pets who enter shelters have medical or behavioral circumstances that warrant humane euthanasia rather than killing for lack of space," Castle added.

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After reviewing the data, Best Friends suggested that animal lovers help prevent the euthanization of shelter pets by choosing to adopt their next pet from a shelter or rescue group, spaying or neutering their pets, fostering animals, volunteering at shelters, and donating to local rescues.

"The responsibility of saving pets' lives should not rest solely on shelters and those in animal welfare, but on entire communities including community members, government leaders, shelters, and other animal welfare groups," said Castle. "Through collaboration and community involvement, this model provides better support for pet owners, efficiency in shelters, and more lifesaving outcomes for pets. When a community supports its shelter's critical needs, we see dramatic results," Castle said.