Dear Earthtalk: are as many cats and dogs being euthanized these days as back in the 1970s and 1980s when indiscriminate breeding led to explosions in pet populations?--Mary H., Knox, TN
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the leading non-profit devoted to animal welfare, reports that in the 1970s American shelters euthanized between 12 and 20 million cats and dogs every year at a time when there were 67 million pets in U.S. homes. According to statistics gleaned from the Asilomar Accords, which tracks animal shelter care and euthanasia numbers, U.S. shelters today euthanize three to four million animals, while there are more than 135 million cats and dogs in American homes.
"This enormous decline in euthanasia numbers--from around 25 percent of American dogs and cats euthanized every year to about three percent--represents substantial progress," reports HSUS. "We will make still greater progress by working together to strike at the roots of animal overpopulation."
These numbers are only estimates as there is no centralized reporting protocol for shelters. However, the Asilomar Accords method is gaining momentum as a standard for more accurately tracking animal shelter care and euthanasia numbers; it posts annual statistics for some 150 different U.S. shelters on its website.
And what exactly are the roots of the problem? Foremost is irresponsible breeding--pet owners failing to get their animals spayed or neutered, leading to unwanted offspring. Some 35 percent of U.S. pet owners do not spay or neuter their pets, despite increasing public awareness about the pet overpopulation issue.
Another factor is low adoption rates: Only 20 percent of the 17 million Americans that get a new pet each year opt for a shelter pet; the vast majority buys from pet stores, breeders, or through other private arrangements...