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The Shelter Voice: Reducing Euthanasia

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By Darlene Duggan

One of the main goals of every animal shelter is to reduce euthanasia both inside their walls and at the community level. In the past 30 years in animal welfare, the overall euthanasia rate of the nation’s homeless animals has dramatically decreased because of the hard work of dedicated staff and volunteers. So, what exactly are shelters doing differently today than they did back in the ’70s and ’80s?

More Adoptions?

Interestingly, adoption is not a major contributing factor to reducing euthanasia. The goal for any animal shelter is to place as many animals as possible into loving homes, and adoptions serve as the bandage fix to the greater problem of pet homelessness. Although there are seasonal trends, many studies have shown that adoption rates at the community level have remained consistent throughout the years. History has shown that it is difficult to force adoption rates to increase by significant amounts, perhaps because adoptions are affected by factors shelters have little control over, like a dog’s breed or a cat’s age. Additionally, as shelter intake diminishes, the easier to adopt animals such as puppies and kittens are fewer in number, and the shelters are left with animals that are more of a challenge to place, thus resulting in stagnant adoption numbers.

How Do You Reduce Intakes?

If adoptions are not going to drive euthanasia rates down, then by default, reducing intakes has to be the key to success. In fact, historical data and studies within the industry prove this to be true. If there are less animals coming into the shelter, then there is less euthanasia performed as a means of managing the population.

In his book Getting to Zero, Peter Marsh analyzes state shelter intake/euthanasia/adoption data and writes, “[Shelters] with high euthanasia rates usually have high intake rates too. As a result, efforts to modify intake rates can save lives much more readily than attempts to modify adoption rates.” As such, shelters have done important work in reducing intakes, including the following significant contributions:

  • Spay/Neuter: In addition to requiring all animals to be spayed or neutered before being adopted, shelters have also opened their facilities to low-cost programs for the public. Not only will the pet you adopt from a shelter be already altered, but you can also spay or neuter your existing animal too. And, offering these services at low- to- no-cost increases the likelihood that people from all income levels will alter their pets.
  • Reuniting Lost Pets with their Caregivers: Shelters have created robust programs to find missing pets and return them with their guardians. Local legislation has also played an important role by mandating stray holds, thus giving families enough time to find their lost pet.
  • Microchipping: Microchips have many benefits, and at most shelters, all animals leaving are microchipped. In addition, most shelters offer low-cost microchipping clinics to the general public. In many communities, there are even laws mandating all pets be microchipped.
  • Behavior and Training Programs: As discussed previously, shelters that offer behavior and training programs both to shelter animals as well as already placed animals in the community significantly decrease the chances those animals will either return to or be relinquished to the shelter.
  • More: You can read here about some additional innovative ways shelters have reduced intakes.

Although adoptions are a very important variable in the successful sheltering formula, when solving to reduce euthanasia, it is more important to target intake numbers than to increase adoptions.

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