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?
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:
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.