ASPCA Releases New Data Showing Remarkable Progress for Homeless Dogs & Cats

National study also shows regional disparities and high risks for vulnerable populations; Rehabilitation and safety net programs are key tools for animal shelters to save more lives
March 10, 2017

NEW YORK, N.Y.– The ASPCA® (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) today released national shelter estimates showing dramatic decreases in shelter intake and euthanasia of homeless dogs and cats. The ASPCA reports that an estimated 1.5 million companion animals are euthanized in U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year, a decrease from about 2.6 million estimated in 2011. Contributing to this reduction is an 18.5 percent increase in national adoptions. An estimated 3.2 million shelter animals are adopted each year (1.6 million dogs and 1.6 million cats), up from 2.7 million adoptions in 2011.

“This is tremendous progress for America’s dogs and cats, and is the direct result of innovative, life-saving programs and hard work from local shelters, rescues and national organizations, like the ASPCA, to end homelessness and needless euthanasia of shelter animals,” said Matt Bershadker, President & CEO of the ASPCA. “It also reflects the public’s dedication to rescuing homeless animals.”

According to Dr. Emily Weiss, Vice President of Research & Development for the ASPCA, who oversaw the ASPCA’s new research, driving factors in the overall decrease in euthanasia include a decrease in overall intake, an increase in lost animals being successfully returned to their owners and an increase in the percentage of animals adopted. “We are encouraged to see shelters increasingly embrace open adoption policies and progressive strategies to reunite lost pets with their families,” said Dr. Weiss. “Sustaining this success requires the public to continue making adoption their first option.”

Ongoing Regional Disparities, High-Risk Populations

While overall trends are moving in a positive direction, ASPCA data also shows regional disparities in pockets of the U.S., specifically in parts of the South and West. One approach to address this challenge is the relocation of animals from areas of surplus to areas where certain types of dogs and cats are in short supply, improving their chances of adoption. With three targeted routes – on the West Coast, Midwest and East Coast – the ASPCA has positively impacted thousands of at-risk animals. Since 2014, the ASPCA transported over 25,000 dogs and cats and will relocate an additional 28,000 in 2017.

Many Cats and Pit Bull Type Dogs Still At-Risk

The ASPCA data also highlights animals most at risk, including cats and pit bull type dogs. The estimates find more cats than dogs are euthanized in shelters. For this reason, the ASPCA encourages all cat owners to ensure their cats wear both ID tags and collars at all times, and be micro-chipped. The ASPCA supports life-saving solutions for cats across the country, including local TNR programs that help control and reduce community cat populations, as well as national efforts focusing on the protection and adoption of shelter cats, owned cats, and community cats like the Million Cat Challenge.

Pit bull type dogs are particularly at risk due in large part to widespread misconceptions and prejudices against the breed. The ASPCA works to stop breed-specific legislation based on these fallacies, and encourages education through its Adoption Ambassadors program, which showcases all animals as individuals.

“While the overall numbers are encouraging, millions of animals continue to enter the shelter system and still too many never come out,” said Bershadker. “The statistics also don’t include an untold number of animals vulnerable to neglect and cruelty who never make it into the shelter system, but still require and deserve our resources and support,” Bershadker added.   

In 2013, the ASPCA launched a pilot program in New Jersey dedicated to rehabilitating canine victims of cruelty and neglect, which proved that many animals euthanized for behavioral issues can be successfully rehabilitated with dedicated and innovative behavior modification treatments. Due to the success of the pilot program, the ASPCA is building a permanent Behavioral Rehabilitation Center near Asheville, N.C., scheduled to open later this year. The permanent facility will have a greater capacity to help more dogs and includes a dormitory and several teaching spaces for shelter professionals across the country to learn effective behavior rehabilitation techniques and specialized protocols to help dogs with behavioral challenges become suitable for adoption.

In order to sustain decreasing shelter intake, the ASPCA also promotes the expansion and acceptance of innovative approaches to help more pet owners retain their animals, curbing animal surrenders. Past research conducted by the ASPCA shows that offering low- or no-cost services to disadvantaged pet owners kept dogs and cats that were at risk of being surrendered in their homes. This approach, typically referred to as safety net programs, conserves critical resources and space at shelters to serve other vulnerable animals. ASPCA safety net programs are underway in parts of Los Angeles and New York City, and plans are in place to expand these services to high-need communities in Miami.

For additional details about the ASPCA’s national shelter estimates, please go to /animal-homelessness/shelter-intake-and-surrender/pet-statistics.

For more information on the ASPCA’s life-saving work, visit